Feminism Old Wave and New Wave

by Ellen DuBois (1971). A historical paper comparing the experiences of women in the abolitionist movement with the experiences of women in the New Left. by Ellen DuBois

(Editors 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:

  1. an analysis which tries to explain why and how women are oppressed,
  2. a vision of a society in which women are liberated and sex role stereotypes are obliterated,
  3. 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 to 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 abolitionist 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-slaveholdors -Sarah and Angelina Grimke --started to speak out publicly to mixed audiences against slavery. Yew England --and especially its clergy --was shocked at women lecturing to what it called "promiscuous audiences." Some male abolitionists, notably 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 l9th 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 that 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 statute 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 years 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 momentous 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 woman 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 out society, and that the oppression of women had crept into even the most radical political movements of the day# Then were started to raise questions about the oppression of women and the "proper spheres" (19th century) or "stereotyped 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 out own liberation, no one else will.

Perhaps two waves of feminism will be enough to free us.

Why I Want a Wife

by Judy Syfers (1971) A wickedly humorous introduction to the sex roles defined by conventional marriage.   A man named Adam Ayds wrote a 1995 answer to this essay which you may read HERE . 

by Judy Syfers (1971)

(Editors 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 upon 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 nurturing attendant to my children, who arranges for their schooling, makes 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 my 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 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 are 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 children. 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?

The Women's Liberation Movement

by Jo Freeman (1971) A history of the feminist movement in America told from the point of a view of a second wave feminist. by Jo Freeman

(Editors Note: Jo Freeman was the editor of the Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement , which may have been the first national women's liberation periodical. She was also a member of the Westside Group, one of the first women's liberation groups in the country and an early member of the CWLU. This article is her reflections upon the history of the women's liberation movement and first appeared in 1971.)
Sometime in the nineteen twenties, feminism died in the United States. It was a premature death. Feminists had only recently obtained their long sought for tool, the vote, with which they had hoped to make an equal place for women in this society. But it seemed like a final one. By the time the granddaughters of the women who had sacrificed so much for suffrage had grown to maturity, not only had social mythology firmly ensconced women in the home, but the very term "feminist" had become an epithet.

Social fact, however, did not always coincide with social mythology. During the era of the "feminine mystique" when the percentage of degrees given to women was dropping, their absolute numbers were rising astronomically. Their participation in the labor force was also increasing even while their position within it was declining. Opportunities to work, the trend toward smaller families, plus changes in statue symbols from a leisured wife at home to a second car and TV, all contributed to a basic alteration of the female labor force from one of primarily single women under 25 to one of married women and mothers over 40. Added to these developments was an increased segregation of the job market, a flooding of traditional female jobs (e.g. teaching and social work) by men, a decrease of women 'e percentage of the professional and technical jobs by a third and a commensurate decline in their relative income. The result was the creation of a class of highly educated, underemployed women.

In the early sixties feminism was still an unmentionable, but its ghost was slowly awakening from the dead. The first sign of new life came with the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women by President Kennedy in 1961. Created at the urging of Esther Petersen of the Women's Bureau, in its short life the Commission came out with several often radical reports thoroughly documenting women's second class status. It was followed by the formation of a citizen's advisory council and fifty state commissions.

Many of the people involved in these commissions became the nucleus of women who, dissatisfied with the lack of progress made on commission recommendations, joined with Betty Friedan in 1966 to found the National Organization for Women.

NOW was the first new feminist organization in almost fifty years, but it was not the sole beginning of the organized expression of the movement. The movement actually has two origins, from two different stratas of society, with two different styles, orientations, values, and forms of organization. In many ways there were two separate movements which only in the last year have merged sufficiently for the rubric "women's liberation" to be truly an umbrella term for the multiplicity of organizations and groups.

The first of these I call the older branch of the movement, partially because it began first, and partially because the median age of its activists is higher. In addition to NOW it contains such organizations as the PWC (Professional Women's Caucus), FEW (Federally Employed Women) and the self-defined "right wing" of the movement, WEAL (Women's Equity Action League).

The participants of both branches tend to be predominantly white, middle-class and college educated, but the composition of the older is much more heterogeneous than that of the younger. In issues, however, this trend is reversed with those of the younger being more diverse. While the written programs and aims of the older branch span a wide spectrum, their activities tend to be concentrated on the legal and economic difficulties women face. These groups are primarily made up of women who work and are substantially concerned with the problems of working women. Their style of organization has tended to be formal with numerous elected officers, boards of directors, bylaws and the other trappings of democratic procedure. All started as top down organizations lacking in a mass base. Some have subsequently developed a mass base, some have not yet done so, and others don't want to.

In 1967 and 1968, unaware of and unknown to NOW or the state commissions, the other branch of the movement was taking shape. Contrary to popular myth it did not begin on the campus; nor was it started by SDS. However, its activators were, to be trite, on the other side of the generation gap. While few were students, all were "under 30" and had received their political education as participants or concerned observers of the social action projects of the last decade. Many came direct from New Left and civil rights organizations where they had been shunted into traditional roles and faced with the self-evident contraction of working in a "freedom movement" but not being very free. Others had attended various courses on women in the multitude of free universities springing up around the country during those years.

At least five groups in five different cities (Chicago, Toronto, Detroit, Seattle and Gainesville, Fla.) formed spontaneously, independently of each other. They came at a very auspicious moment. 1967 was the year in which the blacks kicked the whites out of the civil rights movement, student power had been discredited by SDS and the New Left was on the wane. Only draft resistance activities were on the increase, and this movement more than any other exemplified the social inequities of the sexes. Men could resist the draft. Women could only council resistance.

There had been individual temporary caucuses and conferences of women as early as 1964 when Stokely Carmichael made his infamous remark that "the only position for women in SNCC is prone." But it was not until 1967 that the groups developed a determined, if cautious, continuity and began to consciously expand themselves. In 1968 they held their first, and so far only, national conference attended by over 200 women from around this country and Canada on less than a month's notice. They have been expanding exponentially ever since.

This expansion has been more amebic than organized because the younger branch of the movement prides itself on its lack of organization. Eschewing structure and damning the idea of leadership, it has carried the concept of "everyone doing their own thing" almost to its logical extreme. Thousands of sister chapters around the country are virtually independent of each other, linked only by the numerous journals, newsletters and cross country travelers. Some cities have a coordinating committee which attempts to maintain communication between the local groups and channel newcomers into appropriate ones but none have any power over group activities, let alone group ideas. One result of this style is a very broad based, creative movement, which individuals can relate to pretty much as they desire with no concern for orthodoxy or doctrine. Another result is a kind of political impotency. It is virtually impossible to coordinate a national action, assuming there could be any agreement on issues around which to coordinate one. Fortunately, the older branch of the movement does have the structure necessary to coordinate such actions, and is usually the one to initiate them as NOW did for the August 26 national strike last year.

It is a common mistake to try to place the various feminist organizations on the traditional left/right spectrum. The terms "reformist" and "radical" are convenient and fit into our preconceived notions about the nature of political organization, but they tell us nothing of relevance. As with most everything else, feminism cuts through the normal categories and demands new perspectives in order to be understood. Some groups often called "reformist" have a platform which would so completely change our society it would be unrecognizable. Other groups called "radical" concentrate on the traditional female concerns of love, sex, children and interpersonal relationships (although with untraditional views). The activities of the organizations are similarly incongruous. The most typical division of labor, ironically, is that those groups labeled "radical" engage primarily in educational work while the so-called "reformist" ones are the activists. It is structure and style rather than ideology which more accurately differentiates the various groups and even here there has been much borrowing on both sides. The older branch has used the traditional forms of political action often with great skill, while the younger branch has been experimental.

The most prevalent innovation developed by the younger branch has been the "rap group." Essentially an educational technique, it has spread far beyond its origins and become a mayor organizational unit of the whole movement, most frequently used by suburban housewives. From a sociological perspective the rap group is probably the most valuable contribution so far by the women 's liberation movement to the tools for social change.

The rap group serves two main purposes. One is traditional; the other is unique. The traditional role is the simple process of bringing women together in a situation of structured interaction. It has long been known that people can be kept down as long as they are kept divided from each other, relating more to those in a superior social position than to those in a position similar to their own. It is when social development creates natural structures in which people can interact with each other and compare their common concerns that social movements take place. This is the function that the factory served for the workers, the church for the Southern Civil Rights movement, the campus for students and the Ghetto for urban blacks.

Women have been largely deprived of a means of structured interaction and been kept isolated in their individual homes relating more to men than to each other. Natural structures are still largely lacking, though they have begun to develop, but the rap group has created an artificial structure which does much the same thing. This phenomenon was similar to the nineteenth century development of a multitude of women's clubs and organizations around every conceivable social and political purpose. These organizations taught women political skills and eventually served as the primary communications network for the spread of the suffrage movement. Yet after the great crusade ended most of them vanished or became moribund. The rap groups are taking their place and will serve much the same function for the future development of this movement.

They do more than just bring women together as radical an activity as that may be. The rap groups have become mechanisms for social change in and of themselves. They are structures created specifically for the purpose of altering the participants perceptions and conceptions of themselves and society at large. The means by which this is done is called "consciousness raising." The process is very simple. Women come together in groups of five to fifteen and talk to each other about their personal problems, personal experiences personal feelings and personal concerns. From this public sharing of experiences comes the realization that what was thought to be individual is in fact common; that what was thought to be a personal problem has a social cause and probably a political solution. Women learn to see how social structures and attitudes have molded them from birth and limited their opportunities. They ascertain the extent to which women have been denigrated in this society and how they have developed prejudices against themselves and other women.

It is this process of deeply personal attitude change that makes the rap group such a powerful tool. The need of a movement to develop "correct consciousness" has long been known. But usually this consciousness is not developed by means intrinsic to the structure of the movement and does not require such a profound resocialization of one's concept of self. This experience is both irreversible and contagious. Once one has gone through such a "resocialization", one's view of oneself and the world is never the same again, whether or not there is further active participation in the movement. Even those who do "drop out" rarely do so without first spreading feminist ideas among their own friends and colleagues. All who undergo "consciousness raising" virtually compel themselves to seek out other women with whom to share the experience, and thus begin new rap groups.

There are several personal results from this process. The initial one is a decrease of self and group depreciation. Women come to see themselves as essentially pretty groovy people. Along with this comes the explosion of the myth of individual solution. If women are the way they are, because society has made them that way, they can only change their lives significantly by changing society. These feelings in turn create the consciousness of oneself as a member of a group and the feeling of solidarity so necessary to any social movement. From this comes the concept of sisterhood.

This need for group solidarity partially explains why men have been largely excluded from the rap groups. It was not the initial reason, but it has been one of the more beneficial byproducts. Originally, the idea was borrowed from the Black Power movement, much in the public consciousness when the women's liberation movement began. It was reinforced by the unremitting hostility of most of the New Left men at the prospect of an independent women's movement not tied to radical organizations. Even when this hostility was not present, women in virtually every group in the U.S., Canada and Europe soon discovered that the traditional sex roles reasserted themselves in the groups regardless of the good intentions of the participants. Men inevitably dominated the discussions, and usually would talk only about how women's liberation related to men, or how men were oppressed by the sex roles. In segregated groups women found the discussions to be more open, honest and extensive. They could learn how to relate to other women and not just to men.

Unlike the male exclusion policy, the rap groups did not develop spontaneously or without a struggle. The political background of many of the early feminists of the younger branch predisposed them against the rap group as "unpolitical" and they would condemn discussion meetings which "degenerated" into "bitch sessions." This trend was particularly strong in Chicago and Washington, D. C. which had been centers of New Left activity. Meanwhile, other feminists, usually with a civil rights or apolitical background, saw that the "bitch session" obviously met a basic need. They seized upon it and created the consciousness raising rap group. Developed initially in New York and Gainesville, Fla., the idea soon spread throughout the country becoming the paradigm for most movement organization.

To date, the major, though hardly exclusive, activity of the younger branch has been organizing rap groups, putting on conferences, and putting out educational literature, while that of the older branch has been using the "channels" and other forma of political pressure to change specific situations in inequity. In general, the younger branch has been organized to attack attitudes and the older branch to attack structures.

While the rap groups have been excellent techniques for changing individual attitudes they have not been very successful in dealing with social institutions. Their loose informal structure encourages participation in discussion and their supportive atmosphere elicits personal insight; but neither is very efficient in handling specific tasks. Thus, while they have been of fundamental value to the development of t he movement it is the more structured groups which are the more visibly effective.

Individual rap groups tend to flounder when their members have exhausted the virtues of consciousness raising and decide they want to do something more concrete. The problem is that most groups are unwilling to change their structure when they change their tasks. They have accepted the ideology of "structurelessness" without realizing the limitations of its uses. This is currently causing an organizational crisis within the movement because the formation of rap groups as a major movement function is becoming obsolete. Due to the intense press publicity that began in the fall of 1969, as well as the numerous "overground" books and articles now being circulated, women's liberation has become practically a household word. Its issues are discussed and informal rap groups formed by people who have-no explicit connection with any movement group. Ironically, this subtle, silent and subversive spread of feminist consciousness is causing a situation of political unemployment. With educational work no longer such an overwhelming need women's liberation groups have to develop new forms of organizations to deal with new tasks in a new stage of development. This is necessitating a good deal of retrenchment and rethinking. Cities undergoing this process often give the impression of inactivity and only time will tell what will be the result.

Initially there was little ideology in the movement beyond a something feeling that something was wrong. NOW was formed under the slogan "full equality for women in a truly equal partnership with men" and specified eight demands in a "Bill of Rights." It and the other organizations of the older branch have continued to focus around concrete issues feeling that attempts at a comprehensive ideology have little to offer beyond internal conflict.

In the younger branch a basic difference of opinion developed quite early. It was disguised as a philosophical difference, was articulated and acted on as a strategic one, but actually was more of a political disagreement than anything else. The two sides involved were essentially the same people who differed over the rap groups, but the split endured long after the groups became ubiquitous. The original issue was whether the fledging women's liberation movement would remain a branch of the radical left movement, or be an independent women's movement. Proponents became known as "politicos" or "feminists" respectively and traded arguments about whether "capitalism was the enemy", or the male-dominated social institutions and values. They also traded a few epithets with politicos calling feminists politically unsophisticated and elitist, while in turn being accused of subservience to the interests of left wing men.

With the influx of large numbers of previously apolitical women an independent, autonomous women's liberation movement became a reality instead of an argument. The spectrum shifted to the feminist direction, but the basic difference in orientation still remained. Politicos now also call themselves feminists, and many have left the left, but most see women's issues within a broader political context while the original feminists continue to focus almost exclusively on women's concerns. Although much of the bitterness of the original dispute has subsided, politicos generated such distrust about their motives that they prejudiced many women against all concerns of Left ideology. This has led some feminists to the very narrow outlook that politicos most feared they would adopt.

Meanwhile, faced with a female exodus, the radical left movement has forsaken the rhetoric of its original opposition without relinquishing most of its sexist practices. Embracing the position that women are a constituency to be organized, most New Left (and some Old Left) organizations have created women's caucuses to recruit women to "more important activities." These are very different from the women's caucuses of the professional associations that have also mushroomed into existence. The latter are concerned with raising feminist issues within their organizations. The New Left women's groups serve much the same function as traditional ladies auxiliaries.

The widely differing backgrounds and perspectives of the women in the movement have resulted in as many different interpretations of women's status. Some are more developed than others, and some are more publicized, yet as of 1971 there is no comprehensive set of beliefs which can accurately be labeled women's liberationist, feminist, neofeminist or radical feminist ideology. At best one can say there is general agreement on two theoretical concerns. The first is the feminist critique of society, and the second is the idea of oppression.

The feminist critique starts from entirely different premises than the traditional view and therefore neither can really refute the other. The latter assumes that men and women are essentially different and should serve different social functions. Their diverse roles and statuses simply reflect these essential differences. The feminist perspective starts from the premise that women and men are constitutionally equal and share the same human capabilities. Observed differences therefore demand a critical analysis of the social institutions which cause then.

The concept of oppression brings into use a term which has long been avoided out of a feeling that it was too rhetorical. But there was no convenient euphemism and discrimination was inadequate to describe what happens to women and what they have in common with other groups. As long as the word remained illegitimate, so did the idea and it was too valuable not to use. It is still largely an undeveloped concept in which the details have not been sketched, but there appear to be two aspects to oppression which relate much the same as two sides of a coin—-distinct, yet inseparable. The social structural manifestations are easily visible as they are reflected in the legal, economic, social and political institutions. The social psychological ones are often intangible; hard to grasp and hard to alter. Group just and distortion of perceptions to justify a preconceived interpretation of reality are just some of the factors being teased out.

For women, sexism describes the specificity of female oppression. Starting from the traditional belief of the difference between the sexes, sexism embodies two core concepts.

The first is that men are more important than women. Not necessarily superior—we are far too sophisticated these days than to use those tainted terms—but more important, more significant, more valuable, more worthwhile. This value justifies the idea that it is more important for a man, the "breadwinner", to have a job or a promotion, than a women, more important for a man to be paid well, more important for a man to have an education and in general to have preference over a women. It is the basis of the feeling by men that if women enter a particular occupation they will degrade it and that men must leave or be themselves degraded, and the feeling by women that they can raise the prestige of their professions by recruiting men, which they can only do by giving them the better jobs. From this value comes the attitude that a husband must earn more than his wife or suffer a loss of personal status and a wife must subsume her interests to his or be socially castigated. From this value comes the practice of rewarding men for serving in the armed forces and punishing women for having children. The first core concept of sexist thought is that men do the important work in the world and the work done by men is what is important.

The second core concept is that women are here for the pleasure and assistance of men. This is what is meant when women are told that their role is complementary to that of men; that they should fulfill their natural "feminine" functions; that they are "different" from men and should not compete with them. From this concept comes the attitude that women are and should be dependent on men; for everything but especially their identities, the social definition of who they are. It defines the few roles for which women are socially rewarded—wife, mother and mistress—all of which are pleasing or beneficial to men, and leads directly to the "pedestal" theory which extols women who stay in their place as good helpmates to men.

It is this attitude which stigmatizes those women who do not marry or who do not devote their primary energies to the care of men and their children. Association with a man is the basic criterion for participation by women in this society and one who does not seek her identity through a man is a threat to the social values. It is similarly this attitude which causes women's liberation activists to be labeled as man haters for exposing the nature of sexism. People feel that a woman not devoted to looking after men must act this way because of hatred or inability to "catch" one. The second core concept of sexist thought is that women's identities are defined by their relationship to men and their social value by that of the men they are related to.

The sexism of our society is so pervasive that we are not even aware of all its inequities. Unless one has developed a sensitivity to its workings, by adopting a self-consciously contrary view, its activities are accepted as "normal" and justified with little question. People are said to "choose" what in fact they never thought about. a good example is what happened during and after World War II. The sudden onslaught of the war radically changed the whole structure of social relationships as well as the economy. Men were drafted into the army and women into the labor force. Now desperately needed, women's wants were provided for as were those of the boys on the front. Federal financing of day care centers in the form of the Landham Act passed Congress in a record two weeks. Special crash training programs were provided for the new women workers to give them skills they were not previously thought capable of exercising. Women instantly assumed positions of authority and responsibility unavailable only the year before.

But what happened when the war ended? Both men and women had heeded their country's call to duty to bring it to a successful conclusion. Yet men were rewarded for their efforts and women punished for theirs. The returning soldiers were given the G.I. Bill and other veterans benefits, as well as their jobs back and a disproportionate share of the new ones crested by the war economy. Women, on the other hand, saw their child care centers dismantled and their training programs cease. They were fired or demoted in droves and often found it difficult to enter colleges flooded with those matriculating on government money. Is it any wonder that they heard the message that their place was in the home? Where else could they go?

The eradication of sexism and the practices it supports, like those above, is obviously one of the major goals of the women's liberation movement. But it is not enough to destroy a set of values and leave a normative vacuum. They have to be replaced with something. A movement can only begin by declaring its opposition to the status quo. Eventually if it is to succeed, it has to propose an alternative.

I cannot pretend to be even partially definitive about the possible alternatives contemplated by the numerous participants in the women's liberation movement. Yet from the plethora of ideas and visions feminists have thought, discussed and written about, I think there are two basic ideas emerging which express the bulk of their concerns. I call these the Egalitarian Ethic and the Liberation Ethic, but they are not independent of each other and together they mesh into what can only be described as a feminist humanism.

The Egalitarian Ethic means exactly what it says. The sexes are equal; therefore sex roles must go. Our history has proven that institutionalized difference inevitably means inequity and sex role stereotypes have long since become anachronistic. Strongly differentiated sex roles were rooted in the ancient division of labor; their basis has been torn apart by modern technology. Their justification was rooted in the subjection of women to the reproductive cycle. That has already been destroyed by modern pharmacology. The cramped little categories of personality and social function to which we assign people from birth must be broken open so that all people can develop independently, as individuals. This means that there will be an integration of social functions and life styles of men and women as group until, ideally, one cannot tell anything of relevance about a person's social role by knowing their sex. But this increased similarity of the two groups also means increased options for individuals and increased diversity in the human race. No longer will there be men's work and women's work. No longer will humanity suffer a schizophrenic personality desperately trying to reconcile its "masculine" and "feminine" parts. No longer will marriage be the institution where two half-people come together in hopes of making a whole.

The Liberation Ethic says this is not enough. Not only must the limits of the roles be changed, but their content as well. The Liberation Ethic looks at the kinds of lives currently being led by men as well as women and concludes that both are deplorable and neither are necessary. The social institutions which oppress women as women, also oppress people as people and can be altered to make a more humane existence for all. So much of our society is hung upon the framework of sex role stereotypes and their reciprocal functions that the dismantling of this structure will provide the opportunity for making a more viable life for everyone.

It is important to stress that these two Ethics must work together in tandem. If the first is emphasized over the second, then we have a women's right movement, not one of women's liberation. To seek for only equality, given the current male bias of the social values, is to assume that women want to be like men or that men are worth emulating. It is to demand that women be allowed to participate in society as we know it, to get their piece of the pie, without questioning the extent to which that society is worth participating in. This view is held by some, but most feminists today find it inadequate. Those women who are more personally compatible in what is considered the one role must realize that that role is made possible only by the existence of the female sex role; in other words, only the subjection of women. Therefore women cannot become equal to men without the destruction of those two interdependent mutably parasitic roles. The failure to realize that the integration of the sex roles and the equality of the sexes will inevitably lead to basic structural change is to fail to seize the opportunity to decide the direction of those changes.

It is just as dangerous to fall into the trap of seeking liberation without due concern for equality. This is the mistake made by many of the left radicals. They find the general human condition to be wretched that they feel everyone should devote their energies to the Millennial Revolution in belief that the liberation of women will follow naturally the liberation of people.

However women have yet to be defined as people, even among the radicals, and it is erroneous to assume their interests are identical to those of men. For women to subsume their concerns once again is to insure that the promise of liberation will be a spurious one. There has yet to be created or conceived by any political or social theorist a revolutionary society in which women were equal to men and their needs duly considered. The sex role structure has never been comprehensively challenged by any male philosopher and the systems they have proposed have all presumed the existence of a sex-role structure to some degree.

Such undue emphasis on the Liberation Ethic has also often led to a sort of Radical Paradox. This is a situation the politicos frequently found themselves in during the early days of the movement. They found repugnant the possibility of pursuing "reformist" issues which might be achieved without altering the basic nature of the system, and thus, they felt, only strengthen the system. However, their search for a sufficiently radical action and/or issue came to naught and they found themselves unable to do anything out of fear that it might be counterrevolutionary. Inactive revolutionaries are a good deal more innocuous than active "reformists."

But even among those who are not rendered impotent, the unilateral pursuit of Liberation can take its toll. Some radical women have been so appalled at the condition of most men, and the possibility of becoming even partially what they are, that they have clung to the security of the role that they know, to wait complacently for the Revolution to liberate everyone. Some men, fearing that role reversal was a goal of the women's liberation movement, have taken a similar position. Both have failed to realize that the abolition of sex roles must be continually incorporated into any radical restructuring of society and thus have failed to explore the possible consequences of such role integration. The goal they advocate may be one of liberation, but it dose not involve women's liberation.

