Books: Reclaiming the F-word
THE NEW FEMINISM by Natasha Walter, Little, Brown pounds 17.50
Sunday 18 January 1998
Feminism, Walter believes, suffers from an image problem. The young people she talked to were independent, ambitious, and confident of their equality with each other, but they balked at being called feminists. Thirty years of media vilification of threatening viragos, unlovable and lonely, had done the trick. Yet, simultaneously, Walter's interviewees insisted on their rights to earn good money, to share childcare with the opposite sex, and to be defined as "insiders" not as rebels. These young, middle- class women have grown up in a culture that tells them they can and should have it all. They don't dare complain, you feel. Back in the Seventies, we could talk about oppression. Today, you'll be accused of whinging. Mustn't grumble ... Walter's solution to this is to cite many examples of powerful individual women whose lives are dramatically different from their mothers', who are optimistic rather than embattled, who can embrace both traditional femininity (pretty clothes and speaking nicely) and feminist ideals of equality with men. Walter's feminism is adamant that you do not have to be a socialist, and welcomes Conservative women into its ranks, but her beliefs are rooted in the Marxist notion that changes in material circumstances are crucial in the fight for justice. She calls hers a "solid, unimpeachable bourgeois revolution". The new feminism sounds rather like New Labour: we're all middle-class now. That's the answer to the vexing problem of the way that class and money can divide women even as the experience of discrimination can unite us. Walter is critical of the way that Seventies feminism foundered on the politics of identity, which she feels stressed the differences between women rather than the similarities, but she doesn't quite grasp the unfashionable nettle of class strongly enough. On the one hand, she devotes a generous chapter to praising the struggles of women not in flash media jobs. On the other hand, she quotes a development consultant as saying: "I refuse to fill any stereotypical feminine role at work. I won't do much clerical work." Yes, but someone has to and that's what the working class is for, right?
We used to believe that it wasn't the job itself which was demeaning but the conditions under which it was performed. Cleaning lavs and wiping babies' bottoms was not degrading, but being despised as an unpaid dependent was. Now that housework is included in the GNP, men can see that it is productive, and so are more willing to help do it. Clerical work, too, could be re-valued.
The sweet core of Walter's book combines her gracefully expressed gratitude to the older generation of feminists with her open-eyed welcome of man into the brave new world. There always was a libertarian, carnivalesque strand of feminism which included enjoying playing with both girls and boys, but this got hidden behind the angry outbursts of those hurt by men. Now, young men brought up to understand feminism as normal and desirable can choose to opt out of patriarchal attitudes and join with women, sharing childcare, enjoying more time with their families, doing flexitime, not defining themselves solely as breadwinners. This hopeful and idealistic vision is characteristic of Walter's positive approach: feminism means more fun, not less. Here is a book packed with challenging arguments, provocative statements and clarion calls to action, written with passion, courage and good humour. I found much to disagree with, but I was never bored. Here's feminism as phoenix, and as blazing torch lighting the way to a new century.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 2 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 3 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermesiter and vodka
- 4 Here’s the damning letter Robin Williams wrote to his Mrs Doubtfire co-star's principal after they expelled her
- 5 Ferguson protests: 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein ‘arrested’ by police during St Louis demonstrations
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness
JK Rowling releases new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing Celestina Warbuck, the 'Singing Sorceress'
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermesiter and vodka
Kate Bush: Previously unseen photographs reveal new side to comeback star
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK