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.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
- 2 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 3 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 4 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 5 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Loose Women poll asking if rape is 'ever a woman's fault' sparks backlash
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up