She’s a non-dogmatic but very easy to listen to speaker, and looking forward to reading the book, but at the talk what she had to say about feminism from the Seventies to the present drew most attention, and questions.
She said that in the Seventies feminists had thought things were moving very slowly in progressing their aims, but “we didn’t bargain on the fact that the whole system was going into a completely different phase.. we didn’t believe the whole welfare state would be so radically diminished…we saw things like women in parliament and equal pay as details – but these details proved to be extremely difficult.”
She made another powerful point: “In the Seventies we assumed that once you’d made a gain it would stay there; now we know you can go backwards.”
I asked her about her views on the focus in parts of contemporary feminism on sexualisation, and thought her response was very interesting.
She said that a key issue was that sexuality was being used to sell things, which was not new, but the commodity culture had managed to penetrate into many areas of personal life where it had previously scarcely been. That had affected how young women thought about their bodies – but that had also crossed the gender divide, also affecting men, although in different manifestations.
She suggested that it was the selling, the ultra-capitalism that needed to be tackled as the real issue. “I don’t know how that kind of system will change. It was the Marxist assumption that the working class would be the agent for change, but it didn’t have much to say about selling and environmental issues. The only alternative vision is from the environmental movement.”
Campaigners needed to work out how to express the need to change society without using moralistic disapproval. “It is not the case of convincing small groups – you need to work out how to convince the masses of people now watching the World Cup and buying lots of gadgets.”
But it wasn’t all heavy going – there were plenty of laughs, and I’m looking forward to meeting in the book the turn of the century Mrs Grundy “who argued for women’s right to Turkish baths”.