What Women Want For Christmas
It’s Christmas (again). Santa is apparently on his way, and so I have been thinking lately: just what do women want at the end of 2017, apart from a duplex and cheques? What does the reality of our current lives look like, and what might the average woman’s concerns be in our bright and modern age now that we’ve supposedly never had it so good?
Write what you know, they say. And so I will: write what I see every day, for I do know the women in my own community. I know what our lives look like. I’ve lived a long time around this smallish, rural, six-pub-town and its contrasting mix of the working classes with a sprinkling of the more well to do. At one end is a cluster of expensive, independent boutiques and delicatessens selling things like spelt crackers and speciality gins, that give us a reputation among old neighbouring pit towns for being a tad lah-di-dah, but at the other end, the council estate I live on was built so long ago, my house still has an outside toilet. People here are community minded and ordinary; most interest in politics is passing.
We are the landscape Twitter forgot, I think, in that we are a small part of a vast universe outside of any urban, wealthy, liberal elite, or trendy university campus. Almost nobody has even heard of the gender recognition act, and while great swathes of social justice activists imagine any boundaries between sex categories to be so porous as to render any distinct binary meaningless, or the desire of physiological males to access female facilities to be the greatest civil rights issue of our time, the world as experienced by female people here has remained much the same as it ever was. What might feminism yet achieve for us that would allow us more opportunity for freedom and fulfilment? What are the issues that affect us here most as women, because at the risk of sounding crass (when what I am is angry), it sure as hell isn’t the imagined right of some teenager in a tutu to be referred to as Ze.
To work out what we might need, it is first necessary to understand that our society and its economy still run off the backs of women’s unpaid, unvalued, and often hidden labour; while at the same time holding women deemed “economically unproductive” in contempt. But a woman who has children to pick up from school at half past three literally cannot work traditional hours, and jobs that fit around women’s caring responsibilities are hard to come by. I can count on my fingers the mothers in my circle who enjoy a full time career, although one might be forgiven for thinking this was the modern norm. The vast majority of us work part-time for small pay, whatever our level of qualification: we are carers, shop workers, classroom assistants, and temporary stand-ins. Some, whose husbands earn enough, stay at home working only for no pay. Every mother is a working mother. But whether in paid employment or no, we are almost all kept financially dependent, either on a man or on the state; our wages alone not being nearly enough to live on. It is not women who are to blame for this predicament: the world of work is structured around the fact of unencumbered men who have women to cook and clean for them, care for their children, and ensure their lives outside of work run smoothly. For free. If every single woman went on strike for just a week, the entire country would descend into chaos.
Women here often spend their entire lives caring for children. When I look around the playground at school pick up, there are often more grandmothers than fathers. The few women I know pursuing a full time career are enabled to do so by their own mothers or mothers in law, who themselves have no paid work, live close by, and provide free childcare. Professional childcare is so prohibitively expensive, it eats up more than most women can earn. I do not know a single woman who pays for regular professional childcare. Not one. All of us scrabble desperately around, especially during school holidays, relying on friends, family, and neighbours to provide yet more free childcare.
Whatever their employment status, it is still the women that do either all or most of the unpaid, domestic labour. The responsibilities of housework, baby care, the ferrying around of older children to activities and social engagements, and — in the interests of being seasonal — the organisation of Christmas, all still fall overwhelmingly on women, even those that work full time. Here we talk wearily of male partners that do nothing at all, or glowingly of those that are “good” and will “help,” but a truly egalitarian relationship is as rare as rocking horse shit.
Lastly is an epidemic of low level domestic abuse that spans the social classes. I am not talking about the more obvious physical and sexual violence, although that is certainly not uncommon either, but the more subtle, insidious forms of coercive control that blight the lives of women, causing crises in confidence and persistent ill health. The pattern of constant put downs and criticisms that see women trying to work, run the home, and care for children with little input from their partner, feeling useless and telling themselves they are not trying hard enough, even when almost on their knees with exhaustion. The women who tearfully confide, three months post-partum, that their partners complain they are fat and no longer attractive while spending evenings openly consuming pornography. The subtle sabotaging of women’s attempts to study, pursue hobbies, or socialise, by partners who always find a reason to go back on their word when they have promised to look after the children. The financial abuse that sees well paid ex-husbands continually threaten to pull the plug on maintenance their families depend on, if their ex-wife will not tow the line. The refusal to stick to contact arrangements so that women can never make plans, along with constant baseless threats to take them to court over custody of the children. This is all so common, so normalised, that many women do not recognise it as abusive; do not realise it stems from a belief in women as inferior and men as entitled to control them. They love and depend on their male partners, and simply cannot afford to reckon with the fact that these men have not been conditioned to love and respect them back as equals. So they roll their eyes, (“Men eh?”) and wonder why they are chronically miserable.
To improve their lot in an immediate sense, what the women in my community need most is subsidised childcare. Good quality, meal providing, school running, affordable childcare; subsidised according to means. We also need employers to recognise that much of the work force is limited by caring responsibilities, and that they have a duty to provide more flexible working hours and options such as job shares to both women and men. We need properly funded women’s services and domestic abuse support, along with education and consciousness raising in schools for both girls and boys. We need a stigma free safety net.
What women everywhere need in the longer term is a societal system that is not stacked against them on the basis of their biology. What we do not need are young people, with no real experience of adult life, seeking to tell us that women as a sex class do not exist, when the reality of our lives show that to be not only a complete nonsense, but a grotesque insult. While a majority of men still know exactly which half of the human race they feel entitled to exploit, dominate, and get to wash their socks, we ain’t having any kind of gender revolution.
And so what this woman would like for Christmas is a reclaimed women’s liberation movement. Proud, unapologetically female, and dedicated to improving the lives of ordinary women. We can do it!