International Workers’ Day

Today is International Workers’ Day, so I found a good series of videos on the relation between feminism and working class women, and feminism on the left, by Those Pesky Dames. Feminism is often followed and participated in by more upper and middle class women than working class women. In these times of austerity, with women facing the brunt of the majority of cuts in services, it is vital that activist groups both on the left and in feminist circles include the voices and actions of working class women. Feminism needs to be more accessible to those without a university level education or time on their hands to do lots of research online (which, due to health problems and having such time on my hands, is how I managed to get to grips with some of the academic language). Anyway, the Dames’ video playlist says a lot of things better than I can, so give them your time and YouTube hits. 

On matters of why feminism is needed in the ranks of socialism in the UK, there is this, which as a socialist (non-affiliated with any party) saddens and angers me.

May Day bank holiday is coming up! Unfortunately, for us in the UK we may not have a bank holiday on the first Monday of May for much longer as the Conservative Government in 2011 plan to move the extra bank holiday in May to October, and May Day has come under their sights as the May bank holiday to be cut. There is more on the international history of May Day on the page, and is well worth a look as a jumping off point. 

Also, in an interesting twist, I found this article on the socialist feminist roots of International Women’s Day, founded in 1909! 

In Solidarity,

Pix

Advertisements

Is energy a feminist issue?

First things first: what do I mean by ‘energy’? In the simplest terms, something we use to make machines work. Common examples are combustible fuels (e.g. gas, petrol, paraffin) and electricity (you’ll be needing some of that to read this!), though electricity is usually generated by burning fuels, so you’re just having the fuel burnt a long way away from you.

“Why did it take most of human history, until the late 19th century, for feminism to get going?” I believe the answer is one of power, electrical power.

To assess whether or not energy can be considered a feminist issue we need to look at the history of energy and feminism in parallel with each other. The first major energy boom in the developed world was during the 19th century during which coal was being exploited to run steam engines and furnaces for industrial uses, powering the industrial revolution; however, this energy was not available at home, unless you were both extremely wealthy and didn’t mind having lots of spinning axils inside your house! (Yes, some people did try it, it didn’t last long). The key here for women was that this energy was only available in male-dominated spaces: factories, ships, mines, trains. With women still confined to traditional gender roles they had no access to this power until the advent of electrical power stations in the early 1880’s and Nikola Tesla’s invention of the alternating current system. Power began, starting with the rich and large businesses first, to enter the home and into the hands of women.

Historically men seeking to repress women have had to find ways to keep women busy. Near constant pregnancy with plenty of children to look after has always been a common tactic, but for women without children, or in-between pregnancies, this isn’t enough to keep women in the state they wanted them in: too tired to think, too busy to do anything else and trapped in a box. So the go-to plan was never-ending busy work in the form of housework. Many good books have been written on women and housework from a feminist perspective, and they will give you a far superior account of this part of history than I will; however, for now let us suffice to say that doing all possible housework to perfection by hand is an all day all year occupation. Women in positions of wealth (well, their husbands’ wealth) have had access to a form of power to reduce housework for millennia: servants! Why did it take until the late 19th century for these women to get feminism really going? Remember, most suffragettes were from middle-class backgrounds where they had the finances to hire servants. Well, apart from reasons of wealth (being a rich woman beats being a poor woman, even beats being a poor man in many regards), class divisions, etc. women simply had either too many servants or not enough. Servants, being human beings, need supervision and as you get more wealth you get a bigger house, which needs an army of servants to keep clean and working, who need someone to manage the human resources, which once you get to that size is a full time job leaving you in the same position: too tired, too busy, and stuck at home. Too few servants and you had to spend any time you gain not managing them on doing the work yourself.

