Equality, Politics & Gender // Review

Article excerpt

Reviewed by Thelma McCormack York Centre for Feminist Research York University North York, Ontario

In 1983 on the eve of Bastille Day, France, the country which made egalite a bou rgeois religion, enacted a doomed piece of legislation guaranteeing women equal rights in the workplace. Its provisions were unenforced; unions were pushing for more part - time work, and the government was increasingly pro natal. Egalite professionnelle became a sym bol, not a reality, and in retrospect, it has become a symbol of so many similar ill - fate d efforts to achieve workplace and home place equity. As one Dutch feminist put it, after all these years and after all the efforts, what was achieved? "Instead of more rights...women have more d uties." Nevertheless, the foundation was laid for second - wave feminism, and within tha t framework a second phase which emphasized the dual goals of self - determination and econo mic independence.

Equality Politics and Gender is a collection of ten essays by European femi nists (nine of them women) who discuss the concept of equality as well as its grounded use and abuse in their own countries. Three themes run throughout the book. First, can we construct a feminist meaning of equality on the ashes of older definitions that emerged during the 18 th and 19th centuries, ideas that spoke of universalism but were more liberatory for some th an others? Or must we jettison those ideas once and for all and start de novo?

The second theme is the dilemma for feminists in countries like the Netherl ands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, or Finland, where governments are sympathetic and Left parties recognize the justice of the cause. The great Social Democratic parties of the Scandinavi an and Nordic countries took the feminist movement under their wing and incorporated its goals into their own programs, an add - on consistent with other socialist objectives. But this peac eful accommodation effectively prevented the feminist movement from developing its ow n agenda and its own destiny. This may be the route to a more just society for all, but d oes it contribute to the empowerment of women? Several of the contributors think not.

The third theme is the importance of understanding the unique political cul ture of a country and how it shaped the priorities and goals of the movement. In Britain, for exa mple, the debate on equal opportunity was framed by the past history of protective legislation, l aws and regulations that grew out of the excesses of 19th - century industrialization. Late Victorian reformers campaigned to reduce the number of hours women worked, the unsafe envi ronments of the factories, and to prevent women working at night. But in the late twenti eth century, and after much mobilization and pressure, working women acquired the same opportunit ies as men, including night shifts which often paid more. That achievement, however, turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory, for without daycare it was harder than ever for single parents and for women who would have preferred day shifts. …