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A Radical Look at Feminism Today


What gives? Everywhere you look there is another version of what women want, or need. Supposedly, women can have it all, do not want it all, or cut out of the "all" in structural ways by their racial, sexual, gendered, classed identity. Housewifery of the rich is being re-claimed as a creative choice; welfare for the poor demands marriage and fathers; Justice Ginsburg says that Roe v Wade overstepped its bounds; North Dakota, Mississippi and Alabama are hell-bent on making abortion totally illegal and impossible; and people seem to think that Hillary Clinton will run again in 2016, and should because "it is time for a woman president". Gays may receive some parcel of equal marriage rights from the US Supreme Court, even if grudgingly. What is a girl to think? 

I want to engage in this cacophony of noise, but not with the tired and worn-out critiques. So let me try and radically burst the boundaries of mainstream rights feminism with a radicalised notion of feminism focused on the 99 percent - or at least the 85 percent who regularly move and shake the globe. This demands nuance and subtlety and the ability to maybe forgive past missteps. 

Female faces of power 

With Margaret Thatcher's death and Hillary Clinton poised to run for US President, feminists committed to radically challenging the inequalities of the globe with its particular impact on women really need to decide what its relation to nation-states and their imperial endeavours is. Thatcher was the first (and only) female prime minister of England and named the Iron Lady for her unrelenting hard core beliefs: she welcomed war in the Falklands, the Gulf and Iraq. She crudely endorsed austerity programmes that broke the back of organised labour. She was a supporter of the powerful and the rich -considering anti-apartheid activists in South Africa terrorists. She authorised and normalised the austerity programmes that are now wreaking havoc everywhere. She might be an icon for conservative women and imperial feminists, but not for the rest of us. 

Hillary Clinton is no Thatcher, but she has a troublesome record on the Iraq and Afghan wars. After making the promise of "women's rights" so central to US foreign policy, women in these countries face new vulnerabilities with little sustained attention from here. However, more recently she has been "evolving", on both feminism and gay rights. Although often punished as a feminist icon while First Lady, she said little on behalf of everyday women workers and moms, and neither initiated or supported policies on their behalf. Her early campaign for Presidential nominee in 2008 was really more as Bill's wife than as her own person. That did not work so well for her. She experienced misogyny firsthand, and by the Democratic Party elite. It changed her. By the time the brutal and bruising primaries ended, Hillary had become devoted to her faithful women supporters. Exactly how much she has changed is yet to be seen.  

So I am wary. Feminists inclined towards a radically innovative set of initiatives on climate change, sustainable economies, issues of day care, paid maternity leave, new unaccountable illegal forms and uses of war, need to organise such a coalition. And it is not adequately addressed by the talk of abstract and unequal "women's rights" even if this is better than nothing. 

The unfinished business of the 21st century is " women's rights", according to Hillary. Many other feminists of the North and South, and First and Third World know that "rights" are not enough. "Rights" need access and access means a different structural relationship between the rich and the middle and the poor. And females of all colours and sexual choices inhabit each of these economic layers. The rights discourse does not need to be rejected; it needs to be radicalised and connected to the structural changes that can give it actual meaning. A "right" to abortion means little if you cannot get one. 

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