Britain and ‘Post-Feminism’

The Guardian has a special section on women in Britain, which asks how far have we come in 80 years.  Be prepared to be depressed. 

Some highlights:  beauty contests and poll dancing for women at university.  Just a bit of post-feminist fun?  One women answers the question, would you rather have beauty or brain, with the remark that if she  doesn’t have good looks, no one will listen to her.

There’s a growing sense that women shouldn’t work outside the home if they have young children.  In a poll, 69% disagree with the idea that its the man’s responsbility to work and the woman’s to take care of the home, but only 46% disagree with the idea that mothers shouldn’t work outside the home.

Sample quotes:

1.  Tanya Budd, 21. Final-year engineering student and creator of the HypoHoist

‘My first public speaking event was incredibly scary. It was at the Brunel Bicentenary conference in front of all the top engineers in the UK and probably only about 5 per cent of the audience was female.

‘Men do think differently and I think it’s always nice to have a balance between both genders, but I definitely think it’s an even playing field now and I’ve never encountered sexism.’

2.  Rania Khan, 26. Labour councillor for Bromley-by-Bow in Tower Hamlets, London; secondary-school science teacher

‘The escalation of the porn industry and lap-dancing clubs really bothers me. I moved from Libya to London when I was about eight and seeing images of women being exploited and used as sexual commodities everywhere made me feel sick. I would walk down Tottenham Court Road as a teenager with my mates, ripping out all the prostitution fliers from the phone boxes.

‘I want to see more women, especially from ethnic minorities, involved in politics. Women need to be educated and empowered to take those key positions; only then will we see change.’

9 thoughts on “Britain and ‘Post-Feminism’

  1. I’m really interested that in the first quote the person says there were only 5% women there yet she’s never encountered sexism. I often hear this sort of remark… where things that are surely manifestations of sexism aren’t taken as such! What do you think it means in that quote to say she’s never encountered sexism?

  2. It’s very understandable that she says she’s “never seen sexism”. She’s still very young. You have to have developed some degree of consciousness about sexism to “see” it. Some young people have; some have not.
    Many whites don’t see racism, at least the more subtle forms of it. When it’s pointed out to them, then they begin to see it. From the blog about Campbell Brown and Hillary recently, it’s pretty obvious that even people interested in this subject don’t always see or understand it. And yet, some younger people still are close-minded about considering what is demeaning to girls and women when it comes to sex. It’s as if there should be no line except something as extreme as rape.
    There are many degrees of sexist thinking and behavior that lead up to rape. For older warriors in this fight, it is often recognized immediately but many younger people either don’t see it, laugh it off and/or resent anyone for calling them on it. In that blog, a few young men attacked anyone who didn’t agree with their own perceptions as not having a sense of humor, as being too thin skinned.
    We may not all be able to agree with what sexism is exactly all the time, but when young men especially get uptight and angry very quickly about someone saying something demeans women (as Hillary’s aide did ), that should raise our
    antennae.

  3. it seems to me that a lot of this has to do with a kind of (small-l) liberal individualism; that is, there is pressure when women are younger to be individuals and to prove themselves as individuals (and this is where feminism is interpreted as “empowerment,” or affirming any choice a woman makes). Whereas women who are older (or perhaps no longer teenaged, despite the existence of some really radical teenaged women out there!) can begin to see that their problems are not individual but systemic.

    that’s an interesting point suetiggers; i think that the fear some women experience in making men angry or upset or threatening their privilege makes it less likely to for them to recognize sexism or identify as feminist (which is of course why responses like “get a thicker skin” or “grow up” are so common!).

    maybe this has nothing to do with age at all, but instead a kind of critical thinking or a questioning that can lead to seeing problems as systemic rather than a matter of individuals or not seeing the problems at all.

  4. I think this issue is a classic case of “the theory determines the observation” adage, which is usually attributed to Einstein. It also fits in very nicely with sk’s observation “that the fear some women experience in making men angry or upset or threatening their privilege makes it less likely to for them to recognize sexism or identify as feminist.”

  5. I don’t want to suggest that the engineering student must be correct, but the reflexive ease with which it is assumed that she must be merely naive, that she lacks real consciousness, that she is not enough of an adult, strikes me as facile, even patronizing.

    If I told someone about my take on gender equality, and she replied “That’s understandable. You’re young.” I think that would be an infuriating response. And while I do think that the student is likely mistaken, there is something subtly ironic about a purportedly feminist analysis completely discounts both her personal experience and her intelligence.

  6. Kelly, the problem with her take on gender equality – that the playing field is level now – is that it is false. Further, for many people the fact that only 5% of the audience were female is part of what indicates it is false. It is worth asking why the absence of women does not strike her as raising any question about women’s access.

    There really is no question that her view is false. The situation has been studied, many of the mechanism of exclusion identified, and many people are trying to change the way people are given access to engineering studies. Many governments are puttings millions and millions into rectifying the situation because they’ve woken up to the fact that there is a tremendous loss of national talent when women are excluded.

    Further, we have discussed the exclusion of women in such fields many of times here.

  7. kelly, i feel you, which is why i began to question my own hypothesis at the end there (and why i’m thinking more and more that “age” or “growing up” cannot be determinative). but how can we square the facts with her experience of or description of the facts? how can we distinguish a facile (and i think destructive) form of feminism that translates to an affirmation of what any given women thinks or experiences or “chooses,” from a feminism which is a ruthless critique of, if not everything existing, the way in which many things exist? there is also, i think, a certain methodological humility necessary to this critique, in the sense that it may well have its blind spots, or be wrong- as the critiques of white feminism from women of colour have shown us.

    vl- ha, you may be right; but i’m not exactly sure what my observation is meant to be evidence of. i think i was working more from the observation of the cliche of men telling women to “grow up” or “get a thicker skin” when they express outrage at harassment, as evidence of (often rather effectively) using intimidation to silence women who speak up. and then inferring from that, &c. but wev.

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