Old Feminist Writings
Ain’t I A Woman? Written by: Sojourner Truth (Delivered in 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio)
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
A Kind of Memo By: Casey Hayden and Mary King 1965
(Note: Casey Hayden and Mary King circulated this paper on women in the civil rights movement based on their experiences as Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee volunteers. It is widely regarded as one of the first documents of the emerging women’s liberation movement.)
We’ve talked a lot, to each other and to some of you, about our own and other women’s problems in trying to live in our personal lives and in our work as independent and creative people. In these conversations we’ve found what seem to be recurrent ideas or themes. Maybe we can look at these things many of us perceive, often as a result of insights learned from the movement:
Sex and caste: There seem to be many parallels that can be drawn between treatment of Negroes and treatment of women in our society as a whole. But in particular, women we’ve talked to who work in the movement seem to be caught up in a common-law caste system that operates, sometimes subtly, forcing them to work around or outside hierarchical structures of power which may exclude them. Women seem to be placed in the same position of assumed subordination in personal situations too. It is a caste system which, at its worst, uses and exploits women. This is complicated by several facts, among them:
1.) The caste system is not institutionalized by law (women have the right to vote, to sue for divorce, etc.);
2.) Women can’t withdraw from the situation (a la nationalism) or overthrow it;
3.) There are biological differences (even though those biological differences are usually discussed or accepted without taking present and future technology into account so we probably can’t be sure what these differences mean). Many people who are very hip to the implications of the racial caste system, even people in the movement, don’t seem to be able to see the sexual caste system and if the question is raised they respond with: “That’s the way it’s supposed to be. There are biological differences.” Or with other statements which recall a white segragationist confronted with integration.
Women and problems of work: The caste system perspective dictates the roles assigned to women in the movement, and certainly even more to women outside the movement. Within the movement, questions arise in situations ranging from relationships of women organizers to men in the community, to who cleans the freedom house, to who holds leadership positions, to who does secretarial work, and who acts as spokesman for groups. Other problems arise between women with varying degrees of awareness of themselves as being as capable as men but held back from full participation, or between women who see themselves as needing more control of their work than other women demand. And there are problems with relationships between white women and black women.
Women and personal relations with men: Having learned from the movement to think radically about the personal worth and abilities of people whose role in society had gone unchallenged before, a lot of women in the movement have begun trying to apply those lessons to their own relations with men. Each of us probably has her own story of the various results, and of the internal struggle occasioned by trying to break out of very deeply learned fears, needs, and self-perceptions, and of what happens when we try to replace them with concepts of people and freedom learned from the movement and organizing.
Institutions: Nearly everyone has real questions about those institutions which shape perspectives on men and women: marriage, child rearing pat-terns, women’s (and men’s) magazines, etc. People are beginning to think about and even to experiment with new forms in these areas.
Men’s reactions to the questions raised here: A very few men seem to feel, when they hear conversations involving these problems, but they have a right to be present and participate in them, since they are so deeply involved. At the same time, very few men can respond non-defensively, since the whole idea is either beyond their comprehension or threatens and exposes them. The usual response is laughter. That inability to see the whole issue as serious, as the straitjacketing of both sexes, and as societally dertermined often shapes our own response so that we learn to think in their terms about ourselves and to feel silly rather than trust our inner feelings. The problems we’re listing here, and what others have said about them, are therefore largely drawn from conversations among women only and that difficulty in establishing dialogue with men is a recurring theme among people we’ve talked to.
Lack of community for discussion: Nobody is writing, or organizing or talking publicly about women, in any way that reflects the problems that various women in the movement come across and which we’ve tried to touch above. Consider this quote from an article in the centennial issue of The Nation: However equally we consider men and women, the work plans for husbands and wives cannot be given equal weight. A woman should not aim for “a second-level career” because she is a woman; from girlhood on she should recognize that, if she is also going to be a wife and mother, she will not be able to give as much to her work as she would if single. That is, she should not feel that she cannot aspire to directing the laboratory simply because she is a woman, but rather because she is also a wife and mother; as such, her work as a lab technician (or the equivalent in another field) should bring both satisfaction and the knowledge that, through it, she is fulfilling an additional role, making an additional contribution.
And that’s about as deep as the analysis goes publicly, which is not nearly so deep as we’ve heard many of you go in chance conversations.
The reason we want to try to open up dialogue is mostly subjective. Working in the movement often intensifies personal problems, especially if we start trying to apply things we’re learning there to our personal lives. Perhaps we can start to talk with each other more openly than in the past and create a community of support for each other so we can deal with ourselves and others with integrity and can therefore keep working.
Objectively, the chances seem nil that we could start a movement based on anything as distant to general American thought as a sex-caste system. Therefore, most of us will probably want to work full time on problems such as war, poverty, race. The very fact that the country can’t face, much less deal with, the questions we’re raising means that the movement is one place to look for some relief. Real efforts at dialogue within the movement and with whatever liberal groups, community women, or students might listen are justified. That is, all the problems between men and women and all the problems of women functioning in society as equal human beings are among the most basic that people face. We’ve talked in the movement about trying to build a society which would see basic human problems (which are now seen as private troubles), as public problems and would try to shape institutions to meet human needs rather than shaping people to meet the needs of those with power. To raise questions like those above
illustrates very directly that society hasn’t dealt with some of its deepest problems and opens discussion of why that is so. (In one sense, it is a radicalizing question that can take people beyond legalistic solutions into areas of personal and institutional change.) The second objective reason we’d like to see discussion begin is that we’ve learned a great deal in the movement and perhaps this is one area where a determined attempt to apply ideas we’ve learned there can produce some new alternatives.
The Anarchafeminist Manifesto (Bulletin C.R.I.F.A. No 44 mars -avril 1983 p. 12)
All over the world most women have no rights whatsoever to decide upon important matters which concern their lives. Women suffer from oppressions of two kinds: 1) the general social oppression of the people, and 2) secondly sexism – oppression and discrimination because of their sex.
There are five main forms of oppression:
– Ideological oppression, brainwash by certain cultural traditions, religion, advertising and propaganda. Manipulation with concepts and play upon women’s feelings and susceptibilities. Widespread patriarchal and authoritarian attitudes and capitalistic mentality in all areas.
– State oppression, hierarchical forms of organization with command lines downwards from the top in most interpersonal relations, also in the so-called private life .
– Economic exploitation and repression, as a consumer and a worker in the home and in low-salary women’s jobs .
– Violence, under the auspices of the society as well as in the private sphere – indirectly when there is coercion because of lack of alternatives and direct physical violence.
– Lack of organization, tyranny of the structurelessness which pulverizes responsibility and creates weakness and inactivity.
These factors work together and contribute simultaneously to sustain each other in a vicious circle. There is no panacea to break the circle, but it isn’t unbreakable.
Anarcha-feminism is a matter of consciousness. The consciousness which puts guardians off work. The principles of a liberating society thus stand perfectly clear to us.
Anarcha-feminism means women’s independence and freedom on an equal footing with men. A social organization and a social life where no-one is superior or inferior to anyone and everybody is coordinate, women as well as men. This goes for all levels of social life, also the private sphere.
Anarcha-feminism implies that women themselves decide and take care of their own matters, individually in personal matters, and together with other women in matters which concern several women. In matters which concern both sexes essentially and concretely women and men shall decide on an equal footing.
Women must have self-decision over their own bodies, and all matters concerning contraception and childbirth are to be decided upon by women themselves.
It must be fought both individually and collectively against male domination, attitudes of ownership and control over women, against repressive laws and for women’s economic and social autonomy and independence.
Crisis centers, day care centers, study and discussion groups, women’s culture activities etc. must be established, and be run under womens’s own direction.
The traditional patriarchal nuclear family should be replaced by free associations between men and women based on equal right to decide for both parts and with respect for the individual person’s autonomy and integrity.
Sex-stereotyping in education, media and at the place of work must be abolished. Radical sharing of the work by the sexes in ordinary jobs, domestic life and education is a suitable mean.
The structure of working life must be radically changed, with more part-time work and flat organized cooperation at home as well as in society. The difference between men’s work and women’s work must be abolished. Nursing and taking care of the children must concern men just as much as women.
Female power and female prime ministers will neither lead the majority of women to their ends nor abolish oppression. Marxist and bourgeoisie feminists are misleading the fight for women’s liberation. For most women it is not going to be any feminism without anarchism. In other words, anarcha-feminism does not stand for female power or female prime ministers, it stands for organization without power and without prime ministers.
The double oppression of women demands a double fight and double organizing: on the one hand in feminist federations, on the other hand in the organizations of anarchists. The anarcha-feminists form a junction in this double organizing.
A serious anarchism must also be feminist otherwise it is a question of patriarchal half-anarchism and not real anarchism. It is the task of the anarcha-feminists to secure the feminist feature in anarchism. There will be no anarchism without feminism.
An essential point in anarcha-feminism is that the changes must begin today, not tomorrow or after the revolution. The revolution shall be permanent. We must start today by seeing through the oppression in the daily life and do something to break the pattern here and now.
We must act autonomously, without delegating to any leaders the right to decide what we wish and what we shall do: we must make decisions all by ourselves in personal matters, together with other women in pure female matters, and together with the male fellows in common matters.
The origin of the Anarchafeminist Manifesto.
8 March, International Women’s Day, is a special relevant day to remember the Anarchafeminist Manifesto. The origin of the Anarchafeminist Manifesto is in Norway. The Anarchafeminist Manifesto is the summary of the feminist political program unanimously agreed upon by the third congress of the Anarchist Federation of Norway 1 – 7 of June 1982. The manifesto was first published in Norwegian in Folkebladet (IJA) no 1 1983 pp. 4-5. Soon after the Manifesto was published in CRIFA-Bulletin no 44 mars-avril 1983 in French (p. 12) and English (p. 13) language. Later on the French version was used as the basis for a translation to English that was published on the Internet, see above. The Manifesto is also translated to other languages.
A New Declaration of Independence By: Emma Goldman
[Published in Mother Earth, Vol. IV, no. 5, July 1909.]
When, in the course of human development, existing instiutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they serve merely to enslave, rob, and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.
The mere fact that these forces-inimical to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–are legalized by statute laws, sanctified by divine rights, and enforced by political power, in no way justifies their continued existence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all human beings, irrespective of race, color, or sex, are born with the equal right to share at the table of life; that to secure this right, there must be established among men economic, social, and political freedom; we hold further that government exists but to maintain special privilege and property rights; that it coerces man into submission and therefore robs him of dignity, self-respect, and life.
The history of the American kings of capital and authority is the history of repeated crimes, injustice, oppression, outrage, and abuse, all aiming at the suppression of individual liberties and the exploitation of the people. A vast country, rich enough to supply all her children with all possible comforts, and insure well-being to all, is in the hands of a few, while the nameless millions are at the mercy of ruthless wealth gatherers, unscrupulous lawmakers, and corrupt politicians. Sturdy sons of America are forced to tramp the country in a fruitless search for bread, and many of her daughters are driven into the street, while thousands of tender children are daily sacrificed on the altar of Mammon. The reign of these kings is holding mankind in slavery, perpetuating poverty and disease, maintaining crime and corruption; it is fettering the spirit of liberty, throttling the voice of justice, and degrading and oppressing humanity. It is engaged in continual war and slaughter, devastating the country and
destroying the best and finest qualities of man; it nurtures superstition and ignorance, sows prejudice and strife, and turns the human family into a camp of Ishmaelites.
We, therefore, the liberty-loving men and women, realizing the great injustice and brutality of this state of affairs, earnestly and boldly do hereby declare, That each and every individual is and ought to be free to own himself and to enjoy the full fruit of his labor; that man is absolved from all allegiance to the kings of authority and capital; that he has, by the very fact of his being, free access to the land and all means of production, and entire liberty of disposing of the fruits of his efforts; that each and every individual has the unquestionable and unabridgeable right of free and voluntary association with other equally sovereign individuals for economic, political, social, and all other purposes, and that to achieve this end man must emancipate himself from the sacredness of property, the respect for man-made law, the fear of the Church, the cowardice of public opinion, the stupid arrogance of national, racial, religious, and sex superiority, and from the narrow puritanical conception of human
life. And for the support of this Declaration, and with a firm reliance on the harmonious blending of man’s social and individual tendencies, the lovers of liberty joyfully consecrate their uncompromising devotion, their energy and intelligence, their solidarity and their lives.
This ‘Declaration’ was written at the request of a certain newspaper, which subsequently refused to publish it, though the article was already in composition.
Consciousnes-Raising By: The Women’s Collective
(Note: These guidelines for organizing consciousness raising groups originally came from a women’s group in Connecticut and KNOW, INC.)
Types Of Groups
1.) Social: killing time; jockeying for position in the status, hierarchy; confessional
2.) Action: to achieve a specific goal
3.) Business: combinations of #1 and #2
4.) Therapy: the cost may be too high
5.) Religious: philosophical or mystical
6.) Political: may be any or all of the above
7.) CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING; NOT ANY OF THE ABOVE
GOALS OF WOMEN’S CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING
1.) Understanding one’s self in relation to one’s society
2.) Specifically, understanding what it is to be a woman in a patriarchal society that oppresses women.
SIZE OF GROUP
Optimum size is probably no more than 8 women, otherwise some do not have the opportunity to speak. However, situations occur where it is better to jump into consciousness raising rather than let the opportunity slip by. Good things can happen in large groups, too.
The primary purpose of these guidelines is to keep CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING from becoming one of the other groups. There are not to be construed as rigid rules. Any or all may at some time serve the goals best by being broken or ignored.
1.) No men allowed at women’s CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING SESSIONS this year; maybe next year. Separate male groups are probably possible if they are initiated by males.
2.) Neutral ground for a meeting place is preferable so that one woman does not have to play hostess. It is better not to be distracted with the problems of refreshments, so that 2 or 3 hours may be a time limit. The group can chip in for whatever expenses are involved but the amount should be self-determined so that no woman is excluded for financial reasons. Remember, the wife of a wealthy man may feel financially strapped when she has not resolved within herself whether the money is hers or his. Serious CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING groups require babysitting facilities nearby so that mothers of young children need not be excluded. A woman with an infant should not be discriminated against and the group could chip in for a baby sitter (perhaps the husbands).
3.) Let any woman in. Do not be exclusive, We’ve been in purdah too long. Women have too long socialized in hierarchical, competitive, compartmentalized groupings. Women are women all enduring the sexism of patriarchay and the oppression that is part of being a woman in a sexist society. CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING must never be a closed club.
4.) Try to give everyone a chance to speak. Use positive encouragement such as taking turns or supplying each member of the group with several poker chips which are tossed into the center of the circle each time she speaks. Be particularly attentive to the member who speaks least, since we wan to encourage self-expression in all. Furthermore, one learns and understands both by speaking and by listening. We women have not had enough attentive, respectful audiences in our lives.
5.) CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING sessions should not have an authoritarian leader. If there is a leader or leaders at all, their function is to guide the group along these guidelines. There should not be a discussion leader who determines the content or is presumed to be the final authority. This is not to say that some person at some time may not have more information of understanding of the topic under discussion. If so, listen but if it is always the same person or persons, do something to increase participation of everyone (e.g. poker chip method).
6.) Utilize a protective structure, such as these guidelines, in an effort to free all participants rather than freeing only some women at the expense of others. But do not hold to structure rigidly. Any or all of these suggestions may not apply to every group at any given time.
7.) Speak about the experience of being a woman. Do not stray to topics which are unrelated. Although we are always women, not all our experiences bear direct or obvious relation to this fact.
8.) The atmosphere should be sufficiently flexible to permit members to introduce topics of importance to them.
9.) On the other hand, having specific topics for discussion sometimes helps beginners to focus on what had been difficult for a woman to look at, but they should not be allowed to restrict the flow of content. CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING is not educational in that there are no exams or competitive aims. CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING is educational in that it provides the support of other women and their recognition of us and of what we have to say. Some women who are very knowledgeable about the facts of sexism, who are activists for the women’s cause, and who may even be effective spokeswomen, sometimes miss the golden opportunity which we women of the Seventies have to be given respect by associates, a luxury enjoyed by a few women throughout history. It is understandable that they may not feel they need CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING, but when they come, they gain as much as we are gaining. Of course, if they see themselves as experts, it will take them longer to experience the value of relating to their own experiences to
those of others.
10.) We speak about our own thoughts, our own feelings, and our own experiences rather than what we think about others thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We are an authority on ourselves. It seems something of a cop-out to say, I saw a woman who told me that she decided… instead of, I decided… We say what we think about things as openly and honestly as we easily can. We also recognize that there are various levels of consciousness. If a comment would not be understood by others at a certain time, it may be better to wait than to rush too fast. On the other hand, we sisters grow very fast once we begin.
11.) Refrain from criticizing others. As our calloused never endings are exposed, we may become stronger out in society, but more vulnerable to our sisters. There is inevitable pain in the process of seeing what we have previously not allowed ourselves to see. Understand the greater need for support during this process.
12.) While we are trying to discover our own sexism and the sexism which has victimized us, we try to avoid the traps of classism, racism, and ageism. When younger exclude older, or older refer to younger in put down terminology (such as referring to 20 year olds as young girls) we are letting another ugly “-ism” creep in.
13.) Never give advice, though we can give our reactions. This sounds contradictory, and sometimes the line may be hard to draw, but advice is a conclusion and conclusions are hazardous without all the data. We cannot really put ourselves in another woman’s position. It is one thing to say, I think that if I were in your situation, I would feel like… and quite another to say, I think you ought to…
14.) Restrain impulses to act negatively towards another sister. CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING is not encounter. We are analyzing ourselves and our roles in society, but not each others Criticism inhibits and makes it more difficult to realize the goal of the increased self-understanding. The CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING experience should be a positive place where one gains support, not a hostile environment to be feared.
15.) Enjoy the different styles of the women in the CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING group. We are trying to get rid of the old value of sameness. Some of us are emotional, some soft-spoken. Let each be whatever she is at the moment. She may change next week. If she does, enjoy that too.
16.) Exert no pressure on anyone either to say anything or do anything. Even the asking of questions should be limited to questions of clarification. If she wants to tell, What did you do then? she will. Be sensitive to the possibility that to ask may be to pressure.
17.) One sometimes edits one’s reactions so as not to push a new sister too far, too fast, but the goal of CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING is to raise the consciousness to a level where editing is no longer necessary. If too much editing seems to be occurring, maybe some change is in order.
18.) CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING is not a confessional but intimate secrets may be spoken of when they are relevant. It is very consciousness raising to discover that others guilty secrets are the same as one’s own. But do not feel compelled; speak only when you are sure you are ready.
19.) Interaction among other members should be underplayed. References to conversations or events in which another member took part without full explanation is frustrating to the rest of the group and projects exclusiveness. This is probably why CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING often works better among persons who see little of each other outside the sessions. All comments should be made by an individual to the whole group.
20.) Have a clear beginning and end. Do not blend gradually into other functions (e.g., social, political). Be clear when the rap is over and exert no subtle pressure on women to engage in other activities. Do not mix CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING and action. Keep them separate. If announcements are made, they should be made at the beginning or end so they are not mixed with the CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING.
21.) All of the above are guidelines, not rules. They express what seems to have worked well for us at this time. We may change our minds about any or all of them. We offer them to you because we think they might make it easier for you to avoid some possible pitfalls. But to see these tentative guidelines as inflexible rules and restrictions would be the biggest pitfall of all.
22.) And therefore we add one final point. If a sister seems not to follow these guidelines in her behavior sometimes, try to see the value in the deviation, Maybe the guideline is the thing that should change. It might be a good idea to bring the matter up for discussion before or after (not during) a session if the deviation is frequent. People make rules; not the reverse. The reason we have written these guidelines out is to help new groups get started and to orient, new sisters. That is why it may be better to change or cross out the written guidelines if they are not being followed. It can be disturbing to read one thing and see another. In other words, use them only if and when they work for you.
These guidelines have been drawn up by a WOMEN’S COLLECTIVE and are subject to instant change by you. They would appreciate your reactions.
Covert Sex Discrimination Against Women As Medical Patients By: Carol Downer
(Note: This article was an address to the American Psychological Association meeting in Hawaii, September 5, 1972. It was also published by KNOW Inc.)
Good health care and effective delivery of family planning care can only come from a correct understanding of how we women feel about our own bodies, and how we feel about male doctors, and what can be done to help us to learn more about our own bodies.
Presently, most of us receive our obstetrical and gynecological care from male physicians. Also research into birth control and access to birth control information and care is controlled by male-dominated institutions. Our question is, “Is the quality of women’s health care lowered by the fact that the male half of the human race legislates, dictates, administrates and implements health care for the female half of the human race?” The answer is an emphatic, “Yes”. Not only do we, as individuals, suffer from inferior care, but the very existence of the human race on this planet is threatened by the fact that male institutions are forcing us to have more babies than we want. Don’t misunderstand me – an institution has as yet to make a woman pregnant. But, putting aside for the moment the overall picture of our oppression by institutions that perpetuate male supremacy, let’s consider how women are discriminated against as medical patients. A doctor’s professional behavior and all information directed at us
assumes that 1.) we don’t know anything about our bodies, and 2.) we are embarrassed by the examination of frank discussion of our genitals.
It is true that we have very little direct knowledge of our own bodies. We do not touch ourselves; we do not look at ourselves. Even those of us who search out the information in books of anatomy have a very unrealistic and unuseful knowledge of ourselves. And there is evidence to support the doctor’s statements that we do experience embarrassment during our pelvic examinations, and we do exhibit behavior labeled “modesty”. Joan Emerson, in “Behavior in Private Places, Sustaining Definitions of Reality in the Gynecological Examination” observed 75 gynecological exams and carefully recorded the behavior necessary for the male physician to examine our genitals in a medical setting so that we will not interpret his behavior as a sexual advance or as an assault. She also notes that we are expected to maintain certain behavior to sustain the proper definitions. For example, she notes that when an occasional patient would become nonchalant enough to allow herself to remain uncovered for much longer than is
technically necessary she became a threat. The investigator goes on to say how the doctor and the nurse cope with this threat. Rituals of draping, attendance of a female nurse at the exam, carefully modulated voice stylized conversation with props of medical uniforms, gloves, instruments — all help to define the situation as a medical one. In fact, anyone reading this article will be impressed with the extreme delicacy demanded of both doctor and patient. Emerson seems to feel that most doctors carry off a poised performance. We feminists ask, “Why must this outrageous nonsense be countenanced just to maintain male supremacy in medicine?”
In evaluating Emerson’s article, we note that, like nearly all the past and current literature in behavioral science, it is riddled with sexist bias. First of all, doctors are referred to as “he” and nurses are referred to as “she” without any serious taking into account the significance of these sex-determined roles, other than the implicit acknowledgment that male-female relationships are so shaky that special steps must be taken to neutralize the usual hostilities. No attempt was made to observe female gynecologists to discover how much of the elaborate rigamarole is necessary for them to maintain the proper relationship. But most importantly, this article never questioned the appropriateness of the present way of examining our genitals, or tried to explain why all parties are willing to go through the charade, or what accounted for the embarrassment and uneasiness that she observed. This is yet another instance of how social myopia prevents rigorous scientific effort.
