Book Club

Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century

By Sera | Sep 24, 2022

From the overturning of Roe vs Wade to the Tiktok trends of "divine femininity" coaches, bagging "high value men" and young women gunning for the alleged "soft life" of housewives in the 50s who didn't have to work or pay bills (or vote, or go to school or breathe without the permission of a man) 2022 has been a year for a lot of anti-feminist resurgence on social issues, and is gaining momentum on social media platforms.

It comes at a time where multiple countries are experiencing a cost of living crisis, national economies are drowning, causing everyone to work twice as much for mostly twice as less.  

Who wouldn't pay to learn how to "bag a man" who would take on all financial burdens while they sit at home and throw tea parties  Bridgerton style if they please. 

First of all, no Nigerian woman had the "cookies and garden parties" now referred to as the "soft life" in the 50s, no black woman did. 

I think these women of our time pushing these trends are so shielded by the privilege of having a choice, that they refuse to see the women who got us here. I don't think anyone in their right mind would give up total financial and social responsibilities on a father or husband or brother if it was as rosy as these trends paint it out to be.

Sheila Rowbotham's Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century  paints a vivid picture of all the reasons women gunned for financial and social freedom in the first place, straight from the minds of some outstanding women whose  brilliant arguments provoked the resistance that sparked  much of what we enjoy today, over a century later. 

The wealth of research put into this work is highly commendable and offers an impressive scope on a wide range of subject matters that still affect women even today, fashion, sex, bodily agency, sexuality, joining free unions, childbearing, abortions, birth control, domestic labour and even social issues such as global trade, the economy, immigration, employment policies etc. and how these shaped the lives of women and their fight for freedom. 

Rowbotham's ability to bottle the voices, hopes and dreams of these women is what gives the book a rounded experience, allowing the reader from time to time hear directly from the women themselves through quotes from their essays, speeches, extracts etc. 

Each chapter holds its own theme and Rowbotham presents excerpts from varying angles of each theme, debate style, with her own remarks serving as a bridge for the reader. Each chapter can stand as a lone read, so one is not compelled to consume the entire work at a go unless they want to.

The overall premise sees these women critique the world they lived in and raise arguments on what steps society could take to ensure a fairer society and better daily experiences for women. They took risks, put on new names and seized whatever opportunity they got to transform women's perception of their roles in society at large.

In the book, American socialist Josephine Kaneteko demanded that stay-at-home mothers be paid wages as domestic labour is a job and should be taken as such (paraphrasing), sounds familiar? This is coming from a period in 1913. 

A recount from Stella Browne's case on the legalisation of abortion in a 1915 newspaper, "Britain Society for the study of sex psychology", points us to the fact that the conversations we have around all these issues today are not new. 

The only downside to this book is how Rowbotham doesn't vividly document the women of colour of that time who also fought the fight coupled with violent racism they faced on the side; few of them are mentioned here and there but not as extensively, and that draws from the experience as a person of colour reading the book. 

It is implied in some way that the alliance that these women formed in their various times, across backgrounds, evoked a consciousness of class and race divisions within an already marginalised group that, according to the book, struck some solidarity. 

Dinah Birch, a professor of English at Liverpool University, in her 2010 article for The Guardian, described the book as "...a celebration of what women have won but also a warning of what could still be lost."  

So are these trends and systemic worldwide setbacks on women's rights signs that we are losing it? 

Rowbotham's Dreamers of A New Day is a powerful reminder that we at least owe it to these women to keep the dream alive.