Women’s liberation today

Issue: 101

Lindsey German

Women are more visible than they have ever been in history. They perform much of the paid labour of the world and the majority of the unpaid labour. Women work the majority of total hours in the world, but work much less than men do for pay—and when they are paid they receive less wages.1 Women’s role in working outside the home raises their profile in all sorts of ways: they work in factories, in offices, driving buses and taxis. They socialise outside their home and family. They travel on public transport. They join unions and go on strike. And where there is protest there are likely to be women. In Britain the number of young women taking part strikes everyone who has been on the huge anti-war and anti-capitalist demonstrations. Women wearing the Muslim hijab mingle with those in miniskirts and fcuk tops. Picket lines of nursery nurses and council workers, but also of firefighters and post office workers, have strong representations of women. British Airways workers at Heathrow who went on strike showed that workers can wear uniforms and make-up and still be militant. School students who struck against the war in Iraq were usually led by women who showed themselves to be the most articulate and intelligent of the new generation. The new movements that we are witnessing are also movements of women. They stand in strong contrast to many of the older women who purport to represent them. The female cabinet ministers like Patricia Hewitt, the women executives and professionals who claim to represent the advance of feminism, have nothing to offer these women and are usually totally hostile to their aspirations and political views.

But women’s public profile has not led to equality or an end to oppression. More freedom about sex has all too often meant exploitation rather than liberation. The obsession with the body which dominates society leads to women starving themselves and then binging on food, or paying large sums of money to enlarge breasts, straighten noses and temporarily banish wrinkles. Lapdancing clubs and lad magazines have become the new symbols of male chauvinism. The awareness of rape fostered by the women’s movement in the 1970s created at least some understanding that ‘whatever we say, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no’. Now we are again confronted with the view that women’s behaviour means that they ‘asked for it’ in some appalling rape cases. While far more women report rape now than in the late 1970s, the rate of conviction has fallen from 32 percent to 10 percent.2 Women are constantly told that they can’t have it all, but they are expected to do it all: be successful career women, devoted mothers, gourmet cooks, intelligent conversationalists and fantastic lovers. Financial independence remains an illusion when women earn at least a fifth less than men for the same jobs. Political equality is distant: women were very much at the heart of leading the anti-war movement in Britain, but in many campaigns men are over-represented. Platforms at events such as the European Social Forum are still heavily dominated by older white men. And while society may look equal in some areas, the closer you get to the powerful capitalist institutions like parliament or the City of London, the more male dominated they are.

Women in Britain are no longer expected to be sexually docile. They are encouraged by advertising and by a series of glamorous and high-profile images of women to make their sex lives exotic and adventurous. They are expected to have children at some point in their lives, but are not usually frowned upon if they do not. They are more likely than not to experience sexual relations before marriage, and are also likely to divorce. They marry later and have fewer children than their grandparents or great-grandparents. Girls are encouraged to prepare themselves for a career on the same basis as boys. But they carry their oppression into these changed sexual and social relations. Men are still on top metaphorically if not physically. Greater sexual freedom is a huge step forward for many women but it is still very far from genuine freedom and equality.

We have reached a stage in women’s social development which would have been unthinkable only 50 years ago. Yet liberation is as far away as ever in the sense that it was developed as a theory and a strategy more than 30 years ago. That early movement was not mainly or even at all concerned with establishing more women managers or even female MPs. Instead it aimed to bring a greater sexual equality linked with what was widely recognised as the necessity of social change which could allow the development of women’s liberation.

The women’s movement began in the US and grew out of the great movements for social justice which dominated the 1960s there. Women had been involved in the civil rights movement, in the movement against the Vietnam War, in the ‘new left’ and in the student movement. They could not help but analyse their own oppression in similar terms to these other movements. The ‘women’s liberation workshop’ which met in June 1967 articulated women’s position as ‘a colonial relationship to men’, drawing an analogy with the Vietnamese or blacks in Africa, and concluding that therefore they had to fight for their independence: ‘Only the independent woman can be truly effective in the larger revolutionary struggle’.3 The women’s movement was seen as part of bringing wider social change.

This was even more true in Britain. Who now remembers that women’s liberation in Britain was very closely linked to the working class movement and to strikes? The dispute of Ford women workers for equal pay and that of the London night cleaners became well known, and celebrated as signs of women taking action to achieve equality. There were many other strikes at the time involving women: the teachers in 1969, the post office telephonists in 1971, and the Leeds clothing workers in 1970. It was the time of a growing and militant working class movement, and although the really big battles of that movement mainly involved men such as the miners and dockers, women’s newfound militancy could not be ignored.4

The women’s movement in Britain, unlike its much larger counterpart in the US, was influenced by this level of class struggle and by the working class movement. The input of socialists and trade unionists was much more apparent and more dominant in the movement as a whole than in the US. The movement also had as its backdrop the substantial legislative changes of the late 1960s and early 1970s: the legalisation of abortion, the easing of divorce, the decriminalisation of gay sex between consenting adults, and the laws introduced to implement equal pay and an end to sex discrimination.

Why has the early promise of liberation not been fulfilled, as many expected it would be? Women’s entry into the workforce and their achievement of greater sexual freedom were rightly seen as striking great blows against women’s oppression. But within capitalism the conditions under which these changes were achieved and the wider society in which they have developed tell us everything about why they fell far short of liberation. There has been a huge change in women’s work worldwide: in countries such as China, Thailand and Indonesia rapid industrialisation has turned women into workers in factories and sweatshops in a modern parallel of the industrial revolution which transformed Britain 200 years ago. But many women from the poorer countries have to travel much further than from the country to the city. As well as making up a high proportion of the working class in their native countries, they all too often have to travel across the world in order to make a living. Migrant labour, much of it female, has brought women to work cleaning the houses of, caring for the children of or servicing sexually the Western middle classes. In the richest countries, women have been pulled into clerical work and retail work on an unprecedented scale, reflecting the growth of service industries in these countries over the past half-century.5 All of these situations may have led to higher incomes or more independence (although this is by no means always the case) but they have all too often increased pressures on women, making their lives in some ways closer to men’s, with all the stresses that entails.

A woman’s work

Women’s work has changed forever in the past 30 years and there seems to be no turning back. Women can no longer be seen as a peripheral part of the workforce. During the 1970s and early 1980s it was commonly claimed that women had been brought into the workforce in a time of boom and that when recession hit these workers would be the first to be made redundant. Women, it was said, were disposable workers in a way that men were not, and would be pushed back into the home. Their role in domestic labour and the part time nature of women’s work would ensure that they were used as a reserve army of labour, content to stay outside the labour market in times of recession. So Anna Coote and Beatrix Campbell could write in 1982 that ‘the great post-war boom in female employment has been abruptly halted and thrown into reverse’. Women, they argued, ‘still represent a “reserve army of labour”, to be called up and disbanded again, according to the vagaries of the economic and political climate’. To Coote and Campbell, ‘Men are designated “real” workers. Women are not. Not only is their “right” to work illusory, but their foothold in the labour market is far more tenuous than they have supposed’.6

While this analysis has proved to be wrong, women have become a workforce characterised by low pay. And the working conditions of men and women, part time and full time, have noticeably worsened during the 1990s. The labour market has proved to be sex blind in the sense that women continued to be drawn into the workforce at an increasing rate while the bulk of job losses fell in areas which were heavily male dominated. The reasons for this were twofold: the structural changes in British employment led to a decline in manufacturing employment and a growth in various forms of service industry. Because of the occupational segregation of work in Britain, new jobs were increasingly likely to go to women. The second reason, however, was that the employers saw women as a pliant and flexible workforce.

By the beginning of the 21st century 70 percent of British women were in paid jobs, the largest proportion ever. This amounted to 12.5 million, an increase of nearly a million on ten years previously.7 This increase in women working has only been made possible by more and more mothers going back to paid work rather than staying at home to look after their children. So a majority of women with children under five now work outside the home, and 65 percent of all women with dependent children do so. Nearly half of all single mothers are in work and almost a third of single mothers with children under five have some sort of paid work.8 Of those women born in the first decade of the 20th century, only 30 percent who had children were working at the age of 30. Of those born between 1960 and 1963, 54 percent of those with children were. Sixty seven percent of all women aged 30 worked in 1993 (compared to 48 percent in 1963).9

While historically the biggest constraint on women continuing to work throughout their lives was motherhood, this is less and less the case. The maintenance of full time work patterns for large numbers of mothers is one of the biggest changes that has taken place: ‘The number of women who work during pregnancy and return to work within nine to 11 months of the birth of their child has increased dramatically in recent years’.10 Women with children are also working longer hours than previously, and the rate of increase for those with dependent children has grown faster than for those without children, with mothers of children under five increasing their average weekly work by four hours between 1984 and 1994.11 There is no single reason why this change—which shows absolutely no sign of reversing—came about. The greater availability and acceptance by employers of maternity leave, women’s desire or need for continuous employment especially in certain competitive work, and the desire to return for personal and social reasons are some. However, the main reason that mothers go out to work is economic. The importance of women’s earnings to family income increased markedly in the post-war boom.12 This increasing dependence on the female wage at least in part explains the increase in full time working for mothers.

Women in lower income groups have gone out to work to compensate for the low and sometimes falling wages of many working class men. Whereas before the 1980s the wives of higher-income men saw their employment increase most rapidly, from the 1980s onwards it was those wives of lower-income men who increased their employment fastest. The share of family income contributed by women grew fastest among families where men had low or median earnings. Without women’s pay, the rate of poverty among married or cohabiting couples in the early 1990s would have been more than 50 percent higher than it actually was.13

The 1980s and 1990s marked an increase in the rate of exploitation for very large numbers of working people. Conditions worsened dramatically in some areas: people worked longer hours or were forced to accept split shifts which took up a great deal of what should have been leisure time in the working day. The introduction of greater ‘flexibility’ in the workplace led to the abolition of certain rights such as tea breaks. In some industries wages were actually cut—for example as a result of privatisation, where public sector jobs were reassigned at lower rates of pay, or in industries such as printing and journalism where the union-busting operations of Rupert Murdoch and Eddie Shah led to a general lowering of wages and worsening of conditions across the whole sector. Women were moving into work at precisely the time when unions were being weakened and established conditions and agreements were being torn up. The prospect of universal and affordable childcare, of decent conditions and of real improvements in women’s lives appeared even more remote than it had done one or two decades previously. Now women were being told that they had to work, that childcare while they worked was their responsibility, and that it was also their responsibility to equip themselves to enter the labour market. On top of that they still had their family responsibility. The term ‘double burden’ doesn’t begin to describe this situation.


