Feminism is to blame for lack of social mobility?

The UK government minister for Universities, David Willetts, has a view that feminism has been a significant factor in the lack of social mobility and is implicated in working class men being left behind.

You can read the article here and spit your own feathers. I tried to read it impartially but as a feminist and a working class kid it made me steam on all counts. My very working class, trades unionist, Scottish father believed passionately in the universality of education, and was enormously proud that his daughter had gone onto University. He believed in equality for women although he may not have called it feminism (and, to be fair, he may not have thought it applied to my Mum…)

However, it is a perfect example of something I have talked about before – the  male centric view of the world in which we women are expected to fit. The implicit norm in what he says, is a middle class male, with women and working class men aspiring to be like them. Pah! The middle class man is his yardstick. And it is so patronising of the working class.

I hardly want to comment further, except that this is a man who wields influence in our society. Heaven help us all.

The excellent Barbara Ellen, writing in The Observer came up with a brilliant riposte which I can do no better than quote:

Do working-class women have no place in this debate – have they spent the past four decades just keeping their feckless non-educated men company? Then, of course, there are middle-class men, or is it that, in Willetts’s mind, their social standing is not even up for discussion. It is a “given” that middle-class men remain dominant. Indeed, it is only after middle-class men get “first dibs” on what they want that middle-class women and working-class men can roll up their sleeves and fight each other for the leftovers.

Read her article in full here

What do you think? Does David Willetts have a point?  Should we women ‘know our place’ and leave work for them men a la post second world war Britain?

Photo credit: Redfloor


Posted on April 4th, 2011 by

10 Responses to “Feminism is to blame for lack of social mobility?”

  1. Ann Lewis says:

    Oh dear Jane – yes, I am also spitting feathers. I find it breathtaking that a man at the heart of government in the 21st century can still stand up and say that ‘women who might otherwise have been housewives’ have taken places and jobs away from men. What???

    My Mum was a dinner lady. I also went to University, but later, after I’d tried being a housewife (for probably all of five minutes) and found it severely limited as a long term career option, using as it did all of my weaknesses and none of my strengths.

    Mr Willetts’ comments are the thin end of the wedge. Is he seriously suggesting that the talent and gifts of half the population should be squandered, as they were before the days of diversity legislation?

    Well, Mr Willetts, I for one have no intention of going quietly back to the housework.

    • Jane says:

      Never mind burning the bra, what about a pyre of pinnies? Thanks Ann. Altho, actually, I love pinnies, just not that keen on housework…or being told what to do and blamed for something incredible complicated. We all make our choices about motherhood and career, but who knew we were potentially doing such damage???

  2. I’m gob smacked, just that. Speechless. What year did you say we were in?

  3. P says:

    If the Government really cared about social mobility, they wouldn’t be socially cleansing us by making us pay fees for our university education. Large fees will out price many students, female as well as males. Whatever the truth or opinion of the past, we can’t change that, but we can change the future? Free university education.

    And if women staying at home don’t need higher education knowledge, strange isn’t it, that a new qualification, a Higher Education qualification (degree status) has been developed in the child care arena. Pre-school settings are all being encouraged to employ one of these super educated individuals.

    It seems to parent, you don’t need anything, expect to be silent and keep your head down, unless you’re a single mum and then of course you’ll have to work ….. oh, so perhaps if you’re a single mum it would be okay to have a university education and do a “man’s” job? Hmmm.

    • Jane says:

      Hi Pippi, I am a beneficiary of totally free (full grant) University education or I would never have gone. (Of course, that could be an argument for either side of the debate!:)

  4. I was astonished to read about this in the press over the last few days. Actually, I thought it was an April Fool at first.

    You know, when things are tough in the economy and around employment, it’s pretty normal that a scapegoat sector of the community gets the blame. I’ve seen immigrant workers find themselves on the receiving end of this, for example.

    But targeting feminists as the “cause” of a lack of working class men’s social mobility?

    I’ve – thankfully – never had to contend with such crap in my entire life.

  5. Lee says:

    If one result of feminism is that more people are changing the same stock of jobs then wages will be lower and opportunities fewer. Since working-class men are at the bottom of the pile they are the ones who will suffer.

    I cannot imagine any consequences of feminism which will benefit the poorest in society.

    • Jane says:

      Presumably you are just talking about men? You don’t think that any of the achievements of feminism have benefitted working class women either?

  6. Lee says:

    Jane. Although I’m convinced that working-class men and unemployed men are the biggest losers, I also think that feminism hasn’t done working-class women any favours either. Previously most women stayed at home and looked after their families and a minority went out to work; now it seems that, rather than having it all, many women have to DO it all, simultaneously holding down a job and bringing up a family. I’m not convinced that this is progress for anyone.

    There’s a major class element to feminism that’s often overlooked; middle-class women seem to be the only beneficiaries of this philosophy.

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