I learned about feminism the hard way. Through divorce. There’s nothing like custody to make you appreciate where discrimination lies. Today we face a mass of social and economic problems. Capitalism takes as much as it offers. The state of the NHS, the future of higher education, the media manipulation of welfare claimants are all cause for concern. Yet a life in the UK remains an aspiration for people across the world. We have space to campaign. Call for greater equality and social justice. Higher education can challenge and change. Maybe not the world but enough small parts to make a difference. The danger is seeing class as the only discrimination. A Marxist framework was useful for rising awareness of gender divides, but gender continues to divide society, deeply and silently. Economics is only one strand of the ideological oppression of women.
My feminist education was less work based than home based. Women find it hard to separate historical materialism from biology. Divorced, I faced the dual predicament of childcare plus the one issue feminism has never answered – toilet cleaning. The reality of women and work rarely sit well together. Work is problematic for mothers – regardless of their status. Whether married, single, divorced or widowed, without a support structure, usually made up of other women, the greatest load of childcare, housework and toilet cleaning is in the female domain. It has always been like this.
I fell out with feminism in the late 20th century because it denigrated the role of motherhood. In prioritising career opportunities and equal pay for women, the status of stay at home mother was downgraded. When it came to domesticity as a career choice, there was no sisterhood. I was lucky. I worked because I wanted to as well as needed to. At the same time I returned to my own education. These were the days of Women’s Studies where feminism was often theoretical. Political activism is safer on paper. In terms of bringing issues of ideological oppression of women into the public domain, there is much to thank the academics and campaigners for, but feminism took away the woman’s right to choose. It privileged work over housewifery. If feminism had invented, patented and given away self-cleaning toilets – every home should have one – it would have been a significant step towards gender equality. For every man who claims to be a toilet cleaner there are a thousand who’ve never wielded a loo brush in their lives. Power politics are played out not only in government but in the rooms of the home; the bedroom, dining room, kitchen room, bathroom.
Cultural attitudes have deep roots. Men still patronize. Women still get paid less for doing more. The ideology hasn’t changed. Gender discrimination is a powerful social tool and I don’t see how Marxism will change this. Who will clean the toilets after the revolution?