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Valerie Bryson
in The futures of feminism
Author: Valerie Bryson

This book makes the case for an inclusive form of socialist feminism that will benefit both individuals and societies, and that puts multiply disadvantaged women at its heart. It argues that developing a feminist vocabulary is a key part of feminist politics, and it demystifies some key terms, including patriarchy and intersectionality. The book’s longest chapter engages with fierce disputes between some feminists and some trans women, and suggests possible compromises and ways forward. It argues throughout that the analysis of gender cannot be isolated from that of class or race, that patriarchy is inexorably entangled with capitalism, and that the needs of most women will not be met in an economy based on the pursuit of profit. In making these arguments, it explains why capitalism is not meeting human needs and it highlights the flaws in the ideologies that sustain it; it also shows how the assumptions of neoliberalism are incompatible with anything other than a narrow, elitist form of feminism that has little relevance for most women. Throughout, the book asserts the social, economic and human importance of the unpaid caring and domestic work that has been traditionally done by women, and the need to redistribute this and value it properly. It concludes that the combination of some policy trends, the increased presence of feminists in positions of influence and a rise in all kinds of grassroots activism give grounds for optimism about a future that could be both more feminist and more socialist.

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A dry word that can make a lot of sense
Valerie Bryson

This chapter addresses fierce disputes between some feminists and some trans women and their supporters. It draws on feminist critiques of binary oppositional thinking to explore some of the complexities of trans politics, and to explore commonalities as well as differences between apparently opposing groups. Its final sections address a number of practical issues, including whether trans women have a right to access women-only spaces, to compete against cis women in sports, or to be included in measures (such as all-women shortlists) designed to counter discrimination against women. The chapter seeks to move beyond heated disagreements, and it argues that cis and trans feminists should focus their energies on the interests they have in common, rather than on fighting each other. It concludes by suggesting that sex should no longer be the basis of our legal identity.

in The futures of feminism
Abstract only
Valerie Bryson

This chapter opens with a discussion of the political importance of the vocabulary and concepts available to us, and the ways in which knowledge is bound up with power. It argues that man-made language and perspectives cannot adequately express women’s experiences and needs, and that when feminists ‘name’ men’s abuse of power, this is a first step towards ending it. The next section focuses on feminist analyses of the ‘sex/gender distinction’; it finds that, although this can be problematic and difficult to sustain, it remains politically useful. The final section discusses the importance of developing a woman-centred feminist vocabulary around ‘rape’ and ‘sexual harassment’ to enable us to see the extent of men’s sexual violence by men against women, to link this with male power and to act collectively to resist it (for example, through the #MeToo movement).

in The futures of feminism
Contradictions and concerns
Valerie Bryson

This chapter asks whether feminists can find any answers in Marxist theory, and it argues that, although Marxism has often been limited by its male-stream assumptions, it can be developed in feminist ways. It begins with a brief discussion of some central terms and ideas, before tracing the evolution of Marxist feminist debates around the relationship between capitalism and women’s oppression from the nineteenth to the late twentieth century. The chapter then focuses on the concept of ‘social reproduction’, and it supports the arguments of those feminists who argue that the conflicting needs of the ‘productive’ and ‘reproductive’ economies are likely to lead to crisis. The chapter also draws on Marxist concepts to challenge neoliberal assumptions and reframe key issues from a feminist and socialist perspective.

in The futures of feminism
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Reframing the issues
Valerie Bryson

This chapter begins by identifying affinities between socialist and feminist goals and ways of thinking, before outlining the historical development of socialist feminist ideas. It argues that even limited calls for reform should be welcomed as steps in the right direction, and that feminists should build on both grassroots activism and the increased presence of feminist women in positions of power in order to develop effective feminist policies. The next section discusses what these policies might involve, focusing on issues around work, care, welfare and the relationships between them; it also argues that, although the Nordic countries are far from perfect, we can learn from their experience. The chapter concludes that different forms of feminist activism can have complementary and cumulative effects, but that if we want to achieve radical change we should start not with elite women but with those who are multiply deprived.

in The futures of feminism
Valerie Bryson

This chapter provides a critical investigation of the concepts of ‘sexism’ and ‘patriarchy’ that emerged from ‘consciousness-raising groups’ in the late 1960s. It finds that ‘sexism’ remains a useful part of feminist vocabulary, but that it is sometimes misused. The chapter argues that ‘patriarchy’ is a more fruitful concept, but that it too must be handled with care. It highlights the concept’s critique of male ‘normality’, its expanded notion of ‘the political’ and its ability to ‘join the dots’ to expose the interconnected nature of apparently unrelated aspects of male power. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of newer terms such as ‘mansplaining’, and a general assessment of the political role of feminist language.

in The futures of feminism
Valerie Bryson

This chapter starts with the ideas of the black American feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw, who introduced the concept of intersectionality in 1989 to expose the invisibility of black women in both feminist and anti-racist theory and politics. The chapter explores the earlier history of the idea, before tracing its movement into mainstream feminist thought and assessing debates around its use and meaning today. It argues against open-ended individualistic approaches that ignore structural forms of power and reduce intersectionality to a bland form of ‘identity politics’. The chapter also argues that, although there are a number of socially significant differences and identities, intersectional analysis should generally focus on the ‘big three’ of gender, race and class, and that women who are multiply oppressed should be at the heart of feminist theory and practice. The chapter concludes with some examples of intersectional approaches in Europe and the UK, focusing on the implications for anti-discrimination legislation and some forms of feminist activism.

in The futures of feminism
Thinking beyond binaries
Valerie Bryson

This chapter outlines key arguments around the nature of capitalism and its relationship with patriarchy and other forms of structural inequality. It begins by outlining the changing nature of capitalism and the liberal and economic theories that support it, before showing how they are challenged by women-centred feminist perspectives: these expose the idea of human independence as a myth and reveal the economic importance of the unpaid work that has traditionally been done by women. The chapter develops this discussion to highlight the limitations of some initiatives that claim to ‘empower’ girls and women in the global south while also benefiting the global capitalist economy; these initiatives include micro-credit projects and Nike’s Girl Effect. The chapter concludes that the needs of the majority of women will not be met in a global economy that is primarily based on the pursuit of profit, and that is therefore unable to solve the climate emergency it has created.

in The futures of feminism
Valerie Bryson

This chapter examines the claim that a new form of ‘neoliberal feminism’ is both taking over feminism and using it to legitimise new forms of exploitation. It finds that neoliberal politicians will support equal rights for women when it is profitable to do so, and that this can produce benefits for some groups. However, neoliberalism ignores the poverty, exploitation and inequality that its policies also produce, and it cannot see the economic or social value of women’s traditionally unpaid work. The chapter agrees with critics of neoliberal feminism that it does not provide a way forward for women, but it rejects the claim that feminism as a whole has been taken over. The chapter’s final section looks at the case of the British Conservative Party, and links Theresa May’s failure to deliver her promises to women to the contradictory nature of her neoliberal thinking.

in The futures of feminism