Political Philosophy Part 2
Miscellaneous Issues, mainly from the press, and Personal Notes
- mainly in chronological order, most recent first, though some topics are grouped together:
Links: Imagining Other Home Page
The Women's Movement (a historical account of the activities of women in the movement for liberation).
Topics here (written in reverse chronological order – most recent first):
*Marina Warner: Alone of All Her Sex. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/mar/23/rereading-alone-of-all-her-sex?INTCMP=SRCH – re-reading the book, by Kathryn Hughes. A study of the Virgin Mary, and how she has been represented through the ages. Criticised by the Catholic Church... From Queen of Heaven during the early medieval period, when the church wanted to assert its temporal power, to mater dolorosa during the Black Death, and today the immaculate virgin (despite having given birth!) used to portray sex as not only dirty, but irredeemably female.
* Naomi Wolf – Vagina: A New Biography. The book has received much comment and some (much?!) criticism. The most convincing comment I read was to the effect that it told women nothing new. However, Wolf replied in Guardian 12th Sep 2012, addressing those who accused her of ‘essentialism’ – ‘grounding gender “back” in the body – while some feminists believe that gender is ‘always, everywhere, entirely “socially constructed” – that is, only real in the mind or in social attitudes’. She goes over the history of feminists who have helped women realise their sexuality, relying on developing knowledge of the body to put their case. She also argues that she has presented scientific findings, and those who want to criticise her should address these. ‘By confronting the body I am not saying women are just the body. Rather I am respecting my readers’ intelligence: some situations are socially constructed, some are biologically based, and my readers are smart enough to assess their world moment by moment.’ See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/11/feminist-perspective-knowledge-is-power
I think my own perspective would be that these rigid dichotomies body/society, nature/nurture, biology/culture etc are not helpful. (Nor is the ‘debate’ between essentialists and their opponents!) There has to be interaction between a body and its surroundings (people, objects) for a body to be anything other than a living corpse! Likewise ‘nature’ (whatever that is!) is partly at least constructed by ‘culture’ – and we now know from science that nurture can change nature, just as nature can sometimes resist nurture. We also surely accept that there are people who are ‘in-between’ man and woman... Would it not even be possible to say that these dichotomies are the product of the sexual division of labour – invented by the ‘superior’ sex? See my notes on other dichotomies in the treatment of men and women.
Reading some of the comments... it seems Wolf’s science is not very reliable, and many commentators say they already knew this stuff (I presume they mean in general terms – as I would say I did). Others criticise the excessive importance attached to the female orgasm (it makes women distinct from men?).
I was personally impressed by the section on the role that language - and specifically the words for the female sex organ - plays in putting down women.
* Bluestocking: Amanda Vickery (G 08.03.08) reviews exhibition called Brilliant Women at the National Portrait Gallery (March to June 2008): points out that ‘bluestocking’ was a word originally (ca. 1800) applied to any intellectual woman – perhaps they were prototype feminists?
* Moran, Caitlin: How to be a Woman, Ebury Press 11.99 GBP – has received a variety of reviews… Miranda Sawyer (G June? 2011) argues the book’s triumph is its joy, its refusal to be cowed, and its adding to women’s confidence – sexism is not just repressive, it is tedious and stupid. The book is funny, but also a short, sharp feminist manifesto. Some woolliness e.g. about pornography, and her equation of sexism with a lack of politeness.
Evolutionary psychology tries to explain the (alleged) differences between men and women. For example: Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works, also wrote
(with Helena Cronin of the LSE) Why Men Don’t Iron… See also: Introduction to Evolutionary Psychology, ed. Dylan Evans. Combines cognitive psychology with
Darwinism: sexual behaviour is motivated by the drive to reproduce, and both sexes want to pass on their genes via healthy children. But men ‘want to do it more than
women’ – why? Because he can, not being tied down to pregnancy - and with our early ancestors this meant the man was free to hunt etc. But if men are innately
different to women in their attitude to sex, where does this leave the feminist position that sex roles are socially conditioned? Evolutionary psychology also argues that
men are attracted to women with slim waists because this indicates fertility…
Evans suggests that Darwinian feminism would hold that women should not pursue equality, but social arrangements that meet their specific needs i.e. childcare. This
may appear conservative and anti-feminist, but Germaine Greer seems to be saying something similar in The Whole Woman. “Liberation struggles are not about
assimilation but about asserting difference, endowing that difference with dignity and prestige, and insisting on it as a condition of self-definition and self-
determination.” Here the emphasis is on liberation rather than gender likeness, and it can be called ‘essentialist’.
Helena Cronin (G 120305) says it is possible to be both a feminist and a Darwinian.
She mentions Larry Summers, the president of Harvard, who caused controversy when he said that evolved sex differences are among the reasons that should be considered to explain the lack of women in academic jobs connected with science, engineering and maths. But evolutionary science shows he was right, she says:
(i) men have (‘on average’) advantages in quantitative and spatial abilities, intuitive mechanics and 3-D thinking (ii) men are (‘on average’) more competitive, ambitious, status-conscious and single-minded – women are more focused on family and other relationships, have wider interests and prefer not to work in people-free zones (of the top 1% of mathematical ability, men mostly choose careers in maths, engineering or science, whilst women choose biology, medicine etc) and (iii) there is more variance among men – more geniuses and more dunces – than among women.
There are evolutionary reasons for these differences: sexual reproduction began with one sex ‘slightly’ competing more for mates and the other ‘slightly’ specializing more in caring for offspring. This slight difference widened over time, as it was self-reinforcing. These differences can be seen very early on: girl babies of one day old prefer a face to a mechanical toy; hormones in the womb affect whether a girl is tomboyish, etc.
Feminists need to have these explanations and this understanding in order to change the world. Fairness in gender representation perhaps should no longer be seen as necessitating 50/50 for each sex. Girls should not be treated as default males if we accept they are innately not good at maths etc. If this is derived from weakness in spatial navigation should we not help girls to overcome this (girls can understand diagrams, e.g. of word problems, better than boys – so we could build on this)?
It is not sex differences but sexism that is iniquitous.
See also: firstname.lastname@example.org – Cronin is writing a book on sex difference.