When electricity brought energy into houses it was very quickly realised by some entrepreneurial individuals that there was money to be made making new electrical machines to run off the new domestic electricity supplies. Most of these were machines that mechanised dull repetitive tasks which were invariably linked to housework. For example, the vacuum cleaner. It makes cleaning floors much faster and easier than doing it by hand with a broom and so saves a lot of time and effort. The first vacuum cleaners were powered by coal fuelled steam engines that came to your house on the back of a cart and needed a whole team of men to operate; electricity allowed for the engine driving the vacuum cleaner to be reduced down to a portable size and for it to not vent coal dust all over the inside of the house! Electricity wasn’t available to most of the population yet due to the sheer expense of the new system; however the upper and upper-middle classes soon found themselves saving money by hiring far fewer servants, now equipped with new electrical domestic labour saving devices, making managing servants a far less time-consuming task. This newfound time and energy allowed for women to dedicate themselves full time to their own pursuits. One popular pursuit quickly became being treated as human, hence suffragettes.

Work made Easier... and in half the Time with the aid of a Eureka vacuum cleaner.  The thrifty housewife uses the Eureka vacuum to clean her draperies. curtains, rugs and overstuffed furniture, making them all look bright and new. Call us for demonstrations.  Established 1871 Hardy's  GOOD FURNITURE LINCOLN

Work made Easier… and in half the Time with the aid of a Eureka vacuum cleaner.

After WWII, electrical power grids in developed nations began rapid expansion and integration, with most national power systems dating back to the 40’s and 50’s. Over this period of time the vast majority of homes, and certainly all homes in urban areas, gained a supply of energy that was rapidly becoming more convenient and less expensive, which brought with it the mechanisation of domestic tasks to women of increasingly lower income households. This meant that by the late 1960’s a large amount of female labour had been freed by the increased productivity of performing domestic tasks, which as households were still normally financed by a man’s income alone meant this time was to be spent, in most cases, as women pleased. Note this is the same time that the female consumer as a general marketing idea came into force. Previously it was thought the only women worth marketing to were the wives of rich men, but now with more free time and husbands with the highest average wages compared to the cost of living the world has ever seen, an opportunity for profit was created, something that would also not have been possible without the mechanisation of ordinary households.

This surge in mechanisation of domestic tasks provided a second large scale release of female labour potential, which was used in part to drive the second wave of feminism that was being built upon post-war ideas about gender, sexuality, etc.

Currently, feminism is still benefiting from ever increasing levels of mechanisation, reduced working hours and faster cheaper communications to discuss ideas, apply political/economic pressure and to coordinate feminists causes across the globe, many of which are in developing nations that are in various stages of reaping the benefits of industrialisation. But all this is still underpinned by the same system that we have been using for over a century, and with increasing resource pressures and climatological issues presenting us with new challenges to face our energy system, I believe this has been for some time, and continues to be a feminist issue.

This is also a kyriarchal issue. With many developing nations generating much of their power from coal and putting exponentially increasing number of cars on roads, it would be a piece of supreme hypocrisy for the developed world to say, “You can’t have all those things we’ve had for so long, the carbon cost is too high.” But we can’t ignore the issues at hand, which is why I believe that it is imperative for any feminist group, especially an intersectional one, to support the development of practical solutions to these issues, whatever they may be, as things could go very badly if we just bury our heads in the sand. If energy starts running low, who is going to end up being cut off from the supply first? I’ve seen the contingency plans for what national governments plan, and minority groups will be hit hardest by even the earliest and least drastic stages.

This is one of my cases for putting literal power in the hands of the people, taking this vital underpinning of our societies out of the hands of rent seeking companies and into the hands of the people who would be most affected by the system breaking down.

Further reading:

[1] “A woman’s work is never done: history of housework in the British Isles 1650-1950” by Caroline Davidson

[2] “Women and the Machine: Representations from the Spinning Wheel to the Electronic Age” by Julie Wosk

[3] “A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers” by Nikola Tesla

In Tory Britain, women’s issues are rarely seen or heard in the media

By Megan Sherman

[content note: domestic violence, abuse]

Murderer Mick Philpott’s judicial and media trials could have given his victims the dignity and justice of a frank discussion about the social disgrace of gendered violence which formed the crux of the case, but by men’s politicking and posturing in the media, the sadistic abuse of women and children has been denied the oxygen of public debate. In its place hard-right rags pulled Philpott’s state benefits centre-stage and the left by necessity took the bait, calling bullshit on the most cynical of anti-welfare propaganda.

