We’re told we can “have it all” — as long as that means marriage, babies, a finance job, shoes and exhaustion
“The feminism that has mattered to the media and made magazine headlines in recent years has been the feminism most useful to heterosexual, high-earning middle- and upper-middle-class white women.
Every few months, it seems, the media rediscovers feminism and decides it’s a trendy new way to sell books and magazines, as long as it doesn’t scare people by posing any actual threat to their way of life. The sort of feminism that sells is the sort of feminism that can appeal to almost everybody while challenging nobody, feminism that soothes, that speaks for and to the middle class, aspirational feminism that speaks of shoes and shopping and sugar-free snacks and does not talk about poor women, queer women, ugly women, transsexual women, sex workers, single parents, or anybody else who fails to fit the mould. That sort of feminism does not interest me. Let others write it. Let others construct an unchallenging feminism that speaks only to the smallest common denominator. The young women of today know far better than their slightly older sisters who came of age in the listless 1990s how much work is still to be done, and how unglamorous much of it is. They know how bloody important it is to talk about power, and class, and work, and love, race and poverty and gender identity.
We were lied to. The women of my generation were told that we could ‘have it all’, as long as ‘it all’ was marriage, babies and a career in finance, a cupboard full of beautiful shoes and terminal exhaustion – and even that is only an option if we’re rich, white, straight and well behaved. These perfect lives would necessarily rely on an army of nannies and care-workers, and nobody has yet bothered to ask whether they can have it all.
We can have everything we want as long as what we want is a life spent searching for exhausting work that doesn’t pay enough, shopping for things we don’t need and sticking to a set of social and sexual rules that turn out, once you plough through the layers of trash and adverts, to be as rigid as ever.
As for young men, they were told they lived in a brave new world of economic and sexual opportunity, and if they felt angry or afraid, if they felt constrained or bewildered by contradictory expectations, by the pressure to act masculine, make money, demonstrate dominance and fuck a lot of pretty women while remaining a decent human being, then their distress was the fault of women and minorities. It was these grasping women, these homosexuals and people of colour who had taken away the power and satisfaction that was once their birthright as men. We were taught, all of us, that if we were dissatisfied, it was our fault, or the fault of those closest to us. We were built wrong, somehow. We had failed to adjust. If we showed any sort of distress, we probably needed to be medicated or incarcerated, depending on our social status. There are supposed to be no structural problems, just individual maladaption.
The world has changed for women and queers as much as it possibly could without upsetting the underlying structure of society, which is still sexist, homophobic and misogynist, because it relies for its continued existence on sexual control, on social inequality and on the unpaid labour of women and girls. Further change will require more ambition than we have hitherto been permitted. Further change will require us to speak what is unspoken, to refuse to accept the world as it is. It will require us to ask big, challenging questions about the nature of work and love, sex and politics, and to be prepared for the answers to be different from what we had expected.”