What’s the difference between left- and right-wing feminism?

I’m a left-leaning Tory – a One Nation type with much in common with our Liberal Democrat friends. But what makes me a Tory feminist? (Besides the fact that I’m not a socialist and I’m more cautious than radical in every sense of the word.)

What I see as the essential element of Tory feminism is the balance between state and society. I think that any natural differences between the genders are insignificant compared with the stark divide perpetrated by nurture. I understand the issues raised by radical feminists under the term “patriarchy“.  And so do many, many Tory women.

The difference between me and radical or socialist feminists is that I don’t think that gender inequality is the responsibility of the state. This is about politics in a wider social sense rather than in a narrow legislative sense. It’s not possible to legally enforce the universal equal respect of all individuals without becoming a totalitarian state. Furthermore, I don’t think the heavy hand of the law should be used for something which is not a legal matter.

As a Tory feminist, I don’t want to ban Hamleys* from putting girls’ toys on a pink floor and boys’ toys on a blue floor. I don’t want to pass a law saying that all toys must be offered in a variety of colours. Instead, I support people trying to change public opinion. Write articles about it, hold protests, send letters, start a Facebook group, even lay a dratted EDM in Parliament. (That possibly reflects my opinion of EDMs.)  Such actions highlight the ridiculousness of the girl/boy toy divide and seek to challenge wider politics without invoking the power of the state.

The key difference between me and my radical or social siblings is that Tory feminism sees the separation of legislative and social politics.

(* No, there is no apostrophe.  I’d assumed that the shop once belonged to someone called Hamley.  I’m rather disappointed.)


About feminismfortories

Moderate Tory, Liberal Feminist. Based in the UK.
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18 Responses to What’s the difference between left- and right-wing feminism?

  1. Spot on! You and I are clearly of like mind. It is all about education, not State compulsion! That’s what the left-wing Feminists simply don’t “get” and why they give feminism such a bad name….

  2. I’m sorry, but a feminist can no more be right-wing than a cat can be a fish. You can CALL a cat a catfish, but it doesn’t make it one, and it’s probably best not to hurl Tiddles into the sea…

    You might reject the growing consensus among psychologists about male/female gendered brain differences, but in doing so you place yourself distincly in the left-wing camp, where the ‘blank slate’ theory of the brain is an artcle of faith (literally). You may as well reject the theory of gravity – it won’t stop the apple falling on your head.

    In trying to stretch the meaning of the word ‘feminism’ you make it lose any meaning. Why not have some courage, accept the word has been toxic for decades, and move on? Being anti-feminist isn’t the same as being anti-women. In confusing the two you play into the militant feminists’ hands. Of course, if you’re happy for the Fawcett Society to represent you, so be it.

    I repeat my offer of a free copy of the guide, ‘Are you a feminist or a post-feminist?’ to anyone who emails me requesting it.

    Oh, a world exclusive for your blog. My next interantional bestseller on the topic of militant feminism is to have a title change, following extensive market research by a crack team at the University of Leighton Buzzard. No longer ‘Feminism: Crones’ Disease’ but ‘Feminism: The Ugly Truth’. It will be launched as an ebook in February, and Erin Pizzey has kindly penned a lengthy Foreword.

    Have a nice day!

    Mike Buchanan

  3. I agree that Hamleys shouldn’t be regulated in terms of how they arrange their toys, or banned for arranging them as they wish. But surely you would agree that if they do choose to arrange them as a response to campaigns/market pressures, as happened in this case, that they should be allowed to choose to do that without being whined about as well?

    The reason I say this is because often the people who shout the loudest about “freedom” when it suits them actually don’t like it a bit when Hamleys choose to use that freedom to arrange their toys in a feminist way, when Tesco choose to use that freedom to support gay pride, when NOTW advertisers use their power to pull funding and close it, etc… they use “freedom!” as a cover for “never changing anything, ever.” I don’t think you are like that at all but I’m not sure that’s clear from this particular post. Was any legislation called for in the Hamleys story, or any state involvement at all in fact?

    • Hmmm. You raise an interesting point about companies being whined at. Does it follow that companies should obey the desires of the majority in order to sell their products, and does it matter whether the majority is actually just the voice campaigning the loudest?

      I think issues should be debated, and sometimes that debate takes the form of campaigning. Campaigns can change public opinion. I think companies should be responsive to public opinion – simply because if they’re not then they probably won’t do so well. So I suppose to a certain extent it’s an unavoidable consequence for companies to be tossed about between changing public opinion…

      As for an organisation or company choosing to support something I don’t like – well, I recognize their right to do it, and my right to say I don’t like it! I don’t think Hamleys were morally wrong to arrange their toys in a certain way, I simply thought it was a bad idea.

      Clara X: Feminism for Tories

      • Why did you think it was a bad idea though?

        It sounded from your post that you didn’t like them being forced to arrange their toys that way, and didn’t want them to be banned from doing otherwise. But as it was their own choice, responding to market analysis and their own consumers (presumably they didn’t rearrange their toys at the expense of profits and sales, maybe that’s cynical of me but I highly doubt it!), why don’t you think it’s a good idea?

