Journalist/professor Nina Power has a great piece on the Guardian’s site today about the role of women in the protest movements that have been rocking Britain in the last few months, and the ways in which critics of the protests have reacted to their prominence.
For the usual suspects the participation of so many young women – in the education protests in particular – has given rise to a certain moral panic. See, for example, the hilarious Daily Mail cover:“Rage of the Girl Rioters”.
The attempted pillorying of these young women – accused of “lacking respect” – by the Mail is the latest in a long line of attacks on women who campaign directly against the state: the suffragettes; women involved in the 1926 general strike; the miners’ protests in the mid-80s; those who fought for reproductive rights and against domestic violence. Just as with the attack on “ladettes” in the 1990s, what looks to be a moral criticism frequently masks a deeper political and economic fear – what shall we do when young women are academically successful, economically independent, socially confident and not afraid to enjoy themselves?
The past few years have similarly seen an eruption of interest in feminism across the country, with meetings and book launches spilling over with women and men of all ages. Whatever the 1990s tried to tell us was over – from inequality to political commitment – has most definitely not gone away; and the idea that one would simply have a passive, ironic or otherwise disinterested stance towards the brutal and brutalising policies of a government hell-bent on removing any vestige of a social bond now looks historically outmoded.
While there were many women tirelessly campaigning throughout the 1990s and 2000s on a variety of issues – both those that directly concerned women and as part of broader political campaigns – it was with the anti-war marches from 2003 onwards that the kind of street politics we see today came back on the agenda in a more visible way. Many of the schoolkids who played truant to attend anti-war protests have grown into articulate and politically passionate adults, rightly incensed that education is being transformed into something insanely expensive, increasingly exclusive and socially divisive.
When young women feel they are no longer held back by their gender, that they can take on any job, that they are more likely to do well in education than their male peers, that they don’t have to think of themselves as wives and mothers first, one outcome is an increase in political confidence. If you tell women they can be and can do anything they want, and then let them down – by taking away their education maintenance allowance, by making university prohibitively expensive, by forcing them to stay in poverty – they, along with their male peers, will make you pay for your lies and hypocrisies.
Go read the whole thing — it’s really sharp.