Separated from each other, the Egalitarian Ethic and the Liberation Ethic can be crippling, but together they can be a very powerful force. Separately they speak to limited interests; together they speak to all humanity. Separately, they are but superficial solutions; together they recognize that while sexism oppresses women, it also limits the potentiality of men. Separately, neither will be achieved because their scope does not range far enough; together they provide a vision worthy of our devotion. Separately, these two Ethics do not lead to the liberation of women; together, they also lead to the liberation of men. 

(c) Copyright 1971 by Freeman

This document was obtained by the Herstory Project from the Women's Studies Resources | Duke Special Collections Library-A project of The Digital Scriptorium, Special Collections Library, Duke University.
http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm . Please contact this collection for information about reproducing this article.

The BITCH Manifesto

by Jo Freeman (1972) An analysis of how strong independent women are viewed in our society. by Jo Freeman

(Editors Note: Jo Freeman was the editor of the Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement, which may have been the first national women's liberation periodical. This article is her reflections upon how strong women are perceived in a sexist society and first appeared in 1971.)  

...man is defined as a human being and woman is defined as a female. Whenever she tries to behave as a human being she is accused of trying to emulate the male...
Simone de Beauvoir

BITCH is an organization which does not yet exist. The name is not an acronym. It stands for exactly what it sounds like.

BITCH is composed of Bitches. There are many definitions of a bitch. The most complimentary definition is a female dog. Those definitions of bitches who are also homo sapiens are rarely as objective. They vary from person to person and depend strongly on how much of a bitch the definer considers herself. However, everyone agrees that a bitch is always a female, dog, or otherwise.

It is also generally agreed that a Bitch is aggressive, and therefore unfeminine (ahem). She may be sexy, in which case she becomes a Bitch Goddess, a special case which will not concern us here. But she is never a "true woman."

Bitches have some or all of the following characteristics.

  1. Personality. Bitches are aggressive, assertive, domineering, overbearing, strong-minded, spiteful, hostile, direct, blunt, candid, obnoxious, thick-skinned, hard-headed, vicious, dogmatic, competent, competitive, pushy, loud-mouthed, independent, stubborn, demanding, manipulative, egoistic, driven, achieving, overwhelming, threatening, scary, ambitious, tough, brassy, masculine, boisterous, and turbulent. Among other things. A Bitch occupies a lot of psychological space. You always know she is around. A Bitch takes shit from no one. You may not like her, but you cannot ignore her.
  2. Physical. Bitches are big, tall, strong, large, loud, brash, harsh, awkward, clumsy, sprawling, strident, ugly. Bitches move their bodies freely rather than restrain, refine and confine their motions in the proper feminine manner. They clomp up stairs, stride when they walk and don't worry about where they put their legs when they sit. They have loud voices and often use them. Bitches are not pretty.
  3. Orientation. Bitches seek their identity strictly thru themselves and what they do. They are subjects, not objects. They may have a relationship with a person or organization, but they never marry anyone or anything; man, mansion, or movement. Thus Bitches prefer to plan their own lives rather than live from day to day, action to action, or person to person. They are independent cusses and believe they are capable of doing anything they damn well want to. If something gets in their way; well, that's why they become Bitches. If they are professionally inclined, they will seek careers and have no fear of competing with anyone. If not professionally inclined, they still seek self-expression and self-actualization. Whatever they do, they want an active role and are frequently perceived as domineering. Often they do dominate other people when roles are not available to them which more creatively sublimate their energies and utilize their capabilities. More often they are accused of domineering when doing what would be considered natural by a man.

A true Bitch is self-determined, but the term "bitch" is usually applied with less discrimination. It is a popular derogation to put down uppity women that was created by man and adopted by women. Like the term "rigger," "bitch" serves the social function of isolating and discrediting a class of people who do not conform to the socially accepted patterns of behavior.

BITCH does not use this word in the negative sense. A woman should be proud to declare she is a Bitch, because Bitch is Beautiful. It should be an act of affirmation by self and not negation by others. Not everyone can qualify as a Bitch. One does not have to have all of the above three qualities, but should be well possessed of at least two of them to be considered a Bitch. If a woman qualifies in all three, at least partially, she is a Bitch's Bitch. Only Superbitches qualify totally in all three categories and there are very few of those. Most don't last long in this society.

The most prominent characteristic of all Bitches is that they rudely violate conceptions of proper sex role behavior. They violate them in different ways, but they all violate them. Their attitudes towards themselves and other people, their goal orientations, their personal style, their appearance and way of handling their bodies, all jar people and make them feel uneasy. Sometimes it's conscious and sometimes it's not, but people generally feel uncomfortable around Bitches. They consider them aberrations. They find their style disturbing. So they create a dumping ground for all who they deplore as bitchy and call them frustrated women.

Frustrated they may be, but the cause is social not sexual. What is disturbing about a Bitch is that she is androgynous. She incorporates within herself qualities traditionally defined as "masculine" as well as "feminine". A Bitch is blunt, direct, arrogant, at times egoistic. She has no liking for the indirect, subtle, mysterious ways of the "eternal feminine." She disdains the vicarious life deemed natural to women because she wants to live a life of her own.

Our society has defined humanity as male, and female as something other than male. In this way, females could be human only by living vicariously thru a male. To be able to live, a woman has to agree to serve, honor, and obey a man and what she gets in exchange is at best a shadow life. Bitches refuse to serve, honor or obey anyone. They demand to be fully functioning human beings, not just shadows. They want to be both female and human. This makes them social contradictions. The mere existence of Bitches negates the idea that a woman's reality must come thru her relationship to a man and defies the belief that women are perpetual children who must always be under the guidance of another.

Therefore, if taken seriously, a Bitch is a threat to the social structures which enslave women and the social values which justify keeping them in their place. She is living testimony that woman's oppression does not have to be, and as such raises doubts about the validity of the whole social system. Because she is a threat she is not taken seriously. Instead, she is dismissed as a deviant. Men create a special category for her in which she is accounted at least partially human, but not really a woman. To the extent to which they relate to her a a human being, they refuse to relate to her as a sexual being. Women are even more threatened because they cannot forget she is a woman. They are afraid they will identify with her too closely. She has a freedom and an independence which they envy and challenges them to forsake the security of their chains. Neither men nor women can face the reality of a Bitch because to do so would force them to face the corrupt reality of themselves. She is dangerous. So they dismiss her as a freak.

This is the root of her own oppression as a woman. Bitches are not only oppressed as women, they are oppressed for not being like women. Because she has insisted on being human before being feminine, on being true to herself before kowtowing to social pressures, a Bitch grows up an outsider. Even as girls, Bitches violated the limits of accepted sex role behavior. They did not identify with other women and few were lucky enough to have an adult Bitch serve as a role model. They had to make their own way and the pitfalls this uncharted course posed contributed to both their uncertainty and their independence.

Bitches are good examples of how women can be strong enough to survive even the rigid, punitive socialization of our society. As young girls it never quite penetrated their consciousness that women were supposed to be inferior to men in any but the mother/helpmate role. They asserted themselves as children and never really internalized the slave style of wheedling and cajolery which is called feminine. Some Bitches were oblivious to the usual social pressures and some stubbornly resisted them. Some developed a superficial feminine style and some remained tomboys long past the time when such behavior is tolerated. All Bitches refused, in mind and spirit, to conform to the idea that there were limits on what they could be and do. They placed no bounds on their aspirations or their conduct.

For this resistance they were roundly condemned. They were put down, snubbed, sneered at, talked about, laughed at and ostracized. Our society made women into slaves and then condemned them for acting like slaves. It was all done very subtly. Few people were so direct as to say that they did not like Bitches because they did not play the sex role game.

In fact, few were sure why they did not like Bitches. They did not realize that their violation of the reality structure endangered the structure. Somehow, from early childhood on, some girls didn't fit in and were good objects to make fun of. But few people consciously recognized the root of their dislike. The issue was never confronted. If it was talked about at all, it was done with snide remarks behind the young girl's back. Bitches were made to feel that there was something wrong with them; something personally wrong.

Teenage girls are particularly vicious in the scapegoat game. This is the time of life when women are told they must compete the hardest for the spoils (i.e. men) which society allows. They must assert their femininity or see it denied. They are very unsure of themselves and adopt the rigidity that goes with uncertainty. They are hard on their competitors and even harder on those who decline to compete. Those of their peers who do not share their concerns and practice the arts of charming men are excluded from most social groupings. If she didn't know it before, a Bitch learns during these years that she is different.

As she gets older she learns more about why she is different. As Bitches begin to take jobs, or participate in organizations, they are rarely content to sit quietly and do what they are told. A Bitch has a mind of her own and wants to use it. She wants to rise high, be creative, assume responsibility. She knows she is capable and wants to use her capabilities. This is not pleasing to the men she works for, which is not her primary goal.

When she meets the hard brick wall of sex prejudice she is not compliant. She will knock herself out batting her head against the wall because she will not accept her defined role as an auxiliary. Occasionally she crashes her way thru. Or she uses her ingenuity to find a loophole, or creates one. Or she is ten times better than anyone else competing with her. She also accepts less than her due. Like other women her ambitions have often been dulled for she has not totally escaped the badge of inferiority placed upon the "weaker sex." She will often espouse contentment with being the power behind the throne -provided that she does have real power -while rationalizing that she really does not want the recognition that comes with also having the throne. Because she has been put down most of her life, both for being a woman and for not being a true woman, a Bitch will not always recognize that what she has achieved is not attainable by the typical woman. A highly competent Bitch often deprecates herself by refusing to recognize her own superiority. She is wont to say that she is average or less so; if she can do it, anyone can.

As adults, Bitches may have learned the feminine role, at least the outward style but they are rarely comfortable in it. This is particularly true of those women who are physical Bitches. They want to free their bodies as well as their minds and deplore the effort they must waste confining their physical motions or dressing the role in order not to turn people off. Too, because they violate sex role expectations physically, they are not as free to violate them psychologically or intellectually. A few deviations from the norm can be tolerated but too many are too threatening. It's bad enough not to think like a woman, sound like a woman or do the kinds of things women are supposed to do. To also not look like a woman, move like a woman or act like a woman is to go way beyond the pale. Ours is a rigid society with narrow limits placed on the extent of human diversity. Women in particular are defined by their physical characteristics. Bitches who do not violate these limits are freer to violate others. Bitches who do violate them in style or size can be somewhat envious of those who do not have to so severely restrain the expansiveness of their personalities and behavior. Often these Bitches are tortured more because their deviancy is always evident .But they do have a compensation in that large Bitches have a good deal less difficulty being taken seriously than small women. One of the sources of their suffering as women is also a source of their strength.

The trial by fire which most Bitches go thru while growing up either makes them or breaks them. They are strung tautly between the two poles of being true to their own nature or being accepted as a social being. This makes them very sensitive people, but it is a sensitivity the rest of the world is unaware of. For on the outside they have frequently grown a thick defensive callous which can make them seem hard and bitter at times. This is particularly true of those Bitches who have been forced to become isolates in order to avoid being remade and destroyed by their peers. Those who are fortunate enough to have grown up with some similar companions, understanding parents, a good role model or two and a very strong will, can avoid some of the worse aspects of being a Bitch. Having endured less psychological punishment for being what they were they can accept their differentness with the ease that comes from self-confidence.

Those who had to make their way entirely on their own have an uncertain path. Some finally realize that their pain comes not just because they do not conform but because they do not want to conform. With this comes the recognition that there is nothing particularly wrong with them they just don't fit into this kind of society. Many eventually learn to insulate themselves from the harsh social environment. However, this too has its price. Unless they are cautious and conscious, the confidence gained in this painful manner - with no support from their sisters -is more often a kind of arrogance. Bitches can become so hard and calloused that the last vestiges of humanity become buried deep within and almost destroyed.

Not all Bitches make it. Instead of callouses, they develop open sores. Instead of confidence they develop an unhealthy sensitivity to rejection. Seemingly tough on the outside, on the inside they are a bloody pulp, raw from the lifelong verbal whipping they have had to endure. These are Bitches who have gone Bad. They often go around with a chip on their shoulders and use their strength for unproductive retaliation when some-some accepts their dare to knock it off . These Bitches can be very obnoxious because they never really trust people. They have not learned to use theirs strength constructively .

Bitches who have been mutilated as human beings often turn their fury on other people -particularly other women. This is one example of how women are trained to keep themselves and other women in their place. Bitches are no less guilty than non-Bitches of self-hatred and group-hatred and those who have gone Bad suffer the worse of both these afflictions. All Bitches are scapegoats and those who have not survived the psychological gauntlet are the butt of everyone's disdain. As a group, Bitches are treated by other women much as women in general are treated by society - all right in their place, good to exploit and gossip about, but otherwise to be ignored or put down. They are threats to the traditional woman's position and they are also an outgroup to which she can feel superior. Most women feel both better than and jealous of Bitches. While comforting themselves that they are not like these aggressive, masculine freaks, they have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps men, the most important thing in their lives, do find the freer, more assertive, independent, Bitch preferable as a woman.

Bitches, likewise, don't care too much for other women. They grow up disliking other women. They can't relate to them, they don't identify with them, they have nothing in common with them. Other women have been the norm into which they have not fit. They reject those who have rejected them. This is one of the reasons Bitches who are successful in hurdling the obstacles society places before women scorn these women who are not. They tend to feel those who can take it will make it. Most women have been the direct agents of much of the shit Bitches have had to endure and few of either group has had the political consciousness to realize why this is. Bitches have been oppressed by other women as much if not more than by men and their hatred for them is usually greater.

Bitches are also uncomfortable around other women because frequently women are less their psychological peers than are men. Bitches don't particularly like passive people. They are always slightly afraid they will crush the fragile things. Women are trained to be passive and have learned to act that way even when they are not. A Bitch is not very passive and is not comfortable acting that role. But she usually does not like to be domineering either - whether this is from natural distaste at dominating others or fear of seeming too masculine. Thus a Bitch can relax and be her natural non-passive self without worrying about macerating someone only in the company of those who are as strong as she. This is more frequently in the company of men than of women but those Bitches who have not succumbed totally to self-hatred are most comfortable of all only in the company of fellow Bitches. These are her true peers and the only ones with whom she does not have to play some sort of role. Only with other Bitches can a Bitch be truly free.

These moments come rarely. Most of the time Bitches must remain psychologically isolated. Women and men are so threatened by them and react so adversely that Bitches guard their true selves carefully. They are suspicious of those few whom they think they might be able to trust because so often it turns out to be a sham. But in this loneliness there is a strength and from their isolation and their bitterness come contributions that other women do not make. Bitches are among the most unsung of the unsung heroes of this society. They are the pioneers, the vanguard, the spearhead. Whether they want to be or not this is the role they serve just by their very being. Many would not choose to be the groundbreakers for the mass of women for whom they have no sisterly feelings but they cannot avoid it. Those who violate the limits, extend them; or cause the system to break.

Bitches were the first women to go to college, the first to break thru the Invisible Bar of the professions, the first social revolutionaries, the first labor leaders, the first to organize other women. Because they were not passive beings and acted on their resentment at being kept down, they dared to do what other women would not. They took the flak and the shit that society dishes out to those who would change it and opened up portions of the world to women that they would otherwise not have known. They have lived on the fringes. And alone or with the support of their sisters they have changed the world we live in.

By definition Bitches are marginal beings in this society. They have no proper place and wouldn't stay in it if they did. They are women but not true women. They are human but they are not male. Some don't even know they are women because they cannot relate to other women. They may play the feminine game at times, but they know is is a game they are playing. Their major psychological oppression is not a belief that they are inferior but a belief that they are not. Thus, all their lives they have been told they were freaks. More polite terms were used of course, but the message got thru. Like most women they were taught to hate themselves as well as all women. In different ways and for different reasons perhaps, but the effect was similar. Internalization of a derogatory self-concept always results in a good deal of bitterness and resentment. This anger is usually either turned in on the self--making one an unpleasant person or on other women - reinforcing the social clichés about them. Only with political consciousness is it directed at the source - the social system.

The bulk of this Manifesto has been about Bitches. The remainder will be about BITCH. The organization does not yet exist and perhaps it never can. Bitches are so damned independent and they have learned so well not to trust other women that it will be difficult for them to learn to even trust each other. This is what BITCH must teach them to do. Bitches have to learn to accept themselves as Bitches and to give their sisters the support they need to be creative Bitches. Bitches must learn to be proud of their strength and proud of themselves. They must move away from the isolation which has been their protection and help their younger sisters avoid its perils. They must recognize that women are often less tolerant of other women than are men because they have been taught to view all women as their enemies. And Bitches must form together in a movement to deal with their problems in a political manner. They must organize for their own liberation as all women must organize for theirs. We must be strong, we must be militant, we must be dangerous. We must realize that Bitch is Beautiful and that we have nothing to lose. Nothing whatsoever.

This manifesto was written and revised with the help of several of my sisters, to whom it is dedicated.

P. O. Box 10197
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
(412) 621-4753

This document was obtained by the Herstory Project from the Women's Studies Resources | Duke Special Collections Library-A project of The Digital Scriptorium, Special Collections Library, Duke University.
http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/ . Please contact this collection for information about reproducing this article.

Covert Sex Discrimination Against Women as Medical Patients

by Carol Downer (1972) Rampant sexism in the medical industry is exposed in a speech to the American Psychological Association. by Carol Downer

(Editors 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 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 un useful 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 and 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 husband is equivalent to distributing 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 duty, " 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 than 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 overpopulate this planet. We must regain control of our reproduction by knocking down all harriers such as laws relating to abortion, homosexuality, birth control, venereal 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?


by the Women's Collective (early 1970's) Practical guidelines on how to set up consciousness raising groups from Connecticut feminists. by the Women's Collective

(Editors Note: These guidelines for organizing consciousness raising groups originally came from a women's group in Connecticut.)



  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


  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.

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. These 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 a 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 patriarchy 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 want to encourage self—expression in all. Furthermore, one learns and understands both be 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 this golden opportunity which we women of the Seventies have———to be given respect by associates, a luxury enjoyed by 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 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 nerve 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 age—ism. 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 toward 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 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 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.

Reprinted with permission by
P.O. Box 86031
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15221

Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood

by Jo Freeman (1976) Women's liberation was not all bread and roses. This article examines the destructive phenomenon of "trashing"— personal attacks on other women in the movement. by Jo Freeman (originally writing as "Joreen" in 1976) 

(Editors Note: The women's liberation movement was not all bread and roses. This article explores the destructive phenomenon of "trashing": personal attacks on other women in the movement. Jo Freeman was the editor of the Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement, which was the first national women's liberation periodical. She was also a member of the Westside Group, one of the first women's liberation groups in the country.)  

This article was written for Ms. magazine and published in the April 1976 issue, pp. 49-51, 92-98. It evoked more letters from readers than any article previously published in Ms., all but a few relating their own experiences of being trashed. Quite a few of these were published in a subsequent issue of Ms.

It's been a long time since I was trashed. I was one of the first in the country, perhaps the first in Chicago, to have my character, my commitment, and my very self attacked in such a way by Movement women that it left me torn in little pieces and unable to function. It took me years to recover, and even today the wounds have not entirely healed. Thus I hang around the fringes of the Movement, feeding off it because I need it, but too fearful to plunge once more into its midst. I don't even know what I am afraid of. I keep telling myself there's no reason why it should happen again -- if I am cautious -- yet in the back of my head there is a pervasive, irrational certainty that says if I stick my neck out, it will once again be a lightning rod for hostility.
For years I have written this spiel in my head, usually as a speech for a variety of imaginary Movement audiences. But I have never thought to express myself on it publicly because I have been a firm believer in not washing the Movement's dirty linen in public. I am beginning to change my mind.
First of all, so much dirty linen is being publicly exposed that I doubt that what I have to reveal will add much to the pile. To those women who have been active in the Movement, it is not even a revelation. Second, I have been watching for years with increasing dismay as the Movement consciously destroys anyone within it who stands out in any way. I had long hoped that this self-destructive tendency would wither away with time and experience. Thus I sympathized with, supported, but did not speak out about, the many women whose talents have been lost to the Movement because their attempts to use them had been met with hostility. Conversations with friends in Boston, Los Angeles, and Berkeley who have been trashed as recently as 1975 have convinced me that the Movement has not learned from its unexamined experience Instead, trashing has reached epidemic proportions. Perhaps taking it out of the closet will clear the air.
What is "trashing," this colloquial term that expresses so much, yet explains so little? It is not disagreement; it is not conflict; it is not opposition. These are perfectly ordinary phenomena which, when engaged in mutually, honestly, and not excessively, are necessary to keep an organism or organization healthy and active. Trashing is a particularly vicious form of character assassination which amounts to psychological rape. It is manipulative, dishonest, and excessive. It is occasionally disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict, or covered up by denying that any disapproval exists at all. But it is not done to expose disagreements or resolve differences. It is done to disparage and destroy.
The means vary. Trashing can be done privately or in a group situation; to one's face or behind one's back; through ostracism or open denunciation. The trasher may give you false reports of what (horrible things) others think of you; tell your friends false stories of what you think of them; interpret whatever you say or do in the most negative light; project unrealistic expectations on you so that when you fail to meet them, you become a "legitimate" target for anger; deny your perceptions of reality; or pretend you don't exist at all. Trashing may even be thinly veiled by the newest group techniques of criticism/self-criticism, mediation, and therapy. Whatever methods are used, trashing involves a violation of one's integrity, a declaration of one's worthlessness, and an impugning of one's motives In effect, what is attacked is not one's actions, or one's ideas, but one's self.
This attack is accomplished by making you feel that your very existence is inimical to the Movement and that nothing can change this short of ceasing to exist. These feelings are reinforced when you are isolated from your friends as they become convinced that their association with-you is similarly inimical to the Movement and to themselves. Any support of you will taint them. Eventually all your colleagues join in a chorus of condemnation which cannot be silenced, and you are reduced to a mere parody of your previous self.
It took three trashings to convince me to drop out. Finally, at the end of 1969, I felt psychologically mangled to the point where I knew I couldn't go on. Until then I interpreted my experiences as due to personality conflicts or political disagreements which I could rectify with time and effort. But the harder I tried, the worse things got, until I was finally forced to face the incomprehensible reality that the problem was not what I did, but what I was.
This was communicated so subtly that I never could get anyone to talk about it. There were no big confrontations, just many little slights. Each by itself was insignificant; but added one to another they were like a thousand cuts with a whip. Step by step I was ostracized: if a collective article was written, my attempts to contribute were ignored; if I wrote an article, no one would read it; when I spoke in meetings, everyone would listen politely, and then take up the discussion as though I hadn't said anything; meeting dates were changed without my being told; when it was my turn to coordinate a work project, no one would help; when I didn't receive mailings, and discovered that my name was not on the mailing list, I was told I had just looked in the wrong place. My group once decided on joint fund-raising efforts to send people to a conference until I said I wanted to go, and then it was decided that everyone was on her own (in fairness, one member did call me afterward to contribute $5 to my fare, provided that I not tell anyone. She was trashed a few years later).
My response to this was bewilderment. I felt as though I were wandering blindfolded in a field I full of sharp objects and deep holes while being reassured that I could see perfectly and was in a smooth, grassy pasture. It was is if I had unwittingly entered a new society, one operating by rules of which I wasn't aware, and couldn't know. When I tried to get my group(s) to discuss what I thought was happening to me, they either denied my perception of reality by saying nothing was out of the ordinary, or dismissed the incidents as trivial (which individually they were). One woman, in private phone conversations, did admit that I was being poorly treated. But she never supported me publicly, and admitted quite frankly that it was because she feared to lose the group's approval. She too was trashed in another group.
Month after month the message was pounded in: get out, the Movement was saying: Get Out, Get Out! One day I found myself confessing to my roommate that I didn't think I existed; that I was a figment of my own imagination. That's when I knew it was time to leave. My departure was very quiet. I told two people, and stopped going to the Women's Center. The response convinced me that I had read the message correctly. No one called, no one sent me any mailings, no reaction came back through the grapevine. Half my life had been voided, and no one was aware of it but me. Three months later word drifted back that I had been denounced by the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, founded after I dropped out of the Movement, for allowing myself to be quoted in a recent news article without their permission. That was all.
The worst of it was that I really didn't know why I was so deeply affected. I had survived growing up in a very conservative, conformist, sexist suburb where my right to my own identity was constantly under assault. The need to defend my right to be myself made me tougher, not tattered. My thickening skin was further annealed by my experiences in other political organizations and movements, where I learned the use of rhetoric and argument as weapons in political struggle, and how to spot personality conflicts masquerading as political ones. Such conflicts were usually articulated impersonally, as attacks on one's ideas, and while they may not have been productive, they were not as destructive as those that I later saw in the feminist movement. One can rethink one's ideas as a result of their being attacked. It's much harder to rethink one's personality. Character assassination was occasionally used, but it was not considered legitimate, and thus was limited in both extent and effectiveness. As people's actions counted more than their personalities, such attacks would not so readily result in isolation. When they were employed, they only rarely got under one's skin.
But the feminist movement got under mine. For the first time in my life, I found myself believing all the horrible things people said about me. When I was treated like shit, I interpreted it to mean that I was shit. My reaction unnerved me as much as my experience. Having survived so much unscathed, why should I now succumb? The answer took me years to arrive at. It is a personally painful one because it admits of a vulnerability I thought I had escaped. I had survived my youth because I had never given anyone or any group the right to judge me. That right I had reserved to myself. But the Movement seduced me by its sweet promise of sisterhood. It claimed to provide a haven from the ravages of a sexist society; a place where one would be understood. It was my very need for feminism and feminists that made me vulnerable. I gave the movement the right to judge me because I trusted it. And when it judged me worthless, I accepted that judgment.
For at least six months I lived in a kind of numb despair, completely internalizing my failure as a personal one. In June, 1970, I found myself in New York coincidentally with several feminists from four different cities. We gathered one night for a general discussion on the state of the Movement, and instead found ourselves discussing what had happened to us. We had two things in common; all of us had Movement-wide reputations, and all had been trashed. Anselma Dell'Olio read us a speech on "Divisiveness and Self-Destruction in the Women's Movement" she had recently given at the Congress To Unite Women (sic) as a result of her own trashing.

