Thursday, 28 July 2016

Feminism and female leaders

Every time a woman leader is appointed it is seen by the masses as a victory for feminism. Never mind that feminists themselves may not be united in proclaiming the appointment as some sort of milestone advancement. The appointment of a woman in public office is enough for the ‘feminist’ label to be trotted out.

Theresa May is now the second female Prime Minister that Britain has had. Hillary Clinton is set to become the first female President of the United States of America and is the first female Democrat nominee for the Oval office. Another high office female appointee in the Western World is Angela Merkel who is Chancellor of Germany.

Yet, this time in history is not being unanimously celebrated by feminists as a pivotal moment. As to why this may be so is to unearth the basic ideologies that underpin feminist.

Firstly, let me make something clear, the patriarchy is lazy and elitist and hates feminism. When it has to accommodate women it goes for the low hanging fruit. In this case, a female in a high standing position is enough for the patriarchy, regardless of whether her policies are feminist friendly. Theresa May as PM will be seen by the patriarchy as the ultimate accommodation of women’s rights and gender equality.

But is Theresa May a feminist? There is a photograph of her wearing the Fawcett Society t-shirt with the words ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ emblazoned on the front. It bodes well that May is embracing the word ‘feminist’ unlike Margaret Thatcher, the first female PM of Britain, who famously declared that feminism had done nothing for her.


As an aside, Thatcher did very little for women too with her right wing neoliberal ideology. However, it would not be logical at this stage to draw a like for like comparison between May and Thatcher because the latter was in power for 11 years. May has only been PM for a few weeks.

If May calls herself a feminist does that make her a feminist? Many feminists, like me, do not believe that any woman who calls herself a feminist is one. Being a feminist involves far, far more than gender. There are men who are feminists too because they are more than ready to embrace all that it entails but I only intend to concentrate on women here.

At the crux of feminism is a debate on whether it is of a left-wing or right–wing persuasion. It is a debate that has to be considered when deciding whether a female leader of a right wing political party is a feminist. Feminism is a political issue because it fights for and advocates for equal rights for women in social spheres like education, in marriage and equal pay. A lot of these issues rely on either funding by the state or the state’s support.

The right or centre right ideology is not conducive to feminism because it is associated with political ideas and practices such as rolling back the state, cutting back on welfare and the privatisation of essential services that women traditionally rely on such as health, legal aid and charities devoted to providing specialist services to women and children.

While many right wing women would dispute this view on the basis that any woman is free to identify as a feminist, I do think that feminism does have universal core beliefs and values as a social movement. Many of these beliefs and values go against right wing ideology.

As an example, would you call Marie Le Pen a feminist? She who stirs up race hatred and encourages divisive societies. Is the female PM of Bangladesh a feminist even though she has done little to combat violence against women? Get my point!

This is not to say that a right wing female cannot be a feminist ever but the space within the feminist belief system for this is small. The entry points into feminism in this case would, probably, be whether the woman promotes female considered policies.

While it is too early to judge whether Theresa May’s policies for the country will be feminist friendly it is, nevertheless, justified that a cautionary position be adopted as to whether she is a feminist or not.  She may have got rid of the old macho club of Bullingdon Boys from the cabinet and replaced them with politicians who come from ordinary backgrounds but she is first and foremost the head of the Tory party. This is the very party that rolled out an austerity regime which resulted in severe cuts to the services which women rely on. When she was at the Home Office she, sadly, did not heed the calls for an end to the detention of pregnant women or women who had suffered violence and abuse in their country of origin.

What would make a whole load of difference to women’s lives in this country would be if May refinanced the cuts in legal aid which have severely decreased women’s access to legal justice in cases of domestic violence and looked at cuts to childcare services. Another big issue would be to consider what effect Brexit would have on women’s rights.
Image result for cuts to women's refuges

While most politicians would be less concerned with women’s issues, seeing them as being less important than monetary and trade policy, I do hope that having a woman as PM will make a substantive difference to our lives, even if she is right-wing.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Another news story on female fertility

Female fertility was in the news a few weeks ago when Andrea Ledsome sought to claim the high moral ground in the Tory leadership debate against Theresa May by claiming that her motherhood status gave her a greater stake in the country than the latter who is childless.

News stories on whether and how fertile we are have become as much a scare story for those unsure as to when to have a baby as it is assuring to those who breathe a sigh of relief because they fall within the supposed right age bracket.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that the fertility rate for women aged over 40 is higher than the rate for women under 20 in the UK for the first time since 1947. This is due to more women being in higher education, women choosing to concentrate on their careers first before becoming mothers and the rising cost of childcare.

Interesting a read as it is I really do not see the point of this ONS report. Apart from the fact that the figures point to a decrease in teenage pregnancies, which is a good thing, I am struggling to see how women's choices can be affected by this piece of evidence. If you are a woman in your 30s trying to decide when your biological clock will stop ticking this report may put your mind at rest but when the dominant narrative is 'don't wait too long' I doubt that many women will rest easy without falling pregnant till they turn 40.