If the health service was run on the same basis as childcare in Britain, people would be lying bleeding to death in the streets and the vast majority of patients would have to rely on relatives or paid volunteers who already had to care for other sick people. Yet we expect millions of children of working mothers to be cared for by grandparents and other relatives, friends and other unpaid carers. The bulk of paid childcare is performed by registered childminders, often themselves mothers who cannot work outside the home. Only a small minority are cared for in nurseries or other childcare institutions. The post-war retreat on nursery provision and the ease with which part time work could be fitted in with childcare meant that publicly funded childcare provision never accompanied the post-war boom. Since the mid-1970s the consistent attempts to cut back on public spending have also meant that any universal and publicly provided childcare system has been denied to the millions of working women who could benefit from it. A major reason for mothers not working is lack of affordable childcare. One study showed that a third of women who did not return to work after having a baby said they could not earn enough to pay for childcare. Of mothers who did not work, nearly a quarter said they would work full time with the childcare of their choice and a further 55 percent said they would work part time. Only 19 percent of non-working mothers said they would not work even with the childcare of their choice.14 The gap between supply and demand has been calculated by the Daycare Trust as one registered childcare place for every 7.5 children under eight years old in England.15 Although the vast majority of three and four year olds now have some form of nursery education, this is mostly not full time. The market rules in childcare, with miserly levels of full time state provision and with the onus placed on parents to find the resources—both family and financial—to pay for it. Childcare costs in Britain are the highest in Europe. At mid-1990s levels it was estimated that the cost of childcare for two children, one pre-school and one older, was £6,000 a year. It is estimated that parents meet 93 percent of childcare costs. Single parents who worked in the early 1990s were spending nearly a quarter of their earnings on childcare.16 A typical nursery place now costs £6,200 a year.17

Promises by the Labour government to dramatically increase the amount and quality of childcare have not materialised. The shortfall in childcare is worse than in any other EU country, and the expense of what provision is available puts a heavy burden on working mothers, with some spending a quarter of their wages on care. There are just eight day nursery places for every 100 children under five. In the case of 62 percent of pre-school children and 77 percent of school-age children, parents use informal childcare by neighbours, friends and relatives.18 After-school clubs are available for only one in 14 of school-age children.19 The solution to this problem was that ‘grandmothers would be paid for looking after their grandchildren under plans being drawn up by ministers to get more single parents back to work’, according to the Financial Times.20 One of the consequences of the failure of childcare has been the much lower level of workforce participation of single mothers compared with mothers in relationships. While, as we have seen above, mothers in couples have dramatically increased their work participation, this has not been the case for single mothers. A major reason for this is the lack of free or cheap childcare, making paid work barely worth doing for single women who cannot command an above-average salary. So 61 percent of single mothers do not work, and the problem barely changes when children first attend school, since mothers are still responsible for childcare before and after the school day and cannot work full time.21 However, it is especially acute for mothers of under-fives, with less than a third of these single mothers in paid work.22 Funding of childcare demonstrates the problems of scarcity, inefficiency and high cost: the vast majority comes from private individuals. Of total sector funding, £190 million comes from private companies, £50 million from miscellaneous sources, £150 million directly from the government and a gigantic £1,655 million from private individuals (of which £110 million is from government indirect subsidies).23 So childcare becomes a tax on working men and women, which is often simply too onerous for them to afford.

Decent professional childcare over long hours is very expensive, making it a struggle even for many professionals. Live-in childcare is concentrated among the rich. ‘The scarcity of nannies has driven up salaries and perks, making them the preserve of the very wealthy’.24 A study that took place in 1990 drew the conclusion that ‘practically all nannies or mothers’ helps looked after children of professionals, employers and managers’.25 The director of a charity, earning with her partner more than the £58,000 a year which would allow them tax credits, was quoted in the Financial Times as paying her nanny £250 a week to look after her two children full time. It is estimated that parents living in London have to set aside £35,000 gross income to pay for a professional nanny—as much as or more than the combined income of most working couples.26 Nannies tend to care for pre-school children for the longest hours in any particular day, followed by registered childminders. Nannies are more likely to start early, finish late, and work five days a week. ‘Informal’ (or unpaid) childcare with neighbours or friends is much more likely to be for shorter hours during the day and for one or two days a week.27 Income plays a large part in securing childcare and for many women this determines the work that they do: commuting and long hours are obviously much more difficult for women with young children unless they have sufficient income to pay for professional care over a long period of the day. Lack of childcare therefore often means relying on unpaid sources or limited paid provision, which in turn means working relatively near to home and often part time. For many working class families unpaid childcare is often the only option. The majority of pre-school children are looked after informally, mainly by fathers and grandmothers, when the mother is not there. When it comes to working mothers, the nature of childcare varies greatly according to class. The proportion using fathers and grandparents is much higher among manual workers than among professionals and managers. While 29 percent of professionals’ and 27 percent of managers’ children are cared for by fathers, 45 percent of children of skilled manual and 50 percent of children from semi-skilled manual families are cared for by them. Grandparents are the carers for 18 percent of children of professionals and 25 percent of children of managers and employers. This rises rapidly among intermediate and junior non-manual to 44 percent, the same proportion as the children of skilled manual workers.28

The family and the unskilled labour within it are still the scene of much childcare. The proportion of childcare paid for by the working class directly or provided free by their services in the home shows how successful the capitalist class has been in forcing working people to carry the costs of increased childcare involved in such a big expansion of the workforce. The burden this puts on individual families and the direct contribution it makes to continuing women’s oppression are very great.

Poles apart

The class divisions within childcare reflect the wider class divisions within the female workforce. Many women now see their life as defined by their relationship to the labour market, but they don’t all come to the labour market in the same way. It is commonly assumed that there is a polarisation in work between those in full time careers and those in casualised, low paid and part time work. This is one division but a more important one has taken place in women’s work. A minority of women have risen up the ladder of success over the past two decades and now comprise the growing number of higher professionals, middle and higher managers, and business executives. They command salaries beyond the dreams of most working class women and men, and they find themselves in an increasing and often direct conflict with those they employ or supervise—often women. On the other hand, the mass of working women have found the pressure of work intensified as they enter the labour market in ever greater numbers. This pressure occurs in the supermarkets and call centres, but also in the more traditional ‘female professions’ such as nursing or teaching. Those in routine full time work are closer to those in part time and low paid work than they are to those in higher managerial or professional jobs. This is true in terms of wages and conditions as well as the fact that many women will move between the two in the course of their working lives.

This pattern was already under way nearly two decades ago. A perceptive commentary at the time talked of the double-edged nature of women’s employment in 1988: ‘Women’s employment has been protected and expanded not because women are progressively overcoming their relative disadvantage in the labour market, but because of the continued existence of these disadvantages which causes them to be an attractive source of labour supply to employers for particular types of jobs.’ Women were beginning to secure their position in the labour market ‘by becoming more stable and continuous participants in the labour force and by actively increasing their levels of qualifications pre and post entry to the labour market’. But that would benefit only a minority, ‘with the employment conditions for the majority deteriorating while an increasing minority acquire more of the characteristics…traditionally reserved for male labour’.29

A minority of women have gained substantial rewards in terms of income, status and the ability to pay for others to perform personal services such as childcare and cleaning. This minority have seen real advances as traditionally male areas have been opened up to women. Today a woman heads the London Stock Exchange and a third of all managers and administrators are women.30 In 1997, 52 percent of new solicitors were women, 32 percent of managers and administrators, 34 percent of health professionals and 27 percent of buyers, brokers and sales reps.31 This has been marked by a dramatic increase over two decades. Whereas in 1974 only 2 percent of directors and managers were women, by 2000 women made up 22 percent of this category.32 However, these women have tended to accept the traditional ideology that they cannot take into account any of the aspects of being a woman that might put them at a disadvantage. A survey of executive women throughout Europe demonstrated that childcare benefits were their lowest priorities because ‘they simply want to earn good money and make their own decisions about how to solve their childcare issues’.33 Whatever their disadvantages in relation to men of their class, the relationship of these women to most working class women is managerial and often adversarial. The women in designer suits who drive expensive cars have become a part of working life—and most working class women are discovering that they get no special favours from women managers.

Then there are the other women in suits—this time the cheaper mass-produced ones from Next or BHS—or in uniforms. These are the mass of office workers, the uniformed bank and building society clerks, the nurses, the workers in Sainsbury’s or Tesco. Add to them the teachers, childcare and welfare workers, the very young and female workforce in the call centres, and you have much of the female working class today. There are over 400,000 workers in call centres, large numbers of them women. The fastest-growing occupations throughout the 1990s tended to contain disproportionately high numbers of women: sales assistants and receptionists, education and health service workers, care assistants, welfare workers and nursery nurses. The fastest-growing single occupation was hairdressing.

These women in the majority are low paid, they are often engaged in routine and repetitive work, and they are subject to many of the traditional controls over work which were once confined to manual workers. Computerisation means that managers know exactly what a worker is doing at any one time. The introduction of machinery into office work has transformed the nature of work, with photocopiers playing the role of printers and word processors monitoring work, and nearly all work being tied to a machine. In shops the checkouts measure speed of throughput and act as stocktakers, placing new orders as they mark what is being sold. Even work which was once considered part of the professions—such as nursing, lecturing or teaching—is now subject to much greater managerial control, with many of the disciplines of the traditional factory job.

