Why we need a new women's revolution | Beatrix Campbell

In our global economy, patriarchy has been reborn in new ways. Feminists must fight back

I'm of a certain age; I came alive politically with the women's liberation movement in 1970. It changed my life. It changed the world. Except, of course, it didn't entirely. No sooner had it bounced on to the world's stage than there was a counter-revolution – feminism didn't die, but it didn't thrive either. It just survived, heroically optimistic as ever. We believe in the best of ourselves; we believe in the best of men.

But something dire happened between the Women's Liberation Movement and now. That's why I have written a manifesto, End of Equality. It became apparent to me that in the first decade of this century the conditions necessary for achieving equality between men and women had been extinguished.

End of Equality argues that there is a new global settlement: neoliberal neopatriarchy. This is an ugly term for an ugly relationship. Neoliberalisation is the subordination of the social state to the market, and neopatriarchy tolerates girls being astronauts or bankers, but resists genuine reform of the sexual division of labour. It helps to be clear about what this new sexual settlement is not. It is not just a backlash, or a relic of olden times. It is not the temporary brutality of globalisation, or the collateral damage of austerity. It is an epochal enemy of feminism because it is a repudiation of the social solidarities and welfare states without which feminist agendas wither.

In this perceived era of gender equality, there is a new articulation of male social power and privilege. There is no evolutionary trek towards equality, peace and prosperity. The new world order is neither neutral nor innocent about sexism: it modernises it. Masculinities and femininities are being made and remade as polarised species.

When feminism fades, femininities are taken to extremes. Some bodies are veiled and hidden, while others are plucked, shaved and sliced. Bosoms are built, stomachs are shrunk: the covered body and the built body are oddly united. Their shared outlook involves a pessimistic engagement with masculinity – it is either to be feared and managed, or aroused and managed. But not actually changed.

Gaps between men's and women's money, time, respect and resources are static, or growing. Decades of reform have not transformed our most masculinised institutions – the police, the criminal justice system, the City.

Corporate culture reinstates the chasm between mothers' time and men's time. In the City of London 70% of young fathers work on average 10-hour days. The City, then, is organised in the image of young patriarchs, who may be providers but are scarcely parents. Instead, they are visitors to women and children.

The movement towards equal pay has stalled. The City is the leading edge of the UK economy, and the pay gap in the finance sector is a howling 55%. Across Europe, the annual gender pay gap between men and women in full-time employment is stuck at around 26%. The pensions gap is about 50%. The besieged and shrinking public sector is women's best chance of equal pay, but privatisation beckons, and with it new regimes of remuneration: zero-hours contracts and bonus cultures that promote hierarchy and inequality. We can expect the gender pay gap to grow.

Neoliberal neopatriarchy is shaping the world. Before China embraced capitalism in 1979, workers were poor, but pretty much equally so. In 1988, women earned 87% of men's pay – now they're down to 67%.

Neoliberal "reform" of India's economy in the 1990s has not emancipated women; in fact, insists economist Jayati Ghosh, it has defeminised the labour market. Honour killings, dowry killings, and the abortion of female foetuses have increased, and they are not the work of primitive, poor peasants – they flourish in the middle classes in India's most prosperous states. In Asia, the world has been deprived of around 163 million females – patriarchy giving birth to a new, masculinised population.

But surely, we sigh, aren't girls in the UK doing better than boys? Don't men do more in the home? Yes, girls are better qualified across the curriculum. But unequal pay begins at the start of their adult lives and grows during the life cycle. And yes, men do more chores and childcare – but not much more, and much less than women. According to time use surveys of thousands of households over three decades, men's dedicated childcare rose at a rate of about 30 seconds per day, per year. Their contribution to housework rose at a rate of one minute per day, per year. Change is palpable, but pitiful.

Let's think about violence. The end of the cold war promised peace on earth. But neoliberalism radiates violence. Wars proliferate between states, warlords, gangs and faiths. Crime is only "free trade" by another means, and since it involves force, it is not free. This force requires the making and maintaining of violent masculinities.

Mary Kaldor tells us in her book New and Old Wars that in the "new wars" waged over resources, ethnicity and faith, 80% of casualties are women and children. Rape and pillage, says Kaldor, are the modus operandi. A century ago, when states threw massed flanks of soldiers at each other, dooming them to die, 85% of casualties were men.

Cities in dystopian decline, or democracies emerging from dictatorship and feeling the lash of neoliberalism – from Africa to the Americas, dramatised in City of God and The Wire – are left with emaciated welfare states which cannot withstand tsunamis of male violence.

Unplanned urbanism, criminal business, lack of employment, enfeebled public services and authorities; all are contexts for militarised hyper-masculinities to do mastery or martyrdom. Brazilian anthropologist Alba Zaluar's case study of Rio de Janeiro explains that in these contexts the casualties are young men and boys. In Latin America, there is a continental crisis of men's violence and injustice. It has been called "the impunity".

In Britain we have our own versions of the impunity, which encompass equality laws, the laws of war, sexual offences law. Companies devise new ways of not paying women and men equally; crimes are committed in the name of "humanitarian war"; and rape prosecution rates are below 10% throughout Europe – and falling. Men who like beating and raping women can be confident they'll probably get away with it. This impunity is a disaster for democracy, incubating pessimism about politics and public processes.

What do we do about this new sexual settlement? First, we must face it, and above all, think about it – about a world where men are not violent, sex is not violent, where the costs of children and care are shared, where everything is shared, where neither humans nor the world in which we live is wrecked or wasted; where men don't steal our money, time, or self-respect. That's the work of women's liberation – reasonable and revolutionary.


Beatrix Campbell

The GuardianTramp

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