Surf's Up! In praise of the second wave

Finn Mackay offers a rousing call to arms for UK feminists to rekindle the spirit of second wave feminism.

Finn Mackay, 19 April 2004

Where were you in the 1970's? If you were anything like me you were probably in the process of being born, going to primary school and watching 'Bagpuss', 'Basil Brush' and other such frivolities. At my tender 27 years I missed out on so much, the communes, the town hall politics, Greenham Common... Its certainly not the 1970's any more, but one thing hasn't changed - and that's the fact that there is reason to be angry!

There is so much to be angry at in the world, and so many people who seem not to notice or, worse still, to see our own oppression as some kind of progressive liberation. Really, the oppression of women is nothing new, its only been going on for centuries and it isn't over yet. In this country 2 women every week are murdered by a male partner[1], women in Britain still earn around 20% less than men in like for like jobs[2], rape convictions are plummeting while reporting continues to rise[3], 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime[4], women have better political representation in Rwanda than here in the UK, globally women make up over 70% of those living in absolute poverty and everywhere in the world women earn on average at least 25% less than men[5]. Its hardly equality is it? So why do so many women think the battle is over and where is this perfect rosy world they speak of where women have got it all?

feminists should stop being so apologetic and stop engaging with the 'man-haters' myth

All of a sudden it seems our oppression is something new, and we are being encouraged to celebrate it. I am sick of hearing how post-modern and ironic it is that so many young women are enjoying pole-dancing classes nowadays, or how wonderful it is that women can make a good career in the so-called 'sex industry'. There is nothing modern about women being sexually objectified and sold for men, after all, isn't prostitution supposed to be 'the oldest profession'? Rather than seeing this industry as a type of violence against women, we are encouraged by the media and other industries to see such things as a sign of our liberation, as a sign of how far we have come that we can now enjoy and make a career out of our own sexuality in this way. How wonderful to live in such a free world!

The only people who really benefit from the 'sex industry' are the millionaire men who run it. What we are talking about is a multi-billion dollar industry, an industry that includes and involves child prostitution and child abuse, the trafficking of women and children, arms running, drug dealing and the production of 'snuff films'. Lets stop being so naive about this issue, just because one woman in the rich West might not mind sitting at home watching a soft-porn rental with her boyfriend, does not mean that the 'sex industry' is a progressive hot bed of women's liberation. If you defend this industry, if you defend pornography and prostitution, then you must know exactly what you are defending. Do you think that women in the developing world are relishing their liberation as they are stolen from their countries and trafficked into prostitution? Or that women in Britain, with children to care for and limited options in our unequal world, make a choice most of us would hope we never have to make, and think to themselves what a wonderful career option?

Women have been campaigning for centuries so that we can be seen as anything more than sex objects and now we seem to be throwing ourselves into this role with gusto. We are told all the time about how much women can earn in 'the sex industry' in its various forms, yet we know that for all women good pay and conditions are hardly the norm, so why do we expect this to be norm in an industry built on the degradation of women? Is this industry really something we want to embrace? Our own sexuality should be something we create and express ourselves, not something defined for us by newspapers like The Sun or magazines with original titles such as Nuts. Is this really how far we have come? Are we all happy that our images are being sold and constructed in this way? Surely there is something more to all of us than our bra size, like what's between our ears for a start. And just because I'm raising this question doesn't mean that I'm advocating some huge censorship program. I'm just saying, in all reality, are we really so fine and empowered by the dominant images of women we see?

I would ask that all feminists stop being so apologetic about being a feminist, stop engaging with the 'all feminists are man-haters' myth and stop being so blinkered to what is going on in the world. Now... "here comes the science bit" - Women as a group, are oppressed and exploited by men, as a group. The poorest people in the world are women. We do not live in an equal world so lets stop pretending that we do. We could continue justifying ourselves forever, but we have to stop it; because we have nothing to be sorry about. Resisting violence against women in all its forms is the most rational response to the attacks we are witness to. The second wave women's liberation movement identified this and called women to action. It was a movement for rights that we still have not got. Making demands such as equal pay, free childcare, an end to violence against women; all demands made in the 1970's which we still have not achieved. Our big sisters in the 70's had some good points, lets not throw away a whole movement for the sake of being able to do pole-dancing classes, gawp at male models in women's magazines or take up a career in prostitution - these things are not our liberation, and they are not worth all those lives that are lost, wasted and taken by this unequal world.

By the way, I'm a Radical Lesbian Feminist, I wasn't born until 1977 so wasn't around to play my part in herstory, but I can now! Because there is still work to be done, and what those brave women started all those years ago, is not over yet. The women's army needs you!

About the author

Finn Mackay

Finn Mackay was born too late for Greenham, but supports the women's peace camp at Menwith Hill.

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