This text formed Lynne Segal's lecture from 'Radical Thinkers: the art, sex and politics of feminism' at the Tate Modern, 9th February 2015. The event with Lynne Segal, Griselda Pollock and chair Sonia Boyce, addressed the legacy of feminist art and theory and its enduring relevance to contemporary struggles. Visit the Tate website to watch the video of the event.
Agonism, challenge, contention! Start talking about sex today, and soon enough, trouble looms – unless we stick to jokes, or gender cliché. Agreement is usually hard to find, and not just for feminists! Although feminists certainly face very special problems, trying to tie the protean complexity and intangible nature of intimacy and desire to any sort of feminist sexual politics. This was never just a Mother-Daughter affair – though it was often enough presented as that. We challenged and fought with each other, from the beginning – as straight, lesbian, Black and working-class women, and more.
It wasn’t, in fact feminists, but William Reich, who first talked about ‘sexual politics’, back in the 1930s, criticizing the repressiveness of bourgeois sexual morality, which doubled as sexual hypocrisy, while he watched the rise of fascism in Europe. Reich’s Sex-pol aimed to free sexuality from the constraints of religious moralism and compulsive patriarchal monogamy, while seeing this as only achievable after the end of capitalist exploitation, with the coming of socialism. Times change, and then again, as we know only too well, its traumas return.
"Women’s Liberation’s emphasis on experiential subjectivity was not just a matter of asserting ‘I feel’. It was also affected by a longer term search within the left for an understanding of how to connect material life and an inner consciousness of being."
On the occasion of the new edition of Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, Sheila Rowbotham looks back at the world of its initial birth in the Women's Liberation movement, as she sought to situate her feminist politics in relation to the changing shape of capitalism to forge a new way to describe the interaction between inner perceptions and external material life.
Writers often say they walk for inspiration and Finnish friends assure me the sauna is the place for original thoughts, but Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World was incubated on the 38 Routemaster bus, which used to take me from Hackney me to the British Library (then on Great Russell Street).
I wrote it between 1969 and 1971 when the Women’s Liberation Movement was just beginning to take off in Britain and the book springs out of the very beginnings of the movement in Britain. I have always tended to assume that if I had an idea everyone else must already know of it. But participating in a movement gave me an impetus to believe that my perceptions could contribute to a wider challenge to prevailing cultural assumptions. Remarkably Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World would reach many countries, including Iran.
"The political movement of ‘women’s liberation’ from the 1960s, after a “backlash”, has diversified into all the elements of feminism’s “fourth wave”; but its success has been enormous. It was another beginning, not an end.
"I think that all movements could gain in different ways from the implementation that we initiated in the making the personal, political. This is their legacy, our heritage."
On the occasion of the new edition of Woman’s Estate, Juliet Mitchell looks back at how the joy and practical experience afforded by Women's Liberation—and its tensions with other protest movements of the time—inflected its writing, making the personal political.
Rosa Luxemburg was tortured and executed on this day 96 years ago, on January 15 1919.
The last letter contained in The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is dated January 11 1919, following the crushed Spartacist Uprising, and is reproduced in full below. In her last known piece of writing, 'Order prevails in Berlin', Luxemburg writes about the reasons contributing to the failure of the rebellion and the future of the movement:
A new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”
Why do most “official” feminists and women’s organizations in India keep a safe distance between themselves and organizations like say the ninety-thousand-member Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Association) that is fighting patriarchy in its own communities and displacement by mining corporations in the Dandakaranya forest? Why is it that the dispossession and eviction of millions of women from land that they owned and worked is not seen as a feminist problem?