Emerson’s article proves what we Feminists have been saying, and that is that a male doctor cannot, by donning a white coat and a nonchalant air, rid himself of his socialization or change his social status, and we fail to see why we should be asked to participate in maintaining the polite fiction that he can.
As feminists and as citizens who are concerned with the world’s population problems we must ask these more penetrating and significant questions,
1.) “Why must we be examined by male physicians at all,
2.) Why must all parties be subjected to the elaborate hypocrisy necessary to perpetuate the status quo, and
3.) Why do we exhibit behavior which betrays extreme embarrassment and upset?”
The answer to all three questions is that in the last 100 years males have taken over the field of obstetrics and gynecology and that we are forced to endure this absurd situation with as much dignity as we can summon up. Male physicians have notions in their heads about us; they expect us to behave in a certain way; their behavior in the exam setting accordingly reflects their expectations; and lo and behold! We blush, we stammer, we lower our heads and we get the hell out as quickly as we can!
This situation cannot help but have deleterious results. For one thing, doctors spend much of their time and energy “relating” to us, helping us to unburden ourselves, giving diagnoses in a sure, confident manner, and winding up each visit with a cheerful prognosis. This emphasis on the non-medical skills of counseling and “psychology” is based on the recognition that many of the physical symptoms do result from emotional problems. Male physicians, being unable to see their complicity in maintaining the sexist society that is putting literally unbearable strains upon us, cannot admit that oftentimes we do not need, as one man said, “simple kindness”, but rather simple justice. Postpartum blues are cured more by help with the housework than our husband complimenting our hairdo; menopausal depression could be cured by allowing us to lead meaningful, full lives at this time instead of our having nothing to look forward to for the remaining part of our lives except ridicule, neglect and inevitable poverty. A male physician giving a tranquilizer to help a woman adjust to a domineering opium to the enemy.
Our symptoms are dismissed as emotional in origin even when they are not. Endometriosis is often accompanied by pain in heterosexual intercourse. We are told that we must learn to enjoy sex – by the time we find out that our pain is not psychological in origin, the condition has progressed where even surgery will not totally correct it.
In what has been described as “rape of the pelvis”, our uteri, and ovaries are removed often needlessly. Our breasts and all supporting muscular tissue are carved out brutally in radical mastectomy. Abortion and preventive birth control methods are denied us unless we are a certain age, or married or perhaps they are denied us completely. Hospital committees decide whether or not we can have our tubes tied. Unless our uterus has “done its dute”, we’re often denied. We give birth in hospitals run for the convenience of the staff. We’re drugged, strapped, cut, ignored, enemaed, probed, shaved – all in the name of “superior care”. How can we rescue ourselves from this dilemma that male supremacy has landed us in? The solution is simple. We women must take women’s medicine back into our own capable hands. It has been proven that female paramedics can take over routine gynecologic procedures. We can do things ourselves, for ourselves and for other women. The profession of midwifery must be renewed. The profession of nursing must be restored to its former place. I’d like to mention in passing that all of us have been losers in the power play that subordinated nurses to doctors in hospitals. Nurses, most of whom happen to be women, are an important part of the medical team. Their ability to carry out their role in preventive medicine has been seriously harmed by the unwarranted promotion of the M.D. to the head of the medical team. A nurse who has been trained as an independent professional is forced into antiquated rituals of submission – such as always allowing doctors to precede her and is rarely given the same respect and pay accorded to the M.D.
The pelvic examination is not inherently painful and embarrassing. In programs involving female paramedics and in our experiences in the Self-Help Clinic, we have found that women want to know more about their bodies; and that they prefer women to take care of them.
The Self-Help Clinic is not a clinic at all, but rather a kind of meeting where we learn to examine ourselves with the plastic vaginal speculum and share our experiences and feelings. We started the Self-Help Clinic a year and a half ago because we were determined to overcome inhibitions and get back into touch with our own bodies. We were disgusted with the shoddiness and expensiveness of the medical care we were getting; we were unwilling to accept passively the laws against abortion. The Self-Help Clinic is one part of a giant upsurge of interest in women’s health care. The day of the all-wise male gynecologist is over. We want abortion on demand, home birth, female midwives, safer and more readily available contraceptives, increased opportunity to become doctors and more active participation of the women’s community in the delivery of health care.
As is presently being implemented in the Self-Help Clinic program in Los Angeles and throughout the United States, women meet in small groups for six weekly sessions. There, we who have some experience, show how to insert the plastic vaginal speculum for cervical examination and how to give bimanual pelvic examinations. Basic information of birth control, venereal disease and cancer is shared, and in the informal atmosphere, we relate this information to our personal situations. Any initial reticence is soon overcome and before the end of the six week period, nearly all have used the speculum in a group situation. All of us have our own speculum that we now include in our personal health care equipment. No advice or treatment is given in the class. We go to the doctor for further answers when necessary. Our program has met with outstanding success. We are enthusiastic about how much we have learned, and about how much more comfortable we feel about our own bodies, how we can take better care of ourselves for we have greater self-knowledge and can be better medical consumers. We aren’t panicked into a hysterectomy simply because we got a suspicious pap smear reading; we question the doctor carefully about the risks involved in using various types of contraceptives – when he says the risk is acceptable, we ask, “acceptable to whom”, we shop for the best abortion as we have discovered that the most expensive abortions are generally the worst; we don’t feel guilty for taking the doctor’s time when we have a question we feel is important; and we refuse to accept any explanation of our ills that would imply that we are dumb, or foolish or hypersensitive, etc. Also, now that we have found out for ourselves how really simple most of the things that an obstetrician or a gynecologist does – after all – a pregnant woman or a woman needing an abortion is not ill we’re exploring ways to learn to do these things ourselves. Abortions are so simple, they are downright dull; vaginal infections are diagnosed with a microscope;
pap smears are easier to do than setting our hair; fitting a diaphragm is less complicated than stuffing a turkey. We can do these things. And time is short as the males who control our bodies, collectively and individually, are forcing us to over populate this planet. We must regain control of our reproduction by knocking down all harriers such as laws relating to abortion, homosexuality, birth control, venreal disease, prostitution. Research into birth control must be controlled by women. Billions of dollars have been expended to develop noxious substances to shove down our throats and irritating devices to shove up our uteri. Yet, it took a group of non-professional women to develop the concept of menstrual extraction.
Now let me get into this discussion of who developed menstrual extraction and I think you’ll see the different way that the male mind works from the female mind. Quite a few doctors and inventors have been exploring the possibilities of doing early abortions using the small diameter plastic cannula with vacuum aspiration to remove the contents of the uterus. Inevitably, the trend of performing the procedure earlier and earlier reached ground-zero that is, the moment the menstrual period was late. Procedures done in this “gray area” – after pregnancy was suspected and before it was confirmed – were labeled “menstrual extraction”. Meanwhile, in the women’s movement we adapted the same technology so that we could extract our menstrual periods, on time or a bit late. This we did in groups using a specially designed device after training in an improved technique ourselves. We are totally unconcerned with the question of whether or not a certain menstrual extraction would be classified as an abortion. We simply
want to control our bodies, to regulate our reproduction at whatever point we are in our reproductive cycle, or to relieve menstrual cramps, or to insure that a menstrual period will not spoil a vacation or a venture. It is the male mind that is fascinated with the question of whether or not a given menstrual extraction is an abortion and whether or not his precious sperm will be interrupted in its journey to manhood.
Dr. Elizabeth Ashley implored her colleagues to consider the gynecologic repercussions of the dilemma of women in our culture. She prefaced her remarks which went ignored, by the way, with “Let me make it clear that I am no wild-eyed radical crusading for Women’s Liberation”. Let me make it clear that I am a wild-eyed radical crusading for women’s liberation from the complete ownership of our bodies by males.
It so happens, however, that the issues I have brought up today go far beyond the issue of better medical care – even further than the issues of women’s rights – what we are talking about is the future of the human race. Women can and do exercise reproductive responsibility when allowed – the question is – will we be allowed to?
Females And Welfare By: Betsy Warrior (undated but probably early 1970’s)
(Note: This pamphlet outlines a feminist strategy for welfare mothers struggling to change the welfare system. This article was originally published by New England Free Press.)
There are 35 million poor people in this country. A THIRD OF THE POOR LIVE IN FAMILIES HEADED BY FEMALES. Many of these families are on welfare, and more should be getting some kind of welfare supplement added to their income. Many of us think that in the richest nation in the world there should be no poor people at all, and that the political and economic reasons for their existence must come to an end.
Why were the welfare mothers picked by radical organizers to disrupt the political system, with the economic breakdown on a local level, and the change in the whole political structure that their demands might bring?
Since five million of the poor are aged, it isn’t likely that these older people would start an active fight against the system that kept them in poverty. Old people are more conservative and lack the energy and determination for a prolonged fight. But other families, a lot of them headed by males — why don’t they fight the system that made them poor? They could fight for an adequate income.
What are the special qualities welfare mothers possess, to make them the ones chosen to fight the establishment? The basic reason is mothers will fight for their children, to supply their needs, and they will struggle for as long as it takes for their children to grow up. They possess both will and sustained determination to demand long and loud that the political structure allow their children enough to live on decently, and in doing so change the political structure.
The fact that most of the families on welfare are headed by females says just as much about the status of females in this country as it does about the political economy. Females in this country are too often dependent on someone else for their livelihood. Many lack an education good enough to allow them to support a family by themselves; or if they have an adequate education, they don’t have the time or energy left after the duties of motherhood, household drudgery and menial tasks, to use it. Women have as status as dependent human beings in this country that doesn’t change, whether it’s one man or the state that allows them money to live on.
Bringing welfare mothers together to fight for themselves has many positive aspects. It helps them to see their situation isn’t caused by personal inadequacy, but the fault of a bad economic system. They find more can be achieved by speaking out and joining together to fight the welfare department than by remaining quiet and alone, or trying to hide the fact that they’re on welfare. Of course, this only applies to the women who can be encouraged to join the welfare groups. There are many who are too defeated and afraid to even try to help themselves, these women are even more in need of incentive and help.
The females in the group can become more politically aware of how their lives are run by city hall and demystify the local bureaucracy for themselves. By alleviating some of their more pressing material needs it might give them and their children more energy and hope to tackle some of the many other problems they have as females and human beings.
But the great majority of welfare mothers do not realize what long range effects their actions will have on the system. They’re being used as political fodder by men who want the system changed for themselves, and any benefits the mothers receive in the process are purely coincidental or material.
The welfare mothers run the risk of becoming as competitive, aggressive and power-hungry as the males who oppress them. This is because their groups are being patterned after the structure of male organizations, by male organizers, establishing a context of leaders and followers, encouraging competition for recognition and power between these women in the groups.
Though the mothers may change their material and political position, they won’t be free until they identify their oppression as being inherent in the role they play as females, and abolish that role. Without consciousness of their inferior status as women they will remain the victims of society and merely tools of the people who wish to use their dissatisfaction to break the system.
Whether the money a mother receives is doled out by a husband or a paternalistic welfare department makes little difference. Both are degrading, and many women prefer welfare to a husband. It is her position as a dependent female in relationships to males that is at the root of her problem.
For instance, if an active welfare mother gets married, her husband usually doesn’t let her continue her work in the group. It is time-consuming and he wants all her time spent on him, being his house slave. So her experience that could be very valuable to other members of the group is wasted, and her relative independence is ended.
It is common practice for the male directors and superintendents of welfare to use the female clerks and secretaries as flunkies to transmit their refusals of help and threats to the welfare mothers, while they remain protected behind locked doors. Although most of the social workers are female, men have a monopoly on the positions of power in the welfare system. The social workers carry out their decisions and receive the scorn and abuse of the mothers. This confuses the mothers as to who the real enemy is. The women who work in the welfare department are poorly paid and overworked, not much better off than the welfare mothers, but they are set one against the other. Until they can see each other as sisters in oppression and start liberating themselves as females, they might succeed in changing the system, but others (men) will benefit more by their success. Though the mothers will be the ones to bear the brunt of reaction and risk what little they have….
Feminism Old Wave And New Wave By: Ellen DuBois
(Note: This article was first circulated in 1971.)
A tentative definition of feminism might go like this: feminism is a political concept with three parts: an analyis which tries to explain why and how women are oppressed, a vision of a society in which women are liberated and sex role stereotypes are obliterated, a conviction — that the oppression of women is a primary contradiction in society.
There have been two major feminist waves in this country, one running from about 1835-1920 (it took that long to win its major demand-the vote); the other beginning some time in the middle of the sixties and ending who knows when.
In both cases, a feminist upsurge was initiated by women who had attempted to function politically in the major reform movements of their days, and had found that because they were women, they would be unable to do very much at all. They found that they would be isolated from positions of decision-making, and instead they would do the shitwork (the typing, petition-gathering, meeting-organizing, etc.) while men made the decisions and got the recognition.
In our generation, women who were working in the civil rights and peace movements inaugurated a new feminism. They had joined and committed themselves to a political movement –the New Left –which proudly labeled itself radical, and therefore seemed to be calling for a ruthlessly radical critique of all aspects of American society. Those women care to realize that sex-role stereotypes were not being subjected to this searching criticism, and, in fact, were reappearing in particularly virulent forms within the movement. The New Left had dedicated itself to equal justice for all, and yet right in its midst woman felt they were not quite being treated as political equals.
The first wave of feminism grew out of the major reform movement of the mid-nineteenth century –abolitionism. Like contemporary feminists, women working in abolition found that their full and equal participation in political activity was not especially wanted –that as long as they worked within “woman’s sphere”, everything would be fine. But as soon as they stopped beyond it, they were severely reprimanded by their abolishionist brothers. Like the women of the New Left, these 19th century sisters discovered that the political world in which they moved –and which they thought was dedicated to equal justice for all –was perfectly content to abide by the rules for “proper feminine behavior” that the outside, less politically sophisticated world provided.
What this meant for these 19th century feminists –as it meant for us –was that the women did the shitwork and the men made the decisions. Thousands of women participated in the abolition movement –collecting signatures on petitions to Congress; their labor and those petitions provided the organizational backbone of the abolitionist movement. The decision-making and public acknowledgement were reserved for the men.
In 1837, however, this peaceful division of labor was shattered when two female abolitionists and ex-slaveholders -Sarah and Angelina Grimke –started to speak out publicly to mixed audiences against slavery. New England –and especially its clergy –was shocked at women lecturing to what it called “promiscuous audiences”. Some male abolitionists, notable William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, defended the Grimkes, But what is striking is how many male abolitionists did not. The Grimkes succeeded in preserving their right to lecture, and even began to write and speak about the “woman question”. The controversy they had begun –whether or not women were going to be allowed to participate equally with men in all aspects of the abolitionist movement –continued to be hotly debated. In the end, it can be credited with generating 19th century feminism.
The next major event in which the “woman question” figured was three years after the Grimkes, in 1840. In that year, British abolitionists announced that they would sponsor a World Anti-Slavery Convention. Off to London went most of the major American abolitionists, among them Lucretia Mott (who was primarily responsible for organizing anti-slavery work in Philadelphia) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a young bride on her honeymoon with her abolitionist husband.
Once in London the American abolitionists had a surprise waiting for them. British abolitionists were offended by the thought of women functioning politically as the equals of men and therefore the sponsors of the convention decreed that women – even women like Lucretia Mott — would not be seated as delegates to the Convention. Once again, a few male abolitionists stood up for the women, but the majority did not bother to even protest this discrimination. The women were placed behind a curtain in the convention hall –so they might hear the proceedings without offending any male sensibilities. Stanton and Mott left the hall in disgust, to wander around London and discuss the “woman question”. They found that they agreed on many things, but especially the oppression of women deserved attention, Eight years later, in 1848, these same two women organized the first woman’s rights convention in the United States, the Seneca Falls Convention.
By the time the Civil War had started, therefore, women were beginning to understand how they were oppressed and slightly wary of working with men, but they were not yet totally convinced that it was impossible for women to work as political equals with men in reform political activity.
When the War began, the women dropped all their activities as feminists and throw themselves into patriotic work. They were very conscious that their participation in the national wartime mobilization would be a test of their political seriousness. They also expected to be amply rewarded for their selfless activity once the war was over. They were not. And that was where the final blow was struck and the leading feminists realized that they could not put political trust in men; that it was nearly impossible for even the most liberal of men to understand how much woman feels her oppression and how much she wants her freedom.
The first hint of this final betrayal by liberal men was in the 14th Amendment. This amendment –the second of the three amendments that followed the Civil War –defined the rights of citizenship, and prohibited the denial of those rights to persons on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This was all fine and good except for one thing –the federal government was extending its protection only to all citizens of the male sex. Not only were women ignored by the Amendment, but they discovered that, after its passage, they were considerably worse off than before, For the first time, the word “male” appeared in the Federal Constitution.
Previously, political discrimination against women had been a matter of local statue and public sentiment. Now, with the 14th Amendment, this discrimination was being endorsed on the national level. Women were furious, They appealed to male abolitionists and radical republicans for support, is this how they were to be repaid for their loyal services during the war? Wendell Phillips, leader of the abolitionist forces, assured them that their time would come, that when he started laboring for the enfranchisement of the black man, he would labor for women also. Two year later the Fifteenth Amendment was passed by Congress. It prohibited disfranchisement on the grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude –but not one word about sex.
Once again women discovered that they could not put their faith in male reformers because the oppression of women was not top priority for anyone but women themselves. They had been literally abandoned by the most radical political movement of the day. As it turned out, the decision of the abolitionists to ignore women’s claim to the ballot was a particularly momentus one. It took another fifty years to get the ballot for women. This was the final blow –feminists had learned that if women were to ever win their rights, they would have to win them without the help of men. Looking back on the 1860s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: “We would warn the young women of the coming generation against man’s advice as to their best interests their highest development. We would point for them the moral of our experiences: that women must lead the way to her own enfranchisement, and work out her own salvation with a hopeful courage and determination that knows no fear nor trembling. She must not put her trust in man in
this transition period, since, while regarded as his subject, his inferior his slave, their interests must be antagonistic.”
The process has been the same for the feminists of the second wave. First, we began to understand that women were oppressed, throughout society and that the oppression of women had crept into even the most radical political movements of the day. Then were started to raise the questions about the oppression of women and the “proper spheres” (19th century) or “stereotypical roles” (20th century) of men and women. But we have found that at worst iron were uninterested (or amused) by such issues –and at best that men were incapable of fully understanding the oppression of women.
So, like the feminists of the 19th century, we have gone the separatist route and formed a movement of our own. We work in women’s liberation because we are not permitted to function fully in other movements for social change and because if we don’t demand our own liberation, no one else will.
Perhaps two waves of feminism will be enough to free us.
If Men Could Menstruate Written By: Gloria Steinem, 1978
A White minority of the world has spent centuries conning us into thinking that a white skin makes people superior-even though the only thing it really does is make them more subject to ultraviolet rays and to wrinkles. Male human beings have built whole cultures around the idea that penis-envy is “natural” to women-though to have such an unprotected organ might be said to make men vulnerable, and the power to give birth makes womb-envy at least as logical.
In short, the characteristics of the powerful, whatever they may be, are thought to be better than the characteristics of the powerless-and logic has nothing to do with it.
What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?
The answer is clear-menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much. Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stag parties. Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. (Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of commercial brands such as John Wayne Tampons, Muhammed Ali’s Rope-a-dope Pads, Joe Namath Jock Shields-“For Those Light Bachelor Days,” and Robert “Baretta” Blake Maxi-Pads.)
Military men, right-wing politicians and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (MEN-struation) as proof that onlymen could serve in the Army (“you have to give blood to take blood”), occupy political office (“Can women be aggressive without that steadfast cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priests or ministers (“How could a woman give her blood for our sins?”), or rabbis (“Without the monthly loss of impurities, women remain unclean.”)
Male radicals, left-wing politicians, and mystics, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could enter the ranks if only she were willing to self-inflict a major wound every month, recognize the preeminence of menstrual issues, or subordinate her selfness to all men in their cycle of enlightment.
street guys would brag (“I’m a three-pad man”) or answer praise from a buddy (“Man, you’re looking GOOD!”) by giving fives and saying, “Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”. TV shows would treat the subject at length (“Happy Days”: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still “The Fonz,” though he has missed two periods in a row.) So would newspapers. (SHARK SCARE THREATENS MENSTRUATING MEN. JUDGE CITES MONTHLY STRESS IN PARDONING RAPIST.) And movies. (Newman and Redford in “Blood Brothers”).
Men would convince women that intercourse was MORE pleasureable at “that time of the month.” Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself-though probably only because they needed a good menstruating man.
Of course, male intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguments. How could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics, or measurement, for instance, without that in-built gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets-and thus for measuring anything at all? In the rarefied fields of philosophy and religion, could women compensate for missing the rhythm of the universe? Or for their lack of symbolic death-and-resurrection every month?
And how would women be trained to react? One can imagine traditional women agreeing to all these arguments with a staunch and smiling masochism. (“The ERA would force housewives to wound themselves every month?” Phyllis Schlafly. “Your husbands blood is as sacred as that of Jesus – and so sexy too!” Marabel Morgan.) Reformers and Queen Bees would try to imitate men and PRETEND to have a monthly cycle. All feminists would explain endlessly that men too needed to be liberated from the false idea of Martian aggressiveness, just as women needed to escape the bonds of menses-envy. Radical feminists would add that the oppression of the nonmenstrual was a pattern for all other oppressions. (Vampires were our first freedom fighters!). Cultural feminists would develop a bloodless imagery in art and literature. Socialist feminists would insist that only under capitalism would men be able to monopolize menstrual blood…
In fact, if men could menstruate, the power justifications could probably go on forever.
Is The Women’s Movement In Trouble? By: Roberta Lynch
(Note: This article originally appeared in Working Papers on Socialism & Feminism published by the New American Movement (NAM) in 1976. NAM was a mixed gender organization heavily influenced by socialist feminism. A number of CWLUers were associated with it.)
“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”-Mark Twain
Well, I guess it’s official. The cover story of the November Harper’s magazine has broken the news: the women’s movement is dead. In “Requiem for the Women’s Movement”, Veronica Geng argues that women in the movement are engaged in a host of meaningless activities to cover up their fear of confronting male power. She dissects the cultural feminists and the political feminists and even her own version of the socialist feminists until there don’t seem to be any feminists left. This sense of disillusionment is becoming a common theme in the literature on the women’s liberation movement. There must be something happening–or not happening–to bring it on.
This past year most of the published news of the women’s movement has been bad: splits and spats within the major women’s organization, NOW; dramatic defeats for the ERA in New York and New Jersey; a growing “women’s anti-abortion movement”, short shrift compromises for women at the Democratic Convention. The women’s press has also contributed to a sense of gloom and doom.
Off Our Backs, the most consistent voice of the radical women’s movement, has lately persisted in filling its pages with tirades over who has authorship rights to what documents; fights about women’s health clinic ownership, and tired debates over whether men should be considered eternally hopeless. All in all, it’s enough to make you think you can’t do anything but get out your mourning garb.
