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6. Womanopoly

By Rebecca Goldsmith (@rebeccagold123)

Womanopoly, a board game created by activist and writer Stella Dadzie in the late 1970s, offers an unusual yet productive entry-point for examining late twentieth-century British feminism. The game moves through the life-stages of education, work, politics and the home, in each case capturing the contrasting experiences of men and women; the forces of ‘chance’ consistently acting in men’s favour.

In its content, Womanopoly speaks to some particularities of contemporary British feminism, including an emphasis on housework and family dynamics as equally politically significant as formal political representation and workplace discrimination. In turn, while the examples included by Dadzie are inevitably selective and designed to resonate with a particular set of experiences, the register she uses is collective. This resistance of an autobiographical tone forms one response to the dilemma faced by contemporary feminists between the relevance of personal perspectives, particularly for processes of self-realisation, and the need for collective action to achieve change.[1] In order to achieve a more impactful emphasis on differentiated gender experiences, Dadzie’s approach side-lines the differences between women, not only in terms of race and class but strikingly in terms of sexuality and family structure.[2]

This reflection on the game’s imagined participants points to another tension. While men are identified as crucial ‘players’, Dadzie’s later description of Womanopoly as “tongue-in-cheek” renders their expected emotional response to the game’s exposure of gender discrimination more elusive.[3] This ambiguousness captures the struggle of contemporary male anti-sexist activists within the feminist movement: what role did feminists want them to play, beyond that assigned to them in the game?[4]

References

[1] See M Thomson, Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture and Health in Twentieth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), esp. Chapter 8, as quoted in E Robinson, C Schofield, F Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, N Thomlinson, ‘Telling stories about post-war Britain: Popular individualism and the ‘crisis’ of the 1970s, in Twentieth Century British History 28:2 (2017), at p.297. Also see M Jolly et al, ‘Sisterhood and After: Individualism, Ethics, and an Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement’, in Social Movement Studies: The Ethics of Research on Activism 11 (2012), pp.211-226.

[2] For a recent discussion of the relationship between women’s liberation movement and gay liberation see S Crook, ‘The Labour Party, Feminism and Maureen Colquhoun’s Scandals in 1970s Britain’, in Contemporary British History 34:1 (2020), p.74

[3] See S Dadzie, ‘Introductory text’ on the Black Cultural Archives ‘Womanopology’ page: [https://artsandculture.google.com/story/OAUxXI933cCqFw, accessed 13/11/2020].

[4] L Delap, ‘Feminism, Masculinities and Emotional Politics in Late Twentieth Century Britain’, in Cultural and Social History 15 (2018), especially p.572 and testimony at p.575. See also L Delap, ‘Men and Feminism’, The British Library, 23 October 2020 [https://www.bl.uk/womens-rights/articles/male-allies, accessed 13/11/2020] for recent commentary on how these tensions were particularly fraught for white anti-sexist men.

Image: Courtesy of the Black Cultural Archives Arts and Culture webpage, https://artsandculture.google.com/story/OAUxXI933cCqFw

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