When it comes to issues of equality, it's not size that counts

by Guest Blogger // 25 March 2012, 09:06

Tags: backlash, equality, human rights, oppression, sexism

A guest post from Lisa Glass criticising framings of gender equality as a minor issue in comparison to other human rights concerns.

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Feminism needs to "get in the queue", suggests author Naomi Wolf. When asked by the New Statesman, "If feminists could campaign on only one issue over the next year, what should it be?" she replied, "Feminists should campaign to end the department of homeland security and repeal the National Defence Authorisation Act and the Patriot Act, because there won't be any feminism or dissent of any kind if there ain't no bill of rights. First things first." I could not agree more with the argument that a bill of human rights is a crucial to the concept of a fair and democratic society, but as a response to the question, posed to mark International Women's Day, a 'first things first' message is unhelpful. Since women are also human, their rights should be seen as an intrinsic to an all-encompassing bill of human rights. Feminism should not be seen as something at odds with that.

Daniel Knowles in the Telegraph makes a similar point at the end of his article, 'Don't worry, my feminist friends: you're winning', asking us to consider, "who has more opportunities, a working-class boy born to unemployed parents on a council estate in Glasgow, or a middle-class girl born in a farmhouse in Surrey?" He suggests that now girls do better at school and that more women attend university, the 'battle' has been won. Great, girls do well at school and are now allowed to attend university (and with many students now paying fees of up to £9K per course, I doubt many universities would ban students on the basis of gender). Post-education, however, unemployment for women is currently at a 25-year high, a fact that is ignored in this article.

The message in some sections of the media seems to be that in a time of austerity, gender equality is a minor issue when you consider overall national and global pictures of poverty and suffering. But it is a fact that women as a group often suffer the most economically, as discussed in this article on the 'feminisation' of poverty. Not only that, but for single mothers in particular, there is a lack of respect that often runs to outright hostility.

Consider who decides what the 'big issues' are as presented in the media and question why something as fundamental as gender equality should be sidelined. Equality for oppressed groups should not be a luxury, possible only in times of plenty. It should underpin the fundamental functioning of a civilized society. By bringing "smaller" issues to light we are exposing flaws that run much deeper than the surface.

Lisa Glass is a London-based feminist writer and editor who will be soon starting a PhD in Gender Studies.


Public domain image shared under a Creative Commons license (author unknown). This is a feminism symbol in white on a purple background. It shows the circle with a cross at the bottom, typically coded as female, with a clenched fist coming up from the cross into the middle of the circle.

Comments From You

matarij // Posted 25 March 2012 at 12:48

'Equality for oppressed groups should not be a luxury, possible only in times of plenty. It should underpin the fundamental functioning of a civilized society.'

I would argue further that achieving equality would actually deliver a civilised society. At the moment the focus seems to be on shoring up the existing capitalist system that is responsible for the sorry state of affairs we are in.

We need a different way of working, and having a representative mix of people making decisions is the only way forward, so the male centric methods of ruling the world will no longer hold sway.

Then, perhaps the "who has more opportunities, a working-class boy born to unemployed parents on a council estate in Glasgow, or a middle-class girl born in a farmhouse in Surrey?" question will be irrelevant.

Alasdair // Posted 25 March 2012 at 16:28

The quoted arguments are just bizarre. Since when does campaigning on one issue stop you from campaigning on other issues? Why do these people think it's not possible to oppose patriarchy, militarism and economic inequality at the same time?

Shadow // Posted 25 March 2012 at 18:46

Whilst women form majority of UK population whenever an economic crisis occurs, the cry goes up women's rights and women's liberation must be marginalised because other issues take precedence. Meaning men's rights and demands must always take precedence over women's fundamental socio-economic rights. Mainstream media remains a male dominant one as is the current government, so focus remains firmly fixed on 'mens' so-called big issues' never women's big issues, because we supposedly do not have any!

As evidence shows it is women who are the ones disproportionately being made redundant - not men but of course women's issues are irrelevant because default human species according to Male Supremacist System is male! Women have always worked but Male Supremacist System continues to promote myth 'only men undertake work which is valuable to society!' Women not men are the ones who continue to experience misogynistic discrimination because we happen to be female not default human - aka male! Women's rights is not a 'luxury' it is a necessity if women are to achieve liberation from male domination and male control over all aspects of their lives.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 25 March 2012 at 23:23

"who has more opportunities, a working-class boy born to unemployed parents on a council estate in Glasgow, or a middle-class girl born in a farmhouse in Surrey?"

And, we've had a queen for 60 years, so clearly women have had equal opportunities for all that time too. I really don't know why we were making such a fuss.

EmilyBites // Posted 26 March 2012 at 14:18

And does a middle-class girl born in a farmhouse in Surrey have more opportunities than a middle-class boy born in a farmhouse in Surrey? Must every woman in the UK have it worse than every man for inequality to persist? Daniel Knowles seems unaware that when we compare people's opportunities, we control for tiny little details (like class) that might be germane.

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