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New task for the next wave of feminism


feminism, IPPR, women, workIs it time to change the rules of the game?

Feminism should no longer be focusing on the twentieth century’s goal of breaking the glass ceiling.

Instead, Dalia Ben-Galim, Associate Director at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), has said that the next wave of feminism should be ‘less about how women can succeed in a man’s game and more about how to change the rules of the game’.

The IPPR’s report, Great Expectations: Exploring the Promises of Gender Equality, shows that women’s earnings have  been and remain more unequal than men’s and argues that these results suggest the advance of twentieth century feminism has ‘left working class women behind’.

‘Much of the debate about ‘gender equality’, the report says, is either narrowly focused on women at the top or takes place in the abstract.

‘As such, it leaves us with a weak political voice for the collective demands required to transform the majority of women’s lives.’

The analysis shows that women are able to progress in work in ways that would not have been possible previously, but that ‘the lack of higher-skilled jobs that accommodate childcare responsibilities means that many degree-educated women ‘downgrade’ to relatively low-skilled jobs after having children.’

This leads to a situation whereby women remain concentrated in low-skilled, part-time work, further perpetuating the dearth of women at the top.

By focusing on how the ‘average woman’ compares to the ‘average man,’ the report argues, the debate is missing the nuance of many women’s lives – particularly those who become trapped in ‘poor quality of work at the bottom of the labour market’.

And the effects of women’s employment today significantly affect their living circumstances in later years.

Women make up 84 per cent of workers in personal services and are concentrated in ‘caring, cashiering, catering, cleaning and clerical work’, which is what some have called the ‘feminisation of poverty’.

Currently, 44 per cent of women in employment in the UK are in part-time work, compared to only 13 per cent of employed men.

And, says the report, part-time work in other northern European countries has been used as a tool to retain workers and promote a healthy family life.

In the UK, however, the growth of part-time work is due to weak statutory regulation and its promotion since the 1980s as part of a more ‘flexible’ labour market.

The report also points out that ‘space for autonomy and influence in work – an important measure of job quality – has declined over the last 30 years, with the sharpest contractions occurring in female-dominated low-paid sectors.’

And then with childcare costs in the UK second only to Switzerland, women continue to languish in jobs far below their potential because while ‘education levels have improved, [there has been no] corresponding efforts to ensure jobs are designed in ways that support caring responsibilities.’

One relatively recent significant change in the UK jobs market occurred in 2005 with the creation of Women Like Us.

Karen Mattison saw the huge gap between the work that women wanted and the work that was available, and set up Women Like Us as a recruitment agency for women looking for quality part-time work.

With quality the key to the company’s business.

Women Like Us expanded, setting up Timewise Jobs in 2012 ‘in recognition of the fact that ‘part time’ is not just a women’s issue.

‘It [part-time work] is attractive to many sectors of society [including] people approaching retirement.’

A startling headline from cultural critic and sociologist Dr Lisa Wade attests to the strength of many women’s desire to have options and opportunities for work.

‘Most women would rather divorce than be a housewife’.

What can be done to change this disparity between what women want and what is available to them in the world of work?

The IPPR report concluded that ‘while there is still a need to mobilise more state resources in some areas, legislative change is not capable of leading a broader transformation in the everyday experiences of sexism and the culture of democratic institutions and the workplace.’

What is needed, then, is ‘a set of policies and positions that seek and support democratic renewal of the economy, society and politics.’

In terms of work for women, that should include an increase in collective power and representation for the poorest paid and least securely employed.

‘Part of the solution should involve raising the quality and status of the jobs that women do’ through an approach that challenges ‘the notion that family and community is the realm of women alone [and] puts care at the centre of how society is organised.’

The report also says that alliances between different social movements are essential in furthering gender equality and says that ‘a key question for gender politics is whether those working for social change are willing or able to rediscover the tradition of organising in the political sphere.’

So: is anyone working for social change willing or able to rediscover the tradition of organising in the political sphere?

  1. vicki wharton says:

    Until male media stop using demeaning language and portrayals of females wholesale then we will not ever be able to negotiate as equal humans. We know the damage demeaning propoganda aimed at race has, why does no one care to join the dots over another social hierarchy – gender? We are losing ground hand over fist in civil equality and yet no one will name the elephant in the room. A bitch or a whore will never be taken as equal to a man, no matter how many times females try to take over the word slut or whore or bitch, its a contempt by the male for the female in order to spread male chauvinism and is taught and spread through male media such as porn. Its not about the nudity, its about the language and the attitude towards females and the fact that none of the male politicians will take on hate propoganda that is baited with nudity.

  2. Keely Khoury says:

    Thanks, Vicki, your points are excellent. And unfortunately in the case of demeaning language, it’s often easy to ignore or not even see because it has infiltrated so many aspects of life.

    • vicki wharton says:

      Thanks Keely, think its because every time a male insults or injures a female, everyone around says that the male ‘didn’t really mean it’, ‘it’s just banter’, ‘guys are less empathic’ etc etc etc. I remember as a child being puzzled as to how the people who seemed most violent and out of control of themselves – running riot at football matches etc – were the ones that were in charge of things if good behaviour got you the best rewards. Now I see and am endevouring not to try and hoodwink my daughter into thinking that if a male hits her, even in the playground, that he ‘didn’t really mean it’ …

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