I learned ... years ago that women had always been divided against one another, self-destructive and filled with impotent rage. I thought the Movement would change all that. I never dreamed that I would see the day when this rage, masquerading as a pseudo-egalitarian radicalism [would be used within the Movement to strike down sisters singled out for punishment. . . .
"I am referring ... to the personal attacks, both overt and insidious, to which women in the Movement who had painfully managed any degree of achievement have been subjected. These attacks take different forms. The most common and pervasive is character assassination: the attempt to undermine and destroy belief in the integrity of the individual under attack. Another form is the 'purge.' The ultimate tactic is to isolate her. . . . "And who do they attack? Generally two categories. . . Achievement or accomplishment of any kind would seem to be the worst crime: ... do anything . . . that every other woman secretly or otherwise feels she could do just as well -- and ... you're in for it. If then ... you are assertive, have what is generally described as a 'forceful personality/ if ... you do not fit the conventional stereotype of a 'feminine' woman, ... it's all over.
"If you are in the first category (an achiever), You are immediately labeled a thrill-seeking opportunist, a ruthless mercenary, out to make her fame and fortune over the dead bodies of selfless sisters who have buried their abilities and sacrificed their ambitions for the greater glory of Feminism. Productivity seems to be the major crime -- but if you have the misfortune of being outspoken and articulate, you are also accused of being power-mad, elitist, fascist, and finally the worst epithet of all: a male-identifier. Aaaarrrrggg!"

As I listened to her, a great feeling of relief washed over me. It was my experience she was describing. If I was crazy, I wasn't the only one. Our talk continued late into the evening. When we left, we sardonically dubbed ourselves the "feminist refugees" and agreed to meet sometime again. We never did. Instead we each slipped back into our own isolation, and dealt with the problem only on a personal level. The result was that most of the women at that meeting dropped out as I had done. Two ended up in the hospital with nervous breakdowns. Although all remained dedicated feminists, none have really contributed their talents to the Movement as they might have. Though we never met again, our numbers grew as the disease of self-destructiveness slowly engulfed the Movement.
Over the years I have talked with many women who have been trashed. Like a cancer, the attacks spread from those who had reputations to those who were merely strong; from those who were active to those who merely had ideas; from those who stood out as individuals to those who failed to conform rapidly enough to the twists and turns of the changing line. With each new story, my conviction grew that trashing was not an individual problem brought on by individual actions; nor was it a result of political conflicts between those of differing ideas, It was a social disease.
The disease has been ignored so long because it is frequently masked under the rhetoric of sisterhood. In my own case, the ethic of sisterhood prevented a recognition of my ostracism. The new values of the Movement said that every woman was a sister, every woman was acceptable. I clearly was not. Yet no one could admit that I was not acceptable without admitting that they were not being sisters. It was easier to deny the reality of my unacceptability. With other trashings, sisterhood has been used as the knife rather than the cover-up. A vague standard of sisterly behavior is set up by anonymous judges who then condemn those who do not meet their standards. As long as the standard is vague and utopian, it can never be met. But it can be shifted with circumstances to exclude those not desired as sisters. Thus Ti-Grace Atkinson's memorable adage that "sisterhood is powerful: it kills sisters" is reaffirmed again and again.
Trashing is not only destructive to the individuals involved, but serves as a very powerful tool of social control. The qualities and styles which are attacked become examples other women learn not to follow -- lest the same fate befall them. This is not a characteristic peculiar to the Women's Movement, or even to women. The use of social pressures to induce conformity and intolerance for individuality is endemic to American society. The relevant question is not why the Movement exerts such strong pressures to conform to a narrow standard, but what standard does it pressure women to conform to.
This standard is clothed in the rhetoric of revolution and feminism. But underneath are some very traditional ideas about women's proper roles. I have observed that two different types of women are trashed. The first is the one described by Anselma Dell'Olio -- the achiever and/or the assertive woman, the one to whom the epithet "male-identified" is commonly applied. This kind of woman has always been put down by our society with epithets ranging from "unladylike" to "castrating bitch." The primary reason there have been so few "great women ______" is not merely that greatness has been undeveloped or unrecognized, but that women exhibiting potential for achievement are punished by both women and men. The "fear of success" is quite rational when one knows that the consequence of achievement is hostility and not praise.
Not only has the Movement failed to overcome this traditional socialization, but some women have taken it to new extremes. To do something significant, to be recognized, to achieve, is to imply that one is "making it off other women's oppression" or that one thinks oneself better than other women. Though few women may think this, too many remain silent while the others unsheathe their claws. The quest for "leaderlessness" that the Movement so prizes has more frequently become an attempt to tear down those women who show leadership qualities, than to develop such qualities in those who don't. Many women who have tried to share their skills have been trashed for asserting that they know something others don't. The Movement's worship of egalitarianism is so strong that it has become confused with sameness. Women who remind us that we are not all the same are trashed because their differentness is interpreted as meaning we are not all equal.
Consequently the Movement makes the wrong demands from the achievers within it. It asks for guilt and atonement rather than acknowledgment and responsibility. Women who have benefited personally from the Movement's existence do owe it more than gratitude. But that debt is not called in by trashing. Trashing only discourages other women from trying to break free of their traditional shackles.
The other kind of woman commonly trashed is one I would never have suspected. The values of the Movement favor women who are very supportive and self-effacing; those who are constantly attending to others' personal problems; the women who play the mother role very well. Yet a surprising number of such women have been trashed. Ironically their very ability to play this role is resented and creates an image of power which their associates find threatening. Some older women who consciously reject the mother role are expected to play it because they "look the part" -- and are trashed when they refuse. Other women who willingly play it find they engender expectations which they eventually cannot meet, No one can be "everything to everybody," so when these women find themselves having to say no in order to conserve a little of their own time and energy for themselves or to tend to the political business of a group, they are perceived as rejecting and treated with anger. Real mothers of course can afford some anger from their children because they maintain a high degree of physical and financial control over them. Even women in the "helping" professions occupying surrogate mother roles have resources with which to control their clients' anger. But when one is a "mother" to one's peers, this is not a possibility. If the demands become unrealistic, one either retreats, or is trashed.
The trashing of both these groups has common roots in traditional roles. Among women there are two roles perceived as permissible: the "helper" and the "helped." Most women are trained to act out one or the other at different times. Despite consciousness-raising and an intense scrutiny of our own socialization, many of us have not liberated ourselves from playing these roles, nor from our expectations that others will do so. Those who deviate from these roles -- the achievers -- are punished for doing so, as are those who fail to meet the group's expectations.
Although only a few women actually engage in trashing, the blame for allowing it to continue rests with us all. Once under attack, there is little a woman can do to defend herself because she is by definition always wrong. But there is a great deal that those who are watching can do to prevent her from being isolated and ultimately destroyed. Trashing only works well when its victims are alone, because the essence of trashing is to isolate a person and attribute a group's problems to her. Support from others cracks this facade and deprives the trashers of their audience. It turns a rout into a struggle. Many attacks have been forestalled by the refusal of associates to let themselves be intimidated into silence out of fear that they would be next. Other attackers have been forced to clarify their complaints to the point where they can be rationally dealt with.
There is, of course, a fine line between trashing and political struggle, between character assassination and legitimate objections to undesirable behavior. Discerning the difference takes effort. Here are some pointers to follow. Trashing involves heavy use of the verb "to be" and only a light use of the verb "to do." It is what one is and not what one does that is objected to, and these objections cannot be easily phrased in terms of specific undesirable behaviors. Trashers also tend to use nouns and adjectives of a vague and general sort to express their objections to a particular person. These terms carry a negative connotation, but don't really tell you what's wrong. That is left to your imagination. Those being trashed can do nothing right. Because they are bad, their motives are bad, and hence their actions are always bad. There is no making up for past mistakes, because these are perceived as symptoms and not mistakes.
The acid test, however, comes when one tries to defend a person under attack, especially when she's not there, If such a defense is taken seriously, and some concern expressed for hearing all sides and gathering all evidence, trashing is probably not occurring. But if your defense is dismissed with an oft-hand "How can you defend her?"; if you become tainted with suspicion by attempting such a defense; if she is in fact indefensible, you should take a closer look at those making the accusations. There is more going on than simple disagreement.
As trashing has become more prevalent, I have become more puzzled by the question of why. What is it about the Women's Movement that supports and even encourages self-destruction? How can we on the one hand talk about encouraging women to develop their own individual potential and on the other smash those among us who do just that? Why do we damn our sexist society for the damage it does to women, and then damn those women who do not appear as severely damaged by it? Why has consciousness-raising not raised our consciousness about trashing?
The obvious answer is to root it in our oppression as women, and the group self-hate which results from our being raised to believe that women are not worth very much. Yet such an answer is far too facile; it obscures the fact that trashing does not occur randomly. Not all women or women's organizations trash, at least not to the same extent. It is much more prevalent among those who call themselves radical than among those who don't; among those who stress personal changes than among those who stress institutional ones; among those who can see no victories short of revolution than among those who can be satisfied with smaller successes; and among those in groups with vague goals than those in groups with concrete ones.
I doubt that there is any single explanation to trashing; it is more likely due to varying combinations of circumstances which are not always apparent even to those experiencing them. But from the stories I've heard, and the groups I've watched, what has impressed me most is how traditional it is. There is nothing new about discouraging women from stepping out of place by the use of psychological manipulation. This is one of the things that have kept women down for years; it is one thing that feminism was supposed to liberate us from. Yet, instead of an alternative culture with alternative values, we have created alternative means of enforcing the traditional culture and values. Only the name has changed; the results are the same.
While the tactics are traditional, the virulence is not. I have never seen women get as angry at other women as they do in the Movement. In part this is because our expectations of other feminists and the Movement in general are very high, and thus difficult to meet. We have not yet learned to be realistic in our demands on our sisters or ourselves. It is also because other feminists are available as targets for rage.
Rage is a logical result of oppression. It demands an outlet. Because most women are surrounded by men whom they have learned it is not wise to attack, their rage is often turned inward. The Movement is teaching women to stop this process, but in many instances it has not provided alternative targets. While the men are distant, and the "system" too big and vague, one's "sisters" are close at hand. Attacking other feminists is easier and the results can be more quickly seen than by attacking amorphous social institutions. People are hurt; they leave. One can feel the sense of power that comes from having "done something." Trying to change an entire society is a very slow, frustrating process in which gains are incremental, rewards diffuse, and setbacks frequent. It is not a coincidence that trashing occurs most often and most viciously by those feminists who see the least value in small, impersonal changes and thus often find themselves unable to act against specific institutions.
The Movement's emphasis on "the personal is political" has made it easier for trashing to flourish. We began by deriving some of our political ideas from our analysis of our personal lives. This legitimated for many the idea that the Movement could tell us what kind of people we ought to be, and by extension what kind of personalities we ought to have. As no boundaries were drawn to define the limits of such demands, it was difficult to preclude abuses. Many groups have sought to remold the lives and minds of their members, and some have trashed those who resisted. Trashing is also a way of acting out the competitiveness that pervades our society, but in a manner that reflects the feelings of incompetence that trashers exhibit. Instead of trying to prove one is better than anyone else, one proves someone else is worse. This can provide the same sense of superiority that traditional competition does, but without the risks involved. At best the object of one's ire is put to public shame, at worst one's own position is safe within the shrouds of righteous indignation, Frankly, if we are going to have competition in the Movement, I prefer the old-fashioned kind. Such competitiveness has its costs, but there are also some collective benefits from the achievements the competitors make while trying to outdo each other. With trashing there are no beneficiaries. Ultimately everyone loses.
To support women charged with subverting the Movement or undermining their group takes courage, as it requires us to stick our necks out. But the collective cost of allowing trashing to go on as long and as extensively as we have is enormous. We have already lost some of the most creative minds and dedicated activists in the Movement. More importantly, we have discouraged many feminists from stepping out, out of fear that they, too, would be trashed. We have not provided a supportive environment for everyone to develop their individual potential, or in which to gather strength for the battles with the sexist institutions we must meet each day. A Movement that once burst with energy, enthusiasm, and creativity has become bogged down in basic survival -- survival from each other. Isn't it time we stopped looking for enemies within and began to attack the real enemy without?

The author would like to thank Linda, Maxine, and Beverly for their helpful suggestions in the revision of this paper.
(c) Joreen

Is the Women's Movement in Trouble

by Roberta Lynch (1976) An examination of the state of women's liberation in 1976. by Roberta Lynch

(Editors 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 defeat.

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 consciousnesses 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 strategizing 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.

What is Socialist Feminism?

by Barbara Ehrenreich (1976) An analysis of the difference between radical and socialist feminism. by Barbara Ehrenreich 

(Editors 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 look 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 them elves 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 it, 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 capitalism. 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 important 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 occurs 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 political/ 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 ahistorical 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 kind 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 a 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, than we were a few years ago. Here I will indicate only very sketchily one such line of thinking:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 collectivity and self-reliance as a class, there is mutual isolation and collective dependency on the capitalist class.
  3. 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 existence (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 the 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.
  4. 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 deal 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.

The Rise and Demise of Women's Liberation

by Marlene Dixon (1977) A Marxist attempt to explain the decline of the women's liberation movement.
by Marlene Dixon (1977) 

(Editors Note: When the University of Chicago fired feminist sociology professor Marlene Dixon in 1969, they set off a student sit-in that divided the campus. Although it did not stop Dixon's firing, the sit-in helped to galvanize the women's liberation movement in Chicago. In this 1977 article, Dixon uses a Marxist analysis to try to explain the decline of the women's liberation movement. The late 1970's was a difficult time for women's liberation and many organizations ceased to exist...including the CWLU.)  

The history of the rise and demise of Women's Liberation is a primer for a study of the fatal weaknesses that infected all the New Left struggles of the l960s. The collapse of Women's Liberation shortly followed the general collapse of the New Left in the early 1970s. Hindsight makes clear that the fatal flaw of the New Left lay in its inability to recognize the determinative role of class conflict. It was consequently unable to distinguish between class antagonisms within mass movements, a product of the failure to comprehend that revolutionary movements arise and flourish only within revolutionary classes.

Many of the errors of the New Left are perpetuated today, whether it be in the so-called socialist feminist movement or in the so-called anti-imperialist movement. Each such tendency, in its own way, has failed to learn from the recent past. Yet, as women, we must not fall prey to the dictum "history repeats itself," for the massive institutionalized exploitation and oppression of women continues, virtually untouched by all the fulminations of the 1960s, just as American imperialism flourishes with unhampered brutality. Nevertheless, any critique of the New Left must recognize that it was, in itself, a powerfully progressive force in all of its manifestations.

Consequently, we cannot fail to recognize that the Women's Liberation movement resurrected the "woman question" and rebuilt on a world scale a consciousness of the exploitation and oppression of women. For nearly forty years women had been without a voice to articulate the injustice and brutality of women's place. For nearly forty years women had been without an instrumentality to fight against their exploitation and oppression. From the mid1960s to the early 1970s, Women's Liberation became that new instrumentality. From the United States and Canada to Europe, to national liberation struggles in Africa and Asia, to revolutionary China itself, the reverberations of the movement set in motion a new awareness and new movements for the emancipation of women. Whatever the faults and weaknesses of Women's Liberation in the United States and Canada, it was a historical event of worldwide importance

Nevertheless, what happened to the Women's Liberation movement in the early 1970s is precisely what happened to each mass movement of the last decade: internal differentiation along class and political lines. in the case of the women's movement, the remnants of Women's Liberation have come to be dominated by a middle class leadership, reducing a vigorous and radical social movement to a politically and ideologically co-opted reformist lobby in the halls of Congress. The problem before us is to understand the course of the class conflict that resulted in the final co-optation and decline of the autonomous women's movement.

Consciousness Raising: The Beginning

The autonomous women's movement was a necessity of the time, a product of the political realities of the l960s, a transitional movement which was a direct product of the male supremacist structure of the New Left and the legitimacy it permitted for the expression of male dominance in everyday life. The New Left was an instrument for the suppression, oppression and exploitation of women. The formation of the autonomous movement was the only reply possible. Women set about organizing women in order to avoid the wrecking tactics of the men and to openly fight against the exploitation and oppression of women. Women would never have been able to do so within the male-dominated New Left. Women clearly recognized that the politics and practice around the "woman question" on the part of student and other left groupings were deformed by their own practice of male supremacy. Women were force to conclude, on the basis of experience, that only by building a base among women would it be possible to put a correct priority on the question of the emancipation of women, to confront the entire left and force them to a recognition of the centrality of women's emancipation in all revolutionary struggles.

The origin and importance of the small consciousness-raising group is to be found in the basic organizing tool of the autonomous movement: organize around your own oppression. There were many foundations for such a position. First, the major task faced by early organizers was to get women to admit that they in fact were oppressed. The socialization of women includes a vast superstructure of rationalizations for women's secondary status; the superstructure of belief is reinforced through inducing guilt and fear (of not being a "true" woman, etc.) as a response to rebellion against women's traditional role; consequently, women are raised to be very conservative, to cling to the verities of the hearth, to a limited and unquestioning acceptance of things as they are. However, organizers very quickly learned that under the crust of surface submission there had built up in countless women an enormous frustration, anger, bitterness - what Betty Friedan called "an illness without a name." Women's Liberation gave the illness a name, an explanation and a cure The cure was the small group and the method was what the Chinese Communists call "speaking bitterness." The bitterness, once spoken, was almost overwhelming in its sheer emotional impact.

For many new recruits, consciousness raising was the end-all and be-all of the early movement, a mystical method to self-realization and personal liberation. But for others, especially for left-wing radical women, the original aim of the small group was supposed to have been the path to sisterhood - that unity expressed in empathic identification with the suffering of all women - which would lead from the recognition of one's own oppression to identification with the sisterhood of all women, from sisterhood to radical politics, from radical politics to revolution. Early organizers had correctly understood that women could be organized on a mass scale in terms of their own subjective oppression and by appealing to the common oppression of all women (irrespective of class). Aiming at radicalizing the constituency of Women's Liberation, early radical organizers talked a great deal about the common source of oppression (hoping to foster the empathic identification that would provide the bridge to cross-class unity). They talked much less about the fact that the common oppression of women has different results in different social classes. The result of the class position, or class identification, of almost all recruits to Women's Liberation was to retranslate "organize around your own oppression" to "organize around your own interests.” The step from self understanding to altruistic Identification and cross-class unity never occurred because the real basis for radicalization, common economic exploitation, was absent.

"Organize around your own Oppression" was indeed a Pandora's Box of troubles. Middle class women used this maxim to justify the pursuit of their own class interests: "We are oppressed too," "We must take care of our own problems first." Middle class women also justified ignoring the mass of working class women by asserting that "ending our oppression will end theirs," i.e., the fight against discrimination would equalize the status of all women.

The transformation of the small group from its original political consciousness raising function into a mechanism for social control and group therapy was a result of the predominantly middle class character of Women's Liberation. The fact that there were so few women in Women's Liberation who were directly experiencing material deprivation, threats of genocide or enforced pauperization - that is, so few who were driven by conditions of objective exploitation and deep social oppression - made it almost inevitable that the search for cultural and life-style changes were substituted for revolutionary politics.

What radicals had not taken into account was the fact that middle class and wealthy women do not want to identify with their class inferiors; do not care, by and large, what happens to women who have problems different from their own; greatly dislike being reminded that they are richer, better educated, healthier and have more life chances than most people.

Therefore, behind the outward unity of the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s, centered as it was around a public ideology based upon feminism, sisterhood and the demand for equal rights, there raged an internal fight between the so-called feminists and politicos. This fight was disguised in many ways, most effectively by personalizing it or by casting it as a battle against "male-identified" or "elitist" women, in which the pejorative "politico" implied both sins summed up by the phrase "anti-woman." All of these pseudo-psychological arguments were manipulative verbiage which mystified the fact that class politics vs. reform politics, and therefore class conflict for hegemony over the leadership of the movement, were the real stakes of the combat. Certainly, participants at the time often were not consciously aware of the true nature of their struggle, but from the vantage point of hindsight, the true meaning of these struggles is manifestly clear. While in the beginning, roughly from 1967 to 1969, the left was in a relatively powerful position, by 1973 a coalition of the center and right had gained control of the women's movement.

The Rise of Class Conflict

The early and primitive ideology of Women's Liberation stressed psychological oppression and social and occupational discrimination. The politics of psychological oppression swiftly transmuted into the bourgeois feminist ideology of "men as the enemy," for psychological world-views pit individual against individual and mystify the social basis of exploitation. Nevertheless, the politics of psychological oppression and of invoking the injustice of discrimination were aimed at altering the consciousness of women newly recruited to the movement in order to transform personal discontent into political militancy. Women, being in most cases without a political vocabulary, could most easily respond to the articulation of emotion. (This, of course, explains the impassioned, personal nature of the early polemical literature. It was indeed "speaking bitterness.") Furthermore, women of almost any political persuasion or lack of one can easily accept the straightforward demand for social equality. Explaining the necessity for the abolition of social classes, the complexities of capitalism and its necessary evolution into imperialism, etc., a much more formidable task, often elicited more hostility than sympathy. On the other hand, the stress on discrimination and psychological theorizing aimed directly at the liberal core of North American politics. In turn, sex discrimination affects all women, irrespective of race, language or class (but the fact that it does not affect all women in the same way or to the same degree was often absent from discussion).

The primacy of ideologies of oppression and discrimination (and the absence of class analysis exposing exploitation) and the ethic of sisterhood, facilitated the recruitment of large numbers of women from certain strata of the middle class, especially students, professionals, upper-middle class housewives and women from all sections of the academic world.

