feminism . a herstory

In the global West, various eras of Feminism serve to categorise changes that occurred following the industrial revolution. Whether there are three or four of these is up to debate, but for a more holistic outlook, I will work through events and developments without labelling specific forms as intrinsically tied to timelines. Several waves of Feminism remain active with their goals and history the primary factors distinguishing them from each other.

We start in the pre-war years. The end of the Victorian era where gender equality began to enter the political agenda. As Feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft radically challenged the status quo towards the start of the industrial revolution, drawing attention to injustices faced, women’s groups began to rise in popularity as the voting discourse entered the mainstream. Known broadly as the first wave, suffragettes and lobbyists involved were primarily white, upper- and middle-class women operating under the conception of gender essentialism. Though they had made rapid and unprecedented progress in encouraging women into the workplace, their participation was channelled into domestic, low-paid work that reinforced traditional gender roles, no wonder as the dominant ideology of the time was fiercely traditional. However, this encouraged women’s financial independence in society, meaning that a step had been taken to re-balancing the scales. 

During WWI, women temporarily held blue-collar jobs that were formerly occupied by men (farming and munitions), proving to wider society that they can adopt the role of the economic breadwinner when required. Hence, Feminists during the peace period campaigned for improved working standards and education, while following WWII, second-wave radical Feminism took over as a dominant Feminist ideology. They were primarily white, middle-class women who identified the female sex as a biological class, challenging power structures in society (for instance, patriarchy). In addition, they focused on violence towards women and girls (VAWG) alongside the sexist nature of pornography, though have historically ignored intersectionality, instead, sowing seeds of conflict across the political sphere. For instance, Germaine Greer is a renowned second-wave Radical Feminist, essentialist and exclusionary who was prominent in the 1960s and 70s.

Marxist Feminism, however, offered a different perception. Rooted in classical theory, this attribute the plight of women to structural (macro) factors, namely relating to Western capitalist. Barrett, for instance, discussed how economic dependency serves to place women in subordination to male breadwinners, as the woman was historically unpaid (or underpaid). Hence, the gendered division of labour is seen as toxic to women, who are in turn perceived as the property of men. Though Marxist Feminism, historically, had somewhat the same issue as Radical Feminism in its ignorance of intersectionality, unlike Radical Feminism, Marxist Feminism has developed and modernised to encapsulate the struggles of those facing multiple disadvantages too.

So here we turn to the modern age. The events that took place from the 1980s and 90s emphasised a definitive shift in attitudes and values. As Radical Feminism declined, contemporary forms of Feminism took hold in mainstream society. Black Feminism, for instance, challenged the complicity and essentialism of white women (Truth), identifying multiple oppressions in the lives of Black women while still acknowledging the role of class. Kimberlé Crenshaw, for instance, coined the term intersectionality concerning the compounding effects of various inequalities. Her contributions to academia have proven highly influential in shaping modern Feminism, inspiring millennials and Gen-Z alike to inspire social change. This model is arguably the most holistic, therefore, through its contemporary outlook on ethnicity, class and gender. This has since been applied to fields as broad as disability studies and social policy due to its incredible value. From Audre Lorde’s experiences of being a Black lesbian in 1950s New York, surviving and forming safe spaces with those like-minded, to Davis’ experiences of systemic, mainstream racism and an unsatisfactory criminal justice system (CJS), Black Feminism proves an effective analysis of Western society.

Lastly, Eco Feminism rose to prominence alongside Black Feminism, though with different purposes, to explore environmental impacts to women in the modern-day. Hence, Mellor discussed an analogy of women, unacknowledged, cleaning up after men in wider society. This strand has much in common with Green Socialism, promoting similar policies to try and improve society, tying into Crenshaw’s explanation of political intersectionality as women sometimes get involved with the Eco Feminism movement to improve their situation amid climate change and rising far-right popularism. Hence, political agendas of the Right (which directly affect them) influence their response and affiliations.

There are many issues with historical forms of Feminism, one being that some are instruments for the advancement of affluent, white women (Meyers), however each, to some extent, have society positively, despite pitfalls affecting their modern perception. Alas, Feminism in all its strands has nonetheless been critical in constructively shaping society.

traveller communities .

Alienated from the West and rarely mentioned in equality discourse, traveller communities are subject to many forms of discrimination. Cordon and colleagues noted this in the context of global healthcare, workplaces, education and the criminal justice system (CJS) in comparison to other ethnic minorities who were discriminated less in these areas overall. Expanding on this, the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) identified that different groups within the traveller umbrella are not sufficiently differentiated in terms of local authorities and public services addressing individual needs.

While broad and fragmented, traveller communities were identified by Cordon as highly cohesive, self-assured and protective of one another, affecting the limited level of research on them. Additionally, Liégeois studied how strong, internal social structures serve as the bedrock of resistance against eradication and discrimination, forcing the idea of survival as a distinct ethnicity. Historically, traveller groups have been present in England since the 1500s, with their various origins misconceived. In fact, travellers originate from Ireland, parts of Europe and South Asia (among other places) and have been consistently targeted by laws in all EU states at various points of time since. Not to mention that the Porrajmos(mass slaughter of 25% of the Roma population) was instigated by the Nazis during World War II, an event barely discussed in contrast to other marginalised groups targeted during this time. Hence, traveller community trust towards the state remains understandably limited today.

Though the popular societal conception is of traveller groups living exclusively in nomadic, temporary living arrangements, the 2011 census in the UK (the first nationally that collected information about travellers) identified that almost three-quarters live in houses and apartments, rebuking this. However, their quality of life remains considerably lower than other ethnic groups, with a median age of 26 implying systemic issues around their treatment in wider society (House of Commons). Hence, the Department of Education (DoE) identified the importance of secondary education on improving outcomes, as the transfer between primary and secondary is a significant point in a young person’s life where class attendance can gear one of two ways. This compounds with disproportionate levels of special educational needs (SEN) in traveller communities affecting attainment, contributing to a four-fold likelihood of becoming excluded, as opposed to a successful journey in education.

Though sources identify a plethora of issues experienced by traveller communities, there is limited evidence to suggest that proactive steps have been taken to counteract these, or even better, eliminate disadvantages entirely. Which, though explained to an extent by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in terms of a lack of community engagement as attributed to an extensive, global history of genocide, banishment and exclusion from mainstream society, does not identify how the state and its institutions are actually tackling this. So, despite government commitments to reduce inequalities for these groups, Dar argued that these continue to persist, emphasising a significant rift in progress between ethnic groups through government neglect.

geographic divisions in the US .

Where to start but the wholly intolerant south-east. Home of the Bible Belt, Westboro Baptist Church and most of the country’s Mormon population, this collection of states represents plenty of humanity’s most virulent. Alabama, for instance, is sweet home to those who are white and straight, but not anyone else for fear of hate crime and discrimination. Next door, Texas brags the highest execution count in America, while Mississippi, home of Coca Cola, trails right behind. Not surprising when them and their neighbours, Tennessee and Louisiana, were some of Trump’s staunchest supporters in 2016.

Shifting north-east, we encounter welcomed contrast. From Massachusetts, where even white working-class folk vote for Elizabeth Warren, to Vermont, home of Bernie Sanders, life is different. Though there are many toss-up states, the east coast has always been something of a heaven for liberals at Christmas, since Pennsylvania is the Christmas tree state, and the most easterly point in the US, Maine, sprawls picturesque snowy forests and log cabins. Naturally then, the elderly play it safe by flocking to Florida‘s country clubs instead.

In the north-west we see a similar picture, albeit one that is more competitive. On one side are the Rocky Mountains and great plains of Montana, further west, the eternally-raining, forest-clad lands of Washington and Oregon. Areas great for backpacking and grizzlies but not so good for a suntan, though they are a commutable distance from sunny Colorado, home to South Park and Springfield, Nevada‘s own Las Vegas and its surrounding deserts.

Towards the centre of the US are Kentucky, Republican stronghold and home of KFC, and Wyoming, the least populous state and home of Kanye West. A population contrast to Arizona in the south-west, home to plenty of prisons, Phoenix and cactus graffiti laws, and affluent California, loved by queer folk, vegans and tourists alike as LA’s juice shot bars bring all the (hipster) boys to the yard. Not to mention that the drag city alternative to New York, San Francisco, provides a safe haven to many. Providing a little safety to marginalised folk otherwise discriminated against across the country.

So, though only twenty of the fifty states are directly mentioned in this four-hundred-and-something-word ramble, you get the picture. Some states are friendlier than others. Many have beautiful landscapes but not so beautiful people, not that we in the UK are any better in that sense. Albeit, not many of us own guns or SUV’s.

geographic divisions in the UK .

The UK. A nation more divided than united through debacles such as Brexit, Scottish independence, free speech and regional patriotism. Where England has thrived from colonialism and the UK from its former place in the European Union to the detriment of others. And though this post will focus on England and Wales primarily the effect of colonialism on Ireland cannot be ignored and may be discussed in more depth another time.

Where to start but London. A city in the UK that makes up 13% of its national population (2018) and is second only to New York in terms of its diversity. With over 36% of its residents foreign-born and 52% non-Christian (Christianity being the dominant religion within the UK) as of 2011 and rising, London boasts an exceptional range of communities that intersect and improve their surroundings. However, despite London’s progressive constituents encouraging the Labour-dominant region to freeze public transport fees (2016-present) and ensure that an unprecedented proportion of their transport is nationally owned, Westminster’s over-focus on London detriments funding across the remainder of the UK. And despite increased opportunity for workers, London still presents minority groups with varying levels of prejudice, for instance, by the apparatus of the metropolitan police. Hardly a utopian model!

Though the north-south boundary remains highly disputed (for instance, is Coventry in the north?), most would agree that regions towards the south end of the country are more affluent and exclusionary. For instance, most typification of highbrow culture concerns people and events from the south. And no wonder when the median income for the south-east (£387,000 as of 2018) is more than double that of the north-west (£165,000). It is the home of many internationally acclaimed private schools, such as Eton in Windsor, and a rural Tory stronghold. The wholly white, ageing population of the south is nothing short of its own inner circle.

In contrast, Wales possesses its own internal divisions. From anglicised Monmouthshire to constituencies held by Plaid Cymru with its roots in north-west Wales, this country has much disparity. Nonetheless, the competence of the latest Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has increased unity in the nation to a considerable extent. With progressive, diverse South Wales orchestrating national policy that arguably benefits all, for instance, subsidies on higher education (HE) and NHS prescriptions, Welsh social policy has much to benefit those residing there. That said, enmity between rural Wales and wider England persists, in part based upon nationalist ideas held by both sides. Nevertheless, this is a sliding scale where enmity weakens towards the south-east of the country.

Next door, north-west England consists of both systemic development (in the powerhouse cities of Liverpool and Manchester) and profound poverty. Wholly under-funded by Westminster, rural areas suffer as internal migration occurs from young people moving into the cities for employment during a national crisis. Despite persistent community spirit in both cities and villages, the once-thriving anti-Thatcher red wall is in extreme decline as toxic ideology flourishes in an era of misinformation that scapegoats the very people trying to improve conditions.

Lastly, we reach the old-industrial lands of the north-east. Ex-mining towns, once-staunch haters of the political right, now-vehement Brexiteers outside the urban sphere. While cities such as York and Durham thrive from tourism and positive imagery, the white-dominant rural landscape surrounding them lies abandoned by wider society, susceptible to far-right popularism and radicalisation in the modern day.

To conclude, it is apparent that while opportunities exist in England and Wales, these exist scattered across the geographic plain. One that is rich, diverse and dynamic. It is not a classless society that we live in today, but instead, one where class is more important than many other factors and exacerbated by location.

elitism . private schools

While 7% of the UK population attend private schools (ISC, 2014), they form 71% of practicing senior judges. A stark, uncompromising statistic. One suggesting that meritocracy has not left the legends just yet, as elitism is instead epitomised by the fields considered most prestigious.

Where to begin but in the archaic lands of Eton and Harrow. Both within a stone’s throw of London. Private schools with annual fees exceeding forty thousand a year, attended by the 1% and a couple of scholarship kids. The political elephant in the room, where classes are small in size and large in opportunity. Even compared to mainland Europe and the US, Britain’s private schools are unusually and distinctively exclusive in cost and entry, though all share variable levels of contempt for local sink schools. Groups such as the Eton Bullingdon Club illustrate the extent of this disparity. Its initiation activities such as burning £50 notes in front of the homeless emphasise the carefree nature of the adolescent elite. Nevertheless, adolescents become adults and Etonians become politicians.  

Through a jam-packed curriculum of traditional subjects, for instance, Latin, extra-curricular opportunity and student empowerment (to succeed in the academic realm), students from private schools are disproportionally likely to be offered a place at the University of Oxford (43% of all offers between 2010-15), the fourth-highest rated university in the world as of 2020. This alone emphasises how privilege is systematically reproduced, and, despite some claiming that social class is irrelevant in modern society, shows this to be far from reality.

Moreover, staff and student structure in Russell Group universities (the UK version of an Ivy League) are to this day, predominantly white. As not being susceptible to prejudice and discrimination faced by people of colour in education and wider society, they are disproportionately likely to be allocated higher predicted grades, positive attention and empowerment from lecturers regardless of their actual ability, encouraging class reproduction. In addition, cis- and heteronormative cultures within many redbrick universities reproduce inequality and alienate LGBTQ+ folk, encouraging students to drop out as a result of isolation, harrasment or discrimination. And then there are those with impairments who face numerous, additional barriers to education.

So, where do Oxbridge alumni go to reinforce social standing? In terms of careers, the elite are disproportionately likely to enter corporate law and investment banking. Besides, careers within diplomacy are 53% occupied by private school educated individuals, also. (ISC, 2014). Does this leave everyone else behind? Those without social connections and capital? You bet. No wonder the idea of social mobility remains utopian to most.

autism .

Disclaimer: post discusses conditions co-occurent to autism, for instance, eating disorders (ED).

Known within the umbrella term neurodivergence (ND), autism is a condition that affects one’s mind, thoughts and experiences. And like gender or sexuality, autism has its own spectrum. One that some lie within, albeit, those exhibiting milder traits are likely to go under the radar or be labelled borderline.

Characteristics of autism vary widely, manifesting uniquely in each individual. Co-occurrence exists as those with autism are disproportionately likely to suffer from epilepsy, feeding issues, insomnia, ADHD and OCD. Not to mention other conditions too. Take me for example. I have an eating disorder and am susceptible to seizures. Not only did long-term issues with food trigger chronic malnourishment prior to adulthood, but seizures suffered compounded with dyspraxia to prevent me from legally driving or maintaining much of a short-term memory.

One of the main symptoms of autism, however, and one that distinguishes those with autism from neurotypicals (NT), is its tendency to affect communication. Whether this manifests in one being non-verbal, like me until the age of six, or highly extroverted, autism tends to affect communication in one way or another.

And though those with milder symptoms may pass as neurotypical through much of their life, others are prone to being bullied, especially within education, as a result of their perceived difference. This can have a traumatic and catastrophic effect on the mental health of those trying to make their own way in the world. Your average student may experience mental health issues already, but when the stigma of autism is added to the mix, these intensify exponentially.

It is important also to talk about the consequences of insufficient autism awareness training on those with autism. Whether some teachers are not effectively equipped to make classrooms accessible, or whether select emergency service workers need guidance to improve levels of care for all, it is critical to address all areas of society feasible. Or else, inequalities suffered by those with autism will merely intensify.

However, though that is my experience of autism, it is important to note that individual cases are, as in their name, divergent from one another. My experiences should not be imposed upon others with autism as much as theirs should not be imposed on me. Though consistent correlations exist, they don’t exist as a catch-all.

bureaucracy characterised .

Question: Is it hyperbolic or realistic to define bureaucracy as a system of devastation?

Bureaucracy is messy, shambolic and detrimental in practice. Examine it theoretically and you’ll see a site of commercial organisation, centralised government and red tape. The inefficiency of having to sign 27 pieces of paperwork to open an ISA for your newborn. The inflexibility of unelected officials in discourse with civilians as a result of procedure or policy. Authoritarianism over-exerting its arm.

Though its strict, rule-abiding nature can reduce corruption and prevent flaunters from thriving, pleasing parliamentarians and CEOs alike, bureaucracy’s relationship to capitalism is a toxic one. Pervasive, cold and seeping. Rational, austere and unapologetic.

Hence, bureaucracy exists where hierarchy, specialisation, division of labour and procedure can manifest clearly and consistently. The result in a utopian world? Smooth-running, knowledge-driven institutions in tandem at every level.

The idea of impartial decision-making is uplifting yet difficult to achieve, if not impossible. We humans are subject to biases, whether blatant or marginal, that make no decision impartial. Vessels of subjectivity subject to partiality. And left unchecked, bureaucracy will transmit this.

And where does that leave us? Trapped in a system we can smell but not shape? One that alienates, dehumanises and dictates us into blind conformity? Complacent to climate change contribution? Change that is inevitable in present conditions?

Though useful to an extent, its role in capitalist society should be regularly scrutinised. Meaningful checks are one thing, unnecessary hierarchies another.

marxism part 5 . worker alienation

Disclaimer: This post displays my personal understanding of this topic. It isn’t perfect nor complete, but instead provides an explanation suitable to a wide audience. For a more technical and holistic explanation, I would recommend looking at Marx’s original writings after reading this post. Also, if you haven’t read this series in order, you probably should do as they make more sense that way! Part 1: (bit.ly/3nE1wqY).

A core element of Marxist theory, this concept draws to my mind a scene, several years ago, where I was taught about the use of suicide nets in Foxconn factory stairwells in China to prevent workers taking their lives. A classic example of outsourcing labour to folk with lower wages, limited health protections and reduced quality of life. Folk with an often-limited choice about what sector or occupation to work in. Often-limited life prospects as a result of historical events shaping the prosperity of the country that they live in, whether war, colonialism or ideological imposition.

Worker alienation remains an integral element of class struggles. The alienation of the modern proletariat in routinised, dry, mundane workplace tasks. Epitomised by Fordism within a capitalist society, workers grudgingly resigned themselves to tedious shifts to gain wages to meet basic needs. Hence, the worker sells themselves to the system with no other option, with long hours, high efficiency requirements and poor working conditions causing them to feel socially excluded, bored, over-worked and rendered generic in a cesspit of production cogs.

Whether in the cocoa bean farms of Kenya, sweatshops of Vietnam or British hospitality sector, worker alienation exists universally. Pay disparities exist, but each suffers alienation to varying extents. The worker’s personal qualities are discarded for their value as capital, with bodily adornment one way that the workers attempt to escape from deindividualisation. However, deterioration in workers’ mental health still persists as a by-product of capitalism, emphasising its toxicity to society.

If routinisation of labour can result in alienation to the point of creating suicide pandemics, what message does this send about the nature of the system? 

Capitalism, a focal point of Marx; the system that perpetuates inconceivable riches for the elite at the cost of graduated levels of turmoil for everyone else.

animals, plants & veganism .

Disclaimer: I am not a qualified nutritionist or ecologist. For more information about either area, visit www.nutritionfacts.org and www.greenpeace.org

Ever since I was born, I loved trees beyond almost all else. The way that they stand through time, their age marked concentrically, steadfast for dozens, hundreds or thousands of years. As someone who couldn’t afford to venture abroad in childhood and adolescence, I haven’t met many of the oldest, but hope to one day. Their vastness eludes my understanding. We as individuals are but ants in pale contrast to their tenacity. 

Yet they are all dying. And we all contribute to that in some way, whether when using the toilet or buying that extra bookshelf. Paper, card and wood are all staples to life as we know it. And of the half-billion square kilometres of land on the earth, thirty percent are canvassed in trees. Beautiful souls that we cannot begin to understand the complexity of. 

We have all heard about the deforestation statistics that use football pitches as a measurement unit for rainforest destruction every year, month, week, day and hour. Most also know that the rainforest as a biome is the most bio-diverse. Inconceivably rich in medicine, oil, plant species, animal life and minerals. Not to mention the obvious, trees. And it’s the consumer demands of the West driving unsustainable crop production and resource extraction here. Which brings us to the topic of veganism.

The way that food chains work is that producers (organisms that create their own food) form the basis of life on all levels, for all animals, as nutritional matter passes up the chain, eventually reaching the carnivores at the top. Which begs the question: why is meat bad beyond moral concerns?

