By Dawn M. Sanders
“They are in their own little academic world. An elite community, they don’t reflect, embrace and understand…”
Said a single mum representing WinVisible.
Glimpsing into the past and the origins of the movement, has its trajectories and agendas begun to understand those less able to fight?
As early feminist like Millicent Fawcett and the Pankhursts laid foundations to a movement weathering the last century, it was recognised early on from the suffragists to the suffragettes and their respective unions, class played a significant role in giving women agency to promote ‘the cause’.
In showcasing Sheffield’s women of steel, it would have been telling to speak to a survivor to gage if women in the industry felt a part of the feminist cause, but there was not the opportunity.
Forwarding to modern times and tribulations, a diversifying society and rising inequalities, has the movement diversified along with societal worries and modern woes?
There must be countless writings addressing that the movement is not, and cannot be, about gender alone.
Traci P. Baxley and Jenyne Henry Boston’s “(In) Visible Presence”, draws attention to the position of women of colour and other marginalising factors, yet upon viewing it’s preview, can one from outside the academic sphere, connect with the book and it’s language?
The notion of marginalised women, spans class, race, sexual orientation and women with additional needs – seen or unseen.
In a three-way interview with two women, Claire Glasman and a single mother with paranoia and schizophrenia, (wishing to remain anonymous) from WinVisible (Women with Visible and Invisible disabilities): a self-help multi-racial group addressing issues facing women not recognised in other feminist or mixed disability groups.
Didi Rossi, representing Queer Strike: a grassroots organisation, campaigning for the rights of lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-gender or Queer women, also participated.
Note: The terms ‘disabled’/disability will only be used in the context of contributors and not the author of this piece.
The a fore mentioned anonymous participant said of the mainstream feminist movement: “They are in their own little academic world – an elite community, they don’t reflect, embrace and understand…”
She spoke of her personal experience when having her daughter as a single mother and immigrant and the harsh/cold reception she received from hospital staff.
Ms. Glasman said, some women’s groups claim to understand the concerns of women of colour and disabled women, but the actual grasp of the concerns of these marginalised groups are very limited.
She said: “When disabled women participate, we want to address everything, we don’t just want to have input on whether or not the meeting is accessible or issues which ‘we’ might be interested in.”
She spoke of women needing to access support from social care to enable them to lead more independent lives, but feminist groups didn’t go this far.
As many of the women supported by WinVisible are facing benefit sanctions, cuts to social care funds/services in the wake of austerity, those at the receiving end often don’t feel empowered enough to challenge the system.
In bridging the gap between marginalised women and mainstream feminism, Ms. Glasman said: “I think the first thing is people getting together against austerity, because the loss of benefits, social care, support services and facilities have really pushed us down, to the point where women are terrified about their security in the future.”
She stressed: “If marginalised women are to realise their dreams, they will need to access the resources being taken.”
Surely having additional needs, must amount to more than just accessing benefits or social care?
Lilian McCarthy, a 56-year-old retired Department of Work and Pensions admin worker, who is totally blind said: “Women still have to prove themselves much more than men and anyone with a disability feels they have to work much harder to prove worthy of their positions.” Therefore, when women with additional needs do make it to the work place, they often face double stigma.
Ms. McCarthy knew of women with additional needs, struggling with colleagues who refused to relate to them. For example, in the tea room, while others are talking amongst themselves, the ‘different woman’ sits alone …
At Labour fringe, Momentum: The World Transformed conference in Liverpool, September, 2016, several women spoke in workshops, such as We Should All Be Feminists. Highlighting women’s campaigns at the grassroots frontline, there were speakers from a wide spectrum of initiatives addressing the plight of marginalised women and beyond.
Ms. Rossi of Queer Strike added to the wide consensus of those who spoke in workshops: “Quite often most women in the feminist movement are white, I know that has been changing recently, but they’re often professionals or academics and most of the world is not academic – not having access to that high level of education.”
She spoke of how sex workers and asylum-seekers within the organisation, have been shunned by establishment feminists.
Although she claims to advocate for equality, in taking a closer look at Steinem’s path – scaling the higher echelons of power and influence, has she become out-of-touch?
Resonating Ms. Grey’s letter Ms. Rossi said: “They use power relations to represent us, yet when they step into parliament, will they represent the needs of working-class women, women of colour, women with disabilities – all of us on the frontline?”
Women obtained the vote in 1928 in the UK, won the right to abortions (mostly) and have become leaders. Yet, there is still stigma, existing pay gaps and, miles to go before ‘all women’ are equal within feminism…