Does the apparel oft proclaim the man?

Today in plain old fashioned misogyny, the organisation Credit Suisse sent out this announcement:


Pips Bunce is a Director at Credit Suisse. He has an extremely successful career, which he established while living full time as a man. In around 2013 he revealed that he dressed in a feminine identity as “Pippa” some of the time, a fact which he had disclosed to his wife soon after their marriage. A recent interview established that he now lives about 50% of the time as Pippa, and the other half as Philip. On a Pippa day, he will dress in feminine clothes.

So far, so good: clothes are just clothes, and the wearing of clothes in the workplace should be so utterly common as to be unremarkable. Women have been wearing suits and trousers since the power-dressing 80s, but men have yet to catch up to wearing summer dresses instead of sweltering in a tie all summer. But for Pips, that mode of dress constitutes femaleness: he said in that interview that the “best analogy” for gender “is that it’s exactly the same as when you are choosing what clothes to wear.”

Men wearing so-called women’s clothes are to be applauded. The best way for society to shake off the uncomfortable notion that femininity is a ‘downgrade’ is for more powerful men to enjoy the trappings of femininity. Of course being the first to cross-dress in the workplace is brave. Of course women’s clothing isn’t inherently demeaning or transgressive. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that these types of awards, like women’s shortlists, are designed to recognise the specific obstacles to women’s success in the workplace. Obstacles which Bunce will never have to face, and which have not impeded his own career soaring upwards. Obstacles like gender roles impeding girls in STEM subjects, impostor syndrome, not getting interviews due to a female name on the application (even worse for BME women), being considered hugely less competent, hireable, teachable and rewardable than a man, being turned down for roles in case he got pregnant, sacrificing his career for pregnancy and early parenting, being turned down for promotion because of motherhood, agonising over how to ask for a raise without being seen as pushy, remembering not to mention the kids to clients because women get perceived as less competent when it is known they have children, working at the same time as dealing with the mental load of family life, missing out on networking opportunities where promotions are discussed, and that’s before we even start on the gender pay gap. Where an employee is in a heterosexual marriage, as Bunce is, that marriage will disadvantage the woman but not the man.

There is a reason few women are at the top, and it’s not because they don’t want to be, or that they are unsuited to it. It’s because business is still an environment designed for male people who, if they have children, are not the parent who rushes off to collect a sick child halfway through the day, organises childcare in the holidays, remembers the birthday parties and does the meal planning. Men who rise to the top are often facilitated in their career by a wife, and are never impeded by subconscious beliefs that they are less competent purely because of their sex. Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, asked Katrin Marcal in her book of the same name - and the same can be asked about many successful men. Bunce has benefited from a system which perceived him as male, whether that was his self-perception or not.

This is not the first “female” award given to Bunce, who doesn’t even identify as a woman full time. Are the Financial Times seriously unable to find 100 female executives for their Top 100 Female Executives list? If so, that is very concerning. More probably, and even more concerning, they have no understanding of why these awards are produced, and they sweep for the most successful people-who-are-not-men they can find. If so, that is classically misogynist, in failing to recognise the obstacles to women’s success, in defining women as “not full time men” and reflecting a view that these awards are just unfair extra jam on the cake awarded to women simply for their existence. These are standard MRA positions. And the issue here does not solely lie with Bunce as the recipient of the award, but with an entire team (one presumes) at the FT who came up with this, approved it, and promoted it through the media.

If the FT truly valued gender diversity, they would encourage this through Top 100 Trans lists, recognising the separate social impediments to fluid gender expression at work, without using the Top 100 Female list as a catch-all to include males who live half their lives as men.

If Bunce identified with women, rather than as one on a part-time basis, he would refuse the award.

And give it to his wife.