There is no fundamental difference in job description and lack of control between these workers and those who work part time. As we have seen, increasing numbers of women work full time when they are able to do so, but there are real barriers towards them doing so all the time. Low pay, childcare and other caring responsibilities mean that for at least part of their working lives many women will work part time. The sociologist Catherine Hakim has argued that most women are not interested in careers and prefer to centre their lives round childcare and home responsibilities. Only a minority of women, she says, want to work full time in high-powered jobs.34 This argument only serves to justify the status quo, with its existing gap between high paid women and those part-timers who are presumably happy in their low-wage, low-status jobs. But the connection between part time working and family responsibilities is overwhelming. While care in the home remains privatised, millions of women will continue to work part time regardless of their aspirations, because they have no alternative. The historic Women and Employment survey of 1980—the biggest survey of women and work—showed that women working part time were more likely to be in ‘women only’ jobs. Over half of women part time workers finished work by 4pm to pick up the kids from school.35 Of those couples with children, women who worked part time were more likely to work evenings than those working full time. Nearly one in 20 women part-timers with children also worked nights, suggesting that mothers take part time work when fathers or other members of the family can care for the children.36 Satisfaction with part time jobs is clearly relative: a 1990s study showed that women part timers were overqualified for their jobs. Over half of women part-timers said that given their qualifications and experience they could expect a better job. They were less likely than full-timers to say their current job was the one they liked best.37 There have been increases in recent years in the number of part-timers who would prefer a full time job.38 Much has been made of the satisfaction which part time women feel in their jobs, and undoubtedly many do. But as Martin and Roberts, authors of the survey, commented, ‘In some ways it is not surprising that such a high proportion of part time workers were happy with their hours of work; unless they can find a job with suitable hours they are unlikely to be able to work at all’.39

Women’s wages—despite over 30 years of equal pay legislation—still lag behind men’s. In 1998 women earned on average £6.67 per hour, 75 percent of men’s hourly average of £8.94.40 The distribution of female earnings tells how far away from equal pay women in Britain still are, despite real improvements. For a significant minority of women it is possible to earn as much as or even more than men. A fifth of women now earn more than their working partners, compared with one in 14 in the 1970s.41 This testifies to the growth of a section of women able to earn as much as or more than at least some men. But it is not the main picture. Even by the mid-1990s, 20 percent of women earned less than or equal to the bottom 10 percent of men. Another more than 20 percent earned equal to the second lowest 10 percent of men. Only 3 percent of women earned equal to the top 10 percent of earners. Around three quarters of women fell into the bottom half of male pay distribution.42

Work has not held the key to liberation for women; rather it has meant exploitation on a similar basis to men, with the added burden of work in the home. While a minority have benefited from the conditions of the past two decades, the large majority of women are concentrated in some of the poorest jobs and in the worst conditions. The level of inequality is growing wider, and this includes inequality among women themselves.

The great leap forward

The impact on personal lives of the change in women’s work patterns has been dramatic. Only half a century ago marriage was regarded as the only path to respectability for a woman. A child born outside marriage was viewed as a terrible and shameful burden in many families. Monogamy in relationships was promoted in women’s magazines, by church, state and government. Geoffrey Gorer, author of a study in the early 1950s, regarded English sexual attitudes as remarkable. He wrote, ‘I very much doubt whether the study of any other urban population would produce comparable figures of chastity and fidelity’.43 Yet in 1997 there were 310,000 marriages, one of the lowest figures in the 20th century, of which only 181,000 were first marriages—a decline of more than half since 1970.44 The proportion of women aged 18 to 49 cohabiting has more than doubled in the past two decades from 11 percent to 29 percent.45 Divorce rates in Britain are twice as high as in any other EU country.46 Teenage pregnancies are the highest in Europe—twice as high as Germany, three times as high as France and six times those of the Netherlands.47

What happened to bring about this change? There were two major advances in women’s sexual behaviour during the 20th century. One was during the Second World War, where industrial and military conscription gave women sexual opportunities not previously available to them, and the dangers of war lent a greater urgency to relationships. But while this change had dramatic effects on divorce rates and numbers of children born outside marriage, the dominant post-war morality stressed domesticity and home-centredness. That this ideology was in increasing contrast with reality became fully apparent in the 1960s, which marked the real leap forward in terms of attitudes to sexuality and relationships. But this time the change was permanent and only deepened over time.

The movements and attitudes of the 1960s—at the heart of which is the sexual revolution—were a rebellion of young against old, in a society where the old had dominated the young for generations. Now all the attitudes were subverted—the work ethic, the patriotism, the deference and of course the sexual conservatism. The young were in a position where they did not have to just submit to the wishes of the old:

[In the early 1960s] there were a million more unmarried people in the age range 15 to 24 than ten years previously—a 20 percent increase. And they wielded a new economic power. Average real wages increased by 25 percent between 1938 and 1958, but those of adolescents by twice this. And though they disposed of only some 5 percent of total consumer spending, they were the biggest purchasers of certain commodities—42 percent of record players, 29 percent of cosmetics and toiletries, 28 percent of cinema admissions.48

At the same time, they tended to be dependent on their parents longer, through the raising of the school leaving age and the broadening of higher education. This led to greater tensions between parents and their children. So too did the more open attitude to sex, denounced as ‘permissiveness’ by much of society and the subject of continued controversy and debate. For most young people there were still many restrictions on sex. However, sexual intercourse was taking place at a younger age. So whereas for women born between 1931 and 1935 the median age of first intercourse was 21, for those born between 1941 and 1945 the median had fallen to 19 years.49 But sexual experience for many does not appear to have changed too much. As a survey done in the mid-1960s showed, for most people early sexual experience was often conducted by trial and error. Sex ‘just happened’: when penetrative sex occurred for the first time it was unpremeditated for four fifths of girls and boys. By age 15, only one in 50 girls and one in 20 boys had had intercourse. First intercourse was not pleasurable for half of boys and two thirds of girls.50 But the fact was that many taboos in behaviour had been lifted by the 1960s. Marriage tended to be at a younger age and by 1972 one in three of those marrying who had not previously been married were teenagers. Figures from 1969-1970 showed that one third of teenage brides were pregnant and 43 percent of all premaritally conceived births were to teenagers. In addition only 54 percent of births conceived premaritally were legitimised by marriage in the period 1964-1970. Illegitimate births were at 5.8 percent in 1961 (following 5 percent in 1951)—by 1976 the rate was 9 percent.51 This does not necessarily suggest a greater awareness of sexuality or of control over women’s own bodies, but it does suggest a much greater willingness to reject ‘old-fashioned morals’.

There were three major changes in women’s lives which began to have an influence on their attitudes. First a small minority gained access to higher education. There they encountered on the one hand liberal attitudes on a whole range of issues which encouraged them to think differently about their role as women. Did they have to see their future as marriage and motherhood or were there alternatives at least for educated and independent women? On the other hand, they were subject to petty restrictions on their lifestyles and sex lives which created great frustration and anger. Women undergraduates who were caught with a man in their room could be expelled from the college. In France the restrictions on men visiting women’s rooms were one of the issues which led directly to the great student explosion of May 1968.52 The second issue was the greater control by women over their own bodies which for the first time in history made it possible to separate out procreation from sexual enjoyment. The third major change was women’s greater financial and social independence.

The 1960s also produced the great social movements for change which marked the first major challenge to the post-war consensus in the West. Out of these movements came those for women’s liberation and gay liberation and these helped to ensure that the questioning of the old order brought with it a new sexual radicalism. The more open moral climate of the 1970s met with a backlash. The second half of the 1970s saw successive attempts to restrict abortion. James Callaghan’s Labour government stressed the need for a strong family and for a return to more conventional education. The AIDS epidemic which began in the early 1980s was used as a means of attacking gay sex in particular.

There was a growing clash between the attitudes expressed by authority in society and people’s real circumstances, their jobs and how they lived their lives. People had experienced open sexual relationships and they were determined not to give them up. So by the 1990s bigoted measures such as Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which banned the ‘promoting of homosexuality’ in schools, could continue to coexist alongside the creation of much larger and more open gay communities, at least in big cities such as London and Manchester. Government ministers could spout the virtues of the family while marriages fell to record lows and more people than ever lived outside the traditional family.

Sex and sexuality had been separated from procreation, so people quite rightly asked, why can’t we gain sexual enjoyment in the way that we want—and what does it have to do with anyone apart from the individuals concerned? Whereas for previous generations there were all sorts of material constraints on sexual experimentation, by the 1980s and 1990s there were far fewer. Young people had more time, money and independence than their grandparents or parents. Particularly important in this were young women. Women have expressed an interest in sex which has shocked many people, but which is surely the natural outcome of a young generation with the usual interest in sex, but with the ability to do something about it. Women’s assertiveness in this situation is a demand for the right to be treated equally with men, sexually as well as legally or financially.

