Well, I'll go to the foot of my stairs...

Often startled, frequently amused, sometimes scared; rarely speechless. Can be found at witchywoo22@yahoo.co.uk

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

There was a programme...

...on BBC1 last night called 'Angry Wimmin'. It was about the rise and fall of radical feminism in the UK in the 1970's and a kind of 'where are you now?' for the leading figures in the movement at the time. It did my heart good to see all the old footage and all the old faces - literally old; those women are in their 50's and 60's now.

Back in the day, when they were young, they broke away from the political Left where, as feminists, their arguments for the liberation of women were brushed aside with words to the effect of "Yes, yes, yes. We'll deal with all that when the real battle's been won" by the men who, of course, were in charge and organising the agenda. The women were expected to make the tea and sandwiches, mind the children and be sexually available to the men. Socialist feminism didn't appear to further their liberation at all while men were in charge.

Having identified that the main oppression faced by women didn't originate with capitalism but with patriarchy and men, they formed their own movement and a large part of the programme focused on the radical separatists. Some women tried to erradicate males from their lives altogether. They set up women only houses where even boy children weren't allowed. One woman explained how her brother (whom she loved very much) came to visit her with his girlfriend and he had to sit outside in the car while his sister and his girlfriend were indoors chatting. Another woman explained how she left her children with their father to join an all women house. She had both a girl child and a boy child but couldn't separate them by taking only her daughter with her so she left them both; such was the strength of her conviction that women only spaces were the key to the liberation of all women that she left her children in order to achieve her aim.

And they wore comfy clothes, these women. And shoes they could run in. Gone were the strict diktats of the fashion industry. Gone were any notions of having to buy beauty products in order to try to make oneself attractive to men. Nope, there was none of that for them. They were trying to find out who they could be as just themselves without the negative and negating influence patriarchy and men have on women and their lives. They were exploring their potential as women.

But it was all pretty fair. If you couldn't have a boy child in an all women house, nor could you have a male cat. This movement was totally female oriented. Totally.

The programme lingered a while with political lesbianism but not in a lascivious way - nor did it examine the issues of political lesbianism too closely. I guess that's for another programme... But the feeling was clear - all women for women: and men are the enemy. Male violence against women was identified as the major tool of patriarchal oppression - domestic violence, sexual violence, prostitution and pornography - male violence, or the threat of violence, against women was (is?) the major tool that curtails our lives, keeps us frightened of and dependent upon men; keeps us powerless. Action soon followed. Women marched against rape in the streets, set fire to sex shops, protested in numbers against the various ways men blatantly oppress women. They were loud and they were angry, they were strong and they were united. They were a force to be reckoned with.

Someone from WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) in London said about how they'd have a meeting on Wednesday nights where they'd bring stuff they'd seen that week - a new strip club or sex shop, some sexist advertising maybe - and by Friday they had an action ready and would go along to wherever it was and cause mayhem. They were protesting against patriarchy's appraisal of 'women's place' and how that impacted on all women, everywhere. Nowhere at all did any of them blame another woman for her 'complicity' in the oppression of women. Academic radical feminist analysis at the time placed responsibility for the oppression of women fairly and squarely on patriarchial systems of oppression. It still does. Radical feminists did not - and still don't - point the finger at other women.

The programme showed lots of the old feminist slogans and almost all of them still ring true today but the one that gets me every time is "NO MAN HAS THE RIGHT".

You can see how the patriarchal establishment became worried. These women were seriously challenging the status quo and 'ordinary' women were agreeing with them! 'Ordinary' women were becoming politicised, starting to question things, objecting to the way they were marginalised by society, struggling out of the boxes they'd been forced into as girls by the expectations of men. 'Ordinary' women were recognising their own oppression and that of women everywhere. There was a potential uprising happening and, such was the rising level of feminist consciousness - sisterhood, if you like - the establishment was unsure which way to turn but, obviously, this whole movement had to be squashed somehow.

Unfortunately, the establishment didn't have to lift a finger. Feminism ate itself. Passionate (compassionate?) feminism was splintered by identity feminism. Where those women had been fighting for the generic liberation of women the movement was splintered when issues other than common genitalia were introduced.

