You would be forgiven for thinking David Willetts’s comments today regarding feminism was an April Fools’ Day trick. Actually, several people, including me, made sure to verify the validity of the comments as they seemed so divorced from historical reality to be real. For someone who supposed to have two brains, he clearly doesn’t have a bloody clue what feminism means and its potential for change. He should shut up scaremongering, as the media does with theories such as anarchism, sit down and read some books before the libraries get shut down.
He is ignorant to the power of feminist thought and collective organisation/mobilisation to make society equal for all. He takes the attitude of “hey, why don’t we find someone else to blame for the neoliberal policies of the last few few governments that have done the real damage to class relations?” There were problems with feminist class analysis that resulted in quite prolific divisions within the 70s-80s; but this mobilised feminism to consider the intersection between aspects such as class, gender, sexuality and race. To say that feminism isn’t concerned with aspects such as class, and is actually responsible for working class men’s problems, is bordering bizarre.
But looking at it closely, it is a rehash of the backlash against feminism in the 80s when there was the rise of the moral right- Reagan and Thatcher era. The Coalition are another form of this market moral philosophy that dictated the 80s and had a profound influence upon the 90s onwards. Feminism is being blamed for women having more opportunities. It’s almost a version of Rousseau’s arguments regarding women needing to remain in the family whilst men enter the public realm, as for him women were the source of sexual desire and a threat to men’s rationality. Despite sexual relations being part of his state of nature, he contradicts this with positioning the family as a ‘natural’ institution instead of a social one – exactly what people like Willetts are doing.
As anarcha-feminism argues, you can’t focus upon one oppression without understanding the interlinks between them all. Patriarchy is one effect of hierarchy, but so is other oppression such as racism and classism – to argue that the deconstruction of patriarchal relations is the key source of social immobility illustrates the rather perverse narrow-minded conception of social mobility and citizenship Willetts’s advocates. It’s as though for him, the citizen worthy of social mobility rights is male; women are seen as an unworthy deviation.
He also ignores the profound inequalities that women still experience, given they are more likely to be held back by childcare restrictions, low paid, part-time poor conditioned work. Their career options are reduced because of these aspects, and they still face profound discrimination – attitudes like Willetts’s don’t help. How the hell Willetts can argue that feminism is the ‘single biggest factor’ in widening the divide between the rich and poor I will never know. Again, it is symptomatic of a renewed backlash towards movements that are essential to social change and equality.
The fruits of women’s organisation and development of feminist waves/activism was women’s role in the abolitionism movement. Women realised then they couldn’t only fight alongside men, they also needed to illustrate the profound inequalities women experience. Whilst we have seen a considerable advancement of women’s rights,the fight is long from done. Women’s activism is here to stay. We just need to make sure that feminism doesn’t react in the same conservative ways it did in the 80s, especially in the USA, as alongside fighting for women’s rights we need to challenge the actual relations that shape people’s experiences – something Willett conveniently ignores.