A very welcome guest post today from Lena Wångren and Dominic Hinde. Dominic is a Scots Green activist and doctoral student in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Lena is a post-doctoral researcher at the department of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. She is originally from Stockholm and has been active in feminist campaigning in both Sweden and Scotland.
Looking back at the Scottish local elections, it is appalling to see just how male-dominated Scottish politics (and public life) is. There was husting upon husting without a single female candidate from any of Scotland’s more established political parties, and the SNP in particular were frustratingly male. In hindsight this is hardly surprising given the macho personality politics upon which Alex Salmond has built the SNP.
Then, the week after the election, people in social media (women included) were casually tossing around phrases such as ‘unionist witch’ to describe Johann Lamont and Margaret Curran. Just imagine if those words hadn’t been aimed at women but at someone from an ethnic minority. South of the border, and in a different context, backbench Tory MP Louise Mensch suffered even more violent sexist abuse via Twitter because of her defence of Rupert Murdoch. She may support an enemy of a free press, but the people who ganged up on her from the safety of their smartphones should not be welcome in any political forum. Now we’re fans of neither the Scottish Labour Party nor the SNP, just before we get accused of being partisan, in part because neither party seem aware that Scotland needs a new and proactive feminism in order to break down barriers for women, increase opportunities in some areas for men, and to generally move on to create the ‘beacon of progressiveness’ which the First Minister claims it is our manifest destiny to become.
When was the last time anyone stood up in the chamber at Holyrood and declared that they were a feminist? Who is brave enough to say that feminism is not a historical phenomenon but more current than ever in its potential to change society for the better? Not big Eck for sure.
Domestic violence, shared maternity and paternity leave, sexual assault, academic and employment opportunities, sexual and family health and economic performance are all areas in which a robust and progressive feminist politics can help to make Scotland a better place. And implicitly grounded in all these issues is a potential destabilising of the rigid gender roles that restrict us as individuals. Politics is about policy, but it is also about creating the social debates which allow those policies to succeed. It is about changing the mindset of the establishment to the extent that feminism is seen as a public good and not just a fringe interest. In the same way that the growth of the Greens has brought environmentalism in from the fringes to the centre, we hope that they might do the same with gender politics.
The Greens would appear ready-made for taking a more central stage in discussions regarding gender equality in Scotland, with their policy of having a male and a female co-convenor. Something which we would like to see more of is both Patrick Harvie and Martha Wardrop appearing and debating together, as is the case with their counterparts in Sweden.
Likewise, if Cameronite Swedish conservative leader Fredrik Reinfeldt, along with many leaders of the other main parties, can stand up in Parliament and feel obliged to at least pay lip service to the movement, then so can Holyrood.
The Greens do however face a great challenge in bringing gender equality on top of the agenda as the situation here is rather different than in Sweden. Both countries have long histories of labour and women’s movements, but the focus on gender has been left behind in the UK. There is a significant difference in how the public discourse approaches feminism. In the UK, the term ‘feminist’ is often considered a derogatory label, falsely seen as implying an ideology in which women should be posited above men. (We have yet to meet one single feminist who identifies their politics in terms of women’s supposed superiority.) In Sweden however, the term feminist is taken for what it is – a struggle for gender equality, through which people of all genders will benefit.
Furthermore, while in the UK we sometimes see a biologically essentialist claim to feminism -the idea that ‘only women can be feminists’-, in Sweden there is no requirement to identifying as a feminist beyond a support for the aims of the same rights for all, male or female. And feminism is indeed for everyone. In Sweden, a robust feminist politics has created equal parental leave (one and a half years in total, to be divided between the parents irrespective of their sex), affordable and pedagogical nurseries with highly educated staff, political representation of women which has steadily increased since the early twentieth century (the ratio in the Swedish Parliament is currently 45 percent women and 55 percent men). Rather than having to defend your feminism, in Sweden you might have to defend why you do not identify as one.
There is major potential for a Green feminist politics in Scotland. Presently, there is not one single party in Holyrood that explicitly espouses feminist policies, or even has a particular section of their politics based around gender equality. There may exist a ‘Labour Women’ group, but the party itself has not lately been speaking up for gender equality. The progressive libertarians in the Lib Dems aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to take a stand either, and even though the Greens have ‘equality’ as one of their main focuses – gender equality seems to have gone missing of late.In the latest Green manifesto, the term ‘gender’ was used only once .The term ‘feminist’ was entirely absent.
We want to create a Scotland which is more equal, democratic and environmentally responsible. An innovative feminist agenda is an important component in this, and the Greens should be the party to take it forward. They have time and time again proven themselves to be capable of innovation and ideas far and above their resources and representation, and we sincerely hope that the growth of the Greens coincides with a sea change in our country’s appreciation of feminist politics.