By the beginning of the 21st century there were clear enough signs to point to certain permanent trends in love, marriage and sexuality. It was no longer the norm for people to abstain from sex before marriage—those who ‘saved themselves’ for marriage became a smaller and smaller minority.53 Marriage itself had changed dramatically Whereas for some of the 19th century and much of the 20th premarital sex was taboo, now the norm was a form of ‘trial marriage’ with few social sanctions on either side if they broke the relationship—especially if children were not yet involved. Whereas in the 1950s only 1 percent of women in Britain marrying for the first time lived with the man for an extended period, by the early 1980s this rose to 21 percent.54 Of those born between 1933 and 1942 in the US, 84.5 percent of men and 93.8 percent of women said they married without living with their partner beforehand; of those born between 1963 and 1974—only 30 years later—these figures had slumped to 33 percent of men and 35.3 percent of women.55 As John Gillis has pointed out, ‘The new cohabitation has many of the features of the old betrothal. It was an extended rite of transition—a liminal period—which was brought to a ritual conclusion when the couple decided it was time to incorporate themselves into the adult world of mothers and fathers’.56

Talk about sex and sexuality also tends to be more open, and sexual practices are more widespread and varied. There are marked differences between the generations. Only 3 percent of women who started having sex in the 1950s had ten or more lifetime partners, while 10 percent of women starting intercourse in the 1970s claimed this figure.57 While half a sample of 45 to 59 year olds in the early 1990s cited ‘being in love’ as a reason for first intercourse, this reason declined through the age groups, to only 37.5 percent of women aged 16 to 24.58 Attitudes to oral sex point to the changes which have taken place. A survey in the early 1990s revealed that while 76.7 percent of 18 to 24 year olds had experienced oral sex, this rose to 87.8 percent of 25 to 34 year olds but fell to 61.8 percent of 45 to 59 year olds. In the age group 16 to 24, of those who had ever experienced vaginal intercourse, 85 percent had also experienced oral sex. In the US oral sex appears to be increasing among virgins, with 25 percent of virgin boys and 15 percent of virgin girls having given or received oro-genital stimulation.59 It seems the vast majority of oral sexual acts are reciprocal, rather than the blowjobs usually talked about in Hollywood films.60

Those who want women’s equality can only welcome these developments, but the manifestations of sexuality which are so prevalent today cannot be said to add up to sexual liberation. Unlike the women’s magazines of the 1950s, where sexual problems were referred to cryptically on the problem page, those of today trumpet advice on keeping your man happy, how to improve your sex life and so on. The assumption is that most people are having an active sex life most of the time, although this is very far from the case.61 We are sold particular images of sex and sexuality which conform to certain stereotypes about men and women but which reinforce attitudes which are unequal or reinforce oppressive relationships: images of violence, of dominance and submission, of rape. The image of sex is far from one of equality and openness. Sex in all of its manifestations is seen as a commodity to be bought and sold on the market. Pornographic films, videos, magazines, lapdancing clubs, phone sex, lad magazines with semi-pornographic contents, male strippers, entertainment for stag and hen nights, ‘cybersex’, sex contact listings in magazines, expensive women’s underwear, sex toys and upmarket ice cream are only some of the goods which have made millions for mostly big business in the past 20 years. Their profits have been made out of the greater sexual openness: ‘In 1996 Americans spent more than $8 billion on hard core videos, peep shows, live sex acts, adult cable programming, sexual vices, computer porn and sex magazines—an amount much larger than Hollywood’s domestic box office receipts and larger than all the revenues generated by rock and country music recordings’.62

Globalisation helps create and characterises the sex trade. Sex tourism is a major part of the economy in a number of countries. In Thailand ‘international tourist arrivals jumped from 2 million in 1981 to 4 million in 1988 to over 7 million in 1996. Two thirds of tourists were unaccompanied men… In 1997 the annual illegal income generated by sex workers in Thailand was roughly $10 billion’.63 Estimates of the number of prostitutes in Thailand vary from more than 80,000, which is the government figure, to 200,000 or even 1 or 2 million.64 In the Dominican Republic, popular with European male ‘sex tourists’, of 50 women working as prostitutes who were interviewed in a survey, all but two were single mothers pushed into the work through poverty.65

The destruction of the old industries and family structures worldwide has a major impact on these developments. Global inequality means that Western men can buy prostitutes very cheaply and that the women have to sell their bodies in order to survive. Governments ignore their plight most of the time. Those who constantly encourage the development of the free market, and who moralise at those who do not accept these developments, conveniently ignore this consequence of the market.

Freedom of sexuality should be a fundamental right, that people can enjoy sexual relations regardless of economic or religious constraint. Yet the increase in sexual freedom over recent decades, which should be of benefit to the vast majority of men and women, has brought buying and selling, the rule of the commodity, into what should be the most personal and intimate relationships. The women and men directly involved in the production and display of these commodities are often degraded by this process, but so are the rest of us, since sexuality is turned into a series of objects and commercial relationships rather than being a natural expression of human relations.

Housewives’ choice

Changing sex roles have led to talk of male crisis. Hollywood films such as Falling Down or Disclosure paint the picture of a world where the old masculine values no longer apply and where women take cruel advantage over men at work. Men lose jobs to women, are sexually harassed by women, feel discriminated against by women. This makes them neurotic and ill (supposedly once the preserve of women). In the US ‘movies featuring muscular men such as Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt [are] giving males an inferiority complex’. As record numbers of male subscribers to gyms were noted, US psychotherapist Roberto Olivardia commented, ‘Men tie their self esteem to their physical appearance, it’s a huge problem’.66 Men now are much closer to women in their attitudes to physical appearance: they are more likely to follow fashion, to buy personal toiletries and to worry about their figure and looks. They are, however, more likely to become seriously ill than women, on average die younger than women and have a higher rate of suicide. In the ten years running up to the early 1990s, male suicides in Britain increased by 80 percent, notably among young men.67 Nothing seems to be going right for men: increasingly they seem threatened by ‘career women’, frightened by their own failings as men and with a terrible sense of loss for the past golden age when men and women both knew their place.

Now men supposedly feel that they are superfluous to women and the family and no longer have a breadwinner role. The question could not even have arisen 30 or 40 years ago. Its starting point is the very great changes to the family and women’s ability or desire to head a household. Whereas only 7 percent of households with dependent children were headed by lone mothers in 1971, by the late 1990s this had risen to 22 percent. Lone fathers headed another 2 percent of families.68 These figures demonstrate a dramatic increase in the number of women caring for children without the support of a man. However, they also show that three quarters of children are still brought up in two-parent families. In addition, the sense that men have little or no role within the home hardly matches with their increased participation in childcare and housework. Most fathers who do not live with their children are not the ‘deadbeat dads’ of tabloid mythology. The majority are in contact with them: 70 percent of non-resident fathers have some contact with their children and 50 percent see their children every week.69 So most children are living with or in regular contact with their fathers—hardly the basis for a mass crisis.

One feature of the change in men’s behaviour has been the increase in male work around the home. This is a strongly contested issue: different surveys show different results, and surveys of who does housework are notoriously subjective. But there is general agreement that as women have ceased to be full time housewives, they have lessened the amount of work that they do in the home. As women work full time, so the gap between the amount of housework that they do and that of their male partners narrows. The number of hours devoted by men to household chores stood at 17 minutes per day in 1961; by 1985 it stood at 40 minutes a day.70 During the same period the time spent by British women on routine housework fell by 55 minutes a day or 6.5 hours per week. In the initial part of this period the amount of housework done by men also fell, suggesting that the domestic appliances made affordable by the long boom were having some impact on curtailing hours spent in domestic labour. But that changed from the 1970s, when the domestic work of all men went up from 15 minutes to 40 minutes a day and that of full time employed from 13 minutes a day to 35 minutes. This ‘probably therefore reflects ideological changes as well as the practical pressures associated with married women’s move into paid employment’.71 While the total number of hours spent on housework has fallen for all women it has not done so proportionately, with full time workers gaining least and with those without employment benefiting most.72

On the other hand, working parents of both sexes spend more time devoted to childcare—especially to under-five childcare. Employed men spent an average 44 minutes a day mainly on childcare in 1985 compared with 11 minutes in 1961—far less than the 107 minutes spent on the same childcare by women in 1985, but a substantial increase nonetheless.73 Many men tell researchers that they would like to play more of a role in their children’s lives than their own fathers did during their childhood.74 However, the sexual division of labour is still one which sees women doing the bulk of domestic labour, despite the very great changes over the past few decades. A study in the mid-1990s for a Time Use survey showed that mothers spent much more time doing cooking and housework than men (2.59 hours per day as opposed to 0.41 hours) and more time caring for children and adults (1.56 hours against 0.54). Men on the other hand did more paid work (5.31 hours per day compared with 2.06 hours for women) and spent an hour a day on travel, compared with half an hour for women. Women did, however, spend more time sleeping and socialising.75 Recent statistics from the US give two examples of how family life is changing. Parents of both sexes are spending an average of ten or 12 hours less per week with their children than they did in 1960, and McDonald’s is the source of 10 percent of family meals.76 This suggests a family where everyone is under pressure of time and where the classic model of the family has been at the very least severely weakened in many respects.

The amount of work outside the home by either or both partners has a decisive effect on the amount of domestic work carried out by parents. The responses of young mothers and fathers, again in the mid-1990s, to questions about the division of labour in the home bear this out. Even when both partners worked full time, mothers took responsibility for the majority of household chores, but here 27 percent of men said they shared preparing and cooking the meal, 40 percent shared shopping and 35 percent shared cleaning equally. When the woman worked part time this fell to 15 percent, 28 percent and 16 percent. Where the wife was at home full time, only 10 percent shared cooking the main meal and only 11 percent shared cleaning—interestingly, the same number shared shopping as those with part time worker wives. Mothers’ responses to the same questions showed some differences but not massive discrepancies. In general, women were slightly more likely to answer that they did most of these chores and slightly less likely to believe they were shared equally.77 The overwhelming conclusion is that where both work full time they are most likely to share chores, but even then they are far from being equally shared. The traditional division of labour still applies, and men do most DIY and repairs. Even so, where the wife works and the man stays at home, the man’s share increases, although not sufficiently to reverse roles. This is also the area of greatest discrepancy between men and women, so 28 percent of men believe they do most cooking of the main meal, while only 6 percent of wives think their husbands do this.78 Some commentators have even suggested that men in full time work actually do more domestic chores than unemployed men with working partners.79 It appears that that there are much more complex issues at work than simply who works longer hours outside the home. Where the sex roles are most obviously reversed—where the woman works and the man stays at home—there are often signs that the man has particular difficulty fitting into the ‘housewife’ role, while the woman both works outside the home and has to shoulder a substantial domestic burden as well. If this is the case, it suggests an ideological as well as a practical reluctance by some men in the home to take on this role, itself a product of the low esteem in which housework is held, which in turn comes from the nature of housework as repetitive and unpaid work inside capitalist society.