A harrowing piece by Laurie Penny, who had the condition herself (G 110309), warns that anorexia has been trivialized – it is not simply a by-product of celebrity and fashion culture. For her it seemed to offer ‘salvation from desire’ – she was trying to deny she had any desires, as a strategy of self-control (and it has been recorded since the 12th century as such). She also describes it as ‘retaliation’ for a society in which women’s bodies are meant to look available but not be available. Women with anorexia are ‘consuming themselves’. Some – perhaps many? – women suffer from it after sexual abuse in childhood: she quotes one such victim as wanting to stop her body.
Anorexia can be induced in
healthy people by long periods of starvation (this was done with some
conscientious objectors in 1944 at
To treat the illness (‘the most lethal of all mental illnesses’) requires attention to both the physiological and the mental condition of the sufferer.
Anorexia is on the rise: an 80% increase in hospital admissions among teenagers over the last decade. One or two in every 100 young women has the disease, and one or two in every 1,000 young men. Between 8% and 20% of sufferers will die as a result of the condition – half by suicide. A further 30% will continue to suffer from side-effects/complications: osteoporosis, digestive diseases, chronic anxiety, psychosis and heart failure.
There are, she says ‘more than 100 potential patients for every place in a UK specialist treatment centre’.
Extract (G 090109) from Maggie O’Farrell’s introduction to the Virago Modern Classics reissue of: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:
Gilman was told by Weir Mitchell (a therapist?) to rest and do nothing to overcome her feelings of depression (neurasthenia). This nearly drove her mad, and instead she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, recounting her experience and attacking Weir Mitchell for his treatments. Also the book is ‘a great work of literature, the product of a burning, questioning intellect.’
‘The mad woman has been used as a trope for centuries by writers… often as walk-on parts… Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, Bertha Rochester… the Yellow Wallpaper gives the mad woman a pen and paper and ultimately a voice of her own. It is a cry demanding to be heard, to be under-stood. You hear echoes of that cry in later books: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea; Janet Frame’s An Angel at my Table; in Sylvia Plath, Antonia White, Jennifer Dawson, Susanna Kaysen… All we can do is listen.’
From SocietyGuardian, piece by Stewart Dakers (a community and voluntary worker):
Watching ‘the usual crew’ and one of them ‘losing it’ and smashing another’s face against a shop’s protective grille, he observes how each of the gang had a difficult childhood – one ‘watching a succession of brutes take their anger out on his mother’ – all overloaded with biological and emotional trauma. The consequence is ‘indifference to the interests of others, self-preoccupation, aggressiveness, being aloof, techno-whizzes, system-obsessed… top-gear masculinity’. Dakers notes how all this is close to autism – ‘a condition that has begun to assume epidemic proportions’. There is now an ‘AQ’ – autism quotient, implying we all have some (like IQ). For these lads a genetic explanation is not enough: their AQ is ‘aggravated into expression by infant trauma… a maelstrom of social confusion and emotional disconnection.’ The problem always comes down to the mother: either it is ‘nurture’ that is responsible, e.g. ‘refrigerator moms’ (cold, distant, unloving), or more recently, exposure to testosterone in the womb. ‘So it’s still down to mum, then.’ (!)
But, he says, autistic behaviour is hypermale – it ‘looks increasingly like the construct of a masculine culture, drenched in testosterone, in bar and boardroom, trading floor and Premier League. It is the outcome of collective stress, leading to … an epidemic of autistic children who perpetuate the hypermale culture that conceived them.’ There is ‘institutional misogyny that contaminates this manmade culture.’
The lads, after the episode, see a group of girls, and call out to them: “Effin slappers, mingin’ slags.”
The mother of the boy who smashed the other’s face in says, when approached about it, “Come on, that’s what boys do, right?”
* May 2008.
What is the man saying who, on hearing the sound of a car scraping its side, says (somewhat excitedly) “I bet that’s a woman driver!” - ? The car comes out of the side-street and he looks back and says “Yes it was!” He goes on “It’s usually women who do that – they don’t realise the car costs thousands, and the cost of repairs will be…”
Perhaps realising that I’m not comfortable with what he’s saying, he tries to become academic about it: “It’s difficult to tell if women are worse drivers than men, because the statistics aren’t drawn up taking into account mileage driven, and there aren’t so many women drivers”. To my timid response that there are “quite a lot of” women drivers now, (I later find out there’s about the same number as men drivers in Britain now) he goes on “But women don’t drive as far as men – most commuter drivers” (like himself) “are men. And women don’t like to drive into London. If they have a partner who drives, they get him to drive into the city.” Where did that come from – I mean what was he saying now?! (And I, though a man, don’t drive into London – ever!).
So, in a few moments, and in a few sentences, he has stereotyped and patronised women. And he is not ashamed to say all this to me – though a man, a feminist – surely he knows my views? So I boil inside: that weekend I’ve already caused embarrassment by getting heated in a discussion, so I keep my peace, wishing I had some statistics to use, but thinking at the same time that statistics won’t deal with this kind of prejudice.
What is it about so many men, that makes them so anxious to prove that women are poor drivers? I guess it’s because a car isn’t simply a means of getting around quickly, efficiently, easily – it’s a status symbol, and driving (preferably fast) is a manifestation of masculinity and power.
All this is confirmed when I do check some statistics: although it does seem likely (even by mile driven) that women cause more accidents (see DfT website) the accidents they cause are minor.
94% of fatal accidents are caused by men
– mostly young men, and often with female passengers whom they are trying to impress, by driving recklessly and taking risks. Insurance claims by men are far higher than women as well.
In the course of my research (to be academic myself for a while!) it was thought-provoking to find the Telegraph article that says that women and gays are worse drivers than (heterosexual) men… It’s also interesting that older women (60+) are as likely to have an accident as younger men – though presumably these are mostly minor accidents, given the deaths statistic. In relation to the tendency of women to have more accidents, there is speculation that women are less good at judging space/distance/orientation in relation to the car - which also, according to some research makes them less good as navigators! Incidentally, I drive, and my wife, who doesn’t drive, always navigates…
So, back to the story: wasn’t it funny when (I’m not making this up!) he got into his car, which was parked in front of mine, reversed – and succeeded in backing until the end of his car was up against the front of mine, and then pushing mine backwards!! Without realising what he had done. What a woman!! (I left it to my wife to tell him – I’ve already admitted to being a coward!)
