Molly Smith · #fawcettflatsFriday
The Twitter hashtag #fawcettflatsFriday was started by the Fawcett Society after a woman was sent home from her temp job at PricewaterhouseCoopers for wearing flat shoes. Women (and a few men) have today been posting photographs of themselves at work wearing flats. To send a woman home for not wearing heels is clearly terrible in principle, and as a temp she presumably lost out on a day’s pay. Temp workers, most of whom are women, are typically precarious, and unprotected by large swathes of employment law. For many of them, losing a day’s wage can have serious consequences. Sending the worker home was garbage, and PwC have been rightly criticised. But the hashtag, too, however well-intentioned by the individual women using it, raises some disquiet.
The official PwC Twitter account joined in, retweeting members of staff who used the hashtag. The implied message was that PwC is a friendly and even feminist employer – quite a claim, given the event that sparked the hashtag. Most of the PwC staff tweeting their flat shoes seem to be relatively senior, their Twitter biographies describing them as ‘manager of’ this or ‘head of’ that. No one seemed to be a temp.
Individual employees can’t be held responsible for their employer’s sexist dress codes or self-congratulatory Twitter manner. But it’s worth asking why the hashtag lent itself so easily to being co-opted by the corporation that should feel most sharply rebuked by it. Even leaving aside the tweets of PwC staff, the general impression given by the hashtag is of a lot of people delighted to demonstrate how feminist their employers are. That’s fine – lucky you! – but completely overlooks women who aren’t that lucky, which is an odd way to respond to a news story about a woman who lost out at a sexist workplace. And PwC’s use of the hashtag to ‘feminist-wash’ their public image is the exact opposite of what the campaign should have been aiming to achieve.
It’s hard not to see the #fawcettflatsFriday hashtag as a symptom of the Lean In model of feminism. Fawcett could have used the news story to amplify a conversation about the rights of temp workers, but instead their hashtag focused on representation: self-congratulatory photos of PwC managers and MPs in their flats, rather than getting into the boring details of the rights of non-prestigious women workers.