But is that all? It’s true, there is painful strife within the movement, and as a social force its power seems diminished. But those who dwell on these facts of the movement fail to note some more important facts of life. Movements do not simply get born, flourish, and die. They go forward and are beaten back. They retreat, regroup, and advance again. And movements do not exist in a vacuum of internal dynamics or the wishes and whims of their leaders. They are fixed in history as much as they help to make it.
On thinking about it, the striking thing about the current crop of articles performing the last rites for the women’s movement is their divorce from the social context in which the movement has had to eke out its existence for the past few years.
The women’s liberation movement emerged in the late 1960’s–the product of a social movement that stressed equality and in a climate that promised jobs and income for all. As the 1970’s dawned, the Nixon-Ford era was unfolding. The hallmark of this period has been political reaction coupled with economic recession-rising unemployment; the gutting of affirmative-action programs; the emergence of right-wing movements; massive social welfare cutbacks. In the face of this array of heavy artillery from corporate and governmental powers, nearly all progressive movements began to wither and to suffer the internal dissension that so often accompanies deafeat.
With all this, it’s amazing that the women’s movement managed to survive at all. But survive–in some forms–it did. Beyond the media spokespeople, some women continued to build. Around the country hundreds of small projects (health centers, rape counseling, etc.) are run by feminists or drew their initial inspiration from the women’s movement. (The most recent example of this indirect influence is the rash of articles and activities that have sprung up to defend battered wives.) The Coalition of Labor Union Women, though top-heavy with trade union officials who have their own narrow agendas, continues to function and could yet be transformed into a meeting ground for the growing numbers of working women.
On another front, the National Congress of Neighborhood Women has been formed to bring together the thousands of women who have been in the heart of local community struggles.
The movement has grown politically as well. Many in NOW have rejected the traditional interest group approach to politics and have taken as an informal slogan the motto: We don’t just want a bigger piece of a rotten pie. And just a year and a half ago, nearly two thousand women came together from across the country in a conference to discuss the relationship of feminism and socialism and how to work for both.
Despite these and other hopeful signs, there is no doubt that on the whole the women’s movement today is weak, disorganized, and often disoriented. The blame for this situation cannot be laid entirely on external factors, either. Geng and the host of other critics are right in some respects. Mistakes–some of them quite serious–have been made in the women’s movement over the past years. While different wings of the movement are guilty of different failures, there is a big picture that emerges in looking back.
The movement refused to look at the differences among women, and so identified the needs of its own members as the needs of all women. It called for abortion without calling for an end to forced sterilization and enforced birth control. It called for women bank officers without calling for higher wages and better working conditions for bank office workers. It called for the ERA without calling for the extension, rather than the obliteration, of protective legislation.
And the movement itself was full of contradictions. It inveighed against leaders and so ended up with a self-appointed stock of them. It stressed lifestyle and so excluded those who weren’t able to change their lives. It often saw itself in opposition to other social movements, and so ended up isolated.
Yes, the women’s movement is in trouble. But is it really dying? I doubt it. Some women in the movement are already working to overcome its weaknesses. But more basically, it seems to me that the women’s movement will go on because expectations and consciousness have been raised too high–and we’re still too far from even the most meager of our goals.
Women total over 40 percent of the workforce, yet remained locked into certain low-paying positions. Women make up over 50 percent of our population, yet our major elected officials are over 90 percent male. (Only the barest gains were made for women in the recent election.)
And women are still held inferior in the eyes of the law, in the dictums of social custom, and in their most intimate relationships. We expected so much more that it’s hard to believe we’ll settle for this much less.
Some predict that the Carter presidency will help to revive the women’s movement because it will open up new terrain for struggle. This may well happen. But the women’s movement cannot simply be “born again” on a new wave in its old form. In order to survive and grow the movement desperately needs to change. It needs to develop a political approach that does not just serve to provide refuge or advancement for a few, but can fight for concrete changes in the day to day lives of the majority of women. And it needs to develop strong, ongoing organizational forms. The lack of such organizations has made stategizing difficult and pressure tactics weak.
In the end, it is a question of power. Can a movement be built to involve and influence enough women so that it has the strength to challenge the corporate and governmental power that rules our lives. I don’t know whether it can, given all the obstacles along the way. But I’d make a small bet on this: the movement for women’s liberation-preferably in new forms and with new directions-will rise again. All plans for the funeral are premature.
Lesbianism And Feminism By: Anne Koedt
(Note: This 1971 pamphlet distributed by the CWLU explores the complex relationship between the gay and feminist movements. Anne Koedt was a pioneering NY feminist probably best known for her article, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm”.)
Female homosexuality is becoming an increasingly important problem. It is believed by some that women are becoming rapidly defeminized as a result of their overt desire for emancipation and that this psychic masculinization of American women contributes to frigidty… Some sexologists fear that this defemininization trend may seriously affect the sexual happiness of modern women, They claim it will more than likely influence the susceptibility of many to a homosexual way of thinking and living-Frank S. Caprio M.D., Variations in Sexual Behavior
Feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice-Attributed to Ti-Grace Atkinson
When Gertrude Stein entertained friends, she conversed only with the men and left Alice Toklas the duty of talking with the ladies. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Only women can give each other a new sense of self… We must be available and supportive to one another [and] give our commitment and our love. Radicalesbians, Woman Identified Woman
I like her breasts and don’t understand her legs. Jill Johnston, “Lesbian Baiting”
Feminists have been called lesbian long before they may have, in fact, considered its application in their personal lives; it has been an insult directed at them with escalated regularly ever since they began working politically for women’s liberation. Their reaction to lesbian baiting has been mixed. On the one hand it was clear that feminism was threatening to men and that men were retaliating with whatever verball weapons were at hand. But the threat of being called lesbian touched real fears: to the extent the woman was involved with a man, she feared being considered Unfeminine and Unwomanly, and thus being rejected. There was also the larger threat the fear of male rejection in general. Since it is through a husband that women gain economic and social security, through male employers that they earn a living, and in general through male power that they survive, to incur the wrath of men is no small matter. Women knew this long before they put it in feminist terms. Thus it is not just vanity and personal
idiosyncrasy for women to wish to remain the good graces of men. It is a practical reflection of reality.
For feminists the main educational value of lesbian baiting has been its exposure of the very clear connection in men’s minds between the unfeminine and being independent. Being called unfeminine is a comparatively gentle threat informing you that you are beginning to waver, whereas being called a lesbian is the danger signal the final warning that you are about to leave the Territory of Womanhood altogether.
Acts of feminine transgression may take different forms. A woman may appear too self-reliant and assertive; she may work politically for women’s rights; she may be too smart for her colleagues; or she may have important close friends who are women. Often women have been called lesbian by complete strangers simply because they were sitting in a cafe obviously engrossed in their own conversation and not interested in the men around them. (Curiously enough it is precisely on the most seemingly feminine women that men will frequent this kind of abuse, since the purpose is more to scare the women back into place than to pinpoint any actual lesbianism.)
The consideration of lesbianism as a personal option grew out of very different reason. For many feminists there had always seen a logical, theoretical connection between the elimination of sex roles and the possibility of loving other women. With some this became a reality when they met a woman they were attracted to. For others, lesbianism has meant a freedom from male relationships in general, a release from the task of looking for that elusive special man who wasn’t a male chauvinist. Other feminists saw a love relationship with a woman as a positive thing because they felt other women could not encourage the passivity and submissiveness that they had previously found themselves falling into with men. Most important of all, perhaps, women found that there were other women to love in their own right as persons.
With the increased interaction between the gay and women’s liberation movements, a heightened consciousness about lesbianism has evolved among feminists and along with it a corresponding disagreement and confusion as to what exactly it means to be a lesbian. It is clear that more is being implied than the straight dictionary definition of women sleeping with members of their own sex. Some women define it as meaning having sex exclusively with women, a more rigid definition than the one commonly used. Other gay women see lesbianism as much more than a defining term for the sex of your bed partner; to them it is a total life commitment to a life with women and an entire system of world view and life living. Indeed, some gay women seek to equate their lesbianism with vanguard radical feminism since we rejected men and sex roles long before there even was a women’s liberation movement, For the purposes of this discussion the meaning of the word lesbianism is restricted to its simplest definition of women having
sexual relations with women so that the various life style arguments which are sometimes added to the basic definition can be looked at separately.
I think the first thing to do is to define radical feminism: To me it means the advocacy of the total elimination of sex roles. A radical feminist, then, is one who believes in this and works politically toward that end. [She does not by this definition live a life untouched by sex roles; there are no liberated women in that sense]. Basic go this position of radical feminism is the concept that biology is not destiny, and that male and female roles are learned indeed that they are male political constructs than serve to ensure power and superior status for men. Thus the biological male is the oppressor not by virtue of his male biology, but by virtue of his rationalizing his supremacy on the basis of that biological difference. The argument that man is the enemy is then true only insofar as the man adopts the male supremacy role.
What then is the relationship between lesbianism and radical feminism? Taking even the most minimal definitions of lesbianism and feminism, you can final one major point of agreement biology does not determine sex roles, thus, since roles are learned there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine in behavior.
Beyond these basic assumptions, however, there are important differences. Radical feminism naturally incorporates the notion of lesbianism but with strict reservations. [Reform feminism which envisions only an equal partnership with men clearly has in mind improved male-female relationships, not new possibilities for loving -and relating sexually to women as well.]
Mainly I think that many radical feminists have resented the whole baggage of assumed implications that some gay women leave tagged onto lesbianism. It has been presented too often as a package deal where if you accepted the idea of lesbianism, you would necessarily also have to accept a whole gay position which frequently runs contrary to radical feminism.
The following are some of the points of agreement:
Homosexuality as Sick or Healthy
The agreement that there is nothing innately sick about persons having sexx with someone of their own sex does not mean that therefore all gay behavior is healthy in feminist terms. A lesbian acting like a man or a gay man acting like a woman is not necessarily sicker than heterosexuals acting out the same roles; but it is not healthy. All role playing is sick, be it simulated or authentic according to society’s terms.
The fact that there has occurred a role transfer, and that now it is being acted out by the wrong sex, does not change the nature of what is being acted out. A male homosexual who dresses up with make-up, makes catty remarks about other women, worries excessively about boy friend approval, and in general displays the insecurity and helplessness that have been the symptoms of women’s oppression, is as far away from being the full person he could be as the woman acting out that same role. The point is that they are, in a sense, both in drag.
On the other hand, two lesbians who have chosen not to fall into imitative roles, but are instead exploring the positive aspect of both masculine and feminine behavior beyond roles forming something new and equal in the process would in my opinion probably be healthy.
Gay as Radical Feminist Vanguard
One position advanced by some lesbians is the idea that lesbians are the vanguard of th women’s movement because: 1.) they broke with sex roles before there even was a feminist movement, and 2.) they have no need for men at all. (Somehow they are the revolution.) The following is one example of this position:
Feel the real glow that comes from “Our” sisterhood we can touch you something about being gentle and kind for we never felt competitive. Remember WE long before YOU have known discontent with male society and WE long before YOU knew and appreciated the full potential of everything female. It is WE who say welcome to you, long blind and oppressed sisters, we have been fighting against male supremacy for a long time. Join US! We are not intimidated by relational differences for we have never felt mortgaged by society.
Several points seem to be ignored with this kind of argument. For one, there is confusion of a personal with a political solution. Sex roles and male supremacy will not go away simply by women becoming lesbians. It will take a great deal of sophisticated political muscle and collective energy for women to eliminate sexism. So at best, a lesbian relationship can give a woman more happiness arid freedom in her private life (assuming both women are not playing roles). But a radical feminist is not just one who tries to live the good non-sexist life at home; she is one who is working politically in society to destroy the institutions of sexism.
Another assumption implicit in the argument of lesbian-as-the-vanguard-feminist is that having balked at one aspect of sexism namely, exclusive heterosexuality. They are therefore radical feminists. Any woman who defies her role be it refusing to be a mother, wanting to be a biochemist, or simply refusing to cater to a man’s ego is defying the sex role system. It is an act of rebellion. In the case of lesbianism, the act of rebellion often has earned the woman severe social ostracism. However, it becomes radical only if it is then placed in the context of wanting to destroy the system as a whole, that is, destroying the sex role system as opposed to just rejecting men. Indeed, there can be reformism within lesbianism too; when a lesbian says I have nothing against men; I just don’t want to be involved with them, she is really describing an accommodation within the sexist system even though she has performed the rebellious act of violating that system by being a lesbian. It is also in this context that a
statement like feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice is erroneous. For not only is the sex of a woman’s lover insufficient information to infer radical feminism, but there is also the false implication that to have no men in your personal life means you are therefore living the life of fighting for radical feminist change.
The notion that lesbians have no need for men at all also needs clarification. First of all, since we are all women living in a male society, we do in fact depend regularly upon men for many crucial things, even if we do not choose to have men in our personal relationships. It is for this reason that one woman alone will not be fully liberated until all women are liberated. However, taking the statement to mean having no need for men in personal relationships (which can be an important achievement for women, since one should obviously want the person, not the man), one must still ask the question: has the male role been discarded? Thus again the crucial point is not the sex of your bed partner but the sex role of your bed partner.
Gay Movement as a Civil Rights Movement
The organized gay movement seeks to protect the freedom of any homosexual, no matter what her or his individual style of homosexuality may be. This means protection of the transvestite the queen, the butch lesbian, the couple that wants a marriage license, or the homosexual who may prefer no particular role. They are all united on one thing: the right to have sex with someone of one’s own sex (i.e., freedom of sexual preference).
As is clear from the wide range of homosexual behavior, not all modes necessarily reflect a dislike for sex roles per se. Nor was the choice necessarily made deliberately. The boy who grew up trained as a girl, or the girl who was somehow socialized more toward the male role, did not in their childhood choose to reverse sex roles. Each was saddled with a role (as were we all) and had to make the best of it in a society that scorned such an occurrence. Merle Miller in an article in the New York Times- (January 17, 1971), where he came out as a homosexual, said Gay is good, Gay is proud. Well, yes, I suppose. If I had been given a choice (but who is?), I would prefer to be straight. His point was not that gay was sick but rather that he did not choose his gayness. And, furthermore, had he been trained heterosexually, society would have been a great deal easier on him. Which is a very understandable sentiment given the cruelty and discrimination that is practiced against homosexuals. In such cases the bravery
and rebelliousness is to be found rather in the ability to act out homosexuality in spite of social abuse.
In writing to change oppressive laws, electing officials who will work toward these ends, and changing social attitudes which are discriminatory against homosexuals, the gay movement is addressing itself to its civil rights. It is my feeling that the gay liberation issue is in fact a civil rights issue (as opposed to a radical issue) because it is united around the secondary issue of freedom of sexual preference. Whereas in fact the real root of anti-homosexuality is sexism. That is the radical gay person would have to be a feminist. This tracing of the roots of gay oppression to sexism is also expressed in Radicalesbians’s Woman Identified Woman:
It should first be understood tht lesbianism like male homosexuality is a category of behavior possible only in a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy….In a society in which men do not oppress women, and sexual expression is allowed to follow feelings the categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality would disappear.
One position taken by some lesbians is that bisexuality is a cop-out. This is usually argued in terms like until all heterosexuals go gay, we are going to remain homosexual, or lesbianism is more than having sex with women; it is a whole life style and commitment to women. Bisexuality is a sign of not being able to leave men and be free. We are women- (not men-) identified women.
The first position mentioned is an apparently tactical argument (though it has also been used by some, I think, to dismiss the discussion of bisexuality altogether by safely pushing it off into the Millennium), and makes the case for politically identifying yourself with the most discriminated against elements even though you might really believe in bisexuality.
Taking that argument at face value (and I don’t completely), I think it is a dangerous thing to advocate politically. For by, in effect, promoting exclusive homosexuality, they lend political support to the notion that it does matter what the sex of your partner may be. While I recognize the absolute necessity for the gay movement to concentrate on the freedom of people to sleep with members of their own sex (since it is here that discrimination exists), it must at the same time always be referred back to its larger, radical perspective: that is is oppressive for that very question even to be asked. As a matter of fact, if freedom of sexual preference is the demand the solution obviously must be a bisexuality where the question becomes irrelevant.
I think in fact that the reason why bisexuality has been considered such an unpopular word by most gays is nor to be found primarily in the arguments just discussed, but rather in gay adherence to a kind of fierce homosexual counter-definition which has developed. That is, a counter identity– a life style and world view has been created around the fact of their homosexuality. This identity is so strong sometimes that to even advocate or predict bisexuality is considered genocide. The following is an example: In a response to a statement by Dotson Radar that, as bisexuality is increasingly accepted as the norm, the position of the homosexual qua homosexual will fade, one gay response was that The homosexual, like the Jew, is offered the choice between integration or the gas chamber.
It is not with the actual gay counterculture that I want to quarrel; I think it is a very understandable reaction to an intolerable exclusion of homosexuals from society. To be denied the ordinary benefits and interaction of other people, to be stripped of your identity by a society that recognizes you as valid only if your role and your biology are properly marched to be thus denied must of course result in a new resolution of identity. Since gays have been rejected on the basis of their homosexuality, it is nor surprising that homosexuality has become the core of the new identity.
The disagreement will feminism comes in an attempt to make a revolutionary political position out of this adjustment. The often heard complaint from feminists that we are being defined once again by whom we steep with is correct, I think. The lesson to be learned from a feminist analysis of sex roles is that there is no behavior implied from our biology beyond, as Wilma Scott Heide has noted, the role of sperm donor and wet nurse.
A woman has historically been defined, on the basis of biology, as incomplete without a man. Feminists have rejected this notion, and must equally reject any new definition which offers a woman her identity by virtue of the fat that she may love or sleep with other women.
It is for this reason, also, that I disagree with the Radicalesbian concept of the woman-identified woman. For we ought not to be identified on the basis of whom we have relationships with. And here is a confusion in such a term; it seems to mix up the biological woman with the political woman. I think the often used feminist definition of woman identified as meaning having identified with the female role in society is more useful; it refers to a specific political phenomenon of internalization. So far as finding a term which describes women’s solidarity or sisterhood on the basis of our common oppression, the term is feminism. Beyond that, what is left is the biological female–an autonomous being who gains her identity by virtue of her own achievements and characteristics, not by virtue of whom she has a love relationship with.
Once we begin to discuss persons as persons (a word which doesn’t ask the sex of an individual) even the word bisexuality may eventually be dropped, since implicit in its use is still an eagerness to inform you that it is both sexes. Perhaps we will finally return to a simpler word like sexuality, where the relevant information is simply sex among persons.
If you don’t sleep with women….
If you are a feminist who is not sleeping with a woman you may risk hearing any of the following accusations: You’re oppressing me if you don’t sleep with women; You’re not a radical feminist if you don’t sleep with women; or You don’t love women if you don’t sleep with them. I have even seen a woman’s argument about an entirely different aspect of feminism be dismissed by some lesbians because she was not having sexual relations with women. Leaving aside for a minute the motives for making such accusations, there is an outrageous thing going on here strictly in terms of pressuring women about their personal lives.
This perversion of the personal is the political argument, it must be noted, was not invented by those gay women who may be using it now; the women’s movement has had sporadic waves of personal attacks on women always in the guise of radicalism (and usually by a very small minority of women). I have seen women being told they could not be trusted as feminists because they wore miniskirts, because they were married (in one group quotas were set lest the groups quality be lowered by unliberated women), or because they wanted to have children, This rejection of women who are not living the liberated life has predictably now come to include rejection on the basis of the unliberated sex life.
The original genius of the phrase the personal is political was that it opened up the area of women’s private lives to political analysis. Before that, the isolation of women from each other had been accomplished by labeling a woman’s experience personal. Women had thus been kept from seeing their common condition as women and their common oppression by men.
However, opening up women’s experience to political analysis has also resulted in a misuse of the phrase. While it is true that there are political implications in everything a woman qua woman experiences, it is not therefore true that a woman’s life is the political property of the women’s movement. And it seems to me to show a disrespect for another woman to presume that it is any groups (individual’s) prerogative to pass revolutionary judgment on the process of her life.
There is a further point: Even the most radical feminist is not the liberated woman. We are all crawling out of femininity into a new sense of personhood. Only a woman herself may decide what her next step is going to be. I do not think women have a political obligation to the movement to change; they should do so only if they see it in their own self-interest. If the women’s movement believes that feminism is in women’s self-interest, then the task at hand is to make it understood through shared insights, analysis, and experience. That is, feminism is an offering, not a directive, and one therefore enters a woman’s private life at her invitation only. Thus a statement like you don’t love women if you don’t sleep with them must above all be dismissed on the grounds that it is confusing the right to discuss feminism with the right to, uninvited, discuss a woman’s private life and make political judgments about it.
However, taking the issue presented in the above accusation (outside of the guilt provoking personal context-provoking guilt is a tactic not so much for informing as it is for controlling others), there are several points to consider. One element of truth is that some women are unable to relate sexually to other women because of a strong self-hatred for themselves as women (and therefore all women) But there may also be many other reasons. A woman may not be interested in sleeping with anyone-a freedom women are granted even less often than the right to sleep with other women. She may not have met a woman she’s attracted to. Or she may be involved with a man whom she likes as a person, without his necessarily being a rejection of women. It should also be noted that the women who suffer from strong self-hatred may not necessarily find it impossible to relate sexually to women. They may instead find that taking the male part in a lesbian relationship will symbolically remove them from their feminine role. Such
a woman then may become one who balls women so as not to be one.
All in all, as has been noted earlier, there is no magic that makes lesbianism proof positive of any high feminist motives. Rather what, what the woman brings to their relationship as far as relinquishing sex roles will, I think, determine her ultimate altitude about really loving other women.
Homosexuality, with its obvious scorn for the rules of biology, challenges a cornerstone of sexist ideology and consequently makes most men nervous. There is at this time less fear of female homosexuality than of male homosexuality, possibly because men still feel secure that isolated lesbian examples will not tempt most women away from their prescribed feminine roles, and perhaps also because lesbianism is frequently seen by men as something erotic (it seems, alas, we can still remain sex objects in men’s eyes even when making love to each other).
With male homosexuality, however, men (and thus male society) are more personally threatened. The precise irony of male supremacy is that it is a system rationalized on the basis of biology but actualized through socialization. Deviants who inadvertently were socialized differently, or who chose differently, are thus a threat to the premise that biology is destiny. Thus, to have another man break rank is to threaten all men’s group supremacy status. Also, for a man to leave the superior group is to go down-that is, become inferior or feminine. Frequently male homosexuals may touch on the unspoken fears in many men that they are not powerful and manly enough to fulfill their supremacy destiny and the gay male thus becomes, the symbol of total male failure. Still other men display robust camaraderie (a la Mailer) where buggering a fellow male obviously means that one would have to play woman and good fellowship wouldn’t allow another man such degradation.
To understand men’s fear of homosexuality, there, is above all to understand men’s fear of losing their place of power in society with women. And to hold that power men must preserve both the absoluteness of their ideologies and the group unity of their members.
