(NB: A couple of my points date from 2008 but none are any more out of date than that.)
On average, women in the UK are paid 17% less than men in full time work, and 38% less in part time work. This is particularly unequal because they are at least twice as likely as men to be relegated to the outskirts of society that is part time or temporary work. A very disproportionately high amount of this part time work is in the very underpaid sectors known as the 3 C’s: Cooking, Cleaning and Caring. More worryingly, disabled women are 3 times less likely to work than are disabled men and this is before the sharp cuts the government is presently making to disability support. Indeed, 72% of the government’s planned cuts will come from women, and it is already the worst time for female unemployment in 23 years.
To give some idea of the sexual division of employment in Britain consider that more than 90% of hairdressing apprentices are women, whereas over 90% of construction, motor and plumbing apprentices are men. Only 6 out of 470 top personnel in the armed forces are women. Only 10% of senior police officers are women. Women make up only 11% of university vice chancellors and less than 30% of college headteachers are women. Lastly they make up 14% of senior judges, and less than 20% of MPs in Parliament today (at the current rate of growth it will take 200 years before there is gender equality in Parliament). Consider further the ill-treatment of women in public life who are constantly judged by their appearance and fashion clout rather than their work performance (which is especially worrying when it distracts from bad mistakes they are making in their work), and the example this sets to the next generation of girls.
Indeed have you ever taken the a moment to sit back and consider the expectations that women and not men are subjected to in our society – it would have taken a lunatic to design a culture like this. The time and expense of full make-up is required for a day at work and even for a trip to the supermarket (refer to the picture below), ridiculous shoes seemingly intended to demonstrate any and every way one can injure their feet, and women’s magazines on the shelves of every shop unashamedly sell the anxieties of an unattainable body image (who needs a perfect bikini body in Britain? Eat like a prison inmate all year round and then get your kit off for the one hour of summer a year?- Yeah, that’ll make you happy). A recent study showed that Brits were unable to tell the difference between opinions on women quoted from the biggest mens’ magazines and from men jailed for sexual abuse. And this is just the problem: the representation of women as sex objects in the popular media is not only intrinsically bad because it dehumanises people, but is having terribly dangerous consequences given that it takes place in the context of a society where violence against women is common and often tolerated behind the scenes.
In addition to widespread abuse, 1 in 4 women experience violence by a partner or family member. Only a fraction of rapes committed are reported to the police (let alone ending in a successful conviction). The pimping of girls is rife in cities, not only among what might traditionally been called the ‘undeserving poor’ and drug addicts, but among immigrants and students too. The sex trafficking of children operates at a historically unparalleled level, and below the radar of government surveillance. Although they are not as horrible as the previous, this should not make us forget about the effective forced labour of mothers who are expected to work a double day of childcare and paid work, and other issues that affect particular cultures such as arranged/forced marriage.
Now, it is possible that some forms of stereotyping and objectifying women (something which women’s media are no less responsible for than mens’) could be tolerated on the basis of freedom of expression, but such considerations are clearly outweighed by the greater need for gender justice in the context of the situations described above. Even if the patriarchal ideology promoted by the media stifles or befuddles the respect of women by just a small proportion of less intelligent men, it is still causing substantial damage, not only through their relationships with women but through the culture of tolerance it builds up as an obstacle to progress.
A less violent, but nonetheless sinister cultural phenomena nurtured by contemporary patriarchal ideology is the expectation on women to artificially alter themselves. I don’t want to simply highlight the extravagances of liposuction and plastic surgery (demand for which rose dramatically after last year’s royal wedding), but the subtler steps that have taken us to a place where it is considered normal. The popularity of the contraceptive pill -rightly regarded by men and women alike as a superb technological advance- can also rightly be described as the expectation that women flood themselves with behaviour affecting drugs (which have several other risks) just because –to borrow the catchphrase of one-man fascist propaganda machine, Jeremy Kyle– men are too lazy to “put something on the end of it”.
If it is possible to step outside of the ideology of our time, to take a sideways look on the familiar, I can’t help thinking this state of affairs is worryingly like Brave New World. Especially when you consider that when contraception fails, the ‘natural’ reaction under this kind of thinking is to assume that no responsibility to care for the child has been incurred through its creation. It is easy to underestimate the effect this has had on mens’ lacking attitudes towards child-raising.
This laziness and irresponsibility are clearly related to the widespread pressure on women to abort unplanned children and the eagerness of male dominated industries to tell women lies such as the foetus is just part of her body and that even though society has plenty enough resources to care for it, disposing of the child will make her happier– and that they do this in spite of the increased risk of cancer involved.  Is it any wonder that we are now not only seeing more and more demand for ways to manipulate and control our bodies like commodities, but see nothing wrong in killing a human being because of its gender?
As Nelson Jones describes the misogynist aspect of pro-choice: “If women have easy (and socially unstigmatised) access to abortion, then men may feel less responsibility for the women they get pregnant or for any resulting child. Men are likely to feel less pressingly the physical and psychological consequences of abortion. So they will be only to happy to concede women’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, and fear the implications for themselves of more legal restrictions. Such a view is not unknown even in radical feminist circles. Catherine McKinnon once wrote that ‘abortion facilitates women’s heterosexual availability’ and ‘frees male sexual aggression.'” McKinnon’s point has been elaborated by Erin Manning: “By making abortion a ‘women’s issue,’ we’re playing right into the notion that fatherhood is irrelevant and that men should be free to have sex without consequences for as long as they want to- if pregnancy occurs, the woman can ‘deal with it.”
Again, this should not make us forget that today is an international campaign and it only takes a brief glance at some lesser developed countries to see why feminism is more important than ever. Millions of women in parts of Africa and Asia are denied the basic right to education, are not protected from barbaric practises of genital mutilation, and it’s estimated that 70% of those living in absolute poverty are female. But the most shocking fact of all is that while women constitute half of the world’s population and perform an estimated two-thirds of all work (including domestic work such as childcare), they own only 1% of the world’s property!
A statement from Oxfam has emphasised that “Empowering and equipping a woman with the resources to work her way out poverty transforms entire communities down the generations.” Empowerment is indeed a crucial part of the path to justice for women, one that is necessary to put an end to exploitation, but so is combating objectification. By ridiculing the views and abilities of women, objectification provides both a nurturing environment and catalyst for discrimination and exploitation.
The confusion affecting many people I speak to, however, is a parochial mindset on objectification whereby what happens in Britain (or ‘the West’) stays in Britain. Britain, they claim, has clearly moved past the need for feminism and therefore overpowered mouthpieces of patriarchal ideology are no threat to justice. But this completely forgets the globalised nature of contemporary life, particularly the media. Western media is consumed by, and influences the domestic media of people all over the world. How can we justify being so many times more wealthy than the vast majority of the human race if we cannot even set a good example to less fortunate people?
^ Of course worries at the quantity of chemicals are nonsense.^