Guest Post: How to play institutional conservative sexism for beginners
Posted on April 18, 2011
This is a guest post by Ray Filar. You can find more of Ray’s work at Political Correctness Gone Mad.
In a slightly homophobic game for straights known as ‘gay chicken’, two straight people of the same sex pretend to kiss, leaning closer and closer together until one ‘chickens out’ – pulling away from their game partner’s proverbially moistened lips. The point of it is to enable public bicurious flirting without the stigma of actually pulling that same-sexed someone who now, three pints into the party, seems much more snoggable than before.
Over the last year it has become clear that the government and friends are having a similar private joke, a kind of ‘sexist chicken’, if you will. The game functions in a similar manner; it could be aptly summarised as a game of ‘let’s see how many misogynist measures we can slide through under the guise of ‘healing the economy’ before we make ourselves physically sick and have to stop’. The obvious problematic difference between gay and sexist chicken is that after the flirtation of Cameron, Clegg, et al, with policies of the kind that really cause harm to people, the landscape of women’s support services and corresponding equalities legislations will be unrecognisable.
As each anti-feminist measure is announced, couched in the bogus rhetoric of economic necessity, it becomes obvious that this government sees gender equality as an irrelevance. As the concerted barrage of political attacks on women continues, the feminist infrastructure that has been slowly built up over the last thirty years, the institutional resistance that is in place to oppose such measures, will be steadily weakened.
Three events over the last few weeks really stand out as symptomatic of the success the coalition has already had in rolling back feminist achievements.
One is, of course, the Red Tape Challenge website, which enables ‘consultation’ on those annoying, bureaucratic regulations designed to protect the public from the state, the vulnerable from the strong. Those regulations deigned to be ‘burdensome’ will go unless Ministers make a strong case for them to stay. Unsurprisingly, the 2010 Equalities Act is high on the list.
From the Red Tape webpage, it is entirely unclear whether the aim is to remove/change, for example, the definitions and applications of terms, or to remove/change the substance of the act – the stuff that makes it illegal, at least officially, to discriminate, and defines what that discrimination consists of.
And indeed, this is the point. This consultation is not really about public accountability, nor is it about improving the legislation we have. A quick glance at the website makes it obvious that this is really about rolling back that pesky equalities agenda. To suggest that what we really need is to reassess the legislation that has only just been put in place or, worse – scrap it altogether – is like suggesting that it is invariably better to replace War and Peace with a box of nice coloured crayons, i.e. fucking stupid.
(I imagine discussions inside Tory HQ to be a bit like this: ‘Hey George! Do people really need to be legally protected from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, gender identity, disability, etc? Can’t we just cut the list down by one so that we can say we’re cutting red tape?’ ‘Yeah Dave, you’re totally right. Let’s get rid of sex, then we can reintroduce legal discrimination against women working in small businesses, so that small businesses don’t have to give statutory maternity leave. We can sell that as ‘healing the economy’.’ ‘Great idea, George, you’re the best. Let’s make out.’)
Another ludicrous, revolting, attack on women is the decision, announced this week, to reallocate much of the Poppy Project’s government funding to the Salvation Army. Words fail on this one. This decision appears to completely deny evangelical Christianity’s record on women’s rights, women’s bodies, women’s autonomy, sexual shame and guilt, contraception, homosexuality, abortion, women’s sexuality. The list goes on.
Whether one agrees with Eaves’ (the charity that runs the Poppy Project) perspective on sex work or not, I know that if I were trafficked into prostitution, voluntarily or otherwise, I would want to receive support from a women’s charity that supported a feminist discourse of rights, rather than a missionary-esque Christian group that by their own definition promotes monogamous heterosexuality.
This is not to forget Nadine Dorries and Frank Field’s proposed dirty amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill. Dorries has the sheer galling audacity to describe herself as ‘pro-women’, whilst simultaneously proposing that women be forced to have counseling before having an abortion. Presumably in Dorries’ mind, a pro-woman attitude is analogous with the attitude that abortion could so easily be eradicated if only those recalcitrant, stubborn, contraception-evading sluts would stop being so selfish and start carrying babies to term! The amendment is quite obviously a classic case of sexist paternalism; a template instantiation of women’s bodily autonomy denial amateurishly masquerading as care.
In all of this there is a very human cost. As these misogynist measures pile up the painstakingly crafted edifice of institutionalised non-sexism is steadily eroded. On the one hand, the more material feminist commentators have to point to to say: ‘look! these policies are anti-women!’ the more ammo anti-government voices will appear to have to a sometimes indifferent-seeming public. On the other hand, I fear that by the time any powerful majority wakes up and admits that this is what is happening, and that it matters, the structural services that promote women’s equality will be decimated.