04 September 2012

A Difficult Lady To Fool

"It is time to leave the question of the role of women in society up to Mother Nature - a difficult lady to fool. You have only to give women the same opportunities as men, and you will soon find out what is or is not in their nature. What is in women’s nature to do they will do, and you won’t be able to stop them. But you will also find, and so will they, that what is not in their nature, even if they are given every opportunity they will not do, and you won’t be able to make them do it." (Clare Boothe Luce)

Well maybe…Clare penned these words sometime in the 40’s and things have changed: in no small measure due to the successes of the feminist movement.  But I don’t think there’s an overarching direction to that anymore. I don’t think there’s an overarching theory that encompasses all the freedoms (and what to do with them), that have accrued due to social and technological changes in the intervening years.  Once a lot of the barriers are removed, and many workplaces have become, to a greater or lesser degree, ‘feminised’, then there’s decisions to be made. 

Maybe some people think that Marxism contains within its theories a framework to understand all this.  I don’t know: I’m no expert on that.  Maybe some people think that the ideas in ‘intersectionality’ provide the framework.  That’s the idea that when considering injustices or opressions of whatever sort, you have to take into account all the interconnecting aspects of the persons position in that society or culture;  so, as well as gender, you have to consider race, class, economic status, religion, cultural norms etc etc and on and on.  I have some sympathy with that idea….at least it’s not as simplistic as the notion that everything is a patriarchal conspiracy. Some people, the religious mainly, seem to think that all of that is covered in their holy books – well, we know how marvelously equalopportunisty they are!

We’re lucky enough in the UK to have a wonderful program called Womans Hour on the radio every day, and all of these things get chewed over perenially:  work/life balance, juggling the kids and work, employment opportunity and equality, domestic violence, education, consumer issues, literature, how to be green, men, bloody men….the lot really. It’s brilliant.  But often listening to it, I pick up this sense of confusion about where we’re all at now.  I suppose we can’t get a freeze dried answer to it all because we’re what we are: messy, irrational, imature, violent, yet somehow strangely developing hominids. We keep trying.  I guess with open doors, insofar as they are open, men and women will choose what they want to choose, or what their circumstances allow them to choose. So maybe Clare has a point there:  women could choose to work on building sites or oil rigs or as mechanics or plumbers or dockers. They mostly don’t, why on earth would they choose such hard physically demanding jobs if they don’t have to?  Men could choose to work in childcare, or nursing, or in any of the work roles that are still  dominated by women.  Again, they mostly don’t, but here the whynots are clearer.

I do know that the liberation and empowerment of women has been one of the most civilising of influences on society, (and one that is still desperately overdue in many parts of the world).  What I don’t know is what is the feminist equivalent of a Grand Unified Theory or a Theory of Evolution is to physics and biology respectively. Something that brings all the strands together and makes them make sense.

I’m waffling now.  I’ll shut up...

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