In this chapter we consider the role played by the government in promoting policies which challenge discrimination. Early theorising on the state, including its welfare arm, tended to portray it as patriarchal and imperialist and, above all, capitalist. It was seen first and foremost to serve the interests of ‘Big Business’ and to help it exploit women and racialised minorities by using them as cheap sources of labour. The British state was described as patriarchal by feminists in the decades after the war, in that its security policy was predicated upon a view of the family which saw men as breadwinners and women as dependants, thus reinforcing male power and authority in the family (Barrett 1980; Wilson 1977). Other feminists also pointed to the failure of the British state to protect women from domestic violence and rape (Edwards 1981; Smart 1984). Amina Mama (1984), in a powerful critique of the British state’s approach to black women, pointed to the way the state tended to pathologise black families and present black women’s fertility as a threat, leading to attempts to limit their reproductive capacities through the use of contraceptives such as Depo-provera.
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