It could have been an April Fool’s joke, but tragically, it wasn’t. On 1st April, the press reported that the Right Honourable David “Two Brains” Willetts, Conservative MP and Minister for Universities and Science, had pronounced feminism the “biggest single factor” in holding back ambitious working-class men. That’s right, people, uppity middle-class girls, who should be happy, nay, grateful to commit their lives to unpaid domestic servitude have gone and claimed what is obviously a male-only right – brain and bank balance development, leaving the chaos of unemployment and poverty in their wake. The argument makes absolutely no sense, except for people who have such a narrow-minded view of the facts that they can’t see. At all.
When was the last time you saw a university educated woman working on a shipyard? Or down a coal mine? Or heading a trade union? Willetts fails to remember, somehow, that most opportunities for working-class men were the victim of the last Tory government’s reactionary free market economy transformation that left working-class people of both genders jobless and powerless. Unbridled capitalism, kids, doesn’t work out for everyone. And there’s no point in blaming individual workers – immigrants, women and any other new player is only a pawn in the very unfair game.
According to Willetts, “Feminism trumped egalitarianism.” Yet he only needs to check a dictionary like oxforddictionaries.com to learn that feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. Equality. Simples! Yet Torygraph blogger Christine Odone went a step further even than Willets: “Feminists – or at least the kind that have gained the upper hand in this varied movement – have undermined working class men with their philosophy that all males are expendable … This man-hatred has not only been taught, it has been rewarded: successive Labour governments have satisfied the feminists in their ranks by conceiving a benefits system that rewards single mothers who don’t let the father of their children live under the same roof.”
This “man-hating” trash makes it sound like we live in a world dominated by feminists, rather than white middle-class men, as it always has been. Willetts, with his degree from Oxford, no less, also forgets that lots of working-class men might have been held back by middle-class men taking up all the places at university.
Odone and Wiletts both seem to have this bizarre, medieval view of the working class and feminism. The unemployed and uneducated are held back by a tangle of factors called ‘poverty’, far more complex and culturally institutionalised than individuals choosing feminism over fathers, or yearning to study Derrida at university but finding, on application to UCAS, that some bint from suburbia has beaten them to it.
As a matter of fact, Tory governments are as crap for women as they are for the working class, with their regressive views on child benefits and economic policies that threaten part-time and state sector workers, the majority of whom are female. JK Rowling wrote a poignant and passionate article for the Times last year on the reality of being a single mother under the last Conservative government. It’s well worth a read, but to summarise: it sucked.
Of course, working-class women have hardly been given a moments thought here. As Barbara Ellen in The Guardian points out, “in Willetts’s mind, their social standing is not even up for discussion. It is a “given” that middle-class men remain dominant. Indeed, it is only after middle-class men get “first dibs” on what they want that middle-class women and working-class men can roll up their sleeves and fight each other for the leftovers.” The whole story reveals the extreme to which Tories think of the world in terms of a little hierarchy with themselves at the top, undisputed. “Two Brains”? “Two Dicks” more like it, and no prizes for guessing where the second one is.