The first is a definition of feminism by Susan Faludi. According to Susan Faludi, feminism:
asks that women be free to define themselves instead of having their identity defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men.
That fits with my own claim that feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. It is liberalism which wants individuals, above all, to be self-determining or self-defining. So if your aim is to maximise the extent to which women are self-determining and self-defining what do you do? Well, you reject roles that are predetermined, such as motherhood, in favour of roles which can be thought of as uniquely chosen (career). And you promote the idea of women being independent of men, mostly through career, but also through state welfare schemes.
When you follow this kind of logic, equality comes to mean, above all, equal participation in the labour market.
And so it's no surprise that the European Union has been looking into the underrepresentation of women in the fishing industry. One member of the European Parliament, Stuart Agnew, is a member of UKIP and he challenged the EU on this policy. He used question time to ask:
What is the end game? ...Is this the beginning of a legislative process to say to people in the fishing industry, you have got to employ more women?...And if it's legislation what are you going to use, the carrot or the stick? ...In ten years' time, where do you think we ought to be with this?
Stuart Agnew wondered in his questions if the EU would force a role reversal in which the husbands would be expected to stay home while their wives manned the fishing boats. He asked the very interesting question of what the long-term aims of the EU feminists were on this issue. What was the response? The chair, Dolores Carabello, took a while to compose herself, but then gave this answer:
I was a bit taken aback, but really I think that I'm not aspiring to perfection, I'm trying to be intellectually rigorous, I'm not a clairvoyant, so I don't know what's going to happen in ten years. What I don't really want is that you've got attitudes like that of Mr Agnew, who is denying women the same rights and responsibilities that men have in the sector. That's what this is all about. We're trying to improve the situation in areas in which its been shown that women are an active part, an economically productive part, but this role has not been adequately recognised. Let's hope that in ten years that we have proper equal opportunities which the women are fighting for.
There are two interesting things about this answer. First, I think this is an insight into the mindset of the liberal managerial class. Dolores Carabello is not a revolutionary. She doesn't want to implement a grand plan through one violent, forceful action. She belongs to a class of people which is used to getting what it wants over time through its use of government agencies.
What she does have is a principle, which she frames as women having the same rights and responsibilities in the paid workforce, but which is really better expressed as the promotion of women's career outcomes. Once she has that principle, then her aim is to use administrative measures to carry it through over time. Where it leads to ultimately she doesn't know, nor does she really need to know.
I understand this, as I think much would be the same of traditionalism. We have very different principles to Dolores Carabello, and although we could lay out what our ideal society might be based on these principles, it would be difficult to say in advance how much of that would be realistically achieved over time. It would be enough to know that a community was advancing according to those principles.
Anyway, right now the intention of the EU is not to force women onto fishing boats. I read the EU document and the authors recognise that women don't want to go onto fishing boats as the work is poorly paid and dangerous (read my post on Trawlermen for some idea of the difficulties of working on a trawler in the North Sea). The EU report states:
Women on the whole don’t wish to go to sea and aren’t particularly wanted, so whilst ensuring that women can participate if they so wish (i.e. no unfair barriers) there is little point in pushing for greater involvement.
There are extraordinarily few women working on fishing boats. In Belgium there is one woman; not a single one in Denmark; none in Finland; and one full-time worker in the Netherlands and three part-timers. These figures suggest just how little this career appeals to women.
If there were more money or status in it, I'm sure the EU would be ready to push women into the field no matter what. Instead, what the EU wants to do is to promote women in the more lucrative fields (administration and aquaculture) and get them out or let them stay out of the less lucrative areas (processing/fishing boats). Here is what the EU report states on processing:
There is clearly discrimination in processing, but it is perhaps best to help women exit the industry rather than concentrate on upgrading what are likely to always be low grade jobs. So in non-FDAs there is little justification for special support other than the general education/training that will allow women to move out of these undesirable jobs
So it's not really a case of "equal opportunities" or "the same rights and responsibilities". The principle is that whatever promotes women's career advancement is right and good. Therefore, the EU is happy to leave women off the trawlers and to get them out of the processing side, whilst they boost women in the administrative and training side of the industry (and attempt to formalise and professionalise some of the supporting work that fishermen's wives do at home).
If that approach were to hold over time would women be equal in the industry? No, they would not be equal, they would clearly be privileged. They would have the cushier jobs, whilst men did the dirty, dangerous and lower paid work. But for now the principle is "promote women's career outcomes" and so the EU bureaucracy is happy to push on in this direction.