Archive | December, 2012

Feminism is a utopian issue

20 Dec

The creepiness and inaccuracy of Caitlin Moran’s recent comments on rape have been widely discussed. In an interview, Moran said, ‘I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels’. As the F-word post points out, these comments are hugely unhelpful, unsisterly and downright inaccurate, adding to the culture of victim-blaming that prevails currently. It’s pretty much common knowledge that only a small percentage of rapes are committed by a ‘stranger in the bushes’ waiting to pounce on lone females walking home in the dark, and her comments perpetuate this myth.

The other big issue here is that of class, and particularly how it relates to feminism. In the same interview Moran comments, ‘No billionaire heiresses are ever abducted and raped and murdered, because they are just being put into a taxi or have their driver waiting around a corner for them. Again, it’s not just a feminist thing, it’s a class thing.’ Aside from the implication that ‘not wanting to be raped’ equates with ‘feminist’, this is misleading; the fact is, rape happens because some men cannot control their sexual impulses and to use class division as an argument for the existence of sexual offences is not helpful and is far too simplistic.

She also seems to advocate passivity in her comment, ‘while we’re waiting for society to change, there’s just certain things you have to do [to be safe from rapists]’. I don’t believe that gender equality is something that we should wait to happen after society has been ‘sorted out’. It should be an integral part of effecting social change and is something that society as a whole will benefit from. As Millicent Fawcett said, ‘men will never be truly free so long as women are held in subjection’. Effecting equality is about the strengthening of society as a whole, not about class warfare or gender warfare.

Making people feel that they have a place in society and therefore some ability to change it comes down to a question of representation, whether it be in terms of gender, race, class or sexuality. In the recent Fawcett Society debate, Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP, said that there will be a greater chance of people engaging with the political process if there were more women in power. Because we live in a society where democracy is not representative currently, anyone who is not white, male and middle-aged feels alienated. If we are not represented by people who look like us, Lucas said, then there is more of a chasm between political parties and people. This can also be extrapolated out to the general media and to various workplaces where women are under- or misrepresented.

On a more theoretical level, I’ve been reading recently about utopian ideology, of which gender equality is a key feature (for some utopian writers, anyway). In her article, ‘Looking for the blue: the necessity of Utopia’, Ruth Levitas writes that, in order for the concept of Utopia to be incorporated into political and cultural thought, it needs to be ‘understood as a method rather than a goal, and accompanied by a recognition of provisionality, responsibility and necessary failure.’ Marcuse, another utopian writer, suggests that much remains to be done of a critical and diagnostic nature in examining the various ways in which our society represses the utopian principle and the utopian imagination. The key word here is ‘imagination’. If we can imagine living in a society where rape is not viewed as an inevitable consequence of a woman walking alone down a dodgy street at night, it might help us realise the ultimate goals of an equal society.

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