PS: (March 2009) a (woman) confidant to whom I told another story, of the same man going on about how women don’t keep the inside of their cars tidy…, suggests he must be quite angry about something connected with women. Though his manner when telling these ‘stories’ isn’t angry, perhaps my friend is right – and I wonder what ‘his problem’ is?!
* May 2008.
Nuala O’Faolain, who died in May 2008, had a column in the Irish Times. June Caldwell (G 140508) remembers how, in 1986, “in response to a reader’s letter … challenging her about feminism “having gone too far”, she [Nuala] wrote, “Has it now? I wouldn’t know where to start detailing the pain and suffering inflicted on women and girls in the world just because they are women and girls – not because, like the men and boys who also suffer, they are poor or otherwise oppressed. I think of how the female body is used. The 80 million – and the number is rising – girls whose clitorises will be cut off this year, perhaps with a sharp stone, and whose labia will be sewn up, so that men will marry them sure of their ‘purity’.”
(i) Feminism is bad for your health. (How the media – and prominent writers – blame feminism for everything!)
Zoe Williams (G 280307): Daily Mail headline last week claimed ‘Why feminism could be bad for your health’. This was based on a report from Sweden which said that gender equality in a household brings with it an increased risk of illness and disability. No statistics are provided by any of the papers, except that a survey ‘was conducted across Sweden’s 290 municipalities’.
Feminism has frequently been blamed for cancer, since (i) if you have children later (e.g. because as a feminist, you go to work) you are more likely to get breast cancer (ii) if you don’t have any children at all (perhaps because you are a feminist) you are more likely to get breast cancer and ovarian cancer (iii) drinking and smoking (which of course feminists do lots of because they are financially independent) gives you throat and mouth cancer and lung cancer.
American journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley claims that feminists who go out more in the evenings are more likely to be raped.
Doris Lessing has said that feminists have undermined men’s masculinity, and Harvey Mansfield (a Harvard professor) has written a book: Manliness, which claims that men and women will never be able to relate successfully to each other – because of feminism. The ‘rightwing polemicist’ Ann Coulter even blames feminism (which led to women being able to join the armed forces) for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib (they shouldn’t be in the military because they are more vicious). Fay Weldon blames feminism for undermining sex (women should fake orgasms). Amanda Platell has blamed feminists for damaging mothers’ relationships with their children.
All this, says Zoe, seems to be based on the assumption that for men to be men they must be surrounded by weak women – or women who pretend to be weak!
* March 2008.
From Big Issue March 3 – 9, 2008:
Some female entrepreneurs are combining profit with ethical concerns e.g.: Penny Newman of Cafedirect, which has 35 staff and a turnover of L20 million in 2006; Claire Burnet of Chococo: The Purbeck Chocolate Company – source chocolate ethically, preferably locally, and make it themselves, so have control: ‘real people making real chocolates in a real place - company belongs to Direct From Dorset; Romy Fraser OBE founded Neal’s Yard Remedies in 1981, and now sells over 500 products across 30 countries, moved into ecofriendly premises in Dorset, with organic food, orchard, vegetable garden, natural health treatments. See ‘Inspiring Women’ by Michelle Rosenberg (Crimson Publishing, L12.99). See also CSR8 notes on inequality (updates). [not completed or uploaded yet…]
*Aug 2010: ‘I’m Still Fighting’ (Observer):
Susie Orbach: women at the start of the movement discovered they had similar patterns of life, oriented around doing things for others (‘midwives to the activities of others’) – and met to discuss ‘the problem that had no name.’ After 40 years, some things have changed: ambition is encouraged, ‘in principle’ abortion is available, sexual preference is accepted, women can borrow money in their own name, and collect child support payments. ‘Feminism has been a cultural force of epic proportions.’ But there is still: harassment, unequal pay, poverty for many and a ‘hyper-sexualised culture’ which makes women feel uncomfortable in their own bodies. The notion of the ‘have-it-all-woman’ has made dissatisfied women feel isolated, failures if they can’t get it all. And around the world there are women worse off… e.g. female infanticide, ‘corrective rape’ (of lesbians), genital mutilation etc.
Seven activists interviewed: pole-dancing was accepted at first as not part of the sex industry, consequently no protection for the women there, no licensing/regulation, not possible for local people to object; you even find pole-dancing dresses in the toy section aimed at little girls. See: www.object.org.uk. In Brazil, abortion is only allowed after rape or if the mother’s life is threatened by the pregnancy – 26,000 women were hospitalized in one province alone after illegal abortions (a similar number go to hospital to give birth!). www.pathwaysofempowerment.org. In South Africa Luleki Sizwe (‘Discipline the Nation Constructively’) is a charity campaigning to end ‘corrective rape’ – and the rapes (sometimes gang-rapes) take place in a country with a high prevalence of AIDS, but also with tolerance in the constitution for homosexuality. www.lulekisizwe.org. In Afghanistan a woman’s earnings go straight to her father (before marriage) or her husband. In India female babies ‘disappear’ – many are denied medical treatment and die before their second birthday. Female foetuses are aborted (clinics offer gender detection tests). In Egyptian family law (Islamic) a husband is obliged to support his wife – but she in return must obey him; 90% of women are genitally mutilated (down only 5% form 10 years ago). www.musawah.org. In the US although abortion is legal, 80% of counties don’t have abortion providers – there is no mandated paid maternity leave (unlike all other industrialised nations); feminism is being hijacked by the Republican right – there is a backlash against (real) feminism. www.feministing.com (blog).
* February 2008.
Rosie Boycott (G 280208) – after 1969 Divorce Act, after ‘60s, outlook for women improved; 36 years on men are no more involved in childcare; before having children 85% of working women are in FT employment, after it drops to 34% of mothers of pre-school age children, and 41% of mothers of school-age children. Figures from report by Dr Gillian Paull, published in Economic Journal. Proportion of men working FT after children goes up. ‘Real equality between men and women is still a pipe dream… The world is still organised to meet the wishes of men.’ Must legislate to get employers to offer flexi time working that doesn’t mean loss of status and career prospects for women. Every woman in Denmark is entitled to free childcare.
