A feminist appraisal of Britney, Blair and blokes

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The Independent Culture

The duty of feminism in the new millennium is to campaign for "a massive reduction in working hours", according to a keynote lecture by Beatrix Campbell on Monday.

The duty of feminism in the new millennium is to campaign for "a massive reduction in working hours", according to a keynote lecture by Beatrix Campbell on Monday.

In her speech on the festival's State of the Nation theme, the writer asked: "What has feminism achieved for women over the last quarter of a century?" In her answers, Campbell revealed her feelings: that "women have always had a talent for disappointment"; that Britney Spears is a "counter-revolutionary" and that "the inexhaustible capacity of football to dominate the national horizon is absolutely spectacularly breathtaking".

"I'd like to come at this from a slightly different angle," she began. "Rather than asking what feminism has achieved for women, which always seems like it contains a sort of complaint in the middle of it, I'd like to talk about how things have changed for women and men and how they live together, all over the planet."

What worries Campbell is the sense among young women that things have changed; that "technology invents the pill, and slowly women learn to count and go to work". She is worried that girls will see their contemporaries growing up to be engineers and prime ministers, and think: "It's all over; it's already been won.

"What that erases is the fact that what all this is about is power," she points out. "What feminism did change was the paradigms we all thought in, the questions that became askable. It changed common sense - which is what we think when we don't think we're thinking." What is important is to extend that sense of transformation into our modern relationships - with men, in the workplace and into the institutions that shape our lives. But that, says Campbell, is what is so difficult.

"I read an interview with Tony Blair in Heat or OK! or one of those other irresistible magazines," she revealed, to the horror of her right-on audience. "He said: 'I am a normal guy', and I thought, 'what on earth does that mean?'" So Campbell wrote to Blair asking for an audience.

"We had the most extraordinary conversation in which I felt like Mrs Rochester - the mad woman in the attic. And I suddenly understood something: we have led parallel lives. He has lived his life with blokes. And that's why he has never been able to create an alliance with all those resourceful, dispossessed women.

"It's amazing that the average working week isn't very different for men now than it was for my father," she says. "The law and society and the Government have completely refused to think about what it would be like if there was a completely different understanding of a breadwinner.

"What you need is a massive reduction in the working week and the working day so that adults' working lives shadow children's.

"Massive questions are introduced by women's re-emergence into the labour market. It's time for institutions to address them."

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