Opposing the cuts is a feminist response.

Last Wednesday my husband got up for work before me, and came downstairs to make us both a cuppa accompanied by his daily dose of ‘Good Morning Ulster’. My first awareness of the dawning of this inauspicious day was his repetitive chanting, growing in volume as he made his way back upstairs cups in hand, which culminated in him bursting through the bedroom door with a chorus of ‘CUTS, CUTS, CUTS, CUTS, CUTS!’

And so it began. I’ve been reluctant to blog on the issue of the Comprehensive Spending Review and all of the drama and debate it has unleashed, largely due to the complete media saturation and a need to sit back and find the useful messages in all the frenzy. In the days that followed the UK coalition government’s announcement of the deepest cuts to the state’s public spending budget in (apparently) living memory, two things have by consensus become painfully clear:

1. The Con-Dem’s definition of the word ‘fair’ which they have applied to the CSR does not seem to match any other definition in common use in the English language. All news outlets were reporting the particular impact on the most vulnerable in society by Wednesday’s late night news slot, and by the following day the Institute of Fiscal studies had given its official seal of disapproval by pronouncing that, on balance, the plans outlined in the CSR were ‘regressive’, hitting the poorest hardest.

2. The extent and nature of the cuts in public spending are set to disproportionately disadvantage women. Due to the enduring social and economic inequalities women face in our developed western society, many of the benefits that our government intend to slash are those which more women depend on than men. Not only that but approximately 65% of public servants are women, with women particularly over-populating the lower grade positions that are likely to be culled first. In fact the Fawcett Society, who have been courageously fighting the government’s complete disdain for gender equality through their legal challenge to the proposed budget, suggest that there will be a triple impact on women, the third dimension being the burden created by the care gap which the removal of vital public services for children and the elderly will leave. And let’s not forget that hidden in the midst of all the big announcements was the one where the government scrapped the Women’s National Commission – the strongest voice for the autonomous women’s movement that exists in the UK. They have opted to turn off the key voice that holds them accountable for how they treat women, just as they begin to unveil how badly they intend to treat women. Interesting tactic.

For both of these reasons I am convinced that the economic decisions the government are currently making present a serious feminist issue and fighting the cuts with protest, creative alternatives and raising the voice of opposition from the people is a feminist response. Wherever patriarchal bullying and self-interest heap further oppression on those who deserve support towards approaching equality, feminists should be there saying ‘NO!’ This was a word the crowd yelled repeatedly at Saturday’s trade union rally against the cuts (that and ‘OUT, OUT, OUT!’ every time Sammy Wilson’s name was mentioned) and it was heartening to know that at least 5000 people in Northern Ireland believe democracy doesn’t end when you put an X beside a politician’s name.

One final concern that is emerging about how the Con-Dem approach will affect women’s equality and our position in society is the knowledge that capitalism does not like feminism. In fact, as one activist friend said to me on Friday night, ‘the exploitation of women is the cornerstone of capitalism – because it demands us all to be bunny girls.’ Strangely ominous given that last week also saw the announcement that after 30 years, the Playboy club will return to London with Hugh being able to bring his brand (and bunnies) to an existing bar and gambling club in Mayfair. From sleazy backstreet strip clubs to Mayfair casinos, sex trafficking auctions to meat-market beauty pageants – the Tories will be selling women’s bodies and the Lib Dems will be convincing us we’re just exercising our hard-earned freedom! Listen, if we thought our gender identities were being increasingly squeezed and forced into hyper-sexualised vs hyper-masculine dichotomies over the last decade we’d better brace ourselves for the onslaught to come. I’m just glad we saw this coming and started networking feminist activists already. There is much work to be done!

UPDATE: Noticed today’s announcement that universal pension provision will be improved, in particular allowing for full provision for people who haven’t worked the full 30 years? I can’t help laughing at the PR machine trying to spin this as such a big victory for women as it is often women who receive lower pensions, having taken a number of years off work to raise children. Any chance you could stop patronising us and do something meaningful like take a progressive approach to paternity leave and tackling the gender pay gap so that families can actually succeed in achieving goals of shared care, meaning men and women can both choose to take time out for parenting? No? Didn’t think so.


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