The British Feminist Party? No thanks…
Feminists should promote integration, not separatism.
In May, Sweden’s Feminist Initiative (FI) became the first feminist party to win a seat in the European Parliament. Led by Gudrun Schyman, a woman who once compared discrimination in Sweden to oppression under the Taliban, the party is supported by such illustrious figures as Pharrell Williams (the writer of ‘Blurred Lines’ – a song which universities across Britain have banned for being ‘anti-feminist’), Abba’s Benny Andersson (the one with the beard) and actress Jane Fonda. The group’s growth in popularity has been hailed as a great victory for feminism as it has catapulted gender issues to the forefront of political debate.
A party that exists to represent the interests of women as the disadvantaged sex seems preposterous in a country that is widely regarded as one of the most female-friendly countries in the world. Since the 1970s, the Swedish parliament has given high priority to gender-equality policies; today, the percentage of women in paid employment is one of the highest globally and the number of women in parliament only just falls short of the number of men. The Swedish state offers generous allowances for parental leave and significant daycare subsidies. So why is FI necessary? Sweden has shown itself prone to over-the-top policymaking in the name of equality: a gender-neutral pronoun is set to be included in the Swedish dictionary next year. Perhaps it is not so surprising that a feminist party has risen to prominence in a country that takes offence at its own grammar.
Thankfully, the Swedish electorate has not been completely won over. While FI ‘triumphed’ at the European elections, it fell short of the four per cent of votes necessary to enter the Swedish parliament. However, it appears that the FI hype is far from over – this wave of ridiculousness has now spread to the UK.
Ellie Mae O’Hagan, a writer for the Guardian, has taken inspiration from the FI and called upon ‘the women of Britain’ to form their own party in order to represent their interests in government. But, lying beneath O’Hagan’s bluster, there are some fundamental problems with the idea of a women-only party. Firstly, such a party would undermine what was once one of feminism’s core principles: that a person should not be defined by their gender. A segregated ‘no men allowed’ party would only serve to alienate issues that genuinely affect women – such as reproductive rights for all – from the public by directly aligning them with a crackpot political party. Such issues need to be centre-stage in the political scene, rather than put into the hands of a marginalised group.
The idea of an all-female party also rebukes the idea that men should take an interest in women’s rights, and popularises the idea that, deep down, no man wants his wife, girlfriend, sister, mother or friend to be treated the same as him. Feminism once demanded women’s entry into the male world; now feminism is retreating from the desire for an integrated society.
As for the goals of O’Hagan’s proposed party: ‘Our primary aim would be to ensure female autonomy: that no women should be economically dependent on men, confined by sexist social norms and at risk of violence, or have their destinies determined by their sexual organs.’ Such rhetoric successfully promotes gender equality in that it manages to insult both men and women alike: men are portrayed as oppressive wife-beaters, while stay-at-home mums are effectively excluded from the movement altogether. If these so-called feminists continue to project a paternalistic approach to women, then it makes it difficult to take their condemnation of sexism seriously. Indeed, by constantly portraying women as the ‘victimised gender’, people like O’Hagan are promoting the idea that women are, inevitably, put-upon.
Obsessing about our ‘male-dominated society’ merely detracts from the valuable time that could be spent seeking tangible solutions to the problems women face today. The issue of the gender pay gap, though it is often exaggerated and is rapidly narrowing (see Joanna Williams’s recent article on spiked), does exist, so we should be looking to the root of the problem: why a lot of women are choosing not to pursue certain jobs. We should be actively telling girls that they are capable of doing whatever they want to do, instead of giving them the impression that they are the oppressed sex. We should also challenge the government to bring in free childcare for all – something that would benefit both male and female parents, and would prevent a large proportion of mothers from taking prolonged time off work or having to leave their jobs entirely when they have children.
Just as feminism, in the truest sense of the word, encourages integration, so, too, should politics: men and women exchanging ideas, challenging one another and working together on an equal footing to overcome society’s problems. Debate rather than separatism is the key to political change.
Katherine Hughes is a writer and researcher based in London.