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Culture | Feminism from that manifesto is any mention of class differences. The party’s claim to be non-partisan, with no division of left or right, ignores the very essence of politics. Women from different parties may well unite on some of these issues, but what about the fundamental differences?

Steinem also advocates a non-partisan approach. But rather than arguing for a separate party, her strategy is to operate within the mainstream: to make sure that feminist aims, most particularly reproductive rights, be prioritised by any woman in politics, and in any party. And this is a difference that has always dogged radical causes. Is it better to effect change by infiltrating the establishment, or to work outside the barriers in order to bring them down?

nance and men’s aggression towards women.

The reiteration of these demands may be a stark reminder of why they are still relevant. But it is also a welcome relief for those of us who have seen feminism take on so many different and sometimes baffling guises over the decades. When the phenomenon of “women’s studies” began to enter university curricula, for example, it was at first another victory for liberation: a reclaiming of women’s place in history, politics, science and culture. It was exciting. But once it had become an established discipline, feminism seemed to undergo a sea change. Political demands took second place to theory; legal and social rights were too often sidelined.

Steinem has encountered plenty

“As feminism has changed academia by enlarging what is taught, academia has sometimes changed feminism. Scholarly language may be so theoretical that it obscures the source of feminism in women’s lived experience,” ac

This dichotomy was highlighted by some of the reactions to Sheryl Sandberg’s advice in her recent book Lean In. Billionaire Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, advocates a series of stratagems for women to wriggle their way to the boardroom: be assertive, be ruthless, be visible.

of male hatred

In her riposte to Sandberg, Lean Out, Dawn Foster dismisses the concept of “corporate feminism” as a trap. Capitalism, she argues, is simply incompatible with feminism since it regards the successes of a few “as a victory for women as a whole, without examining whether it genuinely has any wider effect on society”.

“Stripped of any international and political quality,” agrees the academic Nina Power in her introduction to Lean Out, “feminism is about as radical as a diamante phone cover.”

The contrast between these two positions, one typically American, the other staunchly British, was exemplified by the two feminist magazines that appeared at around the same time during the 1970s. Gloria’s own Ms Magazine was glossy, sophisticated and inspirational. In the UK we had Spare Rib: defiant, radical, unglossy and socialist.

knowledges Steinem. “One of the saddest things I hear as I travel is ‘I don’t know enough to be a feminist,’ or even ‘I’m not smart enough to be a feminist.’ It breaks my heart.”

It was not just the language that had changed, though. As the notion of “gender studies” took over, concerns with gay rights over women’s rights, race over class, and more recently the campaigns for transgender rights, represent a shift from our original slogan that “the personal is political.” The ratio has changed. All too often identity politics highlight differences rather than unity – a trap to which Steinem herself has a crisp response. “I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together . . . It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers.” Another towering figure from the early days of women’s liberation, Germaine Greer, caused controversy recently when she commented that transgender women were not proper women. She attracted tsunamis of righteous abuse, but was speaking on behalf of many feminists who long for a return to the universal quest for equality.

What these two approaches had in common, though, were the aims themselves. Those five “Es” blazoned by the Women’s Equality Party are strikingly similar to those of the Women’s Liberation movement: Equal pay for equal work; equal education and job opportunities; free contraception and abortion on demand; free 24-hour, community-controlled childcare; legal and financial independence for women; an end to discrimination against lesbians; freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of male violence. And the end of the laws, assumptions and institutions that perpetuate male domi

It’s disappointing that some of the more recent recruits to the gender wars seem bent on silencing or banning those with opposing views. Especially as Steinem values so passionately the opportunity to debate, to listen, to be open to other views. Everyone, she believes, should benefit from time on the road – “not seeking out the familiar but staying open to whatever comes along.”

Meanwhile, despite the huge advances in the progress towards equality, we don’t seem to be much nearer to one of those original demands, reiterated by the Women’s Equality Party: an end to male violence and abuse of wom-


New Humanist | Spring 2016

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