Yesterday, the Daily Mail–which loves to showcase women bashing feminism–devotes some space to a recent outing by Fay Weldon at a literary event in Richmond, England.
Weldon made her mark with bitingly satirical novels like The Life and Loves of a She Devil and Worst Fears, in which her heroines fight back, often spectacularly, against the Patriarchy. These days, however, it seems that the 78-year old Weldon is turning into that formerly radical but increasingly loony aunt you’re afraid to invite to dinner for fear she’ll embarrass you in front of your friends (see also: Greer, Germaine). When she spoke about feminism and progress at the Book Now festival, Weldon’s comments were strangely all over the map…but she was pretty much in Wrongville the entire time.
Weldon told a literature festival that while the sexual revolution of the Sixties had ended the requirement for women to provide ‘sexual, childcare and cooking services’, the ‘downside’ of feminism was a new breed of women. Women have been turned into unhappy ‘wage-slaves’ by the march of feminism, according to one of the movement’s pioneers.
‘The downside of feminism is that women are now expected to go out to work, which some women would rather do than looking after the children anyway.
Wait, that’s the downside? Is she actually arguing that it was better when women weren’t expected to work outside the home?
‘You do feel some qualms for these women who actually have to shove their children’s arms into clothes at five o’clock in the morning and get them off to the nursery.’
Yeah, I feel some qualms that they’re not offered better childcare options. This line of thinking also completely ignores the fact that regardless of whether a child’s mom works or not, from age 5-18 the kid has to get up in the morning and leave mommy anyway–to attend school.
Weldon should also remember that some women are not mothers. Us childless ladies simply must find something to do with all that spare time–like develop a satisfying, lucrative career.
‘Once it was only the men who were wage-slaves, and now it’s the men and the women too. You know, I’d really rather blame capitalism.
Blame it for what? Capitalism contributes to many evils, but allowing women to earn a living–just like men!–is not one of them.
‘Probably 20 per cent of women are worse off and the enormous number are better off.”
Huh? I have no idea where Weldon pulled that completely arbitrary “20 percent” from.
I was curious about why if the “enormous number” of women are better off, Weldon is handwringing and griping about how feminism has failed. Apparently it’s because feminism’s not for everyone! In fact, there are some women who are better off without it!
‘If you’re an intelligent, competent and healthy person it’s the most wonderful thing,’ she said.
‘If you have no aspirations and don’t want to do anything except exist, than perhaps the pre-feminist world was better. There’s never a perfect solution. There’s just the least worst.
‘And least worst is feminist society, which is more or less what we’re getting now. And people are on the whole happier than they were before. Although everybody’s much more tired.’
Okay, first of all, the “feminism makes women tired” argument is pure bullshit. Women have always been tired, because we have always worked–full-time and without vacations–in every home, in every society, in every culture since the dawn of humankind. Feminism just means that now we can be tired and paid.
As for the women who “have no aspirations and don’t want to do anything except exist,” I think Weldon’s assuming that women in the pre-feminist era were basically okay with their lot because they lacked any goals or dreams. This is also bullshit. The vast majority did not lack aspirations. They lacked opportunity.
What I find especially offensive about that statement, though, is its elitism and ableism–presumably Weldon expects that women who aren’t “intelligent, happy, and competent” are better off without feminism because they’d dumbly accept their powerlessness and let someone else take charge. Unfortunately, the reality of unhappy, unintelligent, incompetent women “without aspirations who don’t want to do anything but exist” is that their existence usually involves exploitation, marginalization, a low-paying job, and a constant struggle to get by. Weldon’s happy to slag off those women by saying point-blank that feminism has nothing to offer them, and, in fact, they’d be better off living in the bad old days when empowerment wasn’t even an option.
So much for sisterhood.
If you read the whole article–don’t miss the preposterous bit where Weldon talks about how sex kitten Katie Jordan is a positive role-model–you’ll see that Weldon’s opinions of feminism are weirdly contradictory, condescending, negative and illogical, even as she admits to the undeniable fact that feminism has been good for women overall. Is she disenchanted with feminism because she thought it would create a utopia? Or is she simply one of those women for whom progress was less about empowering all of us and more about helping her and “intelligent, happy, competent” women like her, who best know how to exploit it?