Conclusion: Is feminism still relevant?
The politics of gender based around a shared identity as women (or men) has seemingly been subsumed by the advance of issues-based politics with a distinctly global character. Post-colonial struggle, environmental politics, peace, and indeed the anti-globalization movement itself have attracted not only members of the political left previously involved in feminism and other ‘new’ social movements prominent in the 1960s, but also a younger generation for whom amorphous ‘enemies’ such as the global corporation are the new threats. This is not quite the politics of difference which Iris Young (1991) spoke of at the end of the twentieth century. Such a politics, which recognizes the needs and interests of marginalized groups, has been rendered almost impossible by a post September 11 climate in which fear of the ‘other’ is rampant. Yet the new ‘global’ politics operates within such a climate and at times resists it, which it can do because it considers the impact of global processes on unique localities and cultures.
The potential to resist will vary considerably from one place to another, depending on whether it is a place which is of any material or ideological interest to powerful nations. Where there is oil controlled by ‘friendly’ regimes such as Saudi Arabia, there is likely to be little interference with that regime’s tight restrictions on women within its borders. Where there was an ‘unfriendly’ regime in a poor but strategically important place such as Afghanistan, there was suddenly a surprising amount of concern about the rights of women. The actualities of women’s lives in the two places are very different and in both many women continue to struggle for greater liberty. The problem is that their struggle is rendered unpredictable, subject to the vicissitudes of political and ideological conflicts stretching far beyond their borders. To what extent this is new is debatable. The newness perhaps lies in the level of complexity, of global interdependence, and of uncertainty. It may be that, as it might seem in Afghanistan, those conflicts bring greater freedoms. This I would argue is not the inevitable result of such actions, and indeed it remains to be seen whether extremist reactions to Western imperialism might again make life very circumscribed for women in Afghanistan and/or neighbouring regions.
While declaring its fight to be about ‘freedom’ the current American regime, as I have noted, has seen considerable curbs to women’s freedom in the form of their ability to choose whether or not to have abortions within America’s own borders. It is thus by no means certain what the gendered and other effects will be of the complex and often chaotic processes referred to as American imperialism or Indonesian or Israeli militarism or global corporate capitalism or environmental degradation. What is important from a feminist point of view is that there continues to be consideration of what those gendered effects might be and some struggle to try and ensure that women’s lives, in all their diversity, are not made worse but enhanced and improved. Chapters 7 and 8 explore debates about class and ethnic differences to show how important diversity is in understanding gender. It may be difficult to agree on what constitutes ‘improvement’ in relation to gender inequalities and how to achieve it politically. What is crucial is that women are able to participate in making decisions affecting their own lives and those of other women.
Key readings щ GO
Echols, A. (1989) Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Evans, J. (1995) Feminist Theory Today: An Introduction to Second-Wave Feminism.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. hooks, b. (1981) Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism. London: Pluto. Messner, M. A. (1997) The Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Young, I. M. (1991) Justice and the Politics of Difference. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.