Katherine Rake, Fawcett Society (142 years old – www.fawcettsociety.org.uk) : 90 years since women over 30 gained the right to vote. (Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett never got the recognition that the Pankhursts did…) In 1918 women gained equal voting rights with men (July ’28). 50 years ago women could join the Lords. But today things don’t seem to be progressing any more, and the fight for gender equality has somehow lost its way. However, childcare is at least a public issue now; flexible working is more widespread; violence against women is discussed openly, and a Tory leader says that rape convictions are too low (fewer than 6% of reported rapes).
Labour, however, has not gained any credit – even though it realised that to eliminate child poverty as it wanted to, meant to improve the position of women. Also there has been more objectification of women (often leading to support for the view that they are to blame for rape). Rape crisis centres are under-funded. A promised 24-hour helpline has not materialised. Progress on equal pay has been glacial: FT women still paid 17% less than men, and PT 36% gap compared with men working FT (?). Need compulsory pay audits.
Criticises the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) for withdrawing funding from a group of women fighting the Bainbridge equal pay case: what kind of message with this as their first statement on equal pay?
Now have to change men’s lives more, for a fairer distribution of labour etc.
June 2002: from letter in G 080602:
‘feminism lost its way when it became a synonym for feminist consumerism. We must not forget that men still own 95% of the world’s wealth, occupy 98% of its top jobs, and that there is no country where women’s wages are equal to men’s’. (Vivienne Mayer, email@example.com)
Polly Toynbee’s piece is a ‘caricature of the 1970s women’s movement. There were in fact ‘a host of campaigns (equal pay & opportunities, day-nurseries, reproduction rights, protection for battered wives) and interventions (education, social services, the law) – not little cabals dominated by a few media stars (though there were plenty of these on the pages of the Guardian!). (Barbara Taylor).
Peter Wilby (G 020707) describes how although things have changed, there are still only 10% of leading positions on national papers held by women. ‘The macho culture of newspapers dies hard…’
The treatment of Harriet Harman’s election as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party: pictures were printed of Gordon and his wife (?!) in Times and Mirror, and the latter had the headline ‘Harriet’s shock win’. Most papers didn’t report the process, but did say Gordon ‘snubbed’ her by denying her the deputy premiership (though it had been made clear long before that the two posts would not go to the same person). She is now Commons Leader, minister for women, and party chairman [busy busy!]. A Times lead said the choice doesn’t reflect well on the party; the Sun said her election had been a cloud in an otherwise perfect day for Brown, and called her ‘hapless Harriet’; the Telegraph said that she was poor at administration and has to be heavily briefed before media appearances. The Mail’s Quentin Letts was especially misogynist: she ‘waddled up on stage’ she was a ‘hectoring, bleating, finger-wagging nanny’ a ‘frightful, posh, humourless ticker-offer’, a ‘monumental, gold-plated, ocean-going hypocrite’. Even female journalists write of the ‘bossy Blair babes’ and ‘horrible Harman’ (Mirror’s Sue Carroll) ‘mad old ladies’ and Harman ‘cannot keep the melon-sliced smirk off her face, grinning like a brain-washed political Moonie’ (Telegraph’s Jan Moir).
Can we imagine this level of political abuse being leveled at a male politician?
(ii) The Media can’t leave female celebrities alone. Would they treat them the same way if they were young men?
Alice Wignall (G 150307) writes of the treatment of a number of female celebrities by the press recently:
- Joss Stone, age 19, got criticised for a poor performance in front of TV cameras at the Brit awards – wouldn’t you feel nervous in such a situation, interviewed by Russell Brand?! A headline: “Joss sinks like a Stone” … “her album flops after Brits hell” says it all.
- Amy Winehouse has been slated for her drink and drugs – though some observers suggest she is on a path of self-destruction.
- Lily Allen drinks on stage and is outspoken – a headline “celebs reel as drunk Allen lashes out” and the punning “Lily Savage” again are typical. Online, stories of her ‘third nipple’ (which she is alleged to pull out from time to time to show people – no pictures, though!), and pictures of her topless are popular…
This treatment is surely dished out because they are young women who don’t stick to the rules (to say they are poor role models is facile in the extreme, she says – look at the real role models all dressed the same and dancing to a song they have not written). And male celebrities do not attract the same attention:
- Tom Chaplin (of Keane) checked into rehab, with no publicity
- Robbie Williams has been in and out of rehab, and there are no obsessive accounts of this – or when we do talk of their drink and drugs it is either because this is part of the life, or it is to make them seem more interesting.
Women who behave like Allen, Winehouse et al make the public panic!!!
G2 Feb 2010: List of female presidents:
Argentina: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Bangladesh: Sheikh Hasina Wajed
Chile: Michelle Bachelet Jeria
Costa Rica: Laura Chinchilla
Croatia: Jadranka Kosor
Germany: Angela merkel
Iceland: Johanna Sigurdottir
Liberia: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Philippines: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Switzerland: Doris Leuthard
Ukraine: Yulia Timoshenko
G 260607: Katherine Rake of the Fawcett Society: loss of trust in regard to politicians is highest among women voters, and there are still high levels of testosterone – and the ‘playground’ - in the Commons and on Question Time. But the substance of politics has changed: childcare, flexible working, violence and women’s pensions no longer peripheral. Cameron has adopted some of these issues too. Women have benefited most from: the minimum wage, the expansion of childcare and improved maternity leave, tax credit system (especially for lone mothers), new domestic violence legislation and specialist courts.
But this has not been articulated as a women’s or feminist agenda. Gender equality is not on the agenda. Sometimes the word woman appears taboo: Chancellor did not say in public that he was abolishing VAT on sanitary products, and talk is of ‘lone parents’ not single mothers. So voters don’t realise what has been done. Moreover, failure to deal with rape and the gender pay gap makes the party vulnerable: women won the last election for Labour, as if only men had voted, Labour’s majority would be only 23. Brown should declare women and equality are at the centre of the government’s policies.
