News just in: Theresa May isn’t a feminist, despite the fact that she once wore a Fawcett Society t-shirt claiming that she was! This will no doubt come as a shock to the many amongst us who take t-shirt slogans to be gospel truth (indeed, I now find myself worrying in case I am not in fact brilliant and everyone else is an arse).
I have to admit, though, I’ve suspected for a while that May’s feminism wasn’t all that it seemed. It’s that whole being leader of the Conservative Party thing. That whole “holding views which are not just not particularly feminist, but which are in direct opposition to very principles of feminism” stuff. It’s always made her look – how shall I put it? – more of an anti-feminist. Not exactly a men’s rights activist (I’m not sure the Tories are keen on most men having rights, either) but certainly someone who isn’t trying, to use Andrea Dworkin’s words, “to destroy a sex hierarchy, a race hierarchy, an economic hierarchy, in which women are hurt, are disempowered, and in which society celebrates cruelty over us and refuses us the integrity of our own bodies and the dignity of our own lives.” I really don’t think Theresa May is into all that.
Feminism isn’t a badge. It’s a political movement and one which recognises that the oppression of women as a class rests in large part on the exploitation of female bodies and labour. Anyone whose politics favours individualism, vilifies dependency, denies the importance of shared social responsibilities and regards only paid work as activity of any value cannot be a feminist. The Tories’ championing of “individual responsibility” is nothing of the sort; it is merely a way of ensuring it is not the state that takes responsibility for the fact that no human being is entirely independent for the whole of his or her life. Conservative ideology is wholly invested in keeping down women because invisibilised female labour creates the illusion that humans are self-sufficient, self-made beings. We no longer even gestate children, merely carry “the unborn”. There is no such thing as society, as Margaret Thatcher (another non-feminist) said.
It has reached a point where I am tired, though, of constantly being reminded of how un-feminist Thatcher, Theresa May, Andrea Leadsom and every other Tory woman is. Like, yes, I know. But why is it so often suggested that this is some problem with feminism itself, some fatal misstep, whereby we assumed that having women in positions of power was our ultimate goal, regardless of what they did with it? Or else it is suggested that “bad” feminists thought such a thing and it’s up to “good” feminists to set them straight. But Conservatives just aren’t feminists. It’s not as though anyone who isn’t a Conservative is under any illusions about this. Thus I’m never quite sure of the point of all these “remember, she’s no feminist!” pieces, unless it’s to remind the rest of us that whatever we do we will never be judged on the same terms as men.
It’s not as though the male-dominated left doesn’t have its own problems with women. Indeed, having replaced the whole notion of “female bodies and labour” with that of “identities” they’ve developed their own method of incorporating the continued oppression of women into their vision for a more “equal” society. Jeremy Corbyn won’t even deign to answer questions about what women are (unless of course the question is “are they people who can be reduced to commodities on the sexual marketplace?”). The left might reject rampant individualism, but exceptions are made where gender is concerned. Otherwise who’d make the sandwiches?
I’m bored with political parties scrapping over who’s “best” on women. Ideologically, I think it’s clear who’s the worst, but it’s not as though being the least sexist is going to win any elections. We need to talk, not about who isn’t a feminist, but what feminism is as a political movement. It’s about liberating an entire class, not scoring points. Someone should put that on a t-shirt.