Radio 4 Analysis: Whatever Happened to the Sisterhood?

// 6 October 2010

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On Monday Radio 4 aired a programme called Whatever Happened to the Sisterhood?, as part of its Analysis series.

You can listen again on the link above, or you can read the transcript.

I am quoted on it briefly along with several other women.

A few things struck me, listening to the finished programme:

  • The idea that feminists aren’t doing anything about the budget cuts, when we have the Fawcett Society’s budget challenge and events like Feminist Fightback’s Women at the Cutting Edge workshop on 30th October, not to mention all the feminist activists active in Unions and political groups fighting against cuts (feel free to mention more in the comments!).
  • The idea that physical protests / marches on the street are the only valid, or ‘true’ form of feminist activism
  • The idea that feminism on the internet isn’t a valid form of activism, or that feminists who use the internet to connect or organise aren’t active in ‘real life’ also
  • The idea that young women are not active in the movement and require “feminists of Professor McRobbie’s generation to come out of activist retirement, dust off their

    banners, and lead the younger generation out of internet forums and into the mainstream.”

So, what did you think?

Comments From You

tomhulley // Posted 6 October 2010 at 9:39 pm

i lived through the 60s and 70s. Feminism is at its brightest and best right now. Yes, thank you to all ‘second-wavers’ but let’s also get behind the bloggers, campaigners and marchers etc active today. They make my heart sing.

Rose H // Posted 6 October 2010 at 11:00 pm

I can’t help but marvel at McRobbie’s arrogance. She writes repeatedly about young women’s failure to engage with feminism and yet refuses to conduct any empirical research to justify her assertions. When other people actually get out of their offices and do the research (which inevitably shows that young women are engaged in feminist activism on a scale that seemed unimaginiable in the mid-1990s) she continues to use her privileged position to denigrate the activities of young feminists. I’ve got to say I’d be interested to know when the last time she went on a protest march was…

Lexi // Posted 7 October 2010 at 1:26 am

The idea that those of us who are younger (I’m 23) need to be lead by older feminists is patronising. “Here sweetie lemme show you how real Feminists do it” *head pat*

Yes marching though the streets is ONE form of activism (and Yes I do on occasion get out my banner and march for various causes) but so are the rich communities of bloggers, protests, campaigns etc that exist on the Internet as well and be damn if older feminist get to tell me I am not a legitimate feminist (or not doing it right) because I am not doing it the way they think I should! *deep breaths* I doubt I would even Identify as feminist if not FOR the Internet!

I know I am young and I am more grateful than words can say for the progress the generations of feminists before me have made but just because you came first does not mean you own the patent on “real” or “proper” Activism or Feminism.

Jen // Posted 7 October 2010 at 8:51 am

Catherine, I don’t know where you stand on the issue personally, and I don’t want to speak on their behalf either. But I find it striking that you bring up Feminist Fightback here, when they are often explicitly excluded from many feminist events because their position doesn’t ‘gel’ with the idea of feminism these events want to project, all the while positioning themselves as ‘a representation of the state of feminism in the UK’. I haven’t really seen you speak up on their defence on those occasions, yet it’s somehow fine to list them when it’s just a statistical point about feminist organisations and how many of them are interested in budget cuts.

I think you need to think about what you mean by ‘we’ here, because I’m not sure, if I were them (I’m certainly on their side and align myself with them on many issues), how I’d feel about being in the position that they’re in with regards to feminist activism in the UK, and then only being trotted out when it’s convenient. I don’t think I’d be too thrilled about being included in that ‘we’.

Lizzie Dearden // Posted 7 October 2010 at 3:21 pm

I was also quoted on the programme and listened to it on Monday.

I assumed Jo would have mentioned the Fawcett challenge in the programme as we discussed it in emails and on the day I was interviewed.

Also, I didn’t get the impression that marches and demonstrations were considered more valid, just more visible.

I can’t remember if it was aired but it was me who put forward the idea that the concentration of activism on the internet isn’t necessarily helpful. But we were discussing it specifically for the purpose of getting those who haven’t yet identified with feminism involved. And in my opinion and experience, feminist forums attract a largely self-selecting audience. I don’t think anyone can contest that the internet is the best way of organising activism and sharing ideas, but I think that other methods of communication would be useful to reach out to potential young feminists.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 7 October 2010 at 4:15 pm


Hi, thanks for your comment.

I’m aware that there is some antagonism between some feminist groups and Feminist Fightback, mainly over their stance towards sex work/prostitution. But they are a self-identified feminist group and to me, they are part of the broad feminist movement just as all the other feminist groups are. That is a fundamental principle of The F Word; that feminism is broad and diverse and that there are different points of view.

