5 Dec 2008

Women - What NOW?

Last night I had the privilege of attending a debate on the future of Women's Rights at the British Library (followed by some Jaegermaister with Marxists at the London Student's Union - how subversive!). The panel, chaired by Polly Toynbee (hiss) consisted of the fabulous Nicola Brewer of the EHRC, novelist Tahmima Anam and some sort of student, Emily Beardsmore. The panel was one woman short, in that Helena Kennedy QC didn't turn up (probably doing something more important ‘in the House’). I think Polly took that rather well, although without Ms Kennedy the panel unfortunately consisted of 50% moron rather than a more conducive 40%. Thank God for the delightful Nicola and Tahmima. Polly and Emily are idiots.

Panellists were gifted with eight minutes of talk, followed by debate, followed by floor questions. Brewer glided effortlessly through a range of issues concerning equal pay, parental leave, affirmative action in employment and access to childcare. Anam described the situation of the women’s movement in Bangladesh, which is alive and well but meeting the frustrations of religious opposition. The she wooed us with excerpts from the delightful Sultana’s Dream (1905) by the Bangladeshi feminist, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain. Acknowledged as the first literary depiction of a feminist Utopia, it depicts the scientifically sophisticated Ladyland in which men are locked away and Women rule through reason alone –

‘I became very curious to know where the men were. I met more than a hundred women while walking there, but not a single man.
'Where are the men?' I asked her.
'In their proper places, where they ought to be.'
'Pray let me know what you mean by "their proper places".'
'O, I see my mistake, you cannot know our customs, as you were never here before. We shut our men indoors.'

'But my dear Sister Sara, if we do everything by ourselves, what will the men do then?'
'They should not do anything, excuse me; they are fit for nothing. Only catch them and put them into the zenana.'

This was, of course, met with rapturous delight amongst the audience. Food for thought ladies.

Finally, and here is where the evening took a plunge towards the inane, the idiot Beardsley told us ‘wot da kidz fink’ about feminism (Lord knows how, she is 23, by which age I’d acquired a proper job in journalism and a coke habit to rival that of any college upstart).

Now, far be it from me to discourage a young woman to assert herself, or to scoff at her involvement in the Girl Guides (!!) which I'm sure is really 'right on' nowadays (Brown Owl...sitting on a oversized papier mache mushroom...jumping the broomstick...the 'Entertaining' badge which I REFUSED to accept, even though my table setting was by far the prettiest. You gotta make some sacrifices, ladies.)

But if I knew I was going to be partaking in a panel with PollybloodyToynbee from the Guardian, I'd make sure I had some facts on my side, or at least an opinion or two. Relating moronic anecdotes of how you "decided not to be rubbish like all the other girls," or how "a man told me I couldn't do something, gasp!" is as pathetic as it is unhelpful. I was on the Tube the other day and a guy looked at my breast 'area'.
Every woman has a rinky-dink story to share about the day 'when bigger boys came'. Moaning over our knitting only makes feminists look self-involved and dangerously unsystematic - which those in the camp Beardy are.

Now, as ever, thick is a feminist issue.

At one point, while the red faced Emily was avoiding answering yet another question from the floor concerning sex workers, religious fundamentalism or social welfare, by spouting nonsensical rhetoric about 'empowering young women' and 'education' and… um… 'empowering young women', Polly's eyes glazed over. As did her entire face. If it is possible for a person to glaze with their entire body, then that is what Polly would have done. And I knew what she was thinking, because it's what all of us were thinking, especially those of us who were involved in the Women's movement in the 90s (like myself), which was "If this is the future of feminism, we're screwed."

And why? Because Beardsmore’s wishy-washy, softly-softly brand of identity politics will never get Feminism anywhere. Nor will adopting a lamely quietist approach to such pathologies of culture as lap-dancing and the compulsory sexualisation of young women. Not being attractive is NOT an excuse to exempt yourself from arguments concerning the commoditisation of the body, nor is pointing out your own credentials as an ‘empowered young woman’ (find/replace “career-hungry-moraliser”) a recognisable political act. Occupying a position such as Ms Beardsleys (Head of some kind of Youth Club, I gather) must entail the responsibility of voicing difficult and outspoken opinions on the state of young women today, rather than limply condoning the kind of behaviour (lap-dancing, whoring, being a bit crap) that you find personally and theoretically reprehensible. Ms Beardsmore, however, clearly sees her position as a back-road into journalism, possibly imagining herself writing a column on her Vaio whilst supping on a Fair Trade Chai latte in a few years time. As such did little more than suck Polly Toynbee’s arse.
She was probably bullied at school. And because she was crap, not ‘different’.

After the lecture, when I rushed into the loo to look for the gloves I dropped during a clandestine pee when Polly was doing her introduction (Pink Leather Dents, size 8, if you found them please let me know!) something rather interesting happened. As a throng of ladies queued all the way out the door and into the halls, and the few menfolk who had bothered to attend cruised into the Gents in record time (nice work providing adequate facilities for the ladies, Brit Lib, or shall I say Brit No-Women’s-Lib-Thanks) I heard the voices of the crowd, speaking as if in one voice, to one another, over one another at times, and they were saying – "We should use the Gents! Let’s use the Gents, sisters! Why should we wait to pee any longer? That was a bloody long talk, and I drank a lot of water. I am absolutely desperate to pee. Now is our moment!"

And do you know what? Not one of them did.

I myself went to the loos in Euston.
Now, what do you think that means??

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