I saw ”The Iron Lady” last week. Aside from being a moving and appropriate portrayal of Alzheimer’s, it reminds you how remarkable Thatcher was. In 1981 she argued:
“Equality and opportunity cannot exist alongside each other. What is opportunity if your only opportunity is to be equal?”
Typical of the woman but what a pity. She could truly have been remarkable if her own personal experiences hadn’t made her so blinkeredly individualistic. And mental illness is a great leveller.
Muriel Spark had an idea that babies are born knowing everything that goes on in the world but that from the moment they are born the socialisation process constricts them, narrowing their knowledge so that they can be social beings. The end point is where we are deemed to be successful, whether as academics or managers or parents or citizens. But actually we only demonstrate how successfully we have been robbed of our primal knowledge, so that we can conform with expected social behaviours.
Nobody gives equality but more powerful people can take it away from less powerful people.
The current debates in the UK about LGBT marriage are not about a wider, benevolent society granting equality to LGBT people who want to be married; rather, they’re a marker that LGBT people are reclaiming what was taken away from us. I was legally married to my partner Paulo in Brussels but returned to the UK to find that our marriage had been relegated in UK law to the status of ‘civil partners’. And the ignorance and conceit of some people is breathtaking. The Tories in particular have clearly been dragged into the 21st century by the weight of public opinion but they expect us gays to be grateful for their tolerance. Take for example, the response that I received from David McCletchey MSP when I asked him to support gay marriage:
“I welcome the establishment of civil partnerships in Scotland which means that civil partners now have the same legal rights and responsibilities as married couples in terms of their relationship with one another. Accordingly I do not see the need for further change.”
Either he’s been forced to accept the step towards equality – civil partnerships – that he really doesn’t agree with. And he is convinced of his own benevolence in embracing diversity in this way. And LGBT people should be grateful. Sorry but this one isn’t.
In Thursday’s ‘Guardian’ Susanne Moore criticised the attitude of Louise Mensch, the conservative pseudo-feminist MP whom she typifies as “pulling away from victim and drab feminism in favour of being chic and individually entrepreneurial”. As Susanne points out, contrary to the individualistic and neo-liberal Mensch, all women do not have the same opportunities. Class is still important and women are more likely to be victims of physical and mental abuse, workplace discrimination and patronising and chauvinistic attitudes, even in places where you’d least expect it. I’ve come across this recently in my work as a member of the European Union’s Civil Society Forum on Drugs where not one women was elected to its “managerial” board. I raised the issue of the importance of having women’s representation but I seemed to be one of the only people that thought it was really important. Presumably in this, as in so many other contexts, women’s voices will be sought by men on issues which the latter deign to consider pertinent.
But it’s my contention that all issues are women’s issues and it’s not for men to decide where and when and how they should be represented. Men don’t give women a voice and power but they can take it away. Straight people don’t give gay people equal rights. White people didn’t give slaves their freedom. They took it away.