NUS have launched one of their priority campaigns for this year, called ‘Women in Leadership’. I get the sentiment behind it; women are grossly under-represented in Parliament, in the media, in unions, and in our Universities (beyond undergraduate students). What I don’t think is helpful, though, is getting women up there in the hope that it will contribute to the destruction of systematic sexism.
Women CEOs still use sweatshop labour (which is 90% women workers), they’ll still have companies where there is a huge wealth disparity (Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi took home $17 million dollars in 2011, whilst the average wage for a merchandiser at Pepsi is $32, 450), and they will still discriminate when hiring workers. The CEO of Kraft is a woman- and Kraft are moving to Switzerland in a move that will dodge £60 million a year in taxes.
Women policy makers in our Parliament still enforce & create policies that oppress women. Margaret Thatcher was a woman. Nadine Dorries is a woman. Louise Mensch is a woman. Baroness Warsi is a woman. Blair’s Babes were women. I don’t really need to go into the horrors they’ve participated in- whether it’s the war on Iraq or the war on consent, these women have actively made life worse for women beneath them- black women, LBTQ women, poor women, disabled women, school girls, mothers. They are not part of the solution- they are part of the problem.
We’re living in an era of unprecedented attacks on the poor and vulnerable. ATOS is killing thousands of people a year. Women are being turned away from rape crisis centres because of funding cuts. Mothers are sending their children to school hungry, and they sure as hell aren’t getting a free meal there. Should our union’s priority campaign really be about getting women into positions of power, or should it be about fighting those with power, holding them accountable, and fighting for those being fucked over.
When you smash the glass ceiling, you just let the shards fall on those beneath you- you cut them up. We shouldn’t be advocating that women get into positions of power- we should advocate that women fight, as a community to destroy the power structures that oppress them. Feminists should be fighting capitalism, not fighting to get to the top of it. Feminists should be fighting for a democratic, participatory society- not to get into unaccountable, poorly elected positions themselves.
Ultimately, as a leader your interests shift. Being a parliamentarian is about striking the balance between suppressing dissent, and giving enough scraps to keep people from dissenting. Being a CEO is about giving your workers just enough to live on, but ensuring that ultimately, as much money as possible goes into your pocket. Being a General Secretary is about appeasing the government and appeasing your members. It’s all about compromise. As a feminist, I don’t accept compromise. I want to live in a genuinely intersectional society. Feminism and capitalism are irreconcilable (logically and morally). Leadership is necessary to capitalism- it creates the illusion of social mobility, it maintains aspirational fantasies in people and it keeps them fighting each other- not the system that holds them at gunpoint.
Toni Pearce, NUS President says it shouldn’t be another 144 years until we have another women general secretary of the TUC. To which I respond: I disagree. We shouldn’t see another general secretary, irrespective of gender. Workers should control the means of production, they should control their workplaces and lives democratically, not through a poorly elected mouthpiece.
I’m a stuck record and a cliche, but power corrupts. Fuck power and fuck leadership.