This article in the Guardian reporting the findings of an IPPR report has been bouncing around my brain all day.
My first reaction was that it wasn’t news – of course women with less of other advantages than other women will have seen fewer advantages from improvements in gender equality. That is something that has best been captured in this awesome, and now well known metaphor from author John Scalzi: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.
But the central premise niggled at me – the idea that this continued under-representation and greater levels of inequality amongst working class women is a failure of feminism itself.
Feminism has tripped itself up at certain stages in the fight for equality, and continues to do so. But as a movement summarised in a single word it is not responsible for the ridiculous levels of inequality between working class women and men any more than it is responsible for levels of inequality between working class women and middle class women, or disabled women and able-bodied women, or gay women and straight women.
Those continued expressions of ‘difference’ in how society treats individuals and by extrapolation groups of similar individuals is an entrenched failing of humanity, not of feminism.
Feminism works to try and address gender inequality. And on its best days it does that across sections of society. It has bad days, just like we all do, and is no weaker for it, indeed in some respects it may be stronger for recognising when it has failed women.
But the reason why working class women and middle class women are more unequal than their male counterparts is because of the inequality between men and women, and between classes, and that is a symptom of a relentlessly capitalist patriarchy that values production and money ahead of family and caring (regardless of which sex is doing the production or the caring).
Femisim hasn’t failed women. Society fails anyone who doesn’t fit into the neat box that is easiest to manage, control and profit from. It’s why Native Americans & Canadians are still under-represented in North America. It’s why Aboriginal People in Australia and New Zealand still fight for equal treatment. It’s why gay men and women don’t have the same rights as their straight neighbours.
And, for all that I support positive discrimination and will stand and fight for legislation that entrenches the rights of all people to be equal, it’s a culture change that is needed before we will be able to genuinely achieve equality. And that culture change is, I fear, a long long long way off. And that’s not feminism’s fault either. Infact feminism, just like LGBT campaigners, and Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, have probably each omitted a ‘long’ from how far off it is. Unfortunately the people playing the game on easy are more interested in downloading the cheats than they are in ensuring that they aren’t the only ones with the easy option.