Friday Feminist – Anne Phillips (2)

The association between politics and friendship, and the way this can increase the excitement and interest in meeting,s was certainly a feature of the women’s liberation movement – though perhaps particularly so for those who had no children, or who had not yet exhausted themselves in years of political life. For many women, the movement became their life, the women’s group their closest friends. In such a context, the extra time it takes to do things collectively rather than on your own is not necessarily seen as a cost, and while it can be unbearable to attend yet another over-long meeting with people you dislike, the experience is very different when the others at the meeting are friends.

It was not long, of course, before people noted the limits of friendship, the two most serious being that it is impossible to include everyone in the circle of your friends, and that it is hard to disagree without more fundamentally falling out. Despite the rapid growth of the women’s movement, with new groups springing up all over the place and ideas spreading fast from one country to another, it was apparent to most of those involved that they were a pretty unrepresentative bunch. Mostly in their twenties or thirties, overwhelmingly white; very often college-educated and holding a degree. There seemed to be a trade-off between the intensity with which those who were involved committed themselves, and the capacity of the movement to extend its appeal. This in turn seemed to be related to precisely those aspects that had brought politics and friendship together. For those already involved, the absence of formal structures, the informality, the shared jokes and references, were a part of what the movement was about. These very same phenomena could seem mysterious and exclusionary to those not yet accepted as friends.

Anne Phillips, Engendering Democracy, 1991


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