Lament for Sisterhood

In Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaids Tale, the chief protaganist, Offred laments the fact that throughout history and society there has always existed various Fraternities, of the religious (the Islamic sense of brotherhood, the Christian brothers) the more secular and secretive (The Masons) to the familiar kind (college frats and old boy networks); but nothing of the same exists or has ever really existed on the same level for women. Simply, there is lacking a sororiety or, sisterhood.

It seems a fair enough point to make even today, even with our third wave advances. Like the concept of community, when the supposed (feminist) “sisterhood” is talked about in the media, you can pretty much be sure it apparently doesn’t exist. Any discussion of the concept will be used to criticise and denigrate it.

Any discussion of sisterhood will be used to criticise it

The point was rammed home to me a while ago when the Equal Opportunities Commission released figures showing that a high percentage of women who become pregnant at work do not return due to unfavourable treatment, and/or are forced to leave. On Channel Four news there was a question and answer session with the Chief Exec of the Commission versus a female small business owner from Ilkeston, Derbyshire (near to where I’m from). The business owner was there, smirking away happily because she, as she proudly stated, didn’t employ “women of childbearing age” who would take their knowledge and experience and disappear for six months or so to have babies (such selfish beings, choosing to sacrifice their careers for their offspring!). She got round the adverse legislation by not advertising positions when they became available and instead recruiting through her contacts instead.

This seriously pissed me off on two fronts. Firstly what in the hell kind of term is “childbearing age”? The facts of fertility are that from the age of around twelve until the late forties most women are ovulating and therefore capable of becoming pregnant. So excluding “women of a childbearing age” pretty much rules out most women, period. What’s more, I assume that small business owners would not employ older women either, because of the prospect of having to pay them a retirement package relatively soon after commencing employment (that at least has been my experience of things).

she took pride in excluding women from achieving similar success

Secondly and more importantly, was the fact that this woman, who had created a successful business, felt that she could take pride in excluding women from achieving similar success and gainful employment. Was she so small minded to imagine that in the failure and exclusion of other female competition, her own success would be somehow reinforced? That making it in a mans world means making it (in a Thatcherite sense) alone?

I recall a similar article by India Knight along the same theme, writing about comments made by a UK independence Party MP: “At the risk of offending the sisterhood” she said, “I agree that small business people can’t afford to employ women of childbearing age (words to that effect)”. Ah India Knight, comfortably employed journalist and mother, agreeing with UKIP, that bastion of female empowerment! It is enough to make you sick. Should I start on Thatcher? Do I have that much time!?! Well, until recently I thought “fairs fair” with Maggie, she tended to give as good as she got with regards to Feminism, which was pretty much bugger all. But I wonder now, how far she could have brought feminism, if she had invested in it, or if there had been a sisterhood to invest in her when she was starting out.

Men recognise the benefits of fraternity where women only see competition

I marvel at Emily’s List (a campaign to help Labour women win seats in Parliament) and the Fawcett Society, both of which attempt to bring women into positions of public power and influence, but the effect must be wider. Men succeed because they recognise the benefits of fraternity where women only see competition. Look at the present Labour government, Tony and his pals with paltry few women among them. Or to the Bush administration, and the Texan good ol boys all in it together. The fact remains, we are too busy infighting and denigrating each other to do our cause any good. This includes the men too scared of what feminism might mean to those who support it, and the women who would rather side with the boys.

If writing an article that criticizes feminists for criticising feminists seems hypocritical then so be it. But every time I pick up a paper or look in a magazine there are women laying into each other. From Jodie and Jordan to Posh to Hilary Clinton, women seem to be the first to fall on other women for their misdemeanours. Why? Does slagging off Cherie Booth/Blair make me a better lawyer? Does bitching about a woman colleague at work put me ahead? No. As they say in “Mean Girls”, girl on girl crime, only makes it more acceptable for men to do it.

every time I pick up a paper there are women laying into each other

Look at Fathers for Justice and show me where are the Mothers for Justice? Look at the unions or political parties and watch as they bring men up through their ranks. As much as I agree we are all responsible for our own success, we can actively use our experience and talents to further the lots of other women and girls around us. If we give in to female rivalry and competition, we do down ourselves and, divided further nothing. Feminism got us this far through unity of action, and sisterhood or not we progress together, responsible for each other and our position jointly as women in society.

E.Baeza is a would-be member of this (or any) sisterhood. Greenpeace activist and Sheffield law student. I’m not anti-men (after all I married one!) but I am very much pro women. Not being feminist to me is just totally illogical. Women—Stand up and be counted if only out of self interest!