Friday, January 27, 2012

The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today - Kat Banyard

After the controversy of the last two weeks, I’ve stepped up my reading of this book. Kat Banyard wrote it at the age of 25; it was published in 2010. She became a feminist at university, and has worked in grassroots organisations, helping refugee women, organising feminist conferences, and is a leading campaigner for women’s rights in the UK.

Here’s what she says about choice feminism.

‘ … it is crucial to that we don’t fall into the conceptual trap of confusing a process (choice) with feminism’s aim (ending the subordination of women). This produces a dead-end situation whereby almost anything can be justified as feminist simply by identifying that individual choice’ and ‘agency’ were involved. … But the question must always be: what impact does the practice have on gender relations as a whole? Does it help end the subordination of women - or does it further perpetuate it? That is the litmus test.’ (p 206)

She presents statistics to prove how unequal women are in the modern world, and not just white middle class women, but takes a global view, considering class, race, religion and everything. She reports on the grassroots feminist activity currently happening in the UK, by both young women and by men. A lot of the feminist action taken by young women is about the sexualisation of women as presented in mainstream media, and an objection to women being seen as sex objects in men’s clubs, lad’s mags, and advertisements. In short, young women in the UK are doing the same kind of work that Melinda Tankard Reist is doing through her Collective Shout organisation in Australia, resisting the movement to normalise pornography in our culture.

I’m interested to see she supports policies Sweden implemented in 1999 to criminalise the purchase of sex, and minimalise demands for a sex industry. Sweden also offers support for women to exit the industry. After the 1994 election, 45% of parliamentarians were women, so feminist issues were on the agenda. The new laws resulted in a decrease in trafficking and organised crime, and, the entry of women into prostitution almost stopped.

Banyard sees countries following suit (Iceland, Norway, France, and campaigns in the UK to do the same) as on the right track.

Today, it is Rwanda that has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world, at 58% of seats. UNICEF reports that women holding 30% of parliamentary seats constitutes a critical mass that allow real action on issues of gender. Of the twenty two countries that have reached this level of female representation, eighteen used quotas.

She covers gender inequality and education in the west (the acceptance of sexual harassment in schools, and segregation in sport) and in developing countries (in South Africa a girl has a greater chance of being raped than of learning to read). She covers reproductive rights and the mother penalty, including the sticky floor of women’s work that allows them flexibility to care for children (cleaning, caring, clerical work, cashiering, catering). She covers body image, domestic violence, and interviews workers in the sex industry. (‘It’s hard to have a voice when you have a cock thrust down your throat.’) She says men like lap-dancing clubs because there are places where they can pretend feminism never happened.

I recommend the book to anyone who want to know what feminism is about today, as a first introduction or a way to engage with the big picture issues. It is book filled with hope. It is one of the better books on feminism that I’ve read.


sister outlaws said...

Off to the library today - will check it out. Thanks!

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for this. I've been trying to figure out what femininsm really is while reading the controversy over at Jennifer Wilson's No place for sheep, where it seems Melinda tankard Reist, for all her seemingly good work has threatened to legal action against Wilson for daring to suggest that all is not what it seems.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this, given your background. You can read about it at you haven't already done so. You can scroll backwards and forwards to get a fuller picture.