2.3.09

Gender equality

A final word on feminism. This time it's about practicalities, not ideology, and it comes from Donald Sassoon's book One Hundred Years of Socialism. By the 1990s, most of the civil rights campaigns have been won -- abortion, divorce, equal pay. Women's issues have receded into the background. Politicians pay lip-service to them, while continuing to focus on the economy and foreign policy.

Feminists themselves have had a difficult time keeping pressure for reform up. The problem is, they are not just aiming to increase women's participation in a man's world. Their goal is much more radical than that. They seek to change mentalities -- to transform what 'male' and 'female' means. It's a revolutionary philosophy, which challenges both men and women. Because of this, even now, some people are uncomfortable with describing themselves as feminist.

Political parties can't change mentalities. As I try to say here, they restrict themselves to creating the conditions for cultural change. What should they do? The fundamental obstacle to real equality between the sexes is the double shift -- women are expected to both care for the family and work. Ending this pattern would require changing the meaning of fatherhood, a concept that stretches back to the dawn of recorded history. Two things can help bring this about. The first is the provision of childcare, which lightens the load of (unpaid) work at home. The second is the extension of the rights and benefits that come with full-time work (majority male) to part-time work (majority female). This will equalise the playing field considerably. The rest is up to us.

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