During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War movement, (the latter largely driven by white middle-class college students), were able to bring about a major transformation in the Western public mind. In the Anti-War movement, youth movements in the USA, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada were instrumental in forging a broad coalition of antiwar activists. Organisations like the Weathermen, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were in the forefront of this movement and have rightly been acknowledged for their part in bringing the Vietnam War to a close. Successful as that movement was, it failed at an important level – in failing to operate internally with the same democratic principles that it publicly espoused. By and large the movement was headed up by men, and women were relegated to the background and to supportive roles – in the process spawning (no pun intended) the Womens’ Movement, or the Womens’ Liberation Movement as it was then called. Aided by the invention of the birth-control pill that gave women control over their child-bearing, as well as by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act – that forbade job discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex, (almost an afterthought!) or national origin, women began to organise for equal rights and opportunities. The National Organisation of Women (NOW) was formed in 1996 by a group of 28 women at the Third Annual Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women in Washington DC. Within 6 months it had 300 members. By 2000 it had half-a-million.
It seemed, in the 1970s, that the Womens’ Liberation issue was well on the way to being solved. NOW promoted the Equal Rights Amendment Act, enshrining the equality of women into law, but by 1973 the drive for legislation stalled against counter-movements and with the ratification by only 35 of the necessary 38 States. Nevertheless significant changes had, it seemed, been initiated as it became increasingly mainstream for men to accept gender sensitivity and equality. The Left, it seemed, had finally acknowledged its earlier misogyny and had moved to embrace women as equal participants in the struggle for universal emancipation. So it seemed. In what follows I suggest that the Left (at least in 1990 and perhaps down to the present) still suffered from a patriarchal myopia – a disjoint between its theory and practice, a confusion between its “do-gooding” and its “feel-gooding” that hampers its effective influence in the process of revolutionary social change.
In an earlier essay I described two experiences that I had in Managua, Nicaragua and Havana, Cuba in 1990. Those experiences were part of my research into critical education theory and practice undertaken in my PhD programme. I wanted to understand and contrast the education systems operating under capitalism with those in a Socialist country – one with a mature brand of socialism like Cuba’s and one with a new and revolutionary socialist like that initiated by the Sandinista revolution. This story parallels that earlier one - this time looking at the broader trendsand problems associated with cultural support and solidarity.
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