Gender Martyrs

BY SAM HOOPER

It is a far, far better thing that she does….

What drama last week as vaguely-known personality Sandi Toksvig revealed – at a meeting of the Women’s Equality Party – that she is not being paid the same as her predecessor, the much more widely known Stephen Fry, to host a television quiz show.

From ITV News:

QI host Sandi Toksvig has revealed she is paid 40% of what the programme’s former host Stephen Fry used to earn for his work on the comedy panel show.

The 60-year-old took over from Fry in October 2016 and her third series as host is set to begin on Monday.

Toksvig was asked a question about her QI salary by an audience member at the Women’s Equality Party conference, where she gave a speech on feminist economics.

She said: “I have recently discovered I get 40% of what Stephen used to get. And I get the same pay as Alan Davies, who is not the host.

“I temper this with the fact that I love the show and I’m the first woman to host such a show.”

What a long-suffering, patient martyr Toksvig is, bravely accepting her lower salary and taking stoic comfort in the fact that at least the evil patriarchal conspiracy allowed her to host the show in the first place.

Naturally, cue lots of outrage from the usual voices on social media:

No, there was a “huge gasp” in the room as hundreds of assembled idiots tried to grapple with the fiendishly complex idea that Sandi Toksvig’s market value is not the same as Stephen Fry’s.

Like him or not, Stephen Fry has led a long and varied career as an author, actor, television presenter, and radio host. He played a character in one of the recent Hobbit movies, because presumably the film’s producers thought that his unique characteristics and talents would make their project more successful.

Sandi Toksvig is a supposed comedian and writer too, but her public profile is nowhere near as large. While Stephen Fry’s reach transcends the narrow London-centric intelligentsia, Toksvig largely leans into this niche, her gig on QI notwithstanding. Unlike Fry, Sandi Toksvig was not invited to be in the Hobbit movie because nobody outside Britain would know who she is.

And this latest confected outrage is the entire problem with artificial, upper-middle class moralistic projects like the Women’s Equality Party. In the age of identity politics, when being able to portray oneself as the victim of historic and present injustices confers an enormous degree of power on those with the education and articulateness to wield it, moaning that one is not being paid as much as one’s far more famous predecessor and suggesting that the reason is rooted in gender rather than talent is very lucrative. But it is also intellectually lazy and shamefully exploitative of those contemporary struggles for justice and equality which are actually worthy of attention and support.

Those who gasped when Sandi Toksvig announced a fact as banal and unsurprising as me announcing that I do not command the same fee as Martha Argerich for a Kennedy Center piano recital are engaged in campaign which has less to do with equality and justice and more to do with assuaging middle-class boredom. It feels good to imagine that despite being a well-off person living in a rich country during the age of universal suffrage (and a minimal gender pay gap, once the appropriate variables are factored in rather than disingenuously ignored), one still happens to be one of life’s great victims; that despite being the kind of person who can easily spend the money and time traipsing from the leafy Home Counties into London to spend a weekend commiserating their shared misfortunes with other wealthy white fourth-wave feminists, you are actually engaged in a life-or-death struggle for dignity and freedom.

It might feel good, but that doesn’t make it true.

Remember, too, that these are the brand of feminists who are apparently willing to die on a hill defending Sandi Toksvig’s right to be paid as much as Stephen Fry, but who also furiously protest, hashtag and campaign to eliminate the jobs of less economically privileged women whose line of work does not meet with their fastidious approval. Ask the Formula 1 grid girls or the walk-on women in darts whether Sandi Toksvig’s overbearing, maternalistic brand of feminism has worked well for them.

But then of course this movement was never intended to work for the benefit of all women – just to cement the power and influence of those well-versed in its highly specific nomenclature and its cynical, myopically-focused agenda.

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