On 8 January I asked what the F word did for us. I may have been unfair because it’s thanks to feminist politics that I’ve had choices which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. However, being of an age where my children’s generation are now having children of their own, I see increasing pressure to conform to a stereotyped body image, male as well as female. Activism against body politics can’t be far away. A new book by Natasha Walter, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism looks at contemporary expectations on young women and the return of a sexism that privileges appearance. Two more books are due out this year; Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion, and Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune’s. A resurgence of feminist politics may well be on the horizon.
Some backlash against feminism was inevitable; such as the reinterpretation of the label to support the cult of female celebrity and all its physical fakery; fake nails, fake tan and fake breasts. Maybe that in itself is a form of political feminism. In the same way that happy housewives defended their right to prioritise the home and childcare, taking control of the body may be seen as the right to find identity and meaning. However, rather than unrealistic cultural expectations my greater concern is the absence of status for the pregnant body and the role of childcare. At the risk of sounding essentialist, you can’t alter biological design. A key error in feminist politics was to assume that all women wanted freedom from subordination via autonomy when to be sustainable the real issues were about achieving a balance of power. Childcare is key to feminism. Jenni Murray calls for altering public policy to change its perception into as something all parents do, not just women’s work. Therein lies the answer that was missed last time round; feminism is not about existing independently, it’s about collaboration between the sexes and recognition that childcare is a joint responsibility. As the media reports widely on toxic families and the break down in social structures there’s never been a better time for the policy to catch up with a contemporary need for gendered social equality.