I first got involved in women's liberation in 1970 and stayed very active for the next 20 years, including ten years as a member of the Feminism and Nonviolence Study Group.
I never gave up on activism or being a radical feminist, but for the following ten years I concentrated almost entirely on campaigning in my local community--fighting for childcare provision and against rampant cuts in local authority spending. Over that period (roughly the 1990s) I kept being told that the women's movement was dead, feminism was passe', and I'd better get used to it.
Less mass action
Feminist activism clearly never died. In Britain, a number of prominent women's groups and organisations, among them Women in Black, Southall Black Sisters, Justice for Women, and Forward, kept going and indeed still exist. In other countries, especially in the global South, feminist activism has continued even more vigorously. In Britain there was a definite downturn in mass activity and little evidence of younger women getting involved and new initiatives being launched. Apart from Women in Black, there were several important women's-led peace initiatives during the 1990s, such as Trident Ploughshares, but whether they were strictly feminist is debatable.
The need for feminism has likewise never gone away . In 2004, women in Britain still earned, on average, between 18 and 40% less than men(depending on whether they worked full time or part time,respectively); women still do the vast majority of housework and take the major responsibility in caring for dependants.
And I never have got used to the absence of a strong, vibrant Women's Liberation Move ment, and have taken what steps I can to participate in its re-emergence.
Over the last few years, I have met a large number of younger radical feminists, many of whom had their feminist consciousness raised by being involved in environmental,anti-capitalist, and anti-globalisation activism. I am struck by the similarities between the struggles we had 30 years agoin our movements and what is happening now. Then as now ,there are significant tensions between accepting the use of violence and being committed to nonviolence, and between working within the system and being totally antagonistic to it.
Above all, I can' t help noticing that many younger women have become radicalised as feminists through their frustration at trying to work politically along -side the men in their movements. I wish it wasn't true, but on the whole, it seems that women have learnt much more about sexual politics over the last generation than men have. Many of the younger feminists I meet seem more interested in learning from the experiences of an older generation of activists than we ever were. This may be partly because more of us are still around in more or less full pos session of our marbles. Younger feminists also seem to be better able than we were to incorporate fun as an intrinsic part of their politics, rather than as an option-al extra, and are much less proscriptive/judgemental about other people's sexuality.
A re-flowering movement
I definitely feel more optimistic about the re-flowering of the Women's Liberation Movement than I did five years ago, as I see a variety of initiatives taking off that did not seem possible a few years ago. It is hard to pinpoint specific reasons for this, but here are a few possible ones: the anti-globalisation movement has provided a milieu within which mass radical activism becomes thinkable again; despite Blairism being just another version of Thatcherism, people do seem to have seen through the lie that “there is no such thing as society”; the spiralling increase in internet use provides relatively easy access to information and communications. Even so, I keep hearing from individual women that they feel isolated as feminists, and do not know how to contact others.
So listed below is some information about initiatives that Iknow about. Maybe in coming months, PN can contribute to the upsurge by publishing fur ther articles and information about feminist activism today.
- In December 2004 in Nottingham, the first Feminist Health Gathering for more than 20 years attracted 100 women, and a great deal of excitement was generated, with more events forthcoming. Join the elist for regular info: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The F Word - “an online magazine dedicated to talking about sharing ideas on contemporary UK feminism”, see http://www.thefword.org.uk (and see useful resources section at http://www.thefword.org.uk/resources/websites/ )
- Women in London - a directory of London-based women's groups, see http://www. womeninlondon.org.uk/
- Women Speak Out - network of activist, anticapitalist and anarchist feminist women, see http://www.geocities.com/womenspeakout/
- Feminist activist organising for G8 - elist email@example.com.
- Southall Black Sisters, 21 Avenue Road, Southall, Middlesex UB1 3BL (020 8571 9595; fax 020 8574 6781; email southallblacksisters@ btconnect.com; http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/ ).