In a capitalist society the ability to sell one’s labour power is the defining feature of each individual. Today the desire of capital for this labour power is so great that every member of the family is under pressure to enter the labour market. Anyone who is unable to enter this market finds himself or herself at a disadvantage. There are few opportunities for consumption of anything but the basic necessities of life. Those without paid work carry some of the lowest status in our society. Men who have been brought up to expect paid work as their right feel it particularly acutely when it is lost, and feel that being asked to fulfil a role which is widely seen as socially subordinate is a denial of their role as men. It is hardly surprising that those men who are forced from the labour market feel disoriented and without social value. This after all was how many housewives felt, and still do feel—but the men lack their social conditioning to be able to cope, hence their inability to even become ‘good housewives’. Unemployed men who are responsible for childcare see themselves mostly as ‘failed providers’ rather than successful childcarers.80

Miners at Yorkshire’s Grimethorpe colliery, which shut in 1993, describe the feelings of men in this situation. One says, ‘My day? I get up and do the washing, hang it on the line, get the kids to school, do some shopping, get the tea for when she gets home… The government talks about training, education. What for?’81 Another says, ‘We had pride in our work, we made a contribution to the world, we had a place, a proper purpose. Gone. Now I’m a housewife’.82

One of the reasons many men’s attitudes are so contradictory is because the signals sent to them by society are also contradictory. Much of the dominant ideology in countries like Britain is egalitarian in tone. Received opinion among the majority of our rulers and the bulk of the media is that men and women are both expected to work (indeed the stay at home mother who expects an income from the state is now regarded with disapproval). Men and women are expected to share housework and childcare where practically possible and families are deemed to operate as contented units of consumption where a degree of democratic choice is allowed to all its members. Men who behave as authoritarian father figures are regarded as both rare and wrongheaded. Tony Blair and David Beckham demonstrate that caring comes naturally to fathers. No one could call them Mary Annes—as they did men in Lancashire in the 1940s—when they push the pram83 (not that they do it very often since that is the nanny’s job). But even while men are being encouraged to show their emotions, there are much less pleasant developments which also have an ideological effect on men’s attitudes to themselves. Traditional male values have also reasserted themselves, at least among a layer of men: lapdancing clubs, new lad magazines, an insidious campaign against the notion of ‘date rape’, a resurgence of sexist language, and continuing high levels of violence against individual women.

The ‘New Lads’ with their old attitudes about women were a phenomenon described thus by Simon Nye, writer of the television series Men Behaving Badly:

The Lad was created by the meritocracy (or new plutocracy, depending on your political allegiance) unleashed by Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The shouty young men that crowded London’s trading markets and exchanges, earning fortunes and scaring away cupboardsful of sniffy Guildford stockbrokers, were the Trojan Lads, hidden in the bellies of financial institutions and wheeled inside the walls of the establishment. And it was okay to swear and be a bit of a sexist because they worked bloody hard.84

The main expression of the ‘lads’ has been the rise of the men’s magazines—glossy and upmarket, filled with expensive advertising, by the late 1990s they were selling 1.5 million copies a month between them.85 The titles range in sophistication and presentation but there is no doubting their selling point: the covers always have women in various states of undress. The inside is little different, containing vast amounts about sex, a lot of football, and a very strong interest in conspicuous consumption. There is a general assumption that ‘foreigners’ are inferior, being both strange and stupid, that women really ‘want it’ according to the most stereotyped male fantasy, and that any real man will only be interested in beer, sport and ‘shagging’. But these are aspirational men behaving badly. The editor of GQ Active described his average reader as between 25 and 35 and likely to be ‘cruising down the motorway in an Audi with a mountain bike on the roof’.86 Advertising is aimed at twenty- and thirty-somethings with large amounts of disposable income, focusing on cars, clothes and army recruitment.

It is sometimes argued that the lad phenomenon and the men’s magazines have a positive effect, that they are ‘an attempt by straight men to come to terms with their new position in the world, with the second wave of feminism and the undermining of traditional forms of gender identity’.87 But any inspection of these magazines shows little understanding of coming to terms with very much. Features in Loaded include ‘Ten great arse moments in movies’ or David Baddiel’s views on wanking. In FHM, which is supposed to be more sophisticated, international analysis is at the boys’ comic level. This is Benny Hill humour repackaged for the 1990s, and underlying it is a deeply conservative set of values. In this they resemble the 1950s too. Women who complain about such images, who don’t find the sexist jokes funny, or who in any other way break from the norm, are regarded as humourless, too unattractive to get a man, or lesbians. We love women, is the cry of the new lads, but they don’t love women at all. The love a particular stylised and objectified image of women because they believe this enhances their masculinity and status:

In the case of lad mags there is not only nostalgia for images of women in the mode of Playboy at its heyday, but also the desire to utter all the offences known to man, freed from the imagined tut-tutting of ‘ardent’ feminists. Men’s magazines celebrate images which three decades ago feminists would have denounced without hesitation; but these contemporary images are set in a context which attempts to deny us the right to have any opinion at all.88

The message of the magazines is that men can still celebrate their domination in the face of the threat of liberation—and who can dare to complain? Old sexist activities are dressed up as fun in other areas as well. Sleazy old stripping is reborn as lapdancing in expensive clubs patronised by businessmen and those on outings from City banks. The presence of women in the audience is supposed to make this cultural development acceptable. The 200 clubs which now exist in Britian mark ‘the invention of a branch of the sex industry considered not the slightest bit exploitative, nor remotely damaging to women’.89 The lapdancing clubs, however, do not break the mould of the old exploitative strip joints or brothels—rather they repackage it for credit card customers.

The alibi for much of this behaviour is the existence of women who participate: the ladettes—hard-drinking, sexually aggressive, confident women who are supposedly happy to go along with this because they are playing men at their own game. The old sexism wanted women to be passive—now they are allowed to be active as long as they accept sexism. This wanting to be one of the boys attitude goes much further than young women, with older women wanting to stress their continuing sexual attractiveness and activity. The middle-aged, middle class women who take their clothes off in Calendar Girls, Germaine Greer’s writing on the boy as sex object and even the advert for Marks and Spencer’s credit card where a woman eyes up the Italian waiter all show how lacking in subversion and reinforcing of sex roles this has become.

Part of the debate about men is about trying to shore up traditional family values in the face of an increasing unwillingness on the part of many people to live in the conventional nuclear family. Melanie Phillips declares that the ‘so called “crisis of masculinity”’ is ‘invented by those who wish to claim that the distinctive role of fathers is redundant’.90 Her aim is transparent—forcing men to work would solve many of the social problems that confront those who run our society at present:

Male breadwinning…is neither arbitrary or anachronistic. It is important both to cement masculine identity and to civilise aggressive male characteristics. That’s why unemployment has played havoc with young boys’ socialisation and shattered their fathers’ emotional and physical health. Employment is an instrumental, goal-driven activity which permits men to serve their families through competition. In that way it directs male aggression into pro-social purposes.91

The Phillips view of men is the modern equivalent of those who in the 1960s decried the absence of a war or national service into which young men could be conscripted. Today those who are excluded from work are accused of tending to turn to violence and—even worse—allowing the state to take responsibility for their families. Men have to know their place, and it is to work—the only means, in her chilling phrase, of ‘civilising’ them. If this authoritarian picture of an orderly world where men are breadwinners and women accept a traditional role as mothers and wives suggests that men have a built-in tendency to violence and bad behaviour as men, it is by no means unique. The sense that men can only be redeemed and civilised by the family is quite widely held.

Sandy Ruxton puts forward an explanation of the link between masculinity and criminality in the sex roles which men and women adopt when they become adults. The contradiction between the male child and the adult is greater than that between the female child and adult:

The dominant view of masculinity is that a man should be tough, strong, aggressive, independent, rational, intelligent, and so on. But the dominant image of children is that they are vulnerable, weak, immature, passive and dependent. This creates a particular contradiction for boys, which is heightened as adulthood gets nearer, simply because, within the construction of childhood, being a man cannot be achieved.92

If this is true, then becoming a man means rejecting all the traits most closely associated with childhood—and which all too often are also associated with ‘femininity’—and adopting behaviour and practices regarded as manly. Gangs, a degree of criminal behaviour, fighting, and scorning certain forms of learning which are seen as childish are all part of this process. So too is the adulation of sporting heroes. There is a class element to this. High-status schools tend to foster a liberalised version of the old public school ethos: individual excellence in sport, but also a sense of purpose in learning, given the expectation of all concerned in these enterprises that their pupils will fulfil an important place in society. The middle and upper classes place much store on individual development, to a certain extent apart from the mass of people, and an ambition to succeed in a career. Teenage boys from these sorts of backgrounds will see themselves as preparing for such a future. Working class boys take their adolescent development much more from the streets and from popular culture: collective praise for individual sporting or musical expertise is highly valued, and practical and physical attributes attract a higher status than academic ability. This is the sort of masculinity which is so objected to by the commentators, yet in itself it represents a threat not to the mass of people but to the dominant ideology which tries to put working class kids in their place. Why should ability at breakdancing not be valued as highly as playing golf? Or the ability to memorise song lyrics as valuable as knowing multiplication tables? The fashion for street clothes, the customisation of school uniforms, the refusal to accept the narrow middle class ideology now imposed with such a straitjacket on the schools, are a form of rebellion which often stresses aggression as a means of asserting some sort of control and status in life.

