Getty
Show Hide image

The Five Main Issues Facing Modern Feminism

Despite our collective achievements, sexism today can seem an insurmountable obstacle. These are the fronts we are fighting on.

 

What exactly is "modern feminism"? Whether you’re with the Times and see it as "hot, rude and self-confident", with that ubiquitous pub-goer who remonstrates on how it’s "unnecessary" because we’re not throwing ourselves under horses anymore, or more inclined to agree with this magazine and say that we’re all just obsessed with gin and cake, there’s no denying that we’re seeing something of a new wave. 

"But where is the focus of this new wave?" we hear you cry through mouthfuls of Tanqueray and Black Forest Gateau (which, FYI, is making a comeback), "All anyone seems to do is argue on Twitter!" Well, yes, quite. Turns out that, horses aside, there remain some hefty barriers on the road to 21st century equality. Of course, there are the obvious ones: gin, cake, the inability of many of its members to take the piss out of themselves, that douchebag who is suing his gym, and certain bloggers who think the hashtag #killallmen is the embodiment of empowerment rather than straightforward hate speech (apparently it’s the same as "tremble hetero swine" or "die cis scum" in a good way, both maxims that are unlikely to overtake YOLO as the phrase du jour anytime soon.)

Obviously, the one main issue facing modern feminism is men, and, though we don’t want to kill all or even any of them (nor start a hashtag implying that we might), there’s no point hiding behind words like "sexism" or "patriarchy" when considering who’s really in charge today, and who has the power to prevent us from climbing up there on the phallic plinth beside them. It’s men, pure and simple. But before you start calling us aggressive-looking man-hating harridans (again), let’s break that down a bit for the uninitiated. By the end of this article, you’ll basically be a Gender Studies graduate.

1. The Division of Domestic Labour

Otherwise known as "the final feminist frontier", we actually see it more as the first, because without this one down, gender equality is pretty much a no-go. Our feminist foremothers succeeded in getting some women out of the kitchen and into the workplace, but eight out of ten women still say they do more housework than their male partners, and those with dependent children are even more likely to be slaving away. Contrary to what the Telegraph might say, being part of a couple where you both do an equal amount of housework doesn’t condemn you to divorce, depression, and a dead husband by 33. What we’re talking about when we talk about housework are entrenched ideas that housework and childcare are women’s work and, because women are paid less than men, they’re more likely to give up their jobs to enter a world of underpaid drudgery. It should go without saying that making the choice to stay at home is as admirable as any work, and a choice that deserves social recognition rather than eye-rolling snipes about "desperate housewives", but the point is that many can’t make a choice when their hand is forced financially or socially. Obvious solutions, such as improved provisions for paternity leave, subsidised childcare, equal pay, and just generally being more like Sweden are frustratingly still a long way off.

2. The Media

Yep, that thing that we’ve been banging on about for over a year now: the media does a lot to perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes, and culprits range from Weetabix (whose sexist ad implies your lad can be a superhero but your daughter can’t), to Unilever (skinny women aren’t "real" women and/or dark-skinned women should get paler), to fashion magazines (skinny women are the only women), to the Daily Mail (eight year old celebrates her curves in unauthorised bikini shot - hasn’t she inherited her model mother’s legs?) to the sexist scrutiny of female politicians, to the tellybox (just 18 per cent of TV presenters are women over 50), all of which have real-life implications. One study showed that 70 per cent of girls under 7 say they want to be thinner, for example, with the average British woman worrying about their body every 15 minutes. With body anxiety this pervasive, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to media sexism (though more women in top positions is a big one). Campaigns against lads’ mags and the Sun’s Page Three have been gaining ground for a while now, and adding your signatures to these is a step in the right direction. Organisations such as Media Smart, Endangered Bodies, UK Feminista and AnyBody are campaigning hard on these issues, while young feminists are lobbying advertisers and engaging in sticker sabotage. Every little helps.

3. The Glass Ceiling

As many commentators rightly pointed out after the death of Margaret Thatcher that Maggie "made it through the glass ceiling, but pulled the ladder up after her": a phrase that reminded us all of how reinforced that glass really is. Thatcher herself wanted none of the feminist cause, frequently referring to herself as an anomaly amongst the weaker sex; women successes of the modern age are slightly more charitable, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg ostensibly helping to winch her sisters through the ceiling with her bestselling career advice book Lean In. Although Lean In is based around the idea that - in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt - "No one can make you inferior without your permission", the reality of the workplace in numbers is that 22 out of 197 global heads of state are women; the percentage of women at the top in job sectors ranging from government to journalism to law in the UK and US levels out at 22 per cent; 18 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are female; women returning to work after having children are likely to see their careers progress downward rather than upward. Personal ambition is undoubtedly an asset, but acknowledging that we must fight overarching sexist structures in the workplace - yes, even through "positive discrimination" - is key.

4. Social Inequality

Around 58 per cent of carers are female according to the Office of National Statistics, with women in full-time work still more likely to be carers than men in full-time work. Transgendered women remain extremely likely to be prejudiced against; lesbian women tend to experience higher levels of discrimination in the UK than gay men. Black African women who are asylum seekers in the UK have an appallingly high mortality rate, estimated at 7 times higher than for white women. The most persistent health disparities, according to the latest EHRC report, were best illustrated by the fact that a quarter of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women reported a disability in the last census, rising to two thirds of Pakistani women in older age groups. This rather depressing state of affairs shows that issues of race, disability, sexual orientation and gender (amongst many other things) often combine to create a reality of extreme disadvantage for certain groups. Most of the time, these groups are female.

