Thursday, 29 May 2014

Should Mothers in Poverty Rejoice at the Rebranding of Capitalism?

When something doesn't sit well with the masses the solution never seems to be to reinvent it structurally or to eradicate it, instead the answer seems to lie in in 'rebranding' the problem. So it is that we have yet another effort to rebrand capitalism. A conference was held in London this week to discuss the concept of 'Inclusive Capitalism'.

Paradoxically, a report was released this week by the Save The Children charity on child poverty. The report titled: 'A Fair Start for Every Child' reveals that children are suffering a 'triple whammy' of benefit cuts, parental wages that have not increased and the rising cost of living.

Such is the contradiction of our post-industrial economy. While people in the lower half of the economic scale know exactly what it is that they need to get on in life - better wages, higher minimum wage, a living wage, a reversal of benefit cuts that are affecting families in poverty and a political appreciation of the rising costs of food, fuel etc - people in the top half pontificate and indulge in conferences that 'talk' about how to include the poorer in reaping the benefits of capitalism.

The welfare state was established in the first place to mitigate the excesses of capitalism. State subsidies give a hand up to people, not a handout. When the welfare society is slashed and the state rolled back no amount of talking can possibly add up the sums to close the gap of inequality. FACT.

I doubt that mothers in poverty will give two hoots for this 'socially responsible' form of capitalism that will supposedly be 'inclusive' while they have to choose between eating and heating or food and clothes for the kids. Capitalism can only be 'inclusive' if the structures are changed. Raising people's standards of living will cut away at the profit margin of capitalism and I doubt that many of the 1%-ers would buy into that. No amount of branding can disguise the savagery of capitalism.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Mothers as Guardians of Mother Earth

Mothers have become an important part of the guardianship of the environment. Mother activism now extends to fighting environmental dangers that threaten our children's futures. The three-way connection between mother, child and the environment is an extremely strong one that lends legitimacy to environmental mother activism. A feminist mothering perspective throws into sharp focus the fight that mothers undertake against corporations and governments who do not factor 'social justice' into the equation when they capitalize on the environment for business gain. 

Mothers recently were part of a concerned group that met with the USA's Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to discuss the possibility that a herbicide called Roundup has found its way into breast milk. Roundup has been developed by a company called Monsanto that has come to represent the dangers inherent in GMOs. Roundup is used in domestic gardens and in agricultural land. The chief ingredient found in Roundup is Glyphosate which environmentalists contend is causing problems for plants, people and animals. More specifically, it has been found in breast milk. The group of mothers were representing an organisation called 'Moms Across America' which aims to raise awareness of GMO (Genetically Modified Foods) and related issues. 

In a book titled: 'Mothering and the Environment: The Natural, The Social, The Built', maternalism in relation to the environment can be viewed as being an extension of the compassionate and caregiving side of mothers but with the potential to disrupt gendered expectations of mothers being passive actors in political issues. 


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

'Corporate Feminist' - 'The Corporate Grab of Feminism

Feminism has always been a diverse ideological movement comprising different viewpoints such as liberal feminism, radical feminism, socialist/marxist feminism and Black feminism, among others, but all with a shared objective of challenging the patriarchy. The purpose of challenging the patriarchy was to dislodge the structures which kept women in subordinate positions both in the workplace and in the private sphere of domesticity. While the different strands of feminism may have disagreed about the means and range of prejudice suffered by women there was a common goal.

However, a new phenomenon is now being created which I personally term 'Corporate Feminism'. Companies/organisations/corporates host either networking events or 'empowering' events whereby women who have made it to the top of the corporate ladder turn up and talk about their experiences. If you work for a large organisation you will  have witnessed it at first hand. There is normally a diversity week held in the workplace within which a whole day or half a day is given over to the top female bosses of the organisation to talk about how they made it to the top. The message is always one of 'if I can, you can too'.

I used to attend these events but gave up a year ago when I cottoned on to the con that it was. The penny dropped for me when I heard a female CEO talk about her career path from university to where she was now. It was a route that held no relevance for me or three-quarters of the women present. The CEO had been to a top university, had worked in pretty much top level positions because of her connections and was married to a mover-shaker whose job was on a par with hers. I do not attend these events anymore. They are a complete waste of time and only serve as a tick-box exercise for large organisations to be able to demonstrate that gender diversity is very much part of their corporate responsibility. Therein lies the position of 'corporate feminism'. It has become part of corporate social responsibility (CSR). The trajectory of CSR has gone from charitable acts to making inroads into feminism.

It is resulting in the 'dualism of feminism'. By this I mean that the 'have' females preach to the 'have-not' females about how every woman can have career success if they so desire it. This message mimics the efforts of politicians and rich people who believe that everyone can get on materially in life if only they try harder. The huge flaw in this theory is the unacknowledged reality of how prejudice is embedded in the structures of our everyday life, like in the workplace for instance. Only a few women in any organisation will make it to the top and these places are reserved for those who most resemble the people who are already at the top. The patriarchy will make some exceptions but it will not go the whole hog.

It has come as a great sense of relief to discover that I am not the only feminist who detests 'corporate feminism'. Jessica Bennett has written in the New York Times about empowerment conferences and, in my view, lays bare the capitalist opportunistic dimension of feminism. The Slate has published an insightful piece by Amanda Marcotte about how these events never quite address the real issues that women face.
Feminism is about everyday struggles that women face and an elite cohort of women certainly would not be representative of the majority.


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

What has Europe done for women?

I am a firm believer in strength being achieved through associational links. In a world where there is increasing integration in terms of money flows, human mobility and an increasing need for governments to link up in order to face the challenges of the 21st century, like fighting terrorism, I don't think that any country can stand alone. While the EU deals with many aspects of supranational governance issues what is of prime interest to me is what it offers women. 

Gender issues have always figured in the European Union's social policy right back from when the first treaty was signed in 1957 - The Treaty of Rome- which recognised the importance of equal pay between men and women. Since 2010 gender equality has gained even more prominence because it now sits as a policy issue within the newly created 'Justice' department in the European Commission. Specifically, this new department looks at equal economic independence for women and men, equal pay for work of equal value, equality in decision making, ending gender based violence and promoting gender equality beyond the EU. 

Of particular interest is the strategy that the Commission has published titled: 'Strategy for Equality between Men and Women 2010-2015'. In the 2013 mid year review of this strategy the UK, for example, is reported as being actively involved in promoting full-time, flexible and affordable childcare services. There are other notable UK successes in the report. Another report, 'Violence Against Women in the European Union', gave a voice to many women in the UK who suffer from violence as an everyday experience. 

The collective work that the European Union does for gender equality is a positive because it provides a critical mass of pressure, recommendations and legislation that bear down on national governments. Their reports are invaluable in lending credence to women's experiences. Contrary to popular belief, EU membership doesn't cost us much, either. Our annual budget contribution, after taking account of money transferred back to the UK, is £8.3bn. That's around half a per cent of our GDP, or £130 per person (Source: BBC).  

I am all for any association/organisation that trumps equality for women in every sphere of life.