When I first heard Sandi Toksvig give her reason for leaving the Friday night News Quiz as setting up the Women’s Equality Party my heart gave a little leap. I have only ever been interested in politics a couple of times in my life… the first time when I discovered feminism at university and realised it made perfect sense in explaining the order of things in the world and the second time was ahead of the 1997 election when it looked like we would finally have a government that would take women and their lives seriously. That was a honeymoon period which didn’t last. As a journalist I interviewed Glenys Kinnock about British politics and she said she could in no way join a Parliament which faced each other as enemies and was built around the politics of opposition. I totally agreed and still do.
Getting equal numbers is important but so is changing structures and cultures… it does not always happen automatically! Women and particularly women in the mainstream of business and politics where processes have been established around the lives and characteristics of men become immersed in the dominant culture rather than establish their own. This in no way blames women for being like men, they may well be or they may well learn to be – it may have to happen to progress.
So a group of really inspiring and brilliant women from the mainstream, let it be said, rather than the margins which is where my early feminist activities and beliefs were drawn from… are spelling it out. I only hope the complexities of gender relations imbued as they are with power and dominance get their just attention.
I have argued for years for quotas for women on boards and even in senior management in certain circumstances. During the Treasury Select Committee’s interviews and published in their Report into Women and the City which I submitted evidence,
Sally Keeble– the only female member of the committee…noted that women had not gained one step of equality without the aid of legislation i.e. if left to men over the years we would still be without property rights, rights over our children, barred from professions and education etc. etc. We may look in aghast at Saudi Arabia where women’s second class status is enshrined in law but we have not got that big a headstart – what is a hundred years or so in history?
I hope the WE party are prepared for the inevitable backlash that may follow their formation. I know they are keen to engage with all political parties and urge them to adopt their policies but a note of caution – historically when women’s concerns have been politicised, mainstream parties have often co-opted their demands and made them their own, only to shuffle them further down the pack at a later date.
The time is right for women to make their own arguments and have their own party and hold out for the changes they want to make.
I celebrated International Women’s Day with thousands of others yesterday at the WOW festival on London’s Southbank. The particular draw this year for me was Salma Hayek’s premier showing of her animated film The Prophet, a version of the best -selling book by Kahlil Gibran, after which she gave a talk and did a Q & A session with the audience in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
There was something so refreshing to have a figure that is one of Hollywood’s most glamorous actresses talking about feminism and changing the world. I confess to not having known very much about Hayek and so did some research to discover that she started her own production company in order to provide films and TV shows together with roles that she felt the male dominated film world were denying women. She is also responsible for Ugly Betty – the hit TV series. She spent eight years trying to get Freda made and another eight to complete The Prophet which features a little girl finding her voice, such is the resistance to ‘female centred’ films. The film The Prophet is for all ages and charming yet she has failed to find a distributer for it in the UK. How depressing to think that all the public want is violence and action. She was told that a film about poetry and philosophy would not interest a young audience! Hayek also spoke passionately about the charity she is involved in called Chime for Change
Another Hollywood legend Jane Fonda stood up for feminism last week too at the International Conference on Masculinity in New York stating that ‘the most intractable problem that humanity faces is the problem of patriarchy,’. Predictably both women’s important critiques and comments were overshadowed in the Daily Mail write up by descriptions of their appearance and clothing.
One problem that feminism in the past has had is trying to effect change from the margins so to have a number of powerful insider women with huge influence publicly demanding change and an end to patriarchy is cause for celebration. No more having to bite your lip!
We hear a lot about choice amidst the numerous debates about women and their position in society. Women choose to go to work or stay at home, women choose to work part time, women choose to work in the sex trade, women choose to wear a veil…. If we start to add in the less obvious choices.. some women choose the have the daughters’ genitalia mutilated, Chinese women chose to bind their daughters feet, women choose to turn a blind eye to their partners abuse of their daughters, women chose marriage over careers until a few years ago….. the use of the word choice becomes less and less appropriate. Of course women did not choose to hand over all their property to their husbands upon marriage. Of course women in Saudi Arabia do not choose not to drive…
We choose available options… but the question is who makes them available and who and what determines the cultural and social discourse of the time – this can be material and, more powerfully ideological. Please can we recognise the discourse of freedom of choice for what it is – limiting.