G 220607: Harriet Harman (candidate for Deputy Leader) replies to the ‘tokenism’ argument (e.g. should the Deputy Leader be a woman?): even when she was first elected in 1982 and there were 97% men in the Commons, if you said something should be done (e.g. quotas) people object that it’s ‘tokenism’. Importance of women MPs: female candidates attract the usual turnout among men, but 4% higher among women. Women’s votes are more changeable (‘swing’ votes) than men’s. In 1992 a greater proportion of women than men voted Conservative, and an 11% swing in the women’s vote helped get Labour into power in 1997. Women now make up just under 20% of MPs (126). Labour has 97, Tories 17 and Lib Dems 9.
Harman believes women in government have brought about change: domestic violence is no longer a marginal topic. Harman and Hazel Blears both say they are feminists
Women and politics
Anne Perkins (NS 210507) reports that women seem not to like politics – more women than men don’t have a view on Brown vs. Cameron. But politicians need women’s votes – they played a big part in getting Blair elected, and their reaction to Brown has led him to modify his body language (less clunking fists!). Although there has been influence of feminism on Labour, it has been surreptitious, because New Labour finds it ‘deeply worrying’ (as with other ‘sectional’ interests). The polls show that women’s support for Labour has been going down (40% in 2005, to only 22% who would vote for Brown). (ICM, April 2007). However, there has also been a fall in support for Cameron. So Labour is going for the ‘big tent’ and more ‘consensual’ politics, and Cameron is being portrayed as a family man.
Women voters do seem also to prefer women candidates – where there were women candidates in 2005 women were more likely to contribute to the campaign. Yet Blair dropped issues such as rape, domestic violence, to appeal to the middle-ground and the centre of the liberal-conservative continuum. Whilst it once was thought that women were now less likely to vote Tory, it now seems to be more complicated (and if women prefer consensus, why did they like Thatcher?!).
According to Rosie Campbell of Birkbeck (in her latest book…) it seems that once women (especially under age 45) have education and economic independence, they are more likely to move to the left, believing that the state has a role in supporting its citizens. Women tend to talk in more personal and less abstract terms about politics and issues. So, education, the NHS, are more important to women than men, and women support higher taxes for welfare than men. They are less concerned about the economy, Europe, immigration. (The environment is mainly a concern for both sexes and for youth). On the other hand, their concern is more negative/fearful when it comes to the economy (house prices, inflation).
There is a link also between being a mother of a school-age child and voting Labour (along with being middle-class, well-educated, well paid and working in the public sector – 70% more likely to vote Labour) [no surprise there surely?!].
Question then is can Brown adapt his style (now masculine) and policies to involve women? He seems to have no sense of the ‘messiness’ of women’s lives said a lobbyist after a seminar on family tax credit etc. To Brown social justice means economic justice… Younger women voted for Blair because they saw him as ‘progressive’ – they are swayed by values rather than material concerns. So all Brown has to do is show he can take on the progressive ideas of feminists – he has a good story to tell about funding for health and education, and needs to tell it.
Julie Bindel (G 020307) on Lynne Segal: she caused controversy with her book, which argued for socialist feminism, because capitalism oppresses women more than men do. She is thus not opposed to pornography as such, and argues for ‘female-friendly pornography’. Segal, Jewish, was born in Sydney Australia, married a man who in fact was gay but in the closet, and then ‘fled to England with her son’. She lived in a socialist collective, with up to 11 adults and children during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
She was an activist, fighting elitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, the closure of hospitals and manufacturing firms… She doesn’t feel that socialist feminism failed, but that the left went into a decline.
Segal found that many feminists had men supporting them, and the slogan ‘all men are rapists’ (actually ‘all men are potentially rapists’ Bindel points out) was ‘just such unmitigated rubbish.’
Recently she has been involved in Jews for Justice in Palestine.
Latest book: Making Trouble: Life and Politics, Serpent’s Tail, L10.99.
In Jan. 2000, (G 010100) Lynne Segal (whose first book was: Is the Future Female? 1987) marks the turn of the century with an appraisal. Women bear quite a burden as ‘emblematic’ of the future, for example; will we have greater difference between the sexes, or less? (See below, on the ‘third wave’). She reminds us that it was 19th century socialists who first suggested that the way women are treated is an indicator of the level of civilisation. There is a conflict between notions of a ‘nurturing femininity’ and women’s desire for freedom. Yet the women in politics today seem not even to show a nurturing side: none of the prominent women in the Blair administration voted against the recent cuts in disability entitlements.
There has been an intensification of the divisions between women (as between men) in the last two decades, she says, and there is also a ‘shallow espousal of supposed feminine values’ in politics. Few of the old patriarchal values are recognised now as legitimate, and women are visible in the public domain as men’s equals [?!] and ‘life has improved for most women almost everywhere.’ ‘Before the second wave of feminism... there was no escaping the prevailing assumptions of the inferiority of women in all but domestic affairs.’ And even there women were routinely seen as ‘suffocating, possessive moms and vipers or as manipulative, cheating dolls and bitches.’
Today ‘insecurity, overwork and loneliness are as common as the grey skies of winter. Women in general, but especially women who take on domestic responsibilities of caring for dependent people, remain at the cutting edge of the contradictions of capitalist economies. “Flexible” shifts and a punishing work ethic erase demands for shorter working hours; joining the gym replaces democratically-run resource centres; the goal of greater collective responsibility for the welfare and security of others is disarmed by affirmations of old paternalistic rhetorics or promotion of self-help and individual therapies.’
The fear and contempt of the ‘feminine’ which men once brazenly espoused is disguised by superficial accommodation to it. What women have gained… remains meagre. The continuing pressures in gender relations leave so much still to fight for. Feminism’s most radical goals, both personal and collective have yet to be realised.’
So we still need feminism’s ability to provoke and inquire, to ‘embrace complexity and conflict in the experiences of women and men, as the resilience of images of masculinity as power are shaken up by shifting gender dynamics and the fragilities of gendered and sexual identities.’ (See below, third wave…)
Aug 2006: Janet Halley, Professor of law at Harvard, interviewed by John Sutherland (G ideas interview 080806), believes that feminism in America has got stuck on the idea that the state should be used to redress all the wrongs that men may commit against women; she also believes it is stuck on the notion that feminism is ‘right’ – and she doesn’t see it as a movement any longer, since it is ‘thoroughly embedded in the world that we inhabit now.’ (Though there are still places where male domination has a very familiar, structural and immobile character and I think we need feminism to help us with that.’) It is not healthy to have to show a ‘devotional’ loyalty to feminism. Her book is called Split Decisions: how and why to take a break from feminism – and that’s what she is doing and thinks others should do: take a break.
