Elsewhere (172)
Friday Ephemera

My Kingdom for a Time Machine

The left should revisit the good old days of the feminist collective.

So says the Guardian’s Julie Bindel

Our fearless scribe is pining for the days of “anti-hierarchical collective working” in the twilight of the Seventies. When, coincidentally, she was young. “In many ways collective working was successful,” says she, though the basis for this claim is somewhat sketchy, beyond a further claim that “eminent professionals” and “working class women” bathed in mutual respect and “recognised we could learn from each other.” Ms Bindel’s attempt to persuade us of the virtues of feminist collectives is, however, derailed by sharing her memories of actually being in one:

I recall a collective meeting about setting up a weekly telephone support service for lesbians. It was decided that each collective member would volunteer to take turns manning the phones at their own home, until we could raise the money to rent a space. One of the members did not have a telephone in her house, but insisted she was being discriminated against and “oppressed” by being left out of the rota.

Some difficulties involved scheduling conflicts:

Whenever the media wanted a quote from a feminist organisation, the collectives always missed out in favour of those with a hierarchical structure. All decisions had to be made by consensus, so if the journalist’s deadline was the next day, it was no use explaining that our next meeting was a week on Thursday.

The list of problems does in fact take up quite a lot of the article:

Sitting in endless meetings, unable to reach agreements, and taking days to produce one leaflet because someone objected to the word seminal.

Perhaps sensing that her sales pitch is faltering somewhat, Ms Bindel stresses the immense radicalism of it all:

There was a total resistance to the cult of the individual… until the Thatcher government declared war on society.

What, you didn’t know?

Collective living was also encouraged. Unlike today, when most of us, gay or straight, seem to be railroaded into monogamous coupledom and marriage, back in the day we often lived in groups, bonded by our political activism and vision, raising each other’s children and sharing tasks and late-night discussions.

Imagine the fun. Lasting for decades.

The shortcomings of collective parenting and “raising each other’s children” were of course touched on recently following an equally nostalgic piece by fellow Guardianista Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. During the subsequent discussion, we wondered how many former commune enthusiasts are still intimately “bonded” with their one-time housemates, the people to whom they entrusted the raising of their children.

Despite her struggle to convince, caused chiefly by recalling what the “good old days of the feminist collective” did in fact entail, Ms Bindel ends on a bold and defiant note:

In these times of neoliberalism, working collectively could signal a new way forward. For the fractured left, it is increasingly obvious and important that we need to forge new alliances in order to defeat the march of uber-capitalism.

Readers with a taste for “anti-hierarchical collective working” and “defeating uber-capitalism” may benefit from watching Vanessa Engle’s excellent documentary series Lefties, particularly the second episode, titled Angry Wimmin, which follows the adventures and frustrations of the ladies involved in such endeavours. And in which, incidentally, Ms Bindel can be seen insisting that heterosexual feminists are a contradiction in terms and that lesbianism is an ideological duty. You see, any woman can be a lesbian if she just tries hard enough and embraces the right kind of politics. Given her intense political commitment, one presumes that Ms Bindel would have selflessly facilitated any such transformation. When she was young. 


Goodness. A button.