Given the predominantly apolitical disposition of women in general coupled with their initial fearfulness and lack of political experience, the task of revolutionary political education was an uphill battle from the beginning. The articulation of a class analysis in both Canada and the U.S., too often in a style inherited from the competitive and intellectually arrogant student left, frightened women away or left them totally confused and unable to understand what the fuss was all about. In a purely agitational sense, the feminists' anti-male line had the beauty of simplicity and matched the everyday experience of women; the left-wing radicals had the disadvantage of a complex argument that required hard work and study, an "elitist" sin. However, the anti-male line had its difficulties too, rooted in a fundamental contradiction which faces all women. It was impossible to tell women not to resent men, when it was plain in everyday life that the agents of a woman's oppression at home and on the job were men. On the other hand, women were unwilling and unable to actualize anger against sexism into a hatred of men.

Because of this contradiction there existed a predisposition to take a rhetorical anti-male stand (throwing men out of meetings to keep them from being obstructionist, expressing anger and contempt towards men to display defiance and thus give moral support and courage to new women, etc.), overlaying a profound ambiguity regarding what was, or ought to be, the relationship between men and women.

The result was a situation which might be termed dual leadership, made up of the early left activist organizers, the politicos, and the newer level of middle class women, the feminists, the latter seeking, by virtue of their class position, wealth and education, to bring the goals, ideology and style of the movement into line with their politics and class interests. The ethic of sisterhood publicly smoothed over these two opposing conceptions of the enemy, i.e., who and what is going to be abolished To accomplish the liberation of women. Thus, the public ideology of Women’s Liberation built unity around certain basic feminist tenets acceptable to the mixed class composition of the mass movement: I) first priority must be placed on the organization and liberation of women (glossing over differing and contradictory positions on the definition and means to attain liberation); 2) action programs ought to put first priority upon woman-centered issues; 3) socialist revolution would not in itself guarantee the liberation of women.

The class conflict seething under the nominal agreement on the basic tenets of feminism was ideologically expressed in two contradictory lines of analysis corresponding to the dual leadership situation. The feminist line stemmed from the assertion that "men are the principal enemy” and that the primary contradiction is between men and women. The politico line stemmed from the assertion that the male supremacist ruling class is the principal enemy and that the primary contradiction exists between the exploited and exploiting classes, in which women bear the double burden of economic exploitation and social oppression. The leftist line stressed that the object of combat against male-supremacist practices was the unification of the men and women of the exploited classes against a common class enemy in order to transcend the division and conflict sexism created between them. Women's Liberation was called upon to combat sexism by combating the dependency and subjugation of women that created and perpetuated the exploitation and oppression of women. The position on men was explicit: men in the exploited classes, bribed through their privileged position over women, acted so as to divide the class struggle. The source of divisiveness was not men per se but the practice of male supremacy.

One can immediately see that the leftist analysis, pointing to class and property relations as the source of the oppression of women, was much more difficult to propagandize than the feminist anti-male line. In everyday life what all women confront is the bullying exploitation of men. From the job to the bedroom, men are the enemy, but men are not the same kind of enemy to all women.

The Material Basis of Bourgeois Feminism

For the middle class woman, particularly if she has a career or is planning to have a career, the primary problem is to get men out of the way (i.e. to free women from male dominance maintained by institutionalized discrimination), in order to enjoy, along with the men, the full privileges of middle class status. The system of sexual inequality and institutionalized discrimination, not class exploitation, is the primary source of middle class female protest. Given this fact, it is men, and not the very organization of the social system itself, who stand in the way. Consequently, it is reform of the existing system which is required, and not the abolition of existing property relations, not proletarian revolution - which would sweep away the privileges of the middle class woman.

The fact that the fight against discrimination is essentially a liberal reform program was further mystified by the assertion that the equalization of the status of women would bring about a '”revolution” because it would alter the structure of the family and transform human relationships (which were held to be perverted through the existence of male authoritarianism). The left line held that equalization of the status of women is not, nor could it be, the cause of the decomposition of the nuclear family. The organization of the family is a result of the existing economic structure; just as the origin of the contemporary nuclear family is to be found in the rise of capitalism, so it is perpetuated in the interests of monopoly capitalism. Furthermore, equalization of the status of women would be no more likely to introduce an era of beautiful human relationships than did the introduction of Christianity bring obedience to the Golden Rule or the Ten Commandments. The claim that status equalization would bring about a "”revolution” is of the same order as the claim made by the Suffragists that giving women the vote would usher in an era of world peace. Abolishing discrimination would not lead to a "revolution" in the status of women because it would leave the class structure absolutely untouched. Gloria Steinem might build a corporation, a woman might become a general or a corporation vice-president, but the factory girl would remain the factory girl.

The tactical and ideological error of the left in this struggle was to try to win the entire mass movement to their position. The failure to recognize class struggles led to the defeat of the leftist position not only because of the predominant middle class background of the movement, but also because the left had not only to fight the petty bourgeois reformers, but also the anticommunist, cold war ideologies with which almost all North Americans have been so thoroughly infected. Without disciplined organization and a working class base, a left position will always lose in a mass movement, or be reduced to self-defeating opportunism.

Sisterhood: Root of Bourgeois Feminism

The politics of oppression and the politics of discrimination were amalgamated and popularized in the ethic of sisterhood. Sisterhood invoked the common oppression of all women, the common discrimination suffered by all. Sisterhood was the bond, the strength of the women's movement. It was the call to unity and the basis of solidarity against all attacks from the male-dominated left and right, based on the idea that common oppression creates common understanding and common interests upon which all women can unite (transcending class, language and race lines) to bring about a vast movement for social justice - after first abolishing the special privileges enjoyed by all men, naturally.

The ideology of sisterhood came to emphatically deny the importance, even the existence, of class conflict in the women's movement. To raise class issues, to suggest. the existence of class conflict, to engage in any form of class struggle was defined as divisive of women, as a plot. by men to destroy women (after all, were not Marx and Lenin men?) as weakening the women's struggle, and the perpetrator was proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, to be a traitorto women, male-identified, an agent of the enemy in the sisterhood. Sisterhood was a moral imperative: disagreements were to be minimized, no woman was to be excluded from the movement, all sisters were to love all other sisters, all sisters were to support. all other sisters, no sister was to publicly criticize other sisters.

Sisterhood, and the outward unity it provided, also disguised and mystified the internal class contradictions of the women's movement. Specifically, sisterhood temporarily disguised the fact that all women do not have the same interests, needs, desires: working class women and middle class women, student women and professional women, minority women and white women have more conflicting interests than could ever be overcome by their common experience based on sex discrimination. The illusions of sisterhood were possible because Women's Liberation had become in its ideology and politics predominantly a middle class movement. The voices of poor and working class women, of racial and national minority women or even of housewives with children were only infrequently heard. Even when these women were recognized, they were dismissed with a token gesture or an empty promise. When the isolation of the left was complete, almost all internal opposition to bourgeois feminism disappeared.

The collapse of sisterhood was principally a result of the disguised class and political conflict which became acute throughout 1970-71. Under the guise of rejecting "elitism" left-wing women were attacked mercilessly for being "domineering," "oppressive," "elitist," "male-identified," etc. In fact, the early radical leadership was in this way either discredited or driven out of the movement, to be replaced by "non-oppressive," "apolitical," manipulative feminist or "radical feminist" leadership. This was the period of the "trashing." At this time a clearly defined right-wing also emerged, the reactionary "radical feminists" who were, by and large, virulently anti-leftist and anticommunist.

In the end, political debate became almost completely nonexistent in the small group, which was essentially reduced to being a source of social and psychological support. Rivalries, disputes and feuds often grew up between small groups in the same city (each doubtless accusing the other of being "elitist"), frequently having the effect (along with the major programmatic and ideological divisions between feminists and politicos) of making even the minimal workings of a women's center impossible.

Reactionary Feminism

The bourgeois feminist line, "men are the enemy," branches into two ideologies, liberal feminism and reactionary (or "radical") feminism. The first, liberal feminism, does not openly admit that its ideology is a variant on "men are the enemy" but disguises that assumption behind a liberal facade that men are "misguided" and through education and persuasion (legal if need be) can be brought around to accepting the equalization of the status of women. Since the questions of the origins of injustice and the roots of social power are never very strong in any liberal ideology, there is little besides legislative reforms and education to fall back on.

Reactionary feminism, on the other hand, openly asserted as its fundamental tenet that all men are the enemies of all women and, in its most extreme forms, called for the subjugation of all men to some form of matriarchy (and sometimes for the extermination of all men). It offered a utopia composed of police states and extermination camps, even though reactionary feminists very rarely followed through to the logical outcome of their position.

Reactionary feminism was not an ideology of revolution (the likelihood of victory seeming remote even to its advocates) but an ideology of vengeance. It was also a profound statement of despair that saw the cruelty and ugliness of present relationships between men and women as immutable, inescapable. Reactionary feminism may have been politically confused, and it was certainly politically destructive, but it powerfully expressed the experience and feeling of a whole segment of the female population.

The root of reactionary feminism was in the sexual exploitation of women. Its strength lay in the fact that it did express and appeal to psychological oppression, for this oppression is far worse than the conditions of economic exploitation experienced by petty bourgeois women. In the last analysis reactionary feminism was a product of male supremacy, and its corollary, sexual exploitation. Male supremacy, itself reactionary, breeds reaction.

With the virtual expulsion of the left leadership the "radical feminists" assumed leadership over the portion of the movement not yet co-opted into the reformist wing. The excesses of the right: man-hating, reactionary separatism, lesbian vanguardism, virulent anti-communist, opposition to all peoples' revolutionary struggles (including Vietnam), served to discredit Women's Liberation and to make public the split in the movement between the reformists and the radical feminists. Of the expulsion of the left, no mention was made, keeping up the masquerade as an "anti-elitist campaign." The triumph of the right resulted in the disintegration of the Women's Liberation movement. In the shambles to which the movement had reduced itself, left and right opportunists were swift to seize the opportunity to take control. The leftists watched the predictable occur with despair while the reactionary, so-called "radical" feminists, with their shriek of "elitism" still issuing from their mouths, found the movement they had sought to control snatched out of their hands.

The Failure of Program

Women's Liberation never produced a coherent program. Programmatic development requires theoretical development, and Women's Liberation was incapable, on the basis of its class contradictions alone, of generating a coherent political analysis. What program and agitation existed clearly reflected the class nature of the movement. The wide variety of national and local single-issue programs undertaken by isolated women's groups reflected the overriding problems of younger, middle class women: the need for legal abortion (rather than a demand for universal health and nutritional care, including abortion and birth control services, which working class and poor women desperately need); demands for cooperative, "parent controlled" day-care centers (rather than universal day-care with compensatory educational programs which the majority of working class parents and children need); the creation of women's centers to provide young women with a "place of their own" in which to socialize, to work for abortion on demand or to secure illegal abortions (rather than creating organizational" centers capable of organizing with working class women for struggles on the job or in the community).

The cold truth of the matter is that the women's centers often differed very little from the standby of the suburban housewife community work, complete with good deeds, exciting activities, lively gossip and truly thrilling exercises in intrigue and character assassination. Within these centers working class women often wandered about in a state of frustration and confusion. They knew something was very wrong, but they did not know what.

Given the almost exclusive attention to sexual exploitation and the consequent psychological oppression, the focus was not upon male supremacy as part of class exploitation, but upon its result, the practice of male chauvinism; not upon the need for revolutionary social and economic changes, but upon individualized struggles between men and women around the oppressive attitudes and objective sexual and social privileges of men. Furthermore, emphasis upon male chauvinism had the effect of privatizing the contradiction between men and women, transmuting the conflict into problems of personal relationships, rather than politicizing the conflict as part of the overall capitalist system of economic and class exploitation.

The internal failures of the movement may be summed up in a brief series of criticisms. Mass movements contain within them class contradictions; women were far too slow to recognize class struggle for what it was within the movement. Furthermore, lack of a correct theoretical analysis led to the left's inability to generate correct programs to guide internal class struggle. The movement was thus reduced to single-issue mass campaigns which had to coalesce around the lowest common denominator, reform. Leadership thus passed to liberal reformers or left opportunists who opposed straightforward class conflict or open recognition of the inevitability of such conflict. The movement isolated itself, for these and other reasons, from the concrete struggles of working class women, in the home and in the factory, who make up the majority of oppressed and exploited women. The final and perhaps the most important lesson to be learned is that a movement without coherent politics, organization and discipline cannot be a fighting organization.

In short, Women’s Liberation, for all its rhetoric and all its pretensions, for all its brave start, has outwardly become what it really was (indeed, what it had to be): an anti-working class, anticommunist, petty bourgeois reform movement.

Socialist Feminism

The last gasp of Women's Liberation continues today as a loose collection of small local organizations committed in varying degrees to autonomous socialist feminist organizing. The constituency is almost exclusively from the white petty bourgeoisie as indicated by attendance at the National Conference on Socialist Feminism (held in 1975). Reports of the 1975 conference suggest that the socialist feminist constituency is very mixed in political orientation.

There is without doubt a significant proportion of women who are biding their time with socialist feminism in reaction to the regressive positions of most new Marxist-Leninist formations (whose morality is Victorian and whose understanding of the so-called "woman question" is hardly equal to Bebel's statement written in 1879). There is reason to believe, however, that its stable constituency is made up of white radical feminists who are conscious social democrats and who represent one continuation of the radical petty bourgeois politics of the early days of Women's Liberation. Whatever the precise class composition of socialist feminism might be, its leading tendency is clearly a cross between radical feminism and social democracy. This peculiar amalgamation underlies the first three "principles of unity" drawn up by the conference organizers:

  1. 1We recognize the need for and support the existence of the autonomous women's movement throughout the revolutionary process.
  2. We agree that all oppression, whether based on race, class, sex, or lesbianism, is interrelated and the fights for liberation from oppression must be simultaneous and cooperative.
  3. We agree that Socialist Feminism is a strategy for revolution.

(1) It is not surprising that these "principles of unity" produced very little unity and a great deal of confusion and contention, also very reminiscent of the confused and contradictory organizing conferences of Women's Liberation. Nevertheless, the "principles of unity" exhibit very clearly the petty bourgeois class character of Women's Liberation perpetuated under the guise of socialist feminism. For example, in principle no.

2 we note that "all oppression, whether based on race, class, sex or lesbianism, is interrelated" without any indication of how they are interrelated. Throughout, oppression is used, but not exploitation. Oppression is a psychological term, while exploitation is an economic term that refers to class relations. Class is used as a category in itself, as are race, sex and lesbianism. There is no recognition that race and sex discrimination are products of class exploitation. We must assume that tacking on "lesbianism" is a result of an opportunist attempt to appeal to radical lesbians, for surely homosexuality is subsumed under sexual discrimination.

Hostility toward recognizing the determinative role of class, also inherited from Women’s Liberation, is demonstrated in a report of the conference written by a member of the Berkeley-Oakland Women's Union:

There was much said in panels and in workshops on the question of race, class, lesbianism, etc., but there was no agreed-upon framework in which to place these discussions. Nor was there any apparent reason to attempt to resolve differences, as we were making no commitment to work or struggle together beyond the conference... .Members of the Marxist-Leninist caucus often stated that class was the primary contradiction. They also often remarked that the women's movement was a "middle class" movement. Many of the working women at the conference expressed a personal disgust at this sloppiness of terminology, as well as the way it discounted their own position in the work force... (2)

The "disgust" was displayed by those women who were sympathetic to the position put forward by Barbara Ehrenreich:

Let's start by being very honest about class. About ninety per cent of the American people are "working class": in the sense that they sell their labor for wages, or are dependent on others who do... Now' what does that tell us?. . It tells us, for political purposes, a class is not defined strictly by gross economic relationships. For political purposes, a class is defined by its consciousness of itself as a class that exists in opposition to another class or classes. (3)

The Ehrenreich position resolves the problem of "sloppy terminology" by liquidating the middle class (or new petty bourgeoisie) into a vast, undifferentiated mass (90% of the population) defined by class consciousness-for-itself. Since no such class or class consciousness presently exists in the United States, class is effectively made non-existent. It therefore follows that women can be united around their common "oppression" and become a “class defined by its consciousness of itself as a class that exists in opposition to another class or classes," and we are right back to the unity of sisterhood propounded by Women's Liberation. Is it any wonder that 'the conference was also plagued with the homogeneity contradiction (sic), most of the women there being white and under thirty-five years old..."? (4') Dismissing the determinative role of social class as a "gross economic relationship" and substituting a psychological definition without a material basis perpetuates the Women's Liberation tactic of "organizing around your own oppression," exemplified by the retention of the slogan, "the personal is political." The rejection of Marxism as' an "agreed-upon framework" thereby continues to justify the hegemony of white middle class (petty bourgeois) women in Women's Liberation-by-another-name: socialist feminism.

The real unity of the socialist feminist tendency is stated in the first principle asserting the necessity of an autonomous women's movement. In clinging to this belief, socialist feminism would condemn women to continued isolation and segregation. The formation of the autonomous movement in the mid-1960s reflected the constraints that pervasive and entrenched left-wing male sexism put upon any attempt to organize women as a significant part of the New Left. In organizing the autonomous movement, women had demonstrated their ability to organize a vigorous mass movement. Yet, the male-dominated left's actual response was to isolate and ghettoize the women's movement even within the petty bourgeois left. Women's Liberation fell into the trap by characterizing political struggles as "male-dominated," or Marxism as "penis politics," reducing Women's Liberation to dead-end reformist programs around "women's issues": abortion, day-care, women's studies programs, women's health clinics and so forth. The reduction of the autonomous movement to a trivialized, isolated and limited series of local reformist struggles was the legacy of retaining a separate women's movement.

Once the "woman question" had been put on the New Left agenda, conditions were created that potentially could have enabled women to carry the fight against sexism directly into the left. By and large, this did not happen. The autonomous movement, by isolating women, did not allow a serious political campaign against sexism to be carried out between men and women as an organizational struggle. The continued political segregation of women limited opposing sexism to opposing sexism in one's lover or husband; Consequently, the autonomous movement failed in its mission of defeating left-wing sexism, as the regressive lines of much of the new communist movement make quite clear. The prolonged existence of the autonomous movement, with its penchant for psychological theorizing, made it difficult to see that the defeat of sexism and racism in the left was an organizational, not attitudinal, problem. The solution to the prevalence of both sexism and racism must be found in the process of party formation itself. The very structure of a revolutionary party must provide an organizational basis upon which equality between comrades can be developed and enforced,

The rejection of Marxism, the rejection of the determinative role of the relations of production, also serves to mystify precisely what sexism is - a class relationship between the sexes, just as racism is a class relation between races. This was the insight provided by Engels so long ago, when he wrote that the relationship between man and wife was as the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. It is not that men and women, black people and white people, each make up a class (although at one time that was asserted in Women's Liberation) but rather that the social relations existing between them irrespective of actual class membership have the character of class relations, being, as they are, the product of class relations. Thus, sexism and racism have a class identity: each demands relations of inequality, subordination, and the assumed inferiority of one group of humanity to another.

The refusal to recognize the determinative role of class relations in Women's Liberation and in its offspring, socialist feminism, must result in reducing talk of "revolutionary process" and "socialist feminism is a strategy for revolution" to radical cant. These phrases can have no content, no real referent, without a unified theoretical understanding of the origins of exploitation and the material roots of psychological oppression. Socialist feminism is, in the final analysis, nothing more than a continuation of Women's Liberation past its time.

New Directions

The entire period of the 1960s in North America was crippled by the cold war repression of the 196Os and l950s which had left two generations almost completely bereft of any knowledge, theoretical or historical, of North American class struggle and North American socialism. Over twenty years of anti-Marxist, anti-Soviet propaganda (which began in the elementary school and continued through graduate education) guaranteed that the majority of North American youth was anticommunist, anti-socialist, anti-Marxist. U.S. imperialism and its Canadian branch plant protected the masses of the people from severe material deprivation and served to validate the ideologies of "America, the apex of democratic, free enterprise" on both sides of the border. Indeed, it was one of the contradictions of imperialism, the brutal exploitation of black and native people throughout the continent and of Quebecois in Canada, which began the revival of a moribund left and signaled the sharpening of the contradictions and class struggle which marks the 1970s.

Isolation from revolutionary theory and practice left the movement, specifically the New Left, the peace movement and Women's Liberation, without the theoretical tools (and most particularly without any understanding of dialectical analysis) so necessary to guide practice in the long run. As a result, practice was typically pragmatic and sporadic, marked by few victories and many defeats, exhausting and disillusioning people. Isolation from revolutionary classes, combined with theoretical and historical ignorance, meant that people often did not have any adequate analysis. As a result, people were tactically, not strategically oriented. Furthermore, they were populist and reformist by default, through ignorance and programmed anti-communist. Great numbers of militants responded with confusion and despair as effort after effort collapsed or was defeated outright or, even more frustrating, was co-opted into irrelevant reform. Without any knowledge or sense of the dialectics of history, without a correct understanding of capitalism and imperialism, with no way to evaluate or understand the course of class struggle, the radicalism of the 1960s found itself bankrupted in a few short years. Thus, we can clearly see that Women's Liberation was not unique, but that the fate of the Women's Liberation movement followed the general pattern for the New Left of the 1960s.

Many of us, after more than ten long years of experience in a series of movements, and especially the Women's Liberation movement, have become Marxist-Leninists - not because we read books, but because we fought and lost too many battles, then read the books. In short, we must begin again. This time, however, we are far better armed, in terms of ideology and practice, not to repeat the mistakes of the past, not to compromise with counterrevolutionary racism and sexism, not to be sucked into petty bourgeois class collaborationism, not to fail in our struggle to build an organization, a fighting organization for the liberation of our sisters, our brothers, ourselves.


  1. Barbara Dudley, "Report on the Conference," Socialist Revolution (October-December 1975), pp. 109, 111, l14.
  2. Ibid., pp.111, 114.
  3. Barbara Ehrenreich, "Speech by Barbara Ehrenreich," Socialist Revolution (October-December 1975), p.89.
  4. Dudley, p.107

Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement

One of the most comprehensive pamphlets on Socialist Feminism as it specifically identifies what it is and isn't.

special thanks to Duke's Special Collection library for keeping this material posted for so long.

By Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union

Heather Booth, Day Creamer, Susan Davis, Deb Dobbin, Robin Kaufman, and Tobey Klass


We have written this paper to express and share with other women ideas for a new strategy for the women's movement. Currently there are two ideological poles, representing the prevailing tendencies within the movement. One is the direction toward new lifestyles within a women's culture, emphasizing personal liberation and growth, and the relationship of women to women. Given our real need to break loose from the old patterns——socially, psychologically, and economically——and given the necessity for new patterns in the post revolutionary society, we understand, support and enjoy this tendency. However, when it is the sole emphasis, we see it leading more toward a kind of formless insulation rather than to a condition in which we can fight for and win power over our own lives.

The other direction is one which emphasizes a structural analysis of our society and its economic base. It focuses on the ways in which productive relations oppress us. This analysis is also correct, but its strategy, taken alone, can easily become, or appear to be, insensitive to the total lives of women.

As socialist feminists, we share both the personal and the structural analysis. We see a combination of the two as essential if we are to become a lasting mass movement. We think that it is important to define ourselves as socialist feminists, and to start conscious organizing around this strategy. This must be done now because of the current state of our movement. We have reached a crucial point in our history.

On the one hand, the strengths of our movement are obvious: it has become an important force of our time, and it has also succeeded in providing services and support for some women's immediate needs. Thousands of women see themselves as part of the movement; a vaguely defined "women's consciousness" has been widely diffused through rap groups, demonstrations, action projects, counter-institutional activity, and through the mass media. Women in the movement have a growing understanding of common oppression and the imperative of collective solutions. With the realization that what we saw as personal problems were in fact social ones, we have come to understand that the solutions must also be social ones. With the realization that all women lack control over their lives, we have come to understand that that control can only be gained if we act together. We have come to understand the specific needs of various groups of women and that different groups of women have different ways in which they will fight for control over their own lives.

