Jess McCabe // 12 February 2006
Turn on your TVs this Wednesday, because BBC4 is screening a documentary on the women’s movement in London in the 1970s. Angry Wimmin is part of a series called Lefties, on left-wing radicals of all stripes. The show on the Brixton squats of the period, Property is Theft, was thoughtful and engaging, so hope for more of the same this week.
It may have been a time for people power on the streets, but traditional politics was also transformed, at least in London. The Greater London Council, headed up by Ken Livinstone, gave its Women’s Committee £14 million to spend on women’s causes. Prompted by the documentary, The Independent’s Katy Guest catches up with where those women are now. Most of them still hold onto their radical gender politics, reminiscing about late-night agitation and dreams of a wall around the equator dividing men and women.
To me, and I suspect to most people reading this, these ideas sound outlandish and wrongheaded. The point is not “political lesbianism, whether you fancied women or not”, the point is to be free to fancy women or men or both or any variation therein, and to be a whole, liberated person. And to fight anything that constrains that.
But as easy as it is to dismiss these ideas as not only too extreme, but actually undesirable, we must remember that these women and these movements got us where we are today.
As Linda Bellos, a “sometimes Angry Woman” and former leader of Lambeth Council puts it:
“I think I am more tolerant now,” she says. “I am still intolerant of injustice but I’m more tolerant of where people are at. And I believe my politics has stood still and the world has come to meet us. Equality and justice are not special pleading – they are generally understood.” Is she still angry? “Yeah,” she says, smiling. “I’m cross!” …
“That analysis is as relevant and valid today as it was then, and I fear it will be as relevant and valid in 20 years time. I’d love it to have been a distant memory – just like children going up chimneys are to you and me. I have a new granddaughter, and I’d like to think that in her life she will not fear rape. But I don’t think I can hold my breath. We have a lot to do.”
The landscape has shifted, if not enough, but these women’s stances – extremists as they might have been – helped along that social evolution.