Feminism is an entire world view or gestalt, not just a laundry list of women’s issues.
Ah, International Women’s Day (IWD). Nothing like the klaxon of a UN-endorsed day of faffery to raise the hackles of the conservative commentariat, including Elle Hardy in her 6 March column for The Daily Telegraph, in which she lambasts modern feminism and casts humanism as the preserve of exponents of liberal democracy to address the plight of worthy victims of ‘real’ oppression, while ignoring the scholarly interpretation (i.e. the literary knowledge and linguistic skill required to be able to comprehend and practice the ideals of ancient and Renaissance thinkers). Hardy quotes Cicero without providing the context that shaped his legacy, his translation of the Ancient Greeks and introduction of their chief philosophical schools to enable a new, distinctly Roman voice. Hardy’s critique is a quasi-Pat Robertson rant against socialism, based on the quaint notion that the first & second waves of feminism were ‘noble‘, while the current or third wave of feminism, ‘has become a by-word for the persnickety and the banal; a banner under which to air boutique grievances … (the) cultural minutiae in the West’.
Third wave feminism is a reaction against the second wave ignoring the voices and agency of women of colour, differing abilities or gender identification. In scorning the third wave, Hardy scorns the Ciceronian legacy she professes to admire; for we move further along the path of ‘kindness, generosity, goodness and justice’ through welcoming and celebrating diverse voices, not mocking or ignoring them. Hardy’s column is a strange exercise in confirmation bias: ‘my weltanschauung* is better than yours and I am here to liberate you’; yet most of her criticism is reserved for middle-class, white, female feminists. Yes, she is correct in using the dread ‘socialism’ tag twice in four paragraphs: International Women’s Day was started by groups of European socialists. In 1911, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. I’ll repeat that for the peanut gallery: women AND men joined together to give birth to this crypto-socialist feminista wankfest. A week later, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire claimed the lives of 140 women in New York City, cementing labour standards and working conditions as a key angle of future IWD observances. I love this clip, full of socialist ratbags such as Angela Merkel:
Elle Hardy’s desire to stick feminism in a museum display case because she wants opportunity, not equality is naïve. Opportunity stems from structural equality, particularly socio-economic equality. As one of my favourite tweeters, Nigerian journalist Jennifer Ehidiamen wrote on 6 March, ‘Gender equality is giving equal oppr. It is not disenfranching 1 group over another’. Hardy’s assertion that 60 per cent of the wealth of the United States lies in the hands of women is unsourced, so here’s a little something I prepared earlier: while women fill 51.4 per cent of management, professional and related occupations in the US, only 8.1 per cent of the country’s top earners are women. Fewer than 15 per cent go on to executive officer level (source: Catalyst.org). The pipeline for women to progress beyond broad-based management positions (which, as defined by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, includes occupations such as ‘lodging’ and ‘food service’ managers) to the pointy end of the pyramid doesn’t exist. Australian women are increasingly occupying middle-management roles, but the same growth is not seen in senior leadership ranks. Given all of the opportunities our postcodes of birth offer, the Elle Hardys are more likely to remain team leaders than thought leaders. Yes, as a white Australian woman, I am better served than a black man. We’re both better served by society than women of colour.
Giving a paternalistic pat on the head to the good people who work in rape crisis centres and shelters does not excise them from feminism. Violence against women is rooted in gender inequality (I forgot, don’t worry about inequality ‘because opportunity’). Poor maternal health care is rooted in gender inequality. Lower rates of access to healthcare among women affect generational, whole-of-family wellbeing. As for liberal democracy solving these problems, take a look at these infographics:
The King Canutes railing against feminism and International Women’s Day in 2014 do so because feminism is more powerful, richer in context and influence than it was 100 years’ ago. They deny the essence of humanity that the third wave (and whatever comes next) brings. Feminism belongs to more people, who interpret and live it as suits them – not ‘us’. Who is likely to effect the greater social change? Those who impose their belief systems or local agents for change? As Jessica Valenti states: “Feminism isn’t simply about being a woman in a position of power. It’s battling systemic inequities; it’s a social justice movement that believes sexism, racism and classism exist and interconnect, and that they should be consistently challenged.”
*I believe there are concepts certain languages do justice to; in the case of ‘worldview’, it’s German.