Notes towards an introduction

This is a very brief preliminary attempt to give a bit of context to interviews carried out by myself and Lynn Alderson in 1977, in which  women activists in the UK  discussed anarchism, feminism and the relationship between the personal and the political. See Anarchism and  Feminism:  Voices from the Seventies for the interviews and further information.

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Key Words: anarchism, anarchafeminism, feminism, history, women’s liberation, 1970s




Notes towards an introduction

In 1977, Lynn Alderson and I, both actively involved with anarchist feminism in London, decided to interview a number of women about their relationship to anarchism and feminism. We completed nine interviews, and made partial transcriptions in preparation for an article or pamphlet which in the end never got written. To judge from our choice of excerpts, this would have been organised thematically. As far as we can reconstruct our original intentions, our idea was to contribute to debates current at the time, while giving voice to a strand of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and of anarchism, which was (and remains) often overlooked. One day I hope to write about that time, giving more context to the questions and debates touched on here.  Where possible, it  would  be illuminating to add comments and reflections from the original interviewees.

Meanwhile, rather than leave this material gathering dust in my filing cabinet, I’m making it available in the hope that it may be useful to others working on the history of that period, and especially to those who are still grappling with the relationship between anarchism and feminism. The language, preoccupations and the specific details of debates may change, but the broad themes remain relevant.

o   A note to researchers: there was a lively anarchafeminist movement in the 1970s. It included anarchist women challenging male domination and macho culture amongst anarchists, and feminists who believed that an anarchist approach was needed to bring about women’s liberation. Many of us are still alive, and at least some of us have reasonable memories (and/or personal archives). There were anarchafeminist meetings, conferences, workshops, pamphlets and newsletters. These could all be sources for new histories which don’t need to return endlessly to the same individuals and the same stories. Use them while you can!

o   A note on our approach: these were often as much conversations as interviews. Though we had disagreements amongst ourselves, we saw ourselves as co-contributors to ongoing debates about how to bring about social transformation. Most of us felt anger often, despair sometimes, but also a hopefulness which now seems hard to understand. It’s worth trying to put those feelings and experiences into context, and seeing what can be learned, rather than dismissing them with the cynicism of hindsight or disappointment.

o   Notes on what the participants were taking for granted:

  • We thought of ourselves as women’s liberationists, rather than equal rights feminists.
  • We agreed on the need for women-only organizing, whether or not we believed in working with men in specific groups or campaigns.
  • The idea of a revolution of some kind in our own lifetimes made sense, whether or not we thought it would happen.
  • We believed that politics was about the whole of life, and we tried to make connections between different kinds of groups and activities. Most of us were involved simultaneously in a range of activities. We thought that what we did mattered.
  • And it changed our lives.

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