Throughout its history, there has always been a problem with feminism. This problem is that it tends to be too focussed on the plight of the white, middle-class woman. In the early days of feminism, this was because these were the women who had the time and the resources to focus on driving the movement for equality, whilst poorer, working-class women had little time or inclination to worry about the plight of womanhood when they needed to be thinking about how to earn enough money to survive. Although much has changed in the world since then, it appears that the feminist cause has been playing the same record on repeat.
The world of work has long been a point of contention for ambitious women. Although there are little or no fields of employment which are precluded by gender (in the UK at least), there is still a significant – and much talked about – pay gap, and men are often prioritised over women for promotions, out of fear that a woman may leave to start a family. It is true that these are issues which need to be addressed, but it is important to remember that these aren’t the only issues which women face in modern society.
Too much of the focus rests on the world of work and on businesswomen desperate to advance their careers. With the ubiquitousness of the campaign for 30 per cent of board members being women, people forget the other areas of feminism, and the drive for equality at work has simply created an elite group of privileged women. It is true that women such as these are to be admired and respected, and serve as great role models for young women, but it needs to be remembered that just because a few women have bucked the trend and become high flyers in a man’s world, this does not mean that all women are in the same situation.
Traditionally ‘female’ jobs that revolve around the domestic sphere are still seen to be very much the domain of women. Women who work as cleaners, nannies, careworkers and housekeepers are repeatedly overlooked; often poorly paid and scorned by those higher in the career ladder, regardless of their gender. These women are ignored and sidelined by society and by the feminists who focus on the problems facing businesswomen.
The focus of feminism needs to be re-evaluated. Aims such as the 30 per cent boardroom quota are simply dealing with the symptoms, not the causes of gender inequality. Inequality lies in how society perceives women. Women who are successful in the business world are still few and far between, and they provide a façade of equal opportunity which is simply not there. While women are still being wolfwhistled at in the street, pigeonholed into categories such as ‘slut’, ‘mother’ and ‘powersuit’, told that they are responsible for rape because they dressed ‘provocatively’, told to go and make a sandwich, or objectified in adverts, then we must not accept this illusion.
Highly successful businesswomen are to be admired, but the issue has become more than one of gender; it has become one of class, where poorer women are forgotten about and neglected by feminism. In a society where social mobility is highly limited at the best of times, being a woman puts you at an even greater disadvantage. The focus of feminism thus needs to be shifted from employment-based equality, and realigned to encompass all levels of society, overturning ingrained prejudices and including women from all walks of life.