Claudia Pritchard: The collapse of feminism is bad for us all

Men lose too, if women are demeaned

Share
Related Topics

When the writer Natasha Walter described last week her growing realisation that feminism has shrivelled away, she put into words the unease that many women over 40 have been feeling. Old enough to have enjoyed the fruits of the feminist movement and to know what went before, young enough to be living in the thick of life – employed, child-rearing, opinion-forming – they find themselves clinging on unsteadily in a shifting landscape of opportunity. With a mixture of disbelief and despair, they watch the next generation of young women, for whom they had such high hopes, subjected to judgements they thought had died in the Seventies.

Much has been made of the BBC's clumsy efforts to conjure up some older women, having dropped a series of able broadcasters for daring to age. Welcome back. But they should never have been away. And until ITV News fields a woman presenter who can match Alastair Stewart's 57 years, it has nothing to be smug about either.

But the death of feminism is, arguably, not so serious for the older newsreader or for any of us who have reached that comfortable plateau of middle age as for those in their teens or twenties who have yet to look for goals and make their mark.

Natasha Walter spoke with dismay of the young women stigmatised as prudes for recoiling from unwholesome sexual practices. And those of us who campaigned hard for women not to be ranked by appearance or sexual availability, feel only sadness when a clutch of undressed, shrieking drunks staggers down the street in shoes designed to cripple. The Pill has, since the Sixties, brought unprecedented freedoms, but the equality of opportunity to behave badly was not on the gender agenda.

Rather we had in mind the liberation of men and women alike – for defining women primarily by their sexuality is limiting for males too – by a new set of values that would respect and benefit from women's intellect and achievements. It got off to a good start: there were more female undergraduates, often outperforming their male counterparts. And then it simply fizzled out. Women in Britain were not only largely excluded from the boardroom, the Cabinet, the judiciary, the power lists, those few who made it through the glass ceiling were examined minutely for signs of physical imperfection, often by a press still dominated by male editors.

Even now, barely a week passes without an account of a woman humiliated in the workplace. And yet, there are brilliant women scientists, entrepreneurs, artists in all media, academics who are quietly getting on with their innovative work, probably raising children with the other hand. It's just that they are invisible and, often, inaudible. You certainly don't go looking for them on the Today programme. For guaranteed exposure, in every sense, runs the message to 21stcentury girls, you need to sing and dance in your knickers.

Like Natasha Walter, whose new book Living Dolls sums up women's revised status, I have observed the launch of Nuts and Loaded, the pinkification of little girls and the resistance to simple, harmless ways of dignifying women – dropping such qualifying terms as "woman doctor", for example. (It is astonishing how much distress this question of nomenclature can still cause otherwise not unintelligent men.)

And the disheartening thing is, as any of my colleagues, family or friends will wearily testify, I have been banging on like this for years. With a heavy heart I have to agree with Natasha Walter: feminism has spiralled back downhill, another aspect of the social mobility that was promised but has not materialised.

The opportunity to move up and get on was not merely a class issue – it was a gender issue too. If the erosion of feminism happened on Labour's watch, imagine its fate under a Conservative government.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Recruitment Genius: CAD / CAM Ladies Cocktail & Eveningwear Gerber Grader

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Field Sales Rep -Management Software - £45,000 OTE

£28000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £45,00 + pension: h2 Recruit Ltd: A great new ...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: stupid questions in opinion polls, in the House of Commons and in job interviews

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?