Despite the abundant evidence that Beatrice Webb was active within the women's movement over many years, her contribution has been denied by many modern equal rights feminists. Seymour-Jones (1992, p. 206), for example, has claimed that far from being a feminist, Webb in fact embraced Spencer's belief that women were at a lower level on the evolutionary scale than were men and that their mental development was inferior to that of men because their energies were channelled into their reproductive systems. Likewise, Pujol (1992, pp. 91-92) has asserted that Webb accorded women's needs little significance and relied on the benevolence of men and male-controlled institutions for the implementation of her reform proposals, while Greenburg (1987, pp. 313-314), going to the limit, has maintained that Beatrice's refusal to embrace right wing feminism was a manifestation of penis envy! The overt antagonism that appears to underlie these assessments is directed both explicitly at Webb and implicitly at the class-conscious brand of feminism she and the Fabian Society embraced. The prevalence of the antagonism reflects the fact that many modern feminists are uncomfortable with Webb's overt meddling of class and gender and sustain a much greater level of identification with the right wing of the early twentieth century women's movement than they do with the class conscious brand of feminism embraced by Fabian women. The response is understandable but none the less unacceptable for the efforts of the Fabian feminists warrant recognition. Consequently, the objective of this chapter and the next is to extend the challenge to those who deny the feminist credentials of Webb and other Fabian women by undertaking a more detailed study of the gender specific papers that Beatrice wrote and/or edited for the New Statesman and by providing a close examination of her relations with the Fabian Women's Group.
|Title of host publication||The Webbs, Fabianism and Feminism|
|Subtitle of host publication||Fabianism and the Political Economy of Everyday Life|
|Editors||Peter Beilharz, Chris Nyland|
|Place of Publication||Aldershot UK|
|Publisher||Ashgate Publishing Limited|
|Number of pages||17|
|Publication status||Published - 1998|