Women’s liberation today – Socialist ideas (Australia)

Forty years after the second wave of the women’s liberation movement began there has been a major slide in consciousness about women’s rights and the continuing need for women to struggle for them. Since the demise of the movement in the late 70s women have been the target of a sustained ideological campaign, or a ‘backlash’ as that has been aimed at weakening feminist consciousness.

The most important aspect of the backlash message is that on the one hand women have broken down all the old barriers and therefore don’t need to worry about old-fashioned feminist ideas. Liberal feminists point to individual examples of women who have ‘broken through’ the glass ceiling thus proving that any woman can make it in a man’s world if they have the talent and determination. However, the weakness of the liberal perspective is that it doesn’t recognize the structural limitations imposed on women under capitalism, rather focusing on the piecemeal approach of gradual reform. While they may admit that the majority of women are still concentrated in lower-paid jobs and bearing the double-burden of paid work and housework, these isolated ‘issues’ simply become more grist for further campaigns for reform, they don’t recognize that these conditions are fundamental to capitalism and therefore cannot offer a way forward.

The other major element of the backlash message is that the women’s liberation movement has left women holding a poisoned chalice – now that women have all the freedom and equality they could possibly want they either don’t know what to do with it resulting in confusion and depression, or they went too far following their dreams of a fulfilling career and missed the boat on the ultimate prize – motherhood and marriage. Thus more and more women are realizing that you can’t be a ‘superwoman’ and have everything and logically the extraneous part of a woman’s life is her broader social role and is the first to get sacrificed. There is a constant supply of books and magazines discussing why women are ‘opting out’ of the ‘rat-race’ in order to find true fulfillment in their roles as mothers and housewives.

Of course the media never venture to question why it is that women do find it difficult to juggle motherhood and a career, for example lack of affordable, quality child-care, paid maternity and paternity leave etc, etc, simply shunting the responsibility of working out the balance onto individual women. Furthermore, the bigger question of why so many people, male or female, hate or simply tolerate their paid work is ignored, trying to answer that question might call into question the nature of system and the meaningless and lack of control that most people find in their paid work. And while Susan Faludi originally identified the key elements of the backlash message in the early 90s, an article in the US Socialist Worker critiqued the results of a survey that had come up with the exact same backlash conclusions – in October last year! In reviewing the results of the survey entitled ‘The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness’ self-help guru Marcus Buckingham claimed that “though women now have the liberty to choose whichever life they’d like, many are struggling in their pursuit of a happy life”. But as the author of the article notes “maybe the declining numbers of women who consider themselves happy … represents women who are unhappy not because these victories were won in the past, but because they are being pushed back in the present” for example by “the fraying of the social security net, the turbo-charged misogyny of pop culture” etc.

However the predictability of the bourgeois media in pushing the same old line for more than two decades also gives us a clear indication of the arguments that we need to take up, through our internal education and also through our publications and in any campaigns that we may get involved with. Firstly, the most important task is to convince a new generation that women are still the oppressed sex. Secondly, to convince women that the only way they really can ‘have it all’ is to get rid of capitalism, the ultimate barrier to women’s liberation while at the same time struggling for reforms, and against attacks on women’s rights, in the here and now.

In order to understand women’s oppression we need to look at the big picture and uncover the long view of women’s history, only then will we be able to see that seemingly disconnected fragments connect into an ancient storyline that has been replaying itself over and over again for thousands of years.

If we want to understand the issue of women’s oppression we need to start with the family. Today the image of the happy (and in Australia nauseatingly white) nuclear family is absolutely everywhere we look. It goes without saying that when a politician announces a new policy it’s pitched as being in the interests of ‘working class families’ or ‘Australian families’. The image of the family is used to sell everything from cars to Weet Bix, which apparently has been “building Australian families for more than 50 years”. In fact you could say we are living in a culture that seemingly idolizes and adulates the family, perhaps we will be seen by future anthropologists as the ‘family cult’ culture.

But while it can seem as if everybody who is anybody is living within the cosy confines of the family the facts are seriously out of kilter with the image. For example currently about a quarter of all households are composed of one person and this proportion is expected to increase to one third by 2026. Furthermore the “proportion of total households comprising families with children has steadily decreased over the last 20 years”. Furthermore behind the airbrushed perfection of the ads and comforting conservative rhetoric of today’s politicians, lies the reality of nuclear family as often being a private hell rather than comforting haven, for example in 2002 46% of all marriages ended in divorce, domestic violence is the most likely cause of preventable death for women under 45 and there were 55,000 cases of child abuse and neglect recorded in 2008.

So why aren’t the images and policy changing to fit the reality?

article continues at http://www.rsp.org.au/content/womens-liberation-today

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