Maybe the initial movement was too small. It didn't take into account the particular oppressions faced by disabled women, black women, ethnic minority women, lesbian disabled black women, vegetarian women, vegan women, women against the bomb, etc. But I don't think it could have. I believe those women who marched and torched and ripped and shouted and yelled and left their children and their families etc. were fighting for the basic liberation of all women and, as a result, were unable to specify the particular interests of those who felt marginalised by the fight. I think they were fighting for the liberation of women as a Class and I think that, without the rise of identity feminism, they'd have achieved more for women than they were able to at the time. The establishment, after all, was running scared.

The GLC (Greater London Council) under the leadership of Ken Livingstone (bless his heart, I'm absolutely sure his intentions were honourable) set up a Women's Committee as a direct result of the actions of WAVAW and Angry Wimmin and they did lots of good work. For example; it was discovered that women travelling on London Transport did feel scared and vulnerable when faced with endless adverts that depicted their physiology as sexually titillating and available to men so a Code of Practice was introduced that went some way to eliminate sexist advertising on the buses and tube in London. The Women's Committee had a funding budget for women's projects - most of which went into supporting childcare schemes but, even so, this free'd many women from 24 hour childcare duties and enabled them to become participating members of society.

Some of these ideas caught on to some extent. National Government has a Minister for Women (albeit a shared post these days). My local (Labour) council had a Women's Officer in the 80's while they were in power. 'Women's issues' were taken more seriously as a result of those angry wimmin. But when the funding for 'women's issues' was withdrawn the avenue for any political change was closed.

But they helped, those angry wimmin. We have Refuges for women escaping domestic violence and sexual trafficking and we have Rape Crisis Centres for women who have experienced sexual violence. Both hugely under-funded but at least we now have a network of organisations to mop up the damage done after male violence against women. Progress, of sorts.

I think there are lessons to be learned from those Angry Wimmin and what happened to their passion. They just cared about women and the shit that happens to us - they didn't give a flying fuck about what the establishment thought about them, they just wanted the patriarchal oppression of women to end - but their movement was destroyed by the blinkeredness of factions. It made me think. It made me think, in particular about how and why women as a Class are so easily separated from one another when we're ostensibly fighting for one another. It made me wonder whether we're still caught in the faction motivated but media driven backlash of identity feminism. Oh yes, the media quickly caught on to the political divisions within feminism - and they still wheel them out as 'news', even now.

It even made me wonder about 'feminist' as a label. 'Feminist', for me, is about fighting for women's freedom from patriarchal oppression. For me, the freedom for an individual woman to lapdance for some bloke comes way after the freedom of all women from the after effects of that action. I'm not an identity feminist, in spite of all my 'ism's', and I'm aware that what I do impacts on the lives of other women. Women as a Class matter to me so it's women as a Class first, for me. I can't be pro-pornography or pro-prostitution because i) I recognise the harm often (usually?) done to the individual and ii) I recognise the harm done to women as a Class by both pornography and prostitution. As a result, I can't defend them - at all. Ever. I have no feminist tools that enable me to say "this is good for women as a Class". Is there a 'women as a Class centred pro-pornsitution' person out there who can argue this with me?

I just really hope that support for 'performing' sex for male gratification doesn't bring down the fragile women's movement now the way that the passion of those Angry Wimmin was decimated by the self-obsessed factions in the 70's.

We all just want better lives for women, right?


  • At 3:03 AM, Blogger R2K said…

    : )

  • At 1:37 PM, Anonymous hedonistic said…

    Yeah me too, I totally CARE. Still, I ain't giving up my boy cat. Or boys, period.

    I think feminists exist on a kind of continuum, all of us making choices about what we're willing to give up for the sake of the Cause. Personally, I'm blown away by the people out there (feminists, environmentalists, religious folk) who are willing to make personal sacrifices for MY sake, while I can't seem to bring myself to give up any little thing that brings me pleasure. Then again, I'm a hedonist, so there you have it.


  • At 1:52 PM, Blogger antiprincess said…

    sounds like a really interesting program. I wonder if they'll show it in the US.

  • At 12:12 AM, Blogger Amber said…

    I agree; the program sounds really interesting and I hope it's aired in the US.

    I do have a question. And I am honestly asking this question, I am not being snarky.

    I just really hope that support for 'performing' sex for male gratification doesn't bring down the fragile women's movement now the way that the passion of those Angry Wimmin was decimated by the self-obsessed factions in the 70's.

    Where have any feminists specified performing sex for male gratification as the only acceptable way to be sexual?

    Or am I missing your meaning?

