‘The new woman inevitably demands a new man.’
(Sheila Rowbotham, ‘Problems of organization and strategy’, 1972).
The slogan on the badge in the photograph above has (at least) three meanings. Better than whom? Better than unliberated men? Better than men used to be? Or better than women, liberated or otherwise? And better at what? Better at ‘it’, quite possibly, for slogans of sexual boasting were not uncommon on T shirts, car-stickers and badges in the 1970s. For ‘liberated’, perhaps, read ‘uninhibited’.
The ambiguity is probably not accidental. It is also revealing about the ambiguities of men’s support for feminism in the 1970s, which I have also explored elsewhere. In this investigation, which forms part of an ongoing research project on the acknowledgment of the personal in politics, I examine men’s groups, to try and explain why they formed, and why they worked so differently to the women’s groups on which they were partly modelled. The research has three parts.
The first part of the research looks at the men’s groups in Britain in the 1970s, using the newsletters and reports they produced, autobiographical writings and oral histories. The focus is on the internal working of the groups: their size, popularity, methods of recruitment, durability, organisation, and ways of working. Who joined them? Were they similar to the women’s groups, or different, and if so, why?
One early line of division concerned the question of men’s liberation. Were the men’s groups supposed to help men to understand feminist criticism and change themselves in response to it? Or were they supposed to enable men to rediscover, in the light of feminist criticism, what it might be to be a man?
The second area of research concerns relations with the women’s liberation movement, and especially, the question of accountability. What were men required to do? How should the men relate to the women’s groups? Were they auxiliaries, that is, separate groupings fighting on the same side? Or did they have their own battles to fight? What should their relationship be to other men beyond the group, especially men who had not yet heard or understood what feminists were saying?
The third research area concerns the men and their personal relationships, especially family, domestic and sexual relationships. What happened in the home? Did heterosexual ‘feminist couples’ find new ways of living together?