Feminising the elite will not bring equality

By Méabh Hennelly

The idea of Hilary Clinton becoming the first woman President of the US has been hailed by some establishment feminists as being a progressive development, a symbol of what can be achieved. The idea that more women holding senior roles and becoming wealthy will benefit women generally needs further scrutiny.

Taking a closer look at Hilary Clinton, we can see that many of her policies are not in the interest of working class women. Clinton is not advocating for a $15 minimum wage despite the mass movement that has emerged around this demand, she is simply restricting her demand to the more minimal $12 an hour.

As most low wage workers are women, a $15 minimum wage will improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable women. However, there is a group that would desire a lower minimum wage – those owners of business, who do not want to reduce their personal profits in order to pay workers reasonable, living wages.

We know that Clinton associates with big business, firstly by looking at the list of her campaign donors and due to the fact of her having been on the board of Walmart, a notoriously anti-union, minimum wage paying company that has a majority of female workers. This begs the question, who does Hilary stand with, working class women or her elite class? The answer has proven to be the latter.

“Lean in”

This links in with idea that women need to “Lean in” in the workplace. This idea grew out of the book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook. The book claims to show women the way to success in the workplace but in fact serves essentially as a handbook for corporatism and individualism that encourages women to make themselves more useful to the market. The “Lean in” concept is about creating networks of elite women supporting elite women.

Bringing the issue closer to home, we have seen women TDs from the parties of the capitalist establishment repeatedly let down the majority of women in Ireland. Joan Burton, former Tánaiste, cut the Lone Parent Allowance, a cut that disproportionally hurts women. She, with the rest of the Labour party, voted against a bill calling for a referendum on the 8th amendment. It is clear that simply having more women in a powerful position achieves nothing for women as a whole if those women subscribe to elitist values that support the status quo and maintain inequality.

Two new ministers in the new minority government who have developed a reputation for fighting for women’s rights and progressive social issues in the past are Catherine Zappone and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. The latter was a leading light in the Council for the Status of Women before becoming a Fine Gael TD in the early 1990s. However, they are now both part of a government that is seeking to pass the issue of the 8th Amendment on to the obscurity of a “Citizens’ Assembly”. They are likely to vote against AAA-PBP legislation calling for a referendum on its abolition.

Getting organised is key

Since the women of Ireland have been repeatedly let down by the government and powerful institutions, such as the Catholic Church, we must look for ways to achieve equality and freedom from oppression without relying on the “good will” of elite women.

The consistent protesting, meetings and civil disobedience by pro-choice activists have kept this fight going and abortion has become a major political issue. What we can learn from this is that relying on a few good-willed rich people at the top to change things for the better for the 99% is naive, and true power comes from ordinary, everyday people deciding they want to live in a truly democratic and equitable society – a socialist one where the empowerment of the majority will mean the free development of all.