On the dismissal of Larry Summers, (head of Harvard) over his remarks on the lack of women in certain disciplines, she says: ‘They brought down one of the most powerful men in the American academy. I think that the people who wield that feminist power should admit to it, and come to terms with the fact that they have it.’
Motherhood: In July 2006 (Observer 020706) Gaby Wood surveys the scene: many middle-class mothers feel guilty, whether they stay at home or have paid work; In 2005 Judith Warner published ‘Perfect Madness: Motherhood in an Age of Anxiety’, describing ‘the mess’ women were in where so many feel they are doing something wrong. Anne Crittenden, in The Price of Motherhood argued that instead of asking men to do more child-rearing, the status of motherhood should be raised. In response came The Mommy Myth by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, and The Mommy Wars, which pits both sides against each other (working and non-working mothers), and Caitlin Flanagan: To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife…
The Mommy Myth suggests that motherhood is the ‘unfinished business’ of feminism; Kate Figes wonders why women spend so much time fighting each other instead of recognizing that there are different life-style. The psychologist Daphne de Marneffe, in Maternal Desire, says that probably women idealise the way they choose to live – hell is ‘other mothers’! Mother Wars reflects this, too. Judith Warner thinks it is a case of middle-class women thinking only of themselves – previously feminists had been concerned about the least well-off and the most oppressed. Barbara Ehrenreich makes a similar point in a debate with Flanagan, and says ‘we feminists never said that women comprise a single homogenous “class”…’ nor was feminism exclusively in favour of women who worked, though of course it opened up professional pathways for women. ‘Feminism is not a particular lifestyle… It is a moral stance that has always valued stay-at-home mothers just as much as the corporate strivers.’ [Fine, but this doesn’t solve the conflict does it?] For Flanagan, ‘when a mother works, something is lost’. For Sydney Trent (black deputy editor of the Washington Post, writing in The Mommy Wars) race is an issue: she has never felt judged by other black women in the way that white women judge each other over this issue. Judith Warner says that the problem is worse in America than in Europe where there is more childcare, but also less ‘demonic’ pressure on women to work…
Gaby Wood goes on to portray Flanagan as ‘insecure’ and obsessive about being a mother to her children (perhaps because she was hurt when her own mother went to work when she was 12). Flanagan has a nanny who also does cooking, a gardener and a ‘clutter warrior’!!! She also admits to having suffered depression, which says Wood sounds like Friedan’s “problem that has no name”.
Wood’s view is that the new ‘Momism’ seems to be a direct descendant of the ‘feminine mystique’, since nothing much seems to have changed since the ’60s in terms of now women feel about their role. Whilst feminism is not (as the backlash suggests) to blame for this,
it would be wrong to look for one ‘model for negotiating the territory’ – and second-wave feminism perhaps did put too much stress on women being ‘all in this together’. Mothers all differ, as do their children and the relationship that grows between them in their particular situation. Moreover, having a child changes a woman’s identity, and then the standards she may have set herself may become impossible. ‘A mother is necessarily a chameleon, shifting shape to meet needs she is always trying to teach herself to identify.’
Peggy Orenstein, in Flux says ‘Old patterns and expectations have broken down, but new ideas seem fragmentary, unrealistic and often contradictory.’
Idan Halili (writes Rachel Shabi, G 170406) has written a feminist critique, asking for exemption from military service on the grounds of gender. She spent two weeks in prison, and then was rejected for the army as ‘unsuitable’. She wrote:
“The army is an organisation whose most fundamental values cannot be brought into harmony with feminist values.” It is hierarchical, male-favouring; it distorts gender roles; there is sexual harassment; and there is an equation between military and domestic violence.
Before 2003, women were allowed by law not to serve, but the law was changed (when 5 young men refused to serve because of the occupation). Religion and pacifism are the only recognised grounds for conscientious objection.
Her position goes against the view that Israeli women are equal with men because they both are expected to serve in the military. In fact only 2% of women in the army serve in combat units – so the ‘lesser’ roles are reserved for them. Military service has not helped women find careers afterwards either, as was thought. High office in Israel goes to military achievers, who are more likely to be men. Basically even if the army tried to achieve an equal-opportunity culture, it is up against social and cultural values that are deeply held.
A fifth of women in the army experience sexual harassment, though the figure is higher (70 – 80%) if it included unwanted sexual proposals and innuendo.
The link between violence in the military and domestic violence has been shown: 47% of Israeli women murdered by their partners or relatives were killed by security guards or soldiers, who had guns etc.
Former soldiers who witnessed injustices during service, formed Breaking the Silence (spokesperson Avichay Sharon), and complain of people being negatively affected by military service (apathy towards human life, increased aggression, loss of moral sensitivity as a result of serving in an occupying army). See also notes on the peace movement.
Cherie Booth, G 030306) notes that Amnesty Int. says that at least 40,000 female civilians have been raped over the last 6 years in the Congo alone. During the Balkan crisis rape that led to pregnancy was common, and the Serbian soldiers detained the pregnant women until they delivered, as part of a policy of ethnic cleansing. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, rape was practised, though it is more hidden when in a Muslim society. It was done to violate women’s honour, to crush the spirit of political prisoners, recruit women into a spy network, and to ‘break the eyes of’ families and communities. In the Rwandan conflict some 25,000 women were raped, and many became HIV positive after.
There has been little prosecution of such acts, largely because ‘sexual violence has been regarded as an accepted concomitant of war.’ General Patton wrote that ‘there would unquestionably be some raping.’ Justice began to be obtained as a result of the ad hoc criminal tribunals set up after the conflicts in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, for example the Akayesu case the first heard before the ICT for Rwanda: the first time someone was tried for attempting genocide, and for actions that included sexual violence. Hazim Delic was found guilty in 1998 at the Hague of war crimes that included the rape of two women, and sentenced to 20 years. Now there is a permanent international criminal court there should be more prosecutions. See also title by C. Booth at: current affairs and issues: books. (Not uploaded yet).
