chapter  8
Changing consciousness, changing lifestyles
153Australian women’s liberation, the left and the politics of ‘personal solutions’
ByIsobelle Barrett Meyering
Pages 19

From its emergence in Australia in late 1969, women’s liberation was characterised by an emphasis on personal transformation. Decrying the ‘male left’ for its failure to attend to ‘personal politics’, women’s liberationists called for change at the level of individual consciousness and lifestyle, as well as on a societal basis. Yet this focus on personal transformation was soon to become one of the most contentious aspects of the new feminism. In the coming years, concerns were repeatedly expressed about the dangers of ‘personal solutions’ rather than collective action, feeding into a growing split between radical and socialist feminists. Drawing on a range of movement periodicals and position papers, this chapter explores three main lines of critique that emerged: first, that a focus on personal change was an ‘individualist’ and therefore ‘elitist’ strategy; second, that it led to unwarranted scrutiny of activists’ personal lives; and third, that it represented a ‘retreat’ from politics. These critiques notwithstanding, the chapter argues that there remained broad acceptance that personal or lifestyle change represented a necessary and valuable component of the movement’s revolutionary politics, with much of the debate turning not on its overall validity but how much weight it should be given.