        Do you actually think it’s necessary to separate toys by “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys”?

  4. There are a large number of feminist ‘academics’ working in Women’s Studies and Gender Studies courses in the UK. Can anyone point me to even one ‘right-wing’ one? Thanks.

    Mike Buchanan

    • Dr Sarah Childs. Met her at a CWO event.

      • Many thanks but it didn’t take long to find a blog entry (oct 11) for Sarah Childs which couldn’t be more left-wing. The Conservative party should be more ‘feminised’ – no mention of merit – and references The Fawcett Society and Yvette Cooper. I honestly couldn’t find a sentence Harriet Harman would object to.


        Seriously, can anyone point me to a right-of-centre feminist academic?

        Mike Buchanan

      • Off the top of my head…

        Janice Atkinson-Small, communications director of Women On, and a UKIP activist.

        Louise Mensch, Tory MP and feminist

        Charlotte Vere, actively conservative feminist, founder of Women On

        Arguably Margaret Thatcher!

        That woman who’s always saying statism has replaced patriarchy and true feminism can only come from capitalism and freedom… forgot her name but she runs some Think Tank I believe.

      • I don’t know if my reply will be published, but here goes. The estimable Charlotte Vere may be right-of-centre (hurrah!) but she’s adamant that she’s NOT a feminist, and is on record as such. From a piece recorded to camera for ‘Newsnight’ before her debate with Angela Eagle MP on 15 September 2011 (it’s on YouTube if you want to look it up):

        “I think feminism is a toxic, battle-hardened and arrogant philosophy which has been manipulated by those at the extremes of politics. Feminism has had its day. We need women to stand up and shout, ‘Feminism? Not in my name!’ ”

        I think that’s fairly clear?

        I assume you’re joking with respect to claiming Margaret Thatcher as a feminist? Otherwise I claim Harriet Harman as a Tory.

        Mike Buchanan

  5. @Mike

    You clearly have a very different view of “right” and “left” from those normally used. As I have stressed before, we must agree to disagree.

    • Please help me with this. My views of ‘right’ and ‘left’ are clearly understood by everyone I know. Do you not see Yvette Cooper and The Fawcett Society as left-wing?


      • Yvette Cooper promotes moderately left-wing economic policies. The Fawcett Society tends to support left-wing economic policy, but combines this with a more liberal (rather than socialist or radical) view of feminism.

        If you discuss politics with the same people (or similar groups) all the time, you will inevitably assume that your views are the norm. I suggest you take a look at the political compass at http://www.politicalcompass.org/ukparties2010. (I think it’s skewed a bit far right.) I’m sure you can appreciate that the political centre is different across the world — in the USA, for example, many if not most UK Conservative policies would be considered left-wing. And as I have stressed a number of times, I am referring to left and right as economic terms, not social terms.

        As you have made a large number of comments, most of which are the same comment and the vast majority of which are lengthy, I am afraid that I will be asking WordPress to automatically send your future comments to spam.

      • Well, I guess this comment will go straight to spam then. You’re simply wrong in asseting the Fawcett Sociery espouses a ‘liberal’ view of feminism, as even a casual glance at their website will prove. They’re relentless campaigners for quotas, they’re a driving force behind such principles as ‘positive action’ in the Equality Act 2010 – both attacks on liberty, meritocracy etc. If The Fawcett Society is ‘liberal feminist’ then I’m a jam doughnut.

        I agree with Americans, I too think UK Conservative policies are left-wing. Cameron only reduces the size and influence of the state if he has no choice. He even thinks government has a role in increasing people’s happiness, when the best it can do is reduce people’s unhappiness by shrinking the state and let people keep more of their hard-earned money. What a dire state politics has descended to, when all three ‘major’ parties are different shades of left-wing.

        Have a nice day.

        Mike Buchanan

      • Hmm, if you think the Tory government is left wing then your views of left and right are definitely not shared by everyone.

        I’m not even saying you’re wrong, as I can understand why they seems statist compared with, say, the American Tea Party, but you must understand why a lot of people see them as right wing? They are working to cut back the state (it’s failing because they’re having to borrow more to do it, but that’s probably more about incompetence than ideology frankly), they demonise the unemployed and those unable to work, they fail to acknowledge that unemployment is a (necessary) element of capitalism not a lifestyle choice, they fail to address market based reasons for high benefit bills eg high house prices and low wages, they spend an arguably disproportionate amount of time focusing on 50p rate of tax – which I am against, but it’s hardly a top priority issue considering all the problems we have in this country – they demonise the public sector and frame all the strike/employment rights/pensions debates as public-vs-private even though Unilever workers (for eg) are striking and PCS represent about 30,000 private sector employees, they are moving public money into independent schools (not saying this is wrong even, just hardly left wing), people like Theresa May speak ardently against the human rights act, they want less regulation and less taxation from the EU, they are subsididing corporations to “employ” people on benefits for free, ie undercutting the minimum wage, they are bringing EU competition law into the NHS…

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