I think the tipping point might have been Sheryl Sandberg’s exhortations to women to ‘lean in’ but I suspect I got tired a long time before that. Sandberg illustrates one of the key issues in feminism today: it has become an accessory for the privileged, the over-achiever and the bored female newspaper columnist. It is not the voice of women or men who want to make a difference. Instead it is a party trick for those who want it all and in some cases, like Sandberg, those who appear to have it all and have the time and means to discuss it with everyone else. Sandberg is of course championed by educated, middle class journalists who are mostly overpaid for writing lame columns about how their husbands never do anything (note, ladies, this is not feminism, this is whinging). Feminism, if it exists, is for those who can afford it.
Was feminism ever a shared experience? I think it may have been at some point by virtue of its ‘newness’. Feminism also came on the back of various other movements and was certainly the product of a more informed, less apathetic group of women and men who wanted to change the world. It was part of a much wider call for a more conscious world, one that didn’t want Vietnam, conscription, bombs or social divisions. (Well that didn’t work either did it, but that’s an0ther story…) So in that sense it was shared by men as well as woman.
Those of you too young to remember who think feminism is a little ‘slutwalk’ (what middle class girls do when they want be a bit rad these days) should know there was a time when our mothers got paid very little, had few avenue for complaint and couldn’t get an abortion. I saw this change as a child. I grew up with the realisation that I could be what I wanted to be and I was indeed working class. That was feminism: a choice. It was all there to play for and we did. And while some Middle Class Feminists (MCFs) may moan that it’s all so hard to go to work as a lawyer/journalist/PR and deal with all that stuff at home, you and I know that isn’t the real truth of women’s lives.
The real truth is that the majority of women in the UK and elsewhere are worrying about keeping it all together in a world where money and jobs for everyone are scarce. That includes jobs for their husbands. These women- the real “Us” as opposed to the MCFs are actually part of a much wider world than the privileged few who do the talking. They don’t have time to talk about current pet peeves of MCF’s like getting women to the boardroom table because they’re trying to put food on the table.
The world is not expanding for most people; it is shrinking and their choices are shrinking, a state of events that makes feminism as it appears – and remember appearances are often greater than reality in informing the debate – completely irrelevant.