International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us all to consider that half of the population that suffers most simply by virtue of its sex. It’s pleasing, particularly, to see our MP, Anna Soubry, Tweeting today on this question. Given Anna has previously dismissed initiatives for and by women of Broxtowe Labour Party as “tokenistic twaddle” we welcome her apparent conversion.
It’s worth considering, however, what this all means to Anna and to women in general. For the Tories, the ascension to Downing Street of Margaret Thatcher marks out the Tory Party as a bastion of progressive thought and practice; as standard bearers of feminism. That Anna can share the same party as anti-abortionist and arch-reactionary Jacob Rees-Mogg appears to be of little concern to her. Still less that a former Conservative Home Secretary Ann Widdicombe ordered the shackling and handcuffing of pregnant women prisoners to hospital beds while giving birth.
It’s often pointed out, by Tories, that because the Tory Party has had two female leaders and Labour is yet to elect it’s first, that the Nasty Party is somehow the champion of women’s liberation. In reality, Theresa May’s pro-austerity politics offer nothing to the majority of women. It might well be a shuddering irony that the political leader best representing women in the UK today – Jeremy Corbyn – is a white, middle-class man but hey; them’s the breaks. The answer isn’t to ditch Labour and choose the Conservatives; the onus is on the Conservatives to dump their reactionary politics and start really representing women; all women. Not just privileged, middle-class, white ones. But, of course, that is never going to happen. The Party is called Conservative for a very good reason…
Which brings to mind the last Conservative Party leadership election. Which featured two women. Andrea Leadsom and eventual victor, Theresa May. The nasty party is, obviously, the most fundamentally patriarchal formation in mainstream British politics. ‘Family values’ and ‘traditional’ mores are the Tories’ home turf. Disgusting, however, doesn’t even come close to accurately describing one woman trash-talking her ‘sister’ because one womb is deemed less functional than another.
In reality, Conservative ‘feminism’ is patriarchal conformity. It is ruling-class entitlement. It does nothing for working class women. Except to ensure their continued exclusion because they aren’t the right type of women. Single mums from council estates, women working three minimum-wage jobs, unemployed women, BAME women; these are not the women with which the Mays, Leadsoms and Soubrys of this world are concerned.
Austerity impacts harder on women than almost any other group in modern Britain. ‘Feminism’ of the type supported by Anna Soubry is the feminism that enslaves. It is feminism concerned only with allowing women access to the machinery of exploitation, alongside men. More women CEOs, greater numbers of female directors and women leaders of political parties will benefit working-class women in no material way at all.
Instead, perhaps Anna Soubry could take up the cause of women, here in Broxtowe, reeling from the impact of her party’s vicious austerity measures? Women desperate and afraid following the closure of domestic violence refuges? Women struggling to feed their families, thanks to the Tories’ assault on benefits? Instead of wasting her time and ours on “tokenistic twaddle” on Twitter.
As always, the choice is about one type of politics or another; theirs or ours. Their feminism – the opportunity to exploit, disadvantage and disenfranchise – or ours; feminism that enables, liberates and emancipates.