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What Women Want – beyond Mel Gibson

One of the worst films I’ve ever had the misfortune of viewing goes by the title of What Women Want.

The plot is wafer thin and so bad it’s almost good: everyone’s favourite fascist Mel Gibson plays advertising executive Nick who electrocutes himself and then gains the uncanny ability to hear what women are thinking.

The film obviously descends into a string of cringeworthy cliches and will have any sane person swearing and throwing missiles at the screen.

I only mention this by means of an introduction to a thought I’ve been pondering as we near the end of 2012. What do women want?

As I’ve mentioned many, many times, I’m a teenager of the 80s – see right – who came of age in the 90s, when being a feminist was so not cool.

It was square, boring and old fashioned. We were modern women who could give the boys a run for their money – in the bar, the bedroom and the boardroom. We were ladettes – now there’s a term that does sound hopelessly old fashioned. Like bustle. Or wireless. Or any other dated and outmoded expression.

The only kind of feminism I countenanced was what cultural theorist Angela McRobbie has described as free market feminism – a feminism that assumes because some well educated women can score good money in the job market, that all the old battles have been won. At the age of 30 I was a text book case. I owned my own home, had a good job and thought I had everything sorted. If I wanted to dress like a slapper that was up to me. If I wanted to ask for promotion or ask a man out then that was up to me too. In my mind I had total agency. What a good little Thatcherite I was!

Obviously I see the world very differently now. Largely because I’m a lot older and also because I’m the mother of three young children. Free market feminism doesn’t really tackle how to combine work with caring – either children or any other dependents. It doesn’t engage with what happens in the home – who does the dishes, changes nappies, empties dustbins etc etc. That’s the sort of boring stuff of boring old 70s feminists like Selma James and her Wages for Housework campaign.

It’s easy to sneer at the 70s, but what I like about the old school feminists is that they weren’t afraid to engage with the details of women’s lives. Most women have to deal with domesticity and most women hate it. Yes, Nigella and Kirstie may ponce around in aprons like Stepford Wives but that’s because they don’t actually HAVE to do any cooking or cleaning or childcare or washing if they don’t feel like it. If they’re not in the mood they can PAY someone else to it for them.

Lucky them.

Anyway, I guess what I’m driving at is that I want a modern feminism that really gets to the heart of what it is that women want. That doesn’t blither on about how many women are in the boardroom (tokenism) but looks at what it is that holds women back – both in the workplace and in general.

I’d be interested to hear what everyone else thinks – my point of view is quite limited – but these are a few thoughts on a few issues that would make a difference to most women’s lives.

Firstly, childcare. I’ve campaigned many times on this issue and will continue to do so. Women who work need childcare. Our economy needs women to work. So let’s provide childcare that people can afford. Not Nigella or Nicola Horlick but women who work in shops, hospitals, schools and offices.

Secondly, present women as more than just a collection of bodily parts. I went on TV a couple of weeks ago talking about schools and seemed to incense a load of weird trolls on the Guido Fawkes website. Fair enough that they hated my politics, but many of the comments were sexual smut, including – bizarrely – speculation about my genitals. I was wearing a M&S cardigan and talking about education – if that’s sexually provocative, then heaven help us. But I was female and therefore had to be reduced to a sexual object. This has to end. Women must challenge this behaviour – online, in the media, in the workplace until it is as unacceptable as calling someone a P*** or N*****.

And thirdly, it’s not cool for guys to be useless. One of the most loathsome stereotypes present in modern advertising is the ‘pathetic bloke’. Who just flounders around, making a mess until mum/wife comes along and cleans up after them. Yes, we women like to be needed but not that much. We need to educate boys that it’s not clever to live in squalor, that being able to wash your clothes and cook your dinner is not for sissies. And we need to educate girls to expect men to help – yes, we are our own worst enemies.

I’m sure there are many others, but these are the ones that spring most immediately to mind for me. Tell me what you think below.

One Comment

  1. Dan says:

    “Secondly, present women as more than just a collection of bodily parts.”

    You can’t change how people think. Sorry, but it just doesn’t work and nor should it.

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