On Saturday 3rd August 2019 we held a meeting with Sheila Rowbotham, socialist feminist, historian and activist, to maek the re-publication of her autobiography Promise of a Dream: Remembering the Sixties.
The room was packed with women and men who listened intently as Sheila explained how and why she decided to write her autobiography. Many women activists fail to do so, like Mary Quaile, and there is a massive gap in radical history because of women’s lack of confidence or lack of support to do so.
Sheila decided to write up her memories of the 1960s because “like many people who have lived through the sixties, I feel that my memories of what has happened then have been swallowed several times over.” She condemned the way the politics and social radicalism of the era was being entombed “under the waste deposits of Conservatism, sixties pop culture was sent off to rehab.”
In Promise of a Dream she writes her own history of the 60s putting those thoughts, ideas and actions within a wider social and historical context. In the meeting local feminists of different generations read out extracts from the book.
The audience was made up of women who have come through feminism from their own perspective. Older feminists talked about their lives and the restrictions that girls faced in this era from the education they received to the subservient position within the law.
Feminists who had followed down the same path as Sheila spoke of their experiences and that they, like Sheila, were now part of a radical past. Some of them are still involved in campaigns defending the NHS and were concerned about the lack of other women taking part.
Ex-students of Sheila, from her time at Manchester University, remembered being taught and inspired by her teaching. A Chinese woman spoke of her own experience on Sheila’s course and her feelings about how life for women in China had deteriorated as capitalism has taken over society. Younger women spoke about their commitment to campaigns such as Reclaim the Night.
Overall the event was inspiring, educational and hopefully will encourage everyone to write up their political activity and become more active as feminists and socialists.
Some other reading material:
Sheila’s article in Black Dwarf, January 1969. “Women: the struggle for Freedom”
Lorna Finlayson’s review in LRB see https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n13/lorna-finlayson/travelling-in-the-wrong-direction
Ruth Pearson’s article “A feminist analysis of neo-liberal politcs and austerity.”