Beatrix Campbell: Feminism is a revolution in human relationships

From a speech by the writer and academic at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature

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There's a way of asking the question - what has feminism achieved for women? - that carries a pre-emptive and pessimistic answer. It goes like this: it was the pill that liberated women; it was the personal computer that released women into an economy no longer dependent on muscle and therefore men; it was the 1944 Education Act that got girls into grammar schools. So, it was technology, or the law, or the welfare state.

There is another approach: where is feminism's impact and what was it up against? It wasn't the pill that created a sexual revolution, but women's mutiny against mass disappointment when men had maximum access to women's bodies; it wasn't education that got women into the professions, it was feminism's challenge to the bans and restrictions that made the professions in men's image; it wasn't evolutionary failure that made women poorly paid, it was the historic compromise between capital and labour - they did the deals that put women at the bottom of the pay scales. It was feminism that exposed rape as not an excess of desire but a desire for dominion and domestic violence as a strategy for control.

Feminism, more an idea than a party, is felt in global institutions, like the UN, who now agree that the era of patriarchy is, if not over, losing its legitimacy. Feminism reaches those parts of politics other political movements don't reach, it changes the very conception of politics with its great innovation - the idea that the personal is political.

So, instead of polarising public and private, feminism shows how power operates everywhere, from the look in the eye to the barrel of a gun, from lads mags to wall-to-wall-football; from the bedroom to the boardroom. Its project is not just about resources rights and re-distribution, it is about a revolution in relationships.

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