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What would happen if the world’s women went on strike?

As the backlash against feminism grows, let’s highlight the unrecognised female labour upon which capitalist patriarchy depends.

Right now, women across the globe have good reason to feel a deep, burning fury. Not that we haven’t always had it. It’s just that these days, the men around us aren’t pretending any more.

It was Germaine Greer who claimed  that, “women have very little idea of how much men hate them”. Well, now we know. It’s reached a point where they’re no longer even trying to hide it.

For years we sought to convince ourselves that men’s oppression of women – the rapes, the beatings, the killings, the theft of time and resources and hope – had been nothing more than some random, unhappy accident. We reasoned that once men were made to understand that women were every bit as human as them, all of this would stop.

Men would no longer feel justified in stealing our resources, appropriating our labour, taking credit for our ideas, abusing our bodies, excluding us from all the decisions that shaped our lives. They didn’t mean to do it. It was all a misunderstanding, fuelled by religion, superstition and free-floating, abstract prejudice (a misunderstanding that millennia of women who’d gone before us had, inexplicably, never got round to clearing up).

But something has changed. There is nothing particularly unique about the misogyny of Donald Trump. He’s hardly the first woman-hating world leader and he won’t be the last. What’s more, as the likes of Piers Morgan are so keen to remind us, women in the US currently have rights that many elsewhere are denied.

Yet what’s different about Trump is the sheer nakedness of his hate. There’s no real effort made to blame it on the Word of God or family values or the magic, catch-all “innate difference”. It’s about power and nothing else. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.” I treat women like pieces of meat because I can.

Trump is the figurehead for a global backlash against women in which men are not even feigning ignorance, let alone claiming the moral high ground. Women in Oklahoma face needing the written consent of the man who impregnated them in order to access an abortion. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has just signed a bill to decriminalise domestic violence. Here in the UK, openly anti-feminist MP Philip Davies has been elected to the Women and Equalities Select Committee.

It’s not as though misogyny wasn’t doing an effective job of slaughtering women already – 47,000 die every year as a result of unsafe abortion, while in India one woman is killed every hour in a so-called “dowry death”. Adding to this is a new, emboldened form of woman-hating as statement politics.

The Global Gag Rule has been not only reinstated but widened. Who can forget that photo of Trump, a white man surrounded by other white men, signing a document that will lead to the deaths of countless women in developing countries? Does it betray a lack of empathy and self-awareness, or is it a statement in itself?

I can’t help thinking we are supposed to feel cowed by it, to accept that we have lost. We are supposed to be good girls – no more protests, no more voices raised – and hope that nothing else is taken from us. That photo is a show of dominance, a reminder of what patriarchy is prepared to do. We cannot afford to be intimidated by it.

Men do not treat us the way they do because they think we are worthless. They know our worth. As the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards puts it:

“The existence of rules to keep women in the power of men shows that men must have wanted of women something which women could not be trusted to provide of their own accord.”

Marriage, reproductive coercion, economic exclusion, psychological manipulation and the threat of violence all function as means of allowing men to appropriate the sexual, reproductive and emotional labour of women. Thereafter they use gender as a means of trying to persuade us that we’re not really giving them anything; it’s just the way we are.

“Women’s responsibility for care,” writes Katrine Marçal, “is presented as a free choice, and we reason that when you make a choice out of your own free will, you have to accept the consequences.”

But we are not choosing our subordinate position in a gender hierarchy and men already know this. There’s no point in reiterating it any longer; it’s time to down tools. 

The organisers of January’s Women’s March are proposing a Women’s Strike to take place on 8 March this year:

The idea is to mobilize women, including trans women, and all who support them in an international day of struggle – a day of striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions. These actions are aimed at making visible the needs and aspirations of those whom lean-in feminism ignored: women in the formal labor market, women working in the sphere of social reproduction and care, and unemployed and precarious working women.

It is an exhilarating prospect, but also a frightening one, not least because it aims to make visible the invisible: the unrecognised female labour upon which capitalist patriarchy depends.

While the march may have been an expression of justified anger and solidarity, the proposed strike goes beyond this. This is about more than fury at individual acts of misogyny, or particular issues such as abortion rights. This gets to the heart of what patriarchy is about: not what men feel about women, but what they want from them. There is a direct line between “grab ‘em by the pussy” and the simultaneous appropriation and erasure of women’s work.

And yet I find myself fretting over how, on a personal level, I’ll be approaching 8 March. I’m due in the office. I can’t imagine myself ringing up and saying, “sorry, but I have an important anti-neoliberal statement to make”.

Nor can I imagine myself not participating in any care work for one whole day. My youngest child cannot even talk, let alone form a coherent response to “Mummy has to ignore you today because of the patriarchy.”

I am a middle-class women with a supportive partner, yet even I’m worried about the practicalities. I can’t help wondering whether many of “those whom lean-in feminism ignored” will find it impossible to abstain from any form of work. After all, women do not offer up their labour cheaply or for free because it has never crossed their minds to do otherwise. Usually they do so because they are justifiably afraid: of violence, of poverty, of no one else being there to clean up the mess.

While a withdrawal of female labour is absolutely essential as a form of resistance to exploitation, I wonder whether something less impressive but more gradual and sustained than one day of “striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges and squares” could also work.

Part of what makes women’s work invisible is repetition. For many men, a day without the help of a woman becomes an opportunity for showboating: see, we managed just fine without you. Another day without the performance of one small task, and then another, and another, might offer a more accurate reflection of what it is that women actually do.

I’ve never known a time in my life when the backlash against feminism was so glaringly obvious. It is devastating, but in a curious way we also have to see it as an opportunity. Let’s harness our anger. Let’s stop telling ourselves that men don’t know what they’re doing; they do. Let’s keep reminding ourselves that the jobs women do have value and what’s more, that men see this. And let’s shine a light on the way in which men’s exploitation of women’s labour both mirrors and intersects with exploitation across racial and class boundaries.

If capitalism is not sustainable, then neither is patriarchy. If we refuse to retreat, the backlash could also end up being the death throes. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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