Is the honeymoon over for the Women’s Equality Party?

I happily signed up as a founding member of the Women’s Equality Party – so why am I downhearted?

I clapped and cheered my way through the Women’s Equality Party policy launch on the 20th October, along with the ranks of new members and supporters at London’s Conway Hall. But reading some of the reactions and follow up opinion pieces afterwards my balloon was somewhat deflated.

I’m in a trough of disillusionment according to the hype cycle. Or a pit of informed pessimism if you look at the positive change cycle. This very apathy is part of why change doesn’t happen.

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So, please bear with me as I rile myself back up, because, if not me, who will make change happen?

I think my feminist consciousness was raised when as a small girl I approached an officer at the RAF recruitment stand at an air show. Having thrilled at the harrier jump jets and Red Arrows I wanted to find out what I had to do to fly a jet. “We don’t let girls fly planes,” he said.

So began my lifelong feminism.

I studied feminism at university. At that time amongst my peer group and in the media was the feeling that feminism was over. Its job was done. And yet rape within marriage was only, finally, recognised as a crime in this country in 1991. My dissertation explored why young women didn’t identify as feminists anymore. Recognise those themes?

We are still debating the issues I studied in university now, 25 years later. Equal pay, childcare, violence against women and girls, women’s experience of the law, representations in the media, the balance of power in positions of authority.

What has changed in my time? We still have systemic sexism. I’ve experienced sexism and misogyny, on a personal level. From harassment in the street and the office, through to being made redundant whilst on maternity leave. We are only just beginning to realise the scale of FGM, forced marriage and trafficking of women and girls in this country.

Social media has given women a new platform to express their perspectives creating dialogues and connections like never before. But it has also unleashed breathtaking abuse in response.

My disillusionment with politics in this country was brought sharply into relief after I voted in the 2010 election for Vince Cable, a conviction politician I had respected, only to see the Lib Dems form a coalition with the Tories.

The coalition government in retrospect does appear to have been one in which the extremes of the Tories were tempered. This seems particularly true in light of the Tories performance since squeaking a majority in May. It seems in the latter half of this year they’ve removed the gloves and pursued policies that punish the poor and vulnerable with a bloody minded focus. And of course austerity hits women first and hardest.

I’ve long been disappointed with the adversarial approach to politics and to its media coverage. Population-contest point-scoring and short-termist policies. I’m frustrated with this binary view of the world.

So when I heard about Sandi Toksvig setting up the Women’s Equality Party earlier this year my ears pricked up.

They urged politicians to ‘do us out of a job’ with six policy pledges that will accelerate change in this country:

  • WE strive for equal treatment of women by and in the media
  • WE urge an education system that creates opportunities for all children and an understanding of why this matters
  • WE are campaigning for equal parenting and caregiving and shared responsibilities at home to give everyone equal opportunities both in family life and in the work place
  • WE are pressing for equal pay and an equal opportunity to thrive
  • WE seek an end to violence against women
  • WE are pushing for equal representation in politics, business, industry and throughout working life

You can read the full policy document here.

But criticisms of the policies left me in a quandary. Listless doldrums.

Since the launch I’ve seen people raise thoughtful arguments to counter WE party positions. They’ve ranged – and this is not an exhaustive list – from arguing the party had no cogent position on austerity and without a strong policy on the economy could not be taken seriously. That it only focuses on people who contribute financially to the world. That it does not focus enough on older women. Older carers. That looking for equality for all falls short of liberation. That it needs to agree a coherent definition of ‘woman’ – gender identity vs biology as fundamental to the efficacy of its policies. That pursuing the Nordic model doesn’t go far enough and that the Amnesty International position of full decriminalisation is the safest way forward. That the existing parties support the feminist agenda but are just not doing it right: as such there is no real opposition or enough hatred to give WE strength (unlike the Corbyn lobby and UKIP). A friend attended the policy launch party and said “Hate to say it but it’s sort of like a Saturday night Radio 4 light entertainment programme…” You can explore some of these perspectives in my storify here.

I can accept each point – they have validity. It’s left me vacillating.

It has also left me a bit cross. I didn’t want my bubble to be burst. I wanted to tap into some of the rock solid certainty I had studying feminism 25 years ago. I wanted to thoroughly believe.

The aftermath leaves me realising – yet again – that this is a world full of nuance, that there is no one answer. No unequivocal truth. It can never be easy can it?

Perhaps this is a good thing. A rigid position can be dangerous and naive. The response does not have to be cynicism and apathy. Perhaps it is accepting that the way forward is more tricky, open to multiple perspectives, a negotiation. I’m hopeful that it is possible to be somewhat flexible. Not flaky, but bendy. You know – reed not oak, bamboo in a storm, ‘a tree that is unbending is easily broken’.

Sophie Mayer opened the policy launch saying she was just so tired of waiting for change. And that at the heart of it WE aims to be “a collaboration of people of all genders, ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs and experiences who share the determination to see women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men so that all can flourish.

That speaks to me. I don’t think I’m going to be able to support every WE party position, but I can support the vast majority of its policies. And I do feel inspired. While there must be debate, I hope the old battle lines between feminists will not be drawn so rigidly that WE collapses in on itself and fails in its mission.

I’m tired of waiting for change. So I think it’s time to accept the imperfections but just get on with it. From a perspective of informed optimism.

To paraphrase Joe Hill, don’t mourn (moan, criticise), organise.

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