A leading British feminist has said that feminism has been hijacked by an elite who use it to further their own careers rather than to stand up for other women.
Baroness Wolf of Dulwich told The Times that the campaigns for more women in the boardroom and in Parliament are a “betrayal” of the founding principles of feminism, which were based on wanting equal rights and opportunities for women.
The Crossbench peer said those with “golden skirts” – women who had reached the top echelons of business or politics – were using the cause to gild their own lives.
“Sisterhood is dead. There is a complete preoccupation in feminism with the economic self-interest of the top people, whether it’s boards or parliament,” she said.
“It is a betrayal of what early feminism was all about. Modern feminism should be far more concerned about the lives of people who did not go to university, who are working long hours in low-paid jobs, doing shift work or struggling to hold down a job, in forced marriages or living in domestic environments which are hostile.”
While there have been campaigns for equal pay and against such practises as female genital mutilation which have been championed by ministers including Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone, legislation has tended towards minimum targets for women on company boards or all-women shortlists to select MP candidates.
“There has been an obsession with what is going on at Oxford or Berkeley because it involves ‘people like us’,” she said. “But those on the receiving end are not the top 15 per cent and university campuses are not the most dangerous places on earth to be a woman, really they are not.”
But Lady Wolf said that statistical evidence showed these campaigns made virtually no difference to the lives or ordinary women. She used the example of Norway, where there is a requirement for 40 per cent of the boards of all publicly listed companies to be women.
Lady Wold said the “real life experiment” in the Scandinavian country “proves the point” and such legislation had “changed nothing.”
Lady Wolf’s comments have highlighted the division in feminism, with leading female figures criticising her comments.
Caroline Criado-Perez, who faced threats of rape and death for campaigning for Jane Austen to appear on the ten pound note to ensure some female representation on the paper form of Sterling, said:
“I just don’t know where she has been. There is an explosion of feminism at all levels of society and all over the world. Also, it is naive to think it doesn’t matter who is in the boardroom or in parliament. We are a democracy and who holds power affects us all.”
And left-wing Harriet Harman, who has faced criticism from women for implying they need special treatment to succeed in the world, also took umbrage.
“The women’s movement has always been a coalition with women from every walk of life, from the blue stocking Vera Brittain types to the Dagenham campaigners for equal pay. But they all want to tackle inequality,” she said.
But there are many who would point to feminism being divided long before, with the movement being seen as a left wing organisation that only stands up for left wing issues.
Communications Manager at the Adam Smith Institute, Kate Andrews, said:
“Employers seem to be giving women an equal and fair shot at having a career; now is the time to turn to our attention to the private sphere, where women need to be supported and treated fairly, regardless of their career decisions.”