When we think about the origins of the feminist movement, we most likely recall images of suffragette protests and marches, whereas local, working-class women’s triumphs appear absent from our history books.
An example of such forgotten activism is the efforts of the working women of Ford, Dagenham, who achieved wage equality in 1968 . Recently, the events have been brought to life again on the west-end stage, which I had the privilege to see.
Made in Dagenham enables you to experience the struggle these women faced when just trying to be heard and taken seriously, and the strain that achieving equality in the workplace had on their personal lives: it impacted their personal relationships, they received threats from those at risk of losing power, and even incurred stress related health problems.
The play was as funny and entertaining as it was inspiring and thought provoking. These working-class women, without doubt, achieved great things and brought hope and encouragement to other working women. So why are they not held up in the same high esteem as the suffragettes, as they so deserve?
Though some might argue that the class system is dead, the divide within feminism is still alive and kicking today. As a result of this, many working-class women do not engage with modern feminism, because its goals do not match that of their own. Though equal pay in the private sector and managerial roles is important, these women might want to dedicate their immediate attention to raising minimum wage, or demanding to see more people that look, sound and think like themselves in politics.
It is true that all women face great difficulties when trying to be taken seriously in the ‘man’s workplace’, however, feminism can often neglect to acknowledge that access to these jobs is even more of a challenge for people from working-class or ethnic minority backgrounds.
The authoritarian voice of feminism also only acts to further ostracise the working-classes; it often shames those who might not know exactly who Emily Davison or Christabel Pankhurst are, or how many women gathered in Hyde Park in 1908 to show support for the suffragette movement, when access to this information is a privilege in itself.
Rather than adopting a ‘learn with me’ attitude, feminist writing often contains undertones of ‘you should already know […]’. This type of awareness shaming is the very thing I consciously try to avoid. Many times, I have been questioned about my written vocabulary, which can be considered to be quite simplistic in comparison to some other blogs. However, I find it quite pretentious and false to write in a completely different manner to how I would speak.
Now this is not to say that working-class women do not have a wide vocabulary, however, I am rarely exposed to people who speak as if they have an in-built thesaurus, which they use to synonym every basic word, just to make conversations a challenge to follow. I would assume that most people would prefer to read texts that are written in a relatable and recognisable voice – I know I do.
The issue of classism was discussed at last years WOW Festival, in a talk dedicated to intersectional feminism. I found this talk, and the entire weekends events greatly motivational, and was honoured to have been asked to live blog for them. However, the issue with having a discussion dedicated to classism at WOW Festival, is that the audience would have had to pay for the privilege to hear of how the working-classes are excluded from feminist discussions – where is the logic in that?
Classism isn’t the only flaw within feminism, it is also predominantly white, heterosexual and able-bodied. This is why intersectional feminism is such a necessity today; through it, we are granted the opportunity to see how all kinds of women experience everyday life.
Reni Eddo-Lodge, a writer that I am greatly inspired by, spoke on the importance of privilege checking and intersectional feminism at WOW Festival last year. Reni observed how the current feminist movement speaks, quite rightly, a great deal about the objectification of women, and trying to move away from that. Though this is without doubt a positive thing, this breed of feminism seemingly ignores the fact that POC still struggle to find representations of their bodies in the mainstream media, let alone have them held up as an example of ideal beauty.
Being aware of (and checking) your privilege will only aid the feminist movement: it becomes inviting to a wider demographic of women, making our voices louder and stronger, and it also opens up a wide range of topics to be addressed – why should we focus all our efforts on just a few injustices?
It is also important to check your privilege for the purpose of clarification; your life experiences shape your views on what morality and justice looks like. Therefore, as a white, CIS, able-bodied woman, my idea of freedom and liberalisation could be very different to a person of colour, or trans individual etc. Checking your privilege might just save you from forcing your cultural or class standards upon others.
This International Women’s day has left me thinking about how feminism should continue all year round – as an inclusive and diverse movement. So write/speak about your experiences, and listen/read of others. I will link a few of my favourite women’s books and blogs below – happy International Women’s day!
- No Comment – Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Sex + – Laci Green
- Transwoman Times – Justine Valinotti