  • At 4:21 AM, Blogger SecondWaver said…

    It's great hearing about that film. I just sent a message to PBS here in the us to request the bbc documentary "Angry Wimmin." Maybe if enough of us ask for it, they'll bring it here:

  • At 8:54 AM, Blogger hexyhex said…

    Great piece, witchy!

    I'd expand on something hedonistic said: I think a lot of where women stand on that continuum often comes down to what choices they are ABLE to make. To ignore that ignores the fact that many women simply do not have the financial and social independence to make such choices as seperatism.

    I quite liked the points BB made a while ago in response to a post of Amy's on degrees of seperatism. Really made me think about which choices were made in my own life and why.

    I wish they'd show this program you're talking about in Oz, but I doubt they will. I may try and download it. [insert disclaimer about stealing media being wrong]

  • At 11:01 AM, Blogger Pippa said…

    I saw this. They have shown it a few times late at night on BbC 3. It is excellent and somehow so disheartening that there are few radical groups like that today.

    That said, I cannot get behind such fierce seperatism that demands that we leave boy children out of the mix. I have no boys, want no boys and generally find men offensive on many levels but surely the way forward is to raise them as feminists?

    BTW, thanks for the heads up on the ads on my blog. Bastards. I will take them down, its not worth it. Cheers, Pippa xx

  • At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Laurelin said…

    I think that's a great analogy, Jo.

  • At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Pony said…

    You know I must have been around then. Albeit in a different country, so I've never heard of banning boy people. And the so-called bra burners--well that was something I only heard about in the news too. And they didn't burn their bras. They burned a symbolic bra I believe.

    The media is (sigh) the media. They only pick up on the sensational, and it gets repeated and grows and goes down in history as *it*. It wasn't. Here in Canada it was an entirely different movement. To begin with, we weren't involved in the Vietnam war, and we're so much further left than you just from the get go anyway. I can remember reading and hearing about the women's movement stuff in the States and wondering...wtf? We had the same ideals, but our country personalities went after them differently.

  • At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The fact that feminists are addressed as a dying breed these days does f*!k me off! The only problem with shows centred around feminism these days is that they keep addressing the seventies as 'the golden age of feminism' just so patriarchal producers can pigeon hole it in the past. Make out that it is a cause simply reserved for viewing through rose-tinted spectacles.

  • At 12:38 AM, Blogger witchy-woo said…


    "Where have any feminists specified performing sex for male gratification as the only acceptable way to be sexual?

    Or am I missing your meaning?

    You're missing my meaning. Nowhere (that I've seen) has any feminist said anything about the 'only acceptable way to be sexual'.

    My meaning was related to the individual sacrifices women made for the movement as a whole in the 70's and how those sacrifices were negated by the rise of identity feminism.

    And I can kind of understand it. Women had (have?) been so oppressed for so long that, as soon as there was a light shining through the tiniest crack, all thoughts of women as a Class were paled, for some, by the particular oppressions experienced by different groups within Class Woman. It's understandable.

    I guess we're so trained to distrust one another as women that different groups find it hard to believe that their particular interests will be addressed once the gendered oppression of all has been addressed.

    I dunno.

    I just think that, currently, there is a large and vocal body of feminism that is kind of ok with the sexual status quo. It often appears to me that this body of women do not acknowledge or value the sacrifices made by other women on their behalf or that patriarchal notions of 'sex' are one of the last bastions of patriarchal 'power over' that need to be challenged in order for Class Woman to achieve human staus (at least in the Western world).

  • At 3:31 AM, Blogger Edith said…

    What an interesting show about radical feminism. I, too, wish I could see it. I'm very happy you made this post. I remember writing a sociology paper once on lesbian separatism and finding a general lack of hindsight "reflective" pieces from mainstream or indie sources. Definitely would've liked to have gotten my hands on this one!

  • At 6:56 AM, Blogger Antimatty said…

    you are very angry. i don't understand why you hate ALL men.yes, some men are assholes , but so are some women.
    nobody is perfect. i think that rape should be met with execution , but what is this " performing " crap? if i make love to a woman its not going to be because " i am a man". it will be because
    i have feelings for this woman and would like to join with her. when i get married
    it will be as equals , and i wouldn't expect her to abandon her last name. i just hope that you all know that not all men are the same .

  • At 10:48 PM, Blogger tigtog said…

    antimatty, is there any particular reason you believe that Patriarchy=AllMenEverywhere?

    Generally, any time a sociopolitical label is trivialised by the mainstream as "they just hate all Z" it pays to at least look up the terms on wikipedia before you start telling the sadly deluded activists just how wrong they are about li'l old you and your poor hurt feelings.

