Has anything changed since the feminist movement of the seventies, or are we still fighting the same battles?
In my view, it’s a mixed bag. Women in the West are generally more economically independent and have more varied career opportunities than were available 40 years ago (though most non-western women are not so fortunate). On the whole, I think women are less willing to accept sexist behaviour from their partners and expect them to pull their weight more on the domestic front (though there’s still an imbalance in the division of labour, with women taking more responsibility for housekeeping and childcare).
On the other hand, I feel that we’ve gone backwards when it comes to the objectification of women’s bodies. Back in the seventies we complained about things like the Miss World contest and ads with women draped over cars and motorbikes, but in retrospect that was really tame stuff compared to the commodification of the female body that goes on now. It makes me feel like a prude (and I’m not), but I feel shocked at the way women’s liberation seems to have resulted in sexual images of women being used to sell everything from shoe polish to chewing gum. And the claim is that it’s all an expression of women’s freedom. And don’t get me onto the subject of fashion – especially girls wearing cripplingly high heels and bum-hugging skirts and bare midriffs in deepest winter. And I don’t see much in the way of feminist critiques of all this, so maybe feminism’s moved on and I’m just stuck in the seventies.
What are the issues for todays' feminists?
I've been meaning to type replies to a few posts on this site, so I won't type something up myself to answer your question for now, but suffice it to say that I completely agree with the RCP's Declaration that I'm pasting the first part of here:
Spin the globe. Anywhere you look women are being held down and slammed backwards.
Where baby boys are greeted by gatherings of celebration and joy. Girl babies, by the way, bring condolences and often turn up in garbage dumps amidst mounds of stinking refuse… 1
To El Salvador…
Where women are arrested out of hospital emergency rooms if they are suspected of having had an abortion, and where their medical records have been seized by the state and even their uteruses have been used as evidence to imprison them. 2
WE NEED A REVOLUTION!
From Bangkok and Bangalore and Moldova...
Where literally millions of young women are either kidnapped, or sold by their starving families, or lured with the promises of employment and then sold across borders into a sex-slave trade on a scale never seen before in history…
To China, Vietnam and Silicon Valley, USA…
Where the labor of women in the network of global sweatshops powered the last two decades of capitalist expansion…and where these same women now return home, empty-handed and used up, cast off in the capitalist crisis.
WE NEED A REVOLUTION!
From the pockets of privilege in the suburbs…
Where middle-class girls must navigate a lifetime of mutually exclusive messages —to be sexy but to guard their “purity,” to climb the corporate ladder but to remember that the most meaningful thing they can ever do is be a mother who puts her family before all else—and where in some places a biblically rooted virginity cult has been built up, with fathers giving their daughters “purity rings” and millions taking “abstinence pledges”; and where teenage women cut and starve themselves in epidemic proportions.
To the desperate streets of the inner city…
Where among the most oppressed, a generation has been brought up in a culture that derides women as “bitches” and “ho’s,” openly exalts pimps and violence against women; where despite its boasts of “great freedoms,” the United States imprisons one-third of all women in the world who are in prison 3 ; where teenage women are led to believe that their only worth and meaning in life lies in having a child, and then they are forced to endure poverty and humiliation, and often to take desperate and degrading measures to feed their children; and where women from Mexico and other parts of Latin America risk rape, or starvation in the desert, to make it to “El Norte” so they can work endless hours to support their family back home, often being pressured into sex by immigration agents, bosses and other men who know they are vulnerable without papers.
WE NEED A REVOLUTION!
From the war-torn lands…
Where in the Congo, as in Bosnia before it, the rape of women has been a systematic part of a civil war and where tens of thousands of women and young girls have been so brutally raped that their insides are torn apart and they can no longer hold their bladders or bowels. 4
To the hearth of the family…
Whether in the U.S., where a woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds and three women are killed every day by possessive lovers and abusive husbands 5 …or in parts of Africa, where tradition dictates that families mutilate their own children, cutting off the genitals of pre-pubescent girls to blunt for life sexual sensation and “prepare” them for the position of a “proper and loyal wife,” never tempted to stray from her husband…or India, where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wives are set on fire and murdered each year by husbands or in-laws once the dowry (the money paid to the groom’s family) has been paid…or all over the world, where under the sway of religious fundamentalism and backward social relations, women are killed by brothers and fathers if they “bring shame” on the family.
