Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 23. 23rd September 1973
How lucky it was for Peter Wilson that my column in "Socialist Action" provided him with a further justification, somewhat belated, of his vote against NZUSA sponsorship of the Lorraine Rothman tour. If, as he says in last week's letter, he had previously "little or no knowledge" of the way women's self-help operated in the US, then it must be assumed that his vote was based solely on his criticisms of the feminist movement's concern with problems associated with women's reproductive functions.
Although it is true that there are no "self-help" clinics in this country, the organisation of the Rothman tour is an indication of the interest there is in promoting them here. In attempting to evaluate the worth of such schemes and the many other ideas raised within the US feminist movement, feminists in this country could do no better than to read the publications of the Socialist Worker's Party. In particular, I recommend its newspaper, "The Militant" (which as Peter Wilson has pointed out, provides me with some excellent ideas) and the "International Socialist Review" (available in the Periodicals Department of the Library). Both can be bought at Resistance Bookshop, Willis Street.
Wilson misinterprets the feminist movement if he thinks it considers women's biological function to be oppressive in and of itself. On this point the movement has made it clear that what women are seeking is the decision-making control over that functioning, control which has been witheld from us in order to uphold the patriarchal family and the monogamous marriage institution. This in itself involves a criticism of the social relations prevailing under capitalism, in that the patriarchal family is basic to the maintenance of the system.
It is entirely consistent, and essential, for those who regard themselves as socialists to support the struggle of women for reforms which will release them from the burdens of unwanted pregnancy. The right to control one's own body, to end the imposition of motherhood by church and state laws, is an elementary democratic right which should be championed by socialists before, during and after a socialist revolution. Because women are currently fighting for this right, and being attacked by the most reactionary sections of society, it assumes even more importance for those interested in ending a social system based on exploitation and oppression.
As a socialist, I consider that the "self-help" trend will hinder the women's movement if it means detracting energies from the campaign to win control of our bodies from those who want to maintain women's oppression
On the other hand, a feminist need not be a socialist to realise that "opting out" and setting up alternative medical schemes takes the pressure off the government to provide cheap, quality birth control measures from a sympathetic medical service, which women are demanding as of right. Unless it is won for all women, that right becomes a privilege for a few, and there does nothing to improve the status of the female sex as a whole.
How Peter Wilson views the transition from capitalism to socialism it anybody's guess — he it still working on it, I believe. The latest signs on his road to revolutionary wisdom show that he is beginning to reject not only the current campaigns of the women's liberation movement, but the movement itself, as a "divisive element in the class struggle." It is already obvious that he places no importance on the role of women, organising against their oppression as a sex, in the process of social change.
It is in this respect that Wilson is like those male "revolutionaries" in the US whose attitudes towards women's issues prompted the beginning of the independent women's liberation movement there.