On the other hand, the women's movement is currently divided. In most places it is broken into small groups which are hard to find, hard to join, and hard to understand politically. At the same time, conservative but organizationally clever entrepreneurs are attaching themselves to the movement, and are beginning to determine the politics of large numbers of people. If our movement is to survive, let alone flourish, it is time to begin to organize for power. We need to turn consciousness into action, choose priorities for our struggles, and win. To do this we need a strategy.

Our movement's strategy must grow from an understanding of the dynamics of power, with the realization that those who have power have a vested interest in preserving it and the institutional forms which maintain it. Wresting control of the institutions which now oppress us must be our central effort if women's liberation is to achieve its goals. To reach out to most women we must address their real needs and self-interests.

At this moment we think that it is important to argue for a strategy which will achieve the following three things: 1) it must win reforms that will objectively improve women's lives; 2) it must give women a sense of their own power, both potentially and in reality; and 3) it must alter existing relations of power. We argue here for socialist feminist organizations. We are not arguing for any one specific organization but for the successful development of organizations so that we may be able to learn from experience and bring our movement to its potential strength.

To make this argument we have written this paper. It has been designed as follows:

  1. Socialist Feminism——the concept and what it draws from each parent tradition.
  2. Power--the basis for power in this society, and our potential as women to gain power.
    An applied example of our strategy
  3. Consciousness——the importance of consciousness for the development of the women's movement, its limitations, and its place in a socialist feminist ideology.
  4. Current issues and questions facing our movement——A socialist feminist approach to respond to and develop a context for our programs and concerns.
  5. Organization——the importance of building organizations for the women's liberation movement and some thoughts on organizational forms.

The ideas that we are presenting are probably shared by many women in the movement, but so far they have not been articulated or identified nationally. We are not organized partly because our tolerance for different approaches, which our ideology encourages, makes it hard to present a new or contrary position. Furthermore, certain factors in our movement work against any kind of organization. Fears of elitism, the emphasis on personal alternatives and strengths, fear of failure, disbelief in the possibility of winning, and even fear of winning, have all played a role in our hesitancy

We are addressing the paper now to women who share our ideas of socialist feminism, whether they are women working in the movement, women who have never been active, women who have dropped out of the movement, or women working in mixed organizations. We hope that it may provide a common language in which we can begin to talk, a context in which we can meet to plan how to move.


We choose to identify ourselves with the heritage and future of feminism and socialism in our struggle for revolution. From feminism we have learned the fullness of our own potential as women, the strength of women. We have seen our common self-interest with other women and our common oppression. Having found these real bonds as women, we realize we can rely on each other as we fight for liberation. Feminism has moved us to see more concretely what becomes of people shaped by social conditions they do not control. We find our love and hate focused through our feminism——love for other women bound by the same conditions, hate for the oppression that binds us. A great strength we find in feminism is the reaffirmation of human values, ideals of sisterhood: taking care of people, being sensitive to people's needs and developing potential.

From feminism we have come to understand an institutionalized system of oppression based on the domination of men over women: sexism. Its contradictions are based on the hostile social relations set into force by this domination. This antagonism can be mediated by the culture and the flexibility of the social institutions so that in certain times and places it seems to be a stable relationship. But the antagonisms cannot be eliminated and will break out to the surface until there is no longer a system of domination.

But we share a particular conception of feminism that is socialist. It is one that focuses on how power has been denied women because of their class position. We see capitalism as an institutionalized form of oppression based on profit for private owners of publicly-worked-for wealth. It sets into motion hostile social relations in classes. Those classes too have their relations mediated through the culture and institutions. Thus alliances and divisions appear within and between classes at times clouding the intensity or clarity of their contradiction. But the basic hostile nature of class relations will be present until there is no longer a minority owning the productive resources and getting wealthy from the paid and unpaid labor of the rest

We share the socialist vision of a humanist world made possible through a redistribution of wealth and an end to the distinction between the ruling class and those who are ruled.

We have come to understand that only through an organized collective response can we fight such a system. Sisterhood thus also means to us a struggle for real power over our own lives and the lives of our sisters. Our personal relations and our political fight merge together and create our sense of feminism. Through the concept of sisterhood, women have tried to be responsive to the needs of all women rather than a selected few, and to support, criticize and encourage other women rather than competing with them.

Our Vision--Socialist Feminism is Desirable and Not Possible Under the Existing System

The following would be among the things we envision in the new order, part of everyday life for all people:

  • free, humane, competent medical care with an emphasis on preventive medicine, under the service of community organizations
  • peoples' control over their own bodies--i.e., access to safe, free birth control, abortion, sterilization, free from coercion or social stigma
  • attractive, comfortable housing designed to allow for private and collective living
  • varied, nutritious, abundant diet
  • social respect for the work people do, understanding that all jobs can be made socially necessary and important
  • democratic councils through which all people control the decisions which most directly affect their lives on the job, in the home, and community
  • scientific resources geared toward the improvement of life for all, rather than conquest and destruction through military and police aggression
  • varied, quality consumer products to meet our needs an end of housework as private, unpaid labor
  • redefinition of jobs, with adequate training to prepare people for jobs of their choice; rotation of jobs to meet the life cycle needs of those working at them, as well as those receiving the services.
  • political and civil liberties which would encourage the participation of all people in the political life of the country
  • disarming of and community control of police
  • social responsibility for the raising of children and free client-controlled childcare available on a 24-hour basis to accommodate the needs of those who use it and work in it
  • free, public quality education integrated with work and community activities for people of all ages
  • freedom to define social and sexual relationships
  • a popular culture which enhances rather than degrades one's self respect and respect for others
  • support for internal development and self-determination for countries around the world

We outline this vision to be more concrete about what a socialist feminist society might mean or try to be. This vision of society is in direct opposition to the present one which is based on the domination of the few over the many through sex, race and class. While there are concessions that it can make, the present form would not or could not adjust to the kind of people-oriented society outlined above.

Contradictions--An Alternative Is Necessary

Socialist feminism is not only desirable but it is also necessary because the current system of capitalism is not stable and cannot last in its present form. However, this does not mean that the society will inevitably become socialist. A fascist or barbaric form is also an alternative. The system that will replace capitalism will be determined by the orientation and power of groups fighting for alternatives. Hence, we must struggle to bring our vision of socialist feminism to fruition.

Contradictions are phenomena necessary to maintain the system but by their own internal logic produce forces destructive to it. A knowledge of them helps explain the chaos around us, giving a stable context to understand the historically changing process we are in. Such an understanding also helps us pick out weak spots of the process, points for defense and attack. Examples of these contradictions are all around us in varying degrees of severity. Sexism and capitalism reinforce one another, shape each other and have shaped us.

Contradictions in Our Power

Any analysis of the distribution of power and its effect on society's institutions must recognize the historical context of our oppression. Our oppression is different from that of our sisters at the turn of the century who had no legal rights, were confined to the home, and bore children from maturity to death. Thus, what is liberating at one time may be a factor of oppression at another. For example, women were denied their own sexuality because of social attitudes, inadequate birth control, the shelter of the family, women's private role in the economy, and the lack of knowledge about their bodies. The development of a more advanced technology (the pill and machines) and education objectively gave more freedom to our sisters. At the same time, these developments also made possible new forms for the oppression of women, increased sexual objectification and abuse.

In the realm of women and work, legislation which protected women was of great benefit in easing their burden. Currently, however, in the name of easing our burden, such legislation is used to deny women equal opportunity. Of course, women and all people have a right to safe and good working conditions; but these need to be fought for all workers.

Understanding our changing history helps us to avoid stereotyping our opposition or own own notions of what liberation means. The development of a strategy makes it clear that technological advances, legislative changes or educational developments are not good or bad in themselves. When we know the context in which any specific change occurs, we can judge the value of that change for our goals.

We have learned from history that, in fact, what is progressive for the system as a whole is also the seeds for its destruction. For example, increasing the availability of jobs for women and encouraging talented women to enter the labor force helps employers and strengthens capitalism but at the same time gives women an opportunity to come together physically and unionize as a collective force for change. Other women, seeing this, will raise their expectations and demands on the system for a larder share than it can offer all.

Knowing that these contradictions are the reality in which we live, we can fight that otherwise supposed "monolith" of control at its weak points and gain strength for ourselves. If our analysis is correct, on the basis of those contradictions, women and other powerless people will find concrete bases for unity to struggle in their self-interest. Now we see severe contradictions and possibilities for fights for structural changes on issues of childcare (for adequate care and community control), inclusion in the political system, jobs and working conditions for workers' control, etc.

Multi-Level Contradictions

Many analyses have identified various institutions (e.g., the family or sexual relations) as the crucial contradiction of sexism. However, these contradictions reflect the social relations of a sexist society, or institutions in which sexism occurs. Eliminating these "prime factors" would neither eliminate sexism nor necessarily create supportive alternatives for women. As the factory may be the locus for capitalist exploitation, it is not the basis of that exploitation. Private ownership and profit is the basis, giving rise to the class relations. Similarly, the family is a crucial locus of sexist oppression but it is not the basis of that exploitation. Control by men over women and the relegation of women to secondary roles is the basis of sexism, giving rise to a sexist society.

We do not find helpful the constant cry that before we organize, we need to develop a complete theory of the nature of our oppression or find the prime contradiction of our oppression (as if there is just one). Some analyses, in fact, have led us only to further inaction with the rationale of not having the total picture.

Every institution oppresses women as long as the society is based on the oppression of women. Our struggle against sexism is against those institutions, social relations and ideas which divide women and keep them powerless, and subservient to men. At different periods our oppression may be greater in one area than another, and this should direct our struggle.

The social relations of society——its institutions, culture and ideology--grow out of this system. But these ideas take on a life of their own, no longer dependent on or necessary to the economic base. In fact, they can develop in contradiction to that base. So, for example, racism or sexism serve much more than narrow economic function. Thus, what is important is not just redistribution of goods but a change in authority, control and ideas. Clearly, all elements of a class society are not reflections of the economic relations; however, in the last instance (at the point where contradictions become revolutionary in dimension) economic relations are the crucial link.

Contradictions at every level of society influence each other and within each level (economic, social, ideological) they are mirrored and overdetermined. That is, the pace at which contradictions develop is complex, sometimes reinforcing, sometimes cancelling each other. Thus, long range planning and a carefully worked out strategy are needed to continually respond to the complexity of the contradictions in American society. But we reflect in our theory that there are contradictions and that an alternative system is 1) desirable and not possible now, and 2) necessary to provide a true end to hostilities (between classes, sexes, races, nations).

We find it futile to argue which is more primary--capitalism or sexism. We are oppressed by both. As they are systems united against our interests, so our struggle is against both. This understanding implies more than women's caucuses in a "movement" organization. What we as socialist feminists need are organizations which can work for our particular vision, our self-interest in a way that will guarantee the combined fight against sexism and capitalism. At times this will mean independent organizations, at other times joint activity recognizing situations and general conditions.

The American Context of the Contradictions

The forms of oppression we face are filtered through the unique conditions of the American situation. We have a very heterogeneous working class, more diversified by ethnic background, race and job status than most other countries. This gives us many different strengths but also many internal divisions. Also, we have a heritage of slavery with an oppressed black and minority population. This now is as basic to the society as is sexism and is linked with it.

In addition, the power of the ruling class is widespread and disseminated through every aspect of the society. This makes for a difficult enemy——hard to isolate, focus on at its root, and hold accountable while its ideas filter into our minds. As the leading world imperialist power, our national struggle must consider strategic relationships linking our struggle with those around the world. Also, we live in a society with relative material comfort. This means that what we have to offer must not be just economic solutions. The question of quality of life is not- only to be raised but also ideas for a new social order.

We also are cut off from our history of left struggle since the destruction of the left in the fifties. To our great loss this has sometimes denied us a sense of long-term struggle and strategy development. One of our overriding responsibilities at this particular historical period is to develop a strategy which will both call into question the validity of current economic and social relations and at the same time make socialist feminism a meaningful possibility. This will hot occur except as more and more people gain the political experience necessary to develop a concrete understanding of the viability of our vision.

Role of Ideology in the Development of Strategy

The preceding section outlines our ideology--socialist feminism. It is this ideology which guides the development of our strategy and tactics, sets our priorities, and gives us an overall focus for our work. The key ideological understanding is that all issues are political, are based on power, and that our actions have political implications.

We develop this ideology both out of practice and in reading and discussion--matching theory to the real world. To an extent ideology plays the role of consciousness--it is a clear picture of reality which strengthens our ability to communicate and argue for our position. Stated explicitly, ideology helps provide links for women, in seeing how one struggle is related to others. Some individuals, aware of many social contradictions, may make an intellectual leap -- understand the parts as a whole through a socialist feminist ideology.

Most people are guided by an ideology Our own particular relationship to ideology has two special functions. First, it provides ideas which guide us, defining the framework and reason for our actions. Second, it defines our view of the world concretely, thus providing a system of analysis through which women can understand socialist feminism as a world view.

The ideological underpinnings for a socialist feminist strategy are laid out here and should be evident in the paper. But this paper is designed primarily to propose a strategy. It flows from and should help us define our ideology even better in the future; but it is a different undertaking--determining what we should do NOW.

This is one reason we feel confident in describing a strategy when we do not have the full blueprint for how revolution will occur. One is not developed full blown and then the other becomes possible.

Neither is this an attempt at overall strategy. Overall strategy helps us to see the way to seizure of state power and the critical break from the past, developing new institutions and a new social order based on equality of people and redistribution of wealth and resources. We can only develop an understanding of exactly how this will occur as we gain experience in building our movement. Continually moving from political work to further theoretical development and back to political work is a necessity. Revolution has several stages and it is important to have an understanding of the historical period we are in.

Therefore, given the ideology presented here, we have developed the following priorities for this particular point in time:

  1. We must reach most women. We must work toward building a majority movement. Our analysis tells us this is possible if we proceed in the right way.
  2. We must present intermediate goals that are realizable as well as desirable to show the necessity and possibility of organizing
  3. We must develop collective actions.

Now the crucial need is to weaken the power of the ruling class, give women a sense of their own power, and improve our lives so that we are welded together as a force prepared to struggle together. Concern with these issues is the basis for the socialist feminist strategy we outline in the next sections.


As socialist feminists we have an analysis of who has power and who does not, the basis for that power and our potential as women to gain power. Sisterhood is powerful in our personal lives, in our relationships with other women, in providing personal energy and maintaining warmth and love. But sisterhood is revolutionary because it can provide a basis on which we can unite to seize power.

The focus on power is an institutional focus, one that examines the structure of existing institutions and determines who, specifically, has power and how that power is used to oppress women. This includes understanding the interrelation between the economic sector and the social institutions which reinforce ruling class control. The family, church, schools and government priorities which oppress us reflect and reinforce this control. These are reflected in and are served by the dominant ideology, a cultural dominance which controls our everyday private lives.

In America, our culture so reflects the ideas of those in power that it is often difficult to identify who the enemy is. The opposition seems to be all encompassing and everywhere, hard to pinpoint in origins or basics. The ruling class, so reinforced, often appears as a monolith of control. However, as feminists and as socialists we are able to analyze the basic structures of society and how these are used to oppress women. This focus on power provides a framework for analyzing how power relations can be altered.

In this section, we focus on a strategy for developing mass women's organizations by focusing on the relationship that we see between reforms and power. There are three questions crucial to our conception of this relationship: 1) Will the reform materially improve women's lives? 2) Will the reform give women a sense of their own power? 3) Will the reform alter existing relations of power?

The Self-Interest of Women

Women are for liberation not just for abstract reasons and a sense of what is "correct" for women, or because they will be the "wave of the future." They are attracted because we present a picture of reality that they also know, as well as hold out a vision that they wish to share. But talking of such a reality is not sufficient. If we are going to be a movement of all women, we must be able to serve our own self-interest. Unable to fully offer alternatives for women ourselves, we must be able to hold out the realistic promise of obtaining some of these alternatives through struggles which can be won.

We emphasize self-interest because we feel that recently the movement has gotten far away from thinking about it or what moves women to act, or what moves us to act. idealism alone now guides us abstractly. We argue it, we live it, we see it. But we cannot always count on it. We raise the subject of self-interest to insure that we really are speaking to women's needs.

However, we do not emphasize .self-interest in any narrow sense. Self-interest is not just the accumulation of all physical and concrete needs. We know women do not live by bread alone and want deeply for themselves and others the enjoyment of culture and relationships that express their hopes and accomplishments. Self-interest is the interest of our sisters and our class. It means bringing into being and recognizing our consciousness, culture and control of the society.

We must develop ways to transform women's currently felt interests in line with our vision. Real sisterhood changes concern from individual needs into concern for one's group, organizational and class needs. With strategy and struggle for short-term goals, women can come to perceive a long-term self-interest. Abstract social goals are defined and given concrete form in program. We should choose issues for our direct action campaigns around which women will unite, can win, and on which their views of what is advantageous to them will change.

For example, while destroying racism is a deep concern of ours, we would not organize white women around racism as an issue. Stated as such, it is not concrete enough to do something about; and it is not a concern for most white women. However, uniting white and black groups around common concerns would be a concrete way to objectively also fight racism. We also can develop means to discuss and make explicit these ideas. But direct action for concrete reforms makes our ideology have real content.


If we want to speak to most women, we have to be serious about winning. Women have been losers too long. Women will only flock to women's liberation ideas when they know that it will help them and others become winners, gain something that they want for themselves and their daughters and others. This differentiates us from many groups such as PL, IS, and purist sects more concerned with the correctness of political principles than in converting a simple, true idea into a means for winning something for the people involved.

We want better lives for ourselves and others now. We would not want success for some at the expense of others, but we want to fight to win for success. Out of this commitment to our sisters, we have challenged our own thinking, our own sense of weakness, and our own inability to push ahead, so we may solidify the gains our movement is making and move to greater gains.

We know this treads on our fear of success (often greater than our fears of failure). "If you win, do you really lose? " Women have been losers so long, we often resist any chance at material victories. It is important to consider how we define victories to avoid co-optation. This goes back to our original criteria for strategy. We fight for reforms that will improve women's lives but we place priority on developing struggles which will also give women a sense of their own power and limit the arbitrary power of those in control.

We do not believe that reform built on reform will eventually lead to socialism or women's liberation. We anticipate a severe rift in social relations or many such breaks prior to full alterations in power. But we think that the increased demands for real benefits created by this strategy will heighten contradictions and prepare us for struggles leading to the rift. The nature of this revolution and the future that follows it will bet ~ fined by the struggles leading up to it.

As long as we are not effective, winning, feeling our strength, sometimes there is a danger of resentment toward our sisters with statements like, "why is it they can't see and they won't join us? " This will happen to an extent as long as we're not effective. The main burden is on us to provide activity that women will want to join. If women do not join us, our first thought must be: what are we doing that is not clear enough, not related sufficiently to the specific problems women are facing that they are not joining us? Of course, there are many reasons women may not join us at certain times, for example, threats from their husbands, fear of social identification, lack of babysitters or real disagreements. Our task is finding ways to develop and build our strength as a movement. To this end we propose this strategy.

Power and Reform

The socialist feminist strategy aims at realigning power relations through the process of building a base of power for women through a mass movement united around struggling for our self-interest Our goal is to build this movement. We oppose the utopian position which argues against any change until the perfect solution is possible. On the other hand, we also are not for working on any and every reform action that presents itself. Our strategy allows us to define priorities and timetables to lend structure to issues in terms of particular situations.

Decisions about what reforms to fight for and how. must be made on the basis of the following three criteria:

1. WILL THE REFORM MATERIALLY IMPROVE WOMEN'S LIVES? Our lives as women are oppressive in many ways; therefore we want to work to improve our lives now. Whatever our priorities, we must focus on meeting our immediate needs. When we can show that we can meet women's needs they will want to join us. While we believe that sexist capitalism cannot implement all of the reforms we are for, it is possible to use its own rules against itself. That is, we can force change through pressure. Thus, our strategy is quite different from that of raising maximalist demands——demanding something that can't be done under capitalism in order to prove that capitalism is bad. Many reforms are really beneficial to us, can be won and build our confidence. Nevertheless, the reform itself is not the only end. We also are oppressed by our real (and felt) lack of power to control that reform.

2. WILL THE STRUGGLE FOR THE REFORM GIVE WOMEN A SENSE OF THEIR OWN POWER? We need to struggle around issues where success is obviously our victory rather than a gift from those in power. Our struggle for reforms must build our movement. Our movement's strength can only be sustained through organizations. Through organizations, individual women can collectively have a sense of their power. Otherwise, even when we win, we don't know it or can't claim it. (Who forced troop withdrawals in Indochina——the President or the movement? Who forced abortion law reform in New York——the state legislature or the women's movement?). Through organizations, one victory builds on another. They have a life longer than the individual participants and strength greater than their parts.

3. WILL THE REFORM ALTER EXISTING RELATIONS OF POWER? Women in American society have little control over any aspect of our lives. We want not only concrete improvements but the right to decide on those improvements and priorities. We want power restructured, wealth redistributed, and an end to exploitation. Those most closely affected by institutions have the right to decide what those institutions do. (This means councils of workers, consumers of an institution's services, parents in childcare centers, etc.)

Most projects now, of great value to our movement, work on only one or two of the above points. The third is the most difficult and least developed in our movement. Specific battles may not win or even try to work on all three levels. But our lasting success will depend ore interrelating the three points on and among projects.

Toleration and Priorities

We want to emphasize the need for a multi-level approach to women’s liberation. Having such an approach, we can avoid some of the pitfalls of dogmatic sectarianism about the correctness of a single issue or program. We must be open and encourage alternatives. The need for a coherent strategy which encompasses education, service and action--but mixes them consciously--cannot be emphasized too much. There are some moments when an issue is ripe and other times when it is important, but will not move women, cannot be won and does not speak to women's felt needs.

But we cannot degenerate into a vague pluralism that says any effort is as good as any other effort. We can be anti-sectarian, encourage a variety of approaches and know that we must move to many approaches end' reach the many aspects of our lives as women. At the same time, we can follow a coherent strategy to set priorities for immediate work that we think are important. Of course, the test of tolerance and sectarianism is in reality. We must see how we are perceived, received and grow. Reality is a good cure.

Applying the Three Criteria

We welcome almost any activity that works for women. At this time, however, we wish to emphasize the importance of all three criteria mentioned earlier: improving women's lives, giving women a sense of their power, and altering relations of power. The three criteria should be applied to any proposed activity.

On the abortion issue, for example, the socialist feminist approach is different from seeking only legislative change by working through closed channels and thereby maintaining the right of those in power to make the rules. Victories on the abortion issue must be WON by women actively fighting for their rights. During the struggle it is important to focus on who is making and influencing decisions about abortion and to identify these individuals and institutions to women.

This approach is broader than a "write your senator" campaign. It means, for example, finding out and publicizing the church groups lobbying against abortion and challenging their tax-exempt status for lobbying. It also means finding out what corporate executives are on those church 'boards and launching consumer action against them and their businesses for their support of the church's lobby. Any campaign undertaken should identify such interconnections. We must unite women in direct, political action to change such repressive measures as the abortion law and at the same time focus on the power relations of those involved. Victories can be achieved and our campaigns are specific enough so that we can measure our success or failures.

Positive action may include a variety of activities, such as:

  • Confrontation with specific demands
  • Negotiation
  • Forcing an issue at a public hearing
  • Embarrassment pressure--picketing, for example
  • Public expose in the press or in a hearing
  • Mass public protest meeting
  • Mass demonstration tied to a specific campaign
  • Guerilla and dramatic activities (WITCH, etc.)
  • Legal, disruptive actions——strikes, boycotts, stockholders meetings, for example.
  • Civil disobedience--This may be useful on occasion, but we think at many times other tactics may be just as effective, less alienating to potential allies, and less costly.

The point is activity selected should be related to an overall strategy around a particular issue and with an eye toward what will achieve the reform and build the movement.

The political action approach described above is different from many activities of such groups as Moratorium which organized direct actions without a permanent mass organizational framework. Such groups do not involve a mass of women in continuing, persistent work and do not focus on targets that can result both in reform victories and a shift of power relations. Large demonstrations are fine to focus attention on an abstract issue of a generalized principle (such as free abortion on demand, no forced sterilization, free 24-hour client-controlled childcare, etc.). However, to win in both the above senses, the demand must be directed toward some individual in the institution from whom a response is demanded and who actually has the power to do something.

