Chapter 2

From: Identity

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Feminism: Dead or Alive? ANDREA STUART A recent article in Cosrrwpolitan, 'If Feminism is Finished Where do we go From Here',! summed up many women's profoundly ambivalent attitude towards feminism. On the one hand, whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us have a great deal invested in feminist dreams about female autonomy and independence. On the other hand, we also feel that Feminism, with a capital 'F', is unresponsive or simply irrelevant to our needs and lifestyles. Why is this? After a decade in which women still did not receive equal pay for equal work; in which women were still struggling for control of their reproductive rights; in which women still, by virtue of their sex, in almost all societies and in almost all cultures, fell to the bottom of social arrangements - how can feminism be over? Dead? Passe? The answer isn't that women don't care about these issues anymore. A recent MORI poll quoted in the same Cosrrw article said that 52 per cent of women between the ages of sixteen and thirty support legal abortion on demand; 79 per cent of the same women supported the right of girls under sixteen to have access to contraception even without parental consent. Yet, of these same women, who manifestly care about and have opinions on issues conceming women's rights, over 50 per cent believe that Feminism has done little or nothing to help women. So why - when it is patently clear that women still feel strongly about 'feminist' issues 28 Feminism: Dead or Alive? and in a new decade where most of the social problems that prompted the rise of Feminism in the early 1970s still remain with us - do many ordinary women feel that Feminism has nothing to do with them? Did women lose Feminism or did Feminism lose us? This is not intended as a tired, nostalgic lament for the days when we were all girls together in the rosy, utopian, feminist garden. As a youngish black woman I'm only too aware of the battles that black women had trying to find a space in Feminism, just as I'm aware of the problems that younger women have had in finding a voice. So that 'garden', if it ever existed, never existed for me. What I do miss is the positive sense of agency, of being able to respond and change situations, which some sort ofcollective feminist activism gives us. So even if Feminism with a capital F (with a lot of help from media depictions of bra-burning, dungaree-clad harridans) has been responsible for losing us, can we afford to lose feminism? Or rather, can we afford to jettison that activist aspect of feminism, which centres around the crucial issues that affect our capacity to lead independent and fulfilled lives? lfit were the case that the problems women shared no longer existed, no doubt we'd all be happy to consign Feminism to history - after all it was part of the feminist dream to make feminist agitation unnecessary. There isn't one of us who doesn't want to 'have it all': personally, I'd love to be a 'post-feminist woman' ifthe problems women face were 'post' too. Meanwhile back on planet earth ... though women still share many of the same old problems, the gulf between those self-consciously politicised women who describe themselves as Feminists and the majority, often equally aware and political, seems to have widened into a yawning chasm. This polarisation offeminism into the 'professional' and the 'popular' has become the overriding feature of the current impasse. Professional feminism, Feminism with a capital F, seems to have become associated almost exclusively with the likes of Spare Rib, Women's Studies courses at universities and polytechnics, and the almost extinct women's units - a legacy of the now defunct CLe. The work of the academy in particular has been essential both in legitimating women's perspectives and in transforming the way all of us see the world. However, in an age where specialists within any given field are so specialised that they find it difficult to talk to each 29 Identity other (let alone those outside), the professionalisation of Feminism does present problems. Increasingly women have found that they don't have a common language with which to debate their problems and concerns. It is no wonder that 'ordinary' women, those who have not chosen to make feminism their career, feel increasingly isolated from Feminism and...


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