By Becky Crocker
Some people are outraged that the Queen topped the Radio 4 Women’s Hour’s Poll on the nation’s most powerful women. To award top spot to a woman who’s never worked insults the entire purpose of the poll, say the critics.
But does it, though? Does it really? Women’s Hour asked the Nation to name its most powerful woman and the nation replied with…….the nation’s most powerful woman! Strikes me, the question got the answer it deserved.
One of the Poll’s Judges, Eve Pollard, said, “Most women on our list were judged to have power because they had reached a place where they have control – of policy, of direction, of influence, of staff”. With this value-neutral definition of power, an answer that mirrored the bourgeois power structure was practically guaranteed. Look at the top three: The Queen, the Home Secretary Theresa May and Santander bank boss Ana Botin. A monarch, a Tory minister and a banker: three more establishment cornerstones of British capitalism could hardly spring to mind. But these are not perverse, but logical, answers to the question that was posed.
So we’re saying the flaw with the survey is that its answers merely mirror existing society? If so, perhaps there’s nothing so wrong with learning the lie of the land, and the challenges we’re up against.
But the poll purports to be something more: a vehicle to change, not just defend, the existing order. Eve Pollard explained that the list could be used by women to highlight ‘sectors where women are still under-represented’.
And this is my real problem with this survey. It’s not that it highlights those currently-powerful in the existing order. It’s that it assumes our aspirations are to follow them. It defines the problem of women’s inequality in society as our lack of power. Eve Pollard explains ” this list …shines a light on those sectors where too few women are getting to the top, like politics, FTSE companies, the military and journalism’. Yes, let’s have a few more women in the military! That’s what we need to win women’s equality!
Here is bourgeois feminism in chemically pure form. Don’t change the structure of society, they say, just allow more women to rise up within it. The symbolism of having more women CEOs will benefit ‘all women’, they say, forgetting that a woman CEO will work just as hard as any man to suppress her low-waged female workforce if her profit margins are hit.
When I first heard the poll announced, I felt stung and couldn’t work out why. I racked my brains through all the inspirational and intelligent women I know, trying name just one potential nominee. I thought I might subvert the concept and nominate ‘my mum’, an incredible woman, who’s sadly never likely to hold anything resembling state power in her life. The closest I came in my mind was Janine Booth, friend and Workers’ Liberty member and representative on the Executive of the RMT. But there, her power is not as an individual, but comes through the body of organised workers she represents.
And here is the problem for working class women. By definition, we do lowly jobs, at the direction of our bosses and with limited democratic say in society. We do not have power. Our only potential power is through acting collectively. But this poll was only interested in individuals. I realise now that the indefinable sting I first felt at the poll’s announcement was the same as you get when you find out you haven’t got an invite to some big party. I felt excluded on behalf of myself and all the women I know and am ever likely to know.
The women I know who will never edit the Telegraph or run a FTSE100 company need a feminism of our own. That’s why I am a socialist feminist.