Even a vibrant Conservative MP such as Louise Mensch can’t avoid the fact that austerity is stripping us down to very old gender roles
‘Up pops Louise Mensch, rebranding feminism in her own image.
“Women taken seriously shock!” No, not a headline from this week, but a response to the four women who spoke at the Leveson inquiry about how the media portrays us. Anna van Heeswijk (from Object), Jacqui Hunt (Equality Now), Heather Harvey (the rape charity Eaves) and Marai Larasi (End Violence Against Women) made their case with quiet assurance, and were listened to with courtesy. Their evidence, shockingly enough, was deemed worthy of censorship and could not be shown to the sensitive souls of the inquiry, even though the images of women they had gathered came from mainstream papers that any child can buy in any newsagent. This is as good as it gets. You don’t challenge Page 3 or they do to you what they did to Clare Short.
Rebekah Brooks, of course, did not ban Page 3 as editor of the Sun; she embraced it. Is she one of the women in high positions who do not encourage other women, who want to be “alone of all her sex”? It’s the new USP: the sisterhood is fantasy. I don’t want to burst your bubble but women, like men, are all different. Clearly the words “feminism”, “equality” and “women’s rights” are interpreted differently in different contexts. It is certainly possible to make alliances over particular issues. And we do. It’s called politics.
Here at the inquiry was one such issue. Leveson listened as he was told systematically what we have known for years. Rape, abuse, violence and the murder of women are often reported in a sensational and titillating way. The victims, even when they are children, are often held somehow to blame. Pictures of semi-naked women whose bodies are up for scrutiny have become our societal screensaver. This is but a side-issue for Leveson, one of many, for why did he not discuss “sexism” with male editors or with Richard Desmond, whose media business is founded on porn?
Another issue beyond Leveson’s remit is that of women as consumers. There is not a newspaper or a TV show that is not chasing the female pound right now.
Commercially and politically, I can see that pulling away from victimy and drab feminism in favour of being chic and individually entrepreneurial – the new, fun kind of feminism that can’t get enough of men or makeovers – works. So again up pops Louise Mensch, rebranding feminism in her own image: hip, uplifting, go-getting. It’s all cool except don’t mention the C-word. Class. Or that downer thing, victims. Some women don’t see themselves as victims. They are victims. They are beaten and abused, they don’t vote and gasp (!) don’t have their own small businesses. Sometimes collective politics means simply looking out for the weakest rather than pushing oneself up to bellow with the strongest.
The Mensch way, though, is apparently Tory “feminism”. Ed Vaizey, one of the good guys who, as Mensch says, “has our backs” (as opposed to our fronts?) is going to broker a meeting between Nadine Dorries and influential people in the media. Lovely, if not the teensiest patronising?
Where Tory feminism makes possible sense is on this issue of sexualisation. For there is a mish-mash of freemarket fundamentalism but a coyness around the “flaunting” of female sexuality. Even Cameron realised that the Squeezed Middle/Mumsnet/Hardworking Whatevers do not like padded bras for eight-year-olds or to see women in fake lesbian poses when buying Monster Munch.
This is uncomfortable territory for the Tories because if everything is left to a deregulated market, then everybody is up for sale. This hypersexualised culture is not new, but its means of transmission are. What initially drove the Suffragettes was widespread prostitution and venereal disease. This was the price poor women paid to uphold “Victorian values”. The early suffrage movement wanted to protect women as well as give them a modicum of power. Emmeline Pankhurst joined the Tories herself, many years after women had been given the vote. But where does this supposed Tory/feminism crossover falter?
Right here on the debate over reproductive rights, sexuality and the way women are portrayed in the media. For much hinges on whether we regulate or let capitalism go about its natural business. Feminism has been the territory of the left because it recognises nothing will change without challenging the status quo. We do not exist “outside” of this market and the market says if something sells then sell it, even if it’s an image of a child or abuse. None of this is to do with whether women such as Mensch look great, it’s about a central tenet of almost any strand of feminist thought: control over one’s own body.
The context in which all female bodies are now exposed, as revealed at Leveson, is heavily sexualised. This is not balanced by images of women in power, in control or even in clothes. It’s that simple. Austerity is stripping us down to very old gender roles, despite the efforts of a few vibrant women MPs such as Mensch. The new poor are fallen women failed by feckless men. This is no feminist future, for it is indeed familiar. It looks exactly like the past. That, after all, is what conservatism is.
[[[ *** RESPONSE *** ]]]
Taking of advantage of financially compromised women is unethical. Men though are spiritually compromised without female sex workers to keep their ‘spirit’ (for those who know or have one anyway) ‘protected’. Womenfolk need to know that without secrecy and privacy, no country can progress. If the sex worker par excellence Pandora, will not be the box, the nation will have no chance, and if wives do not play the part, men will have no ‘harbour’.
Between the downfall of the nation and a safe place for men’s sexuality to ground what innovation and progress a nation may make, no feminist movement would even survive without sex workers who are the first line of defense spiritually of a nation. ‘Mensch’ who can inspire such awareness, should be working on the right side of the issue, legalize the trade or none may move forward without great cost to the self.