Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Layer 453 . . . International Women's Day, Angry and Unafraid

It's International Women's Day, and the good old Guardian has made sure that all six of its opinion page articles today are written by women. Also, the whole of G2 is filled with pieces on the "100 Most Inspiring Women".

Fair enough. Except . . . the cover of G2 includes a photo of  . . . Margaret Thatcher.

And there's another, even bigger, photo on Page 5, along with a column of text that contains stupidities such as, "Like her or loathe her, Britain's first female prime minister made her way in a man's world and changed the way we think of women politicians."

Emine Saner (?) - what are you thinking of? "A man's world"? What ridiculous cliches.

So how did we used to think of women politicians before Thatcher? Personally I thought very positively about Barbara Castle, for example. She was a brilliant example of a thoughtful, decent, compassionate, well-balanced, sane, non-prejudiced politician. Did Thatch have any of those qualities?

Even Emine Saner has to admit that "Thatcher froze child benefit and refused to invest in affordable childcare . . . she promoted no women to her cabinet and no women above junior minister . . . " As if these are the worst of her crimes and misdemeanors!

So what positive things does Ms Saner have to say about Thatch?

"And yet she is an inspiration, partly for showing that the daughter of a greengrocer could progress through education, determination and hard work."

Really? What about if the daughter of a greengrocer didn't go to Cambridge and didn't marry a millionnaire? As for "progress" through education, determination and hard work - who'd have thought before Thatch came along that that such things could be helpful to an individual? Revelatory.

Mind you, I reckon I've also had a decent education, plus I've shown plenty of determination and I've worked hard. And so did our old mate David Miliband, for that matter - but I can't see either of us two making it to PM any time soon.

Anything else, Emine, luv?

"Having a woman in the most important job in the country for the first time changed the cultural idea of what was possible for women. Thatcher was ambitious, tough and uncompromising, qualities rarely associated with, or admired in, women before her. She may not have done much for the careers of individual women, but she changed the way female politicians were thought of – her decisions, such as waging war on the unions, or in the Falklands, may have been ruthless, but nobody now questions whether women politicians can be strong."

Strong? Ambitious? Tough? Uncompromising?

Ridiculous buzz-words, meaning absolutely nothing. As if "uncompromising" is a good quality in a politician. Hitler was uncompromising. As was Stalin.

As for "ruthless" - that word alone ought to have made Thatcher ineligible for inclusion in this supplement about "most inspiring women". Who needs to be inspired to be ruthless? Candidates/contestants to be The Apprentice?



This, on the other hand, is an excellent piece by Selma James, who has clearly been inspired by the events in Egypt -


International Women's Day: how rapidly things change

Women in Egypt have called for a million women to occupy Tahrir Square today. Who would have predicted that a month ago?

Feminism has tended to narrow its concerns to what is unquestionably about women: abortion, childcare, rape, prostitution, pay equity. But that can separate us from a wider and deeper women's movement. In Bahrain, for example, women lead the struggle for "jobs, housing, clean water, peace and justice" – as well as every demand we share.

The revolution is spreading.

New boldness allows us to face what Marx and Engels called "our real conditions of life and our relations with our kind". Women refusing to be trapped at home, and demanding that men not be trapped out of home, takes us immediately beyond the market, which only considers work that leads to profit for others, not to equity nor to happiness nor even to survival.

To undermine once and for all the sexual division of labour, we – women and men – must aim to work less. We can then begin where we all began, with children. What do they need? First of all, adults (not just parents) who love them and work to make a relationship with them. That is after all what caring is. We need time for this. Prime time.

We cannot be punished for our involvement in this civilising life process. Nor can we allow men to be excluded from it. So this International Women's Day, we must at least consider claiming the money from banks and wars to pay for the society of carers that only we together can devise. Taking the lead of the women in Tahrir Square, we can change the world.

• Selma James is organiser of the Global Women's Strike Mothers March


I've blogged about previous Nina Power columns in the Guardian. This one is also excellent -

They're angry and unafraid – and terrify middle England

When young women feel they are no longer held back by their gender, one outcome is an increase in political confidence


In the buildup to what looks likely to be the biggest trade union demonstration in recent history, on 26 March, the role of women in organising and participating in protest will continue to be central. Nevertheless, for the usual suspects the participation of so many young women – in the education protests in particular – has given rise to a certain moral panic. See, for example, the hilarious Daily Mail cover: "Rage of the Girl Rioters".

The attempted pillorying of these young women – accused of "lacking respect" – by the Mail is the latest in a long line of attacks on women who campaign directly against the state: the suffragettes; women involved in the 1926 general strike; the miners' protests in the mid-80s; those who fought for reproductive rights and against domestic violence. Just as with the attack on "ladettes" in the 1990s, what looks to be a moral criticism frequently masks a deeper political and economic fear – what shall we do when young women are academically successful, economically independent, socially confident and not afraid to enjoy themselves? Could there be anything more terrifying?

Whatever the 1990s tried to tell us was over – from inequality to political commitment – has most definitely not gone away; and the idea that one would simply have a passive, ironic or otherwise disinterested stance towards the brutal and brutalising policies of a government hell-bent on removing any vestige of a social bond now looks historically outmoded.

Many of the schoolkids who played truant to attend anti-war protests have grown into articulate and politically passionate adults, rightly incensed that education is being transformed into something insanely expensive, increasingly exclusive and socially divisive.

The explosive mix of single-issue campaigns (such as UK Uncut), broader anti-cuts struggles and a growing worldwide recognition that the corruption and complicity of governments are no longer tolerable means that everywhere men and women are realising that what unites them is far greater than what divides them.

When young women feel they are no longer held back by their gender, that they can take on any job, that they are more likely to do well in education than their male peers, that they don't have to think of themselves as wives and mothers first, one outcome is an increase in political confidence. If you tell women they can be and can do anything they want, and then let them down – by taking away their education maintenance allowance, by making university prohibitively expensive, by forcing them to stay in poverty – they, along with their male peers, will make you pay for your lies and hypocrisies.

While the Mail presumably thought that "girl rioters" would terrify its middle England readership, this should only serve to encourage us to recognise that female emancipation – and political emancipation more generally – will start with those most angry about its incompletion.


Jayati Ghosh is a professor of economics -

Big Oil wins in the latest price spurt. So why don't we take our share in tax?

War in Libya and protests across the Middle East are exploited by companies too quick to pass costs to vulnerable consumers



A Guardian editorial today takes up the issues I wrote about a couple of blogs ago - whether the LibDems rank and file will finally take a stand against the appalling policies of their leaders and their Tory coalition partners:


Liberal Democrats: Call for a lost voice

If the Lib Dems, of all parties, will not fight back and make the case for rights, who can?

The Lib Dems are not making their voice heard on issues where their voice ought to be. If the party is true to its liberal roots, as well as alive to its own self-interest, it must be willing to stand up for the values that helped raise the party to a position of power in the first place. If not now, when?

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