Feminism is not a party political issue
A couple of years ago, Conservative Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May and Diane Abbott, Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Public Health were both proudly photographed in t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘This is What A Feminist Looks Like’ in a cross party display of support for the Fawcett Society’s 2006/07 ‘Feminist Challenge’.
The goal was to reclaim the ‘f-word’ and have the wide ranging bunch of famous faces from politicians like May and Abbott to female barristers like Cherie Blair QC and male comedians like Bill Bailey, promoting the idea that feminists were normal human beings and not the hairy, axe grinding harridans of legend.
However, the question of what it is to be a feminist was been hijacked by both sides of the Labour/Conservative debate last week as a way to demonstrate their respective parties’ credentials to their female voters. It started with former Women and Equality Minister and current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (and incidentally currently the longest serving female MP in the House of Commons) Harriet Harman telling this month’s issue of Total Politics that ‘If you’re actually political, you can’t be a conservative and a feminist’.
This, of course, provoked a furious response on the Guardian’s Comment is Free from Tory backbenchers Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom detailing exactly how the socialists have historically been ‘late to the party’ on women’s rights and that it was the Conservatives that were properly empowering women which they languished on welfare and all female shortlists under Labour.
The article was part of the ongoing Tory attempt to reclaim the hearts and minds of the female voters away from their supposed ‘natural resting place’ on the Left. Amber Rudd is one of the cohort of young, female Conservative MPs elected in 2010 that David Cameron is at pains to show off as part of the Conservatives’ new touchy feely, liberal attitude to women and minorities in order to undo some of the damage caused by the cuts being perceived as comparatively hitting women harder than men.
However, all this bitching and bravado is missing the point about feminism and its role in politics today. Feminism is a political issue but it is not a party political issue. The modern movement does not care who it is that protects women from being beaten up by their husbands, or who gives them equal pay or who makes it safe for them to walk home alone at night. All they care about is that it gets done. This entire ‘Look at me! Look at me! Look at how many girls I’ve got on MY team’, is pandering and doesn’t go anyway into solving the problem. The problems facing the modern feminist movement go beyond the historical accusations that Conservatives don’t like it when women leave the house and that Labour and the Unions don’t like it when women take wages away from men; whilst it is political, it is also economic, cultural and social.
The argument going back and forth between each side at the moment is nothing more than a front for their central political agendas. Conservatives argue that they are helping women back into work; this is in a similar vein to the rest of their employment and welfare policy, similarly Labour’s stance on issues like childcare and maternity leave is in line with their more socialist ‘it takes a village’ credentials. The fact that these things affect women is incidental and unavoidable but it doesn’t make them a ‘women’s issue’.
Much like all issues that affect women are not necessarily feminist issues, not all women are feminists and of the ones that are, not all feminists make it their sole reason for getting up in the morning. To assume all women are the same, that they need to be flattered, charmed and convinced as a group that only cares about what they get for the extra X chromosome is the same kind of naive and narrow minded thinking that the misogynists use. It assumes that all women care about things like child benefit, it assumes that all men don’t. As a twenty one year old, unemployed graduate and childless feminist I don’t care that much about child benefit, but there are many thousands of feminists that do; our priorities are shaped by the point we are it in our lives. Next election I’m voting for the party that will get my generation out of the dole queue, not the party that shouts the loudest about gender solidarity.
The feminist agenda is something that needs to run parallel to mainstream politics and be the priority of every major party to fix with the willingness and the help of the British people. We do not need to be pandered to, we are not all the same nor have the same concerns; we just want it done. It doesn’t matter what either party has done in the past it is what they are doing now, regardless of any political points they may win or lose, is what matters.
The Representation of the People Act or Fourth Reform Act, which won women the right to vote in 1918, was passed by a coalition government of Liberals and Conservatives; do you really think anyone is going to vote for another on that basis in 2015?Tagged in: feminism, politics, women, Women’s rights
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