It must kept in mind that while homosexuality does contain an implicit threat to sexist ideology, it is, at best, only a small part of the whole fight to bring down the sex role system. (Indeed, if the gay movement were to be seen as only the demand for the right of making role transfers within society, for example, it would work against feminism by supporting a reformed version of the sex role system.
Thus it is only in the most radical interpretations that lesbianism becomes an organic part of the larger feminist fight. In this context it joins the multitude of other rebellions women have been making against their prescribed role be it in work, in law or in personal relationships. As with all such rebellions, they are only personal accommodations to living in a sexist society unless they are understood politically and fought for collectively. The larger political truth is still that we are women living in a male society where men have the power and we don’t; that our female role is a creation that is nothing more than male political expediency for maintaining that power, and that until the women’s movement alters these ancient political facts, we cannot speak of being free collectively or individually.
1.) Anon. Vortex, Lawrence Kansas
2.) T.B., letter, Everywoman. March 26, 1971
3.) Letter to the Editor. Evergreen May 1971
4.) Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (Chicago Quadrangle, 1971) p.76
No More Miss America! 1968
(Note: In 1968 a group of feminists went to Atlantic City to protest the Miss America pageant. They originally intended to burn symbols of oppression in a “Freedom Trashcan” but were unable to secure a fire permit. The objects were simply deposited in the trashcan instead. Several members of the group managed to display a large protest banner inside the pageant.)
On September 7th in Atlantic City, the Annual Miss America Pageant will again crown “your ideal.” But this year, reality will liberate the contest auction-block in the guise of “genyooine” de-plasticized, breathing women. Women’s Liberation Groups, black women, high-school or college women, women’s peace groups, women’s welfare and social-work groups, women’s job-equality groups, pro-birth control and pro-abortion groups -women of every political persuasion- all are invited to join us in a day-long boardwalk-theater event, starting at 1:00 p.m. on the Boardwalk in front of Atlantic City’s Convention Hall. We will protest the image of Miss America, an image that oppresses women in every area in which it purports to represent us.
There will be: Picket Lines; Guerrila Theater; Leafleting; Lobbying visits to the contestants urging our sisters to reject the Pageant Force and join us; a huge Freedom Trash Can (into which we will throw bras, girdles, curlers, false eyelashes, wigs, and representative issues of Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, etc. – bring any such woman-garbage you have around the house); we will also announce a Boycott of all those commercial products related to the Pageant, and the day will end with a Women’s Liberation rally at midnight when Miss America is crowned on live television. Lots of other surprises are being planned (come and add your own!) but we do not plan heavy disruptive tactics and so do not expect a groovy day on the Boardwalk in the sun with our sisters. In case of arrests, however, we plan to reject all male authority and demand to be busted by policewomen only. (In Atlantic City, women cops are not permitted to make arrests-dig that!)
Male chauvinist-reactionaries on this issue had best stay away, nor are male liberals welcome in the demonstrations. But sympathetic men can donate money as well as cars and drivers.
Male reporters will be refused interviews. We reject patronizing reportage. Only newswomen will be recognized.
The Ten Points
The Degrading-Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol. The Pageant contestants epitomize the roles we are all forced to play as women. The parade down the runway blares the metaphor of the 4-H Club county fair, where the nervous animals are judged for teeth, fleece, etc., and where the best “Specimen” gets the blue ribbon. So are women in our society forced daily to compete for male approval, enslaved by ludicrous “beauty” standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.
Racism with Roses. Since its inception in 1921, the Pageant has not had one Black finalist, and this has not been for a lack of test-case contestants. There has never been a Puerto Rican, Alaskan, Hawaiian, or Mexican-American winner. Nor has there ever been a true Miss America-an American Indian.
Miss America as Military Death Mascot. The highlight of her reign each year is a cheerleader-tour of American troops abroad-last year she went to Vietnam to pep-talk our husbands, fathers, sons, and boyfriends into dying and killing with a better spirit. She personifies the “unstained patriotic American womanhood our boys are fighting for.” The Living Bra and the Dead Soldier. We refuse to be used as Mascots for Murder.
The Consumer Con-Game. Miss America is a walking commercial for the Pageant’s sponsors. Wind her up and she plugs your product on promotion tours and TV-all in an “honest, objective” endorsement. What a shill.
Competition Rigged and Unrigged. We deplore the encouragement of an American myth that oppresses men as well as women: the win-or-you’re-worthless competitive disease. The “beauty contest” creates only one winner to be “used” and forty-nine losers who are “useless”.
The Women as Pop Culture Obsolescent Theme. Spindle, mutilate, and then discard tomorrow. What is so ignored as last year’s Miss America? This only reflects the gospel of our Society, according to Saint Male: women must be young, juicy, malleable-hence age discrimination and the cult of youth. And we women are brainwashed into believing this ourselves!
The Unbeatable Madonna- Whore Combination. Miss America and Playboy’s centerfold are sisters over the skin. To win approval, we must be both sexy and wholesome, delicate but able to cope, demure yet titillatingly bitchy. Deviation of any sort brings, we are told, disaster: “You won’t get a man!!”
The Irrelevant Crown on the Throne of Mediocrity. Miss America represents what women are supposed to be: inoffensive, bland, apolitical. If you are tall, short, over or under weight, The Man prescribes you should be, forget it. Personality, articulateness, intelligence, and commitment-unwise. Conformity is the key to the crown-and, by extension, to success in our Society.
Miss America as Dream Equilavent To. In this reputedly democratic society, where every little boy supposedly can grow up to be President, what can every little girl hope to grow to be? Miss America. That’s where it’s at. Real power to control our own lives is restricted to men, while women get patronizing pseudo-power, an ermine clock and a bunch of flowers; men are judged by their actions, women by appearance.
Miss America as Big Sister Watching You. The pageant exercises Thought Control, attempts to sear the Image onto our minds, to further make women oppressed and men oppressors; to enslave us all the more in high-heeled, low-status roles; to inculcate false values in young girls; women as beasts of buying; to seduce us to our selves before our own oppression.
NO MORE MISS AMERICA
Poor White Women By: Roxanne Dunbar (Undated but probably written around 1970)
(Note: Exploring how consciousness developed among rural white southern women, the article seeks to explain the gender and racial complexities of growing up poor, white, and female. Roxanne Dunbar was active in the Boston women’s liberation movement.)
A caste-class society depends for its perpetuation on the desire of the lower caste masses to get on top, and to identify with those of the privileged caste or class rather than their own people. An enlightened power group will encourage climbing knowing full well that the few who make it will be thoroughly corrupted or destroyed in the process
For the agrarian poor white female, class and caste oppression is multiple (surely infinitely multiple for those who are black). In the farming community where I grew up, the distinction between male and female was absolute; but the women had none of the privileges given the female sex among the wealthy. Men had many of the privileges reserved for men only, though. For instance, women were expected to work in the fields of doing heavy labor when needed, but men were never expected to do domestic work or care for the children.
The care of the children definitely was in the hands of women only. Women cared for one another in maternity, and helped each other with the children. Children were raised somewhat communally (by blood aunts or honorary aunts), but only with women sharing the labor.
In some country families, the women did dominate – – probably more often that did the men (usually there was a division of labor based on sex, and totally serparate spheres of power, and since these poor white men had no power outside of patriarchal family, and there was no exteriorization of the patriarchal role). In one such family, the man hardly ever spoke and was shy. The woman was strong and independent. She was just, egalitarian, and no-nonsense. She ran the farm and her husband was a sort of foreman for her. Her children were extremely good at everything, and were considered to have the highest characters of any young folk in the community. To have such independence, though, the woman had to have a man. That is, widows and divorced women were powerless and tragic.
In general, women talked as loudly and as much as the men in mixed company. Any joke about women was met with a more biting joke about men, or the reverse. The women were not passive, nor were they expected to be soft and maternal. They whipped their children, yelled at them, demanded that they entertain themselves. But the men were not abstract figures; they were constantly present, in and out, working with the women, and living in crowded quarters with the family.
The women basically seemed to consider the men as weaklings who must be kept in line to keep them working, and to keep them from drinking. I suppose that generations of men moving off to the West leaving women in charge of farms and children made for very sturdy, independent women, but also for meandering men. I know my mother feared that my cowboy father would one day walk out, or take to drinking. The women seemed determined that equality meant equal bondage. If they were to be tied to farm and work, the men should be also, The men wanted the freedom to rove, and have land and family of their own as well. The women did not go for that bargain.
By the time I was born (1938), many of these patterns were beginning to change, so that by the time I had left home (1955), the tenuous cultural patterns had been shattered, I hear much in my childhood about the leaner years of the depression, where there were no shoes for my brother and sister, barely any food, and how lucky I was. But still we were very poor. It was a poor community, and getting poorer. The city people were buying up the land for wheat crops. It got harder and harder for a family that did not own land (like mine) to find a farm to rent or sharecrop. We moved a half dozen times between the time I was born and when I started to school. There was always talk of going to California, mostly by my mother.
My mother wanted a better life. She had always lived in incredible poverty, with no mother (her Indian mother died when she was two) and a drunken Irish father. She blamed my father for our poverty, and he blamed his misfortune, though he railed against the Roosevelts, the Northerners, and the rich. Mostly, though, they fought with each other.
In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, many of the dirt farmers went to work in the city at the defense plants, and moved away. My mother wanted that, so she could have a refrigerator, stove, running water, a bathroom, closets, like all city people seemed to have even when they were very poor. My father refused to move to the city, but he did finally stop trying to farm. He got a job out of a larger town nearby, driving a gasoline truck, delivering to the rich farmers. He made $150 a month when he started (1947), and ten years later he was making $200. We moved into the tiny town (150 people), but we continued to raise our own food and meat. My grandfather and grandmother were among the founders of that little town, so that we had a certain status, though poor. We were never considered white trash but there were such families there. The desolation of their lives was far, far greater than my own.
Then it was the early 1950’s that movies and television invaded the culture, introducing new (urban) patterns. The country folk were mystified by the city people portrayed, and they were humiliated in their ignorance and roughness. The women were embarrassed by the white, soft ladies in low cut gowns with their jewels and high heeled shoes up against those country women with their leathered brown skin and muscles, drab work clothes and heavy shoes, The men felt more manly toward the soft-voiced tender ladies on the screen than toward their own unsightly women.
The image of the male which Hollywood created was not so very different from the country man, The female image was totally different. The farmers taste and desire was supposed to change, and his self-image thereby. But the country women were to change completely — psychically and physically. And it didn’t work. The sight of country women in rhinestones and platform heels and brief dresses over their muscular bodies was a pitiful one indeed. The men left them (in fantasy) for Hollywood (the new West).
Worst of all (for me), the women tried to create the glamour in their daughters, which they themselves could not attain. Pretty as a movie star was a common way of describing a girl who fit the image. The image was curly blonde hair, blue eyes, rosy complexion, and a soft round body. I was tall, dark, think, with very straight hair and big feet (big feet was a terrible problem for most country women). But my mother tried; she made me get permanents (the electrical contraption), and she actually bought shoes that were too small for me, which crippled my feet. Shirley Temple was the daughter all mothers wanted, and I clearly could never become Shirley Temple. How much pain, how much wasted energy on trying to create little Shirleys?
But I worshipped movie stars and stared at their pictures for hours. I had another idol, though, which loomed large in my childhood, and which was more complex and damaging — Scarlett O’Hara. Everyone had seen Gone With The Wind. It was an epic dramatization of our people’s plight, we thought. And a woman was the central figure.
Gone With The Wind is a perfect example of the kind of brilliant propaganda which was created by sell-out pop artists and intellectuals during the 1920’s and 1930’s for Fascist regimes in the West (Europe and America).
All the stereotypes of the Bourbon imagaination (economy) were recreated in dazzling, compelling form. Scarlett was not just a woman; Scarlett was the South (Bourbon, of course) – – proud, beautiful, strong-headed, and in war, brave and unfailing, never really defeated. After the war she made alliances with the carpetbaggers, but always was wily, crafty, never disloyal to her real self. In fact, she was too demanding, too crass. The North (Rhett Butler) was not that evil. In the end Rhett shuts the door in spoiled Scarlett’s face, and we all know she deserved it. Somehow we were left with the illusion that Scarlett was triumphant, which indeed the Bourbons have been.
At another level the stereotypes of caste were reinforced, again in the mode of the Bourbons. Scarlett was a lady, though strong and capable of anything a man could do, Scarlett was the new woman of the South. Rhett was the new man — strong, masculine and in charge. Melanie and Ashley were relics from the past — the innocent ante-bellum Bourbon South with all its serene beauty. And, of course, Black people are portrayed as happy darkies, loyal and childlike. Poor Whites did not appear as major characters, but the big tent of imagination encompassed us. The poor were there, but we were allowed to identify with the White South (the Bourbons), and to share their war, frustration, glamour. This perfect meshing of all Southern interests with the interests of one class, the class in power (Bourbon) is analogous to such trickery on a national level now, and is, in fact, as old British device for keeping the poor folk loyal. The glamour and power and nationalism (Southern) of the Bourbons have always been
sufficient to keep the poor Whites down in the South.
But Gone With The Wind had an even further effect upon poor White females, We played like we were Scarlett O’Hara. It fit rather well with our worship for movie queens since Scarlett O’Hara was really Vivian Leigh. Scarlett’s tragedy made her an even more attractive figure. In terms of behavior, Scarlett taught us that a woman should be strong, but hide the fact; should be sexy, but virtuous, though sex could be used to save a man or one’s country. Scarlett before the war, or after the war, would not have made the impression it did, had not Scarlett in wartime been offered as an image of a lady digging potatoes and living in poverty, That it was a temporary situation that gave us hope that ours, too, was temporary, For Gone With The Wind truly allowed us – poor White girls – to believe that we, too, were Southern princesses.
Poverty is a reflection of bad character, of evil in America, where everyone supposedly has the right to climb. A clever poor White girl lies about her humble background, when she goes to the city, that is, if she wants to catch a man who will raise her status. She will say that her family used to be wealthy and own slaves; that the Civil War destroyed the family’s wealth. That is, she will have aristocratic pretensions and separate herself from her people. In other cases, her family raises her believing they do in fact have a noble Bourbon past. Just as in Mexico, where every non-tribal Indian claims noble Spanish blood, every white family in the South claims origins with the elite.
So the poor white woman grows up either in ignorance destined to marry a poor White man and live in relative poverty or move into the post-wartime economy of urban employment, or she will make it out into a higher class through marriage. In any case, her identity will remain highly confused. Ashamed of her class status, she probably will not in her lifetime discover her caste status as a woman, though she is fully aware that she is subservient to the men of her class, who are just as poor.
Rape Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry By: Kay Potter
(Note: This article was taken from the pamphlet Stop Rape, which was first issued in 1971 by Women Against Rape. Stop Rape was widely distributed within the women’s movement and served to change the way our society looks at rape.)
Rape could happen to you, no matter your age, color, wealth or maritial status, but then you know that already since it is a fact that in the United States one rape is reported every fourteen minutes it is important that you should also know what will probably happen to you if you have to report a rape.
Once you have been raped the agony has just begun. In your state of shock and misery, you will be treated as though you are the criminal; your every action will be watched by people who presume that you are a liar. You must be prepared for this treatment if you are to have any chance of convicting the man who raped you. Even then it won’t be easy; I know from experience.
After the rape has happened, call the police. You must do this immediately: the police will never believe you have been raped if you don’t notify them immediately. Give them a description of the rapist, anything at all that you can remember. This will be even more difficult than you might think because repeat rapists know how important the description is and make every effort to keep you from being able to identify them. But try: height, weight, clothing, type of build, color of skin and hair, facial oddities, anything at all including the direction you last saw him running. If he had a car, any information about it is important. You should begin now noticing what people and cars look like in case you ever need to use such information.
As soon as you have called the police, the description is put on the police radio and any officers in the area that aren’t at Biff’s can begin looking for suspects.
There are a lot of things not to do immediately after you have been raped which are also very important and against all of your instincts. Remember, nobody cares about your instincts or feelings in this case. Do not destroy anything that may be evidence. This means don’t take a bath. You will undoubtedly feel filthy but dirt, cuts, bruises, and sperm (in short, your whole body) are considered evidence. You must live with the evidence of the rape until it has been officially recognized. You certainly must not change your underwear because it may be ripped or have sperm on it.
It is a good idea to call a friend right after you have called the police. There are several reasons for this besides your needing comfort. A friend should be given a complete description of your attacker to help your memory along at the show-up, the pretrial hearing and the trial. If she is a good friend, she will probably come over and write down everything you can remember about the whole rape which would be even more helpful. If you don’t have any friends who are willing to be out after dark, write it down yourself. You’ll need it again and again. If your friends does come she can babysit for your children when the police take you away, which is what will happen next.
Policemen who come to your house after a rape are instructed to take you directly to a hospital. You can of course go to the hospital yourself and avoid contact with them but then the description of the rapist does not get sent out to the squad cars. If you refuse to go the hospital with the police it counts heavily against you at the trial no matter what your reasons. These policemen merely fill out a preliminary report about your rape. There is a simple form that they fill out by checking certain boxes. You do not need to go into any detail with them because you will just be exposing yourself to them for their vicarious sexual thrills.
You will be taken to a hospital where you will wait for a policewoman who will take your whole statement and write another fuller report. This policewoman makes the determination of whether or not a crime has been committed. It is also her job to gather evidence, including any of your clothing which is ripped. If she is a sympathetic woman at all this is the time you can break down and cry. You may as well because it will be your only chance. However, don’t let loose too much because if she determines that in fact you have been raped she will order a vaginal examination for sperm and lacerations. The doctor who performs it will undoubtedly have no time for your feelings. One woman was raped by four men and cried at her vaginal exam was yelled at by the doctor for being – “such a baby”.
First thing in the morning you will be at police headquarters if they have picked up a suspect who fits your description. You will talk to another policewoman who will take your full statement again. You can tell already how important it is that your memory is clear and accurate. You may or may not be shown the suspect’s picture but if he has been picked up you will have to identify him in person at a line-up or show-up as the police say. At the show-up, there will be an attorney for the suspect to make sure his rights are protected, the policewoman who conducts the proceedings and you.
I went to a freight-type elevator with the policewoman and the court-appointed attorney for the suspect. The doors opened and there were about five men standing around in their shirt sleeves: one had on a uniform. The place looked and smelled like a gym. We turned right into a long hall with an open door at the end. I could hear the sounds of a lot of men, I didn’t know when I was going to be confronted by the man who had attacked me, I didn’t know which of these men were criminals. I had only slept two hours since he attacked me because the police said I had to be here at 8 a.m. I didn’t know what was happening at all and nobody told me.
The policewoman was very busy. She spoke to several men as we passed. She was obviously doing her job as she led me into a medium-sized room which had a long window-glass running its length. We went to the right into a tiny locker room. She said I could sit down on one of the grey wooden benches and she left. The room was cold. I felt that my skin was the same grey enamel as the lockers.
The policewoman returned and led me back into a larger room; there was a very bright light on the other side of the glass. The policewoman told me that the suspects would be brought in and that if I could identify one of them I should tell her his number. She also told me that none of the suspects would be able to see me.
A door opened and five men filed in. There was no sound from any of them and they all looked at their feet.
The policewoman instructed them to stop, each standing in front of a number on the wall behind him. You know what it looked like from watching television. What you don’t know is what it felt like and how hard it is to identify someone under those conditions.
The lights on the men were very bright. When he attacked me he had come out of the shadows. He honestly didn’t “look the same”. I had to remember what I had seen and see it all again in this light and this place. I really just wanted to forget everything at this point. Then I realized that although he couldn’t see me he certainly could hear me when I gave his number.
I was cold and alone and afraid. Afraid I would identify the wrong man; afraid he would jump through the glass and kill me when he heard my voice; afraid I would be sick right there and ruin all the control I was fighting so hard for.
After you positively identify a suspect at a show-up, the policewoman fills out the forms to get a warrant. Both of you will go to the prosecutor’s office where a warrant will be issued on the charges. Then you will both go to the clerk’s office and swear that the charges are true. Then you can go home and lie awake nights wondering if he got out on bail.
After some period of time (it will be shorter if he is waiting in jail for this trial) you will have to appear at the pretrial hearing. This is theoretically the time when it will be determined if there is enough evidence for a real trial. This is actually the time when the behind-the-scenes plea bargaining goes on. The rapist’s attorney will try to get him off with less punishment by pleading guilty to a lesser charge, sometimes called copping a plea. If this is done, you will never have to testify because the case will never actually come to trial. Obviously the plea bargaining influences the statistics we have on rape since many rapists plead guilty to something else.
You will be pressured to let the rapist cop a plea because the prosecutor doesn’t really want to prosecute this case anyway. You have little to say about this as you are the only complaining witness for the state.
One interesting aspect of the pretrial hearing is the case in which the repeat rapist refuses to plea bargain. He goes on insisting that he is innocent and hoping that you would rather let him go free than take the witness stand in a real trial. He has been through a real trial and knows that you have good reason to be afraid.
Months later on the day of the trial you will meet the prosecutor for the first time and he will read the information of your case for the first time. He will take you to a conference room and ask you to tell him the events of the rape. That’s all he will do. You will return to the court room and sit. A while later he will take you again to the conference room to ask if you are sure that you want to prosecute as the defendant is willing to plead on a lesser charge now.
Although I had been in a court room at the pretrial hearing, I was still upset to arrive on time for the trial and find that no one was in the court room but the guards. They would give me no information about where the prosecutor was. About half an hour later two men arrived and hurried to the two tables near the bench.
They both looked very busy. Neither of them acknowledged me at all, although I was the only woman in the courtroom. One of the men turned out to be the prosecutor who was supposed to function as my lawyer. I knew this because when a friend asked me before the trial if I had a lawyer, I called the policewoman to find out if I needed one. She assured me that the prosecutor would take care of me.
He didn’t know my name. He couldn’t read the writing on the report. He tried for two hours to get me to let the defendant cop a plea. I kept saying that if he didn’t want to go to trial then he shouldn’t. He kept saying that of course it was my decision but he would strongly suggest that we bargain. I repeated that if he didn’t feel we had a good enough case to go to trial then he shouldn’t. He treated me as though I were a hostile witness because I wanted to go through with the trial. Finally he called the policewoman, who backed me up but it didn’t make him happy. These conversations with the prosecutor took almost all morning. Then they called the jury. The prosecutor did not challange any of the potential jurors. He just sat there doodling.
Then there was a lunch break.
After lunch I was told I would not be allowed in the court room until after I had testified. I was put in a small room at the side of the court room with the policemen who were also to testify for the prosecution. While we sat there, they passed the time by telling war stories.
Eventually I was called to the stand. The moment that the door opened to the court room I felt that I was in a play. I had to make, my entrance and my costume was all wrong. I wished that I had worn something very plain and sweet so that I would have looked like the “girl next door”. It may have helped make me “more believable” to the jury.
On the witness stand I had to wear a microphone; no one had told me about that or I would have rehearsed with one. The prosecutor treated me with overt dislike. He asked me questions that he knew I could not answer and made me look stupid to the jury. The defense attorney further encouraged this attitude with his condescending tone of voice.