Till the next fertility news story I hope this report helps in some way in the mean time.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A passionate Corbyn supporter speaks out against the 'loony' label

Richard Coles joined the Labour Party for the first time in April this year at the age of 51.  Richard is a secondary school teacher and lives in the North East of England. He joined the party because of the progressive direction that Jeremy Corbyn and his team have taken with the Labour Party.  

Richard is passionate about social justice and wrote the letter below to the editor of The Times newspaper questioning an interview that Matthew Parris, a Times columnist, gave on Channel 4 News. Richard is angry at the ruling elites and is frustrated with the political systems and at how politics is conducted. The letter is a fantastic rebuttal of those who persist in calling Corbyn supporters 'loonies' or such like derogatory terms.  

On Channel 4 News this week, interviewed by Jon Snow, Matthew Parris suggested that Jeremy Corbyn winning the pending leadership election would be a good thing as the Labour Party would split and the loonies would be gone.

I find his glib use of this offensive term just that - offensive. To paraphrase John Cleese, why should I be tarred with the epithet loony merely because I have a desire for radical political and social change?

How is it 'loony' to want a country in which 1 million families don't need food banks?

How is it 'loony' to want a country where housing is affordable?

How is it 'loony' to want an end to the choking stranglehold of austerity?

How is it 'loony' to want an inclusive society where the elite 1% do not prosper at the expense of the 99%?

How is it 'loony' to want an economic agenda that enables all regions of the UK to have a healthy and balanced economy?

How is it 'loony' to want a country in which employment rights are fair, balanced and just?

How is it 'loony' to want energy policies that are sustainable, not in thrall to or in the clutches of fossil fuel corporations?

How is it 'loony' to want a minimum wage that is actually sufficient to be a genuine 'living wage'?

How is it 'loony' to want a welfare system that supports rather than penalises the old, infirm, vulnerable and needy?

How is it 'loony' to want our children to be taught by qualified teachers?

How is it 'loony' to want a fully funded, not part-privatised, NHS service?

How is it 'loony' to want a system of social care that affords and provides dignified and necessary caring to our elderly and sick?

How is it 'loony' to want an education strategy that does not allow private corporations to siphon off £millions in executive salaries?

How is it 'loony' to want towns and cities with active, well-resourced libraries?

How is it 'loony' to want a government that will seek to collect taxes fully and close tax loopholes for the mega rich?

How is it 'loony' to want to invest in housing with the resultant employment and economic activity it brings?

How is it 'loony' to want a government that does not sell off national assets at bargain basement prices to city traders?

How is it 'loony' to want a fair transition period for pension reform for women born in the 1950s?

How is it 'loony' to want a change in education policy so that school grounds are not sold off to property developers?

How is it loony to want a more just and equal society? 

Richard Coles

Monday, 11 July 2016

To the man who kept pointing at the flag of the Union Jack embossed on his t-shirt

Racism normally catches one unawares. Ask any ethnic minority person and they will vouch for my statement. I once got on a bus when I was pregnant and an English woman called me 'filthy', 'Paki' and a whole load of other swear words. All I wanted was to sit down during my journey from A to B. 

However, in the post-referendum age something changed. I wrote about how racist language became mainstreamed by politicians who scapegoated migrants for the ills of the country. It became open season on 'others' who were not white and English. Being white and, for example, Polish was not good enough. A week before my experience a friend's daughter had a bottle of coke thrown at her along with the words 'nigger' and 'go home'. She was born in the UK but birthright and nationality is immaterial and irrelevant as far as racism is concerned. 

This experience was one of many being reported and I knew it was only a matter of time before the hand of racism pointed at me. 

A few days later, one lunchtime, I decided to take a stroll and sat down on a bench overlooked by a block of flats. I heard a tapping noise and looked up in the direction of the noise. A white man was standing at a window pointing to his t-shirt which bore the Union Jack flag. It took me a few seconds to realise his intention. I looked away and the tapping started up again. I looked up again wanting to make sure that my suspicions of a racist incident being underway was the correct version of events. There was no doubt. He was pressed up against the window with the flag clearly visible despite the dirty condition of his window. The tapping went on for about 5 minutes. I got up and walked away without looking up again. 
Image result for union jack flag

I was only thankful that my experience had been a minor one compared to ones being reported which involved violence. 

That man ought to be ashamed of himself for using the national flag to prop up his warped sense of nationalism. The Union Jack is flown in all the Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is the head. To use it for racist purposes is to insult the country. Sadly, racists have an opposing view point which confuses racism for nationalism. 

