Sandi Toksvig has announced that she is leaving BBC Radio 4, where she has presented The News Quiz for nine years, to help found a new political party, the Women's Equality Party. Feminists across the country are rejoicing, seeing this as the turning point that women have been waiting for. Having previously spent our time constantly battling for the mainstream political parties to represent our needs, establishing a party solely for that purpose could just be the perfect solution. Couldn't it?
Little is known about the Women's Equality Party thus far, and it does not have any policies to speak of. However, it does have something of a mission statement, stipulating some broad aims: equal representation in politics and the boardroom; equal pay; equal parenting rights; equality of and through education; equal treatment by and in the media; and an end to violence against women. Not exactly goals you're going to argue with unless you're a misogynist.
It has also been stated that the party is to be intentionally narrow in reach. It is a 'non-partisan party' created with the intention of achieving equality for women 'to the benefit of all', not a 'party with an answer on every issue and a full palette of policies' but instead a 'clear and unambiguous' focus. The aim is to get men and women alike on board so that 'both sexes can flourish', but it is about women and it is leaving us under no pretences about that.
This should raise some immediate red flags. Though the aforementioned issues undoubtedly impact many women, they do not affect all and they do not affect all in the same way. It is difficult to campaign for equal representation for women in business when so many women, and especially women of colour and trans women, grapple with unemployment. Political representation is important, of course, but getting more women into government is entirely ineffective unless we tackle the obstacles preventing women of colour, trans women, working class women and trans women from standing - and that transcends gender quite significantly. Likewise, it is hard to talk about equal pay when poverty is rife, and it is important when talking about the pay gap to acknowledge that women of colour face a larger pay gap than white women.
Parenting rights are undoubtedly important, but framing them as 'enabling women and men to share opportunity and responsibility in the workplace and at home' frames the issue from a very heteronormative and capitalist angle in which a family is nuclear and employed; lesbian and bisexual parents, single mothers, poor and/or unemployed parents,and mentally and physically disabled women presumably get their interests met somewhere on the peripheries.
This is not the only time in which the Women's Equality Party makes explicit reference to employment, stating that 'when women fulfil their potential, everyone benefits. Equality means better politics, a more vibrant economy, a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population' which is at best a risky definition of equality. Equality should not be brought about for nor exist for the impact it has on the economy. Likewise, so many women right now are excluded from the workforce either because they cannot get jobs or because they are not able to work, for a variety of reasons. The end-goal should not be utilising these women's resources, it should be making their lives more bearable under capitalist patriarchy. It is for this reason, incidentally, that goals to get equal pay and 'smash the glass ceiling' fall on many deaf ears; these are not pressing issues for so many women who are instead worrying about where their next meal is coming from.
Ending violence against women, though, we can all agree is vital. However, that has to include all women. Feminists who take the stance that all sex work is violence against women, for example, not only completely negate the autonomy of many women who are just trying to make their way in that aforementioned tough economic climate, but also completely ignores the actual violence that is exacted against sex workers. There are rape crisis centres which refuse entry to sex workers. Along a similar vein, there are rape crisis centres which also don't allow trans women to use their services, and it goes without saying that though still violence against women, the violence enacted against trans women, sex workers, disabled women, women of colour, and lesbian and bisexual women is completely different to that of women who do not fall under those descriptors.
If we really care about ending violence against women, we have to listen to all women. I only hope the Women's Equality Party bears that in mind. Realising the limitations and inaccuracies of the phrase 'both sexes' would be a good starting point.