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Women Today
Has there been a 'Genderquake'?
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Tomorrow's Women?
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Fighting for Women  -  Rights and Socialism

Women Today

Tomorrow's Women?

Review of: Tomorrows Women By Helen Wilkinson and Melanie Howard, Demos, 1997

 

What kind of woman will predominate in the year 2010? Networking Naomi with her high powered job in a newly feminised work environment? Or New Age Angela, who has status and wealth but rejects materialist values in favour of a personal voyage of discovery? Perhaps it will be Mannish Mel, the quintessential girl behaving badly, giving as good as she gets and more? Then of course there's Back to Basics Barbara, over 55 and clinging tightly to traditional family values. And finally Frustrated Fran, juggling work and family, with raised expectations which constantly conflict with economic reality.

It's hard to take seriously a report that divides women into such stereotypical categories. Even its authors (from the think tank Demos) admit that these are "inevitably to some extent caricatures." This does make for enjoyable reading, (a bit like reading star signs and trying to work out who's a Sagittarius and a Pisces,) but not serious analysis.

I felt as if I was reading the results of some marker research survey. And lo and behold the report is based on data from 'Synergy Brand Values Ltd' a consultancy 'which analyses the impact of dynamic social and cultural change on market structures'. The majority of their work is done with commercial firms to help them to identify consumer values which affect their markets. Demos aims to influence public policy rather than consumer markets, but in today's pic 'n' mix designer politics there is very little to choose between the two.

Marketing appears to be Demos's strong point. Tomorrow's Women has been hyped in the press as an authoritative projection of women's future in the next century. In reality it's a cross between pop sociology and science fiction.

To give Demos their due the appendix does state "Demos 'Serious Future's' methodology does not aim categorically to predict the future, but to create a picture of what likely scenarios might be through an examination of key variables and how they are likely to interact". So we're presumably not expected to take too seriously the idea that artificial insemination by donor will replace normal procreation, that long distance romances over the Internet will become preferable to face to face relationships, that we'll be popping nutrition food tablets during the week and eating cooked food as a weekend luxury, or that fleets of mouse-sized robots will clean our carpets!

The authors begin with identifying some of the changes that have taken place in women's lives and attitudes. They then go on to describe the five different categories of women and how they might be in the year 2010. Finally, they attempt to draw some conclusions from their 'predictions'.

The main prediction is that tomorrow's women will be more different from each other than they are today. While Networking Naomi will be enjoying success in the world of business, employing her inter-personal skills to maximum advantage, Frustrated Fran will be cooking, cleaning and changing nappies in between working part-time, and pessimistically contemplating a future which offers no way out.

This is another variation on the 'genderquake', where a layer of more educated and predominantly middle-class women have benefited from recent economic and social changes while working-class women are being left behind. Not that Demos would dream of using the word 'class'. The 'Frustrated Fran' caricature comes nearest to a working-class woman, but class differences are blurred and sub-merged into identity with a particular type', which means the authors then underestimate the potential for collective struggle for change. They quite rightly state, 'If women's expectations are not met, if new opportunities are not matched by policies to enable women to balance careers and family, if the barriers for less skilled women are not overcome, then we should expect to see rising anger and resentment".

But how will the current economic and social system meet women's increased expectations? The authors have no answers. They are pessimistic as to whether or how that anger can be positively channelled. Apart from a vague reference to trade unions, collective action between working-class women and men gets no mention. The authors are equally pessimistic about alliances between women themselves. They consider it "unlikely that women will combine together in shared movements. There will be no women's movement, only women's movements, no feminism, only business feminism, trade union feminism, new age feminism".

While women clearly have different economic and social interests, it doesn't necessarily follow that they won't come together to fight for change. Past women's movements have never been completely homogeneous. In the struggle for the vote for example, division existed between the middle and upper middle-class 'suffragettes', who viewed the struggle as one for equal rights with men of their class, and working-class suffragists. Working-class suffragists saw winning the vote not as a matter of abstract equality, but as a means or fighting to improve the drudgery of their daily lives in the factory and in the home.

Alliances between women could still be mobilised today around specific issues of concern to them. The authors completely ignore domestic violence for example, which affects a quarter of all women. In the course of such struggles many 'New Age Angelas', Networking Naomis' and 'Mannish Mels' could discover that the 'Frustrated Frans' are not the only ones with an interest in changing the present system; that many of their own concerns, such as the environment or violence against women, will only be addressed through fundamental changes in economic and social relations.

These are important issues for discussion. But the trivial and superficial way the subject matter is treated in Tomorrow's Women undermines most of what the authors have to say. If you're a woman reading this review, based on Demos' stereo-typing you probably fall somewhere between 'Frustrated Fran' and 'Mannish Mel'. If so, I wouldn't recommend you give 9.95 to Demos to predict the future for you. Far better to get out there and shape it yourself.

 

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