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.)

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Diversity in Parliament

 As I’ve pointed out before on this blog, I believe that the differences between individuals vastly outstrip the differences between men and women.  Because I don’t think that women have some innate qualities which make them different to me, you might expect me not to care that slightly less than a quarter of MPs are female.  Not so.  I see a strong argument for a more diverse Parliament based on what individuals can bring to the table.

 The gender (or race, class, or disability) of an individual has a relationship on how they are perceived by and treated by society.  Women, while all being individuals, tend to have slightly different experiences to men.  People with different experiences bring different skills to the table, different ways of working, difference points of view.  Having a mixture of experiences increases the skills held by Parliament as a whole.  The more diverse the group (the more different experiences members have had), the more likely it is that policy failings will be recognised. Better policy comes from a group with broad experience.

 The House of Commons is meant to be a representative body, and increasing the diversity experience in Parliament makes it more representative of the people.  A more diverse Parliament will serve its people better because it will know them better.

Update: I think I’d better add that although I support greater diversity, I believe that it should come about through encouragement rather than quotas.  Here’s why.

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And more…

Yet another blog about Tory feminism, this time suggesting Sayeeda Warsi as an example. The comments make for interesting reading. Have we touched a nerve?

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New girl on the block? Not me.

The recent blog posts about “Tory feminism” have been interesting.  I tend not to agree with Christina Odone, but I find myself nodding at her assertion that Tory feminism is not a new and startling development.  No, right-wing feminism not the “phrase du jour”, it’s not a new thing which is going to go away if you shut your eyes, and no, it CERTAINLY didn’t start with Sarah Palin.  It’s liberal feminism and has been around for longer than socialist feminism or radical feminism.  I got as much out of Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir as my left-leaning counterparts did.   The fact that I am economically right-wing has no bearing on my passion for equality.

The only difficulty with the name “liberal feminism” is that it implies that I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats.  Much as I like our Orange Book colleagues, I chose to be blue.  I’m a Tory feminist – a liberal Conservative feminist.

Tory feminism doesn’t claim to be good for all women for the simple reason that it denies that women are a special interest group in need of protection.  How can half the population all want the same thing?  To a certain extent, saying that female politicians must stand up for the interests of women requires women to have narrow collective interests.  The only things that all women are interested in are the things which all humans are interested in, such as breathing. 

No, the argument should be made the other way: why are some issues considered to be “women’s issues”, and therefore pushed under the carpet?  Let’s talk about childcare.  By saying that childcare is a “women’s issue” or something that all women are interested in, you’re saying that there is something intrinsically female about caring for children.  Childbirth may be a biological function of women, but the question of how the child is cared for is a social question.  Childcare is an issue for families, not just mothers.  Childcare is not necessarily an issue for all women.  In order to come up with pragmatic solutions we need to stop looking at “women’s issues” in isolation.  A quick fix of giving all women more money for childcare doesn’t address issues faced by all families and doesn’t speak to the complex and changing relationship between childcare and society.

Tory feminism is about individuals, not groups.  We’re not all the same, and we don’t have the same needs or the same desires.  Tory feminism is about encouraging individuals to make their own choices and to put themselves where they want to be.  Legislation can’t magically make others treat me as an equal: I have to do that myself.

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Right-wing feminism

Today Gaby Hinsliff has a piece in the Observer on right-wing feminism.  As I’m writing this ahead of publication, I haven’t yet read it, but I contributed to it the research and I hope I’m quoted.

I’m a fiscally right-wing, socially liberal feminist.  I believe that all individuals are fundamentally equal. Every individual is different, but at the most basic level we are all human beings.

“Equality” is not the preserve of the left-wing.  Feminism does not have to be about collective rights, but can be about individual needs. Feminism started as part of liberalism, as the assertion that all human beings are rational creatures.  Equality isn’t something to be given by the state, but something to be recognised by the community.

If you’ve been brought here by the Observer article, please take a look back through my posts.  I apologise for the fact that they stop at the end of September, but I’m afraid hunting for a new job comes first.

Posted in Definitions, Media, society and state | 3 Comments

Margaret Thatcher: feminist?

The Guardian has an article on whether Margaret Thatcher should be considered a feminist icon. Personally, I’m not a Thatcherite – while I can embrace the free market, I have little in common with social Conservatism. Margaret Thatcher would have been unlikely to identify with feminism, but she should be respected as a woman who challenged assumptions and broke through social barriers.

Margaret Thatcher normalised female power. She worked within the political structures of the time, some of which were explicitly masculine, others of which were simply “not feminine”, whatever you take those terms to mean. The accusation that she acted like a man rather than a woman says more about misplaced assumptions of a strict gender dichotomy than her politics.

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Missing author…

I haven’t been updating this blog for a while, and I’m really sorry about that. I’m currently looking for a new job, and it’s sapping all the strength and energy out of me. I promise I’ll be back to blog some more just as soon as I’ve found a job…

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