Saturday, March 06, 2010

One Dimensional Woman

I went to the book launch of Nina Power's One Dimensional Woman at Housmans tonight. Nina spoke alongside Lindsey German (who wrote Material Girls: Women, Men and Work among many other things) on feminism today. Very engaging it was too.

Stupidly I forgot to bring a pen so didn't take notes as there were a few things said that I thought were particularly interesting, but inevitably I've forgotten most of them. However, where I thought Nina's approach was very worthwhile was that she took as her starting point a wider social and economic context.

Any discussion, whether its on childcare, Hillary Clinton or the wearing of the veil can only be abstract and sterile if you separate it from everything else. We can't understand these things on their own but only when we take in the place each issue has in the world at large.

For example, does the fact that Condolezza Rice and Hillary Clinton were able to rise so high in the US government prove that the glass ceiling has vanished and discrimination is at an end? Nina used a rather neat little phrase saying that we shouldn't describe these women as tokens but rather as decoys that act to distract us from the large scale differential between men and women.

I'm tempted by this argument because it's quite true that one version of feminism essentially fights for the improvement of the lot of middle-class women without touching the lives of their nannies and cleaners. I still lean towards more representation for woman on boards, cabinets and top management positions because a) it's fairer, b) whilst women can't reach certain positions it reinforces divisions across the spectrum and c) the struggles are connected, even if some have tried to decouple them.

As a member of the audience pointed out if you simply look at lap dancing, for example, in isolation it really boils down to a purely moral question. However if we don't consider the economic options that many women face and the choices they might make when faced with those options we end up prioritising one kind of oppression over another. Essentially if lap dancing provides a better wage and better conditions it can't be seen as a simple and clear cut example of exploitation but has to be seen in a more nuanced or sophisticated way.

Anyway, it sounds like an excellent book but I don't have time to read at the moment so may never get to find out for myself. Glad I went to the launch though as it provided some excellent food for thought.


luna17 said...

It seems to have been a very good event. Nina Power's written an excellent piece at the New Left Project site, which gets to grips with very current issues around commercialism and sexuality. Also, I believe both Nina and Lindsey will be on the Guardian's Comment is Free tomorrow - worth looking out for.

Unknown said...

It was a terrific event. As you say, Jim, it was excellent that both speakers insisted on putting the issues in the wider context of economic and social relations, rather than just looking at them one-by-one in a moralistic way. (A bit of a shame that some of the comments from the audience sometimes seemed keen to return to that sort of debate....)

What struck me most was a contrast between things the speakers said almost in passing: Lindsey German described second-wave feminism in the 60s as being a result of women recognizing that their expectations weren't being met, and fighting for them to be met. And Nina Power at certain points sounded rather pessimistic: these days, we (women and men) seem to have rather lower expectations of society. We're well-adapted to the demands (for flexibility, short-term contracts, long hours, no pension rights, ...) of the labour-market: we don't expect anything better, and so aren't willing to fight for anything better.

So it seems to me that a key question is: how can we raise expectations?