I found this article in The Guardian. It is by Sheila Rowbotham, a British socialist feminist writer and teacher. In her opinion, women and men should stand equally against both capitalism and sexism to achieve radical social reorganisation. I think it is all important so I'll just copy the whole thing. I find it helpful, and frustrating, that these ideas have been around so long. And it is a good reminder to revisit the works of early feminists.
Feminists fighting to change the world
Early feminists weren't just fighting for the vote – they wanted to change the world. What can we learn from these audacious utopians?
* Sheila Rowbotham
* The Guardian, Friday 21 May 2010
* Article history
In 1902, Winifred Harper Cooley imagined a 21st century without sweatshops or slums. Cooley was a US feminist, once described as a radiant woman "in flowing, graceful robes", and in this new world, she explained, no one would be tramping the streets without a home, or be unemployed. The world's labour would be shared so that each person only worked five hours a day. Society would be fair, just and equal.
Cooley wasn't alone in her utopian visions. Radicalised by the movement for the vote, as well as by dramatic economic changes, many progressive women of her era – the late 19th century to the early 1930s – were asking serious, far-reaching questions about how their sex should behave and live. They began with women's experiences of sexual relations, mothering, domestic labour and paid work, and went on to demand social as well as political rights. It is thanks to their efforts that we have birth control, abortion, centres for mothers and babies, health visitors, child benefit and the minimum wage. No small achievement.
But they wanted so much more. A novel by US writer Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899), expressed their diffuse desire for personal and social change – when the novel's heroine sets about casting off her socially imposed role as a woman, her adultery scandalises St Louis society. The book's title was echoed in 1913 in "The Awakening of Women", a supplement produced by the New Statesman, in which Beatrice Webb argued that any awakening had to be seen in broader terms than simply the struggle for the vote. Webb observed that a wider women's movement existed that was related to the international movement of labour and "unrest among subject peoples". Women in this wider movement were challenging not just gender relations, but other forms of subordination too.
Among the contributors to the New Statesman supplement was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a remarkable woman from the US whose influence was international. She called for a "larger feminism" that would involve altering sexual relationships, home life, motherhood and the economy. Gilman managed to earn her living by writing books and articles, and in her famous story The Yellow Wallpaper (1890), she described a woman whose sense of self started disappearing into the patterns on her bedroom wall. The story was published after Gilman broke from the claustrophobia of her own first marriage, a separation that brought her agony (her daughter remained with her ex-husband) and freedom.
In the mid-1890s Gilman worked with her close friend, social reformer Helen Campbell, on a journal called Impress. Calling for a new "Art of Living", Gilman advocated kindergartens, kitchenless homes, dance halls and tennis courts. In her story What Diantha Did (1910), the heroine runs a restaurant and food-delivery service that takes meals in insulated containers to emancipated clients. In her ironic utopian novel Herland (1915) the three male visitors are bemused to arrive in an all-female society in which caring, rather than profit, defines the economy.
Strong links existed between feminists and radicals in Britain and the US and Gilman's ideas were discussed in socialist publications. What Diantha Did originally appeared in Gilman's feminist magazine The Forerunner, before being serialised in the leftwing British newspaper the Daily Herald. In Britain, women on the left were beginning to argue that the responsibility for childcare was not simply an individual matter; mothers required resources from society. Free healthcare, maternity allowances, nurseries – even a pension for mothers to enable them to be independent of men – were being mooted.
Among the women influenced by Gilman was Ada Nield Chew, a working-class mother and activist. In 1894, when workers were demanding the eight-hour day, Chew sent a letter to the local paper in Crewe arguing that underpaid, overworked factory women like her were being ignored. They had no time to read, to enjoy nature, she wrote, "We cannot be said to 'live' – we merely exist . . . A living wage! Ours is a lingering dying wage . . . I sometimes wax very warm as I sit stitching and thinking over our wrongs." Chew became involved in the socialist and suffrage movements. She was enthusiastic about Gilman's ideas for "baby- gardens" – where children would learn through play – arguing that they benefited mothers and toddlers alike. "Most difficulties are caused by our age-long habit of looking upon what is, and what has been, as utterly desirable," Chew declared.