When I finally escaped from the witness stand, I felt that I had been forced to misrepresent myself. My performance got no applause. I fled to the small green room again. I feel now that this was a mistake because I did not hear the rapist’s testimony and when he lied I missed the chance to react for the benefit of the jury. Also, when I was recalled to the witness stand I did not understand the importance of the questions I was asked.
I still wish I had asked all my friends to go to court with me instead of feeling ashamed to want their help. I need to make the jury, prosecutor, defense attorney, and the judge understand that I was a person with friends who would support her.
If you insist on going on with the trial you will find that the rapist has a right to choose either a trial with a jury or with just a judge. He will invariable choose a jury: partially because juries don’t know as much about the law as judges but more importantly to make you relive the whole awful rape in every living detail before a group of strangers who presume that at the very least the defendant did not do it but more usually that you are lying.
Even if everyone, including the defense, concedes that sexual intercourse did take place between you and the rapist on the night in question, you will be appalled to hear that it wasn’t rape at all.
Probably the most common defense against rape (short of proving that the rapist was busy helping his aging mother wash dishes at the time) is to agree that sexual intercourse happened and that you instigated it in some way. You slyly inveigled him into the alley, begging him to hold a knife to your throat, encouraging him with little animal noises while he tore away your clothing and ripped your vagina to shreds. Later, because you were a woman scorned, you charged him with rape in a furious vendetta against all men.
The jury will agree with this reasoning, find the rapist innocent and he will go out on the streets again.
You see “the burden of proof” is on the state in a rape case. Rape cases are difficult to prove because it is your word against his. A robbery or an assault could also be your word against his but these cases are easier to prove. You will never be told why this is so but you might guess, especially if you have been raped. Rape cases are more difficult to prove because the male prosecutor doesn’t believe you at all but instead sides with the rapist. All of this subconsciously, of course. The defense attorney gleefully claims that you are a sexual temptress. The men on the jury agree because after all it could have been one of them up there as the defendant. The women on the jury also agree because they all know that rape doesn’t happen to nice girls; it has never happened to them nor to any of their friends (as far as they know).
And so the rapist will go free to rape again and this trial will never even be admissable in evidence against him when he rapes again because he was not convicted.
The prosecutor told the judge, after the innocent verdict, that I was very frightened of the defendant. The judge told the defendant that since he was a smart fellow who didn’t want to get in any more trouble he should stay away from me.
The defense attorney told me that he was sure that the defendant wouldn’t bother me again.
“But then, he never bothered me in the first place. Right?” I said.
Seneca Falls Declaration
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they were accustomed. But when a long train of
abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men–both natives and foreigners.
Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming to all intents and purposes, her master-the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women–the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.
He allows her in Church, as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.
He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation–in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.
In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.
The Grand Coolie Damn By: Marge Piercy (1969)
(Note: Marge Piercy is a novelist and poet. An early pioneer of the women’s liberation movement, she sent shockwaves through the American Left with this expose of its endemic sexism.)
The Movement is supposed to be for human liberation. How come the condition of women inside it is no better than outside? We have been trying to educate and agitate around women’s liberation for several years. How come things are getting worse? Women’s liberation has raised the level of consciousness around a set of issues and given some women a respite from the incessant exploitation, invisibility, and being put down. But several forces have been acting on the Movement to make the situation of women actually worse during the same time that more women are becoming aware of their oppression.
Around 1967- the year of what the mass media liked to call the Summer of Love- there was a loosening of attitudes in the Movement just as there was a growing politicization among dropouts and the hippie communities. For a while, Movement people were briefly more interested in each other as human beings than is the case usually, or now. Movement men are generally interested in women occasionally as bed partners, as domestic-servants-mother-surrogates, and constantly as economic producers: as in other patriarchal societies, one’s wealth in the Movement can be measured in terms of the people whose labor one can possess and direct on one’s projects.
For a while, people were generally willing to put effort into their relationships with each other and human liberation was felt as something to be acted out rather than occasionally flourished like a worn red flag. People experimented with new forms of communities and webs of relationship reaching beyond the monogamous couple. Men and women were trying new ways of relating that would not be as confining, as based on concepts of private property and the market economy as the means by which we have learned to possess each other. Some of the experimenting was shallow, manipulative, adventurist, with little regard for consequence to the others involved; but some was serious and had a tentative, willed openness that allowed room for men and especially for women to grow whole new limbs of self and encounter each other in ways that made them more human.
It is not necessary to recount the history of the last two ears to figure out what happened. Repression brings hardening. It is unlikely the Movement could have gone along with the same degree of involvement in personal relationships. An excessive amount of introspection and fascination with the wriggles of the psyche militate against action. One of the high schools in New York was effectively cooled by involving students in therapy groups and sensitivity training. But there is also a point beyond which cutting off sensitivity to others and honesty to what one is doing does not produce a more efficient revolutionary, but only a more efficient son of a bitch. We are growing some dandy men of steel nowadays.
The typical Movement institution consists of one or more men who act as charismatic spokesmen, who speak in the name of the institution, and negotiate and represent that body to other bodies in and outside the Movement, and who manipulate the relationships inside to maintain his or their position, and the people who do the actual work of the institution, much of the time women. Most prestige in the Movement rests not on having done anything in particular, but in having visibly dominated some gathering, in mainpulating a certain set of rhetorical counters well in public, or in having played some theatrical role. To be associated with a new fashion trend in rhetoric is better rewarded than is any amount of hard work on the small organizing projects that actually recruit new people and change their heads.
The Movement is an economic microsom. Presumably the rewards will be bringing about a revolution changing this society into something people want to live in and which they have a chance of affecting, and which will get off the back of the rest of the world. But the day-to-day coin is prestige. Another short term reward is a modicum of power, largely to force other people out of some group, or to persuade that group to engage in one activity rather than another. A third type of power is over the channels of communication. These may be formal channels such as New Left Notes; the Guardian, underground papers, Liberation News Service; or other media. There is also power over informal channels of communication. A person may come to usurp the prestige of an organization simply by being the speaker on all public occasions or by representing that group to other Movement groups. That may be actually the only work lie does, but what meager satisfactions can come from parading the name of his group before others, he
will enjoy. At the least he will get a chance to travel a little. Lives in the movement are not exactly running over with pleasures, so that if you have spent all winter on the lower east side of New York, a trip to Rochester or Buffalo can look glamorous.
It is possible to build up power simply through insisting or arranging that all goes through you. The important thing is to keep all transfer information or requests between any Dick and any Bill routed through you. That gives a look of busyness and importance. It can be a career in itself. There is a loss of information and energy, but strangely enough, good will is created with both Dick and Bill. Your phone will ring all the time and people call wherever you go, making manifest your importance before others. Almost all informal Movement contacts of this sort are between men. Especially in Ivy League schools, SDS chapters seem to act as fraternities, creating in-groups who respect and trust only each other.
If the rewards are concentrated at the top, the shitwork is concentrated at the bottom. The real basis is the largely unpaid, largely female labor force that does the daily work. Reflecting the values of the larger capitalist society, there is no prestige whatsoever attached to actually working. Workers are invisible. It is writers and talkers and the actors of dramatic roles who are visible and respected. The production of abstract analyses about what should be done and the production of technical jargon are far more admired than what is called by everybody shitwork.
Nor is the situation improved when the machers are competing to demonstrate their superior, purer, braver militancy, rather than their purer analysis. In an elitist world, it’s always “women and children last”. Only a woman willing and able to act like a stereotyped American frontier male can make herself heard.
The leader co-opts the work of his laborers. How many times a macher will say, “I have done,” “I have made” when the actual labor was somebody else’s. It is easy for the macher to pretend he has written a leaflet he glanced over, inserting the fashionable cant phrase of the week. I am aware that men in the Movement who are not domineering, highly verbal, manipulative, or hyper-competitive also turn into invisible peasant laborers. If there were no women at all in the male-dominated Movement, men not ready to stomp on others would end up playing many roles flow filled by women. Which is to say that poor whites may be no better off economically than poor blacks, for the System oppresses them in some of the same ways.
We take this allotting of prestige for granted, in which we are an exact microcosm of the society we oppose. Work is shit. It is mindlessly done by unappreciated-invisible workers, and the results, the profits in prestige and recognition, are taken away. Truly, it is not necessary that work be shit even in the bowels of the beast. One of the things that really is true about visiting Cuba is discovering how proud people can be of their work – work they would be ashamed to do here. Because work is admired, and makes sense in a society that makes sense, it is social in the full meaning. All right, we cannot have little islands of evolutionary culture in the heart of the empire, but we can try a little harder not to reflect the ugliest aspects of the society we are presumably rejecting.
As the fight gets stiffer and we settle in for the long haul, as all of us accumulate enough experience of failure and look long and hard enough at the cost to ourselves of what we are trying to do, as we get older and go through our share of the nasties, there is an attitude that sustains many: I am a professional revolutionary. To take that kind of step in one’s head and rhetoric is felt as a leap of commitment. It explains to the person and to others what he is doing. After all, he is acting quite differently from what was expected of him. He is failing to make it in any way he was taught all through growing up American to expect he would do (and to be scared he wouldn’t do). So it turns out there is an answer. No, Ma, I’m not a burn. I’m a professional-like a doctor or a lawyer, like I was supposed to be.
One trouble: to be a professional anything in the United States is to think of oneself as an expert and one’s ideas as semi-sacred, and to treat others in a certain way-professionally. Do you question your doctor when he prescribes in dog Latin what you should gulp down? The expert has expertise. Unfortunately he also often has careerism. He is giving up everything else, and he is not about to let some part-time worker (differentiation between part-time and full-time in the Movement is instructive and dangerous) challenge his prerogatives. Shall the professional revolutionary haul garbage, boil potatoes, change diapers, and lick stamps? Finally, what opposes the professional is counter-revolutionary, even though it may be repressed by the power structure with the same zeal.
The incidence of violent brand-loyalty to one’s own current dogma has risen. The word cadre as something to caress in the mouth and masturbate over has gone whoosh to the top of the pole in the last year. Cadre has meaning when a movement has really gone underground, when its members have been through training that has attempted to change their characters, when groups have shared violent and harrowing experiences over time so that they know they can trust each other. Cadre applied to the white Movement in the United States at this time is elitist bullshit. Our big problem is learning how to reach all kinds of people and we haven’t invented any training yet that helps much on that score. People are working hard on projects scattered around the country, and here and there they are making headway in one or another enclave of the old or new working class (or groups in motion are reaching out to them); or in high schools or the army or neighborhoods under stress such as the threat of urban renewal, things are
happening; but experts are experts largely in manipulating current jargon.
Now common, ordinary, gross chutzpah is something that in this society sprouts more commonly from the egos of men than from the more shattered and battered egos of women. Women are not encouraged toward professionalism in general, and we are certainly not in the Movement encouraged to gives ourselves too many airs. Suppose you, Woman Alice, unknown, unvouched for, unaccompanied, come wondering into a meeting and want to speak. The male supremacist will not even hear you. He may launch a sentence where you are in the middle of speaking, and probably he can simply drown you out. The male chauvinist will keep quiet while you speak and may even give a quick acknowledgment that some noise has occurred. He will patronize and move on. The male liberal will not your energy and will commiserate and then co-opt you. You will end up working for him, no matter what you think you are doing. When you oppose him, you will find out which side he is on. With the professional comes his professional language. A predominantly
student movement is a great soil for the growth of monstrosities of jargon. The use of scholarly Marxist jargon is exactly analogous to the use of any other academic jargon. It is a way of indicating that you have put in your time, read the right text and commentaries, that you are an expert. It is one thing to learn from the long line of revolutionaries who have come before us: we must learn that history or caricature it. (With the factionalism, name-calling, and assumption of infallibility that has been growing lately, I sometimes get the impression of people role-playing as professional revolutionaries based on certain comic books in which that was how you could identify the Reds.) It is another thing to adopt the language of any of them, especially translated into lousy American. Now we have scholarly quarrels about the definition of key terms and the appreciation among the in-group of the way in which someone is handling them, as in any English or Sociology department. Such articles are written for a
snobbishly defined audience of peers. The jargon covers up holes in the world. Most of us know damn little about how the society works and how people live, but rather than find out, we will adopt a jargon that stands between the observer and what lie is trying to observe. Such articles fail to make our politics lucid to people on a level where they can become autonomous political thinkers and doers. If you have contempt for people and think they cannot know what they want and need, who the hell is the revolution for?
Women in the Movement, with a few outstanding exceptions, have trouble talking jargon. One source of unease is lack of practice. The phenomenon of a woman speaking in a meeting, and the meeting going on as if she had belched, is too widespread to need comment. Women don’t generally practice on each other. Women are able at least on occasion to be more honest in talking about their lives together than men ever are: not always, not often, but it is a possibility. The mores of the society do not prevent women who trust each other from speaking about their sexual and emotional troubles. Much of this ability comes from our being taught to define our careers in terms of that part of our lives, so that it is shoptalk. In contrast, so much of what passes for communication between men and women are responses to signals given, the fulfilling of subtly or not so subtly indicated wishes, games of protection and mutual blackmail. The bases of many relationships are unspoken, not because they lie too deep for words, but
because speaking about them would disgust. It would expose connection based on gross and subtle forms of lying and exploitation that could not bear examining aloud.
Sometimes women simply refuse to use jargon. I know one woman who grew up in the Old Left and who will not use language she associates with that type of life and politics. In the small group of organizers she operates in, her refusal is viewed by the male ideological clique as a pitiful weakness. She is crippled. If she cannot talk their language, they cannot hear her, although she speaks the language of the kind of workers they are attempting to organize. They cannot accept her criticisms or insights unless couched in their terminology. Not that that always produces acceptance.
I remember watching a girl at a council meeting a few years ago who was striking in all aspects. She spoke well with a husky but carrying voice, she was physically attractive, she had read her texts and had a militant Left position and an obvious sense of style. In her head she was on the barricades, and that excitement carried in her speeches. She had no impact. I heard many people giving precis of the council afterward, an no one singled her out to mention, although many of the issues she spoke to carried. She did not succeed in becoming part of that collective of machers who are always counting points with each other. If she had been sexually connected with any of the machers present, the odds on her achieving impact would have been much greater, for she would have been automatically present at the small caucuses and meetings where policy, unfortunately, originates.
Around that time, when I attended many women’s liberation meetings I saw the whole thing as interesting primarily as an organizing tool: here was a way to organize women who could not be reached on other issues or in other organizing contexts. I am older than most Movement women, have a harder sense of myself, make a living off my writing and care about it, and have good, long-standing, and non-possessive relationship with a man I trust politically and personally. It took me two more years of grisly experiences, of getting used and purged, to get my nose well rubbed into women’s exploitation, to find out women’s liberation was not talking about the other fellow, and to understand how much I had adopted male values to think of liberation as a tool. We are oppressed, and we will achieve our liberation by fighting for it the same as any other oppressed group. Nobody is going to give it to us because we ask, however eloquently. I once thought that all that was necessary was to make men understand that they would
achieve their own liberation, too, by joining in the struggle for women’s liberation: but it has come to me to seem a little too much like the chickens trying to educate the chicken farmer. I think of myself as a house nigger who is a slow learner besides. A tendency to believe quite literally in the rhetoric of Movement males is a form of naivete that no woman can afford. Most Movement males idea of women’s liberation is something for their girlfriend to do to other women while they’re busy in decision making. That’s her consstituency to bring in.
Fucking a staff into existence is only the extreme form of what passes for common practice in many places. A man can bring a woman into an organization by sleeping with her and remove her by ceasing to do so. A man can purge a woman for no other reason than that he was tired of her, knocked her up, or is after someone else: and that purge is accepted without a ripple. There are cases of a woman excluded from a group for no other reason than that one of its leaders proved impotent with her. If a macher enters a room full of machers, accompanied by a woman and does not introduce her, it is rare indeed that anyone will bother to ask her name or acknowledge her presence. The etiquette that governs is one of master-servant.
Women come into the Movement for as many reasons as men do. It is not sufficient to speak of women as being recruited in bed, since their attraction to the man is usually as much to the ideas they hear him spouting, what they think he represents, and what they imagine their life with him will be, as it is to his particular body or personality. Movement men often project a very sexual image. What’s behind that too often is, as with actors, narcissism, impotence, and a genuine lack of interest in anybody else except his hero, The Professional Revolutionary in the Mirror, and a small peer group whose opinions he values and whom he likes to shoot the bull with, much like ex-fraternity boys.
I’ve listened to the troubles of dozens and dozens of women and men in the Movement. There are a lot of lonely and a lot of horny women. Sex lives of women seem to fall into two patterns, both dreary. Domestic unions on the whole are formed young and maintained in hermetic dependency, until exchanged for others that appear almost identical. People seldom maintain relationships with any content without living together, though it happens. As in conventional marriages, the woman living with a man often finds her world constricted. She is his thing. She keeps house for him and plays surrogate mother, and often he talks to her no more than the tired businessman home from the office. Often the relationship is much like that of the woman living with a medical student and helping to put him through school. Of course, since the woman’s intellectual energy is concentrated on that relationship, she may in fact dominate or manipulate or control the man, as is frequent in conventional marriages also.
The other model is the liberated woman: she can expect to get laid maybe once every two months, after a party or at councils or conferences, or when some visiting fireman comes through and wants to be put up. She may find she can work for years and even take part in planning demonstrations, and doing important research, and organizing without achieving recognition or visibility. There is a phenomenon I have noted, by the way: allowing for geographical variations, the list of men whom Movement women not living with anyone have gone to bed with is surprisingly repetitive. One is left to draw the conclusion that all the liberated (i.e., living alone) women have gone to bed with the same set of men, who would fit in one large room.
These serviceable males fall into two categories: those who make it clear that what they are doing is fucking, and those who provide a flurry of apparently personal interest, which fades mighty quick. The first category are on far fewer hate lists than the second. There are men in the Movement who have left women feeling conned and somehow used, emotionally robbed, in every city in the country. Rarely have I heard any man for that kind of emotional exploitation, and never so it could hurt him. The use of women as props for a sagging ego is accepted socially. Everybody sees it and everybody agrees that they don’t. Scalp-hunting goes on both sides of the sexual barrier, but the need to extract a kind of emotional conquest which is sometimes not even sexually consummated, out of woman after woman, seems exclusively the disease of male machers.
This sort of thing can even be called organizing. Many Politicos spend their energies organizing inside the Movement, instead of into the Movement, instead of into the Movement: hence the passionate concern with who is, and who is not, in the vanguard. Transferring the loyalties of worker-woman Lizzie from research project of Macher A to the Pamphlet project to Macher B is organizing.
The men who often get the most Opposition from Movement women are often publicly called male oppressors, are precisly those men who have the least skill at co-opting the labor of women: men with a bluff style, frontal attack, an obvious sense of their own competence, and a tactless assault on what they see as other’s lack of it. They often succeed in rapid fashion in uniting some of the women in a caucus against them.
The style most rewarded is that of the manipulator: the person who makes use of the forms of workers’ control and community decision making to persuade others that they are involved in a “we” that is never out of his control. Given the careerism, in almost any Movement enterprise there is at least one person who feels a vested interest: that endeavor is his baby. If there were true workers’ control, he might find himself ousted. Most Movement ventures exist hand-to-mouth, and the entrepreneur can always tell himself that a couple of weeks of financial chaos would wreck that precarious balance and run the enterprise into the ground. The rationale for retaining control may be Political: the entrepreneur as Professional revolutionary finds it necessary to keep Political control of the little Iskra, lest the bourgeois revisionists get it into their slimy paws, or the soft minds of the shitworkers to be led stray. The means to that control is seldom an obvious role as boss, for anti-authoritarianism is as
deep-rooted among women in the Movement as among men.
No, the successful entrepreneur uses all the forms of workers’ control and collective decision making. He may covertly despise these indirect, time-consuming methods. Or he may have contempt instead for those who attempt to work without them, and feel morally superior because of his attachment to the forms of participatory democracy. This distinction is equilavent to the different between the modes of the male supremacist and the male liberal: but both aim to retain control.
Methods vary. The macher may play off faction against faction or appear to float above petty quarrels. He may form sexual alliances, sabotage others, repeat gossip, start rumors, flatter, sow suspicion, retain the switchboard-control central function, flirt, listen to troubles, pay attention. Since most people in this society are dreadfully lonely, a little attention is a pungent tool. But he must always keep the others from combininb.
On one Movement staff where I worked, there was one macher; a couple of other males who did not challenge his hegemony, plus a two thirds majority of women. Whenever we threatened to form an alliance on anything that mattered, the macher would begin jiggling the sexual balance of the group, pursuing publicly one of the staff or another until he had succeeded in creating a harem atmosphere in which all attention once again centered on him. He would use his confidant relationship to the staff members to persuade each to talk about the others, comments he would remember and reveal as if reluctantly at the proper moment. Even the fact that he was sexually involved with only one of the staff could be turned to moral advantage, for he would keep her in her place (on his right hand, just under the thumb) by constantly pointing out that he could in fact be involved with the others, by ignoring her in the office, and flirting and teasing, and creating a constant subsurface tizzy centering on his person. None of
this, of course, was ever openly discussed. The superficial reality was business as usual, bureaucratic efficiency and personal relations kept out of the office. The effect was to make his position impregnable and enable him to dismiss whomever he chose.
The ability to dismiss from a collective is as important as the ability to recruit. One effective method is to stir up the workers so they themselves expel the person threatening the macher’s power. If the expulsion is carried out in the name of workers’ control or women’s liberation, an expulsion whereby the entrepreneur’s power is strengthened, the irony is complete. If the threat to the macher’s power is a woman, he will probably carry out the expulsion himself. If he was recruited her sexually, he can expel her on the same basis. There is a false Puritanism in never publicly permitting the allusion to relationships everyone knows about.
The male supremacist tends to exploit women new to the Movement or on its fringes, His concept of women is conventionally partriarchal: they are for bed, board, babies and, also, for doing his typing and running his office machines and doing his tedious research. By definition women are bourgeois: they are housewives and domesticators. A woman who begins to act independently is a threat and loses her protected status. He can no longer use her.
Such a man will sit at his desk with his feet up and point to the poster on his wall of a Vietnamese woman with her rifle on her back, telling you, “Now that is a truly liberated woman. When I see you in that role, I’ll believe you’re a revolutionary.” He has all the strength of the American tradition Huckleberry Finn escaping down river from Aunt Polly, down through Hemingway where the bitch louses up the man-to-man understanding, to draw upon in defense of his arrogance. Not only are women losers, but for a woman to think of herself is bourgeois subjectivity and inherently counterrevolutionary. Now dear, of course you can find your work dull. What the Movement needs is more discipline and less middle-class concern with one’s itty-bitty self!
At times it may seem to women as if the only way to win their battle is to form some sort of women’s brigades and achieve instant liberation by eliminating that whole part of life which hurts the most and competing with the men in meeting goals set by the male-dominated movement. But where women have fought beside their men, how often afterwards they have found themselves right back where they were before. It is easy for men to deal with women as quasi-equals, all soldiers together, during a long or short crisis, but inside their heads in all the old dominance/submission machinery and the old useful myths about mom and the playmate and good girls and bad girls.
