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