Love and work: feminism, family and ideas of equality and citizenship, Britain 1900-39.
Innes, Susan K
The thesis is a political history and a history of ideas. It is an account of social feminism in the early twentieth century as it sought to extend the ideal of equality to the family and social citizenshp to women in their family roles. Although first-wave feminism has been seen as predominantlv concerned with equality in public life. I argue that women's position in the farmly especially as mothers raised questions for the women's movement whch were addressed in a number of ways. At a time when state solutions to social problems seemed increasingly convincing this contributed to a shift in the relationshp between families and the state and suggests that organised women's advocacy may have played a greater part in creatlng a political consensus for state welfare provision than has been recognised. Ths forms the context for social-liberal feminism after 1918, exemplified by the Edinburgh Women Citizens' Association. The papers of the EWCA add a new dimension to knowledge of the women's movement in the inter-war period. They show an ambitious autonomous women's organisabon active at a time when feminism is believed to have been in almost terminal decline. They gave a strong sense of what citizenshp meant to newly enfranchsed women and the purposes to whch thev wished to put their new rights: their view of a distinctive women's citizenship drew on both a Victorian tradition of women's activism and on ideas wbch had been developed in pre-war socialist feminism. As a claim to influence in previously wholly male fora it was embedded within the discursive strengths and limitatlons of women's traditional arenas of power/knowledge, family and morality. My approach to these issues is through an analysis of primary texts including The Economic Foundations of the Women's Movement (1914) by Mabel Atkinson and Women: An Inquiry (1925) by Willa Muir, and secondary sources, mainly from recent feminist scholarship. My discussion of the interwar women's movement in Scotland is based on the papers of the EWCA (1918-1939). The thesis reflects on approaches to political theory and to history and argues that categorisations of the political and of feminism create problems of analysis. Ths calls for a theoretical framework whch situates political ideas and strategy within the disourses of gender of the time rather than in a privileged position outside and counter to it: I draw on aspects of cultural theory to develop this argument. A problematic relationshp between familv interests and women's equality runs through, and is made visible through women's movement history. This opposition is formed by the dichotomous positioning of private and public and of difference and equality and hence of the categories family and state. Atkinson's articulation of the demand bv women for love (sexual relationships and children) and work (economic and personal independence) names a refusal to resolve tlus opposition through a separation between those women who marry and have children and those who have public careers. Attempts to renegotiate the gender settlement as it affects private and family life have proved to be a great deal more difficult to carry through than is creatng a greater role for women in the public sphere, hard though that also may be. The repeated identfication of feminism with equality as access to public life is a consequence of the relative success of arguments from equality, but questions about how a 'male standard' creates difficulties for women in public life continue to be relevant. Redrawing the conceptual boundaries whch form ths tension calls for not a reassertion of difference or equality- but a parallel assertion of both: that equality is brought to the family and that at the same time the differences associated with family and caring roles are insistently brought into public life. In conclusion I comment on how the opposition between family responsibilities and gender equality has become one of the 'self-evidences' of our age and that it poses one of the most central questions for philosophy and politics: how to reconcile social and indvidual interests.