The celebration this week with regards to the votes for women is certainly worth celebrating although the facts have been a little bit clouded.
Indeed, women were afforded the vote but only if they met certain criteria. These criteria also excluded millions of working class males so in effect it became a middle-class victory and not a true triumph for voting rights. So, to shed some reality to this the pictures of girls we have seen working in munitions factories or maids serving the house masters/mistresses were left out of the voting equation.
In 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed, allowing women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification to vote. Although 8.5 million women met these criteria, it only represented 40 per cent of the total population of women in the UK. The same act abolished property and other restrictions for men and extended the vote to all men over the age of 21. It wasn’t until 1929 that the Equal Franchise Act was brought in, finally allowing men and women aged 21 and over the same rights.
The suffragette mantra was ‘votes for women’ and not ‘votes for a selected few women’. Yet, 100 years ago the few got the vote and in my opinion abandoned those sisters of whom also demonstrated and wished to be seen as equal.
Yet, feminism with all of its good points seems to be imploding within its divisions. I suppose the only analogy I can give from the male dominated parliament of the time was ‘divide and rule’.
First, let’s define feminism in general. The global idea of feminism refers to the belief that men and women deserve equality in all opportunities, treatment, respect, and social rights. In general, feminists are people who try to acknowledge social inequality based on gender and stop it from continuing. Feminists point out that in most cultures throughout history men have received more opportunities than women.
While this basic idea of feminism seems simple enough, there are many people who misunderstand what the goal of feminism is. Some people imagine that all feminists are angry, bitter women who only want to subjugate men. Of course, this stereotype offends actual feminists. Why is there such a big difference between stereotype and reality when it comes to feminists? One of the reasons for this discrepancy might be because there are, in fact, lots of different, specific types of feminism.
Types of Feminism:
- Liberal Feminism – Feminists strive for sexual equality via down to earth political and legal reform. Liberal feminism is a form of feminism that argues that equality for women can be achieved through legal means and social reform.
- Radical Feminism – Radical feminism is a movement that believes sexism is so deeply rooted in society that the only cure is to eliminate the concept of gender completely. Radical feminists suggest changes, such as finding technology that will allow babies to be grown outside of a woman’s body, to promote more equality between men and women. This will allow women to avoid missing work for maternity leave, which radical feminists argue is one reason women aren’t promoted as quickly as men. In fact, radical feminists would argue that the entire traditional family system is sexist. Men are expected to work outside the home while women are expected to care for children and clean the house.
- Socialist Feminism – Socialist feminists reject radical feminism’s main claim that patriarchy is the only or primary source of oppression of women. Rather, socialist feminists assert that women are unable to be free due to their financial dependence on males in society. Women are subject to the male rulers in capitalism due to an uneven balance in wealth. They argue that liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women’s oppression. Jaggar and Rothenberg [Feminist Frameworks: Alternative Theoretical Accounts of the Relations Between Women and Men by Alison M. Jaggar and Paula S. Rothenberg, 1993] point to significant differences between socialist feminism and Marxism, but for our purposes I’ll present the two together. Echols offers a description of socialist feminism as a marriage between Marxism and radical feminism, with Marxism the dominant partner. Marxists and socialists often call themselves “radical,” but they use the term to refer to a completely different “root” of society: the economic system.
- Cultural Feminism – Is developed from radical feminism, although they hold many opposing views. It is also a feminist theory of difference that praises the positive aspect of women. As radical feminism died out as a movement, cultural feminism got rolling. Cultural feminism believes in encouraging feminine behaviour rather than masculine behaviour. For example, the belief that “women are kinder and gentler than men,” prompts cultural feminists call for an invasion of women’s culture into the male-dominated world, which would presumably result in less violence and fewer wars.
- Eco-Feminism – Eco-feminism is a social and political movement which unites environmentalism and feminism. Eco-feminists believe that these connections are illustrated through traditionally “female” values such as reciprocity, nurturing and cooperation, which are present both among women and in nature.
Other forms of feminism –
Past lessons for survival
Well for my regular readers you will know that I always try to draw a historical narrative or try to equate my views with philosophy or literature. And for this I have been giving this some thought.
When a side or ideology is subdivided there become a vacuum that needs to be filled to maintain dominance. And here the future of feminism needs to look at the lessons dealt out during the Spanish civil war (1936 to 1939).
The Spanish Civil War
The war has often been portrayed as a struggle between democracy and fascism, particularly due to the political climate and timing surrounding it, but it can more accurately be described as a struggle between leftist revolution and rightist counter-revolution.
The Republican government acted to remove suspect generals from influential posts. Franco was sacked as chief of staff and transferred to command of the Canary Islands. Manuel Goded Llopis was removed as inspector general and was made general of the Balearic Islands. Emilio Mola was moved from head of the Army of Africa to military commander of Pamplona in Navarre.
The initial coup was supported by military units in the Spanish protectorate in Morocco, Pamplona, Burgos, Zaragoza, Valladolid, Cádiz, Córdoba, and Seville. However, rebelling units in some important cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, and Málaga did not gain control, and those cities remained under the control of the government. Spain was thus left militarily and politically divided. The Nationalists and the Republican government fought for control of the country. The Nationalist forces received munitions, soldiers, and air support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Republican (Loyalist) side received support from the Communist Soviet Union and leftist populist Mexico. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and the United States followed an official policy of non-intervention.
Franco decided that the only way to win the war was to split the Republicans in half. By August 1938, the Republicans had been split and by December the Nationalists had been successful in Catalan.
In 1939, Republican resistance all but collapsed. The various factions in the Republican movement were at odds as to what to do and Russia withdrew its support for them. By 1939, it was only a matter of time before the Nationalists won. Barcelona fell in January 1939, Valencia and Madrid surrendered in March 1939 and the Republicans unconditionally surrendered on April 1st.
When idealists go to war.
Despite Popular Republican rhetoric, these various groups became unreconcilable. Communist officials, under direct instructions from Moscow, murdered their anarchist and Trotskyist allies; anarchists murdered Trotskyists; democratic socialists were distrusted by all the more radical groups.
When Orwell entered Spain he decided on a whim to join the POUM, and a few months later only just managed to escape across the frontier to avoid arrest and possible execution by the enemies of his chosen militia. Surprisingly, these conflicts did not stop the republican side from fighting the nationalists, though they certainly inhibited the centralisation of the war effort and a spirit of effective collaboration between the various elements. Given the growing disparity in arms and organisation between the two sides, it is remarkable that the Republic lasted as long as it did.
So how does this mirror feminism?
Well, as a male I understand and appreciate the original ideas behind feminism particularly the belief that men and women deserve equality in all opportunities, treatment, respect, and social rights. Yet, like the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War there were/are so many factions and splits that the ‘in-fighting’ looses the focus of what they set out to achieve. This in turn splits a united front and in effect, strangles itself and dies before its enemy has even fired a shot.
To put this another way women wanted the vote. It was never stated that they wanted the vote for middle class women. But when the middle-class faction won the true meaning of ‘all’ women was lost in the foray.
Men are not the enemy to feminism. All men want equality to family life, equality to legal protection and rights. Men also want equality to parenting and so on. But feminism is so busy fighting itself it has become a hatred ideology as apposed to an idea that should be embraced by all sides.
Like the Spanish Socialists, women betrayed other women folk when the (supposed) vote was won. Women who never got the vote were let down by their sisters who were happy with their lot and decided to turn their backs on working women. Where was the camaraderie on both examples? Indeed, like I said divide and conquer is still the enemy of a rights movement.