The Gender Agenda #4: The Liberal Democrats are a feminist party

Feminist fist by Eva the WeaverThe Liberal Democrats are a feminist party. When I first wrote that down I knew it would be a controversial statement among a minority, but right now I think it’s going to cause a wider stir.

It shouldn’t. When I first read the Lib Dem constitution, it seemed obvious that liberalism as it is expressed there, is feminist.

Feminism as I understand it describes a movement that aims to achieve true equality of opportunity, as reflected in more equal outcomes between genders. My support for that movement is why I joined a party that rejects ‘all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.’ (Ok, so I’d prefer if that said ‘gender’ not ‘sex’, but it’s a much bolder statement than the other parties are making).

Liberal Democrats believe that ‘no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity’, not ‘no man’. When ‘we champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, and we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full’ that means everyone. We want ‘all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives’, not just those born with the right genitals.

If the party is feminist, then, why do we need a women’s organisation? Feminism as I understand it is a movement. It not only requires the belief that gender equality is a valid aim that would benefit everyone, but also action to achieve that aim. That action should be effective, widespread and high-profile.

While the Liberal Democrats have feminist principles, then, we gain from having a specific group who concentrate on driving feminist action because having a concentrated purpose makes it easier for us to be effective.

LDW does that. It does that by recognising that gender imbalances affect men and women negatively and we write policy with that in mind. It does that by providing a hub of expertise and support for women in politics and others who want to improve gender equality. And it does that by pushing for changes that we need inside as well as out.

That does not mean we are the only group who can or should be working to improve gender equality. But as anyone can join, of any gender or none, and take as much of a role in the association as they want, we are pretty well placed to represent all party members on these issues.

And the more we do to improve gender equality – and the faster and the better we do it – the quicker we can remind every wavering feminist in the party that they are in the right place.


Feminist fist photo by Eva the Weaver

* Alice Thomas is a member of the Federal Board and leads the FB Disciplinary Sub-Group. She is a solicitor based in Southwark who joined the Lib Dems in her hometown of Bromley & Chislehurst in 2006, just in time for her first by-election and has been campaigning ever since.

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    Am I first? 😉

    Like Dave I have found this series of articles both cabinetmakers and useful. Thank you for writing them.

  • Cabinetmakers???


    #DamnYouAutocorrect #DamnYouSwipeKeyboard

  • Simon Oliver 27th Aug '14 - 9:53am

    I’m all for gender equality of opportunity and status before the law etc. I just have one question, ignoring Jennie’s attempt to silence people like me.

    “LDW does that. It does that by recognising that gender imbalances affect men and women negatively”

    If this statement is true, why is the assumption that they only affect women negatively built in to the name? Why not call it Libdems for Gender Equality/LDGE?

  • Joshua Dixon 27th Aug '14 - 9:55am

    I’ve really enjoyed these pieces as well, Alice. I really hope we see LDW thrive in the future. I’d love to see radical policy coming forward and hope I can help and/or support in any way possible.

  • Joshua Dixon 27th Aug '14 - 10:04am

    Simon, the point is it affects men negatively because we suffer from a society where the power is tilted towards men. We don’t suffer because we face inequality, we suffer because capable women do.

  • First up, I would like to say that I am a first time poster on this site, and not a LibDem. However, on reading this blog, I felt compelled to comment.

    I would like to strongly agree with the statement made in this blog that “feminism as I understand it describes a movement that aims to achieve true equality of opportunity”. The key word here is opportunity. However, the second half of the sentence goes on to state “as reflected in more equal outcomes between genders”. However, opportunity is not necessarily reflected by outcome. And nor should it be necessarily reflected by outcome.

    To make this point, I reference the passing remark in this blog about the preference for the use of the word ‘gender’ rather than ‘sex’. I concede that I had to do a Google search in order to understand the difference between the meanings of the two words. However, it raises an important issue and inherent contradiction.

    The differential use of gender and sex undermines the initial point about equality of opportunity being reflected in equality of outcomes. ‘Sex’ is a biological fact. ‘Gender’, I have learnt, describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.

    In recognising that ‘gender’ is different from ‘sex’, by proxy the author is recognising that people have different characteristics. Different characteristics mean that people will have different priorities.

    To suggest that we should have equality of outcome fails to recognise that we are not all the same, nor want to be. It is therefore not necessarily desirable.

    I would, therefore, go back to the point that everybody should have equal opportunity. We should absolutely be difference-blind, to ensure that there are no ‘glass ceilings’.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Aug '14 - 12:51pm

    I would have no problem being difference- blind if we were not a gendered society. Because we are, measuring opportunities and outcomes is important because if they are not measured , gender blindness is a means of society, or those in positions of power in society, ignoring the problem.

    I think that if you think of colour- blindness and then substitute gender blindness, you might find it useful. It is an ideal to be strived for, but in our current state as a society, it is something that in my opinion, favours the status quo.

  • Very amused that if I make a comment it’s an attempt to silence people, rather than just me staying my views in full (and, as it turns out, accurate) expectation of a whiny response; whereas someone replying to me is bravely standing up to feminist oppressors.

    Oh, the irony.

  • paul barker 27th Aug '14 - 2:49pm

    Excellent piece but I disagree about replacing “Sex” with “Gender”, the latter is not yet common english & we need to talk to everybody.

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 2:56pm

    White light is composed of many different colours blended together – we see the different colours when they’re separated out, like in a rainbow: violet indigo blue green yellow orange red (actually a continuum). White light contains some blue light, but we don’t call white light blue!