Even here we should hold on to some perspective. Most boys are not extremely violent, or habitual criminals. Some of the most common crimes may be more ‘feminine’ than ‘masculine’. Home Office figures confirm that an eighth of all recorded offences are for shoplifting and that more women than men are cautioned for the crime. It is especially common among young women, and 7,528 girls between the age of 13 and 15 are cautioned each year. This compares with 6,370 boys.93 One survey found that 89 percent of 16 year old working class girls had been involved in at least one physical fight.94 It would be hard to deduce from recent furores around some of these questions that juvenile crime was not pandemic. Nor would one conclude that—as is the truth—more boys pass exams than in the past and there is less illiteracy among the young than among the old. It is true that in many areas of education girls do better than boys, and that their improvement rate tends to be much faster than boys. But this is hardly surprising given the transformation of expectations about work and education for women over the past few decades. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when girls tended to do worse in education than boys, this was put down to girls’ low expectations of a career and their internalisation of their oppression. Today, especially when educational qualifications have taken on such heightened importance in the labour market for workers of both sexes, it is hardly surprising that girls attempt to equip themselves for competition in that market alongside boys. It may be as well that the preponderance of girls in clerical and white collar jobs may encourage them slightly more than boys to gain qualifications. This is very much a process of equalisation between the sexes. In this process boys can feel that relatively they are doing worse and feel a lack of self esteem due to this. However, the fact remains that the position of boys in education is improving too, but at a much slower rate. The proportion of young women in Britain achieving two or more A-levels has doubled since the mid-1970s, whereas the number of men doing so has risen by just under a half in the same period. Even so, the number gaining A-levels has risen substantially.95 Whereas 173,000 women were full time undergraduates in 1970/71, by 1997/98 there were 554,000. Comparable figures for men were 241,000 and 498,000. Women have caught up and overtaken men at this level, but among postgraduates they are still slightly below the figures for men, although again they have started from a lower level.96 The big increase in women’s participation and rise in qualifications seems to have stemmed from the 1980s, perhaps the most decisive decade in marking the idea that women had to take responsibility for their own self advancement, and this advance has certainly continued into the 1990s.97 Whether it will continue—marking an ever widening gap between the sexes—or whether it will stabilise with broad levels of equality but with women at a slight advantage is too early to say. What is indisputable, however, is the role of class in education and this appears to have a much greater influence on performance than gender. Pupils in comprehensive schools in the poorest urban areas achieve half the success rate at GCSE of those in better-off urban areas.98 In 1991/92, 55 percent from families of professionals went into higher education aged under 21; by 1998/99, 72 percent did. In 1991/92 only 6 percent of those from unskilled working class backgrounds went into higher education. By the end of the decade this had risen to 13 percent. Professionals were more than twice as likely as the national average to see their children in higher education, while unskilled workers were more than half as likely.99 The sense of worthlessness and bitterness at what the future holds must surely be connected in the minds of working class girls and boys with this lack of accessibility to the sort of education which at least holds out a promise of financial and social benefits. For when we look at those children who gain no qualifications, there is not a massive discrepancy between boys and girls. So 8 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls gained no graded GCSEs in 1997/98, while 26 percent of boys and 33 percent of girls gained two or more A-levels.100 Seeing the educational divide as a boy/girl question only obscures the much greater division of class which the right wing commentators are so keen to deny.

What sort of a society sees women as a threat?

Now men know what it’s like to be a woman, is the common response from many of those women who find themselves regaled with stories of male crisis. Women can’t help thinking that we’ve always had to put up with this—why is it different when it happens to a man? Time and again, the experience of men who have lost work or are doing lower grade work than they have been used to is comparable to women’s traditional malaise at being in the home. Bill Costas, an unemployed meatpacker in the US aged 34 moans, ‘I don’t see anybody anymore. The guys I worked with were my buddies… We’d go out after work and have a beer and shoot the bull. Now I don’t even know what they’re doing anymore’.101 Some believe men’s problem is precisely that they are in the traditional ‘female’ role.

But of course they are not in the traditional female role. Men still go out to work in very large numbers, they still hang on to nearly all the really powerful jobs in capitalist society, and they still leave women holding the baby most of the time, whether these women do it for love or for a paid wage. Men are not full time househusbands very often—and those who claim to be are often working at home part time in an occupation which has a high degree of autonomy and is relatively well rewarded. This is a very long way from the low-status work, cut off from any society wider than immediate neighbours and children, that makes women prone to depression, boredom and nervous illness. Those men who most closely approximate to such a role are the long term unemployed, usually without direct childcare responsibilities, and often older men, who sense their worthlessness from their inability to sell their labour power.

The real transformation here is that men and women are moving closer together in terms of their work and their domestic life, but they are struggling to do so in conditions not of their own choosing. They do so against a background of continuing women’s oppression and intensified exploitation for both men and women. No wonder so many feel in crisis. No wonder either that increasing numbers are beginning to question a society which treats men and women in this way. The experience of capitalist society is a potential unifier of working class people: the very process of exploitation brings large numbers of people together as workers. They face similar experiences of low wages, petty rules at work, the tyranny of time-keeping, and being constantly tied to machinery. They perceive a common enemy in the form of the employer. But there are other factors at work: most importantly, capitalist society also acts to divide working class people. This is done in a thousand small and large ways, and through a combination of ideological and material factors. Women’s material disadvantage in terms of wages, for example, is underpinned by the view of women as primarily mothers or sex objects which still prevails. Racist and nationalist arguments feed on the fact that in capitalist society there is scarcity amid plenty and that workers have to compete for scarce resources. So competition between workers for jobs or housing or education can act to reinforce racist ideas. Society tries to pit men against women, blacks against whites, Catholics against Protestants. When an oppressed group gain anything at the expense of those they are supposed to be competing with, this is enough to cause a crisis. Instead of seeing the real source of problems lying in the wider social system which exploits and oppresses, working people all too often see the problem as lying within the immediate division of these scarce resources.

Women have not benefited at the expense of men. They still work in the home and in paid work. Both sexes are under increased pressure, with the lives of working men and women unrecognisable compared with one or two generations ago. Both now have to work to provide an adequate family income; both are pressurised to ensure that their children gain the education and qualifications to equip them for the labour market as it is today; both struggle to fit the tasks of childcare and housework into their busy lives. As the family becomes a centre of enhanced consumption, so individual men and women are sold an image of themselves which goes well beyond the old roles of breadwinner and homemaker. They are meant to successfully transcend these old roles and adopt at least some of the roles seen as the property of the other sex. Fitting into these new roles may be more rewarding or enjoyable in some cases, but it is usually hard work. So women work for less than equal wages while men are expected to participate in unpaid childcare.

The discomfort which men feel at the new situation in which they find themselves demonstrates how artificial the old situation was. In The Condition of the Working Class in England Frederick Engels wrote of the unease felt among men as they lost their work in textiles and saw their wives or daughters earning more money than they could. He described the plight of a male worker in St Helens, Lancashire, interrupted by a friend while darning his wife’s stockings. The worker describes how he has had no work for three years, while his wife works from dawn till night in the factory and so is too tired to do anything at home.102 Engels wrote of how insane this system was and how degrading it was to both sexes, since it ‘unsexes the man and takes from the woman all womanliness without being able to bestow upon the man true womanliness or the woman true manliness’.103 There is nothing natural about gender roles or about the attitudes and status which are attributed to them. Instead, he says:

…so total a reversal of the position of the sexes can have come to pass only because the sexes have been placed in a false position from the beginning. If the reign of the wife over the husband, as inevitably brought about by the factory system, is inhuman, the pristine rule of the husband over the wife must have been inhuman too.104

In an unequal society, there must always be someone on top—but there is nothing natural or fair about this. This is the basis of Engels’ argument, developed elsewhere, that the family and gender roles within it are artificial constructions.105 The male crisis is a product of a society incapable of treating its members as equal human beings, but which instead robs them of any control of their lives. The response to this among men in particular is twofold. Men often cling on to a sense of identity or pride in masculine values or traits, which they think set them apart from women (or indeed from men who are regarded as being ‘feminine’). But at the same time they feel a sense of unease and of powerlessness in controlling what happens in their world. This explains much of the seemingly contradictory behaviour of men today and also points to a possibly frightening but potentially exhilarating future, as an understanding of the shallowness and inequity of the old relationships leads to a wider questioning of how the world is run.

The problem of feminism

What has happened to women’s liberation? By the late 1970s the movement which had such an impact ideologically in putting the issue of women on the political agenda was deeply divided. The activism that marked many of its adherents declined dramatically; the women’s movement had never been a mass movement in Britain, but now it fragmented into different and disparate campaigns. Although the movement’s founders tended to be socialists and trade unionists, the second half of the 1970s saw the growth of radical feminism. The disputatious conference in 1978 marked the last time that the movement ever met as a movement. The subsequent decades have been ones of retreat for most feminists as the attempts to find niches where they could practise their feminism took them into different directions. Many saw the Labour Party and especially local Labour councils as a key agent of change, enthused by the chance of setting up women’s committees and creating reforms for women as part of a reborn local government. The attacks by Thatcher on the GLC and other local councils put paid to such good intentions and little was salvaged from what remained apart from a number of individual women who went on to become MPs or councillors. Other women went into academia, teaching women’s studies courses and related topics.106 In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, as feminism became more acceptable as an ideology, so it became more limited in terms of what it would accept. Abandonment of collective change leads to an exclusive emphasis on individual change and with that powerlessness in confronting the structures of oppression. Instead of defining itself in solidarity with wider movements and with the working class struggle it was enough simply to think in a feminist way in order to be involved in political practice. This took its toll not just on the activism of the movement but on its ideas, especially as the right wing ideas of Thatcherism and then of neo-liberalism post-1989 gained influence. Some of the ideas which had been accepted in the 1960s and 1970s now came under attack: a generation of younger feminists sang the praises of make-up and designer clothes, or dismissed the idea of date rape as wildly exaggerated. In The Morning After Katie Roiphe writes, ‘If I was really standing in the middle of an epidemic, a crisis, if 25 percent of my female friends were really being raped, wouldn’t I know it?’ Probably not, if in real life she is as unsympathetic to the problem as her book suggests, someone who believes that ‘someone’s rape may be another person’s bad night’.107 Another US feminist, Naomi Wolf, embraces the entrepreneurial spirit of the age with her attacks on ‘victim feminism’ and the belief that ‘women’s businesses can be the power cells of the 21st century’.108 Wolf sees Princess Diana as someone to be admired for having transformed herself from being a victim.109 British feminist Beatrix Campbell saw the pampered princess as the subject for a whole book, including the ludicrous claim that, ‘By telling her story, Diana joined the “constituency of the rejected”—the survivors of harm and horror, from the Holocaust, from world wars and pogroms, from Vietnam and the civil wars of South America and South Africa, from torture and child abuse—who have transformed the work of storytelling in our century’.110 Feminism appeared either disconnected from the world or desperately looking for role models to whom women could aspire—even if the role models turned out to be princesses.

