Leicester University academic Kaitlynn Mendes lucidly demonstrates how the SlutWalk phenomena has “played a crucial role in inspiring a younger generation of women and men to pick up the feminist baton and move us closer in the race to end sexism.” (June 29, Leicester Mercury)
She is also correct to point out that the mainstream media has done little to aid the promotion of women’s rights. In fact as Dr Mendes concluded in an earlier study: “in emphasizing women’s ‘gains, attitudes, and achievements’, the media further entrench the belief that women have achieved complete freedom and equality, thereby making it culturally acceptable to return to an age of ‘enlightened sexism’, where misogynistic, racist and heterosexist views are perpetuated under the guise of irony.”
There is no doubt that the economic injustice perpetrated against women is intimately linked to the prevalence of sexist attitudes. A recent report by the Fawcett Society provides the tragic economic facts and figures that sit alongside the media’s consistent misrepresentations of the struggle for women’s human rights. Economically speaking women still lag far behind men, and the overall gender pay gap still sits at 19.1%, which contributes to large pension and savings gaps between men and women.
Of course the regressive policies of our Government carried through over the past five years have only intensified the economic hardship facing women. All the more so because women are more likely to have part-time jobs than men, occupying 70% of such positions; working in jobs which “are typically low skilled and have few prospects for career progression”; while “occupational segregation means women in the labour force are concentrated in low-pay ‘pink-collar’ jobs such as health and social care.”
The majority of workers in Leicester garment industry for example are women, and as the Mercury reported earlier this year, most of these are currently being paid less than £3 per hour. The centrality of such manufacturing work to Leicester is such that outside the City Rooms in the city centreis a statue known as ‘The Leicester Seamstress’ which reflects the female contribution to the local hosiery industry.
But much as women are still being oppressed in the garment industry, the owner of City Rooms, is doing his best to hold back the fight for equality. I say this because just last year the owner of this prestigious wedding venue controversially obtained a license to re-open the Baby Blue lap-dancing club on New Bond Street. (March 1, Mercury)
Given the disproportionate affects of the Government’s austerity attacks on already poorly paid women, it is a worrying trend that profiteering from women’s bodies through exploitation in strip clubs or sex parlours is on the rise: a fact backed up by the Fawcett Society who point out that “the number of men paying for sex in the UK almost doubled” between 1990 and 2000.
The past five years of austerity have been turning back time on the bid for women’s equality: gains that were won in the past are now being taken away. The conclusion that many draw from this tragedy is that the hard-fought-for gains that we get through capitalism are only ever temporary, and that only the socialist transformation of society can bring about lasting progressive social change.