Women such as Gilman and Chew were grappling with how to improve women's lives, but who was to define what women wanted? Perspectives on their needs were affected by race as well as class. In A View From the South (1892), African-American writer Anna Julia Cooper asserted the claims of "pinched and downtrodden coloured women bending over washtubs and ironing boards – with children to feed and house rent to pay, wood to buy, soap and starch to furnish – lugging home weekly great baskets of clothes for families who pay them for a month's laundering barely enough to purchase a substantial pair of shoes!"
In the late 1960s, when the early Women's Liberation groups began to emerge, we were ignorant about this earlier "awakening" of women. We thought many of our utopian ideas were new. Then we began to discover the part women had played in radical movements and the struggle for suffrage. And gradually the extraordinary scope of their visions became clear.
Many of the dilemmas of the past were to be revisited. How to balance paid work and mothering? How to ensure that caring for children is not simply the responsibility of mothers, but includes fathers, other adults and wider society? How to ensure reproductive rights? How to share domestic labour equitably? How to end the low pay of women workers? How to prevent male violence? How to enlarge the scope for democratic participation in politics, economic and social life, so that all women's needs are acted on?
Like the women of the earlier awakening, we were fired by a conviction that it was possible to change just about everything. We wanted equal pay and the moon in the 70s. What actually happened, of course, was rather different. Many of those questions are still alive.
On the whole, the gains women have made have been affected by the wider social and economic context. So, for instance, European feminists were able to secure reforms such as better maternity leave from social democratic regimes, while in America, where social provision remains minimal, some women have achieved a higher profile in business and finance. In Britain, practical needs such as child- care entered the Labour agenda, while the push for equal opportunities enabled some women to enter better paid jobs. However, gender equality has proved elusive. Overall, women still earn less than men, and because social inequality in Britain has intensified since the late 70s, women in low-paid jobs – especially those who are the sole supporters of children – have been pushed further down the pile.
Economic slumps are bad news for women. Many of the gains made by feminists are likely to be under threat. Thankfully, new groups of feminists are now exposing the equality con. But the challenge for young and old is this: how do we create an alternative? And the question is not confined to Britain.
When we look at the global situation, the inequalities are even more stark. Pushka, an Indian woman featured in this January's edition of the magazine Homeworkers Worldwide, sews shoes for a well-known brand which sells them in the UK for between £50 and £100 a pair. She is paid 6 rupees (about 7p) a pair and lives in a one-room house with her husband and three children. She has worked for 20 years, forcing herself to grip hard and pull the twine until her fingers are numb and her body aches.
A report for the UN Development Programme, Vision for a Better World: From Economic Crisis to Equality (2010), points out that while more women are now in paid work, much of this is in the low-paid, informal sector. Moreover, women continue to be responsible for unpaid domestic work, such as childcare.
But poor women are resisting. In India, the Self-Employed Women's Organisation has shown it is possible to mobilise women workers, and similar groups have followed their model in other countries. A wider vision of economic democracy has begun through participatory budgeting, an approach to resources that enables low–income women to have a say in how water, sanitation, schools and clinics are allocated. This approach was pioneered in Brazil and has been tried at local or regional levels in Indonesia, Ecuador, Tanzania, South Africa and Australia. Some feminist economists are now arguing that gender equality requires women's engagement with national taxation policies and international trade agreements.
Research networks such as WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing) and Dawn (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) are analysing the implications for women of global economic and social policies. In 2007, a new step was taken when an international meeting of women in Casablanca, Morocco, decided they would not only agitate and analyse but dare to dream of new paths out of women's inequality and poverty. Like the dreamers of the late 19th and early 20th century the Casablanca Dreamers are prepared to imagine what might be. Such a combination of agitation, analysis and imagination is exactly what we need in Britain today.