Wimmin, know your place!
Today, I must apologise. I’m sorry for taking a place at university. I’m sorry that I’ve had a successful career that has afforded me many unique and very special opportunities. I’m sorry for being elected to King’s Cross Ward and sorry for serving in Camden’s Cabinet. I’m sorry that I’ve worked hard and been blessed with the intelligence to succeed. I’m sorry that, in my own small way, I’ve used my talents to try to make a difference.
Most of all, I’m sorry I didn’t realise I should apologise before. But Thank You David Willets. You’ve made me see the error of my ways. I’m going to give it all up, buy a pinny on the way home, and bake.
Dear men of the world. I am truly sorry.*
I can’t begin to express how long it’s taken me to calm down from first hearing reports of David Willets’ presser on Social Mobility this morning. When I heard it, when I first woke up, bleary eared on the radio this morning I assumed a) it was an April fool or b) there must be some subtlety and deftness to what he’d said that couldn’t be picked up in a bulletin headline. Sadly it seems neither are true.
His lack of understanding of feminism is summed up in one widely quoted phrase, apparently, according to Willets:
“Feminism trumped egalitarianism”.
Pardon, Mr Willets. The two are not mutually exclusive. Feminism wants egalitarianism for women. That’s all we’re asking for. A belief that women are equal, socially, politically, economically and in access to rights, to men. And, ideally, for that belief in equality to be put in to practice. So that I know, when I stand for selection in the Labour Party, apply for a job, or attempt access services that I will be treated equally regardless of my gender.
The idea that a senior member of the Cabinet, widely regarded as the brains behind many of the Government’s policy initiatives, thinks that feminism and egalitarianism aren’t part of the same aim is truly truly terrifying for the prospects of further advances in gender equality under this government.
The thrust of Willets’ argument is that middle class women were more able to take advantage of the gains in gender equality through the mid and late 20th century than working class women. Well sound a claxon, stop the presses, spin the globe in the other direction.
Of course they were. And middle class black and minority ethnic men were more able to take advantage of the advances in race equality over the same period, than working class black and minority ethnic men or indeed, middle class black and minority ethnic women.
There’s no doubt in my mind that financial inequality and the accompanying desire for socail mobility is one of the biggest issues facing us today. Before we lost the election last year John Denham, then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government called for a subtler approach to equalities, in recognition of the fact that as advances, particularly in race equality, meant that social and financial inclusion for working class people of all backgrounds were more important than they have ever been.
But it’s still the case, that whatever your background, middle class, working class, black or white, if you’re a women you will be worse off – politically, socially and economically – than an equally qualified, equally experienced man.
To claim that feminism has hindered other equality shows a crass lack of understanding of what equalities is. And if this is coming from a member of the Cabinet, who’s widely regarded as one of the brightest people in politics, of any party, then people who want social equality should be afraid. Very afraid.
*whilst I quite like baking, and other cooking in general, I’m not really apologising or indeed giving it all up for the kitchen. Sorry for those Camden politicos who got all excited about the idea of yet another by-election.