Sisters, Home Counties style: 'It's not quite throwing yourself under a horse, is it?' Jojo Moyes discerns a lack of passion among a group of middle-class feminists

Janet Suzman, raising an eyebrow, quoted Aristotle: 'We should look on the female state as being, as it were, a deformity.' This, like the other descriptions of man's disregard for the female sex, provoked only mirth in the female audience.

Neatly coiffed heads to one side, they shrieked with recognition at Fay Weldon's literary description of a woman desperately planning a dinner party on the way home from work. We have been there, their laughter said, kept that ungrateful husband happy, held those nightmare dinner parties. This was sisterhood, Home Counties style.

The readings were the focus of a fund- raising reception for the relaunch of the Fawcett Society - the suffragette movement formed in 1866 to fight for the vote. Four actresses, including Janet Suzman and Jane Lapotaire, read texts ranging from Rousseau to Naomi Wolf to a packed room in New Bond Street in London's West End.

'Feminists are no longer on the defensive,' the press release said. 'A new wave of younger, lively women and men are joining together with veterans of the earlier women's movement to build a stronger and more effective voice . . .' Right on] I thought. But there was a significant lack of those 'lively young women and men' in the almost exclusively white, female audience. Sporting uniform Aquascutum box- cut jackets and Italian leather handbags, they appeared to have an average age of 50.

'These are rich, middle-class women. Most people can't afford 35 quid for a reception,' said Orlanda Teale, a volunteer - and, at 23, the youngest woman in the room. 'I'm the only one of the younger ones who is here because I was doing the publicity so I got a free ticket.'

Where were the black and Asian members? Lots of them worked in the office, she said, adding a little defensively that the gathering was not really representative of its membership. 'The problem is, it being fund-raising,' she explained.

Point taken. It's hard, as a young woman, to criticise the feminist movement. Today's female twentysomethings are only too aware that their freedoms rest on the those gained by previous generations. But it was impossible not to feel a little cynical that this particular bit of female empowerment was so white and middle class - and chiefly comprised of women who least needed it.

As one visitor noted, it was a bit like a professionals' club: gallery owner stood chatting to physiotherapist, university principal to politician. What frustrated her (a mere stripling of 35) was that nobody mentioned plans. 'Nobody talked about what was going to happen - they read old texts and celebrated their history - it was interesting, but it didn't say much,' she said.

'I find the older people can be quite backward looking,' said Ms Teale. 'The suffragette element is very important for them. Some older members look at things from an older perspective, working on things like pension rights instead of child care.'

'I think until a year or two ago the organisation was quite stagnant,' she added. 'It had a predominantly older membership. But in the last six months it's really started growing.' The Fawcett Society is attempting to increase its student membership by organising NUS debates. 'It's very important for the younger people to come in. People of our age face completely different problems. People in their fifties look on things very differently - as the recent reporting on date rape shows.'

Jane Lapotaire, like the other guests, appeared to have little problem with the ethos of younger feminists. In fact, they seemed quite relieved that Naomi Wolf et al had allowed them to put on make-up again. 'The fact is, I don't like having hairy legs,' said Ms Lapotaire, resplendent in a gilded suit.

But this young feminist found an irony in the fact that these women, celebrating a movement famed for its passion for equality and its militancy, should be complacent enough to feel that future plans did not even warrant even a mention. Planning NUS debates? Why not invite some students along? Fighting for equal rights for part-time workers? Issue a few free invitations to less well- off groups. I appreciate that it's a fund-raising event, but ask people to contribute what they can afford. Everyone would benefit from exchanging ideas with a wider social base. Until then you're left with something that looks suspiciously like any other gathering of benevolent middle-class women who know what should be happening but can't quite see how to act on it.

'It's not quite throwing yourself under a horse, is it?' said one of the younger women as she left. Come back Emily Davison, all is forgiven.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003