International Women’s Day 2017. Delighted to have been on part a panel discussion following this iconic film retrospective on feminist emergence 1966 -70 in North America. Thankyou Unite Community for involving me.
The film shows a generation of women before mine, in a different part of the world, but it speaks to me, and I hope it speaks to the next generation of sisters that have come through after me, and those little girls still growing to become the sisters of the future.
As a teenager in the early 1980s I set out to join the women’s liberation movement. I couldn’t find it. I thought I could sign up somewhere and receive a membership card through the post. I tracked down the Edinburgh women’s liberation newsletter to a basement in Broughton Street. There I met a woman who told me about sisterhood, movements, self organisation and taking action.
The second wave feminism recalled in this film was a step up from the demands for women’s suffrage and rights that came before. Sel organised women’s liberation was a movement about taking power and changing the world. Jacqui Cebellis in the film describes an “opt out” of traditional roles of wife, and mother. The film also highlights some shocking attitudes and responses from male leaders in peace and civil rights movements that resonate today by some brothers still resistant to women’s self-organisation.
Some in the feminist movement however rejected women with children. Heterosexual women sleeping with the enemy. Others claimed all men are rapists. There were splits over class, race and gender, which by 1980s in this country became a fierce debate on the left. A feminist movement divorced from class and race stood accused of becoming an exclusive consciousness raising indulgence for women of privelege.
Further reading writer activists such as Angela Davis, former black panther tackles issues race and class, explores intersectionality. In the mid-1980s Scotland , the term intersectionality was not in our vocabulary. Some of the consciousness raising groups, focussed on the personal is political, self-defence, etc were displayed as a counter to supporting women in working class actions such as women against pit closures. Miners wives were proud to support their men in the two year strike, which for some feminists presented a difficulty in terms of gender politics.
Inside the trade union movement in the 1980s, it was true that too many brothers well versed in workers rights and class politics were dangerously lacking in sexual politics. At a TGWU shop stewards course, I observed women stewards rising to make the tea for the brothers while male stewards claimed they “didnae Ken lassies could join the union”.
Women who advance in our movement can still receive the worst of sexist undermining. She is our of her depth, she is too timid to take on bosses. She only got it because of quotas or reserved places, or because there was no man willing to take it on. Maybe she just got there because she was good!
In PCS the average member is a woman in her 30s and 40s. The average rep is a male in his 50s. Reality is that women public sector workers are the new industrial muscle of our movement. In every workplace and every day life
⁃ Women are organisers
⁃ Women are organic leaders
⁃ Women are natural negotiators
⁃ Women are accomplished strategists
⁃ Women are born communicators
⁃ women are necessary economists
I continue my plea to brothers in our movement holding multiple union positions, just give up one and encourage a sister. Step aside, brother.