In that context I don’t see why it’s odd to mention them as a feminist group who are active around cuts, when that’s relevant to the discussion. In terms of the idea that this is somehow ‘trotting them out when it’s convenient’, well, we mention them in our book (along with lots of other groups), I did mention them to the interviewers when I took part in this programme, and if you serarch for Feminist Fightback on The F Word you will find previous references. I repeatedly make the point in talks I do that I believe feminism is diverse and broad and there is not just one feminist viewpoint on issues like sex work/prostitution, or religion (for example). Obviously some people disagree with me on that.

I’m not certain of what occassions you mean, but yes I have personal experience of the exclusive nature of some groups or events so I’m well aware of it happening. But I’m only responsible for my own work and for the approach of The F Word, which on both counts, aim to be as inclusive as possible.

That said, I feel that there is a time and a place for inclusivity/diverse views; like this website, our book (hopefully), or specifically open forums/events, and there is a time and a place for exclusivity (activisim events where people already agree on one viewpoint and want to get together to discuss how to practically progress that). So I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with people having exclusive events/groups in terms of their approach to certain matters. I think problems arise when it’s not necessarily clear that the event or group takes a paticular stance on a topic and so attendees/members aren’t aware that other viewpoints are being excluded. Honesty and clarity on this are good, I think.

I hope this helps?

Feminist Avatar // Posted 7 October 2010 at 5:38 pm

Angela McRobbie has written a book on this called ‘The aftermath of feminism: gender, culture and social change’ in which she argues that today a lot of the rights that previous generations of feminists fought for are now accepted by women as both their natural right and as part of the now social order- but despite our willingness to claim these rights, we are not willing to call ourselves feminists.

In this sense, I think that her work is very interesting in light of the ongoing discussion in other threads over whether we call ourselves feminist and if not, why not.

E // Posted 8 October 2010 at 12:41 am

I don’t think Angela McRobbie was denigrating the activities of young feminists at all, she was just saying they aren’t mainstream, which they’re not. She speaks at student organised feminist events from time to time, so she knows there are young feminists. The quote above was from the programme’s presenter. I went to Goldsmiths and took both the undergrad courses Angela teaches, the first was compulsory and I loved it so much I took the other in third year.

To be fair I think that young feminist movements do have a lot of trouble getting any attention! Look at the crappy coverage Reclaim the Night and Million Women Rise get! You do sort of have to be in the know to know about these things. And a lot of people just don’t give a crap – individualism, as Angela says. I met very few people in my seminars who actually cared about feminism outside of essay writing.

quiet riot girl // Posted 8 October 2010 at 2:16 pm

I knew Angela McRobbie when I was a child. I always thought she was very glamorous.

But that was in the 1970s. Maybe, as Marxists have had to face up to the collapse of the communist bloc, and the growth of neo-liberal capital, so do feminists have to accept that there is no longer an ideological space for a women’s movement, a feminist movement… gender is everywhere and everyone and campaigning on such narrow lines is, well, it is as old as Angela McRobbie herself.

I still like to hear from her generation, but not really about how things should be done, now….

Chris // Posted 8 October 2010 at 5:12 pm

And that’s Christopher, not Christine.

I found this a very interesting program; I actually listened to it twice. I would just like to bring up the gender pay gap and the figures banded about in the program. Women do, on average, earn less than men. However, if you look into the data, there is a lot more to the story than the headline figures. For example Harriet Harman issued a press release saying women were on average paid 23% less than men – this was true but it wasn’t the full story. The data bunched all part time and full time workers together and took no consideration of other variables. Part time workers (be they men are women) are more likely to earn less per hour than full time workers. The 23% figure also did not take into account hourly pay, purely the take home figure for the year. If we correct only for the part time/full time discrepancy we reach a difference in pay of 12% for the year (this is already less than the ‘working November and December for free’ statement banded about in the program).

Claudia Goldin has done some serious research on the gender pay gap on University of Chicago’s School of Business MBA graduates. These will go on to be particularly high powered and ambitious people and are fantastic for this sort of study as this is the ambitious high paid sector is where the pay gap is the greatest. Also, uniquely, we have great information about these people so we can control for differences in ability (i.e. grade performance etc). As ultimately what we want to do is find out if an equally capable man or women is paid more.

Initially the graduates were paid exactly the same (you do have to control for the fact that more men applied for jobs in the finance sector which is much higher paid). However, after 10-15 years men were paid on average 70% more than women (remember this is the highest pay gap sector). Why? Well Claudia’s research showed that 25% of the difference was down to more men going into finance, which is a higher paid area, 30% of the difference is due to women working less hours and another 30% was due to women taking extended time away from work, mainly to have children. The conclusion of Claudia’s research shows that in the sectors with the greatest pay gap n the gap is actually due to being a mother, not to do with being a woman. Part of this is inevitable. We can, and we are, making jobs much more flexible with better job design to make having a child easier. But you can not pay someone who has had a couple of years out and works part time the same as someone who hasn’t.

quiet riot girl // Posted 8 October 2010 at 8:16 pm

well Christopher, not Christine…

That research then makes me want to ask the questions:

why do more men go into finance than women?

why do women work less hours?

and why do women take so much more time out of work when they have a child than men?

