Saturday, April 13, 2013

Thatcher/Women and Feminism; a socialist feminist view

Pakistani women celebrate International Women's Day 2010
by Felicity Dowling *
Some women will indeed consider a woman, any woman, gaining the position of Prime Minister is a victory for all women.  The experience of Thatcher in office was though, profoundly negative for all but the richest of women. I suggest that the experience of Merkel is little different, Merkel presides over the most savage attack on the living standards of women in Europe for 70 years.

One sliver of benefit to a young woman of Thatcher’s premiership might have been that they realised that a woman (and therefore, by inference, herself) as capable of achieving the highest office. The young woman’s personal aspirations and confidence may well have been enhanced by this. The fact that Thatcher was overtly strong and powerful also may have helped might help break gender stereo types.

There is a model of feminism which has regard to a ‘race’ or competition between men and women where men have historic, material and cultural advantages. Whilst this model has some validity, it has been developed and distorted by the hegemonic ideas of neo-liberal economics and by the media.Debates about how women can progress individually or as a group can continue, can sometimes be discussed with vigour and academic effort but without regard to the suffering and damage being done to women in their own countries and in different parts of the world.

Some women  are exploring real issues, though not, to my mind, the crucial ones.  This model is of limited effect in a struggle for a better world for all women; it overlooks the role of community, class and of social and economic history.

Some though not all women who follow this line of debate and consequent action are pro-capitalist and part of the neo liberal project.

Thatcher proclaimed there was no community and was an enemy of those who sought to defend it. As well as proclaiming there is no community, she attempted publically to deny class antagonisms but she fought the class war ruthlessly.

Socialist feminists in contrast recognise and proclaim community and class interest. We want to protect, develop and improve our communities (and by extension the planet) and the interest of our class. This struggle must consciously oppose violence against women and stand against patriarchy.Thatcher had real significance. She was a pioneer of neo liberal capitalism. Across the globe (except possibly China) the period since the 1970s has been one were gains of the post war period were either robbed out right or eroded away. Even the boom of the early 21st century saw re-structuring in many parts of the globe and globalisation which saw worsening of conditions of employment and life in the US and Europe.

The primitive accumulation of capital is intensified by the crisis in capitalist economy. The process of primitive accumulation includes part of robbing the commons. The commons are, at its simplest, the assets and customs of the inhabitants of this planet which are owned/held in common by everyone and no-one. The robbing of the commons particularly affects women as individuals and in their role as carers in families and the wider community. Women traditionally hold community history and knowledge but are also vulnerable in many ways.

Crucially the crisis of capitalism has meant that this process is sharpened and hastened and in this women suffer terrible violence. Women in their role as the reproducers of labour, in their role of nurturing the community, the role guardians of historic knowledge are especially at risk. Others have written about this much more than I can here; but typified by the use of the witch hunt in Africa, in Papua New Guinea as Wendy circulated in; as Federici has so ably recorded:

Austerity in Europe is critically damaging the lives of women; we are in the very early stages of struggle to defend ourselves. We call on all women who value the lives and struggles of other women to stand with us in the fight.We have no antagonism to those women whose focus is on the roles and successes of the individual woman in a capitalist world. We believe though, that any future for all women and our communities depends on us organising for the end of capitalism.

Since the early 19th and early 20th century in the UK women’s rights have been seen and fought for through a class prism. Emmaline Pankhurst wanted votes for women but not for servants; her daughter Sylvia in contrast chose the side of working women; standing against xenophobia of world war 1 and with the newly organised working class of the era immediately after world war one.The experience of women under Thatcher was no better than under a male prime minister; the list of conflicts between Thatcher and different groups of women is long.

We would invite all women wishing for a better future for themselves and their sisters to join us in the fight against austerity and against capitalism.

*Felicity Dowling is a socialist, feminist and former Liverpool (UK) councillor who fought against Thatcher's war on workers and Liverpool in the 1980's.

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