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  • Published in Opinion

Where would the newspapers be in August without Harriet Harman? She is not only standing in for the prime minister in the Labour government that they love to hate but she's a woman and a feminist.

War Feminism

She has made a series of (allegedly) outrageous statements including that there should always be a woman at the highest level of government, that men can't be trusted to do things on their own, that Lehman Brothers would have been run differently if it were Lehman Sisters, and that we should have tougher rape laws.

Predictably she has been attacked by John Prescott, which I would take as something of a compliment, but it seems to me that the level of vitriol against her is out of all proportion to what she said, regardless of whether you agree with all of it. Can it be that even the gentlest critique of the male dominated politics of the City and Westminster grates on too many nerves?

After all, some of the worst sexual harassment cases which come to tribunals emanate from the banks and broking rooms, as in the case where one businesswoman recently said she was compelled to visit lap dancing clubs in order to keep clients company. Meanwhile it is estimated that it will take 40 elections - yes, elections - for women to be equally represented in parliament.

But at the same time, I do have reservations about some of Harman's comments. This is after all women's liberation lite, on a par with the ads where women all meet over a bottle of wine to slag off men. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but it's what's not said that is so revealing.

A real defence of women would include defending maternity leave, and campaigning against women who are pregnant being forced out of jobs. It would also include defending jobs under attack in the present recession, whether the job losses were instigated by men or women bosses. It would also mean rejecting war and occupation as a means of defending women's liberation.

This is where, it seems to me, Harman falls down. Her involvement in a government which defends factory closures, believes that rights at work have to be subjugated to the profit motive, and has enthusiastically waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan, means that she has a strong verbal commitment to equality which is not matched in practice.

The really shocking statistics about the growth of inequality in Britain or that social mobility is less likely for young people today than it was a generation ago reflect very badly on the government and impact particularly hard on women.

They don't happen because men can't be left to do things on their own or because men are necessarily more belligerent (remember Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands) but because the drive to profit and the drive to war are connected, and that both show a disregard for human life.

In this respect, women like Harriet Harman are backing policies which are detrimental to women. She's not alone. It seems that there are no end of feminist journalists, managers and businesswomen, and politicians telling women how to behave. After all, the whole ethos today is that nothing is beyond the reach of women as long as they are prepared to walk over everyone else, if necessary in their 5 inch heels.

Women's liberation was never meant to be about that. Nor could it ever be about liberating women by waging imperialist war. Women's liberation can only succeed if it's about challenging the rich and powerful in a society which puts profit before people. Don't hold your breath waiting for any government minister - man or woman - to do that.

Lindsey German's Blog

Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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