QUITE A few newspaper column inches were given over to the Future Foundation study ’Talking Equality’, published by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). I’m not sure how much credence we should give to a study based on a sample of just 35 individuals! However, it did raise some interesting points.

THE EQUAL Opportunities Commission in Britain recently published an ’equality’ survey to coincide with the 75th anniversary of all women over 21 securing the vote. The publicity this attracted prompted two readers of The Socialist to give their opinions of the survey and its conclusions. CWI online.

Reclaiming feminism?

In the study ’feminism’ was regarded negatively by almost everyone and viewed as ’old-fashioned’. But what exactly is meant by feminism? It means different things to different people. For some it’s just about ’fighting for your rights’ or ’fighting for equality’ - for others it is associated with blaming men for the problems that women face in society.

Most women don’t hate men as a group, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t recognise discrimination or want to do something about it. In fact, almost every individual questioned in the study had personal experience of inequality and was concerned that discrimination continues to exist.

There was, according to the report in the Guardian, "a strong feeling amongst respondents that society is still sexist, particularly in the workplace". But it was clear that individuals didn’t know how inequality, discrimination or sexism could be addressed.

Women said that they wouldn’t challenge discrimination in the workplace for fear of personal repercussions. Many of those surveyed thought that women are low paid and have the main burden for domestic responsibilities because of "individual choice" or "natural differences" and that these problems should be tackled by individuals themselves.

Despite the unrepresentative nature of the survey, I do think that these opinions are shared by many women (and men). Since 1997 New Labour have pushed the idea of ’individual responsibility’; of the government being there to help people to ’help themselves’.’Post-feminist’ ideology has argued that, with enough individual effort and determination, women can ’have it all’.

Collective action

Of course, some women have done very nicely thank you, securing well-paid jobs and comfortable lifestyles. But that’s not (and never will be under this unequal, profit motivated and exploitative system) the experience of the majority of women and, in particular, of working-class women

It’s no wonder that many of those surveyed thought terms such as ’gender equality’, ’pay gap’ and ’work-life balance’ applied only to ’high-flying’ women.

One single mother was quoted as saying "You’d be on Valium for life or Prozac because you’d be there thinking I’m so hard done by. Whereas you think, oh well, such is life".

This attitude is not difficult to understand given that for so long women have not been offered the alternative of collective organisation or struggle for change.

Over the last 20 years or so, the women’s movement has fragmented and the Labour Party has become a big-business party with emphasis on individuals solving their own problems. It’s only very recently that the trade unions have begun to rediscover the importance of collective strike action to improve the lives of both male and female members.

There is a massive political vacuum which can lead to some women blaming themselves for the situation they find themselves in (rather than seeing that it’s the system that’s at fault ) and feeling helpless about changing anything.

If by ’feminism’ we mean women collectively fighting inequality and discrimination it is certainly not "as outmoded as the suffragettes".

A struggle is needed in the 21st century; a struggle that links women with working-class men in the workplaces and the unions; in the campaign to build a new workers’ party and a socialist programme that can fight for the rights of women and all working people. Recent workplace action and the anti-war movement point to a new period of collective struggle, with women to the fore.


Collective class struggle

"FEMINISM OUTMODED and upopular" was the headline in the Guardian (2 July) which made me wonder how they were trying to convince the public this time that women are supposed to be second-class citizens. This full-page spread was based on a small survey of 35 people commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The article skimmed over the fact that 80% of those questioned had personally suffered from inequality at some time. This was felt to be a personal, private matter and one which was a result of "natural differences" between the sexes. At the same time they complained they did not want to be targeted as a group but as individuals. Margaret Thatcher would be proud!!

This news came as a shock to me as the women’s society at my university has been a great success this year. It has had to reinvent itself from the past where its only events were make-overs or ’successful’ campaigns under the title of ’Nikki knickers’ (which involved the women officer’s friends walking round with bright pink thongs pulled on over their clothes!)

This year we reclaimed feminism and have had a core group of about 12 activists running a campaign about the gender pay gap, the highlight being when we crashed the careers fair upsetting employers by enquiring why they did not take part in regular pay reviews to check for gender bias.

Unfortunately, none of us were hired - which as an underclass of bimbo females we struggled to understand. Maybe students perceive the gender pay gap to be a bigger problem than the interviewees. This could certainly be understood when women are expected to pay the same amount for the privilege of receiving an education as our male counterparts but then receive a wage 19% less to assist us paying back our 15 grand!

Although I hate to hark on about something that has become as "outmoded as the suffragettes" (!) I fail to see why the opinions of 35 people should get a full page in the Guardian, whilst the two million who marched in London against the war had their numbers discounted and views distorted!

It does make you wonder whether it is the patriarchal big business elite attempting to divide the working class, trying to prevent them creating a collective class struggle, or whether I’m just an old-fashioned, butch, dungaree-wearing, lesbian feminist who hates men?!!

Sheila Caffrey, Swansea.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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