Monday, May 30, 2005

New Feminism?

Germaine Greer was on the radio this morning, talking about a film on feminism which she’s made for Channel 5. Perhaps there was a miscommunication of Ali G proportions over the word ‘feminism’ by the channel’s commissioners?

Frustratingly she wasn’t given enough airtime to expand on her views, being interrupted by the men on the programme. But what I think I gleaned from her was the following: (1) feminism as understood in the 1960s liberation sense is no more; (2) today feminism is commonly perceived as enabling women to engage in the same activities and processes of men, in other words ‘feminising patriarchal social forms’ (my term, not Greer’s); (3) today’s young women may not see themselves as feminists, but they have the education and opportunities which their mothers didn’t to struggle for greater equality; (4) that struggle for equality – however nebulous – is feminism; (5) Greer doesn’t know what a ‘feminised world’ would look like.

Which does beg the following questions: (i) can we ever reach a ‘feminised’ end goal? (ii) would we recognise a feminised world if we could reach it? (iii) given (2), (5), (i) and (ii), would a feminised world be any different to the current one?

Meanwhile I found myself worrying about some contradictions within the observations made by Greer. If women have become more confident and assertive, through education, employment and other opportunities, what does it suggest if they do not engage in a public struggle for further female emancipation?

During the interview I kept reflecting on some of the sociological work which has been done on female-headed households in Latin America, most commonly in Mexico. With the onset of free markets and economic liberalisation, vast numbers of jobs have been shed, putting men out of work and the nuclear family under strain. Extended households have become the norm, usually headed by women as the male members either self-destruct (through alcohol abuse) or leave to search for work elsewhere. In addition these women often become the target of social redistribution programs by the state, for example receiving food or school payments. They are generally seen as more reliable in this respect than men.

Yet would these women perceive themselves to be feminists? The position which they have been raised to in their interaction with the state would suggest they have the capacity to be so. Yet in some respects their situation diverges sharply from the North-based young woman in Greer’s vision. For example, the majority of these women do not have the education, pay level or life opportunities to improve their condition; and some don’t necessarily want to either. I therefore found myself wondering whether Greer may well want to approach this theme in her next film.

That’s my philosophical stint for today. Tomorrow I promise to return to matters more mundane and everyday!

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