5. Violence Against Women

Although it is no longer the case in Britain, a large percentage of the world refuses to recognise rape within marriage as a criminal offence. Meanwhile, here in the UK, 89 per cent of regular domestic violence victims are women, and two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner. The "banter" culture that surrounds violence against women - jokes about "rape as surprise sex"; "I’d have sex with her" recast as "I’d smash it" - doesn’t do this state of affairs any favours. So long as women are disproportionately targeted for violence, our work is never done - which is why the great work of charities like Women’s Aid is so encouraging. 

Put like this, sexism today can seem an insurmountable obstacle, despite all of our past collective achievements. But it’s worth remembering that often, just drawing attention to inequality can be enough to get people on board with tackling it; consider the huge popularity of Everyday Sexism. If you don’t know where to start, places like UK Feminista have a campaign for every form of stigma, ranging from discussions of why people assume that Muslim women wearing headscarves "don’t have a voice", to policing plastic surgery adverts in magazines. It’s still a tough world out there for The Ladies, and we hope that we’ve demonstrated how sexism remains at work in 2013. Here's hoping modern feminism will tackle it; as we all know, a fight on many fronts greatly improves our chances.

 

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Getty
Show Hide image

Why Jeremy Corbyn’s evolution on Brexit matters for the Scottish Labour party

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, an ideological ally of Corbyn, backs staying in the customs union. 

Evolution. A long, slow, almost imperceptible process driven by brutal competition in a desperate attempt to adapt to survive. An accurate description then by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, of Labour’s shifting, chimera of a Brexit policy. After an away day that didn’t decamp very far at all, there seems to have been a mutation in Labour’s policy on customs union. Even McDonnell, a long-term Eurosceptic, indicated that Labour may support Tory amendments when the report stages of the customs and trade bills are finally timetabled by the government (currently delayed) to remain in either “The” or “A” customs union.

This is a victory of sorts for Europhiles in the Shadow Cabinet like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. But it is particularly a victory for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn who comes from the same Bennite tradition, Leonard broke cover last month to call for exactly such a change to policy on customs union.

Scotland has a swathe of marginal Labour-SNP seats. Its voters opted voted by a majority in every constituency to Remain. While the Scottish National Party has a tendency to trumpet this as evidence of exceptionalism – Scotland as a kind-of Rivendell to England’s xenophobic Mordor – it’s clear that a more Eurocentric, liberal hegemony dominates Scottish politics. Scotland’s population is also declining and it has greater need of inward labour through migration than England. It is for these reasons that the SNP has mounted a fierce assault on Labour’s ephemeral EU position.

At first glance, the need for Labour to shift its Brexit position is not as obvious as Remainers might have it. As the Liberal Democrat experience in last year’s general election demonstrates, if you want to choose opposing Brexit as your hill to die on… then die you well may. This was to some extent replicated in the recent Scottish Labour Leadership race. Anas Sarwar, the centrist challenger, lost after making Brexit an explicit dividing line between himself and the eventual winner, Leonard. The hope that a juggernaut of Remainer fury might coalesce as nationalist resentment did in 2015 turned out to be a dud. This is likely because for many Remainers, Europe is not as high on their list of concerns as other matters like the NHS crisis. They may, however, care about it however when the question is forced upon them.

And it very well might be forced. One day later this year, the shape of a deal on phase two of the negotiations will emerge and Parliament will have to vote, once and for all, to accept or reject a deal. This is both a test and an incredible political opportunity. Leonard, a Scottish Labour old-timer, believes a deal will be rejected and lead to a general election.

If Labour is to win such an election resulting from a parliamentary rejection of the Brexit deal, it will need many of those marginal seats in Scotland. The SNP is preparing by trying to box Labour in. Last month its Westminster representatives laid a trap. They invited Corbyn to take part in anti-Brexit talks of opposition parties he had no choice but to reject. In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has been ripping into the same flank that Sarwar opened against Richard Leonard in the leadership contest, branding Labour’s Brexit position “feeble”. At the same time the Scottish government revealed a devastating impact assessment to accompany the negative forecasts leaked from the UK government. If Labour is leading a case against a “bad deal”,  it cannot afford to be seen to be SNP-lite.

The issue will likely come to a head at the Scottish Labour Conference early next month, since local constituency parties have already sent a number of pro-EU and single market motions to be debated there. They could be seen as a possible challenge to the leadership’s opposition to the single market or a second referendum. That is, If these motions make it to debate, unlike at national Labour Conference in 2017, where there seemed to be an organised attempt to prevent division.

When Leonard became leader, he stressed co-operation with the Westminster leadership. Still, unlike the dark “Branch Office” days of the recent past, Scottish Labour seems to be wielding some influence in the wider party again. And Scottish Labour figures will find allies down south. In January, Thornberry used a Fabian Society speech in Edinburgh, that Enlightenment city, to call for a dose of Scottish internationalism in foreign policy. With a twinkle in her eye, she fielded question after question about Brexit. “Ah…Brexit,” she joked. “I knew we’d get there eventually”. Such was Thornberry’s enthusiasm that she made the revealing aside that: “If I was not in the Leadership, then I’d probably be campaigning to remain in the European Union.”