During Olive’s childhood she notes that the products that nearby factories were selling were sold for very cheap prices in order for them to stay in business. This process led to the employees being paid terrible wages: ‘The men felt that there was only one way to bring to the notice of the government the hardships which most families were undergoing, so at last a strike was called and a march to London organised, and very well too.’ (6) The protests led to unity amongst working-class people but women were mainly omitted from this.
For most of the period covered by this book (nineteenth and twentieth century) women were excluded from the formal world of politics, that is party politics and parliament… By the 1870s many working-class women were becoming involved in the Trade Union Movement and in socialist politics… From the 1870s onwards opportunities were opening up for women to take part in political life at a local level through election to a number of public bodies. Women were electors and stood as candidates for local School Boards and Poor Law Boards of Guardians. Both these areas were regarded as appropriate spheres for women and many took advantage of the opportunity to enter public life by this route.’ (176)
The above extracts are from Deirdre Beddoe’s Discovering Women’s History (also explored here). Olive lived during the woman’s movement that was fighting for her rights, however the book also states that ‘the suffrage was predominantly a middle-class movement.’ (177) As Olive was not a middle-class girl the political movement failed to include her and reach her small village so Olive never speaks of being involved in her own political movements. The middle-class’ lack of inclusion for working-class women is what a modern feminist would call feminist-solidarity. Solidarity is not seen as a positive system because it does not take into account other factors of being a woman, such as race, class or sexuality. In 1989, a new term called ‘intersectionality’ was coined by a third-wave feminist and continues to become more and more relevant amongst people fighting for equality.
Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. Third Wave Feminism, especially, thrived on the concept of intersectionality in order to redefine Feminism as inclusive. The concept first came from legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 and is largely used in critical theories, especially Feminist theory, when discussing systematic oppression.’ ()
Without living in a third-wave feminist movement, Olive could not benefit from intersectionality and thus took no part in politics. Although politics is still not fully inclusive and intersectional, they are now much more accessible for the working-class than in the early twentieth century. Parties such as Labour are continuously trying to win over the working-class with policies that will help benefit them and many working class people are involved with that party and vote for them. For example the 2013 Labour policies list involve promises such as, ‘Freezing gas and electricity prices, Cutting taxes for 24 million people.’ () The below map shows labour voters by red in the 2010 election. It is notable that these red areas are generally working-class northern counties. ()
In Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain (explored further here), Sarah Williams has this to say about class: ‘Class is conceived as an external social referent that is foundational to the origin and cause of various systems of ideas including religion, sexuality and even the concept of family life.’ (14) By this she is basically saying class is fundamental to the beliefs that shape our identity. As a working-class women in early twentieth century Britain, politics meant nothing to Olive because working-class women did not have any access to political ideas or rights.
Beddoe, Deirdre. Discovering Women’s History. 3rd ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998. N. pag. Print.
Gold, Olive Doris, ‘My Life’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987). Vol 2. Number 321.
Williams, Sarah C. ‘Is There a Bible in the House? Gender, Religion and Family Culture.’ Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940. London: Routledge, 2010. N. pag. Print.