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Active Then, Active Now:
or, I still call myself a radical feminist

Gail Chester

I first got involved in the Women's Liberation Movement in 1970 at the age of 19, and have been politically active as a feminist ever since. For most of this time I have worked in feminist and radical publishing, while for the last 2 1/2 years I have been part of Women Speak Out, a network of mainly younger women who define themselves as anti-capitalist, radical feminists. My other main political activity is campaigning as a community activist in Hackney, the working-class, ethnically diverse area of London where I live. My main focus has been on the issue of maintaining the relatively high local level of full-time, affordable nursery provision in the borough. Almost all the people I work with on the issue of nurseries are women, and though few of them would define themselves as feminists, it is clear that women feel passionate about nurseries in terms of their personal autonomy. Nursery provision is just one area of public services that is being annihilated by the Blairite/Thatcherite agenda of privatisation of public services and the concomitant destruction of local government. Because women still do the vast majority of caring, and tend, at least in working-class areas, to identify primarily with their local community, fighting these policies must be regarded as a feminist issue.

I have recently encountered an attitude being put forward by some media pundits and academic feminists a) that the Women's Liberation Movement as an activist political movement is dead and b) that no woman under thirty is interested in identifying with an activist women's movement. However, my personal experience of long-term radical feminist activism seems to suggest otherwise. I plan to address some of the possible reasons for this apparent discrepancy, the most obvious being the role of feminists in the academy, the interlocking role of the metropolitan-dominated media, and a limited understanding by many prominent feminist commentators of the influence of race and class on people's political activity.

I shall conclude by examining some of the similarities and differences between feminist activism in the 1970s and now. This will hopefully enable us to consider how best to re-invigorate an activist Women's Liberation Movement, which, I contend, has never really gone away.

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