My Workshop on Feminist Mothering on 16 July in Central London

Feminist Mothering is a little known concept in the UK. It is recognised as a mainstream concept in USA and Canada but has not fully been realised in the UK even though mothers everyday are living testimonies to the practice of feminist mothering. We mother in ways that are raising our children, both sons and daughters, to recognise the individuality and agency of mothers. Yet, we do not have a name for this lived experience of mothering.

For these reasons I feel honoured and privileged to be holding a workshop on Feminist Mothering as part of the very popular Spark Festival which is held annually. The Spark is a series of community-based creative, informative, practical and exploratory workshops and activities taking place over July and August. I will be holding a workshop in Waterloo, Central London, on 16 July from 1.30 to 3.30pm on Feminist Mothering.

The Spark

I propose to split the 2 hours into 3 sessions which will explore the 
dimensions of Feminist Mothering:

First session 1. 30 to 2pm - Are you a feminist mother? This session will explore the ideology and practice of feminist mothering. As an example, is the sanctity of motherhood by society helpful to mothers in practice?

Second session 2 to 2.30pm - We will explore the social construction and politicization of motherhood. As an example, is breastfeeding in public a human right? Which political decisions do you think have caused grievous social injustice to mothers in the UK?

Third session 2.30 to 3pm - Mother Blame. Does it tick you off that mothers are blamed for everything that goes wrong? Does it take a village to raise a child or is child rearing an individual act conducted in the domestic sphere?

Conclude by eating chocolate and discussing how we can take our thoughts forward.

I look forward to seeing you and having a lively discussion with you on your thoughts and experiences. Motherhood is a subjective experience so come along and share your experiences.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Who is sticking two fingers up at whom - PLP or Corbyn?

It is a stand off between the PLP and Corbyn who has a level of support that many of us have never seen command by any politician in recent memory. I am not a member of the Labour party but I do like Corbyn and did earnestly want him to make a success of his leadership for the simple reason that modern democracies need a strong opposition to redress the political landscape.

Coming from a continent myself where the opposition is often forced to take dangerous risks in promoting democracy I have never bought into the mantra that a party can only 'do things' if it is in power. The opposition can be a strong force for good but it does need equally strong support to be able to do the job of opposing the sitting government.

Corbyn's support seems to be draining away fast and furious. As an outsider myself I wonder what forces are at play in this collective of the Labour party? Let's face it, Corbyn never had the full support of the party from the moment he received enough nominations which allowed him to stand in the leadership contest in 2015. The voting community were told over and over again that Corbyn's left leaning politics would never win the day under any circumstances. In the meantime Corbyn has won two by-elections and a healthy majority of Labour supporters, 65%, voted to 'Remain' in the EU Referendum.

The tension is between a leader who has huge support from members but for a position on the political continuum line (that ranges from far left to far right) that is opposed to a party position that sits more on the right to Corbyn's left. Nobody outside the geeky circles of politics really understands these positions. All the electorate wants to know is whether the leader is looking out for them or not. By all accounts the membership of Momentum, a grassroots movement comprising of thousands, set up to bolster Corbyn's leadership, seem satisfied that Corbyn is looking out for their interests.

Perhaps, this is where the PLP is going wrong. Stuart Hall, the cultural theorist, once said "the right of the labour movement, to be honest, has no ideas of any compelling quality, except the instinct for short-term political survival. It would not know an ideological struggle if it stumbled across one in the dark. The only ‘struggle’ it engages in with any trace of conviction is the one against the left.”

And so Stuart Hall's words have come to pass. Will the PLP ever let anyone on the left lead it ever? If the PLP forces Corbyn out it will have, basically, stuck two fingers up at its' voters. If Corbyn stays with the support of the trade unions he will be, also, sticking two fingers up at the Labour establishment.

Will anything break this impasse? The worst thing is that there won't even be an agreement on how to break this impasse. I had hoped that a bridge would have been built through the actions of Jonathan Lansman who set up Momentum because he understood and recognised the power and needs of the constituency.

I do find it hard to see why Corbyn is having to bear the blame for the Referendum campaign when Alan Johnson was the leader of that and when many Labour MP's did not even muster a 'Remain' vote in their constituencies. If the blame game is to be played then should the net not be spread wider? Corbyn is not actually as radical as people make him out to be. Many of his policies accord with the opinions of heavyweights like Blanchflower. Also, successive governments are to blame, surely, for ignoring the needs of people like the Northern working class.

This Labour crisis actually throws up a heck of a lot more than who the leader is. It raises questions of representation for those who feel ignored and marginalised. If Corbyn leaves you can add the anguish of his supporters' to the wider group of those who voted for 'Leave' because they too did not feel that anybody was listening. As an outsider with no vested interest apart from wanting true representation for people I do wish the Labour party and the members all the best.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Racism is back in fashion post referendum #Brexit

Being an Asian woman I have a vested interest in calling out acts of racism. I predicted this would happen given the language that was used during the campaign.