In a time when mainstream views towards feminism and the liberation of women are becoming increasingly hostile then surely a party who’s sole focus is women’s equality is to be welcomed by feminists? Sandi Toksvig’s Women’s Equality Party has already drawn criticism from parts of the media who have accused the party of being “a middle class Ladies campaign group” – it is difficult to disagree.
Unlike the majority of women in Britain, Toksvig is Oxbridge educated, obtaining a first class honours degree in law, archaeology and anthropology. Theoretically,anyone who is gifted enough to, can attend Cambridge University, but in reality, women from poorer backgrounds just aren’t getting there. This, arguably, gives Toksvig a privileged economic stance in society that means she, along with her colleagues in the Women’s Equality Party, fails to realise that the relationship between the partriarchy and of the capitalist economic system are quite inextricably linked.
Traditional theories of feminism, from thinkers such as Mill and Wollstonecraft have a basis in liberalism. This makes it apparent that traditional feminist thinkers before the 20th century, were concerned only with the emancipation of middle class women. As more women took part in the labour market during the industrial revolution- not only did they have to contend with ingrained sexist attitudes from their male bosses, husbands, fathers and brothers – they also had to contend with being oppressed wage slaves under a capitalist system. It appears that mainstream feminist thinking today has moved on little since the 19th Century and is focused on the struggles of middle class women, rather than every woman – the WE embodies this particular problem.
The “objectives” page on the Women’s Equality Party website spells out what they want to achieve. The first objective presented is that of “equal representation”. A very laudable cause, given that in the UK Parliament women have been chronically under-represented. Only 29.5% of MPs in Westminster are women. The WE fails to lay out a plan on how they will actually achieve their aim of two-thirds of new MPs being women. It looks like it will be nothing more than signing a petition. It also fails to recognise various different strategies that existing parties have already brought in to increase the representation of women such as the Labour Party’s all women shortlists, twinning and zipping. Additionally, it fails to recognise the reasons WHY women aren’t equally represented in parliament. To understand this, we have to look into structural reasons – women are socialised into thinking they aren’t good enough to do things. Westminster is a patriarchal institution where sittings can go on until the small hours of the morning – this may exclude women who have families from standing because Westminster “traditions” aren’t family friendly. If the Women’s Equality Party want to help increase the representation of women in parliament, they must also look into campaigning for Westminster to be modernised completely.
Additionally, the Women’s Equality Party seem more concerned with the representation of women on to boards of FTSE 100 companies and the lack of women starting their own businesses than they are with the ability of women to actually get to a position where they are able to sit on the boards of large companies in the first place. There are many barriers in the way of women being able to sit on boards including childcare, internalised misogyny and that niggling thought of not being good enough. What is the point of increasing the representation of women on the boards of large companies before tackling the culture of workplaces or tackling the reasons why most women are more likely to be serving lunch in the canteen of a FTSE 100 company than they are to be leading it? They have a similar message in terms of economic inequalities and the gender pay gap. They pay little lip service to the reasons why a gender pay gap exists and why women are clustered into low paid and low skilled work. WE has also failed to show how they would tackle the gender pay gap and the reason why women are more likely to be in low paid work than men.
The Women’s Equality Party misses the point completely. Women are not unequal simply because they are women. They are unequal because we live in a patriarchal, capitalist society and the two things are quite closely linked. The Women’s Equality Party is unashamedly “non-partisan” and “neither left nor right”. If the Women’s Equality Party fails to acknowledge WHY women are unequal in society, in terms of the structure and in terms of our relationship to capitalism – then what is the point of it’s existence?