Groups such as SWP-YSA do not acknowledge the importance of these power demands in mass struggles. They have no intermediate strategy to move from reform to revolution such as this workers' or client control strategy provides. As a result, they fluctuate between ultimate demands with no possibility of winning (free, 24-hour child-care, for example) and minimal reform demands (the right to leaflet, for example) unable to build a challenge to existing power relations.

Issues for further consideration

No strategy is without difficulties, or right for every circumstance. This strategy we have found most useful for a great variety of current situations. We need to further develop the ideas, learning from action, so that we not only win, but win what we want. As we develop, we need to keep in mind issues such as the following:

  • This is an intermediate strategy. We must re-evaluate our work to insure that we move along a revolutionary trajectory.
  • We must provide ways that people can move from an understanding of specific issues, to an understanding of inter-related social reactions.
  • We need keep both ultimate and immediate concerns in mind. We must be conscious of ways in which our ideology is defined and implied in specific struggles. Doing so, we must take into account the needs and strengths of the individuals, their understanding of what is possible and the nature of the opposition.

To help do all these things, we need reference groups which can put our organizing efforts into context. Such groups help us choose priorities between struggles and develop strategy for revolutionary struggles.

Role of Counter-institutions

A major trend in the current women's movement is to organize counter-institutional projects to directly meet the needs of women. This work is important for the women's movement but must occur in the context of a movement which has other foci as well.

Counter-institutions can do a number of things. They can help to raise the expectations of women who use and staff the institutions as to what is possible. They can provide services which meet the needs of women now. They can demonstrate that the problems addressed are social in nature and in solution. They convey to the broad constituencies we seek to address that we have positive programs to offer for solving the problems we draw attention to, and that we are not simply negative in orientation. In contrast to consciousness-raising, such programs dispel the specter of endless problems without apparent solutions.

For example, a feminist-sponsored health center provides a needed service that materially improves our immediate condition. It demonstrates that women acting together can change some of their circumstances. It can contribute to building an organized base of power among women ready to fight on an ongoing basis for their rights.

However, counter institutions have some limitations. They may foster false optimism about change by indicating that problems can be solved in the spaces between existing institutions. Such programs could take up all the time of more than all of us involved in the present movement and never meet all the needs. Such activities cannot alter the power relations if they make no demands on those in power.

We argue the importance of combining counter-institutions with direct action organizing to build on the strengths of each. Such organizing focuses demands on social institutions, thus countering the conclusion that society is unchangeable. It also counters an over-optimism about the potential of self-help to change women's lives by pressing the point that significant changes can be made for all women only through far-reaching changes in power relations. The most useful role of the counter-institutional projects is providing a vision for an alternative and at the same time demonstrating the need for demanding change from those in power.

How Do We Get Power?
(Or Building and Maintaining Real Sisterhood)

Focusing specifically on political or direct action, how do we incorporate this approach into our movement? We believe that many women would join us if we had the structures and activities so they could become involved in struggles on concrete issues. We need a perspective which will allow us to undertake both short and long term struggles and campaigns which have a focus on winning. Following is a partial summary of the criteria we feel must be considered in selecting and planning a program for direct action:

The goals of the movement should be ones which can:

  • broaden and relate to many aspects of women's lives
  • convert a vision into specific activity
  • help women gain self-respect
  • unite women and build a mass organization because it focuses on women's needs
  • identify the felt needs that would move women to fight on the issue

A project should be chosen so that it:

  • moves women into direct action and groups where they can evaluate their efforts (e.g. ongoing organizations)
  • can identify specifically what institutions and who within those institutions exercises control over the issue and has the power to make reforms in response to pressure
  • identifies what a victory would be

The project should:

  • be broken into parts and fought as reforms that can conceivably be won
  • provide step-by-step activity for involvement

Application of the Strategy: An Example

In developing a concrete strategy, it is necessary to plan full campaigns having many aspects which translate a general issue into an implementable program. Here is an example of how some of us developed one project——fighting for child care with the Action Committee for Decent Childcare. We based this project on the kinds of ideas offered in this paper.


We had decided that a struggle for free, 24-hour, client-controlled childcare would meet our ideological criteria. However, this position, as an initial statement of our goals, had an immediate weakness. Raising this demand before we had an organization alienated us from even the women who later became our strongest allies. Our vision seemed so wild-eyed, so far from the existing situation, that it appeared completely unrealistic. Once we won some specific demands, raising these same ideals became more rational and acceptable because the possibility was real——women began to gain a sense of their own power.

It should be pointed out that we had decided to form a mass organization. We were attempting to reach a different group of women from those already in the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, an anti-capitalist feminist organization. We felt that women who worked with the Action Committee for Decent Childcare would, at some point, become interested in joining CWLU. Such women would probably never join a women's liberation organization without some intermediate alternative. But whether or not they joined CWLU, the movement's ideas and strength would grow with this mass form.

This is not to say that it is necessary to have an organization like CWLU before a more mass based organization can be built. Rather, in individual cities, women will need to determine who they are attempting to reach, and the specific political context of their situation.

We are also not opposed to raising our vision as a demand; and in fact, there are some instances where that may be very important. Out of our experience, however, we learned the significance of fully understanding who the constituency is, and what the organization is attempting to accomplish.

A second problem we faced was in our understanding of our oppression as women. We knew that childcare was an issue for many women, but failed to take into consideration the problems such women face. The very women we hoped to involve (those with young children) were among the least likely to ever be active in any kind of social movement. They simply don't have the time (because they don't have childcare), are less mobile, and don't think of themselves as active community members. The prevailing notion that women need something to do after their children are in school also makes these women less likely to consider becoming involved.

Development of a strategy

We spent three months gathering information about every aspect of the issue of childcare and considering all of the alternatives for vying for power. After the initial period, research was used to serve actions. We immediately eliminated the federal level since it is too remote to attack without a national organization to force some change. However, in instances where local offices really have power they might be appropriate targets. State and local agencies (and perhaps a few federal branches with responsibility for implementing guidelines or overseeing state and local programs) appeared to be easier and more successful targets. With the state level dominated by Republicans and the local level by Democrats (as is often the case) we also considered ways to play one off against the other.

In carrying out this research we attempted to determine the real sources of power versus the window dressing or public relations functions. With childcare, a problem exists, because there really is no money allocated. Therefore there is little real power that can be fought for. It is much more ambitious to demand that childcare be a priority (which necessitates an appropriation of funds) than to redirect existing funding, increase, or control it.

The specific focus for our initial work included consideration of:

1. Whose Problem Is It? 
Who is our possible constituency? How do they see the problem? Each aspect should be considered, and specific appeals and actions developed for each. For example, women who need child care are those who:
a. work days or nights
b. are in schools or training programs
c. can't afford child care—poor, middle-class
d. are accused of child abuse or are in rehabilitation programs (i.e., drug abuse programs often have large budgets)
e. want to go off welfare or are being pushed off
f. want to influence the type of care available for their children (including part-time and nursery school users, who often see themselves separately from full child care users.)
g. need child care to go shopping or on other errands
h. need it for social service work or civic responsibilities (i.e., churches, hospitals and shopping centers could be made responsible to their constituencies and supporters and people who keep them in business)
i. are single parents and must work
j. want a few hours away from their children (Setting up tot lots where housewives can socialize might bring such women together, breaking down their isolation doing private work in the home.)
k. just like to work with children
l. own day care centers and can't keep them going with the high cost and rigid requirements
m. as taxpayers, want their money to be used in the interests of women

2. What are the Sources of the Problem?
This included research into the various public and private interests involved, such as:

State level:

  • Department of Children and Family Services
  • Community Coordinated Childcare (4C's)
  • Department of Public Aid
  • State Legislature

Local level:

  • Department of Human Resources
  • City Council
  • City departments with responsibility for licensing

Private sector:

  • Industry
  • Hospitals
  • Colleges
  • Department Stores
  • Churches
  • Shopping Centers
  • Unions
  • Building Contractors (Also federal guidelines for contractors, e.g. HUD codes)

3. Who has Information About the Problem?
Here we talked with various bureaucrats, researchers, lobbying groups, social service agencies, local community organizations, social service groups and groups of women working to open childcare centers.

The Initial Strategy Undertaken.

We considered institutional targets such as: colleges——students and staff; churches——parishoners and local communities; industry——employees. Each had some limitations as an initial project. For colleges, this seemed to be a more localized struggle where we would need to engage in campus organizing from the beginning and where we did not have an initial base. For churches there seemed to be some interest but most could not move ahead because of licensing laws in the city. For industry, we focused on developing contacts within unionized plants, for the union is the agent of the employees and had no reason to trust us before we had developed a real organization. We also considered welfare but here, too, we did not have the initial base for our first project.

After examining each of the above areas with the continual question of what we could do to meet women's real needs, give women a sense of their power and alter power relations, we decided on an initial strategy. Given the funding situation, we focused on licensing, an equally great problem, but one that was more manageable. Existing licensing laws prevented centers from opening rather than encouraging new centers.

Women became involved because of their need for childcare. Day care operators joined because we could provide services, communication and expose their problems with the city government in order to win real changes. This meant they took risks of retaliation by the city (any center can be closed down by using the arbitrary licensing laws against them) When enough operators were involved and singling out any one individual became difficult. Those who were vulnerable had parents organized for protection (with community hearings, tours for the press of beautiful centers about to be closed down for lack of political pull).

Another important aspect in this issue is women's concern as taxpayers that their taxes are being used against their interests. This also broadened who joined us——women who were not mothers, but concerned about women and as taxpayers felt they had a right to speak up.

Although initially we believed our constituency would be all white (this was our base in the beginning), we very successfully developed a black and white organization on the basis of self-interest. In a black area, women demanded the creation of child care centers, because there were none. In an adjoining white area, women demanded that the few existing centers not be closed down. Once united, other common issues were raised.

We discovered that a few initial victories are extremely important for self-confidence. A reputation that you can win brings others into the organization.
In one year, the Action Committee for Decent Childcare:

  • forced the city to undertake a complete review of all licensing procedures.
  • forced the Department of Human Resources to end closed-door meetings on childcare.
  • sponsored the first public meeting with the Department of Human Resources in August 1971 on day care licensing problems.
  • forced the city to set up a committee under Murrell Syler, Director of Childcare Services in the Mayor's Office, to review licensing (ACDC had half of the members on that committee).
  • written an analysis of the current codes, with recommendations for change that were used as the basis for the new licensing codes.
  • sponsored a series of community meetings in Hyde Park, the Southwest side, and the North side areas to which state representatives, senators, and aldermen were invited to present their positions on day care and to pledge support for specific proposals.
  • started moving toward community control of childcare.
  • made existing childcare groups more active in pressing for changes.

The next struggles will be to win changes, institution by institution, while other struggles are, going on for women's community decision-making over licensing and funding in the city (which we have won partial victories on).


Out initial work focused on how to build an organization that could implement our strategy. Locally-based community groups working both on their own local issues and on concerns which required city-wide action seemed (and were) the best alternative. Such groups are particularly important when working with a group of women who are not very mobile and at the same time heighten the democracy of the organization and provide for the development of skills among the women involved. We also found it necessary to develop different structures for the many different roles women wanted and could play——local chapters, forums, day care operator councils, plus a steering committee for coordination and decision-making In the organization.

Out of our experience, we believe that it is important to continually assess how the activities of the organization build its base and its power. All actions should be geared toward building the organization as well as the importance of the issue. When a decision is made to do an action because it is abstractly worthwhile, ways should be built in to expand the organization——in resources, finances, new constituencies, prestige, publicity (that will later add to our strength).

We also discovered that it is crucial to have full-time organizers for sustained activity. Initial funding is also necessary to ensure the maintenance of the day-to-day operations of the organization. Once off the ground, an organization can raise its own funds but the initial period is most difficult. Lacking funds, the Action Committee has been forced to suspend operation.
NOTE: We offer training sessions for women interested in organizations such as the one described above.


Consciousness-raising is a process by which women come to understand the nature of reality so that they may change it. One's consciousness is related to one's objective conditions. It is the subtle interplay between the two (consciousness and conditions) which we emphasize in this section.

Consciousness is a word that has been used very loosely and has meant many things: the development of a positive self-image, individual change and growth, new emotional and sexual relationships with other women, or any of these coupled with the more general notion of a women's culture. It also means an understanding of how power is used in society and the experience of changing that society.

The conception of consciousness-raising has been an extremely significant contribution of the women's movement The whole notion of support and sisterhood has arisen as a result of women's realization of their prescribed roles and attitudes toward one another. Women have come both to feel less isolated through consciousness-raising and to learn that women's isolation is a social phenomenon We have come to understand more about the incredible problems which women confront in daily life and to respect the solutions we have been forced to make for survival. Consciousness has therefore been both a source of strength to women and a source of personal analysis. We have learned, for example, some sense of how power is used because we can see how it functions in individual relationships

Consciousness and Objective Conditions

Consciousness is one's awareness of her own fleas about her situation and how the world functions What excites us about women's liberation consciousness is that we think it is the most useful description of reality for most women. This is the key to a socialist feminist understanding of consciousness. We believe that we see a basic reality, and it is this true picture of how things are and how they got that way that, primarily, we have to offer. We are not suggesting one of many ways that things might be working now——we offer a description of the underlying relationships. This understanding makes us more effective It is useful to women so that they can act and change what they understand. Socialist feminist consciousness is of such value because it is useful, it is true.

Of course there is a great interplay between objective conditions——the various material and social arrangements of our lives——and consciousness. With material changes such as children, a mate, a home, one often becomes more circumspect because such a person must be able to provide for others (by law and social pressure). Or, a sister is not treated equitably (in job, school, social situations) or denied rights she had come to expect and suddenly the women's movement is no longer just "them." In everyday ways, objective conditions affect our minds.

Change may also come through receiving information which touches our crucial values (values which may ordinarily function to maintain us where we are) and jolts us. It may be of women dying from illegal abortions or of My Lai massacres. Information changes our consciousness (somewhat ahead of our conditions) by putting our lives into a new context. Usually, we think, this change happens in ways consistent with women's pasts rather than through absolute, abrupt breaks from it.

Most often, a change in specific conditions and consciousness occur simultaneously, part of a process developing over months, if not a lifetime. Our material lives change and our thoughts about it and ourselves change. (Thus, Freud is so popular in relating all events to childhood because we are, of course, the same people or had the same origins as our "old" self). One situation or series of situations may be a catalyst to a new perception of reality, but this is often a culmination of other events.

In our movement we think it is important to emphasize the obvious about consciousness. We all have consciousness. We all have contradictions in our own "level" or "levels" of consciousness. Certain factors of our lives may mean that we emphasize certain things we see to be true; and ignore, or deny, or just agree to live with others. Our movement needs to offer women feasible alternatives. These new alternatives can help close the contradictions with which they live. (The same may be said about ourselves).

Here it is important that what we offer is a view of reality. For example, women often cannot see who their enemy is because he is not right on the scene. So, often people vent their anger on a relatively powerless agent who is carrying out another's will (e.g., the waitress) or cannot function well in the conditions but who does not have the power (alone) to change (teacher, mother). What we have that makes us attractive, is that we see the roots. That is the meaning of the word "radical."

What Our Consciousness Has To Offer

So what does our conception of consciousness have to offer? It allows women to generalize from their specific situation or series of situations to see patterns. This provides a picture of reality that will allow them to function better because the pieces fit. But we can provide more than a pattern: we identify causes for events. Only if we understand these causes will we know how to change those events (not repeat or be overwhelmed by them). It provides a systematic way to develop our ideas from ideology to strategy, to program and tactics, because it identifies things in relation to their importance in reaching our goals.

We must understand consciousness raising in relation to objective conditions. Women cannot have "higher consciousness" by trying harder. There are real limitations on women. Just presenting alternatives does not often make them adequate or real to women. We must always relate to the lives of women, in the concrete form.

The most wonderful thing that a consciousness-raising group does is to help us see that problems we once felt were personal are social. We must continue to see how we are not so different from most women. We react to so many of the same objective conditions (from the pill, economic job scarcity, more youth in college, etc). This helps to keep things in perspective. For example, it is not women's liberation that is making problems for the nuclear family. In part, we are an outgrowth of many of its problems. In part, we affect its future and the alternatives offered. So there is the constant interplay of objective and subjective forces. Popularized women's liberation consciousness itself (as we all know) is not what causes social change.

Implications of Socialist Feminist Consciousness

We began our paper with a three-point guideline to strategy: 1) win real concrete reforms that meet women's needs; 2) give women a sense of their own power; 3) alter the relations of power. Our understanding of consciousness allows us to understand the real (root) needs of women, and the ways in which our powerlessness affects us and gives us the desire to alter relations of power.

It unites talk and action, constantly, describing a place for emphasizing each. It helps us set priorities in terms of a concrete situation. (Thus we move away from abstractly "pure" issues, but see each issue in a specific situation as one that may or may not demand our attention, depending on how it relates to the lives of the women we are able to address and other strategic considerations. )

It also make us fairly tolerant of what choices women make with their lives because we see how bound rip conscious decisions are with immediate situations. We have a great belief in the almost infinite perfectability of people (given changes in social institutions and generations of change in consciousness). But we are cautious about the extent of personal perfection. We know no one can be liberated in this society, no matter what their consciousness. We are bound in networks of limitations, immediate, specific and affecting our whole lives.

Thus, consciousness is not abstract (though it may at any one point be unclear). It does not come from an individual's mind (though intellectual focus develops it). It is not necessarily reflected in all personal actions of an individual, but is in social actions. A socialist feminist consciousness is certainly not a natural or spontaneous process that will always happen when a group of women come together. As events move quickly to clarify social forces (as declarations of war, arrests, economic hard times, increased divorce rate, etc. often move events), so our consciousness is clarified. Consciousness is a key to power, not only in our individual lives, but as a social force coming into its own and able to work on its own behalf.

Many things have moved us to believe in women's liberation. Talking to other women, we came to realize our oppression by understanding the nature of our upbringing and of our lives as, women. However, the changes we think will be most permanent in us are those made by participating in a variety of activities, which, through our involvement, lead us to further understanding and change. In the process of struggling to change our oppression, me begin to understand both the specific forms of oppression and how they are related to one another.

We find that ideology guided only by reflection and discussion loses touch with reality and-is not accepted by most women. Further, if our movement is to continue to expand and to move forward to change our oppression as women, we must unite in a variety of activities which will build our power base. This in turn further develops our ideology and our understanding of the oppression of women.

Rap Groups

The method of consciousness-raising used most frequently in the women's movement has been the rap group. The fact of group participation has been very important in changing women's feelings of isolation and individuality. It has made it easier for us to understand the commonality of interest among all women and what is necessary for change. The rap group format is one in which everyone can contribute. Women can develop skills through understanding one another's experience and dealing with the feelings that experience has created. But because consciousness and conditions are intertwined, rap groups by themselves may be a dead end.

They can lead to a concentration on the improvement of ideas or one's self with no eye toward action. The purism of endless refining and redefining should not be mistaken for success. A good analysis is not equal to action. Consciousness must not become an end in itself and an inhibitor to seizing power. We are arguing neither for an uncritical turn of mind nor for the blissful ignorance of all but the most narrow issues for the many. We are arguing that ideology must be integrated into the on-going life of the movement, and that this is best done in relation to and with testing, by concrete changes resulting from actions.

The rap group format may present another obstacle to the full development of the movement. Discovering more and more examples of the effects of oppression on personal life can make the task of social and personal change seem impossible. It is not difficult to reach the stage where any work toward liberation seems irrelevant because early socialization practices cannot be changed at once. Direct action supplements rap groups. It provides opportunities to develop and use new skills while bringing about change. In this context, both rap groups and the development of a socialist feminist analysis can proceed without the dangers of purism or hopelessness.

The full development of women's capabilities may be hampered by the very things in consciousness-raising which at fast seem to stimulate so much growth. Women come together as sisters on the basis of shared weakness and common problems. As women grow stronger, they themselves may become frightened; sometimes the strength of one may divide the others from her. Thus sisterhood may be lost as strength is gained.


To make more concrete what we mean by socialist feminism, in this section we address a few issues currently facing the women's movement. For each of these issues we sketch what we see as a socialist feminist context. The issues include independent women's organizations separatism, class organizing, counter-culture, lesbianism and vanguards.

Independent Women's Organizations

With the isolation and unorganized state of the women's movement in a number of areas of the country, many women who might agree with ideas presented here are not presently working as part of the independent women's movement. Many women have filtered back into mixed organizations or left the women's movement, feeling that it rejected their skills.

Many women in mixed organizations who know they are for women's liberation are caught in the bind of either feeling guilty or hostile to the independent women's movement (because they feel that the movement condemns them for the choice they made). Our concerns, we expect, are shared by many women in mixed organizations. We hope emphasizing the need for an independent women's movement also helps develop ways for working with women and men in mixed organizations.

We argue for developing organizations and having organizational pride. This is a point many act as if we had "overcome." We argue for developing leaders and organizers responsible to such organizations and through them to us in the movement. A few years ago it was not "in" to be for organizers. Now leaders are "out." We argue for a leadership that is responsible (again, not so obvious to some) and useful to all of us. There are so many more points, but these should provide some for argument and discussion.

All women's fates are bound with that of the independent women's movement. The movement's advances will concretely affect the lives of all other women. So too, individual women's advances and defeats, multiplied, will help shape the movement.


Other reasons for women working with women have been said often, and still are true. Bias with any group with common interests, once those interests are identified, much is shared and a common perspective can be developed more readily. It is easier to follow our own agenda. (At least it lessens the likelihood of forgetting our own self-interest, which is so often submerged in other organizations and institutions). Of course, there are situations in which organizational problems develop among women. We find women are just nicer to work with than men.

But the most basic argument for the independent women's movement and organizations is that the relations of power are unequal between women and men. As long as this is true, men will maintain control unless we have separate organizations to identify our needs and strengths. Unequals, treated superficially as equals, will remain unequals. This will be true unless women come together on the basis of self-respect and separate organizations or caucuses.

We argue this partly in the interest of ever maintaining democratic and effective mixed organizations. Women must be united (in caucuses or separate women's groups) to act on our own program. Otherwise, feeling our ineffectiveness, we will focus solely on attacking chauvinism in organizations in a more and more personalized form. Without a strong caucus through which women can be strong, they suffer——for example, being told they are "not political" or to submerge their desire to fight on women's concerns. Organizations also suffer, unable to proceed, having-to deal with internal problems of chauvinism at every step. Alternatively, they will not deal with chauvinism et' all.

As socialist feminists, we argue for using the principles of power realities to guide democracy in the organization. Women, in mixed organizations, would fight for and win the program they wanted and know they had won it. This would begin to alter structurally the relations of power in the mixed organization through common struggles in action. At the same time, we must remember our greatest enemies are those in or serving the ruling class.

Working With Men

Objectively, men as a group have vested interests opposed to those of women as a group. We will, for example, cut into their jobs, challenge their position of comfort in the family, and take personal power away from them. In the short-run, and in some ways, men are an enemy.

Why work with men at all?

At many points, our interests and the interests of men are shared. We commonly are united in our class position against such things as bad health care, insufficient jobs, long hours and a powerlessness to affect priority decisions of our society. Also, at points, sexism oppresses men. At these points, we can join in common struggle (e.g., they are trained to kill and be killed, have tenderness drilled -out of them). Even then, we must be able to organize separately so that we may come together.

In addition, women have historic and emotional bonds to men. When men and women come together, it is out of the forces of social reality. Those social bonds are not destroyed by ideological argument alone, but only when that social reality changes. In many cases, women have no real choice but marriage for survival, self-respect and warmth or love. We must look at the lives of most women with fewer assumptions to discover what their real alternatives are and in what is their happiness. Our perspective for our struggle must not deny to these women the sources of support they have found in the past (possibly through men or children).

