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Politics, pleasure and pain in the 70s

Ros Brunt and Jenny Wolmark

In the context of the experiences of two women who were both feminists and members of the Communist Party in the 70s, discussion will focus on the ambivalences and contradictions that existed within and between the two political constituencies. We would like to share our lived experience of this 'moment' and explore some of its legacies.

As a 'traditional' political party, the Communist Party was both resistant to and strongly influenced by the politics of the women's liberation movement. The women's movement, on the other hand, was often fiercely opposed to any notion of 'traditional' politics. For feminists in the Communist Party, the negotiation of these contradictory agendas, at regional and national levels, was both exhilarating and exhausting. The influx of ideas and practices from the women's movement into the Communist Party generated radical changes in the way in which politics was defined within the CP. The notion that 'the personal is political' was ground-breaking for activists, because it allowed a range of previously excluded issues onto the political agenda, and contributed to the emergence of the 'new politics' of the 70s and 80s. The diversity of the women's movement was celebrated by feminists in the CP, but at the same time, the movement's tendency towards fragmentation and its reluctance to look for other political allies was also regarded as highly problematic. As the paper will suggest, although such contradictions may never have been fully resolved, nevertheless they were a significant factor in the politicisation of gender.

The paper will also consider the contemporary expression of the complex and culturally diverse legacy of these contradictions, ranging from the contentious notion of postfeminism, to the re-working of women's liberation as 'girl power'.

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