Dear Guardian

November 26, 2008

Feminism is about more than just Lad Mags.

I will admit to a feeling slightly piqued generally that Feminist Fightback could probably single-handedly engineer total gender equality in the UK and we still wouldn’t get a mention in The Guardian.  However, it my more sober (and less attention-seeking) moments, I recognise that this is probably a good thing.  On the one hand, some of the campaigns we’ve been running would really benefit from media attention, particularly the Tube Cleaners Solidarity campaign, in order to shame Transport for London into paying them a living wage, and also, frankly, in order to shame coerce convince other feminist groups into participating in the actions.  On the other hand, if we ever did get into The Guardian, the article would probably ignore all members over the age of 30, and focus on our snazzy dress sense rather than our actual politics (though we are pretty snazzy dressers).

The issue with The Guardian’s coverage of feminism (other than, as already discussed a lot by Zenobia, their tendency to lump “feminism” with “lifestyle issues”) is that they basically define it as activism of mainly young white women against “male violence against women” where the latter is conceived as something that happens solely between individual men and individual women.  Which means that a lot of what Feminist Fightback (and Feminist Activist Forum, and The Crossroad’s Women’s Centre, and Southall Black Sisters, etc.) do is not even conceived as feminism. 

Take the Tube Cleaners Strike.  Some women Tube Cleaners have been sexually harassed and assaulted at work; but even here, the issue is not just about individual male responsibility for commiting these actions (though the  men involved should be held responsible), but also about the women’s inability to complain because of their working conditions.  The men are their superiors, and if they complain, they will be fired.  The other issues around which the Tube Cleaners are striking are gendered, racialised, class issues – the disproportionate representation of women of colour in “heavy care” jobs; the racialised and gendered stereotypes that make this seem normal and justify underpaying them; the way in which the uncertain immigration status of the workers is being used to blackmail them into compliance; and the whole issue of how no one is responsible because of the way TfL has outsourced cleaning to a company, which has itself further outsourced the cleaning.  So when we wrote to TfL, the letter we got back essentially said “hey, we don’t pay them directly, so it’s not our problem.”

These are systemic issues – while these women are experiencing violence (especially if, like me, you very much believe in the Jesuit idea that purposefully keeping people poor is a form of violence), their experience can’t just be reduced to the actions of an individual man against an individual woman.  Plus, there are women on the TfL board, and I bet there are women in the upper echelons of the various outsourcing companies.  And of course, women take the Tube everyday, and benefit from it being clean.  So more privileged women are participating and benefiting from the oppression of the Tube Cleaners.

All of which is to say, I guess, that Zenobia, if you are planning a socialist feminist magasine of some kind?  Sign me up.

4 Responses to “Dear Guardian”

  1. […] has already written about her own problems with the article here, so I think I’m going to chime in […]

  2. Polly Styrene Says:

    The point of trade unionism is that workers get together and organise collectively. I’m sure the Tube workers are perfectly capable of organising on their own. Isn’t it a bit patronising for a group of armchair socialists (are any of your group actualy Tube cleaners?) to try to muscle in on their campaign to try to gain some creds?

    The kind of people I see doing this are all middle class white women too.

  3. Gwen Says:


    Of course the Tube Cleaners organised on their own, and I didn’t say otherwise. One of our members is also an employee of the Tube and a member of the RMT, which is also the union to which the tube cleaners belong. When they started planning their strikes, she went to them and offered any solidarity they required from Feminist Fightback. The cleaners’ representative came to some Feminist Fightback meetings, and she discussed what the tube cleaners would like Feminist Fightback to do.

    From these discussions, we together (meaning Feminist Fightback and the tube cleaners) devised three courses of action by Feminist Fightback. The first was to write to Transport For London and also the various employing agencies asserting our support for the cleaners’ demands. The second was to organise groups to walk picket lines with the cleaners and hand out flyers with them. The third was to do direct actions that the tube cleaners’ themselves often could not do because in doing so they would risk arrest and many of them do not have settled immigration status. So Feminist Fightback organised a “sweep-in” of the TFL lobby, for example, and several times disrupted the Mayor’s Question Time demanding a living wage for the tube cleaners.

    All of our actions have been taken at the request of the Tube Cleaners and in solidarity with the tube cleaners. Actually, the tube cleaners have been able to reach out to a lot of groups and consequently, there is a broad-based “Tube Cleaners Solidarity Campaign” in London, involving not only Feminist Fightback but also other groups like The Campaign Against Immigration Controls.

  4. […] Penny Red’s been trying to found a New Left Media (well not all on her own), while High On Rebellion sets out her views on the Guardian’s coverage of feminism. […]

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