As part of our ongoing series on why we still need feminism, Mary McLernon from Stirling Women for Independence argues that sexism continues to be deeply embedded in our culture, and feminism is what we need to fight it.
Why do I support women only organisations?
Why do I feel we still need feminism in 21st century Scotland?
I support women only organisations because I believe in justice. In 1913 women could not even be ‘trusted’ to vote; men made the laws and women had to ‘obey’ those laws. It was commonly believed that ‘thinking’ would disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle, whilst women were considered the ‘property’ of their husband or male relatives. The women’s suffragette movement for women’s right to vote changed all that. In the days of the suffragette movement, the idea that only men should be afforded a decent education was entrenched in society, and so education was strictly a male domain, with women not being allowed into Universities until 1869. Men really feared women being educated; a view that in some parts of the world is still being upheld today. We see this in the story of Malala Yousafzai, the young girl from Pakistan, who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, who was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize laureate in 2014 for her bravery.
Unfortunately, the struggle is not over yet. Equal rights may have been won in many parts of the law, but equal status and equal power remain elusive. The suffragettes would have been horrified at this slow pace of change, but the Scottish suffragettes would also have been pleased that WFI has been born in Scotland. People, both male and female, still do not like the idea of feminism, because the world at large is still patriarchal – dominated by and for men – and Scotland is firmly a masculine society. Yes we have made progress, but we are still living in a culture that supports inequality, therefore in many ways we are only on the ‘cusp’ of change.
We are still living with the effects of centuries of propaganda about female inadequacy. In male-dominated societies, many men have felt threatened by and sought to dominate and control women. Throughout history men have raped and abused women, burned them at the stake, bought and sold their bodies for sexual pleasure, barred women from religious and political office, repeatedly relegated women to subservient chores, and subjected them to female genital mutilation. For so long, women seizing new opportunities have repeatedly faced opposition, and have been subjugated and oppressed.
The media continues to glamorise female subordination and manufacture the consent of the public through propaganda. On our television and cinema screens, we continue to be subliminally programmed with a wide array of popular programme’s showing violence against women to be almost normal. Research shows that women ‘s deaths are repeatedly shown to be long, horrific, violent, and prolonged, while men are most often portrayed dying quickly, often from a single shot. Ultimately patriarchy is the creator of misogyny and narcissism, which are still rampant in today’s society, within the corridors of power and beyond. Patriarchal society is motivated by power and control, logic, competition, domination, acquisition, and greed and the effects of patriarchy have torn apart our societies and violated the earth. So many people have been left poor and powerless, and the earth too is in crisis with climate change, and the ‘fracking’ nightmare looming.
Women have had enough. We know it is time to bring the heart back into our societies, and at this time in history, it is only women who can do that. There are so many men who are still entrenched in patriarchal conditioning, while the women who wish to heal and nurture our society continue to face opposition. Once again for daring to try and change things we continue to evoke hostility, just as the suffragettes did. In a patriarchal culture, there are also many women whose ambition is channelled towards men’s success, this is where the women’s safety, security and esteem are based, which is in part why WFI faces opposition from women as well as men. This is because WFI upsets the status quo where people feel safe in the ‘old ways’. It is inherent in human nature to preserve the status quo. They fear change, because ultimately this means they too will need to change. Change upsets the status quo and for many men and some women, this must be preserved ‘at all costs’. The former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was a perfect example of a ‘daughter’ or ‘servant’ of patriarchy; she openly supported male domination. Her cabinet was made up entirely of men (with only briefly one other woman), and she had a known dislike of being interviewed by any woman. She also had a penchant for conflict resolution by instigating war. Thatcher’s policies decimated our societies, and consistently failed to deliver any of the expectations for equal rights and equality for women that the suffragette movement set in motion.
Arguably, women in general have an inherent capacity for peaceful resolution of conflict. This was demonstrated in Northern Ireland when Betty Williams and her friend Mairead Corrigan founded the ‘Community of Peace People’ in 1976. They created what some people then termed as ‘miracles’ because their efforts helped end the conflict in Northern Ireland. For promoting peaceful resolution to the troubles in Northern Ireland, they too were awarded the prestigious ‘Nobel Peace Prize’.
According to journalist, broadcaster and author Lesley Riddoch, in Scotland we need a more equal Nordic style society, but our working knowledge of the way other countries operate is very limited, which is another side effect of inequality. In her latest book ‘Blossom’, she talks about ‘What Scotland Needs To Flourish’ by demonstrating the key differences between feminine and masculine societies.
See table below, from ‘Blossom’ - ‘What Scotland Needs To Flourish’. (Lesley Riddoch: P.259;fig 21)
Welfare society ideal; help for needy Performance society ideal; support for strong
Permissive Society Corrective Society
Environment should be preserved Economy should continue growing
Small is beautiful Big is beautiful
Voters view themselves left of centre Voters view themselves in political centre
Politics based on Coalition Political game adversarial
Polite political manners Frequent mudslinging
Many women in elected politics Few women in elected political positions
International conflicts should be resolved International conflicts should be resolved
by negotiation and compromise. by a show of strength or by fighting.
Being responsible, decisive, ambitious, Responsible, decisive, ambitious is for men
caring and gentle is for men and women. but being caring and gentle is for women.
Girls don’t cheer for boys Women’s ambition is channelled towards
People work in order to live People work in order to work
Careers are optional for both genders Careers are compulsory for men, optional
Women’s liberation means men and Womens liberation means women are admitted
women take equal shares at home and work to ‘male’ areas of society and work.
Single standard; both sexes subjects Double standard; men are subjects, women objects.
Elaine C. Smith describes Lesley Riddoch’s book perfectly as; ‘a brilliant, moving, well written, informative, important and valuable piece of work”, and she is right, it is valuable.
We still need feminism in Scotland today, because as women, we know what it takes to make Scotland truly ‘Blossom’. WFI is helping to overturn centuries of patriarchal conditioning, by helping women to organise and educate themselves in a safe space. By sharing information, we are also providing hope and inspiration for others to follow. The women in Santaigo de Compostela for example have already shown an interest.
As long as men continue to dominate public and political space, we must continue to challenge the domination of the male establishment. So, whether or not we are feeling the love, we will continue to talk about issues that particularly impact women, we will continue to organise, we will continue to educate, we will continue to campaign, we will continue to exist out with the ‘control’ of any political party or faction. As long as Scotland is top-down, elitist and unequal, we will continue to raise awareness about that, and all of the effects of living in a society that is so out of balance. We will no longer tolerate being politically disadvantaged, we will no longer be silent and servile and – and we will not wait another one hundred years. We will keep on going, we will keep moving forward, safe in the knowledge and the knowing in our hearts that our cause is JUST. To the critics I say: I would rather be criticised for my song, than ask for permission to sing it!
Why does feminism still matter to you? Why do support women-only organisations like WFI? Or maybe you don't... Either way, if you would like to contribute to this series, then get in touch at [email protected] We're always on the look out for blog pieces, and will happily help out those who haven't written before.