The welfare issue dominated post-trial analysis at great expense for feminism. Facts about Philpott’s profile as an abuser and the heightened vulnerability of women whose key support services are being cut and closed wilt from the public scene. A scrap of information here and there in the New Statesman and Daily Mirror sadly doesn’t drown out the din of the talking heads of privilege, aka. the Tory commentariat, the morality makers in an age of corporate owned, right-wing mass media.

Imagine an objective documentary of Philpott’s crimes (trigger warning): over the course of the protagonist’s life, his chronic, violent hatred for others mutates. He becomes ever crueller and humiliating to the young women he romances. First he beats one with planks. Later he’s imprisoned, after repeatedly stabbing a girlfriend who threatens to leave him, puncturing several of her major organs — an outcome which only at the hands of somebody as nasty as Mick Philpott one could entertain the thought of calling something glib like a ‘lucky escape’.

After being released, Mick continues to charm and exploit multiple partners, living with many of them in the same house at the same time. He attempts to control their reproduction, manipulates them for his own material gain, and, not content with beating women himself, he teaches children to hit their mothers. It’s a rotten life. Finally, he burns down a house in which six children are asleep for the very last time, incensed by his partner’s threat to emancipate herself from his tyranny.

It’s a sad account of callous abuse and control which reflects a bloodcurdling reality for women in Britain. Two women die each week as a result of domestic abuse, and countless more cower through a life immediately threatened by the terrifying sadism of their partners. Society’s ethic can be gauged as much by what’s ignored in public debates than by their obvious content. Silence, fear and ignorance gives power to domestic abuse, and still frank conversations about misogyny are largely uncharted by — actively avoided by some of — the mainstream media.

Only the most decadent tabloid consumer would look at the facts of the Philpott case and bark questions about the abuser’s benefits as if they were a determinant of criminal action case. His criminality was symptomatic of a particularly extreme and violent misogyny, not welfare — a seemingly obvious point which events have shown it’s sadly necessary to continue pointing out. It’s worth noting however that the link between socio-economic poverty and imprisonment can be supported, and, crucially, it reflects entirely on the deep-seated problems of intersecting inequalities and not at all on the wisdom of supporting those trapped in the peripheries of the social net.

Conservatives — who in the same breath endorse cuts to Sure Start, rape crisis centres, domestic abuse shelters, and stigmatise single or poor mothers — laughably demand with indignant fury that all feminists languish in the putrid memory of Margaret Thatcher, macho-power incarnate, hetero-normative nuclear family extraordinaire, who wheeled back just about everyone’s rights, stigmatised LGBTQ identities and upheld the most calcified prejudice in public, not least calling feminism ‘poison’. That the media could wheel out feminism in their inevitable slip-shod hagiography of Thatcher, but barely mention it during the post-trial analysis of Philpott highlights the ignorant, lax attitude towards gender equality in Tory Britain.

It’s depressing that the politicking of men in the media drowns out the most salient feature of the Mick Philpott narrative, the safety of women and children. In the long term, any media model with a chance of being socially progressive must move towards democratic control, by which the marginalised can allocate resources to media that can prove it is acting in the public interest, best representing diversity, giving scope to the fullest possible range of narratives and discourse, and, ultimately, actively busting stereotypes and prejudice. Until then it falls upon feminists to keep on challenging anyone who denies that it’s Mick Philpott’s violent misogyny, not his welfare status, which makes him a burden on society.