    So, just because some of the aims of feminism are contained within the wider aims of the liberal democrats, should we call the liberal democrats a feminist party? Does that label give the electorate the correct impression?

  • What are the LDs going to do about Rotherham and similar towns where mostly muslim men of pakistani descent have raped girls who are largely white?

  • Alice Thomas 27th Aug '14 - 3:13pm

    HPDL – I am aware that even full equality of opportunity would not always be reflected in equality of outcome. That is why I specifically said ‘more equal outcomes’ not ‘completely equal outcomes’.

    I am glad you took the chance to research the difference between gender and sex. However I cannot agree that ‘different characteristics’ necessarily leads to ‘different priorities’. Even if it does, gender is only one such characteristic out of many which will include but is not limited to upbringing, race, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation. The interrelationships of these things are so complicated that it would be impossible to predict what ‘characteristic’ led to what ‘priority

  • Alice Thomas 27th Aug '14 - 3:32pm

    HPDL – sorry, I’m having issues with my small screen. There is also an issue with the assumption in your argument that the priorities of a person are constructed only in relation to their characteristics, and these develop independently of their opportunities. This is problematic with many of the characteristics I listed, and particularly with gender as, as you learnt, people’s gender is a socially constructed idea. That means that the way others react to you, and the opportunities they offer you from a very young age affect what you prioritise. All of that means that one of the only ways to measure if equality of opportunity has been achieved is to look at equality of outcome.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Aug '14 - 3:45pm

    @ paul barker,
    I can understand what you are saying, but isn’t the fact that people can’t distinguish the concept of sex from gender the fundamental problem? Shouldn’t we be raising awareness rather than accepting ignorance of the difference?

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Aug '14 - 3:49pm

    I think the Lib Dems should try to meet the needs of the vast majority of women in the country. I also think they should be encouraged to rise to the top of the party as well. Some would call this feminist, but I don’t, because to me feminism still has a habit of seeing gender roles as equalling oppression and a lot of women don’t see it that way.

    However, Lib Dem Women and women’s organisations are valued specialist groups that help us meet the needs of women.

  • Alice Thomas 27th Aug '14 - 4:13pm

    Richard – to use your analogy, we can talk about how white light contains blue light without denying that it is white light, and the fact that it contains blue light does not stop it from being made up of other parts of the spectrum too. The Lib Dems are feminist by the definition I used, so it is appropriate to call them that. The fact that liberalism is wider than feminism does not mean we should deny the Lib Dems’ feminism.

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 4:36pm

    But is that the same as saying the LibDems are “a feminist party”? How will voters interpret this phrase? Is white light the same as “blue light”?

    There is actually a move towards having a “Feminist Party”:, and in Sweden there is the “Feminist Initiative Party ” which actually has a seat in the European Parliament.

  • Alice Thomas 27th Aug '14 - 5:11pm

    Richard – the interpretation given here, as stated, is that a party is feminist when it espouses feminist ideals as the Lib Dems do and take action to achieve such ideals, as the Liberal Democrats do. As already said, this is not to the exclusion of other ideas. The existence of other parties which are also feminist was not a part of the discussion, and does not in any way alter or diminish he fact that the Lib Dems are feminist.

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 5:43pm

    My point is not that at all. I am asking: what will an electorate understand if we say that “the LibDems are a feminist party”? I suggest that the intended meaning of that phrase would need to be explained explicitly and carefully, because it can be interpreted in different ways some of which may not benefit the LibDems or the feminists at all

  • Alice Thomas 27th Aug '14 - 5:53pm

    Richard – given that the article includes a definition of feminism, and of how that is then enacted by the Liberal Democrats, I believe the phrase has already been explained ‘explicitly and carefully’, which is why I will continue to refer you back to the article as written.

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 5:58pm

    I think we had this interesting discussion before. You released some words. They are now free, and I am free to explore them in a wider context. My wider context appears to challenge your narrower one, so you reject the idea of placing your words in the wider context. So we end up never able to agree on anything. It’s Mars and Venus again, and this Mars is now going to be silent!

  • Another great article, Alice.

  • It occurs to me that “Are the Lib Dems a feminist party?” has much in common with “Are the Lib Dems a patriotic party?” It would be wrong to answer “No”. And yet there will also be qualms about simply answering “Yes”. The best answer may be “Yes, provided this response is not taken to imply that we are a pro-war party!”

  • There should be no question about whether or not it is acceptable to call the Liberal Democrats a feminist party. The only question (unfortunately) is whether or not it is true.

  • Sometimes I think we take the preamble as gospel, rather than actually read the canon of liberal thought which constitutes liberalism. The small, essentially-contested verbiage on the back of the membership cards allow most people to claim that they are liberals. If only that were so!
    However, your article would not be very different even if you took my advice above. Well-written, timely and impeccably argued. As a male feminist, I find some attitudes towards equality of gender tricky in our party, and it’s a battle that continues to both make our own party more liberal, as well as the communities in which we live. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • peter tyzack 28th Aug '14 - 9:35am

    Thank you Alice, your thoughtful piece, it prompted me to search on the terminology so I share what I found, to be helpful to others:-

    “Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

    “Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

    To put it another way:

    “Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories.

    Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

  • Lyn de Swarte 28th Aug '14 - 11:23am

    How to join this LDW group?

  • Alice Thomas 29th Aug '14 - 7:21am

    Lyn – you can email [email protected] to join, and our AGM is this weekend if you live within travelling distance of London.

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