Disrespect for women: Tommy Sheridan (left) and George Galloway (right) share anti-feminist attitudes with the Occupy movement
Feminism's natural home is the political Left. The struggle for equal pay, kick-started by the female workers at the Ford Dagenham car plant who went on strike in 1968, was supported by male-led unions. Socialists are assumed to be in favour of total equality between men and women and castigate the Right for considering women to be only worthy of childrearing and housekeeping.
In 2012 the Trades Union Congress appointed a female general secretary, Frances O'Grady, for the first time in its 145-year history. Yet the Tories managed to vote in a woman as party leader as far back as 1975. Who says sexism is the domain of right-wing traditionalists?
The leading contemporary socialist feminist thinkers such as Sheila Rowbotham and Lynne Segal are well known in the academy but will never become as prominent publicly as their male counterparts. The reason for this is straightforward. When women work with leftist men to achieve a common aim, any issues specific to women are often seen as a "bourgeois deviation" and counter to the wider cause.
In 1964 Stokely Carmichael, the prominent US Black Power activist, was asked about the role of women in the civil rights movement. He replied, "The only position for women in the movement is prone." Carmichael's remarks caused outrage among many women and are still considered emblematic of the entrenched misogyny of 1960s activist movements. Sexism on the Left on both sides of the Atlantic has a long and shameful history. One Berkeley anti-war leader said of feminists in 1969, "Let them eat cock." At Students for a Democratic Society meetings, "brothers" reported their unique dreams for utopia which included, "Free grass, free food, free women and free clothes." If and when women tried to criticise male chauvinism within the movement, their actions were mocked. Such sexism prompted the feminist critiques of the New Left that would later develop into the women's liberation movement of the 1970s.
Despite more than four decades of feminism, sexism on the Left has barely abated. As recently as 2004 former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone warmly welcomed to City Hall Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who advocated domestic violence and the stoning of adulterous women, and justified doing so when challenged. Al-Qaradawi was a speaker at a conference, hosted by Livingstone, defending the "right" of Muslim women to wear the hijab. Although the conference claimed to promote "choice", al-Qaradawi has ruled that wearing the hijab is not a matter of choice but of religious obligation. There were no feminists of Muslim origin invited to speak at the conference or any Muslims critical of religious doctrine. Feminist critics of Livingstone's friendly relationship with al-Qaradawi described the conference as a one-sided presentation of religious fundamentalism masquerading as a human rights debate.
George Galloway is a fine example of a man on the Left who appears to consider women as inferior. Galloway, along with left-wing heroes Ken Loach, John Pilger and Michael Moore, is a supporter of Julian Assange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face questioning on allegations of sexual assault and rape.
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