At a recent dinner, an MP told me a story that reveals a great deal about the current state of feminism. One of her constituents had come to her surgery in some distress. She had children at a local primary school, she said, and had been alarmed to discover that the school’s sex education curriculum contained explicit details that she considered wildly inappropriate. She was aware of the prevailing culture in which adolescents – particularly girls – are sexualised at an ever younger age, and she did not want that for her own children.
But parents are increasingly powerless in the face of progressive schools, and not having been to university, this woman felt anxious. She was intimidated by the prospect of speaking with her children’s headteacher. She didn’t understand the progressive jargon teachers used, and was unsettled by their moral certainty. So her plea to her MP was this: help me to protect my children, tell me what to say.
Who would she fare better with, do you think: a parliamentarian of the left, or of the right? The answer, to me, is not obvious. I am the director of The Other Half, a non-partisan feminist thinktank founded with the express intention of representing the interests of women like this constituent, women who feel at a loss as to how to protect their children. And when I say ‘non-partisan’, I really do mean it: my experience of SW1 is that party affiliation tells you almost nothing about a person’s attitude towards issues such as porn, child abuse and violence against women.
Feminism in the second half of the 20th century was strongly associated with the left, since it grew out of the American civil rights movements of the 1960s. But it has not always been so. There have been plenty of periods during which feminism of a much more conservative flavour has dominated.