An open letter to American feminists on the death of Margaret Thatcher

So yesterday was a Big Thing for Brits on the Internet. And then this happened, a statement that needed saying:

A couple of HFC members have become dismayed at some American feminist pages’ lauding of Thatcher as a feminist icon. This is not the case. She described feminism as poison. But in lauding her they are often at pains to make clear that they ‘don’t agree with the politics but as a woman in power she deserves celebrating’. This is reducing her to her gender, and ignoring the harmful effect she had on women, on the LGBTQ community, and her supporting of racist, classist and genocidal regimes. One cannot laud someone’s office whilst ignoring the crimes they do whilst there, and to reduce anyone to their gender is being sexist.

For those not in the UK, it’s easy to see her as an abstract landmark event. For the people living in the UK we have her legacy, it isn’t historic. It’s going on NOW. It’s a pretty fucked up legacy, that is hurting women, people with disabilities, and is making the UK a more and more unequal society. This is not an abstract to us. We are living this.

When a couple of us took the page in question to task on these very issues, they ignored the testimony of a 33 year old woman who was raised in poverty in Thatcher’s Britain. But in a bizarre possible form of sexism reserved all their replies for the male member of HFC.

We find the idea of forced solidarity with Thatcher based upon her gender highly patronising, and would rather celebrate the women of Greenham Common, the miner’s wives and all other women who opposed Thatcher, not because of their gender, but because of what they stood for.

(SC + PIX + IZZI) [from our Facebook page]

When we as feminists call out Caitlin Moran for racism, when we call out transphobic radical feminists — we hope to make some points about how a feminism without intersectionality isn’t a feminism we want any part of, and why bigotry isn’t feminist.

When we call FEMEN out for racism, we hope to do the same. Izzi is a Muslim and a feminist; no one is asking her to stand in solidarity with FEMEN just because they are women.

One of these pages on FB has a massive focus on intersectionality normally; we were BEYOND pissed off. Pix is the member raised in poverty by a single mum and DV survivor. Pix’s mum used to go without food to feed her and her siblings. And Pix’s mum and women like her were vilified by the government of the time. (See study here)

Pix is 33 and joked, ‘I feel like aping the bad Vietnam movie trope of “YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN.”’

When you laud Thatcher as a feminist icon, you erase that experience. You uphold a racist, homophobic, classist woman who was probably one of the best examples of internalised misogyny to ever hit the halls of power in the UK, or as one of our members put it, ‘Holding Thatcher up as a feminist icon is like kicking intersectionality in the stomach.’

Thatcherism is alive and well in the UK today. We dare American feminists to say that she is a feminist icon to feminists with disabilities in the UK, when they fail to consider her legacy, in the demonization of the working class and people on benefits, disability hate crimes as result of Tory rhetoric, and the ATOS medical tests that have deemed people fit for work who later died, or committed suicide in 2012. We dare them to say that to women like Pix, and her mum, who lived in social housing whilst it was being sold off, and communities in these less affluent areas crumbled. (An excerpt from Owen Jones’s Chavs: The Demonisation Of The Working Class)

Another member found this today, from Tumblr. And it says what we were attempting to say so, so well.

My feminism doesn’t support women who go to immense lengths to cut services that directly help and benefit other women.

My feminism doesn’t support all women simply because they’re women.

My feminism doesn’t support women who use their power to plunder, steal and exacerbate class gaps.

My feminism doesn’t support warmongering and bigoted propaganda wielding.

My feminism doesn’t support anyone who upholds an apartheid state as the beacon of civilization while referring to resistance organizations as “terrorism”.

My feminism doesn’t support white supremacy, exploitation of the proletariat, imperialism and misogyny (wow, shocker, women can perpetuate misogyny!!!!) all of which thatcher was disgustingly guilty of.

My feminism doesn’t support women who reinforce the idea of a heteronormative nuclear family structure, while publicly referring to feminism as poison.

My feminism doesn’t support systematic oppression, full stop.

maarnayeri

So, American feminists, please THINK before you get all misty eyed about ‘The Iron Lady’. Please, don’t patronise British people in marginalised sections of our society. Please don’t erase our experiences, and don’t forget your intersectionality when it comes to Lady T.

With thanks,

Hampshire Feminist Collective

Further things you may want to read as to the political landscape of the 1980s in the UK: