Anti-Feminist Pamphlets from Tory Free Market Thinktank

feminism pamphlets

The pamphlets in question. Picture courtesy CJ.

This will annoy nearly every woman and also a very large number of men. Looking round one of the charity bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday with a friend, I found a whole load of pamphlets from the Institute of Economic Affairs. They’re a right-wing, free market thinktank connected with the Tory party. I think they were also trying to promote themselves as non-party political when Tony Blair was in power, as I think he was also very sympathetic to their message. Put simply, their pro-privatisation, anti-welfare, anti-poor – one of the pamphlet’s was Alexis de Tocqueville’s Pauperism, anti-Socialist – another was Von Hayek’s Socialism and the Intellectuals. And anti-feminist. Two of the pamphlets were anti-feminist screeds, intended to encourage women to forget any notions of equality, independence and a career, and return to their traditional roles as wives and mothers.

The two pamphlets were entitled Liberating Modern Women…From Feminism and Equal Opportunities – A Feminist Fallacy. They were collections of essays on individual subjects within the overall theme of rebutting feminism. The contributors seemed to be an equal number of men and women. Among the policies they recommended were measures to preserve the family from break up and end ‘no fault’ divorces. They claimed that men and women pursue different goals because of innate biological differences. And rather than being a patriarchal institution, the family was actually a matriarchy. They also attacked women working, because it meant that the household economy was now based on two people having an income, whereas before it was only the husband’s wage that was important. And, almost inevitably, there was an attack on single mothers. Left-wing welfare policies were attacked for taking them out of the jobs market and placing them into ‘welfare dependency’.

My friend decided to buy them to see how extreme, shocking and bonkers they actually were. Though he insisted that I tell the woman on the desk when paying for them that we we’re buying them because we agreed with them, which raised a smile from her. While walking round town afterwards he said he would have felt less embarrassed holding these pamphlets if he’d had something less offensive to put them in, to disguise the fact that he had them. Like one of the porno mags. I didn’t recognise most of the contributors to the pamphlets, but one name stood out: Mary Kenny. She had been a journalist for the Guardian or Observer, but moved to the Torygraph. My friend was also shocked, as the Institute of Economic Affairs has been on Channel 4 News several times. It’s one of the organisations they’ve gone to for ‘balance’ discussing particular issues. My friend’s point is that they’re policies are so extreme, they really aren’t providing any kind of reasoned balance at all, just more far-right opinion.

There’s an attitude amongst some Republicans in America that feminism really is a terrible Marxist plot to destroy Western civilisation, despite the fact that it existed before Marxism, and its campaigns for votes for women and equal opportunities cross party-political boundaries. Despite the institute’s arguments, there really isn’t one of their views that isn’t vulnerable to disproof. For example, it’s true that men and women tend to perform different jobs, and have different personal goals and attitudes. But it’s very debatable how far this is due to biological differences. A few years ago, back in the 1990s there was a lot of interest and noise about supposed sex differences in the organisation of the brain. Men’s and women’s brains were made differently, and this was why men were better at maths and parking cars, and women were better at language and communication, but couldn’t read maps. Since then, the situation has reversed slightly. One female neuroscientist, Cordelia – , wrote a book a few years ago arguing that any psychological differences and intellectual aptitudes that differed between the sexes weren’t due to physical differences in the brain. With the exception of individuals at the extreme ends of the scale – very ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ brains, brains are just brains, and you can’t tell their former owner’s sex simply by looking at them.

As for feminism itself, it’s probably fair to say that many women do feel caught between their careers and their families, and would like more time to spend raising or attending to their children. But their entry into the workforce, and pursuing jobs, hobbies and interests previously reserved for men are the product of profound needs and desires on their behalf. It isn’t a case that they have been somehow brainwashed or indoctrinated by some kind of feminist ‘false consciousness’. For example, you can hear from older women how they felt when they were young, when they wanted to play with boy’s toys, like train or construction sets, like Meccano, but were forbidden by their parents. Or wanted to try their hand at ‘boy’s’ subjects at school, like woodwork. Or join in with boy’s games like footie or rugby. This doesn’t mean that all women wanted to do all of the above, only that a sizable number did want to do some of those, and felt frustrated at the social conventions that forbade them to. When the feminists in the 1960s argued that women had a right to do traditionally male jobs and pursuits, they were articulating the desires of very many women. They weren’t just abstract theorists speaking only for themselves.

As for the statement that the entry of women into the workforce has made family finances more difficult, because mortgages are now based on a double income, that’s also very open to query. It might be that the change to women working has had an effect, but I’ve also seen the argument that women had to go out to work, because the income from the husband’s wages alone wasn’t enough to pay the bills.

As for the family being a ‘matriarchal’ institution, the status of women has changed over time. But in the Middle Ages, women were basically their husband’s chattels. And in the West, women didn’t automatically have a right to hold their property independently of their husbands until the Married Women’s Property Act in the late 19th century. One of the early feminist tracts from 19th century Germany was a polemic attacking the way women’s property automatically became their husband’s on marriage.

I’m alarmed by the break down of the traditional family, rising divorces and absent fathers. I always have been, ever since we did ‘relationships’ as part of the RE course at school, when the news was full of it. But part of the problem isn’t the ease of divorce, although it became more difficult and expensive when Blair was in power. It’s the fact that many people do find themselves trapped in unhappy relationships. Some idea how much of a problem this was can be seen in some of the jokes about how awful marriage was and quarrelling spouses. At a far more serious level, you can also see it in accounts of men, who walked out on their families, and took up bigamous marriages elsewhere in the days when divorce was difficult and all but impossible unless you were very wealthy.

The two pamphlets were published a little time ago. One dated from 1992 – twenty-four years ago -, and the other from 2005, about eleven. But they represent an attitude that’s still very present in the Conservatives, and especially in right-wing newspapers like the Daily Heil. A week ago the Tories elected Theresa May as their leader, and will no doubt be presenting themselves as the ‘pro-woman’ party. This shows the other side to them, the one that’s beyond and underneath Cameron’s rhetoric of flexible-working hours, and the Tories’ embrace of female leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

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