Which feminisms?


Women protest Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1968 PHOTO/Found

Of all the opposition movements to have erupted since 2008, the rebirth of a militant feminism is perhaps the most surprising—not least because feminism as such had never gone away; women’s empowerment has long been a mantra of the global establishment. Yet there were already signs that something new was stirring in the us and uk student protests of 2010, the 2011 Occupy encampments at Puerta del Sol and Zuccotti Park. In India, mass rallies condemned the gang rape of Jyoti Pandey in 2012 and feminist flash-mobs have disrupted the moral-policing operations of Hindutva fundamentalists. The protests against sexual assault on us campuses blazed across the New York media in 2014. In Brazil, 30,000 black women descended on the capital in 2015 to demonstrate against sexual violence and racism, calling for the ouster of the corrupt head of the National Congress, Eduardo Cunha; earlier that year, the March of Margaridas brought over 50,000 rural women to Brasília. In Argentina, feminist campaigners against domestic violence were at the forefront of protests against Macri’s shock therapy. In China, the arrest in 2015 of five young women preparing to sticker Beijing’s public transport against sexual violence—members of Young Feminist Activism, an online coalition that’s played cat-and-mouse with the authorities—was met with web petitions signed by over 2 million people.

In January 2017, a ‘feminism of the 99 per cent’ declared itself with the million-strong march against the Trump Administration in the us. In Poland, mass women’s protests forced the Law and Justice government to retreat from tightening the already restrictive abortion law. Italy, Spain and Portugal saw huge marches against domestic violence and economic precarity. On 8 March 2017, these movements came together to put International Women’s Day back on the radical calendar, with demonstrations and strikes on three continents. The eruption of #MeToo in October 2017 and the convulsions that have followed are only the latest in a string of mass events around the world.

Yet any attempt to renew feminist strategy today confronts a series of dilemmas. First, we lack convincing assessments of the progress already made. What results have the old feminisms produced and how adequate have these been in meeting women’s needs? How, exactly—by what processes, to what extent—have conditions improved? What changes have been brought about, globally, in gender relations, and where do these now stand? Through to the mid-twentieth century, the hegemonic, though far from universal, Western model entailed the rule of men across the public sphere—governments, armies, legislature, judiciary, institutes of learning, the press—and, in return for the slights and buffetings of mass industrial-capitalist society, offered each man the private fiefdom of the domestic sphere, where he could rule over the wife who bore and raised his children, served him at table and in bed. This was qualified internationally by a wide range of geo-cultural family structures and forms of production, and co-existed with broader, seemingly universal moralities of pleasure and predation, eliding good-girl and bad-girl categories with inequalities of class, race and caste. [1]

A mass of data now shows that women have entered the global waged-labour force in their hundreds of millions since the 1970s. In tertiary education, girls outnumber boys in over seventy countries. In terms of reproductive health, average fertility has fallen from five births to two. On the domestic front, men report that they do more housework than their fathers, women less than their mothers. In attitudes, polls show a majority in favour of gender equality on every continent, with near universal support in many countries. In politics, a new cohort of female leaders has appeared on the world stage, heading governments across Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America; if she’d paid more attention to hard-hit rustbelt voters in 2016, there would almost certainly be a woman in the White House.

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