If the system is broken, how can it save the sisterhood?
“[Women] can’t make it on their own.”
Who do you think said that about the modern workplace? Some Victorian-era throwback of a bloke, who still hasn't got used to seeing women doing actual jobs? Or maybe some other sexist, the kind who cleaves, by the whites of his fingertips, to the archaic view of women as the fair sex, not cut out for the gruff and tumble of work?
Actually it was Georgina Dent, professional feminist. Yes, like a turkey voting for Christmas, or a black man wondering if black people really deserve a choice of seat on the bus, Ms Dent thinks women can’t make it on their own and instead require bureaucrats to hold their hands as they negotiate public life.
Ms Dent made the comments in response to an article that Annabel Crabb wrote in response to my appearance on Q&A. (It's all very meta. And now this is a response to the response to the response. Kill me.) On Q&A, we talked about quotas for women in politics, to boost the female presence in Parliament. I argued against them, because “women will never know for sure whether they were selected on the basis of merit or on the basis of their biology”.
What’s more, quotas are patronising. They imply that women need officialdom to act as a great, Dickensian benefactor, walking them through public life. Women are “autonomous adults”, I said, and we should "let them run on their own and they will make it on their own”.
For saying this, I was called sexist. Perhaps next I’ll be called racist for having once belonged to a group called Workers Against Racism.
Annabel Crabb's response contained the contradiction that lurks at the heart of all pro-quota commentary: it claimed women suffer deep, structural oppression at the hands of political and business elites, before calling on those very elites to solve the problem by building yet more structures to give women a leg-up.
This strikes me as odd. Feminists often claim we live in a rapaciously anti-women climate. Yet their proposed solution is not, as one might expect it to be if we truly lived in such a foul society, a revolution to sweep away the horrendous hatred. No, it’s to plead with the very architects of our allegedly screwed-up society to employ a few more female directors. The disparity between the violent language feminists use to describe society and their achingly middle-class, painfully polite proposals for fixing it is vast.
But Ms Dent’s piece was most striking. She was disturbed by my suggestion that women can make it on their own. “It’s clear that, to date, they can’t”, she said. Sure, she followed this up with Guardianista, Gramscian talk about “the system” holding women back. Yet she called on that same system to help women, further boosting the belief that they need "the system” to rescue them.
Feminism is losing the plot. A movement that once talked up the capacities of women now draws attention to the alleged fragility of women, their vulnerability in the workplace, on campus, on the streets.
So the feminists agitating for the removal of lads' magazines from supermarkets claim they “contribute to mental-health problems in young women and girls”. Those who called for US rapper Tyler, the Creator to be banned said “women and girls are harmed by this toxic [hip-hop] culture”. (Notice that many feminists use the phrase “women and girls”. How infantilising! Is there no difference between women — independent grown-ups — and children?) At a University of Sydney debate on political correctness, I was told by feminist students that campuses are scary places for women.
And on it goes. The new feminism resuscitates the Victorian view of women as hapless creatures, offended by gruff words and culture, and not really cut out for getting ahead in work or at university. Women are constantly depicted as less capable than men of negotiating street spaces, seeing saucy images, hearing shocking things. Why? Because they’re fairer than men, apparently. What an outdated idea. That it’s being brought back to life by feminists is alarming.
Men's right activists claim feminism is a war on men. Grow up, boys. Stop blaming feminism for your troubles. Today’s feminism does down women far more than men, through questioning their very ability to “make it on their own”. I trust women, which is why I don’t like the new feminism.
Brendan O'Neill is the editor of Spiked Online.