The male liberal respects the pride of women. He has learned well the rhetoric of women’s liberation and offers apparent partnership. He will permit small doses of spokesmanship roles, so long as his hegemony is not challenged. Because he is willing to listen on a basis of apparent equality to women who work with (for) him, he is in a better position to draw out higher quality labor. He is just as career-oriented and just as exploitative as the male supremacist, but he gives back enough tidbits of flattery and attention to make the relationship appear reciprocal by contrast with what goes on with bullied males, and he is by far the more efficient long-range co-opter.
Often a woman working with a male liberal will learn imperceptiblity to accept a double standard for his behavior: alone with her when she is his equal; and with other machers; when he will pretend essentially not to know her. After all, he will gain no points by insisting others treat her as an equal. Further, if he acted as if the woman were of importance, he might lose some control over contacts essential in dominating his scene. Thus the woman will come to accept the master-servant manners in public, for the sake of the private relationship of equals. It can take her a long time to see that the public manner reflects the power realities.
The importance of male solidarity to enforce discrimination and contempt for women cannot be overemphasized. The man who goes in the face of this will find himself isolated. He will pay for betraying his caste. Men in this society reinforce each other’s acted-out manhood in many small social rituals, from which the man who truly treats women as his equals will be excluded.
Neither can we over-emphasize our own acquiescence. As I said, I have been a house nigger in the Movement. Since I was first on my own as a skinny tough kid, nobody ever succeeded for long in exploiting me as a woman, until I came into the Movement. Then I lay down my arms before my brothers to make the revolution together. How much I swallowed for my politics I have only realized in the pain of trying to write this piece truthfully. I have also begun to see how many male structures I took into my head in order to make it in the male-dominated world. How often in writing this I have been afraid, because I have incorporated so much male thinking that I can hear the responses I am going to get. Finally I have come to see how separated from my sisters I have been at times to preserve one or another super exploitative relationship with one or another male macher. As a house nigger how much worse treatment of other women I have watched and satisfied my conscience with vague private protestations to the
professional revolutionary in question: nothing that would get him angry at me, you can be sure.
Two inhibitions have acted on me constantly. One inhibition occurred in relationships where work and sexual involvement overlapped. I have not been able to keep tenderness and sensual joy from being converted into cooperation in my own manipulation. One takes the good with the bad, no? The good is loving and the bad is being used and letting others be used. One holds on to good memories to block perceptions that would rock the boat. Yet always what was beautiful and real in the touching becomes contaminated by the fog of lies and half-truths and power struggles, until the sex is empty and only another form of manipulation.
The other, stronger inhibition comes from having shared the same radical tradition, rhetoric, heroes, dates, the whole bloody history of class war. It is pitifully easy for radical women to accept their own exploitation in the name of some larger justice (which excludes half the world) because we are taught from childhood to immolate ourselves to the male and the family.
Once again in the Movement, oppression is becoming something for professionals to remove from certifiably oppressed other people. When I am told day in and day out to shut up because our oppression pales beside oppression of colonialized peoples and blacks, I remember half of them are women too, and I am reminded of my mother telling me to eat boiled mush because the Chinese were starving and would be glad to have it. When people are unhappy, no one can tell them their pain is unimportant. The ruling class isn’t dissatisfied: they are healthy, well-fed, live in beauty, enjoy their own importance: fun-loving cannibals. Our men aren’t dissatisfied either.
It is true our oppression kills quickly and smashes the body, and some only destroys the pride and the ability to think and create. But I know no man can tell any woman how to measure her oppression and what methods are not public in trying to get up off her knees. The answer does not lie in trying to be the token woman or in trying to learn quickly how to manipulate or shove around those who manipulate us. Certain of any oppressed group can always rise from that group by incorporating the manners and value system of the oppressed, and outwitting them at their own rigged game. We want Something Else.
We are told that our sense of oppression is not legitimate. We are told women’s liberation is a secondary issue, to be dealt with after the war is won. But the basis of women’s oppression is economic in a sense that far predates capitalism and the market economy and that is woven through the whole fabric of socialization. Our claims are the most radical, for they entail restructuring even the nuclear family. Nowhere on earth are women free now, although in some places things are marginally better. What we want we will have to invent ourselves.
We must have the strength of our anger to know what we know. No more arguments about shutting up for the greater good should make us ashamed of fighting for our freedom. Even since private property was invented, we have been waiting for freedom. That passive waiting is supposed to characterize our sex, and if we wait for the males we know to-give up control, our great-grand-daughters will get plenty of practice in waiting, too. We are the fastest growing part of the Movement, and for the next few years it would be healthiest for us to work as if we were essentially all the Movement there is, until we can make alliances based on our politics. Any attempts to persuade men that we are serious are a waste of precious time and energy; they are not our constituency.
There is much anger here at Movement men, but I know they have been warped and programmed by the same society that has damn near crippled us. My anger is because they have created in the Movement a microcosm of that oppression and are proud of it. Manipulation and careerism and competition will not evaporate of themselves. Sisters, what we do, we have to do together, and we will see about them.
The Myth of The Vaginal Orgasm By: Anne Koedt (1970)
(Note: This is the classic article on women’s sexuality by the NY feminist Anne Koedt. This is the complete version.)
Whenever female orgasm and frigidity are discussed, a false distinction is made between the vaginal and the clitoral orgasm. Frigidity has generally been defined by men as the failure of women to have vaginal orgasms. Actually the vagina is not a highly sensitive area and is not constructed to achieve orgasm. It is the clitoris which is the center of sexual sensitivity and which is the female equivalent of the penis. I think this explains a great many things: First of all, the fact that the so-called frigidity rate among women is phenomenally high. Rather than tracing female frigidity to the false assumptions about female anatomy, our “experts” have declared frigidity a psychological problem of women. Those women who complained about it were recommended psychiatrists, so that they might discover their “problem” – diagnosed generally as the failure to adjust to their role as women. The facts of female anatomy and sexual response tell a different story. Although there are many areas for sexual arousal, there
is only one area for sexual climax; that area is the clitoris. All orgams are extensions of sensation from this area. Since the clitoris is not necessarily stimulated sufficiently in the conventional sexual positions, we are left “frigid”. Aside from physical stimulation, which is the common cause of orgasm for most people, there is also stimulation through primarily mental processes. Some women, for example, may achieve orgasm through sexual fantasies, or through fetishes. However, while the stimulation may be psychological, the orgasm manifests itself physically. Thus, while the cause is psychological, the effect is still physical, and the orgasm necessarily takes place in the sexual organ equipped for sexual climax, the clitoris. The orgasm experience may also differ in degree of intensity – some more localized, and some more diffuse and sensitive. But they are all clitoral orgasms. All this leads to some interesting questions about conventional sex and our role in it. Men have orgasms essentially by
friction with the vagina, not the clitoral area, which is external and not able to cause friction the way penetration does. Women have thus been defined sexually in terms of what pleases men; our own biology has not been properly analyzed. Instead, we are fed the myth of the liberated woman and her vaginal orgasm – an orgasm which in fact does not exist. What we must do is redefine our sexuality. We must discard the “normal” concepts of sex and create new guidelines which take into account mutual sexual enjoyment. While the idea of mutual enjoyment is liberally applauded in marriage manuals, it is not followed to its logical conclusion. We must begin to demand that if certain sexual positions now defined as “standard” are not mutually conducive to orgasm, they no longer be defined as standard. New techniques must be used or devised which transform this particular aspect of our current sexual exploitation.
Freud-A Father of the Vaginal Orgasm
Sigmund Freud contended that the clitoral orgasm was adolescent, and that upon puberty, when women began having intercourse with men, women should transfer the center of orgasm to the vagina. The vagina, it was assumed, was able to produce a parallel, but more mature, orgasm than the clitoris. Much work was done to elaborate on this theory, but little was done to challenge the basic assumptions. To fully appreciate this incredible invention, perhaps Freud’s general attitude about women should first be recalled. Mary Ellman, in Thinking About Women, summed it up this way: Everything in Freud’s patronizing and fearful attitude toward women follows from their lack of a penis, but it is only in his essay The Psychology of Women that Freud makes explicit… the deprecations of women which are implicit in his work. He then prescribes for them the abandonment of the life of the mind, which will interfere with their sexual function. When the psycho-analyzed patient is male, the analyst sets himself the task of
developing the man’s capacities; but with women patients, the job is to resign them to the limits of their sexuality. As Mr. Rieff puts it: For Freud, “Analysis cannot encourage in women new energies for success and achievement, but only teach them the lesson of rational resignation.”
It was Freud’s feelings about women’s secondary and inferior relationship to men that formed the basis for his theories on female sexuality.
Once having laid down the law about the nature of our sexuality, Freud not so strangely discovered a tremendous problem of frigidity in women. His recommended cure for a woman who was frigid was psychiatric care. She was suffering from failure to mentally adjust to her “natural” role as a woman. Frank S. Caprio, a contemporary follower of these ideas, states: Whenever a woman is incapable of achieving an orgasm via coitus, provided the husband is an adequate partner, and prefers clitoral stimulation to any other form of sexual activity, she can be regarded as suffering from frigidity and requires psychiatric assistance. (The Sexually Adequate Female, p.64)
The explanation given was that women were envious of men – renunciation of womanhood. Thus it was diagnosed as an anti-male phenomenon.
It is important to emphasize that Freud did not base his theory upon a study of woman’s anatomy, but rather upon his assumptions of woman as an inferior appendage to man, and her consequent social and psychological role. In their attempts to deal with the ensuing problem of mass frigidity, Freudians embarked on elaborate mental gymnastics. Marie Bonaparte, in Female Sexuality, goes so far as to suggest surgery to help women back on their rightful path. Having discovered a strange connection between the non-frigid woman and the location of the clitoris near the vagina, it then occurred to me that where, in certain women, this gap was excessive, and clitoral fixation obdurate, a clitoral-vaginal reconciliation might be effected by surgical means, which would then benefit the normal erotic function. Professor Halban, of Vienna, as much a biologist as surgeon, became interested in the problem and worked out a simple operative technique. In this, the suspensory ligament of the clitoris was severed and the
clitoris secured to the underlying structures, thus fixing it in a lower position, with eventual reduction of the labia minora. (p.148)
But the severest damage was not in the area of surgery, where Freudians ran around absurdly trying to change female anatomy to fit their basic assumptions. The worst damage was done to the mental health of women, who either suffered silently with self-blame, or flocked to psychiatrists looking desperately for the hidden and terrible repression that had kept from them their vaginal destiny.
Lack of Evidence
One may perhaps at first claim that these are unknown and unexplored areas, but upon closer examination this is certainly not true today, nor was it true even in the past. For example, men have know that women suffered from frigidity often during intercourse. So the problem was there. Also, there is much specific evidence. Men knew that the clitoris was and is the essential organ for masturbation, whether in children or adult women. So obviously women made it clear where they thought their sexuality was located. Men also seem suspiciously aware of the clitoral powers during “foreplay”, when they want to arouse women and produce the necessary lubrication for penetration. Foreplay is a concept created for male purposes, but works to the disadvantage of many women, since as soon as the woman is aroused the man changes to vaginal stimulation, leaving her both aroused and unsatisfied.
It has also been known that women need no anesthesia inside the vagina during surgery, thus pointing to the fact that the vagina is in fact not a highly sensitive area.
Today, with extensive knowledge of anatomy, with Kelly, Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson, to mention just a few sources, there is no ignorance on the subject. There are, however, social reasons why this knowledge has not been popularlized. We are living in a male society which has not sought change in women’s role.
Rather than starting with what women ought to feel, it would seem logical to start out with the anatomical facts regarding the clitoris and vagina.
The Clitoris is a small equivalent of the penis, except for the fact that the urethra does not go through it as in the man’s penis. Its erection is similar to the male erection, and the head of the clitoris has the same type of structure and function as the head of the penis.
C. Lombard Kelly, in Sexual Feeling in Married Men and Women, says: The head of the clitoris is also composed of erectile tissue, and it possesses a very sensitive epithelium or surface covering, supplied with special nerve endings called genital corpuscles, which are peculiarly adapted for sensory stimulation that under proper mental conditions terminates in the sexual orgasm. No other part of the female generative tract has such corpuscles. (Pocketbooks; p.35)
The clitoris has no other function than that of sexual pleasure.
The Vagina-Its functions are related to, the reproductive function. Principally, 1.) menstruation, 2.) receive penis, 3.) hold semen, and 4.) birth passage. The interior of the vagina, which according to the defenders of the vaginally caused orgasm is the center and producer of the orgasm, is: like nearly all other internal body structures, poorly supplied with end organs of touch. The internal entodermal origin of the lining of the vagina makes it similar in this respect to the rectum and other parts of the digestive tract. (Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female p.580)
The degree of insensitivity inside the vagina is so high that “Among the women who were tested in our gynecologic sample, less than 14% were at the conscious that they had been touched.” (Kinsey, p.580)
Even the importance of the vagina as an erotic center (as opposed to an orgasmic center) has been found to be minor.
Other areas-Labia minora and the vestibule of the vagina. These two sensitive areas may trigger off a clitoral orgasm. Because they can be effectively stimulated during “normal” coitus, though infrequently, this kind of stimulation is incorrectly thought to be vaginal orgasm. However, it is important to distinguish between areas which can stimulate the clitoris, incapable of producing the orgasm themselves, and the clitoris: Regardless of what means of excitation is used to bring the individual to the state of sexual climax, the sensation is perceived by the genital corpuscles and is localized where they are situated: in the head of the clitoris or penis. (Kelly, p.49)
Psychologically Stimulated Orgasm-Aside from the above mentioned direct and indirect stimulation of the clitoris, there is a third way an orgasm may be triggered. This is through mental (cortical) stimulation, where the imagination stimulates the brain, which in turn stimulates the genital corpuscles of the glans to set off an orgasm.
Women Who Say They Have Vaginal Orgasms
Confusion-Because of the lack of knowledge of their own anatomy, some women accept the idea that an orgasm felt during “normal” intercourse was vaginally caused. This confusion is caused by a combination of two factors. One, failing to locate the center of the orgasm, and two, by a desire to fit her experience to the male-defined idea of sexual normalcy. Considering that women know little about their anatomy, it is easy to be confused.
Deception-The vast majority of women who pretend vaginal orgasm to their men are faking it to “get the job”. In a new bestselling Danish book, I Accuse, Mette Ejlersen specifically deals with this common problem, which she calls the “sex comedy”. This comedy has many causes. First of all, the man brings a great deal of pressure to bear on the woman, because he considers his ability as a lover at stake. So as not to offend his ego, woman will comply with the prescribed role and go through simulated ecstasy. In some of the other Danish women mentioned, women who were left frigid were turned off to sex, and pretended vaginal orgasm to hurry up the sex act. Others admitted that they had faked vaginal orgasm to catch a man. In one case, the woman pretended vaginal orgasm to get him to leave his first wife, who admitted being vaginally frigid.
Later she was forced to continue the deception, since obviously she couldn’t tell him to stimulate her clitorally.
Many more women were simply afraid to establish their right to equal enjoyment, seeing the sexual act as being primarily for the man’s benefit, and any pleasure that the woman got as an added extra.
Other women, with just enough ego to reject the man’s idea that they needed psychiatric care, refused to admit their frigidity. They wouldn’t accept self-blame, but they didn’t know how to solve the problem, not knowing the physiological facts about themselves. So they were left in a peculiar limbo.
Again, perhaps one of the most infuriating and damaging results of this whole charade has been that women who were perfectly healthy sexually were taught that they were not. So in addition to being sexually deprived, these women were told to blame themselves when they deserved no blame. Looking for a cure to a problem that has none can lead a woman on an endless path of self-hatred and insecurity. For she is told by her analyst that not even in her one role allowed in a male society-the role of a woman-is she successful. She is put on the defensive, with phony data as evidence that she’d better try to be even more feminine, and reject her envy of men. That is, shuffle even harder, baby.
Why Men Maintain the Myth
1.) Sexual Penetration Is Preferred-The best physical stimulant for the penis is the woman’s vagina. It supplies the necessary friction and lubrication. From a strictly technical point of view this position offers the best physical conditions, even though the man may try other positions for variation.
2.) The Invisible Woman-One of the elements of male chauvinism is the refusal or inability to see women as total, separate human beings. Rather, men have chosen to define women only in terms of how they benefited men’s lives. Sexually, a woman was not seen as an individual wanting to share equally in the sexual act, any more than she was seen as a person with independent desires when she did anything else in society. Thus, it was easy to make up what was convenient about women; for on top of that, society has been a function of male interests, and women were not organized to form even a vocal opposition to the male experts.
3.) The Penis as Epitome of Masculinity-Men define their lives primarily in terms of masculinity. It is a universal form of ego-boosting. That is, in every society, however homogeneous (i.e., with the absence of racial, ethnic, or major economic differences) there is always a group, women, to oppress.
The essence of male chauvinism is in the psychological superiority men exercise over women. This kind of superior-inferior definition of self, rather than positive definition based upon one’s own achievements and development, has of course chained victim and oppressor both. But by far the most brutalized of the two is the victim.
An analogy is racism, where the white racist compensates for his feelings of unworthiness by creating an image of the black man (it is primarily a male struggle) as biologically inferior to him. Because of his position in a white male power structure, the white man can socially enforce this mythical division.
To the extent that men try to rationalize and justify male superiority through physical differentiation, masculinity may be symbolized by being the most muscular, the most hairy; having the deepest voice, and the biggest penis. Women, on the other hand, are approved of (i.e., called feminine) if they are weak, petite, shave their legs, have high soft voices.
Since the clitoris is almost identical to the penis, one finds a great deal of evidence of men in various societies trying to either ignore the clitoris and emphasize the vagina (as did Freud) or, as in some places in the Mideast, actually performing clitoridectomy. Freud saw this ancient and still practiced custom as a way of further “feminizing” the female by removing this cardinal vestige of her masculinity. It should be noted also that a big clitoris is considered ugly and masculine. Some cultures engage in the practice of pouring a chemical on the clitoris to make it shrivel up into “proper” size.
It seems clear to me that men in fact fear the clitoris as a threat to masculinity.
4.) Sexually Expendable Male-Men fear that they will become sexually expendable if the clitoris is substituted for the vagina as the center of pleasure for women. Actually this has a great deal of validity if one considers only the anatomy. The position of the penis inside the vagina, while perfect for reproduction, does not necessarily stimulate an orgasm in women because the clitoris is located externally and higher up. Women must rely upon indirect stimulation in the “normal” position.
Lesbian sexuality could make an excellent case, based upon anatomical data, for the irrelevancy of the male organ. Albert Ellis says something to the effect that a man without a penis can make a woman an excellent lover.
Considering that the vagina is very desirable from a man’s point of view, purely on physical grounds, one begins to see the dilemma for men. And it forces us as well to discard many “physical” arguments explaining why women go to bed with men. What is left, it seems to me, are primarily psychological reasons why women select men at the exclusion of women as sexual partners.
5.) Control of Women-One reason given to explain the Mid-eastern practice of clitoridectomy is that it will keep the women from straying. By removing the sexual organ capable of orgasm, it must be assumed that her sexual drive will diminish. Considering how men look upon their women as property, particularly in very backward nations, we should begin to consider a great deal more why it is not in men’s interest to have women totally free sexually. The double standard, as practiced for example in Latin America, is set up to keep the woman as total property of the husband, while he is free to have affairs as he wishes.
6.) Lesbianism and Bisexuality-Aside from the strictly anatomical reasons why women might equally seek other women as lovers, there is a fear on men’s part that women will seek the company of other women on a full, human basis. The recognition of clitoral orgams as fact would threaten the heterosexual institution. For it would indicate that sexual pleasure was obtainable from either men or women, thus making heterosexuality not an absolute, but an option. It would thus open up the whole question of human sexual relationships beyond the confines of the present male-female role system.
Books Mention in This Esssay
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Alfred C. Kinsey, Pocketbooks, 1953
Female Sexuality, Marie Bonaparte, Grove Press, 1953
Sex Without Guilt, Albert Ellis, Grove Press, 1958 and 1965
Sexual Feelings in Married Men and Women, G. Lombard Kelly, Pocketbooks, 1951 and 1965
I Accuse (Jeg Anklager), Mette Ejlersen, Chr. Erichsens Forlag (Danish), 1968
The Sexually Adequate Female, Frank S. Caprio, Fawcett Gold Medal Books, 1953 and 1966
Thinking About Women, Mary Ellman, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968
Human Sexual Response, Masters and Johnson, Little, Brown, 1966
The Politics Of Housework By: Pat Mainardi of Redstockings
(Note: This article was originally published by Redstockings in 1970. Redstockings was an early women’s liberation group centered in New York and was responsible for a number of influential writings.)
Though women do not complain of the power of husbands, each complains of her own husband, or of the husbands of her friends. It is the same in all other cases of servitude; at least in the commencement of the emancipatory movement. The serfs did not at first complain of the power of the lords, but only of their tyranny.-John Stuart Mill on the Subjection of Women
Liberated women-very different from Women’s Liberation! The first signals all kinds of goodies, to warm the hearts (not to mention other parts) of the most radical men. The other signals-HOUSEWORK. The first brings sex without marriage, sex before marriage, cozy housekeeping arrangements (“I’m living with this chick”) and the self-content of knowing you’re not the kind of man who wants a doormat instead of a woman. That will come later. After all, who wants that old commodity anymore, the Standard American Housewife, all husband, home and kids? The New Commodity; the Liberated Woman, has sex a lot and has a Career, preferably something that can be fitted in with the household chores-like dancing, pottery, or painting.
On the other hand is Women’s Liberation-and housework. What? You say this is all trivial? Wonderful! That’s what I thought. It seemed perfectly reasonable. We both had careers, both had to work a couple of days a week to earn enough to live on, so why shouldn’t we share the housework? So I suggested it to my mate and he agreed-most men are too hip to turn you down flat. You’re right, he said. It’s only fair. Then an interesting thing happened. I can only explain it by stating that we women have been brainwashed more than even we can imagine, Probably too many years of seeing television women in ecstasy over their shiny waxed floors or breaking down over their dirty shirt collars. Men have no such conditioning. They recognize the essential fact of housework right from the very beginning. Which is that it stinks.
Here’s my list of dirty chores: buying groceries, carting them home and putting them away; cooking meals and washing dishes and pots; doing the laundry digging out the place when things get out of control; washing floors. The list could go on but the sheer necessities are bad enough. All of us have to do these things, or get someone else to do them for us. The longer my husband contemplated these chores, the more repulsed he became, and so proceeded the change from the normally sweet, considerate Dr. Jekyll into the crafty Mr. Hyde who would stop at nothing to avoid the horrors of housework. As he felt himself backed into a comer laden with dirty dishes, brooms, mops and reeking garbage, his front teeth grew longer and pointier, his fingernails haggled and his eyes grew wild. Housework trivial? Not on your life! Just try to share the burden.