WE NEED A REVOLUTION!
From the “sacred vows”…
When the “queen for a day,” bride dressed in “virginal white” ritual of the wedding day—now built up into lunatic proportions in countries like the U.S.—marks the passage of a woman into what is all too often a lifetime of domestic drudgery and subordination, whether or not she also works outside the home and very often even if she has an advanced education and a position in a prestigious profession.
To the “sacred texts”…
Which in every major religion enshrine the subjugation of women through myth (Eve causing “the fall of man”), through code (the Qur’an and Shariah law of Islam that value a woman’s testimony as half that of a man and authorize a man to beat and whip his wife to keep her obedient to him), and through prayer (the Jewish prayer of a man that thanks God he was not born a woman).
WE NEED A REVOLUTION!
From the cradles…
In which no sooner is the girl-child born than she is set on a course which—in spite of the claims that, in “modern” countries like the USA, there are no limits on what girls can become—will in reality be marked by the many limitations, and degradations, imposed by society on girls and women.
To “old age”…
Where the older woman is, more often than not, cast off, disrespected, forgotten, ridiculed and devalued…
To the grave...
Women die unnecessarily: in childbirth, in unsafe abortions, denied healthcare, and without food or clean water. Women die violently: at the hands of their husbands and brothers, and fathers and in-laws, and conquering soldiers and pimps. Women die unvalued: ground up and uncounted in the most dangerous work places and war zones and nameless streets.
WE NEED A REVOLUTION—A REAL REVOLUTION—
THE MOST RADICAL AND LIBERATING REVOLUTION IN HISTORY!
The fabric of women’s oppression is carved deeply into the calloused hands of women in the sweatshops of China and Honduras. It is draped over the faces of young women in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. It is stripped off the bodies of girls of Moldova and Bangkok who are put up for sale in brothels worldwide, and it is worn like a prize by pre-teens in the U.S. and Europe who are taught to dress and move like sex objects long before they understand what sex even is. This fabric ropes back into history, it winds its way around the globe, braided into all the dominant religions and “moral codes” and woven into every aspect of human societies. It is a heavy veil that casts the darkness of humanity’s first oppressive divisions over the lives, the dreams, and the prospects of every corner of humanity in the 21st century.
To live like this on this planet in the 21st century cannot be justified and should not be accepted. None of this can be tolerated or excused away with counsel of patience..
WE DECLARE: NO MORE!
Women need emancipation. Women need liberation from thousands of years of tradition’s chains. This is a declaration that stands on the clear recognition that for humanity as a whole to advance, half of humanity must be lifted from centuries of being condemned to being the property of men and pitilessly exploited, demeaned and degraded in a thousand ways.
Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the revolutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution.
At a time when many proclaim that finding “common ground” with religious fundamentalists is necessary, or even desirable, this declaration does not accept and will not compromise with women’s enslavement. This declaration has no patience for those who tell us to “be realistic” when what they mean is to tinker around within the horrible confines of the world as it is. This declaration calls out the moral and ideological bankruptcy of those who claim the mantle of women’s advance but mean only “getting in” on the world as it is—waging what can only be a losing and perverse battle for the “right” of women to have an equal share in running an empire, exploiting others, or even down to the humiliating level of owning and marketing their own bodies as sexual commodities.
When so few will dare, this declaration is calling for something unseen in generations: an uncompromising outpouring of women and men the world over who refuse to see women oppressed, beaten, imprisoned, insulted, raped, abused, harassed, exploited, murdered, spat upon, thrown acid at, groped, shamed and systematically diminished.
This declaration calls for a revolution—a revolution that takes the full emancipation of women as a cornerstone. A revolution that unleashes the fury of women as a mighty force, and that grasps how central this question is to uprooting and abolishing all exploitation, oppression and degrading social relations, and the ideas that go along with them, among human beings as a whole, all over the world.
This declaration is a communist declaration, summoning a revolutionary movement of emancipators of humanity.
This, and nothing less, is the challenge before us.