Watching the Oscars ceremony, it struck me that it’s often the people we never meet who have the biggest influence on our lives.
When Olivia Coleman spoke to all the little girls out there who might be practising their speech into the mirror. I couldn’t help but smile.
I was reminded of a little girl driving her parents crazy by endlessly hitting a tennis ball off the wall of their council house in a determined bid to be like her hero: Billie Jean King.
The Californian dynamo had just added another Wimbledon title to her then world-beating total of grand slam victories and to me seemed the perfect role model.
Of course, I never actually made it to the hallowed turf, but as role models go BJK turned out to be just as important off court as on.
This week we will mark International Women’s Day and, as I prepare to present my Bill on the Pink Tax to parliament, I think it’s time I recognised the contribution BJK and others made in giving women the confidence to aim high.
In 1972, Billie Jean King was the first woman to be chosen for the prestigious title of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.
The following year, she turned the gender divide in sport on its head by taking on and beating Bobby Riggs in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’.
She went on to found the Women’s Sports Foundation, set up team tennis in America and fought for better conditions and pay on the women’s professional circuit.
To top it all, Elton John wrote Philadelphia Freedom about her.
I didn’t realise it at the time but, for my generation, she was one of those who were instrumental in showing us that we could, and should, stand up and challenge discrimination wherever we face it.
A lot of change has happened since she retired but she was the one who served the first point.
The women’s movement has come a long way. Parliament itself is an example. We don’t have a perfect gender balance yet, but we do have the largest number of women ever elected, and the green benches are beginning to look vaguely like the country we are there to represent. But discrimination is still there in everyday life in so many ways that often we simply don’t notice.
Next time you are shopping take a careful note of some of the prices on the shelves. You may not notice it at first but over time you may begin to see a trend.
I hadn’t really noticed that the so-called ‘Pink Tax’ was an issue until it was pointed out to me by a colleague, so I went into a high-street pharmaceutical store to see for myself.
I was shocked, but not altogether surprised, by what I found.
From just a quick browse, I found that women’s deodorants can be up to twice the price of men’s.
There was a £1 deal on. For men, you could pay £1 for a 250ml can of leading brand body spray. Very reasonable, I thought. For women, the £1 deal was for a ‘travel size’ (or maybe ‘handbag-sized’) 75ml can. What a fantastic offer.
It seems that women get hit with a double whammy: they make less for doing the same work, and then they pay more for the same product or service just because it’s ‘for’ women.
Discrimination on gender grounds is illegal, and whether women are paying more for a pink razor, deodorant from the same brand, or for an identical piece of clothing, it’s time to say enough is enough.
There is absolutely no reason why men and women should pay different prices for exactly the same products or services.
That’s why I’ll be trying to change the law to put an end to it.
Tomorrow I’ll be introducing a bill in Parliament which would ban companies from charging men and women different prices for essentially the same products. The ‘Pink Tax’ we call it. Ridiculous isn’t it?
But when you dig a little deeper you begin to see that the ‘Pink Tax’ itself is not the problem.
It’s just a symptom. The real problem goes much further.
In her book ‘Invisible Women’ – to be published on International Women’s Day – Caroline Criado Perez explains how everything from the size of phones to office temperatures is based on data gathered about men’s bodies. Yes. Only men’s bodies. And wait for this. Viagra, it turns out, could have been developed to provide relief to women who suffer every month from period cramps.
But, the book claims, the all-male funding review panel opted not to invest in researching that use as it wasn’t “a public priority”.
It makes you wonder how different the world would look if more women were influencing the shape of society, the products we buy and the decisions we make. My colleague Jo Swinson MP pushed through the legislation which means large companies have to publish what they pay employees and proved once and for all that the gender pay gap still exists.
We have to do the same with the cost of toiletries, fashion products and everything else that can be marketed on a gender basis.
This July, when the Women’s Champion walks forward to collect the Venus Rosewater Dish at Wimbledon, she will also pick up a cheque that is exactly the same as the one that the Men’s Champion will receive.
It’s a point that wasn’t made, or won, easily and there are many more before we can claim game, set and match for equality.
But this week, when we mark International Women’s Day, let’s not forget what those who came before us have achieved and the opportunity they created for us.
The ball is now well and truly in our court.