There has sometimes been a weakening of the skills men have to offer to the movement, by excessive guilt-tripping when men were told to give up their chauvinism. True, the struggle against chauvinism is a constant one. But chauvinism is all around us, constantly conditioning us, and will be most effectively overcome through attacking its institutional roots, through women united against it. We assume men (and we) will reflect chauvinism. Too often our actions contradict our knowledge that originally brought US together——you cannot overcome social problems with personal solutions. Thus a "position" on men should be tactical: it varies with the real circumstances. A position on men is not our program. Sexism, not men, is our politcal enemy.


Separatism has two meanings now in the movement. One is an ideological position arguing for the separate development of men and women as fully as possible. Another is a tactical position, arguing for separate organizations or life alternatives. We too argue for separate organizations as a tactical decision. However, we argue against an ideological stance of separatism.

It is easy to see how the argument for the independent women's movement could lead to an ideological argument for separatism (or how the two arguments are related). We do find strength in separatist models. They show us concretely, how much we can gain from each other as women. But for reasons previously said we do not believe separatism will solve our problems. Also, because ideological separatism does not have the social basis for attraction to the majority of women, it has turned the struggle to one only within the movement. It moves toward more and more purity, dividing us from our allies rather than uniting us on common ground and developing new common ground on which we can unite.

Ironically, this is much the same position that women in mixed organizations, without strong caucuses, find themselves in. (That is, they turn their struggle to one within the organization—— fighting chauvinism——not to program.)

More basically, under certain circumstances, working with men is feasible, desirable and necessary to achieve our vision. Separatism as personal practice is a matter at choice, as political position is illusory.

In the Name of Socialism

In the name of socialism, arguments have been made against the independent women's movement that did justice neither to feminism nor to socialism. Such arguments were often part of attempts to develop a class anlaysis of American society and saw women's liberation as a way to bring women into "the movement." Many in the women's movement have responded negatively to the opportunism implied in this using of women's liberation. Although it is now generally accepted that the fight against sexism is a main goal, there are still times when the perspective of women's liberation is challenged for legitimacy from this quarter.

Sometimes the challenge comes in the form that our primary fight must be against racism. Since the women's movement is primarily white, this would mean we need to change struggles. Raising the need to fight racism abstractly only reaffirms the "purity" of those who raise it. We argue that struggles against racism will be meaningful on the basis of common self-interest between black and white groups.

On many issues, whites and blacks may not be able to unite because our relations of power are unequal. However, when social forces touch us commonly in some ways, we can build programs to overcome social divisions. We must not deride the support we do have because it does not reach all women right now.

At other times the argument is one of "giving up privilege." To some extent this is another abstract purism. More importantly, this is not the image we want to project, nor will it be successful. Women will join us because we win rights for them. No one joins in order to lose something that they need. Rights will be established as they are fought for and won, not because those with privileges and power give them up.

A third challenge to women's liberation has postulated that only productive, paid working (or, more narrowly, industrial working) women are a revolutionary force. There have been some interesting but defensive responses to this showing that housework is productive. But we feel the argument and the defense have been too narrow. There are many contradictions in society. Many different kinds of efforts, directed at many different targets, have included so many more women in our movement. Of course, only employed workers can withhold labor necessary for corporations to continue. But the general strike has never won any victories when it wasn't combined with the general political mobilization of all exploited classes. While working for it, organizations of unpaid female labor and community organizing efforts are building the social force we will need for that revolution and revolutionizing future social relations.


The women's movement has brought forth a women's culture with the development of women's poetry, music, art, history, women's centers in the cultural realm, and more practically oriented skills such as auto repair and karate. This culture has provided a place for our creativity to be expressed and enabled us to have more independence and self-confidence in areas where we have been denied knowledge and opportunity for expression in the past.

In addition, it has helped change many women's lives. By providing an example of our vision, women's culture has helped develop a consciousness of how things could and should be better (which helps us understand how we are oppressed now).

At the same time, feelings of frustration and isolation among other things have led many women to seek only cultural alternatives——personal lifestyles of liberation. Many women have chosen to commit themselves entirely to development of a counter culture, dissociating themselves from any action or organizations and frequently moving from the city to the country. For its personal usefulness, we do not argue against it for those who can. But because of its limitation, we challenge this as a political program.

As socialist feminists, we are helping build an extended women's culture but also believe that it should be available for all women. This will fully be possible only if we challenge institutions which have power over us so that we might make it available to all. Our culture should be built into the kind of society for which we are fighting. Currently, our culture is only available to a small minority of women. Women must join together to struggle for power in order to bring about our vision for all women.


As the women's movement developed, the gay movement, too, has grown. The gay movement has more forcefully brought the issue of sexuality into the political arena with an analysis of the oppression suffered by gay people in our society. Hating the conditions that shunt us and loving women with whom we find new strength and new room to be weak, many of us come into lesbian relationships. The gay liberation movement has brought people together collectively to bring an end to that oppression. Gay or straight lives are joined in that these struggles affect us as women.

Lesbians, as outcasts in society because they have stepped out of the prescribed roles for women, have long been persecuted. In lesbians' fights against sexism, all feminists stand to gain. Similarly, since all lesbians are women, lesbians stand to gain from the struggles of femin

ists. We must join together since our interests are intertwined.
This is not to deny the need for separate lesbian groups or caucuses. Heterosexual bias is so strong that it persists unless lesbians are organized separately to argue for a lesbian perspective. The organizational form may be caucuses or entirely separate groups; but where our interests are ultimately the same, we should fight together for we can then be stronger and gain more power.

In some places, it appears that to be in the women's movement, one must be gay. Sometimes, in fact, it is argued that lesbians should be the vanguard of the women's movement. We do not believe that power for women will be won by a primary focus (for the whole movement) on gayness. We do not believe that a primary focus on any particular contradiction will lead to revolution.


A vanguard has two common meanings. One is a social force in the front of political struggle. The other is a conscious leadership such as a political party provides for certain movements. At different moments, strong forces in the movement have argued that certain groups should be the vanguard (black, working, gay, etc.). Many of these arguments have been so oppressive that some women have reacted against any idea of vanguard.

Yet both functions for vanguards are important at certain points. At times, our movement may be able to use and will need a vanguard, a leading and integrating force. Out of respect developed through past leadership in struggles, a vanguard can synthesize a movement's energies and help to focus it.

A vanguard of conscious, responsible leadership can help us develop the best use of the resources and the varying interests that we will attract. It does not further and further define the pure line so that we attract fewer and fewer women. It does not win its respect by merely identifying itself as a leader. Many previous attempts at vanguard leadership failed, resting on guilt, rhetoric, and self-imposition.

When we are truly strong enough, able to develop program from our independent sectors——in women's, gay, black, medical, educational, along geographic and work lines, overlapping and also leaving spaces——then we will especially need an integrating force, a political party. It will incorporate and build on our priorities of socialist feminism because we will have shaped this vanguard of the people's liberation movement.


In order to implement the strategy outlined in this paper, women's liberation organizations are needed. Through the strength of organizations, power can be won and the women who participate in them can gain a sense of their own power, a new self-respect, and a form for ensuring the continuation of our movement. Only organizations can be the carrier of victories and the repository of past successes.

Currently, the women's liberation movement is broken into small groups in most places and thus is hard to find, hard to join. Women's liberation has not received recognition for even the few victories we have won up to now, because there is no organized form to articulate our successes. With organization, women's liberation can be in the arena along with other groups, struggling for our own victories.

We fear that the women's liberation movement may die. How can we survive struggling for five, ten or more years without organizations larger than ourselves to carry on? More conservative efforts will be able to claim our victories and attract women and resources unless we offer our own organizational alternative. They will set the tone and the agenda for the movement and it will no longer be ours.

As a movement, we have tried to understand why early feminists died out, sold out, or lost out in history. Concerned lest we repeat their mistakes, we have spent much time saying we should expand our class and racial base. But perhaps a fate similar to the early feminists awaits us because 1) we have not concretely identified the interests of women and fought in common for real gains on that interest; and 2) we have not developed organizations that would fight around that interest. If we can do these things, we should be able to overcome the limitations of the earlier women's movement and actively recruit women to our movement.

In this paper we are not arguing for any one specific organization, although in the future we would hope a socialist feminist organization might be possible. Rather, we are arguing for an organizational conception which would provide a form for working on the range of problems women face——abortion, child care, health, job discrimination (i.e. "women's issues") as well as all issues which affect our lives as women: taxes, housing, the war, welfare, etc. As those issues affect us, we need forms that belong to us, through which we can respond and reach other women, and which will insure that the solutions won reflect our interests.

The kind of organization we propose reflects our confidence in this strategy, with alliances made on the basis of mutual self-interest and equal power among groups. Sometimes we have participated in coalitions out of a sense of guilt or because we did not have our own work. Often in the women's movement we face requests for our participation in everyone else's program. In a socialist feminist organization, such alliances would only be made as they fit into our own strategy.

Structures Appropriate to Goals and Constituency

As women, we have had many bad experiences with organizations which impeded our personal growth and political progress. Many women, reacting to the way they have been oppressed by such structures, reject all explicit structures. We have found this unrealistic because the structures survive implicitly and continue to affect us while we try to ignore them or live in the spaces allowed us.

The form and structures for organization will vary depending on the type of group being formed. For large, mass organizations, more structure is necessary in order to be able to integrate new members, and provide varying levels of responsibility so that those with less time can also participate. Such organizations, which are designed to achieve specific goals, need structures also in order to facilitate the development of strategy and the implementation of decisions.

A reason for flexibility in organizational form is that women of different styles may feel comfortable in different situations. For example, those with a college background may see more need for philosophical discussion. Some with jobs, family and other commitments may feel greatest priority on starting and ending meetings on time. At times the decision may have to be for the medium amount of comfort for everyone rather than the perfect atmosphere for any.

Within this context, there are several specific organizational ideas that we think are important in building organizations that serve us. We need specific forms clearly stated through which women can see where leadership lies and how to develop it and make it accountable to them. Below are structural elements we think are necessary for developing a mass organization:

  1. explicit structure and decision-making vehicle
  2. levels of involvement to allow women to make more or less of a commitment depending on interest and/or time.
  3. division of labor, reviewed systematically and designed to help less skilled women gain skills.
  4. leadership responsible to the organization
  5. work and involvement having some relationship to decisionmaking
  6. information dissemination throughout the organization.

 Leadership, Elitism and Democracy

There has been much discussion in the women's movement about elitism and leadership. We have been innovative and learned from experiments tried in different parts of the country. The principle of "if you don't know, learn; if you do know, teach" has helped many of us develop and spread our movement.

However, we have seen leadership patterns emerge in every situation. The solution is not to destroy leadership. Rather, we must make leaders responsible to organizations and to the members. In addition, leadership can be an effective catalyst, a stimulator to advance the movement. Elitism can be perpetuated only when we do not train each other in what we know.

We believe in political debate and in voting as a means of distinguishing between alternatives and deciding how to proceed. Operating on the basis of consensus means necessarily that we cannot move beyond the lowest common denominator of agreement. Our movement would never have existed if we really followed notions of consensus in American society. Moreover, consensus often hides real disagreement because there is no structured way for opposition to have a voice, as in a vote. Further, women in the minority on a particular issue can be oppressed by a consensus appraoch because their views cannot be seen as a clear, different position or altering An Such a minority position may be forced into agreement with the majority.

We believe political debate is crucial for maintaining the viability of our movement. We can have political debate without endangering our strong feeling of sisterhood for each other. Sometimes we will win and at other times we will lose; but political debate and struggle provides stimulation and challenges US to develop our ideas and positions.

Conflicting viewpoints, in fact, are healthy in any organization and should not be submerged because of a fear of difference. But for debate to be worthwhile, it needs to be tied to clear function within the organization. While engaging in that debate, we must continue to be clear in identifying the real enemy we are fighting. We can structure debate within the organization so it helps us learn, but it is not our sole function.


To summarize, we have argued for a strategy toward building socialism and feminism for this specific time in history when we have strength in our sense of responsibility to women and yet weakness in our isolated situations. This strategy assumes we want to reach most women and to do that we must understand and build on their real self-interests. We must develop winning programs and now emphasize direct action. We have argued three points in each part of this paper, which define our strategy:

  1. win reforms which really improve women's lives,
  2. give women a sense of their own power through organization,
  3. alter the relations of power. The issue of building and seizing power is the crucial one in our real situation now. Our. consciousness of reality and our vision of what relations we would like to see between people is what guides efforts, attracts people to us and helps define what we mean by winning.

So much of this is obvious, many may ask, "so what's new?" To this we have two kinds of answers. One answer is that precisely because we think it obvious, we wrote the paper. We do believe, as we said, that we are a majority of the movement, and that as our strategy reflects reality, we will (in the course of time) attract a majority of women to our position. Still restating the obvious clarifies where we are, where we have come from and how far we have yet to go. Without a strategic conception, the women's movement has become less clear in its mission and fervor. We hope to reinforce and help each other identify what may have once appeared as common sense (before so many splits and diversions altered our common sense of relating to the needs of women).

But there is another answer to the common senseness of what we have done. Common sense is not always too common. We draw attention to some few points of significance. We hope slur ideas will not be just accepted or rejected but discussed for how they challenge common past practice. We argue for the primacy of self-interest, so often lost in discussion of ideology. Our ideology must guide us, but also must be guided by the realities shaping our lives.

We have learned a great deal in the last few years, but because we had no structure on which to build, we have lost where we could have gained in experience and power. This paper reflects both our frustration and our commitment to the development of a women's movement struggling toward the realization of a socialist feminist vision. We have written this paper so sisters who be lime as we do may come forward and join us.

Primarily, we argue for an aggressive and audacious perspective. It is one that our movement began with when we thought we were the newest and hottest thing going. Now, we have found roots. We will need strategy, organization and so many steps along the way. But we must take the offensive again, and this time fight a long battle——worth it because we believe we can win.

Copyright @ 1972 by Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation Union. All rights reserved.

Living Alone: The Rise of Capitalism and the Decline of Families

three book review by Harriet Fraad

Published at truthout here on 10/03/12

Three books. Three eye-opening accounts of tectonic shifts in American life. And one extraordinary analysis of the intimate connections between the new economy, the political power structure and the historic rise of one-person households.

Tectonic shifts are changes in the very foundations of the earth. The books I review illustrate these shifts in the ways that Americans manage their personal lives: how we live day to day, with whom we live and what kinds of relationships we have.

Three recent widely-acclaimed books track changes in America's personal life. They are "Going Solo," (Eric Klinenberg, New York: The Penguin Press, 2012); "The Outsourced Self," (Arlie Russell Hochschild, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2012); and "Coming Apart," (Charles Murray, New York: Crown Forum-Random House, 2012).

None of the three describe the duet danced between the changes they astutely observe and the new US economy and political power structure. I will try to do that here.

Going Solo

"Going Solo" describes the meteoric rise of people choosing to live alone. Today - for the first time since the census began counting in 1880 - more than half of American adults are single. They are tied with childless couples for the distinction of being the most predominant residential type, more numerous than nuclear families with children, multigenerational families, roommate homes or group homes. Manhattan alone is home to a million people whom Klinenberg calls "singletons," living alone in one-person dwellings. Manhattan is typical of US and European cities. The people living solo are not all old widows and widowers. For the first time in recorded US history, the majority of people that the census refers to as of "prime marriageable age" – 18 to 34 years old - are unmarried and live alone. For younger Americans this does not feel like a radical change. For older Americans it is a sea change.

Klinenberg is enthusiastic about this development. He mentions, but does not focus on, its wildly different outcomes for people who do and do not have money. For the affluent top 20 percent, living solo can be a refuge. For the employed professional, it can deliver respite from the constant demands of stressful work lives. It is now common knowledge that the 8-hour day is lost in America and folks need to escape from employers.

Cell phones and job precarity make workers available at all hours. Wealthy "singletons" can work until late at night and then go to bars or restaurants with their fellow workers and spend money and time decompressing before they return to the peace of their single dwellings. On weekends, when they have discretionary time, they can entertain themselves through their personal computers or with the thousands of opportunities a city can provide for those who can pay. Older, affluent solo dwellers who are either employed or retired can go to the theater or expensive films, dinners out, etc.

If they are at home, social media on their computers can keep them somewhat connected. In short, they can connect on their own schedules in ways that having money facilitates. If they are old and infirm and in the 10 percent to 20 percent of privileged Americans, they can hire caretakers who accompany them and make socializing and cultural events possible. They can stay more connected on their own terms.

Not so with the 80 percent of youth who also work - or try to work - long hours. They cannot afford to go out and spend money and often cannot afford computers. Younger people can find each other and hang out in less safe environments where the police may bother them for loitering. Elderly poor singletons are often stuck in isolating and dangerous single-room-occupancy hotels. They often live in poor and dangerous neighborhoods where they cannot feel safe enough to sit outside or go to a local park if there is one. They cannot afford computers or lessons in how to use them. Lines for computer access at the public library are long and library hours are cut. If seniors are in the 80 percent who cannot afford sufficient paid care, and do not have devoted local children, friends or relatives, they are isolated and often depressed. This is the poor neglected side of US single life, or death as the case may be.

Why is This Tectonic Shift Happening Now? A Question Untouched in "Going Solo"

Part of the glue that held relationships together in the past was a strict division of gender roles. Closely related was the segregation of employment opportunities. Another part was the unavailability of reliable, safe birth control and abortion, which left many women and children dependent on the male wage. Family wages were almost always unavailable for women and minority men. Their lives were considerably harder. Full or high employment in a scarce labor market reserved for white men included financial rewards for being white and being male.

That began to change in the 1970s. Advanced international communications systems, computer technology and weak unions allowed corporate outsourcing to export US jobs. Jobs at home shifted to social service jobs which are harder to outsource. Social service jobs are lower paid and tend to be female jobs. At the same time, women and minority rights movements expanded their labor opportunities. Capitalists no longer had to give white men wage supplements for jobs reserved for them. Capitalists replaced white men with both low wage people from Third World nations and cheaper minority and female labor in the US.

Without their family wages, white men could no longer support their wives' full time labor as dependent household servants, sex mates and child-care providers. Families needed more money. Millions of white women joined their minority sisters in the labor force. Some were driven by their own wish for fulfillment. Most were driven by economic necessity. With women's changed position as wage-earners, the economic backbone of gender-segregated families began to break.

The 1970s also brought the advent of the LGBTQ movement which has contributed to changes in gender stereotypes. LGBTQ relationships have their own dynamics. Gender role stereotypes have not been as rigid and limiting in LGBTQ relationships as they were, and often are, in heterosexual relationships.

LGBTQ relationships have been both benefitted and also injured by a society in which they were not given the legitimacy accorded straight relationships. On the one hand this has made it harder for LGBTQ couples to sustain long-term relationships. On the other hand, LGBTQ long-term couples tend to be happier in their relationships.

In the 1970s and thereafter, LGBTQ, feminist and civil rights ideology permeated the society and entered American homes. Women claimed more autonomy and respect. However, heterosexual couples and families did not often develop collective communal styles of relationships to match their shared roles at work. Housework and childcare were and are still overwhelmingly performed by women in hetero families.

Old-style hetero relationships consist of a now impossible level of male responsibility, an unshared financial burden and male dominance combined with an equally impossible burden of female housework, combined with childcare, and jobs outside of the home. Women had a liberation movement to help us escape from our limited lives in household labor and it is women who have dramatically reversed our role and rejected marriage.

Men did and do not have a movement to help them appreciate the new intimacy possible in egalitarian couple relationships. Traditional men often expect their wives to fulfill traditional roles and also to work outside the home. Many men demand extra emotional labor to soothe male egos wounded by lost financial dominance. Former hierarchical models of relationships are broken, and new communal models are less available, especially for blue collar heterosexual men who are the hardest hit by our changed economy. There are no measures for communal relationships. However, there is a statistical record of men opting out of shared household labor and childcare.

Living alone may seem preferable to struggles that neither partner in the relationship can understand, let alone resolve. The same kind of communal sharing and mutually empowering economic, intellectual, social and economic equality that Left movements advocated for the economy are needed in the home, where they are unavailable. Living alone looks more desirable than struggling together to achieve what neither understands. This too is relevant to the mass movement of "going solo."

There is an additional factor. Many young people cannot find mates. US society has become increasingly isolated. Putnam documents the incredible isolation of current US society. ,

The difficulty of finding a partner is such a fact of US life, that two new sitcoms on the subject, "The Mindy Project" and "Ben and Kate" will appear this fall on Fox TV

Although many young people look for partners on the Internet, the Internet serves to conceal as well as reveal those who advertise themselves, and many find it painfully inadequate.

Between the difficulties in meeting a partner and the confusion and pain of changed gender expectations, many remain single.


Arlie Russell Hochschild writes about another new phenomenon, one predominantly experienced by what I would call the top 20 percent of the US population who can afford to pay for personal services Hochschild presents the wide variety of personal services one can buy if one has the means. She points out that this is indeed a capitalist phenomenon happening in the context of frantic work schedules and market solutions. People hire children's birthday party coordinators, and professional baby naming services. They go to baby farms in India to hire baby bearers who carry US parents' fertilized eggs to maturity.

Employed, educated, well-paid couples pay for substitutes in personal arenas of life. Turning to "professionals" who manage and fulfill their personal obligations - manage and decorate and clean their homes, birth their babies, etc. - has negative consequences that are not factored into the equation.

Wealthier Americans lose touch with their families and with their ability to provide meaningful services for themselves and those they love. It is unfair to Arlie's excellent work to fault her for not writing a different book, however another book needs to be written about the consequences for those whose work schedules are crippling their personal lives and who cannot afford to outsource what were the labors of love. They are suffering terribly. They have no recourse to trained, paid professionals to clean their homes, make their meals, provide quality care and afterschool educational opportunities for their children, take care of their aging parents, etc. While the 80 percent are overworked, their old parents and their children suffer without help.

Hochschild's book implicitly and explicitly criticizes the capitalist idea that money can and will not only replace, but provide a better alternative to personal time and effort and the thousand knowledges that can come with caring for children, creating a birthday party on which children work with parents, going through a pregnancy, creating a meal together -- ad infinitum.

This excellent book points the way to crucial research that needs to be done. An important question is: What are the knowledges that come from personal care around intimate moments and shared time and experience? What is learned is often in the realm of women's emotional labor in the home. Hochschild is the founder and a primary explorer of the term emotional labor," a huge contribution.

In spite of her pioneering, and crucial work, the skills and powerful knowledges learned by both the givers and receivers of emotional labor have never been delineated. They are part of what has been women's labor, but since that labor is neither defined nor explicitly valued, they are not financially rewarded. The overwhelming majority of women's paid labor is in low pay, pink collar jobs as servers, receptionists, secretaries, child care workers, nurses, nurses' aides -jobs that require emotional labor.

Perhaps if the skills employed in emotional labor were enumerated and compensated, all work that requires emotional labor, including the unpaid work of mothers, might be rewarded by our economy instead of punished with lower salaries and less job mobility.

The implicit message of Hochschild's book is a critique of capitalist values that largely ignore the fundamental work of sustaining people's lives in favor of work that directly produces profit. The drive for profit produces endless personal services sold to wealthier over-committed people. At the same time I must point out that those services for pay are not there for the majority of Americans who cannot pay. Low income, hardworking parents and their families cannot afford the basic services that would allow their families to enjoy a decent quality of life. The drive for profit, combined with the least time off in the industrial world, robs all of the American people of time off to care for, and fully enjoy, their families. Although poor working families suffer most, all economic strata are deprived.

"Coming Apart"

Murray's book, "Coming Apart," is very much like Patrick Moynihan's famous study of the African-American family, "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action," (1965) - often referred to as the "Moynihan Report."

Moynihan blamed the dysfunction and male absence in the African-American family on poor work habits, immorality and pathology. In parallel fashion, Murray blames the disintegration of the white working class family on its immorality, loss of religious belief, laziness and lack of discipline. Murray does not imagine any social, economic or political development that may have contributed to causing this behavior, which is a mass social phenomenon.

