Response to ‘Alien She?’

Jennifer Drew responds to Jane Collins' article Alien She?.

, 16 January 2003

In response to Jane Collins’ article, Alien She? in December’s issue of the F-Word, I

am writing to say on some points I agree with Jane. Feminism has and is

still viewed to some extent as aimed at and for white, heterosexual

middle-class women. Also, many women and men when asked what is

their understanding of Feminism and Feminists, all say it is about

man-hating, lesbian middle-class women.

In the 70’s and early 80’s Feminism was primarily for white, heterosexual

middle-class women, however Feminism has evolved and now

encompasses women of different, cultures, ethnicity and class. Many

Feminists have progressed and now understand and accept that not all

women’s lives are the same and not all women experience the same

oppression, there are differences. However, all women because of their

gender do suffer disadvantages compared to men, this is not male-bashing

but a fact. Males in all cultures are given primary importance over

women’s lives, even within a hierarchy, men who may see themselves as

not powerful compared to other males, are still able to live less

constricting and freer lives than women. Human beings and their lives are

male-defined with men’s lives seen as normal and women are treated in

relation to men.

The reason Feminism is still seen as middle-class and theory-orientated

only, is because the media refuses to allow any valid discussion of

Feminism, instead Feminists are routinely trivialised, their opinions and

articles are ignored or rejected as unsuitable by publications and the press.

Any woman who dares to express strong views, is seen as an “unnatural

woman” whatever that means. Women who do not conform to rigid

gender ideas of femininity are subject to abuse by both women and men

who feel very threatened by those who resist the status quo and the way

power is maintained in a hierarchy. It is far easier to hold people and

particularly women, responsible for their own poverty, unemployment,

pregnancies outside marriage, sexual orientation and ethnicity, rather than

look at how power is maintained and controlled by more privileged

sections of society.

I agree with Jane, Feminism does seem to primarily concentrate on

academic debate and theory, yet there is a very good organisation called

The Fawcett Society, which has a web page and is linked to the F-Word.

The Fawcett Society has been in existence for over 100 years and its

primary aim to promote equality for women. It constantly campaigns on

Women’s Poverty and why married women with children all too often fall

into the poverty trap once they are divorced. This is not any individual

woman’s fault, the real reason is society. Women are still expected to be

primarily responsible for childcare. As Jane says in her article, because

her mother was a single parent, she could not find suitable work which

paid sufficiently to cover childcare. So, many single mothers have no

option, either they try to survive on part-time low paying work and hope

their relatives will help with childcare or remain unemployed and eke out

an existence on Income Support. Contrary to media claims, most women

are not in the fortunate position of having a high-powered career which

pays a good salary. Women who become single-parents for whatever

reason, are effectively marginalised by society and held responsible for

causing their own poverty. Women are still socialised from childhood

their only role in society is to find a suitable man, marry and raise his

children. All women are supposedly naturally maternal and any woman

who rejects this role is seen as deviant and abnormal. Women who make

the decision to leave a relationship and become single-parents do not make

this decision lightly, because they will suffer economically.

Irrespective of whether women are middle-class or working-class, they can

and frequently are subjected to sexual harassment, sexism, violence and

discrimination. Working class men are seen as less powerful than

middle-class men, but the fact they are all male gives them inherent

privileges and rights over women, whether they enforce them or not.

One book I would recommend to Jane which I think would be of interest

to her (and not in a patronising manner) is Feminism is For Everybody,

by Bell Hooks. It is a small paperback book easily available and still in

print. Ms. Hooks is an African-American Feminist who grew up in

poverty (she is definitely not middle-class), yet her words speak

commonsense. Ms. Hooks and I believe Feminism is applicable to both

women and men, to quote from the back cover of the book “to all those

committed to equality, mutual respect and justice.” Ms. Hooks discusses

issues concerning, reproductive rights, violence, race, class and work. Ms.

Hooks also focuses on patriarchy, racism and homophobic culture. Yet

her language is non-academic and aimed for the general reader without

being patronising.

In conclusion, Feminism is a multiplicity of ideas and beliefs. Changes

and improvements have been made to women’s lives, but unfortunately

progress is very slow, however Feminists have shown themselves prepared

to adapt and change as we learn women’s life experiences and expectations are not all the same.

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