I went to CUNY this evening to see Sheila Rowbotham talk about her new book and the man that inspired it, Edward Carpenter. This is how the CUNY website pre-described the event:
“Feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham discusses her latest book ‘Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love’. Edward Carpenter (1844 to 1929) challenged both capitalism and the values of Western civilization. He pioneered homosexual, lesbian and women’s liberation along with nudism, recycling, anti-pollution, diet reform and animal rights. He was friendly with such cultural icons as Walt Whitman, E.M.Forster, Isadora Duncan and Emma Goldman. He lived his politics, advocating a minimalist simplification to cluttered middle class Victorians and initiating a craze for country cottages, beeswaxed floors and sandals which helped to prod the modern age into being.”
Carpenter seems like an interesting man, who expressed his gay-ness fairly openly at the end of the 19th cetury. During this time, sodomy was considered criminal and Oscar Wilde was on trial for that very act. Sheila herself is a pretty fascinating lady. Earlier this year I read her 1973 book, Women’s Consciousness: Men’s World. It is a highly readable analysis of British socialist feminism. She tells the story of women who chose to trade eye liner for revolutionary politics, back in the day when it had to be one or the other. I especially like her likening of marriage to feudalism. While I categorically believe that queer people deserve equal rights and protection under the law, in all areas, including marriage. Like Sheila, I personally don’t think that marriage is a goal that any of us need aspire towards. Let’s focus on legalizing free thought instead shall we? It was cool to see Rowbotham, British accent and all, in a small room at CUNY. She is a thinker that holds a vital place in the history of second wave feminism.