Feminism in London 2009 – report notes

I attended the Feminism in London 09 Conference on Saturday 10th of October as part of my fieldwork. It was a vivid event with estimated 200 people attending. I arrived there around 9.30 in the morning and left at 5pm, and during this time I interviewed participants and attended presentations. Beatrix Campbell and Susie Orbach(see entry) opened the day.

Beatrix Campbell talked about the transition from the 70s to neo-liberalism and how, today, feminism seems to operate in increasingly difficult conditions. Femininities in particular find themselves vulnerable, within inhospitable conditions of hypermasculinities. She mentioned how the emerging economic powers contribute to this climate. They work with us and also against us. What seem to be transforming at the end of the 70s however for Beatrix, is not really happening as women seem to have re-entered contingent conditions regarding child care and full-time work. This going in and out of paid labour essentially leads women to perpetual exhaustion. ‘OK, what now needs to happen?’ she asks, how do we manage the work time balance? She drew the audience’s attention to masculinities and how men’s institutions have relatively remained unchanged throughout the years, and also to the historic development of the wage system. She suggests that we need a new academic agenda which synchronizes the politics of life with institutional provisions. The problem is HOW do we go on with this project, how do we bring these issues into national conversation? Once again she stressed how the modernisation processes that take place in China and other emerging economies re-engineer the ways women and men relate and that these developments will alter ways of relating in the Western world. ‘What happens there will transform here’, she notes. So the ways to bring these issues into the public agenda are through ‘little doors’ that the state leave open for the people on the assumption that, being so hard to pursue, people will eventually give up. Saying this, Beatrix represented a tired swimmer who is swimming against the flow. She emphasised that we need to siege the tools, especially as democratic practices are being discredited. She then moved to address ‘violence’. To Beatrix violence has become a prominent public discourse which is located mainly within the criminal justice rather the social justice scene. This is problematic as this discourse seems to be stuck at the correlation between violence and masculinity. Working with violent men, she suggests that there are 80000 young men who are themselves hurt and wounded and that we need to know more about them and how violence has been catastrophic for them as well as for the victim. Additionally, we need to notice how in the midst if this violence discourse climate, we are witnessing a resurgence of hyper masculinities and hyperfemininities, which are particularly confusing for feminists of a more military style- the style she called the ‘fuck me but don’t fuck with me’. In China, the western style re-feminisation of women today is presented as a return to nature. In conclusion, feminism needs to define narratives of the relationships between men and women and this way shape these complicated issues as a political platform.

I will here share also some notes during the ‘what’s wrong with prostitution’ discussion, mainly the question time.

The question time included questions linking prostitution and domestic violence. How do we (feminists/ women) deal with women working in trafficking. Is prostitution inherently wrong? How do we reply against choice in prostitution? Criminalization of men using prostitution. Would feminists need to see why men do it in the first place- in the sense of a supply/demand situation. Prostitutes and local authority care experience. Australian model of commodifying women. How to tackle the argument that women need prostitution for men otherwise they will get out and rape. What about sex workers advocating their vocation as a career choice.

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