Oxfam runs a campaign ‘Cut Conflict’ which focuses on violence and women in war and conflict: During and after a war, women are the ‘invisible majority’ as during conflict such violence increases, and afterwards it continues. Ex-soldiers, unable to leave the violence behind, threaten to - or do - kill their wives during arguments. Rape is used as a weapon of war – in Rwanda, thousands were raped; 70% of the countries population are women, half of them are widows. Other countries where conflict has taken place and women suffered: Colombia, Cambodia etc. Refugees do not always get sympathy: Britain only accepted 13% of applicants in 1996 – Refugee Women’s Legal Group aims to develop a gender perspective on refugee policy and practise. It has published a booklet: Women as Asylum Seekers: a Legal Handbook. In 1990 Oxfam helped set up SOS Hotline in Belgrade – a volunteer counselling service for women and children who had suffered sexual trauma and physical abuse. It has received over 5,000 calls in a few years, and in over 40% of the cases guns were used. There is even a ‘post TV news syndrome’ whereby women are subject to violence by their partners who have been reminded of the military conflict by the images and reports.
* November 2004
Yvonne Roberts (G 041104) writes about: the use of a model’s face to illustrate her decline (and death) from taking crack cocaine – to be put on billboards across London – but no mention of the damage to internal organs and systems; government health warnings about smoking have also emphasised ‘premature ageing of the skin’. Have we gone from ‘the personal is the political’ to looking for political solutions, to ‘the body without the politics’? Trinny and Susannah ‘objectify, criticise and infantilise their own sex’ (“There’s a good girl’… ‘nice teeth, shame about the bum’ etc). For Eve Ensler, author of The Good Body, even she herself admits that the shape of her tummy is more of a worry to her than the war in Iraq etc.
* December 2003
Guardian Higher Education (2/12/03) – Heather Stewart reports:
Dr Ruth Page of Univ. of Central England discovered more than a million mentions of the phrase “working mother” on the internet, but not a single occurrence of “working father”. In linguistics jargon, working mothers are seen as “non-normative” – i.e. not normal, unusual. (Why point out that a woman has a job, by using a special linguistic term? After all, if a man has a family, this aspect of his life is never mentioned).
Dr Page recently conducted a survey … testing perceptions of the way men and women are portrayed in the press, (based on media treatment of Cherie Booth), and asking respondents whether such apparently “gender-neutral” words as “blunt” and “forceful” are masculine or feminine, positive or negative. “Touchy-feely” for example was viewed as very negative when applied to a man, but positive when applied to a woman.
However, there is ‘a complex relationship between language and reality’ – you can change terms, but not guarantee that their meaning, or the way they are used, will be changed.
Media talked about Booth as two separate women – PM’s wife (Cherie Blair) and barrister (Cherie Booth) – when represented as a working mother the two halves come together. Career women such as Nicola Horlick and Carol Galley are called ‘superwomen’, but successful men’s family responsibilities are hardly ever mentioned (see first paragraph).
Page uses ‘critical discourse theory’ and plans a wider study of gender, language and society– see Discourse and Society 14 (5): 559-580.
Bea Campbell (G 111003), drawing on research by Angela Eagle (a former minister): 1997 looked like a watershed, when the number of women MPs doubled to over 100, and talk began of ‘Blair’s babes’. But: more than ¾ of the 418 Labour MPs were men, and there were only 19 women in the other parties. In 2001 the number dropped to 95.
Two years later (1999) the Welsh Assembly elections led by 2003 to equal numbers of men and women.
Historically, women MPs had been outstanding individuals (e.g. Lady Nancy Astor, 1919) – and before 1997 there had been 189 women MPs (the Tories were the first). The first woman party leader was Margaret Thatcher in 1975 – and though Labour could have appointed Barbara Castle, they didn’t. Thatcher was reassuring to some: she was ‘feminine’ not ‘feminist’, the people she admired were men. She represented ‘regressive modernisation’ as Stuart Hall put it, i.e. there was little knock-on effect for women. Women MPs who complained about sexism were called lesbians. Shirley Williams introduced comprehensives in the 1960s but was more often talked of in relation to her appearance (and she was to join the SDP).
Mo Mowlam and Clare Short were given posts that took them ‘away from home’ (Northern Ireland, International Development) and Short felt she was ignored during her first term. Mowlam was different to others who had tried to deal with NI, but she didn’t go down well with Unionists, and the PM was put out by her standing ovation at Conference. So these two were exceptions, not emblems of New Labour, and their ‘failures’ were put down to this, rather than to sexism on the part of the party.
Tessa Jowell and Patricia Hewitt are true believers in the importance of being friendly to business. They might have been expected to change Parliament, but didn’t have a chance, especially as the party became less relevant to Blair, and they didn’t have a power base (unlike Short and Mowlam). Blair’s special advisors had a culture as ‘brats’ and followers of football – there could be representatives of minorities or groups such as gays (e.g. Peter M) but they were not to raise political issues as gays. Mowlam says if you were a crony you got listened to in cabinet – otherwise not. Short condemned the virtual collapse of cabinet government. It’s technocratic and bureaucratic, not based on modern management ideas of ‘sharing values, motivation and capacity-building.’ MPs were bullied, for example, into agreeing to cut single parent premiums (apart from a handful of Labour women) – if they didn’t, the government would ‘look weak’.
Fiona Mactaggart wrote a Fabian pamphlet on the government’s first 1,000 days and argued that women MPs are productive and hard-working but shun public confrontation. But pushing behind the scenes can mean they are reactive rather than proactive (says Eagle). Occasionally individuals do put their heads above the parapet, such as Lynne Jones who pushed on the question of evidence for Iraq having tried to buy uranium form Niger. Often when her findings are reported her name is not given in the press! Prof. Joni Loveduski confirms that ‘British parties are culturally excessively masculine, and this parliament under Blair is excessively like that.’
