Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, June 6th, 2013 - 116 comments
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John Key’s government hasn’t been kind to large numbers of women, especially those on benefits, and those working in relatively powerless low paid jobs. For them the top jobs mostly go to men, with women largely fronting on lower status and less powerful portfolios/positions. Jan Logie’s speech yesterday in response to the government’s budget, laid out many of the inequalities gender inequalities that the government has failed to address, include the gender pay gap and paid parental leave. A couple of days ago in the NZ House, members of the “old boys’ club” provide a demonstration of one of the ways threats to masculine crony capitalist are countered by policing of women’s bodies. Given similar situations in many countries, it’s not surprising that feminism seems to be on the rise internationally.
In the final reading of the Charter School’s legislation this week, Metiria Turei drew parallel’s between the enabling of unscrutinised private enterprise to profiteer from Charter Schools, and John Banks attempts to hide his (allegedly) dodgy funding from SkyCity and Kim Dotcom.
John Banks, supported by another member of the “old boys’ club” Speaker Eric Roy, immediate response was to attempt to undermine Turei by policing her body. With Turei in his sights, Banks said that critics of his Charter schools legislation:
… get dressed up with their lipstick and make-up on t.v. ..
In response to points of order, Speaker Eric Roy allowed Banks’ sexist comment, claiming it was on the “same plane” as Turei’s attack on Banks. Towards the end of Banks speech, he repeats his offensive sexist comment. In the mode of making-it-up-as-they-go-along, and in contradiction of his earlier ruling, Roy ordered Banks to withdraw the statement. Banks’ withdrawal of the statement was halfhearted and insincere. The repetition of the offensive line came when Banks was attacking opponents of the Charter Schools legislation. He said,
They can wear the lipstick and look good on TV and make a big impression and don’t like it.
Implicit is the suggestion that Turei usually looks unattractive without make-up, presenting a false image on TV. This strategy of countering threats to masculine power and status through the policing of their bodies within “late capitalism”, is explained extremely well by some recent feminist writings.
A recent Guardian article argues that feminism is a rising and significant presence in the digital age, which includes a reference to “socialist” Laura Penny. The introduction to her 2011 book, Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism, promises a new socialist direction for feminism in the 21st century.
During the late 20th century there was a strong backlash against the significant gains made by the largely left wing second wave women’s movement. Socialist feminism had extended a materialist class analysis to incorporate the role of women as a reserve army of labour, and unpaid domestic workers, necessary to the maintenance of capitalism. The rise of technologies of reproduction in the last few decades has resulted in a society saturated with images: images that had a profound impact on our society and politics. The sexualised commercialisation of (potentially) powerful women serves to limit the extent of that power.
“Neoliberal” propaganda fractured socialist feminism, narrowing feminism’s range, commodifying it and reducing it to the (often dismissive) label of “identity politics”. Laura Penny provides a new direction whereby the legacy of a materialist Marxist analysis is re-connected with feminist analysis of cultural activities in the digital age. The introduction of Penny’s book contemplates the way, since the 70s, feminists critiques of body policing have been undermined, resulting in an intensification of that policing through all the realms of women’s lives. Penny characterises our society as one where now:
Whatever our age, race, physiotype and social status, women’s bodies are punished and policed.
She then goes on to provide an argument as to why this is happening:
Modern economics rely for their very survival on women’s paid and unpaid labour, purchasing power and reproductive capacity. That women should have this much power cannot be borne; the treat of revolt is too great.
In contrast with the late 70s, more women are engaged in or looking for paid work, while many also making significant contributions to society through unpaid work. In NZ, a collaborator presented as an archetypal “Westie” leads the attack on beneficiaries, with single mothers being a major target.
A review in the Independent, outlines the significance of Penny’s book, and the range of its analysis of the ways female potential is denied:
Penny discusses women’s sexualisation, eating disorders, gender stereotyping and the labour market, covering prostitution, housework, the marketisation of domesticity as a kitsch hobby, the prevalence of class delineation as a form of control and the positioning of the Playboy Bunny as an emblem of manufactured desirability. …
Penny’s critique helps explain Banks’ response to Turei’s critique of him and his dodgy crony capitalism: an attempt to undermine her threat by an attempt to police her body.While some may see Banks and Roy as fading relics of a bygone era, Penny shows that the underlying strategy is still strong, although it may have become more subtle and slickly marketed.
A revived socialist feminism can also be applied to the way Sue Bradford critiques the failure of Owen Glenn’s inquiry into domestic violence and child abuse in her post yesterday, ‘Glenn Inquiry Implodes: highlights deepening colonisation and corporatisation of community sector’. Bradford speculates that the failure probably is a consequence of,
… the fundamental contradiction between people who are used to working in a highly values-driven part of the community sector and a corporate power holder used to operating bluntly and decisively in the business world.
Bradford further surmises that Sir Owen is not approaching his inquiry from a feminist perspective, but is more like a traditional Patriarchal capitalist in contemporary corporate clothing: one focused on
… ‘helping those poor deserving victims’ rather than being driven by a community development approach of involving, empowering and conscientising those most affected.
I welcome the apparent revival of socialist feminism that also incorporates an increasing feminist presence online, of which NZ websites like the HandMirror are part. A recent post there by LudditeJourno, reports on a recent and significant feminist event in Wellington . It provides an insight into the range of issues that are the focus of investigation and activism within NZ.