Feminism has failed and needs a radical rethink

Image source: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/
Image source: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/

Last month I saw the movie, ‘Suffragette’ with a couple of girlfriends. We were left with enormous gratitude for the fight that those early lady foot soldiers of the Feminist movement made so that we could earn the right to vote, to work (not just labour), to have control of our own money and our bodies, and be here today where we are with the freedom to explore our world, our spirituality and more. What took us by surprise was the degree of sacrifice they made, the brutality they bore, how recent women’s vote came for many countries and how many are still waiting.

But in the last week, I’ve also seen where the Feminist movement has come to a bit of a grinding halt – no better summed up by one of Australia’s leading feminists, Professor Eva Cox. In an article in The Conversation today, Professor Cox argues that women have settled for far too little and have managed to make inroads on equality only on men’s terms.

There was a 1970s badge that declared:’Women who want equality with men lack ambition’. This statement neatly sums up the broad intentions of second-wave feminists to create radical shifts of gender power. On International Women’s Day 2016, looking back, I suggest we failed to pursue that agenda and settled for much less. We achieved formal legal equality over the subsequent decade, but moving past that into wider social equity changes seems definitely to have stalled.

In arguing what went wrong, Professor Cox argues that despite fixing the legal barriers to equality that needed to happen, changes to the ‘macho cultural powers’ haven’t followed. In the wake of neoliberalism, materialism got in the way of progressive social change. The result, according to Professor Cox, is that today women are still the ‘second sex’ competing for power, privilege, position and resources on ‘macho market terms’.

“Rather than leave solutions to the current holders of power, or some populist alternatives, we need feminist-led setting of social equity goals,” says Professor Cox in her own call to arms for feminist ideas to find ways out of current political and social dilemmas.

Here, says Professor Cox, are some starting points:

  • devise and discuss good social policy goals, which prioritise gender and other equity outcomes, and make them central to the coming election;
  • revalue the rewarding the skills and time put into care, relationships, feelings and other social needs that require attention and commitment;
  • broaden the agenda and revise our assumptions about what matters to make sure that gender biases are removed from roles such as caring;
  • ensure that men recognise their need to be liberated from the limited assumptions about masculinity that also limit their choices and lives;
  • abolish the term “women’s issues”: these are social issues that affect everyone, and the label stereotypes women as the second sex who have special interests; and
  • acknowledge that women cannot “have it all” because men can’t either, but ensure that both can take on fairly shared responsibilities for essential paid and unpaid roles.

Here, here Professor Cox. I salute you and say blessed be.

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