Ideas of liberation do not stand in isolation from the wider society. Some of them can become incorporated or accepted within society—witness the very limited inclusion of a minority of women and an even smaller minority of blacks into the high echelons of power. Others adapt and bend to the dominant ideas, even where they are not totally abandoned. This happened to a layer of feminists who disconnected their individual progress from the wider progress of society. While working women in most parts of the world saw their conditions worsen, those who benefited from the changes left them behind or even blamed them for their own failure to change and to take advantage of the market opportunities which availed them. Identity politics projected a view which could only be about individual women ‘getting on’ and therefore encouraging other women. But the narrow scope of the vision led to myopia: identity politics could only see its proponents’ own advances or otherwise. In a period when globalisation, imperialism and neo-liberalism have run riot, concern about individual women or blacks ‘making it’ has, as Naomi Klein so well puts it, ‘amounted to a rearranging of the furniture while the house burnt down’.111 Fighting over the shrinking resources available to women and blacks in the 1990s meant ‘fighting their battles over a single, shrinking piece of pie—and consistently failing to ask what was happening to the rest of it’.112

Today there is barely any pretence from some erstwhile feminists that anything needs to be changed. A progression of spokeswomen for the successful minority now tell us that feminism is backward-looking or that women can only achieve by competing on the same terms as men.113 The retreat even further into postfeminism has led to an abandonment of any attempt to make sense of women’s oppression, but rather has become a simple reflection of one of society’s dominant images—that women can make it if they work hard and don’t cause any trouble. Elaine Showalter, veteran US feminist, now criticises the ‘dead-end feminist combination of dependence on the nanny state and lack of enterprise in politics and popular culture’ and urges us to ‘solve the childcare problem, and also make money’. She asks, ‘Where are the female Richard Bransons and Jamie Olivers of the nappy and naptime brigade?’114 Where indeed?

The cleavage within the ideas of women’s liberation runs along lines of class. Those who see liberation in terms of individual advance can only do so by ignoring the millions of women and men for whom life choices are quite different from which brand to buy, which car to drive, or how to achieve the best ‘work-life balance’. Throughout the world, the conditions of these people have deteriorated while a small number have gained. Feminism has run up against the limits of class society: the existence of a small minority of women with access to top jobs and all the material advantages that these bring with them is perfectly compatible with the continued existence of class exploitation; millions of women achieving real change in the form of equal pay or socialised childcare is not. For the capitalist class to grant such demands would mean cutting deep into their profits, something they are unlikely to do without being forced to. And as the struggle revives, globally and in Britain, as it has over the past few years, questions of class become more relevant.

A growing number of women depend on other women to do their domestic labour. In the US between 14 and 18 percent of households employ an outsider to do their cleaning. Socialist feminist Barbara Ehrenreich says, ‘Among my middle class, professional women friends and acquaintances, including some who made important contributions to the early feminist analysis of housework two and a half decades ago, the employment of a cleaning person is now nearly universal’.115 But the question of class isn’t simply about individual attitudes, shocking though some of these are—it is about the organisation of the whole of society.

The women’s movement has failed because its theory was and is incapable of addressing the very big problems now facing women and the increasing class nature of the attacks on them. The theory of patriarchy, which locates women’s oppression outside of capitalist social relations and tries to separate out oppression and class, proved inadequate to explain the real position of women. It could only explain women’s oppression in terms of the benefits which accrued to men and to capital as a result of that oppression. Patriarchy could not therefore begin to explain the changes in women’s lives which have been the themes of this article. Women went out to work because capital needed labour reserves during its long boom which could not be met by the existing male-dominated workforce. Women’s entry into work coincided with large-scale immigration for the same reason. The wages of men and women needed to cover the higher costs of reproduction of the family, including the costs of childcare. The monogamous, lifelong marriage and the Kellogg’s cornflake advert traditional family no longer fitted this situation. Sexual attitudes changed as a result of all these other changes, as women saw themselves as less and less subservient.

Capitalism has served to break down many of the oppressive structures which had dominated for hundreds if not thousands of years, but it could not create liberation because it acts to turn everything into a commodity and so even the caring functions of the family are increasingly bought and sold on the market. And it recreates oppression and its structures in order to divide the working class. The central arena of women’s oppression remains the family, which is both broken down by the effects of capitalism and also maintained and reinforced by capital as the cheapest, most convenient and most socially stable way of caring for the existing generation of workers and reproducing the next generation.116

Liberation now?

What does liberation mean for a young woman in Thailand, facing the choice between hard factory work and prostitution under the control of pimps who exploit young girls for a few years until they lose their health or looks? What does liberation mean for a working mother in the north east of England who works in a call centre, who rarely sees her partner because they both work shifts, and who struggles to make ends meet on two miserable wages? What does liberation mean for the Hispanic cleaner in Los Angeles, threatened with deportation as an illegal immigrant and forced to neglect her own home to clean other people’s?

It is obvious that political equality is not enough. Equality on the same basis as men is fine if the man you are comparing yourself to has an above-average income, can afford to pay for high quality personal services, and has more than adequate living space and a fulfilling high status job. If on the other hand he is low paid, works in a monotonous and highly supervised job, works unsocial hours and can only afford the cheapest housing, then the aspiration has to be for something more. The call then has to be for economic and social change, which means challenging the way capitalist society is organised. For many feminists this is not a necessity: positive discrimination at work, women-only shortlists for parliamentary elections, women managers and academics at the highest level, are sufficient to fulfil their aspirations. They do not even find these battles particularly easy, as we have seen from the pitifully small number of women MPs, or the regularly occurring industrial tribunals about sexual harassment of female high-fliers in the City of London. Institutions which defend privilege in general are unlikely to open up even to the most respectable or compliant women. But these feminists have little concern with these wider battles. Those who want to change the world for working class women have to look to more radical solutions.

The problem of childcare being privatised and remaining a burden for women cannot be solved unless we have at hand the resources of the whole of society to do so. That means the wealth that we create going not into the pockets of the already rich and powerful, but into developing a whole range of options for childcare including nurseries on every street or estate available free to all those who want to use them. A national childcare service based on the principles of the NHS would be a huge step forward, but no capitalist class in the world will let providing one eat into its profits when they can fall back on the family to do the work unpaid. The 35-hour week for men and women would be a huge step forward, cutting into unemployment, giving people much more leisure time and allowing them to spend more time with their children. This in turn would mean people needing less of the paid services which accompany the long hours we work: the cleaners, the grocery delivery vans, the childminders. Decent, cheap social housing would mean less travel and commuting to work as people were able to afford to live close to work. All of these provisions would benefit most women and men, as well as the wider society, but they will not be realised while those who control our world continue to do so, because they would cut into the profits of our rulers.

Liberation will only be achieved when the working people of the world take control of it, ending the exploitation which dominates our lives and destroys our human potential and relations. Revolution is about liberation and about taking control: control of the workplaces and the work process so that we produce for need, not profit; control of our own lives as we grapple with the possibilities of changing the world. For women that control is central because it also means sexual control in the genuine sense, rather than in the caricatured way of mimicking men it means today. Sexual control means the right to have children or not, as a woman chooses. This should seem a basic right in the 21st century, but there are women who are forced to have children they do not want because they are denied abortion or contraception. There are other women who are forced not to have children, injected with contraceptives such as Depo Provera. There should be no financial, political or moral pressure on these decisions. Women and men should have the right to divorce when either partner wants it. Women should be free from domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment. Only when we end an exploitative class society which maintains oppression at its centre can we take control and achieve these aims collectively.

The examples of even short-lived socialist societies in history demonstrate that women’s demands came to the fore and that women themselves fought to achieve them. Post-1917 Russia, despite being poor, wartorn and beleaguered by invasion, achieved real changes for women in what had been one of the most oppressive societies in the world, changes only finally defeated with the rise of Stalinism. Women’s liberation has to be part of the fight for socialism, of the overthrow of class society, for it to achieve any of its fundamental aims. If it is to be successful that struggle has to involve working class men, not separate from them.

Divisions about fighting for liberation are not new. Early in the last century there were arguments between the middle class feminists and working class socialists about whether women’s liberation could be achieved within capitalism. As the US socialist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn said in 1915, following a major strike wave involving women workers, ‘The sisterhood of women, like the brotherhood of man, is a hollow sham to labour. Behind all its smug hypocrisy and sickly sentimentality loom the sinister outlines of the class war’.117 The divisions which emerged internationally on class lines then have emerged again now. This article has been mainly concerned with women in Britain but features of their conditions are reproduced across the world as globalisation, imperialism and neo-liberalism make their attacks on working people. If in fighting back against them we make the connection between women’s liberation, socialism and the overthrow of class society then we will have brought the possibility of change much closer.


