Rachel Collett, Women’s Officer for MT17, reflects upon the relationship between the Labour movement and modern day feminism.
In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, we witnessed the largest single-day demonstration in US history: the Women’s March. With crowds of 500,000 people marching in Washington, and an estimated 5 million worldwide, women protested in solidarity with each other against the racism, misogyny and homophobia that his presidency condones. In the spirit of inclusivity, we said a collective ‘NO’ to a President we fundamentally did not want, and stood up for democracy and human rights everywhere. More recently, women also came out in solidarity against a similarly misogynistic mogul Harvey Weinstein. In the spirit of our sisters that came before us, we are showing that we will not stand for these infringements on our rights and the progress we have made.
But, in the coming years, how can we continue to move forward in an age where it is acceptable for men such as these to become President or run companies? We need to ensure that our protests become actionable, and we put an end to a long history of patriarchy. It is hard to believe that in the twenty-first century such attitudes still exist, and men can still get away with these reprehensible actions, but if there is one thing we need to hold on to, it is positivity and hope. Women’s issues are being brought to the forefront, and the fight is stronger than ever. People from many different diverse groups, representing many different ideas were brought together back in January 2017, and the importance of intersectionality was shown to be of paramount importance. The abuse hurled at our own Diane Abbot for being a black woman, and Laura Pidcock or Angela Rayner for being working class shows this clearly. By acknowledging this, we must use the collectivism seen then, and the solidarity as women across the globe stood up and said #MeToo, as the momentum for a new brand of feminism.
As a collective, we as women – and indeed alongside men – need to continue the motivation to overcome the misogyny of powerful men like Trump and Weinstein, as well as the patriarchal forces that support them. Without holding a teleological view of history, we are arguably in the best age for women – we have the vote, have more women in business and politics than ever before, and the pay gap is slowly but surely closing up. Yet, there is admittedly a long way to go, and we must not be contented or give up in the face of threats like this. It will be a long fight, and as Theresa May has ultimately failed in leading this fight, it is up to Labour to be at the forefront.
Even though the Labour party has never elected a female leader, we have done much to forward women’s rights and stand for equality. Starting with the suffrage movement, we have continuously championed women’s rights and produced strong female politicians. In light of this, we need to follow in Labour women’s footsteps and battle both the institutional sexism that unfortunately still exists, as well as the misogyny that many women experience every day. Electing a female leader, committing to a 50/50 parliament, and doing more to encourage young women and girls to be involved in politics will strengthen the party and lay a great foundation for tackling the sexist problems we face in 2017.
Mary Beard’s talk about women and power suggested that one of the reasons Hillary did not succeed over Trump, and why our own Theresa May is not taken seriously, is the imaginary ‘glass ceiling’ we still set for ourselves. The ‘exterior’ image of women in power is one which has more impact than we think. Normalisation of the negative idealisation of women in these public spheres is key; not just Labour but society in general needs to do everything to empower women and girls. If there is one thing we have learnt from our Suffragette sisters, it is that deeds speak louder than words. Now is the time to move away from pernickety feminist debates and use the Women’s March as an example to put everything we believe into practice. As our Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities said at Conference 2017, we are phenomenal women. Now is the time to tackle the sexism which is so pervasive and so normalised in society.