Have the women achieved much with their softly softly approach? Britain still has lowest level of public childcare provision in Europe, and the longest working week. Blaming parents for youth crime etc is the same as blaming mothers. Brown seems to care, and there was SureStart (a turnaround after the single parent cuts?). Effective equal pay legislation is still needed (see ‘inequality’ above) – small businesses are terrified of it according to one MP.
Prof Ruth Lister says New Labour wanted to put behind it the ‘loony left’ image of the 1980s, and it was reluctant to recognise ‘structural inequalities… race, gender, class.’ So women’s policies will only get through on the back of other things. Home Office is sponsoring reform of the law on domestic violence – steered by Harriet Harman, as there are no vested interests against the idea (unlike equal pay). Joan Ruddock is involved with foreign policy – democracy in Afghanistan she says must represent women properly. Women have been influential in devolution. 40% of Scottish MSPs are women. The Welsh went for compulsion when they saw other measures were not producing equal representation of women. The debates and the resistance were fierce… In the devolved assemblies feminists are more ‘out’ than in Westminster. In Wales and Scotland it is agreed that a critical mass of women matters. (Northern Ireland is also resistant: 15 women out of 108 members). After 1997 the culture at Westminster did change (no more childish calls about knickers or melons!).
The system of all-women shortlists for certain constituencies, introduced by John Smith, was dropped for 2001, when two (male) MPs brought a discrimination suit.
Women are more prominent in the Lords. Lovenduski concluded that British parties are ‘institutionally sexist’ and the Tories are the worst. (‘80% don’t want you, 20% are nice to you and 100% want to shag you’ as one candidate put it!). Even though the Tories were the first to recognise the value of women MPs, they are the most reluctant to change anything now.
But it seems that numbers alone are not enough – there needs to be a change of values and priorities. Though 73% of women MPs saw themselves as feminists, at the same time they felt the word seemed ‘dirty, pejorative, emotive’ – so their voice is muffled.
New Labour turns to women.
On October 6th Tony Blair is to hold a meeting to listen to the concerns of women. Baroness Jay has denied that New Labour is ‘laddish’. There has been a six-month Listening to Women consultation (writes Lucy Ward, 041099), which involved 30,000 women. Concerns highlighted: more government support for balancing work and family life; equal pay; more specific financial advice; help in setting up small businesses; better career and life skills advice for girls; greater voice for women in public affairs. The consultation document will be called ‘Voices’ and published as a glossy magazine… Women didn’t feel their concerns were valued, says Jay – you can’t make men do more housework, or look after aunt Bertha, but you can express awareness of women’s difficulties, especially in their caring roles. Blair will be urged to acknowledge that the gender pay gap is a key factor in child poverty – though Jay and Jowell say Gordon Brown listens.
* August 2007.
Violence against women.
In the past I had silly arguments over domestic violence with someone who claimed there were battered men also – which I felt undermined the seriousness of the issue of violence against women. Some telling statistics then (from Emine Sauer, Guardian 24.08.07):
81% of domestic violence is committed by men against women.
2 women are killed every week as a result of domestic violence – over 100 a year.
Over 50,000 women and children seek safety in refuges every year.
Up to 10 commit suicide every week.
Police receive nearly half a million calls a year from women about domestic violence – almost certainly only the tip of the iceberg.
Only 13,000 cases are considered by the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales.
Women’s Refuges, and Charities:
The first refuge was set up in West London in 1971 by Erin Pizzey, and there are now around 400 refuges in England and Wales.
Katherine Viner (G 091102) remembers the fear in Yorkshire (in 1977) when the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ was at large, and the current fear over a ‘trophy rapist’. She notes that a ‘media personality’ who is alleged to have raped a woman so violently she had to spend four days in hospital, and has been reported to the police by four others: but he is just a ‘highly sexed sleaze ball’ and is not condemned because he met women in bars. Have we made any progress since the useless hunt for The Ripper? The investigation was also misogynistic (see Nicole Ward Jouve: The Streetcleaner, and Joan Smith: Misogynies). And detective Jim Hobson said ‘He has made it clear that he hates prostitutes. Many people do… But the Ripper is now killing innocent women.’ Football crowds at the time chanted “11-0” when he had killed 11 women…
At least 60 prostitutes have been murdered in the last 10 years.
There have been improvements in the way rape cases are treated (no more brutal interrogations) – though sometimes ‘disgraceful’ practises persist. But the problem lies in how few cases are brought and dealt with: in 1977 33% of reported cases resulted in conviction, now it is 7%. There are more reported crimes, but also women are less likely to be believed. Violent sex and pornography are more accessible now, so it is more common for the view to be expressed that ‘she was asking for it’. Court procedure can still be brutal. Consequently women are more reluctant to report rape.
In an episode of Fantasy Football the audience cheered when it was mentioned that Ulrika Jonsson had got beaten up and kicked in the head by her boyfriend Stan Collymore. Some journalists have expressed sympathy for the reputation and career of the ‘sleaze ball’ mentioned above. And the ‘good girl/bad girl’ split is still there: the Trophy Ripper’s victims are ‘good’ because young and innocent, whilst the Sleaze ball’s victims are ‘bad’ because they met him in bars, and what’s more they admit to being stupid…
Rapists are not, as portrayed too often by the media (e.g. the Trophy rapist) ‘monsters’ but ‘ordinary men’. Nicole Ward Jouve says we don’t want to acknowledge that we know this. (Sutcliffe had ‘The ripper’ as a nickname at work years before his arrest: perhaps his mates knew something at a subconscious level).
Julie Burchill (G 231102) says that when murder rates came out as the highest in a century, a spokesperson for the Home Office said that things were not that bad because a third of the killings were domestic. That’s two a week… It has even been suggested that some alleged criminals – those who assault women – should be able to avoid prison by apologising!
Finally, she quotes Michael Kaufman, co-founder of the Canadian White Ribbon Campaign: ‘If it were between countries, we’d call it a war. If it were a disease, we’d call it an epidemic. If it were an oil spill we’d call it a disaster. But it’s happening to women, and it’s just an everyday affair. It is violence against women. It is sexual harassment at work and sexual abuse of the young. It is the beating or the blow that millions of women suffer each and every day. It is rape at home and on dates. It is murder.’