  1. B Sutcliffe, 100 Ways of Seeing an Unequal World (London, 2001), p59.
  2. www.rapecrisis.co.uk/statistics.htm
  3. S Evans, Personal Politics (New York, 1979), p190.
  4. For the close connection between some of these strikes and the women’s movement see The Body Politic (London, 1972), pp91-102, 153-174; L German, Sex, Class and Socialism (London, 1998), pp163-184; S Rowbotham, A Century of Women (London, 1997), pp348-352.
  5. See, for example, N Klein, No Logo (London, 2001); B Ehrenreich and A Russell Hochschild (eds), Global Woman (London, 2003); C Harman, ‘The Workers of the World’, in International Socialism 96 (Autumn 2002); G Horgan, ‘How Does Globalisation Affect Women?’, International Socialism 91 (Summer 2001).
  6. A Coote and B Campbell, Sweet Freedom (London, 1982), pp74-76.
  7. Financial Times, 8 February 2001.
  8. Figures from Labour Movement Trends 2001. See Financial Times, 8 February 2001.
  9. Social Trends 30 (London, 2000), p71.
  10. In 1979, 24 percent of such women returned to work, by 1988 this figure stood at 45 percent and in 1996 was at 67 percent (24 percent were full time and 42 percent part time). S Dex (ed), Families and the Labour Market (London, 1999), p33.
  11. As above, p35.
  12. These women’s earnings made up 7.9 percent of household income in 1965 and 11.3 percent in 1983. In households where a married woman was working, her income made up 19.5 percent or 27.4 percent of household income, depending on whether there were dependent children or not. See Jill Walker, ‘Women, the State and Family in Britain: Thatcher Economics and the Experience of Women’, in J Rubery (ed), Women and Recession (London, 1988), p221.
  13. D Pilling, ‘Engels and the Condition of the Working Class Today’, in J Lea and G Pilling (eds), The Condition of Britain (London, 1996), p23.
  14. S Dex (ed), as above, p42.
  15. As above.
  16. As above, p43.
  17. Financial Times, 20 March 2002.
  18. L Ward, ‘Childcare Gap Stops Mothers Working’, The Guardian, 26 March 2002.
  19. R Bennett, ‘Multiplicity Of Childcare Options Fails To Deliver’, Financial Times, 20 March 2002.
  20. R Bennett, ‘State May Pay Grandmothers To Baby-Sit’, Financial Times, 20 March 2002.
  21. H Wilkinson, ‘The Mother Load’, The Guardian, 26 March 2002.
  22. R Taylor, ‘More Women In Paid Employment’, Financial Times, 8 February 2001.
  23. H Wilkinson, as above.
  24. R Bennett, ‘Multiplicity Of Childcare Options’, as above.
  25. H Meltzer, Day Care Services for Children (a survey carried out on behalf of the Department of Health in 1990) (London, 1994), p19.
  26. Financial Times, 19 April 2002.
  27. H Meltzer, as above, pp56-57.
  28. As above, p18.
  29. J Rubery and R Tarling, ‘Women’s Employment in Declining Britain’, in J Rubery (ed), as above, pp126-127.
  30. Social Trends 30 (2000), p72.
  31. Demos Report, Tomorrow’s Women, 1997, quoted in R Coward, Sacred Cows (London, 1999), p49.
  32. Equal Opportunities Commission figures, quoted in C Palmer, ‘Some Still More Equal Than Others’, The Observer, 11 February 2001 (business section).
  33. J Finch, ‘Childcare Benefits Count For Nothing’, The Guardian, 1 March 2001.
  34. Hakim’s controversial views on this question have been decisively rebutted by various feminist academics. See C Hakim, ‘The Myth of Rising Female Employment’, in Work, Employment and Society, vol 7, no 1 (March 1993), pp97-120; C Hakim, ‘Five Feminist Myths about Women’s Employment’, British Journal of Sociology, vol 46, no 3, pp429-455; J Ginn et al, ‘Feminist Fallacies: A Reply to Hakim on Women’s Employment’, British Journal of Sociology, vol 47, no 1, pp167-173; I Bruegel, ‘Whose Myths are They Anyway?’, British Journal of Sociology 47 (1), pp175-177; C Hakim, ‘The Sexual Division of Labour and Women’s Heterogeneity’, British Journal of Sociology, vol 47, no 1, pp178-188.
  35. J Martin and C Roberts, Women and Employment: A Lifetime Perspective (London, 1984), chs 3 and 4.
  36. S Harkness, ‘Working 9 to 5?’, in P Gregg and J Wadsworth (eds), The State of Working Britain (Manchester, 1999), p106.
  37. J Ginn et al, ‘Feminist Fallacies’, as above, p170.
  38. See I Bruegel, as above, p176; Y Cooper, ‘How Safe Is Your Job?’, The Independent, 16 May 1996, which reported that, since 1992, 175,000 more part time workers said they would rather work full time.
  39. J Martin and C Roberts, as above, p41.
  40. T Desai et al, ‘Gender and the Labour Market’ in P Gregg and J Wadsworth (eds), as above, p176.
  41. As above, p168.
  42. As above, p178.
  43. G Gorer, quoted in R McKibbin, Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951 (Oxford, 1998), p296.
  44. Social Trends 30 (2000), p37.
  45. As above, p40.
  46. Guardian Education Supplement, 16 January 2001, p63.
  47. ‘Battle To Cut Teenage Pregnancy Rate’, The Guardian, 22 February 2001.
  48. J Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society (London, 1981), p252.
  49. K Wellings et al, Sexual Behaviour in Britain (London, 1994), p37.
  50. L Stanley, Sex Surveyed (London, 1995), p45, quoting survey by Michael Schofield.
  51. J Lewis, Women in Britain since 1945 (Oxford, 1992), p44.
  52. C Harman, The Fire Last Time (London, 1988), p86.
  53. K Wellings et al, as above, pp71-72, shows of those surveyed only 6.1 percent of men and 15.9 percent of women had their first intercourse in marriage, compared with 42.9 percent of men and 51.4 percent of women who had it first in a steady relationship.
  54. J Gillis, For Better, for Worse (Oxford, 1985), p307.
  55. K White, Sexual Liberation or Sexual License (Chicago, 2000), p197.
  56. J Gillis, as above, pp307-308.
  57. K Wellings et al, as above, pp98-100.
  58. As above, p77.
  59. As above, pp156-157.
  60. Figures according to Wellings et al, of those asked about oro-genital sexual contact in the past year, were as follows: Cunnilingus only: men 6.4 percent, women 5.5 percent Fellatio only: men 2.7 percent, women 3.3 percent Both: men 46.5 percent, women 40.7 percent (K Wellings et al, as above, pp149-151).
  61. See, for example, the results of a US study quoted in G Greer, The Whole Woman (London, 2000), p241.
  62. US News and World Report, quoted in G Greer, as above, p234.
  63. K Bales, ‘Because She Looks Like a Child’, in B Ehrenreich and A Russell Hochschild (eds), as above, p219.
  64. As above, p214.
  65. D Brennan, ‘Selling Sex for Visas’, in B Ehrenreich and A Russell Hochschild (eds), as above, p157.
  66. Quoted in Metro, 5 July 2000.
  67. Quoted in R Coward, Sacred Cows (London, 1999), p75.
  68. Social Trends 30 (2000), p37.
  69. D Hill, ‘In Search Of New Dad’, The Guardian, 14 June 2000.
  70. P Hewitt, About Time (London, 1993), p58.
  71. As above, p57.
  72. As above, pp57-58.
  73. As above, p61.
  74. D Hill, as above.
  75. S Dex (ed), as above, p37.
  76. www.pbs.org/livelyhood/workingfamily/familytrends.html
  77. S Dex (ed), as above, pp38-39, from unpublished tables by E Ferri and K Smith, Parenting in the 1990s (London, 1996).
  78. S Dex (ed), as above, pp38-39.
  79. G Dench, The Place of Men in Changing Family Cultures (London, 1996), p63.
  80. D Hill, as above.
  81. T Blackwell and J Seabrook, Talking Work: An Oral History (London, 1996), p141.
  82. As above, p161.
  83. S Humphries and P Gordon, A Man’s World (London, 1996), p173.
  84. S Nye, ‘Act Your Age!’, The Observer Encyclopaedia of Our Times, vol 1 (London, no date), p3.
  85. R Snoddy, ‘Staying Active On A Diet Of Sex And Sport’, Financial Times, 14 April 1997.
  86. As above.
  87. Letter in Socialist Review, January 1997.
  88. I Whelehan, Overloaded (London, 2000), p65.
  89. D Aitkenhead, ‘Prudes Rock’, The Guardian, 5 March 2002.
  90. M Phillips, The Sex Change State (Social Market Foundation, 1997), p15.
  91. As above, p7.
  92. S Ruxton, ‘Boys Won’t be Boys’ in T Lloyd and T Wood (eds) What Next for Men? (London, 1996), p82.
  93. L Brooks, ‘Ladies Who Lift’, The Guardian, 5 March 2002.
  94. Quoted in L Segal, Slow Motion (London, 1997), p263.
  95. Social Trends 30 (2000), p58.
  96. As above, p56.
  97. As above, and A Phillips, ‘Down With Girls!’, The Guardian, 21 June 2000.
  98. B Hugill, ‘Britain’s Exclusion Zone’, The Observer, 13 April 1997.
  99. Social Trends 30 (2000), p56.
  100. As above, p59.
  101. L Rubin, Families on the Faultline (New York, 1994), pp112-113.
  102. F Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (Moscow, 1973), p183.
  103. As above, p184.
  104. As above.
  105. F Engels, ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ in K Marx and F Engels, Selected Writings (London, 1968), p461 onwards.
  106. For a much more detailed analysis of the women’s movement see L German, Sex, Class and Socialism (London, 1998).
  107. K Roiphe, The Morning After (London, 1994), pp52-54.
  108. N Wolf, Fire With Fire (London, 1993), p318.
  109. As above, p48.
  110. B Campbell, Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy (London, 1998), p203.
  111. N Klein, as above, p123.
  112. As above, p122.
  113. See, for example, N Wolf, as above, and R Coward, as above.
  114. E Showalter, ‘Stop Whingeing, Just Do It’, Financial Times Magazine, 18 October 2003.
  115. B Ehrenreich, ‘Maid to Order’, in B Ehrenreich and A Russell Hochschild (eds), as above, p90.
  116. For a further discussion of the role of the family under capitalism, see L German, Sex, Class and Socialism (London, 1998), chapters 1-3.
  117. Quoted in M Tax, The Rising of the Women (Illinois, 2001), p12.