Because women could work in finance and men could be the stay at home parent…

These questions though need a complex understanding of and interest in gender issues, to be answered.

They are not the kinds of questions I see feminists asking today.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 9 October 2010 at 1:14 am

Actually you can pay someone the same wage even if they have had time out to have children- because it should be equal pay for equal work. If you’re doing the same job, you should get the same wage. And, it is now illegal to pay people less because they are younger (and so haven’t been in work as long) if they are doing the same job, so why is it ok to discriminate against mothers?

quiet riot girl // Posted 9 October 2010 at 5:29 pm

Feminist avatar:I think the research Chris is quoting isnt comparing pay for the same jobs, but pay of men and women graduates over time… this is a common misconception about stats on the gender pay gap. People think it refers to pay for the same jobs but it doesn’t.

coldharbour // Posted 9 October 2010 at 6:37 pm

@Quiet Riot Girl

I think economic inequality as a ideology is the problem in the first place. In a fair and democratic society of free labour associations as opposed to capitalism bringing up children would just be as important as any other job including ‘finance’ therefore would demand the same social prestige. In a proper democracy every role in society that is deemed necessary would have equal reward and value, this would facilitate and egalitarian community as opposed the dysfunctional mess we have just now.

sianushka // Posted 9 October 2010 at 6:51 pm

yes QRG, feminists today never ever ever ask questions about masculinity and femininity and certainly have never asked any questions about why women aren’t breaking in to male dominated careers and why men aren’t expected to/legally entitled to spend more time with their children, or why women are expected to take 52 weeks maternity leave, whilst men only get 2, and how this affects women’s chances in ‘male-dominated’ careers such as finance, and how this affects men’s relationships with their families in children, and how this discriminates against women as it expects them to be caring, nurturing mothers, and discriminates against women who aren’t mothers; and how this discriminates against men by telling them they can’t be nurturing and caring and can’t take a role in family life.

no, can’t for the life of me think of any feminists who have ever asked those questions, which is weird because i distinctly remember reading about these issues in at least 3 non academic feminist books published over the past 2 years.

quiet riot girl // Posted 9 October 2010 at 7:36 pm

@sianushka oh glad to be wrong in this case then. Keep on analysing that masculinity, and supporting those men who don’t want to be pressured into being top dogs in the rat race. I am sure they appreciate all feminists’ interest in them and concern for their well-being.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 10 October 2010 at 10:32 am

In the survey of feminists that we did, about 67% agreed with the statement “feminism should address men’s concerns (e.g. deconstructing masculinity) as well as womens”

If you’re interested particularly in feminism and masculinity, you might want to check out some of the following resources on this (just off the top of my head):

Susan Faludi, Stiffed

Susan Bordo The Male Body

Men Doing Feminism

John Stoltenberg – Refusing to be a man

Masculinity studies and feminist theory

achilles heel

Jackson Katz

Michael Flood

London pro-feminist men’s groups





Any more comments on the Radio 4 Analysis programme?

quiet riot girl // Posted 10 October 2010 at 1:13 pm

thanks Catherine I am well aware of and have studied the work of Faludi and Bordo. And I am well aware of but do not like at all the work of Jackson Katz and Stoltenberg.

Isn’t ‘achilles heel’ an interesting title for a men’s studies journal? presenting masculinity as a weakness? A bit like ‘Spare Rib’ but without the Biblical and Ironic connotations maybe.

quiet riot girl // Posted 12 October 2010 at 3:07 pm

I made a comment but can’t see it so apologies if I repeat myself.

I was saying I have read Faludi and Bordo and I appreciate most of how they discuss gender, including masculinity. I probably prefer Bordo these days.

As for the men you mention, they all produce a version of ‘masculinity’ which I think is sanctioned by mainstream feminism, i.e. that men are responsible for and should feel guilty about male oppression of women and men’s violence against women. Katz and Rosenberg I particularly dislike for that reason.

I am interested in writing about men and masculinity for its own sake and not always in relation to how men need to atone for their sins of hurting women.

e.g. writing by Warren Farrell, Mark Simpson, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Richard Dyer, Jose Arroyo, Gary Younge…

What happened to the sisterhood? I think it forgot about its brothers, including trans men and gender queer men, and about its trans women sisters and gender queer sisters. The sisterhood is redundant in my view. I say this on a feminist website because feminism is concerned with gender equality- and this is my view on gender equality.

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