by Sunetra Senior

Part One (of Three): Bourgeois Beginnings. Read part Two here and Part Three here.

‘Are we in the right place?’ was a semi-serious question posed by a friend of mine at the 2018 Women’s March, which took place in London on 4th March to commemorate worldwide Women’s Day. Having been to many demonstrations between us, including the historic 2017 Women’s March, which took place the day after President Trump’s inauguration, we had sound reference points between us too. Usually, there’s a friendly, lively atmosphere. You might even enjoy some canned ciders as you watch an animated speaker deliver one motivational speech after the next.

In 2018, however, the big women’s march was sedate, controlled, and most alarmingly of all: conformist. I even got elbowed in the face by a male police officer who told me to ‘stay within the demonstration line’. This was immediately after I’d passed a giant stone pedestal, encircled by a murder of male reporters, gathered creepily at that higher vantage point like  gigantic crows. Hitchcockian voyeurism aside, women also seemed to be adopting the strange, disciplinary mood. One female speaker said to keep fighting ‘even if it took another 100 years’. But where was the urgency? Where ‘was the anger’? as feminist performer Sophie Cameron tweeted out.

The more I thought about it, the clearer it became: how were people meant to feel impassioned when they didn’t really know why they were there? A critique of the #MeToo campaign has been its glamorisation and consequent trivialisation. There was this similar show of shallow engagement with the gender rights movement at the  march. What did it matter if there was a massive stage showcasing amazing performers such as Natalie Imbruglia, endorsement from high-profile male professionals, such as the Mayor of London, and women coming together across different political factions, if the beating heart of ideological substance was effectively gone?

There were some powerful displays of human grit: fiery performance poet, Salena Godden, the very vocal Women’s Muslim Network UK, and the witty ladies of the charity Bloody Good Period (all pictured), whose mission it is to provide free sanitary care to women who need it in the UK.  But their protesting punch was undermined by the subdued majority. And this is the pointthe advancement of Feminism should not be measured by the number of people who jump on the bandwagon alone. It is too profound for this populism. As with any higher belief system, from environmentalism to even nationalism, there must be a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the cause, latently driving it. Otherwise the direction is lost. This need not even be an academic awareness but certainly a conscious, and especially in this case, emotionally resonant one.

There was this similar show of shallow engagement with the gender rights movement at the  march.

So, this begs the behemoth question: what defines gender equality as it stands today? Given the scope of the piece, I will hark back to prior relevant articles to help elaborate. In Equalimania, I identified a prominent intersectional point emerging between workers’ and women’s rights. I stated that upon earning equal legislative justices in the work and domestic spaces, the gender battle had shifted to the subtleties of the social realm. Women may have received the backing of courts, fairer employment opportunities and proprietorial protection in marriage, but everyday sexism such as sexual harassment, double standards, gender prejudices such as intellectual ability, and consequently limited access to higher work positions remains rife. Furthermore, I argued that we were hitting such a wall because our battle had become “decidedly corporate.” This is backed via a New Statesman report which stated that women are twice as likely to be hit by austerity because they occupy more public and service jobs. Having overcome bureaucratic working barriers, women now find themselves facing the more elusive underlying coldness of a capitalist system that “lauds the functionality of our fingers’ over the needs of its people.” Effectively, being frowned upon for taking maternity leave and expecting the public to tolerate an appalling minimum wage, are the result of the same hostile mentality that’s part of a mechanical order, which no longer wants to accommodate for individual sentiments.

Though it is true that men dominate positions of influence and affluence then, the Feminist movement cannot end at a fatter pay cheque. Indeed, Patriarchy has been sculpted by hard-headed bourgeois imagination. Gender roles were inextricably rooted in a rigid yet highly theorised class context. The idea of a smoothly running nation was popularised during the era of imperialism. The crusading male elite set the norm so those viewed to be strong – men – were defenders of the public sphere. They were meant to be flawless worker bees, defending the civic sanctity of the country, while women were the carers, relegated to the home to look after their hard working husbands. They were viewed as more sensitive, and though useful, entirely secondary.

So, not only did the unequal segmentation of gender roles intersect with an unjust division of labour, but at once split the human psyche into two equally corrosive halves. Men were socialised to forgo feeling to function excellently, while women were robbed of chances for career fulfilment and meaningfully actualising talent. In short, an otherwise healthy spectrum of personal attributes was compartmentalised into a reductive binary that served the bigger industrial machine. Masculine traits were those of order, stoicism and ruthlessness, resulting in an over-inflated ego while femininity was yoked with a recreational softness, relaxation and compassion, which initially created a diminutive sense of self. At an earlier time in history, the famous scholar, Luce Irigaray, had summarised this abstract experience as ‘woman not being able to see herself as whole.’

Seminal feminism – the cause that counteracted such oppression – then always championed an individual internal freedom over a simply biological, female one. To understand this is to be truly Feminist. The end state lies in a holistic emotional freedom that transcends any manner of incarceration: from the bodily and the mental to the political and spatial. It is about a boundless release where the concept of corporeality itself is treated as ancillary.

the Feminist movement cannot end at a fatter pay cheque

As a result, In the State and Urgency of Sisterhood in 2017, I went onto urge women to prioritise their culturally warmer relationships to empower themselves and others at once setting a healthy example for the wider community. Basically, upon receiving fundamental professional freedom, I concluded that women, who are also socially encouraged towards dialogue and nurture, were now in the uniquely fortunate position of great radical strength “as individuals in an overly ascetic 21st century”. In a twisted turn of fate, traditionally female emotionality, once derogatory, becomes a blessing in modern times.



All images by Sunetra Senior, except featured image © Warner Bros./Sony Pictures


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  1. Sounds to me like you went to the wrong March! For the past few years Care International has tried to hijack IWD to promote is 3rd World Development agenda.

    If you had done a bit of research you would have attended the Million Women Rise March which is traditional held on the saturday closest to 8th March each year.

    It does not pander to male directed agendas.

    It focuses on violence against women and is led by women from BME communities and support services.

    It alwasy bewilders me how so many young/er women are so easily taken in by main stream faux feminism.

    This international women’s day if you cant get to Million Women Rise look round and see what your local women’s groups are going.

    Then you can really celebrate women. Women who are working autonomously for other women.


    • Hi Hope,

      thanks for your comment. Had you read the other two parts to this piece? The essay in its entirety exhaustively addresses the issue ‘faux feminism’, which is exactly my concern. I know Million Women Rise well, and agree that it is highly democratic as was the 2019 Women’s March in Jan. However, the fact that these events do not receive the deserving attention is part of the problem, which I unpack in Part Three. Commercial organisation appears to be superseding grass-roots, authentic expression. There is a reason so many young women are being ‘taken’ as you say, and I think it is actively sinister because of a right-wing resurgence. It is important to be aware of these influences to more effectively fight.

      I really hope there are only greater numbers, this year, at Million Women Rise,



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