So ensured a dialogue that’s been going on for several years. Here are some of the high points: “I don’t mind sharing the housework, but I don’t do it very well. We should each do the things we’re best at.” MEANING: Unfortunately I’m no good at things like washing dishes or cooking. What I do best is a little light carpentry, changing light bulbs, moving furniture (how often do you move furniture?). ALSO MEANING: Historically the lower classes (black men and us) have had hundreds of years experience doing menial jobs. It would be a waste of manpower to train someone else to do them now. ALSO MEANING: I don’t like the dull, stupid, boring jobs, so you should do them.
“I don’t mind sharing the work, but you’ll have to show me how to do it.” MEANING: I ask a lot of questions and you’ll have to show me everything every time I do it because I don’t remember so good. Also don’t try to sit down and read while I’M doing my jobs because I’m going to annoy the hell out of you until it’s easier to do them yourself.
“We used to be so happy!” (Said whenever it was his turn to do something.) MEANING: I used to be so happy. MEANING: Life without house work is bliss. No quarrel here. Perfect Agreement.
“We have different standards, and why should I have to work to your standards? That’s unfair.” MEANING: If I begin to get bugged by the dirt and crap I will say, “This place sure is a sty” or “How can anyone live like this?” and wait for your reaction. I know that all women have a sore called “Guilt over a messy house” or “Household work is ultimately my responsibility.” I know that men have caused that sore-if anyone visits and the place is a sty–they’re not going to leave and say, “He sure is a lousy housekeeper.” You’ll take the rap in any case. I can outwait you. ALSO MEANING: I can provoke innumerable scenes over the housework issue. Eventually doing all the housework yourself will be less painful to you than trying to get me to do half. Or I’ll suggest we get a maid. She will do my share of the work. You will do yours. It’s women’s work.
“I’ve got nothing against sharing the housework, but you can’t make me do it on your schedule.” MEANING: Passive resistance. I’ll do it when I damned well please, if at all. If my job is doing dishes, it’s easier to do them once a week. If taking out laundry, once a month. If washing the floors, once a year. If you don’t like it, do it yourself oftener, and then I won’t do it at all.
“I hate it more than you. You don’t mind it so much.” MEANING: Housework is garbage work. It’s the worst crap I’ve ever done. It’s degrading and humiliating for someone of my intelligence to do it, But for someone of your intelligence….
“Housework is too trivial to even talk about.” MEANING: It’s even more trivial to do. Housework is beneath my status. My purpose in life is to deal with matters of significance. Yours is to deal with matters of insignificance. You should do the housework.
“This problem of housework is not a man-woman problem. In any relationship between two people one is goin to have a stronger personality and dominate.” MEANING: That stronger personality had better be me.
“In animal societies, wolves, for example, the top animal is usually a male even where he is not chosen for brute strength but on the basis of cunning and intelligence. Isn’t that interesting?” MEANING: I have historical, psychological, anthropological and biological justification for keeping you down. How can you ask the top wolf to be equal?
“Women’s liberation isn’t really a political movement.” MEANING: The revolution is coming too close to home. ALSO MEANING: I am only interested in how I am oppressed, not how I oppress others. Therefore the war, the draft and the university are political. Women’s liberation is not.
“Man’s accomplishments have always depended on getting help from other people, mostly women. What great man would have accomplished what he did if he had to do his own housework?” MEANING: Oppression is built into the system and I, as the white American male, receive the benefits of this system. I don’t want to give them up.
Participatory democracy begins at home. If you are planning to implement your politics, there are certain things to remember.
1.) He is feeling it more than you. He’s losing some leisure and you’re gaining it. The measure of your oppression is his resistance.
2.) A great many American men are not accustomed to doing monotonous, repetitive work which never issues in any lasting, let alone important, achievement. This is why they would rather repair a cabinet than wash dishes. If human endeavors are like a pyramid with man’s highest achievements at the top, then keeping oneself alive is at the bottom. Men have always had servants (us) to take care of this bottom stratum of life while they have confined their efforts to the rarefied upper regions. It is thus ironic when they ask of women-Where are your great painters, statesmen, etc.? Mme. Matisse ran a military shop so he could paint. Mrs. Martin Luther King kept his house and raised his babies.
3.) It is a traumatizing experience for someone who has always thought of himself as being against any oppression or exploitation of one human being by another to realize that in his daily life he has been accepting and implementing (and benefiting from) this exploitation; that his rationalization is little different from that of the racist who says, “Black people don’t feel pain” (women don’t mind doing the shitwork); and that the oldest form of oppression in history has been the oppression of 50 percent of the population by the other 50 percent.
4.) Arm yourself with some knowledge of the psychology of oppressed peoples everywhere, and a few facts about the animal kingdom. I admit playing top wolf or who runs the gorillas is silly but as a last resort men bring it up all the time. Talk about bees. If you feel really hostile bring up the sex life of spiders. They have sex. She bites off his head. The psychology of oppressed peoples is not silly. Jews, immigrants, black men and all women have employed the same psychological mechanisms to survive admiring the oppressor, glorifying the oppressor, wanting to be like the oppressor, wanting the oppressor to like them, mostly because the oppressor held all the power.
5.) In a sense, all men everywhere are slightly schizoid-divorced from the reality of maintaining life. This makes it easier for them to play games with it. It is almost a cliche that women feel greater grief at sending a son off to a war or losing him to that war because they bore him, suckled him, and raised him. The men who forment those wars did none of those things and have a more superficial estimate of the worth of human life. One hour a day is a low estimate of the amount of time one has to spend “keeping” oneself. By foisting this off on others, man has seven hours a week-one working day more to play with his mind and not his human needs. Over the course of generations it is easy to see whence evolved the horrifying abstractions of modern life.
6.) With the death of each form of oppression, life changes and new forms evolve. English aristocrats at the turn of the century were horrified at the idea of enfranchising working men-were sure that it signaled the death of civilization and a return to barbarism. Some working men were even deceived by this line. Similarly with the minimum wage, abolition of slavery, and female suffrage. Life changes but it goes on. Don’t fall for any line about the death of everything if men take a turn at the dishes. They will imply that you are holding back the revolution (their revolution). But you are advancing it (your revolution).
7.) Keep checking up. Periodically consider who’s actually doing the jobs. These things have a way of backsliding so that a year later once again the woman is doing everything. After a year make a list of jobs the man has rarely if ever done. You will find cleaning pots, toilets, refrigerators, and ovens high on the list. Use time sheets if necessary. He will accuse you of being petty. He is above that sort of thing (housework). Bear in mind what the worst jobs are, namely the ones that have to be done every day or several times a day. Also the ones that are dirty-it’s more pleasant to pick up books, newspapers, etc., than to wash dishes. Alternate the bad jobs. It’s the daily grind that gets you down. Also make sure that you don’t have the responsibility for the housework with occasional help from him. “I’ll cook dinner for you tonight” implies it’s really your job and isn’t he a nice guy to do some of it for you.
8.) Most men had a rich and rewarding bachelor life during which they did not starve or become encrusted with crud or buried under the liner. There is a taboo that says women mustn’t strain themselves in the presence of men-we haul around 50 pounds of groceries if we have to but aren’t allowed to open a jar if there is someone around to do it for us. The reverse side of the coin is that men aren’t supposed to be able to take care of themselves without a woman. Both are excuses for making women do the housework.
9.) Beware of the double whammy. He won’t do the little things he always did because you’re now a “Liberated Woman”, right? Of course he won’t do anything else either….
I was just finishing this when my husband came in and asked what I was doing. Writing a paper on housework. Housework? he said. Housework? Oh my god how trivial can you get? A paper on housework.
The Vagina On Trial: The Institution and Psychology of Rape By: Kathleen Barry
(Note: This article was taken from the pamphlet Stop Rape, which was first issued in 1971 by Women Against Rape. Stop Rape was widely distributed within the women’s movement and served to change the way our society looks at rape.)
There are sick, evil men lurking in the bushes and violently, sexually attacking innocent “nice girls”. There are helpless good guys who are driven to sexual violence by immoral women who lead men on through their suggestive behavior. Rape is an abhorrent crime which everyone is against and society tries (although it is difficult) to curtail. All of these statements sum up the current myths about rape. They are, in fact, myths we have been forced to believe to avoid uncovering the reality of rapists, female behavior and society’s efforts. It is necessary to explore the myths and study the reality if we are to begin to fight one of the most violent offenses by men against women.
Every woman has had terrifying experiences causing her to fear rape. And that fear is a primary factor in controlling her behavior. Recently when going for a walk one evening with some other women, I was struck by two awarenesses: first, how unusual it felt to be walking on the street at night and secondly the total absence of women and the preponderance of men on the street in the evening. The fear of rape has kept us off the streets and behind securely locked doors. While it has immobilized women, men come and go freely and concede to do the things for us we can’t do ourselves because of our fears. This freedom for men and immobilization of women is essential for men to maintain control not only of the society in general but of women in particular. Rape is the most common and threatening act calculated to induce fear in all women and thereby the means men have chosen to maintain control of women. In this context, rape has become an institutionalized necessity developed as an effective means to control all
women and leave men free to hold power, dominate and control. Rape has the unspoken legitimacy of being institutionalized in this society and as a result men are given license to use women in any way they see fit. Because of the protection afforded to men by a society controlled by men, men become the natural inheritors of the right to rape. But to camouflage the blatancy of this accepted and assumed violence, men take on the role of protector of women which only implies another kind of violence. Men protect women from the violence of men. There are then benefits to men that come with institutionalization of rape-control of women, right to rape, and the role of protector and thereby controller.
The fear of rape not only controls the physical movements of women; the mythologies about rape have been used to try to control women’s minds and distort their vision. Women have been psychologically conditioned to believe in what society has defined as their own innate promiscuity. Recently several women were discussing a jury trial of a particular rape case. The discussion led to how the defense attorney is allowed to malign the character of the women to a humiliating and degrading extent. In search to find a way to prevent this from happening one woman exclaimed “What we need is a jury of our peers.” Everyone agreed until moments later someone realized that it was not the woman who was charged and on trial. Women have been led to believe for so long that they have an uncontrollable sexuality which victimizes men and makes females innately promiscuous-a myth that we must believe at the same time that we believe all women are frigid. These myths are steeped in male concepts of sexuality. Basic to male
sexuality is an association between their sexual organs and powers. A good example of this can be seen in the sexual mores surrounding wars past and present which say that men should not have sexual intercourse with a woman before battle because she will rob him of his virility, strenghth and sense of power. Men still hold on to an irrational fear that women have mysterious power to subdue their sexuality. This has led them to two simultaneous and contradictory presumptions about women. Not only do they believe out of fear that women are innately promiscuous, but to immobilize the promiscuity they describe the same woman as innocent virgins, making the woman something harmless in the mind of the male. Women not only do not make this genital association with power, we often do not understand the fears that men attribute to the power of women. We are constantly traded between two sets of images: one of our raging sexuality and the other of our sweet, pure virginity. And neither apply-our mistake has been to
accept and believe their definition of us thereby distrusting ourselves.
It is interesting to note that although men have tried to portray women with a perverted sexual power reflected in their promiscuity, sexual exploitation only goes one way. It is the female body that is used as the subject of pornography for male eroticism and fantasy. It is females who are used as prostitutes by men to serve sexualities which cannot be fulfilled by one woman. It is females who are raped by men. The reverse of these statements does not happen in this society.
But according to the myth of female promiscuity there is no such thing as the “nice girl”. The single woman wants to flit from man to man using them to fulfill her sexual needs. The divorced woman wasn’t satisfied with one man and has given up the good life to fulfill her innate drives. The married woman is beyond a shadow of a doubt trying to cuckold her husband by having affairs with other men. And the widow isn’t content to live with the dignity of happy memories as she buries her husband to begin to tramp after men. By convincing women through these kinds of arguments of their own promiscuous nature men have succeeded in making us believe that if raped we will get only what we deserve and desire. Not only do they think that we all spend all our time craving them, but many men insist that we desire ane enjoy rape. This concept may be successfully used to help rapists rationalize their violence but it has no basis in fact. From understanding the myth of the vaginal orgasm and through research of Masters
and Johnson we know that the clitoris is the organ of female eroticism. Most sexual pleasure is derived from manipulating that organ. Anatomically it is separate from the vagina. In the case of rape, violent thrusting of the penis into the vagina cannot provide the stimulation of the clitoris necessary for sexual pleasure for women. Violent sexual intercourse against the will of the woman cannot be pleasurable to her.
The image of femininity has also served to keep women at the mercy of men. By thinking of ourselves as fragile, delicate creatures we learn to bypass any of the things we could learn for our own physical self defense. And we have been encouraged to dress to fit the fragile image which leaves us with shoes we can barely hobble in no less run with, skirts that either tangle at the ankles or are too tight for moving fast, handbags and all kinds of trappings to prevent movement.
In addition we are taught that our only value is as a sexual object and we are expected to dress accordingly and then are accused of being enticing. These kinds of clothing not only support the image of delicacy and sexual objectification, but actually prevent women from being able to run, kick or move with whatever self-defense measure the situation calls for when being approached by a rapist.
We are used to endless discussions of the character and psychology of women who are victims of rape but part of the protection of the rapist is to taboo much of the discussion of him. Who are rapists? First of all, we must rid ourselves of the notion that all rapists are pathologically sick and perverted men who would qualify for institutionalization for mental derangement. According to a study by Menachem Amir three of five are married and lead normal sex lives at home. They are healthy, young men primarily between the ages of 17 and 30. Studies reveal that men imprisoned for rape are normal people, and we can only conclude that to rape is an accepted part of the definition of a normal male. Rape also does not result from these normal, healthy, young, mostly married men acting on impulse. Amir’s study reveals that 90 percent of all rapes were planned. So the rapists cannot be considered as momentarily responding to suggestive behavior of a woman or just flipping out for a minute. Rape is premeditated.
The male role dictates that men have a dual function. They are the rapists and the protectors of women. This dual role mystifies our thinking and tends to make us emphasize their good-guy protector role leaving us as easy prey when they assert their right to rape. Adding to this confusion is the male association between sex and violence. Movies, television, and novels as well as everyday life find sexual relationships existing on the same level as street violence.
Rape is forcible intercourse with a non-consenting woman. We see ample examples of the violent rape on dark streets. But we tend to overlook the rape of a woman who accepts a date for the movies and finds that she must pay with her body by the end of the evening forcible and against her will! Or the woman who learns that she must give in to her boss is she is to keep her job-forcible and against her will! Or the gang rapes of women at rock festivals-forcible and against their wills! How many married women are instructed by their husbands, ministers, and marriage counselors that they are obliged by law to provide their bodies for the sexual needs of their husbands whether or not they desire intercourse – forcible and against their wills! And to reveal their real status as sexual property, the law protects rapists by upholding that no man can be accused of raping his wife. Who are the rapists? Strangers, friends, work or business associates, dates, boyfriends, and husbands.
Men can feel free and uninhibited to force sexual violence onto women as they receive full protection from the law, police and courts. Men know this and therefore understand that limitations are not placed on them in this area. The careful wording of the law with the broad latitude given the defense (rapist) make clear the state’s intention to not prosecute rapists.
In Michigan the prosecutor must prove that the rape was forcible and that there was penetration of the vagina. Forcible rape is determined primarily through trying to ascertain if the woman consented or not. Bruises, marks on the body, cuts, or gashes all reveal assault but in the eye of the court they do not prove forcible rape and proof must be presented beyond a shadow of a doubt. Thousands of rapists have received acquittals by claiming that the victim had consented. Consent has been defined as everything from inviting the rapist to your apartment as a stall tactic, to not screaming loud enough. Anything a woman does is used against her in court. And therefore there can be no other conclusion than that the courts exist as one part of a giant male conspiracy to allow the maiming and killing (always as a potential in rape) of women.
Allowing a male friend into your home who turns violent and rapes you cannot be prosecuted in court. In the eyes of the court, allowing the male into your home implies consent for him to have sexual intercourse with you. The courts apparently see that opening your front door to a man means that the vagina is opened to his penis. As brash and boorish as these conclusions may sound, we must understand that they constitute the thinking of the society and the courts, not of women. It is no chance of fate that one man can visit another in his home, have an argument where the visitor beats up the other man and the beaten man can charge his former friend with assault. Yet a woman who has been raped in her home by a former male friend need not press charges because NO COURT will believe she didn’t consent. But if rape was defined as anytime sexual intercourse took place with a woman against her will then husbands, boyfriends, and all men who are able to define their woman as their property would be subject to
prosecution, women would be protected and have more freedom of movement and the chains of control would be dealt a heavy blow. It is exactly these things which the police and courts must prevent-not rape.
Here we come to the heart of sexism and its brutal mutilation of women. Now we must ask in all seriousness who is on trial. Women first of all may not do anything to try to prevent the rape such as trying to divert the attention of the man or direct him to a place where there is help for her nor may they do anything to prevent violence to try to save their lives, such as going limp instead of screaming which may provoke more pain for themselves.
The requirement of the courts to prove penetration of the vagina is also established to protect the rapist and further victimize the woman. The only possible way to prove penetration is through examination of the vagina and detection of sperm. There could not be a requirement in all the canons of law with more loopholes in it that this one. What if the rapist didn’t have an orgasm? There is no sperm but the vagina was penetrated. What if there was sperm but the woman had sexual intercourse with her consent in 24 hours preceding the rape? If we can’t with any reliability determine penetration by examination for sperm, then what about the examination of the vagina. Although penetration may be revealed if the female is a young girl who has had no sexual experience, we know from the scientific data of Masters and Johnson that there is no way to prove penetration in a sexually mature woman unless it is done minutes after intercourse. But because the courts hold on to this requirement, women upon reporting a rape
are rushed to the emergency of the local hospital where they are initiated into the post-rape humiliation.
The treatment a woman receives after she has been raped indicates clearly that she has stepped out of her place in reporting a rape and asking for justice. The policemen responding to the call provide the first level of harassment. They apparently seek vicarious pleasure from having the woman recount over and over again the details of the rape when their initial report usually doesn’t require the information they are eliciting the woman. Because the law requires proof of penetration of the vagina the raped woman must be taken by the police to the hospital. Here doctors who also identify with the rapist hold attitudes toward the victimized woman from disinterest to sadism. A woman reported recently that when she arrived at the hospital after being raped and visibly upset, the doctor shook her unmercifully yelling “Shut-up, you bitch!” After all, doctors know the only reason the police bring her there is to check for sperm for evidence for the state.
Doesn’t it come down to the fact that what is on trial is the female vagina and it is on trial for simply existing. And now we come to the ultimate conclusion that this society protects rapists because of its insidious contempt for the female and all she represents but most particularly her sexuality.
Towards A Radical Movement By: Heather Booth, Evie Goldfield, Sue Munaker (April 1968)
(Note: This essay was written by three people who where among the pioneers of the women’s liberation movement.)
Ours is an age of promise. Technology and abundance have made it clear-that a decent life might at last be easily within – the reach of all, Self-determination, freedom seem like real possibilities. More than this, though, it is an age of promise denied. Under the banner of freedom, atrocities are committed. With all the rhetoric of economic development, the majority of the earth’s people are hungry exploited, powerless.
Not only the impoverished, but many others are learning that no one is really free in our society; that while some group are much more oppressed than others ordinary individuals have little ability to live the life or bring about the changes as they desire. Among these others are groups of women, angered at the society that relegates them to a secondary and servile position.
The movement for social change taught women activists about their own oppression. Politically-, women were excluded from decision-making. They typed, made leaflets, did the shit-work. The few women who attained leadership positions had to struggle against strong convention.
So, women in the movement were in a unique situation. As some married, they found that there were no models for a marriage in which both man and woman were politically active. Was the once active woman now to assume a supportive role…to stay home with the kids or get an unwanted job to support her activist husband? Were both partners interests to have equal weight in determining what kind of work they would do, where they would live?
In December, 1965 at a national conference of the Students for a Democratic Society the-subject of women’s role in society and in the movement was openly discussed. The discontent of the women activists was brought to the surface, therein initiating a radical women’s movement.
The problems discussed were not-just those of political activists, but of all-contemporary women. Women had integrated into the labor force during the war doing what they thought was useful purposeful work. When the men came home though, women were: either pushed into the lower sectors of the labor force or, moved back into the home. Women’s image began, to change in the popular magazines; domesticity was glorified frills were again in vogue, drudgery was glamourous.
Women who returned to the domestic setting found that things not quite the same as before. New labor-saving devices gave them more free time. This freedom made a vacuum in their lives; they had nothing meaningful to fill it with. The housewife role, offered up as the most fulfilling-for-women, was expanded, elaborated, filled up with trivia so that each labor-saving device could be compensated for by a new task. Women joined clubs and charity organizations in vast numbers, They took enrichment courses and dabbled in the arts. Shopping became a major occupation; an incredible amount of energy was expended on finding those items which would adorn the house and the women, expressing her identity.
Yet, none of this really satisfied. It was not serious, not involving; it merely whittled away the long, endless hours.
Many women remained in the labor force, although often displaced laced from the jobs they held during the war. More women than in preceding generation’s began to work outside the home, but not on an equal basis with men. With their taste of economic independence came the taste of exploitation both as women and as workers. As workers they learned that rights can be won through collective union action, as women the lesson was not learned so quickly.
A new generation of women sense the boredom and bitterness of their mothers, They do not want to be confined to the same roles. They are trying to understand why it is that women are still expected to play subordinate roles.
There have always been myths which defined as the essence of the “true woman her natural” passivity and maternal instincts. While today’s elaboration of them may be more subtle, they are still unfounded haunting women as they are invoked to justify today’s norms.
Woman’s nature is usually explained in terms of her biology. She is passive in her sexual role; she receives the penis. Therefore, she desires to encircle and enclose rather than to extend to and to strive. Man’s sex, on the other hand, is activity itself, the symbol of strength, potency and dominance. Too often this metaphoric passivity is taken as literal truth. Freudian psychology and its popularly understood implications assume that what was thought, though not proven, true for Victorian German upper-middle class women is held to be universally-true. Freud’s concept of penis envy tells us that women are motivated primarily by the fact that they are not men. Erik Erikson, a favorite of social psychologist describes, “the basic modes of feminine inception and maternal inclusion” preparing women for the perceptive and acceptant traits of future motherhood. (Childhood and Society, pp.88-90). Only as people began to suspect that the “truths” were unsubstantiated did they begin to find that in fact women are
sexually as non-passive as men (see the Masters-Johnson study, The Human Sexual Response).
And then, why should function follow form? Even if women were by nature sexually passive, it hardly follows that they should be passive in other realms. But social institutions, historically created by men, have perpetuated the functional myths to justify their own position.
The Judaic-Christian Church teaches that to the extent that women are sexual creatures they are unclean, foul, “the doorway to the devil.” Yet, by regarding sex only as a duty, the pure chaste woman can attain a holiness denied to man. Embodying these myths are the harlot, the Virgin, (the latter to become a respectable woman). Both of them are socially useful, each subordinate to men, serving their needs.
Today’s family has institutionalized the myth with a new slant. The ideal woman is wife, mother, mistress, the playboy’s dream. She is to comfort and serve him under the guise of “modern free woman” that releases the man from guilt. She is still his woman, weak, gentle, submissive, emotional, sensitive, intuitive, unable to cope with the “world without a man”. She attains her identity through her husband and later through her children, whom she treats like private property; she’s hurt when they leave home because they are denying her of her identity.