  • At 2:09 PM, Anonymous hedonistic said…

    I think Antimatty might be 12.

  • At 4:45 PM, Blogger TNTrash said…

    Antimatty- (in the hopes that you're not, indeed, 12)- ALL men benefit from patriarchy. Very few willingly give up the privilege that living under this particular system gives them. Do me a favor, if you want to know the why's and the wherefore's of that statement- look up Peggy McIntosh's work, and read it. That's all I have to say to the defensive, "you hate all men and you say you hate all men even though you've never REALLY said you hate all men, good lord, my feelings are hurt" reaction that, like, 99% of male folks spit out in response to radical feminist commentary. And I'll add that there's no way for men and women to be married as equals; equality doesn't exist in the system in which we currently live. Sure, vague and Libertarian/Contractarian notions of abstract equality in the minds of some folks are floating around out there somewhere, in theory or on paper. Material reality, and world systems everywhere, denote otherwise. So please pull your head out of your ass, Anti. And go read Ms. McIntosh.

    What really gets my goat is that women can look at these sacrifices that other women have made and are making for them, and just shrug their shoulders and blink and say something as self-centered as "well, I'm a hedonist, watcha gonna do??" and then go on calling themselves feminists, while actively choosing not to plant their feet with the rest of us who are fighting, and take on the tasks of the job, so to speak.

    Feminism means some sort of activism. You don't just get to say you think certain things and then not do any damn thing in life, or totally self-define the things you need to do to be helping out, and actually be doing feminist activism.

    It seems like some folks need a very sharp wake-up call, here. And I don't mean to denigrate anybody's efforts. What I'm saying is that there ARE places where activisms cancel each other out; if what you put into practice every day actually ends up HELPING patriarchy come along (say, if you are active in prostitution/pornography, and you have the means to get away from it, but refuse to do so simply because it's something that you "like" or "enjoy") then while we might appreciate what you might do otherwise, you are very, very much still a part of the problem. If you have the means to make the choice to do otherwise, and you don't because you don't feel like it, then you are indeed accountable.

    I once told a black male that being black didn't exclude him or his expoundings from feminist critique or accountability. And simply belonging to the group that is oppressed, it doesn't release anybody in this room from accountability- not when the have the relative privilege that allows them to make the choice as to whether or not they'll "take up the yolk."

    I'll give another analogy, and then I'll quit this long-winded tirade. I work for a labor union. Here in the US south, the big thorn in the side of the Labor Movement is the existence of the "right-to-work" state; that is a state that will not allow closed shops, or workplaces that mandate membership in the shop's chosen Union. This weakens the effective power of the union as a greater whole, because in an open shop ALL employees, regardless as to whether or not they pay their union dues, are allowed representation and all other benefits that come from having coverage under a Union contract. So resources are spent on those who do not do what they need to do, i.e. pay their dues and get others to sign on, and continue to enjoy the benefits. These are also the folks who will cross the picket lines when a strike is held. Some common epithets for these folks are "freeloader" and "scab." I'm sure y'all are familiar with those terms.

    I'm just gonna say it; pretty much any woman who wants to benefit from what radical feminism has done for her and won't pay her dues, won't sacrifice some of these male-centric and male-generated "pleasures", won't sharply examine the ways that some of these allow patriarchy to march it's bloody boots on our backs, is a scab and a freeloader.

    We live in a time, in case any of y'all haven't noticed, where some type of self-discipline and principalled exercise of practise is called for, it's screamed for. Remember what happened to the little girl in Iraq, back in March? I can speak for women in the U.S.A., where one of our own is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes. I can look back at my own childhood and into adulthood and see where pornography and the sex industry have scarred me, whether or not I might have thought of it as pleasurable or fun at one point in time. That feeling is just a blip in the face of this greater problem.

    You know, union-folk, while they might jeer and yell at those folks who cross the picket lines, while they might call them scabs and freeloaders, the minute that one of them decides NOT to cross that line, decides to pick up a sign and march, they're embraced. When you start paying those dues, you're a fucking member, and it doesn't matter what kind of shit you've done in the past, once you're willing to march. I know from personal experience that this is true.

    If we don't stop crossing the lines, and we don't all start paying those dues, we might win, barely, but the victory won't be near as glorious as it would be if everyone on the workforce were there and accounted for.

    So that's my comment ramble for the day. Thank you, Witchy, for your wonderful blog.


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