If Feminism Has Undermined the Private Lives of Bill Clinton, a Few MPs, and the Motley Crew That Is Our Monarchy, I Say "Good."

By Moore, Suzanne | New Statesman (1996), March 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

If Feminism Has Undermined the Private Lives of Bill Clinton, a Few MPs, and the Motley Crew That Is Our Monarchy, I Say "Good."


Moore, Suzanne, New Statesman (1996)


It's good to be back where you belong. To be put firmly in your place is one of the joys of writing for the New Statesman, after all. It's been so long since I've written for anything left-wing that I'd forgotten that to be a woman on the left is to be subject not to permanent revolution but permanent ticking off.

Men, for instance, know more about feminism than anyone else. Last week's issue of this paper had an article by John Pilger sorting out good feminists (old) from bad feminists (young). Another John (Lloyd) had a go at feminism as a "destroyer of private life".

It's very confusing. Either feminism has gone too far in an alliance with the nasty tabloid media in order to prevent public figures being allowed to have any privacy, or it has not gone far enough and we have produced a generation of women who think liberation is being able to wear whatever damn colour nail polish they please.

I don't blame either John for being mixed up. Feminism as we know it is a crazy, mixed-up business, or it should be if you are doing it right. But what I really sense here are the politics of containment. Certain kinds of feminism are OK and certain ones are not.

For Pilger, feminism is acceptable as long as it recognises "the over-riding importance of class". Well, that's an old argument and lots of women got so sick of being over-ridden by male class warriors that they did begin to examine how the personal is political.

Maybe some of them ended up navel-gazing with their theories about the unconscious and sexuality and turned feminism into a form of therapy. But maybe, just maybe, this was, at the time, another way of looking at things, another way of defining politics.

I certainly do not agree with everything Natasha Waiter writes in The New Feminism, but to describe her book as a "branch office of capitalism" is simply to refuse to recognise that 1999 is not the same as 1969. Most feminists worth their salt now realise that there is more difference between rich and poor women than there is between men and women of the same class.

Most women recognise the effects of "economic engineering" because they live them. Middle-class women pay poorer women to do their childcare and housework. Don't think we don't see the irony of the situation. I know the personal is political. I know there is an interplay between class and gender and one of the times I know it most is when I pay my cleaner or child-minder.

As for feminism having undermined private life, well, I say "good". Whose private lives are we really talking about? A few adulterous MPs, the president of the United States, the motley crew that constitutes, our monarchy? …

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