This is a summary of Sheila Rowbotham’s contribution in the ‘Love and Liberty’ session. Shelia Rowbotham is a British socialist feminist theorist and writer.
When the Women’s Liberation movement began in the early 1970s we came up with demands for external changes in work and daily life but behind these were intense discussions of how women might ‘be’ and relate in differing ways. Because we were bringing personal aspects of experience into politics we searched for new ways of imagining human relationships. Looking back at the history of socialism and feminism it became evident that there had been previous efforts to envision new ways of being and relating. Changing society had not been seen as simply material but as a matter of inner consciousness and there had been an awareness of the need to balance individual expression and democratic collectivity. I have recently returned to these themes in my biography of the socialist and sex reformer, ‘Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love’. It seems to me that the gaining of external rights cannot be actualised without changing values and human relationships. In retrospect it is far harder to this from scratch as we envisaged in the 1970s, instead I would suggest we need to consciously seek ways of reversing the encroachment of competition and cash values into daily life which has been so marked since the 1980s by building in a myriad of ways on existing cultural expressions of egalitarianism, democracy and affection. We need to recreate a politics in which it is possible to aspire to liberty and love- a greater individual freedom and the strength that comes from experiencing loving community.