Robowtham’s Woman’s Consciousness

Here’s another Facebook Note back up. This time I’m posting excerpts from Sheila Rowbotham‘s Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World:

Woman's Consciousness, Man's World book cover
This photo is grabbed from Aucott and Thomas, secondhand and antiquarian booksellers.

I do not believe that women or men are determined by either anatomy or economics, though I think both contribute to a definition of what we can be and what we have to struggle to go beyond.

The intimate oppression of women forces a redefinition of what is personal and what is political.

The immediate response when you grasp this is to deny all culture because everything that has been created, all universal values, all notions of what we are, have been made in a society in which men are dominant. But the problem created by simply rejecting everything that is, and inverting existing male values to make a female culture out of everything not male, is that the distortions of oppression are perpetuated.

The act of oppression not only disfigures the oppressor, it also maims the oppressed. A new culture cannot be made only out of the heads of those who rebel. Exhortation to liberation merely as an act of will can harden into a stereotype which itself becomes a block on the self-activity of the oppressed.

Oppression is not an abstract moral condition but a social and historical experience.

In real life we are happy, we love, and play, but despite the conditions in which we can become persons. The point is to change those conditions, not to make a virtue out of small personal triumphs over adversity.

It seems to me that the cultural and economic liberation of women is inseparable from the creation of a society in which all people no longer have their lives stolen from them, and in which the conditions of their production and reproduction will no longer be distorted or held back by the subordination of sex, race, and class.

The deepest awareness of the evils of the capitalist system and the most unshakeable commitment to overthrowing that system is attained, not by studying socialist classics nor by working for someone else’s ’cause’ but by people examining the features of their own oppression.

[I]t was impossible for revolutionary movements to survive in opposition to capitalism unless they consciously created their own culture which served to defend us all from the continual erosion of capitalism’s version of the world and enabled us to project alternative values without being overwhelmed.

The vast mass of human beings have always been mainly invisible to themselves while a tiny minority have exhausted themselves in the isolation of observing their own reflections. Every mass political movement of the oppressed necessarily brings its own vision of itself into sight.

All revolutionary movements create their own ways of seeing. [to use our self-consciousness strategically]

The outside world invades and distorts revolutionary organizations and consciousness.

The oppressed without hope are mysteriously quiet. When the conception of change is beyond the limits of the possible, there are no words to articulate discontent so it is sometimes held not to exist.

The revolutionary must listen very well to the language of silence.

Language conveys a certain power. It is one of the instruments of domination. It is carefully guarded by the superior people because it is one of the means through which they conserve their supremacy.

Moreover, the relationship of man to woman is like no other relationship of oppressor to oppressed. It is far more delicate, far more complex. After all, very often the two love one another. It is a rather gentle tyranny. We are subdued at the very moment of intimacy.

[W]e know, not as an abstract idea, but from our experience of our specific material situation, that our consciousness as women is inseparable from our relation to the encounters of our anatomy.


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