This year marks the centenary of the first women in Britain and Ireland winning the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The political establishment and right-wing propaganda have been celebrating the introduction of the 1918 Representation of the People Act. But it cannot be forgotten that this Act was a deeply classist compromise, and aimed only to enfranchise a small number of property-owning women from the privileged elite in society, whilst simultaneously ignoring millions of ordinary working-class women.
When the twenty first century dawned young women in the US and much of Europe were being told that equality was within their grasp. They didn’t need feminism because capitalism was offering a glittering future based on growing prosperity and gender equality. Today that illusion lies in ruins.
During the trial in which Ulster and Ireland rugby players are accused of raping a young woman at a party, there has been fury at many of the comments made by the defence in court. When the young woman told the court she had consented to a kiss from Paddy Jackson but had not given consent to anything else, the defence barrister accused her of “teasing” Jackson, and asked her, “if you didn’t like him, why were you kissing him in his bedroom?”
In January 2010 when the earthquake struck we wrote: “The humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen Haiti beggars belief.” Hundreds of thousands were killed and millions left homeless, injured, denied medicine and starving. The country had just two fire stations and no ‘quake-proof’ housing. Even before the earthquake 80% lived below the poverty line and three-quarters were out of work. Haitians were therefore extremely vulnerable. Our headline read, “a disaster compounded by capitalism”.
The primary strategy of capitalism to maintain the rule of a tiny few over billions of workers worldwide is to divide workers from one another along the lines of race, national origin, religion, and gender. Socialist feminism recognizes that the oppression of women is part of the system of capitalism itself, and not simply caused by bad laws, outdated attitudes, or even men themselves. Socialist feminists fight for reforms that make a real difference in the lives of women and to foster solidarity among working-class people. At the same time, we recognize that full liberation for women is only possible on the basis of a socialist transformation of society that eliminates all forms of oppression