A New Generation of Cuts and Inequality: Is It Time to Re-discover the F Word?

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With the release of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), there has been a backlash to the proposed spending cuts and how their effects will be felt throughout the UK. The biggest outcry from this has been from Women’s Groups who see the spending cuts to be the biggest catastrophe to women’s economic independence in the last twenty years. This article will outline how the cuts will affect the daily lives of women across Britain and the overall outcomes women could face. Furthermore, it will ask the question, is this the catalyst needed to pull Feminism out of the twentieth century and make it relevant today? With Feminism now being an undercurrent of activity, mostly online, there seems to be no collective movement any more. This begs the question – why? Is it time to rediscover what the ‘F’ word means, and speak out against the injustice of these spending cuts?

The movement of Feminism has become plagued with negative stereotypes and strong stigmatism. The gender gap has gone from being the overstated inability to vote or achieve equal pay, to actually reverting back to the degenerate idea that the genders are essentially different. This gender segregation is further extended with the, now consensual, promotion of what is masculine and what is feminine.  In a recent radio show on Radio 4, all the issues affecting women past and present were discussed as asking, ‘Whatever happened to the Sisterhood?’ a verbal forum on how the birth of individualism led to the death of the collective movement of Feminism. With the growth of the Self, we are deflecting from the idea that there are still divisions based on gender, ethnicity and class. The promotion of consumer culture has given rise to alternate worries. Young women are no longer worried about their position in society as identifying females, but rather, their ideas on image, beauty and sexual identity. Whereas feminists are stigmatised as gay, unattractive or in harsh environments as ‘asexual’; this image automatically alienates a generation whose whole identity is tied into outward, superfluous perception and sexual competition. How can this rift between a concept, and movement, that promotes gender equality overcome this stigma, and help us fight the cuts? [1]

The Fawcett Society has been the biggest force behind the opposition to the cuts and how it will affect women. Their feminist motivations and gender equality outlines have meant that this issue has become a central debate in the overall issue. For many it was a fight against cuts within education, public services and from the beginning was earmarked as the ‘mancession’ of our economy. It has now become clear from the release of the CSR that the move to cuts within the public sector will affect women in a way that will widen the gender equality gap, both economically and socially.  Of the £8.5 billion revenue raised through cuts, a staggering £5.7 billion will be taken from women’s income and the benefits that primarily affect women. [2]

‘The cuts are so deep and will hit women so hard that they risk more than women’s financial security – they threaten hard fought progress we’ve made on women’s equality. The Chancellor’s plans undermine the status of women as equal partners with men in the world of work, home and society as a whole.’ Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society. [3]

Further issues have come to the surface in the area of local government. With cumulative cuts of 28 per cent, in a field where 75 per cent of workers are female, these cuts will have a dramatic effect on both the workforce and also the surrounding communities. In relation to benefits, we see a dramatic gap in the need and distribution of them between the genders. One fifth of women’s income is made up from benefit as they are more likely to be primary care givers, not only to children, but also elderly relatives [4]. This cut in ‘weaker areas of dependency’ as seen by government could leave women in a constant state of poverty with their economic independence being attacked. Unemployment will take a hit as the public sector will be savagely attacked. With women taking up 65 percent of the public sector workers, we can only wonder how the estimated one million women, who will be unemployed, will support their children and themselves [5]. The most frightening thought is single parent families facing imminent poverty, both male and female alike.

‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.’ Cheris Kramarae

Feminism moved, grouped and protested for financial independence. Women no longer wanted to be financially dependent on their husbands or partners and wanted the freedom that came with it. However, this dependency seems to have moved from the patriarchal structure of marriage, to the patriarchal super structure of the State. With this dependency comes the downfall of female economic independence, so much so that when the cuts are enforced it will drive back gender equality by at least a generation. The time has come for the fight to be revived; a revolution for those that have not achieved the independence they were promised, and to fight for a generation consumed by the ideal they are constantly failing to achieve. Our modern model of perfection is unjustified. Our inability to recognise gender segregation in the most blatant circumstances is unjustified. Our rigid ideals of masculinity and femininity are completely unjustified. There is an undercurrent of activism rising from the depths of institutions, homes and minds that will launch this cause into the 21st century. There is a call for those to join who believe in equality. Everyone will be affected by the cuts, but the independence of women from all backgrounds will become fainter, will become a dead ideal. Solidarity must rise from the individualism that has grasped us all, a collective fight, a collective cause and the collective concept of equality.

Article by Aurelia Greenwood.
Edited by Marc Geddes.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v1nlk
[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/22/cuts-women-spending-review
[3] http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2010/10/the_cuts_a_disa
[4] http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/housing-management/abbott-budget-cuts-unfair-on-women/6511516.article
[5] http://fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=1198