Historically, there may have been an excuse for this role as part of a division of labor. Continuous pregnancies kept women physically weak and less mobile than men. Now that the pill enables people to control the timing and number of children they will have, the incessant childbearing role is a lame excuse for confining women to domestic chores. Educational institutions further perpetuate the myths. The liberal arts education: legitimates for men their right to control and manage the society. For women it is a waiting period in which they can find a husband and make themselves educated companions or introspective victims. Women are irrelevant to the decisions made in society, so this education they receive is irrelevant for preparing them to make such decisions. The situation is perpetuated because women are either excluded from academic consideration or else presented in shallow characterizations.
Evolving from the sexual myths and reinforcing them are the limiting and stereotyped of masculine feminine. A woman who does not conform to the notions of feminine as serving and supportive is deviant: masculine-castrating, shrewish, sluttish, frustrated, or frigid. Thus, nonconformist women are labeled and put in their place. As long as artificially constructed, mythically based images of masculine and feminine are the only alternative, both men and women are going to find conflict between their imposed sexual identity and their goals as human beings.
New myths are being created. They pay that women are better off than they have ever been…that a New Woman is emerging. She is middle class and liberated. She is able to have a family; yet, because of labor saving devices, she has much leisure time to devote to meaningful activity. A wide variety of consumer goods enable her to enjoy life on a scale never enjoyed before. These are the myths; what is the reality?
Although a large number of women do-work, it is usually in service occupation. And, even if women considered their jobs worthwhile, the jobs pay less than men’s and are low in status. According to statistics gathered by the Department of Labor in 1964, women are paid $5-10 less per week at the same jobs as men. The median annual income for white working men is $6497, for white women-$3859, for non-white men-$4285, women-$2674, Only 1% of these women make more than $10,000 per year and 1/4 those women own estates. While a radical movemen does not aim to integrate women into the male job structure, even less to encourage women to become business executives, weapons experts or advertising writers, it is important to note where discrimination exists. With the exception of those few who “make it in a man’s world” women are systematically excluded from science, business, and medicine law and academia. Most working women are low paid waitresses, secretaries, elementary school teachers, social workers, or nurses.
Some are in high paying occupations which exploit their femininity such as models, playboy bunnies, or exotic dancers.
The career woman image does not apply to the bulk of women workers who are stuck in low paying, tedious, dead-end positions. Neither does it apply to middle class white collar women-workers who are idealized by the media. We are supposed to believe that a career is glamourous because a woman dresses stylishly and serves men in such jobs as airline stewardess or New York secretary. The justification for channeling women into service occupations is that women are better servants. The excuse for keeping them put of high status occupations is that women are bad risks; they will marry and have kids. These are self-fulfilling prophesies. Women are raised to believe that they should serve and that they can’t have both a career and a family. Then, the smart thing to do is to find a man to support them. Society reinforces conditions by not providing enough child care centers, public all day nurseries; paid pregnancy leaves, shorter work days, etc. Why is there a new myth?
The mystique of the idealized New Woman has been generated in order to sell a lot of unnecessary products to a lot of bored, insecure, passive, frustrated women. Clothing and makeup are not just adornments, but become expressions of one’s very essence which is constantly being manipulated by the mass media.
Miss Clairol says: “Have you found the real you?” Some women never do. In fact, many women never make the most exciting discovery of all: They should have been born blonde. A host of other advertisers echo her statement. Styles change constantly, “new” products flood the market. Women must be made to want–no, need more and more things. The New Freedom for women is the freedom to buy and thereby support our market economy. Leisure time is time for consuming. Irrationally changing clothing styles would not be accepted in a society where priorities centered on human needs rather than on profit-making. In the United States, priority is put on automobiles and military equipment–goods which will produce the most profits, rather than on something socially necessary from a humane point of view, such as low cost decent housing for poor people. Passive, docile, accepting women are therefore, important to this system since their tasks as consumers can be manipulated. As long as work for most people, is meaningless
and unfulfilling and women are not expected to DO anything, women will have to gain identity, from what they buy, what they own and how they look.
What about sexual liberation…It would be nice if the mini-skirted girl in gay colors and way-out makeup really were a symbol for a new sexually liberated woman. Since women have been thought of primarily as sexual beings, it would be expected that their liberation would come through sex but those who have been “sexually liberated” have often merely adapted men’s attitudes towards sex. Women are still seen and see themselves as sexual objects and treat men in kind, taking pride in the number of conquests they make. This attitude is at best one of revenge for women’s own sexual exploitation. Women cannot liberate themselves through sex while in other important respects their social role remains unchanged.
The initial work of any new radical women’s group is to understand the realities and myths which relegate women to a subordinate role. Women come into the movement with two perspectives: either with a primary concern for women’s issues-as abortion, child day-care centers, or the desire to research, and discuss-in greater depth women’s position in society, or with a more general concern about political issues such as racism and the war. There is no contradiction between women’s issues and political issues for the movement for women’s liberation is a step toward changing the entire society. Women are not seeking equality in an unjust society, rather from an understanding of the basis of their own oppression they are developing programs for overall social change.
The common understanding, whichever the perspective, is that part of the way that women are oppressed is that they see their problems as personal ones and thus blame themselves. The first step in building a movement is to see that the problems are that men as individuals are not “the enemy”; rather “the enemy” is those social institutions and expectations prepetuated by and constraining members of both sexes. Radical women are not forming groups for the purpose of segregating themselves from men, but in order to focus on the means by which women can come to terms with those institutions.
There are now about 35 small radical women’s groups concentrated in a few cities. The programs develop according to the interests of the members. In groups where most of the women are in the radical movement, the first discussions often center on their role in the movement. From these talks comes the realization that as women they have been non radical, playing passive political roles as secretaries or administrative help rather than as strategic planners.
Though the original groups were just of young radical New Left women there are now groups of once non-political housewives, women now married to movement men who previously had no political of their own, college students, high school students. They want to share their understanding of their problems as women with other women. As they see the nature of other types of oppression-of the poor, of black people, and other movements of liberation—NLF, Black Power, etc.
Groups are undertaking action projects such as leafletting women factory workers about the war, high prices, and women’s wages. Some are fighting to change abortion laws and practices, setting up communal child care centers, forming drug and consumer co-ops. One university group is planning a student run course on women, for women. Others are setting up seminars on imperialism and other political issues. By discussing these serious political and intellectual questions in small groups with other women, inhibitions about females using their minds rationally can be overcome. Several groups are talking about running guerilla theater in stores and shopping centers to dramatize the war, high prices, and women’s role as consumer and servant.
Some are looking for ways to relate to the anti-war movement that will not be auxiliary. Women may set up and run coffee shops near army bases to talk with the GI’s, to see how they feel about the war, and to pose alternatives for them. Women may also try to organize wives of servicemen and women in the service or other women in the towns where bases are located. Some women are going door-to-door to talk with wives of working class men about the war, racism, and the presidential election. Many are planning for some activity around the Democratic Convention.
Talking about common problems in the context of the need for social change is in itself liberating. Creating programs such as these allows for the development of self-confidence, leadership and an analysis which widens the possible alternatives seen for women. Working on such issues, one develops a vision of and a movement for a society in which all people can define themselves without the awkward imposition of social roles.
The roots of the movement for women’s liberation were in the contradictions between the promise held out and the existence lived. The promise was for freedom and justice now. Instead there was oppression and injustice for all but a few. Once it seemed as though reforms such as civil rights bills, anti-draft legislation, the end of the wear in Vietnam, would in themselves bring justice. But unlike the feminists of the 1800’s, women now realize that America’s problems must be attacked at their root. For justice to come to black people there must be black economic and political self-determination. For an end to militarism there must be an end to control of society by business which profits only with the suppression of national wars of independence. For the true freedom of all women, there must be a restructuring of the institutions which perpetuate the myths and the subservience of their social situation.
It is the explicit consciousness of these hopes and analysis which lead us to fight for women’s liberation and the liberation of all people.
What Is Socialist Feminism? By: Barbara Ehrenreich
(Note: This article was first published in WIN Magazine in 1976. It later appeared in Working Papers on Socialism & Feminism published by the New American Movement (NAM) in 1976. NAM was a mixed gender organization heavily influenced by socialist feminism. A number of CWLUers were associated with it.)
At some level, perhaps not too well articulated, socialist feminism has been around for a long time. You are a woman in a capitalist society. You get pissed off: about the job, about the bills, about your husband (or ex), about the kids’ school, the housework, being pretty, not being pretty, being looked at, not being lok at (and either way, not listened to), etc. If you think about all these things and how they fit together and what has to be changed, and then you look around for some words to hold all these thoughts together in abbreviated form, you’d almost have to come up with “socialist feminism”.
A lot of us came to socialist feminism in just that kind of way. We were searching for a word/term/phrase which would begin to express all of our concerns, all of our principles, in a way that neither “socialist” nor “feminist” seemed to. I have to admit that most socialist feminists I know are not too happy with the term “socialist feminist” either. On the one hand it is too long (I have no hopes for a hyphenated mass movement); on the other hand it is much too short for what is, after all, really socialist internationalist anti-racist, anti-heterosexist feminism.
The trouble with taking a new label of any kind is that it creates an instant aura of sectarianism. “Socialist feminism” becomes a challenge, a mystery, an issue in and of itself. We have speakers, conferences, articles on “socialist feminism”–though we know perfectly well that both “socialism” and “feminism” are too huge and too inclusive to be subjects for any sensible speech, conference, article, etc. People, including avowed socialist feminists, ask themselves anxiously, “What is socialist feminism?” There is a kind of expectation that it is (or is about to be at any moment, maybe in the next speech, conference, or article) a brilliant synthesis of world historical proportions–an evolutionary leap beyond Marx, Freud, and Wollstonecraft. Or that it will turn out to be a nothing, a fad seized on by a few disgruntled feminists and female socialists, a temporary distraction.
I want to try to cut through some of the mystery which has grown tip around socialist feminism. A logical way to start is to look at socialism and feminism separately. How does a socialist, more precisely, a Marxist, look at the world? How does a feminist? To begin with, Marxism and feminism have an important thing in common: they are critical ways of looking at the world. Both rip away popular mythology and “common sense” wisdom and force us to look at experience in a new way. Both seek to understand the world–not in terms of static balances, symmetries, etc. (as in conventional social science)–but in terms of antagonisms. They lead to conclusions which are jarring and disturbing at the same time that they are liberating. There is no way to have a Marxist or feminist outlook and remain a spectator. To understand the reality laid bare by these analyses is to move into action to change it.
Marxism addresses itself to the class dynamics of capitalist society. Every social scientist knows that capitalist societies are characterized by more or less severe, systemic inequality. Marxism understands this inequality to arise from processes which are intrinsic to capitalism as an economic system. A minority of people (the capitalist class) own all the factories/energy sources/resources, etc. which everyone else depends on in order to live. The great majority (the working class) must work out of sheer necessity, under conditions set by the capitalists, for the wages the capitalists pay. Since the capitalists make their profits by paying less in wages than the value of what the workers actually produce, the relationship between the two classes is necessarily one of irreconcilable antagonism. The capitalist class owes its very existence to the continued exploitation of the working class. What maintains this system of class rule is, in the last analysis, force. The capitalist class controls (directly or
indirectly) the means of organized violence represented by the state–police, jails, etc. Only by waging a revolutionary struggle aimed at the seizure of state power can the working class free itself, and, ultimately, all people.
Feminism addresses itself to another familiar inequality. All human societies are marked by some degree of inequality between the sexes. If we survey human societies at a glance, sweeping through history and across continents, we see that they have commonly been characterized by: the subjugation of women to male authority, both with the family and in the community in general; the objectification of women as a form of property; a sexual division of labor in which women are confined to such activities as child raising, performing personal services for adult males, and specified (usually low prestige) forms of productive labor.
Feminists, struck by the near-universality of these things, have looked for explanations in the biological “givens” which underlie all human social existence. Men are physically stronger than women on the average, especially compared to pregnant women or women who are nursing babies. Furthermore, men have the power to make women pregnant. Thus, the forms that sexual inequality take–however various they may be from culture to culture–rest, in the last analysis, on what is clearly a physical advantage males hold over females. That is to say, they result ultimately on violence, or the threat of violence.
The ancient, biological root of male supremacy–the fact of male violence-is commonly obscured by the laws and conventions which regulate the relations between the sexes in any particular culture. But it is there, according to a feminist analysis. The possibility of male assault stands as a constant warning to “bad” (rebellious, aggressive) women, and drives “good” women into complicity with male supremacy. The reward for being “good” (“pretty”, submissive) is protection from random male violence and, in some cases, economic security.
Marxism rips away the myths about “democracy” and it pluralism to reveal a system of class rule that rests on forcible exploitation. Feminism cuts through myths about “instinct” and romantic love to expose male rule as a rule of force. Both analyses compel us to look at a fundamental injustice. The choice is to reach for the comfort of the myths or, as Marx put is, to work for a social order that does not require myths to sustain it.
It is possible to add up Marxism and feminism and call the sum “socialist feminism”. In fact, this is probably how most socialist feminists most of the time–as a kind of hybrid, pushing our feminism in socialist circles, our socialism in feminist circles. One trouble with leaving things like that, though, is that it keeps people wondering “Well, what is she really?” or demanding of us “What is the principal contradiction.” These kinds of questions, which sound so compelling and authoritative, often stop us in our tracks: “Make a choice!” “Be one or another!” But we know that there is a political consistency to socialist feminist. We are not hybrids or fencesitters.
To get to that political consistency we have to differentiate ourselves, as feminists, from other kinds of feminists, and, as Marxists, from other kinds of Marxists. We have to stake out a (pardon the terminology here) socialist feminist kind of feminism and a socialist feminist kind of socialism. Only then is there a possibility that things will “add up” to something more than an uneasy juxtaposition.
I think that most radical feminists and socialist feminists would agree with my capsule characterization of feminism as far as it goes. The trouble with radical feminism, from a socialist feminist point of view, is that it doesn’t go any farther. It remains transfixed with the universality of male supremacy-things have never really changed; all social systems are patriarchies; imperialism, militarism, and capitalism are all simply expressions of innate male aggressiveness. And so on.
The problem with this, from a socialist feminist point of view, is not only that it leaves out men (and the possibility of reconciliation with them on a truly human and egalitarian basis) but that it leaves out an awful lot about women. For example, to discount a socialist country such as China as a “patriarchy”-as I have heard radical feminists do–is to ignore the real struggles and achievements of millions of women. Socialist feminists, while agreeing that there is something timeless and universal about women’s oppression, have insisted that it takes different forms in different settings, and that the differences are of vital importance. There is a difference between a society in which sexism is expressed in the form of female infanticide and a society in which sexism takes the form of unequal representation on the Central Committee. And the difference is worth dying for.
One of the historical variations on the theme of sexism which ought to concern all feminists it the set of changes that came with the transition from an agrarian society to industrial captitalism. This is no academic issue. The social system which industrial capitalism replaced was in fact a patriarchal one, and I am using that term now in its original sense, to mean a system in which production is centered in the household and is presided over by the oldest male. The fact is that industrial capitalism came along and tore the rug out from under patriarchy. Production went into the factories and individuals broke off from the family to become “free” wage earners. To say that capitalism disrupted the patriarchal organization of production and family life is not, of course, to say that capitalism abolished male supremacy! But it is to say that the particular forms of sex oppression we experience today are, to a significant degree, recent developments. A huge historical discontinuity lies between us and true
patriarchy. If we are to understand our experience as women today, we must move to a consideration of capitalism as a system. There are obviously other ways I could have gotten to the same point. I could have simply said that, as feminists, we are most interested in the most oppressed women–poor and working class women, third world women, etc., and for that reason we are led to a need to comprehend and confront capitalism. I could have said that we need to address ourselves to the class system simply because women are members of classes. But I am trying to bring out something else about our perspective as feminists: there is no way to understand sexism as it acts on our lives without putting it in the historical context of capitalism.
I think most socialist feminists would also agree with the capsule summary of Marxist theory as far as it goes. And the trouble again is that there are a lot of people (I’ll call them “mechanical Marxists”) who do not go any further. To these people, the only “real” and imporant things that go on in capitalist society are those things that relate to the productive process or the conventional political sphere. From such a point of view, every other part of experience and social existence–things having to do with education, sexuality, recreation, the family, art, music, housework (you name it)–is peripheral to the central dynamics of social change; it is part of the “superstructure” or “culture”.
Socialist feminists are in a very different camp from what I am calling “mechanical Marxists”. We (along with many, many Marxists who are not feminists) see capitalism as a social and cultural totality. We understand that, in its search for markets, capitalism is driven to penetrate every nook and cranny of social existence. Especially in the phase of monopoly capitalism, the realm of consumption is every bit as important, just from an economic point of view, as the real of production. So we cannot understand class struggle as something confined to issues of wages and hours, or confined only to workplace issues. Class struggle occcurs in every arena where the interests of classes conflict, and that includes education, health, art, music, etc. We aim to transform not only the ownership of the means of production, but the totality of social existence.
As Marxists, we come to feminism from a completely different place than the mechanical Marxists. Because we see monopoly capitalism as a politial/economic/cultural totality, we have room within our Marxist framework for feminist issues which have nothing ostensibly to do with production or “politics”, issues that have to do with the family, health care, “private” life. Furthermore, in our brand of Marxism, there is no “woman question” because we never compartmentalized women off to the “superstructure” or somewhere in the first place. Marxists of a mechanical bent continually ponder the issue of the unwaged woman (the housewife): Is she really a member of the working class? That is, does she really produce surplus value? We say, of course housewives are members of the working class–not because we have some elaborate proof that they really do produce surplus value–but because we understand a class as being composed of people, and as having a social existence quite apart from the capitalist-dominated realm of production. When we think of class in this way, then we see that in fact the women who seemed most peripheral, the housewives, are at the very heart of their class-raising children, holding together families, maintaining the cultural and social networks of the community.
We are coming out of a kind of feminism and a kind of Marxism whose interests quite naturally flow together. I think we are in a position now to see why it is that socialist feminism has been so mystified: The idea of socialist feminism is a great mystery or paradox, so long as what you mean by socialism is really what I have called “mechanical Marxism” and what you mean by feminism is an historical kind of radical feminism. These things just don’t add up; they have nothing in common.
But if you put together another kind of socialism and another kind of feminism, as I have tried to define them, you do get some common ground and that is one of the most important things about socialist feminism today. It is a space-free from the constrictions of a truncated kind of feminism and a truncated version of Marxism–in which we can develop the kind of politics that addresses the political/economic/cultural totality of monopoly capitalist society. We could only go so far with the available kinds of feminism, the conventional kinds of Marxism, and then we had to break out to something that is not so restrictive and incomplete in its view of the world. We had to take a new name, “socialist feminism” in order to assert our determination to comprehend the whole of our experience and to forge a politics that reflects the totality of that comprehension.
However, I don’t want to leave socialist feminist theory as a “space” or common ground. Things are beginning to grow in that “ground”. We are closer to a synthesis in our understanding of sex and class, capitalism and male domination, then we were a few years ago. Here I will indicate only very sketchily one such line of thinking:
The Marxist/feminist understanding that class and sex domination rest ultimately on force is correct, and this remains the most devastating critique of sexist/capitalist society. But there is a lot to that “ultimately”. In a day to day sense, most people acquiesce to sex and class domination without being held in line by the threat of violence, and often without even the threat of material deprivation.
It is very important, then, to figure out what it is, if not the direct application of force, that keeps things going. In the case of class, a great deal has been written already about why the US working class lacks militant class consciousness. Certainly ethnic divisions, especially the black/white division, are a key part of the answer. But I would argue, in addition to being divided, the working class has been socially atomized. Working class neighborhoods have been destroyed and are allowed to decay; life has become increasingly privatized and inward-looking; skills once possessed by the working class have been expropriated by the capitalist class; and capitalist controlled “mass culture” has edged out almost all indigenous working class culture and institutions. Instead of collectively and self-reliance as a class, there is mutual isolation and collective dependency on the capitalist class.
The subjugation of women, in the ways which are characteristic of late capitalist society, has been key to this process of class atomization. To put it another way, the forces which have atomized working class life and promoted cultural/material dependence on the capitalist class are the same forces which have served to perpetuate the subjugation of women. It is women who are most isolated in what has become an increasingly privatized family existance (even when they work outside the home too). It is, in many key instances, women’s skills (productive skills, healing, midwifery, etc.) which have been discredited or banned to make way for commodities. It is, above all, women who are encouraged to be utterly passive/uncritical/dependent (i.e. “feminine”) in the face of pervasive capitalist penetration of private life. Historically, late capitalist penetration of working class life has singled out women as prime targets of pacification/”feminization” — because women are the culture-bearers of their class.
It follows that there is a fundamental interconnection between women’s struggle and what is traditionally conceived as class struggle. Not all women’s struggles have an inherently anti-capitalist thrust (particularly not those which seek only to advance the power and wealth of special groups of women) but all those which build collectivity and collective confidence among women are vitally important to the building of class consciousness. Conversely, not all class struggles have an inherently anti-sexist thrust (especially not those that cling to pre-industrial patriarchal values) but all those which seek to build the social and cultural autonomy of the working class are necessarily linked to the struggle for women’s liberation.
This, in very rough outline, is one direction which socialist feminist analysis is taking. No one is expecting a synthesis to emerge which will collapse socialist and feminist struggle into the same thing. The capsule summaries I gave earlier retain their “ultimate” truth: there are crucial aspects of capitalist domination (such as racial oppression) which a purely feminist perspective simply cannot account for or real with–without bizarre distortions, that is. There are crucial aspects of sex oppression (such as male violence within the family) which socialist thought has little insight into–again, not without a lot of stretching and distortion. Hence the need to continue to be socialists and feminists. But there is enough of a synthesis, both in what we think and what we do for us to begin to have a self-confident identity as socialist feminists.
Why I Want A Wife By: Judy Syfers (1971)
(Note: This classic piece of feminist humor appeared in the premier issue of Ms. Magazine and was widely circulated in the women’s movement.)
I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am A Wife.
And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother. Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I too, would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife?
I would like to go back to school so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and if need be, support those dependent on me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife a wife to keep track of the children’s doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children’s clothes and keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nuturing attendant to my children, who arranges for their schooling, making sure that they have an adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo, etc. I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife who arranges to be around when the children need special care, because, of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my
wife’s income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.
I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shopping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue care for me and when I need a rest and change of scene. I want a wife who will not bother me with rambling complaints about a wife’s duties. But I want a wife who will listen to me when I feel the need to
explain a rather difficult point I have come across in my course of studies. And I want a wife who will type my papers for me when I have written them.
I want a wife who will take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care of the baby-sitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to entertain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of the needs of my quests so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that they have an ashtray, that they are passed the hors d’oeuvres, that they offered a second helping of the food, that their wine glasses are replenished when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night out by myself.
I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes the complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more childen. I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy. I must, after all, be able to relate to people as fully as possible.
If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.
When I am through with school and have a job, I want my wife to quit working and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife’s duties.
My God, who wouldn’t want a wife?