To rear animals, extract by-products and slaughter them, they require an over-abundance of food, maximising their meat output. Which sounds really crude and detached. Species that have been bred in such a way that they are unrecognisable from their natural ancestors. To the point where they would not survive in the natural environment anymore. Which is heart-breaking. Regardless of whether it is an organic, grass-fed cow (<3%) or factory-raised.

Not to mention global warming considerations such as methane output, or land requirement, or the effects of meat-based diets on the human physique. What else could explain why heart disease (featuring fatty arteries) is the leading cause of death in the West?

There are countless arguments against meat consumption, even if you try to overlook the gory, systemic and brutality of slaughterhouses. And the abysmal conditions experienced by dairy cows and egg-laying hens. The ones that survive, that is.

Plus, the UN Health Body has classified processed meats such as bacon, sausages and ham as class one carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), matching that of cigarettes, asbestos and arsenic. That bacon in the frying pan may smell and look appetising, but it kills you from the inside out. 

I love plants. They are tasty, easy to cook with and produce satisfying meals. Especially in 2021, where vegan food forms half of the supermarket. Though it is understandable when accessibility and cost affect low-income family ability to avoid meat, dairy and eggs. the way that corporations sell cheap-quality meat products for less than vegetarian and vegan alternatives to low-income families is, nonetheless, despicable.

Whether to placate big-meat and big-dairy conglomerates or sell surplus stock before its expiry, companies have much to answer for. Their unsustainable practices and marketing of unhealthy and straight-up toxic foods to folx with a lower budget. Plus, vegan brands marketing their food several times above the cost of meat should reconsider the value of human life in contrast to their profit margins. Their policies, ethos and approaches ebb insidiously. Unacceptably.

But it’s not just the working-class who suffer. It’s the animals, plants and the planet. Plant protein reigns supreme over animal protein any day of the year, nutritionally and personally.

marxism part 3 . falling profit rates

Disclaimer: This post displays my personal understanding of this topic. It isn’t perfect nor complete, but instead provides an explanation suitable to a wide audience. For a more technical and holistic explanation, I would recommend looking at Marx’s original writings after reading this post. Also, if you haven’t read this series in order, you probably should do as they make more sense that way! Part 1: (bit.ly/3nE1wqY)

So last time we went on a detour. The crisis of over-production quickly became Marxism with some dystopic writing about climate change as its side tangent. Part 2 developed a part 2 of its own. This time we’ll try not to go off track, though. And considering how many sections this series on Marxism has ended up being, I’ll keep this one short and sweet.

Falling profit rates. They are what they say on the tin. Business profit rates steadily decline over time according to Marx and the Office for National Statistics, which results in rising levels of commodities being produced (in this case, products), meaning that companies are forced into competitive pricing battles with one another. 

While ‘losers’ such as Poundworld face administration, the ‘winners’ increase their market share, with Primark as a prime example of a company that sells inconceivable numbers of products at inordinately low prices that few chain businesses can compete against. As a result, they have dominated the high streets in Ireland and the UK for decades.

But why are profit rates falling? It’s a phenomenon with a long history that is affected by labour intensification (an increase in workplace target sales or production that forcefully drives up worker efficiency, stress levels and employee discontentment) as well as job cuts.

We know what causes job cuts. Financially struggling businesses; administration; outsourcing; increased automation; technology upgrades; AI and business re-structuring. Hence, companies on the knife-edge will generally hurl redundancy letters at their staff and/or slash hours if it will make the difference between breaking even and a small profit. It’s why they like handing out zero-hour contracts and split-shifts, too.

Where did Marx and Engels discuss this? Well, while Marx discussed falling profit rates concerning his quest of explaining ‘the origin and significance of profit’ (Delanty, 1996), Engels (2013) discussed how industrial production is endlessly expanded in association to cost reduction and increased efficiency.

And its consequences? There’s many, really. Effects on the environment; the addiction of hyper-consumerism; job losses; poorer working conditions and educed regard of businesses for their employees’ welfare. 

The solution? How much would reform, or the bureaucracies of trade unionism, really change anything? Is revolution, instead, the only way forward?

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