"Coming Apart" has received accolades from the media and the press. It shifts the problems of US capitalism on to the shoulders of its victims. Murray and his fans disregard the fact that just as African-American men in the US were denied family wages, which made it near impossible to support families, now white working class men in parallel fashion have lost the family wages that supported their families. Blue collar males now join their minority brothers and suffer low wages, mass precarity, unemployment or under-employment and the ego wounds that accompany the inability to support a family.

What has changed is not the sudden laziness or immorality of blue collar men, but US capitalism. Our economy has radically shifted since the 1970s when the majority of white families consisted of wage-earning males and dependent wives and children.

That was not a family form recommended by this author. Its stability was paid for with women's economic dependence and subordination and men's onerous financial burden. Its logic often led to marriages built on the financial dependency of women and the guilt of men, marriages which were often resigned and bitter. It polarized male and female gender roles and obstructed the deep, respectful, intimate friendship between men and women that can happen among sharing equals.

What Happened: A Summary

Beginning in the 1970s, computers reached a level of sophistication that allowed them to accomplish several goals favorable to large capitalist firms. Computers could and did replace millions of jobs. In just one of infinite examples, computer scanners replaced jobs in taking inventory in retail establishments. Bar codes knocked out millions of jobs.

Advanced telecommunications allowed capitalists to outsource US jobs to Third World workers from China, Bangladesh, etc., whose meager salaries and frightening working conditions were reinforced by police states.

Our compromised unions did not organize to prevent outsourcing. US middle class prosperity was based on wages that were raised in tandem with profits. Capitalists froze wages. Capitalists no longer had to pay extra for American workers in general, and white male workers in particular. They exported jobs abroad, and hired lower paid women and minorities at home.

Financial necessity forced the mass of US women into the labor force. That in turn created extra expenditures for prepared food, cleaning, child care, etc. to substitute for what had been women's unpaid labors at home. Americans did not enjoy the vacation time, free child care, free university education and free medical care that their socialist compatriots had fought for and won in Europe. All were additional costs borne by individual families.

Men could not bear those costs and support their families on frozen wages. The hegemony of white men was struck a blow. The white middle class was decimated.

The economic model of the wage-earning male and dependent wife and children was finished.

New egalitarian models of relationships were present in family therapy ideology and feminism, however they did not and do not dominate the US romantic landscape.

The social and economic conditions of existence that might have supported egalitarian relationships of equal partners were, and are, not in place. There was and is no free universal child care, health care, maternity and paternity leave, family leave, job security or guaranteed vacation time. Women struggle with double shifts of work in both the marketplace and at home.

Men feel belittled, angry and entitled to more emotional succor to compensate for the financial blows they receive in their work lives. Children are neglected and needy. They demand more time and energy, primarily from their exhausted mothers. Women are deserting men who can no longer provide for their families and yet expect double shifts from their wives. Blue collar marriages blow apart at an unprecedented rate.

The people whose marriages last longer are in the privileged and professional sectors - people who can outsource tasks of domestic and personal life to maids, nannies, daycare and after school programs, summer and vacation camps, restaurants, takeout food, professional laundries, etc.

Outsourcing of tasks deprives well-to-do families of intimate family activities and leaves the majority, who cannot afford such extensive services, both deprived and wanting.

Living solo appeals to millions. The demands of relationships, the rules and expectations of which have changed, are too much to manage. Living alone is the fastest-growing form of household.

Millions of men who have been denied their family wages find refuge for male domination in right-wing anti-woman politics and fundamentalist and Catholic religions with their emphasis on denying women's independence through anti-abortion and anti-birth control movements, opposing equal wages for women and denying support for raped and battered women.

Other men seek to take back their male power through guns. (None of the explosion of mass killings have been committed by women.) Millions more seek power in heterosexual pornography in which women are portrayed as inviting sexual degradation

On the other side, millions endorse more support for expanding public services that support families, from schools, food stamps and school lunches to daycare or universal health care.

Each of the three books I discuss, "Living Solo," "Outsourced" and "Coming Apart," attests to tectonic shifts in US personal life. All three are silent on the apparition of the looming elephant in the room.

The elephant in the room is the capitalist colossus that has replaced and outsourced decent jobs, cut wages, denied family supports and decimated the US family. Within this disaster, living solo seems preferable. Emotional life is outsourced or neglected and families come apart.

Right-wing ideology has captured Americans who feel that their family lives are looted. The right is the only sector that explicitly, verbally supports the work of raising a family, even though it simultaneously denies financial support to every aspect of family well-being.

The Left has ignored the bleeding US family to our detriment. We have stood outside the personal arena too long. Capitalism and intimate life are intimately interconnected. All three of the popular books I discuss engage the crucial topic of changed personal life, a topic which the Left largely ignores. We will need to address both capitalist plunder and personal life if we want a chance to win.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Institutional Discrimination

by Jo Freeman

This text is based on a lecture given frequently in the 1970s.

Discrimination can occur both individually and institutionally. Acts of individual discrimination are often both conscious and obvious. They can be dealt with by either removing the person who discriminates from any position where such actions are meaningful or by inducing the person to halt the behavior in question. Institutional discrimination is built into the structure itself. Thus it in more covert and more tenacious. It can occur regardless of the desires or intentions of the people perpetuating it.
Consequently, one must not ask what are the motives of the individuals involved but what are the results of their actions. Institutional discrimination is may easily seen statistically. If a particular group is disproportionately absent in comparison to the pool of those possessing the relevant skills, discrimination is occurring even if it is impossible to document specific individual instances. (Such discrimination may also be affecting the pool of available talent, but that requires action on a different level).
As institutional discrimination is built into the normal working relationships of institutions, its perpetuation requires only that people continue "business as usual." Its eradication requires much more than good will; it requires active review of the assumptions and practices by which the institution operates, and revision of those found to have discriminatory results. Such an operation cannot be approached casually; inevitably, extra effort is necessary.
Institutional discrimination begins with the recruitment process. Most jobs, especially the better ones, are not openly advertised. Knowledge of their existence is usually limited to friends and colleagues of those in power In the institutions, and in turn their friends and associates. Since such patterns of association tend to be homogenous, knowledge of job opportunities rarely gets to members of other groups. Even open advertisement may be limited in results if it is put in places of limited readership. Concomitantly, many jobs depend on recommendations; people are often reluctant to take the chance of recommending someone who might be thought "unacceptable" for whatever reason. To break these patterns, it is necessary not only to "open up" the recruitment process, but to actively seek members of previously excluded groups and work with their organizations to find competent applicants.
Once applicants have been found, other elements of institutional discrimination usually come into play. First of all, the qualifications actually necessary to perform a particular job are usually only a part of those necessary to get a job. One's compatibility, affinity, correspondence to an "institutional image," and general ability to "fit in" to the already existing social structure are often the actual criteria upon which selections are made. Test scores and degrees are other selectors which are not always valid measures of ability. As real qualifications are often hard to determine, these and other artificial criteria of selection are usually used in order to provide some logical basis for elimination. Those criteria in turn are rationalized as being reasonable ones and a certain investment is made in their continuation, Serious analysis must be made of what skills are actually necessary to perform a particular job and what are valid ways of determining them.
In jobs or promotions requiring interviews, problems of "style" often interfere with accurate perception of ability. Unless they have special training or sensitivity, it is difficult for most interviewers to escape their own social conditioning that members of many social groups are assumed to be inferior. The fact that members of such groups may have a style of life, speech, dress, action and even thought which differs from that of white middle-class men often creates "noise" which obscures real ability. Too often merit is confused with conformity to the personal standards of those already in positions of power.
Much institutional discrimination results from judgments made on secondary rather than primary characteristics. Race and sex may be consciously eliminated as concerns, but criteria such as educational background, employment history, supervisory experience, age, income, etc, which have been effected by group membership, can be effective substitutes. One must realize that people who have not had the same life-chances will not have the same life results.
It often happens that there are deficiencies between the qualifications of some applicants and those that the institution would like such applicants to possess. Sometimes these deficiencies are spurious; i.e. more stringent qualifications are in fact imposed on some applicants because there is a gut-level distrust of backgrounds different than the interviewer is familiar with. Or, when judgments are subjective, the interviewer will fail to see some abilities because they are not expected to be there. Often the unfortunate fact is that members of many groups have not had the opportunities to gain the experience or training felt to be desirable to perform a particular job. Here, more flexible standards are necessary, coupled with training programs to make up for any real deficiencies. Otherwise, institutional discrimination operates as a multiplier effect: opportunities denied on one level become resources lacking on another which in turn prevent one from gaining new opportunities, etc.
On the job itself, what one actually does may bear minimal resemblance to the official position description, yet it is the latter, not the former, on which pay and promotional opportunities are usually based. Secretaries may be doing the work of administrators, assistants the work of their bosses, helpers the foreman's job, or two workers substantially the same work for substantially different pays Although these "support" jobs may provide excellent training for assuming the occupations they support, they are usually dead end jobs. A secretary rarely replaces a departing boss, yet often is the only one capable of training a now one. It in frequently the case that there are duel employment structures in any institution with members of one always blocked from joining the other. Occupational hierarchies need to be examined both to determine the actual content of jobs and to remove barriers to mobility built into such hierarchies which serve to discriminate.
One must also take into account the effects of past discrimination. If some people historically only had access to one type of job, they may have acquired the skills but have not acquired the credentials to move to another in the future. Too, their skill development may have been retarded due to the limitations of the job they were in. Most institutions already contain a significant body of available personnel for whom opportunities have not been provided for advancement nor whose value has beer adequately assessed.
One major effect of past discrimination is that supervisors may have effectively discouraged some employees from thinking of themselves as having potential. Thus such employees do not apply for promotions or new lines because their self-confidence has been undermined or they are convinced that they have no chance. The patterns of encouragement and reinforcement operate so subtlety that they are difficult to discern. Their effects may be readily seen, however, in any hierarchy that gets more homogenous on the way up, with supervisors honestly claiming that some people are just more interested in advancement than others.
Institutions have great power to reward and penalize. They provide material goods, opportunities, resources, services, and psychological satisfactions. While these benefits are never distributed perfectly equitably, it has been declared contrary to public policy for them to be allocated on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin. Since most institutions have been structured to discriminate in the past, the change in policy will not lead to a change in results unless there is also a change in the institutions, It is very easy to discriminate without really trying. It is very necessary to put in the required effort to stop.

From Suffrage to Women's Liberation

by Jo Freeman

Published in Women: A Feminist Perspective ed. by Jo Freeman, Mountain View, Calif: Mayfield, 5th edition, 1995, pp. 509-28. 

The suffrage movement was not a united movement. It was a coalition of different people and organizations that worked together for a few intense years around the common goal of votes for women. Approximately 95 percent of the participants in the movement were organized under the umbrella of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Throughout most of its history this organization pursued the vote on a state by state basis. In 1916 NAWSA President Carrie Chapman Catt presented her "winning plan" to focus on a federal amendment while continuing with state work. She mobilized the coalition into high gear until success was achieved. 
Her plan was stimulated by the challenge of Alice Paul who had returned to the United States in 1913 after an apprenticeship in the British Suffrage Movement. There she had learned the value of publicity to be obtained by marches, civil disobedience and hunger strikes. Paul persuaded NAWSA to let her organize a Congressional Committee to pursue a federal amendment, and when she felt support for her activities were insufficient, broke off to create a separate Congressional Union. One of Paul's strategies was to mobilize women in the states where women could vote. From her British experience she adopted the idea of holding the party in power responsible for failing to pass the federal amendment. Since President Wilson was a Democrat, she organized enfranchised women to vote against all Democrats in 1914, including those Members of Congress who supported suffrage. In 1916 a separate National Woman's Party was created for this purpose, but Wilson was overwhelmingly re-elected, carrying ten of the twelve states in which women could vote for President.

During World War I NAWSA leaders worked both for Suffrage and in support of the war effort. The Congressional Union only worked for Suffrage. They flouted Wilson's slogan that the purpose of the War was "to make the world safe for democracy" by standing outside the White House with banners reading "How long must women wait for democracy?" The rate of state enfranchisement of women accelerated and pressure on the President and Congress intensified. In January 1918 President Wilson declared his support for a federal amendment, and later that month the House passed the amendment without a single vote to spare. It was not until May of 1919 that the Senate did likewise. A ferocious state-by-state battle ensued to get the three-fourths necessary to ratify the Suffrage Amendment. It almost didn't make it, but by two votes Tennessee became the 36th state. On August 26, 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment joined the Constitution and twenty six million American women became eligible to vote. Carrie Chapman Catt calculated that it took:

57 years of campaigning,
56 referenda to male voters,
480 efforts to get state legislatures to submit suffrage amendments,
277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include women's suffrage planks,
47 campaigns to get state constitutional conventions to write women's suffrage into state constitutions,
30 campaigns to get presidential party conventions to adopt women's suffrage planks into party platforms,
19 successive campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.

NAWSA disbanded. Some of its members reorganized into a non-partisan, non-sectarian League of Women Voters to provide women with political education and work for a broad range of social reforms. Other members, including Catt, turned their energies to working for peace. Many more returned to the organizations from whence they had come, such as the Women's Trade Union League, the General Federation of Women's Clubs and the National Consumer's League. Still others founded new organizations, such as the National Federation of Business and Professional Women, and separate women's organizations within different occupations. These and several other women's organizations joined together to form the Woman's Joint Congressional Committee which was described by the Ladies Home Journal as the "most highly organized and powerful lobby ever seen in Washington." Among their major achievements on the federal level were the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act (1921), equal nationality rights for married women (1922), and the Child Labor Amendment (1925). The WJCC along with other Progressive organizations were repeatedly attacked as socialist and subversive. These attacks took their toll; as the Progressive impulse faded, many women returned to private life. The Congressional Union - National Woman's Party reorganized itself into a new National Woman's Party and continued its work for women's equality with men.

Survival During The Doldrums 

Between the suffrage movement and the women's liberation movement, the paramount feminist issue was the Equal Rights Amendment. It was first proposed in 1921 by Alice Paul who had decided that the next step was removal of all legal discrimination against women and that the most efficient way to do this was with another federal amendment. The ERA was aimed at the plethora of state laws and common law rules that restricted women's jury service; limited their rights to control their own property, contract, sue, and keep their own name and domicile if married; gave them inferior guardianship rights over their children; and generally stigmatized them as lesser citizens. It was vigorously opposed by progressive reformer Florence Kelley and her allies in the National Consumers' League, the Women's Trade Union League, and the League of Women Voters, because she feared it would also destroy the protective labor laws for which she had fought all her life.
The preponderance of these laws limited the hours women could work each day and each week, prohibited night work for women, and removed women from certain occupations altogether. Some states also required minimum wages for women only, though the Supreme Court declared this unconstitutional in 1923. Although many of these laws had passed before Suffrage, Kelley and other progressives had joined the Suffrage Movement only after they became convinced that women must have the vote in order to pass more laws to improve the condition of working women. They were not about to see their decades of effort undermined by the utopian ideals of the militants. 
The NWP was not initially hostile to protective labor laws; many members had fought for such laws in their home states. Early versions of the ERA exempted these laws from coverage. However, Kelley could not be convinced that any version would not be misinterpreted by the courts, and after much thought Paul and her colleagues decided that any exemption would be come a universal exemption. Besides, she concluded, protective labor laws really hurt women more than they helped, because they encouraged employers to hire men. By the time the ERA was first introduced into Congress in December 1923, it had divided women's organizations into two warring camps, who fought each other to a stalemate for almost five decades. 
The battle was more than a disagreement over what women wanted. Behind it was a fundamental disagreement over the meaning of equality. The NWP favored absolute equality of opportunity. Women would never achieve economic independence as long as laws treated them like children in need of protection. The reformers accepted fundamental differences in physiology and family role as incontrovertible. They noted that the female labor force was largely young, unmarried and transitional. Labor unions did not want to organize women because they were not permanent workers and did not earn enough to pay dues. Thus collective bargaining did not offer the same protection for women workers that it potentially could for men. Only legislation could save them from gross exploitation by industrial capitalism. 
Though both women, their followers and allies, had roots in the Progressive movement, they came from different generations and had different world views. Kelley called herself a socialist, though her allies in the women's organizations would not have used that term after it became tainted by the red scare of the twenties. Yet her view of women was solidly grounded in a conservative conception of the sexes that saw each as fundamentally different from the other and properly occupying separate spheres. Whereas Kelley accepted the status quo, Paul was a feminist visionary; she saw what women could be, undistracted by their current reality. She pursued this vision monolithically. With rare and minor exceptions she ignored any political issue other than removal of all legal barriers to women's equality and economic independence. During the twenties she stifled any discussion within the NWP on the disenfranchisement of black women or the suppression of birth control information. Despite her commitment to anti-communism, during the fifties she thwarted an attempt to broaden the base of the now minuscule NWP by including patriotic issues. 
Hindered by declining numbers and influence, the NWP kept the feminist faith burning through some very hard times. The Depression led to an upsurge of extant public opinion against the employment of married women, or any woman who had a male relative to support her. Such women were thought to be taking jobs away from men, who had families to support. The advent of the Roosevelt administration brought to power Kelley's disciples Frances Perkins and Molly Dewson, not to mention Eleanor Roosevelt, who, while a role model for activist women, thought the NWP "a perfectly useless organization." Their strong opposition to the ERA was based in part on their perception that it was primarily a class issue and not one of sex equality. As social reformers they argued that requiring equal rights under law would favor upper class professional and executive women at the expense of working class women who needed legal protection. While they acknowledged that there were many state laws that unfairly distinguished between men and women, they felt that these should be eliminated state by state and law by law.

World War II saw the suspension of protective labor laws and a renewed interest in both the ERA and working women. Several organizations shifted their opinion from con to neutral to pro, following the lead of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) in 1937. Many of the opposing organizations ceased to be active. The Republican Party first endorsed the ERA at its 1940 national nominating convention; the Democrats followed in 1944. The Senate voted on it for the first time in 1946. It failed, and when it came up again in 1950, opponents were ready with a crippling "rider" to exempt all laws for the protection and benefit of women. This was added on the Senate floor in both 1950 and 1953; after that the ERA never left committee. In the meantime, the NWP went through two crippling internal disputes involving purges and lawsuits. Leadership of the opposition was taken over by the AFL-CIO and traditional liberal organizations such as the ACLU. The Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor, a leading opponent since the ERA's inception, briefly withdrew during the Eisenhower administration (the only sitting President to endorse the ERA before 1972) but resumed its leadership role with vigor when Kennedy appointed Esther Peterson as its director after he became President in 1961. 
Peterson had two items on her agenda for women: passage of an Equal Pay Act and derailment of the ERA. The first was achieved in 1963 after two years of concerted lobbying and compromises. Her strategy for attaining the second was the creation of a President's Commission on the Status of Women which would propose a program of constructive action that would make the ERA unnecessary. The PCSW's final report urged "judicial clarification" of women's legal rights rather than a blanket declaration of legal equality via a Constitutional amendment, along with a lengthy list of other objectives. In the process of reaching these conclusions, the commission thoroughly documented women's second-class status; its 1963 report, American Women, became something of a Government Printing Office best seller. It was followed by the formation of a citizen's advisory council and fifty state commissions. Many of the people involved in these commissions, dissatisfied with the lack of progress made on their recommendations, became founders and early activists in new feminist organizations.

Origins of the Women's Liberation Movement 

By the 1960s the ERA was a non-issue. It had even been dropped from the platforms of the Democratic (1960) and Republican (1964) parties, despite continual lobbying by the NWP. Founders of the new feminist movement had no idea how much they owed to the lengthy battle over the ERA. Few had even heard of the NWP. Their focus was on the elimination of discriminatory practices and sexist attitudes, not legal rights. Their role model was the civil rights movement, not the old feminist movement.
The women's liberation movement was the bastard child of the civil rights movement. Unplanned, unwanted, and unloved by its parent, it nonetheless bore its stamp. During the fifties and early sixties, the civil rights movement captured the public imagination and educated it on the immorality of discrimination and the legitimacy of mass protest. As such, it became the mother of all the movements of the sixties and seventies. For women, however, it provided not only a model for action, but a very different world view from that of the "separate spheres" which had been the reigning ideology for the previous century. The idea that different people had a different place in society was in part a product of the Nineteenth century Victorian era. It was accepted by the dominant force for social change of that period -- the Progressive Movement -- which sought to make government the protector of the unfortunate and the downtrodden, not their equalizer. The Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537) that separate could be equal reflected this view. It was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483) declared that separate was inherently unequal. The civil rights movement popularized this view, and in so doing undermined the rationalization behind the sexual division of labor. The analogy that was often made by sixties feminists between the status of women and the status of blacks was one that had been made frequently in the previous centuries, and like then, was part of the process of educating American women to the inequities inherant in separate statuses. 
The movement actually had two origins, from two different strata of society, with two different styles, orientations, values, and forms of organization. In many ways there were two separate movements which only began to merge in the mid 1970s. Although the composition of both branches was predominantly white, middle-class, and college-educated, initially the median age of the activists in what I call the older branch of the movement was about twenty years greater. The difference in age between the participants in the two branches reflected an often noted characteristic of society in the sixties known as the generation gap. Over time the gap declined. Younger women joined older branch organizations, and the women in the younger branch became older. Today age is no longer a defining characteristic of different feminist groups (except for those organized into OWL -- originally Older Women's Liberation now the Older Women's League). 
The first new feminist organization was the National Organization for Women (NOW) which was founded in 1966. Its key progenitor and first President was Betty Friedan who came to national prominence by publishing her best seller The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Many of NOW's founders and early participants were members or staff of the President's and State Commissions on the Status of Women. The Women's Bureau held annual conferences for Commission members; it was at the third such conference that NOW was proposed. The immediate stimulus was the refusal of the Bureau to permit a resolution urging the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce the provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting sex discrimination in employment.

The addition of "sex" to a section of a major bill aimed at eradicating race discrimination had at the time seemed more of a diversionary tactic than one geared to improving the status of women. With little notice and no hearings it was added during the last week of floor debate by Rep. Howard W. Smith of Virginia, whose antagonism to civil rights was well known. What was not well known was that Smith had been a supporter of the ERA and the NWP for over twenty years and proposed the sex amendment at its request. This was not the first time for this tactic. The NWP had a long standing policy of demanding rights for women that were given to any other group. It had been lobbying for two decades to add sex to Executive Orders which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race by federal contractors. And it had successfully added sex amendments to two previous civil rights bills -- in 1950 and 1956. These bills did not pass but the 1964 bill did, creating a tool to attack sex discrimination that piggybacked on the civil rights struggle. Although the Women's Bureau had initially opposed the sex provision it quickly changed its attitude. It's objection to the resolution by the conference it sponsored emanated less from concern about the EEOC than that the NWP would demand a resolution on the ERA. 
The NWP's initial attitude toward NOW was not sisterly. It did not want its role as the preeminent feminist organization to be usurped, particularly by women who had a broader agenda than the ERA. However, it knew an opportunity when it saw one. It infiltrated NOW as it had BPW and many other organizations, and in 1967 NOW endorsed the ERA. The debate was spirited but not acrimonious. Although labor union women felt compelled to withdraw from NOW because their unions opposed the ERA, most participants at the NOW conference were strong supporters. They were unaware of the decades of debate over protective labor legislation, and very attuned to the importance of equality as a result of the civil rights movement. The latter had created a different frame of reference than that of the struggle to protect workers against industrial exploitation at the turn of the century. 
Just as important, by 1967 the world was a very different place than it had been in the 1920s. Women were one-third of the labor force; the fastest growing segment was mothers of young children. The idea that they were merely transitory was rapidly receding into the past. Despite the "back to the home" propaganda of the "feminine mystique" era of the 1940s and 1950s, women's participation in the labor force had risen steadily while their position within it had declined. Opportunities to work, the trend toward smaller families, plus a change in preferred status symbols from a leisured wife at home to a second car and a color television set, helped transform the female labor force from one of primarily single women under twenty-five as it was in 1940, to one of married women and mothers over forty by 1950. Simultaneously, the job market became even more rigidly sex-segregated, except for traditionally female professional jobs such as teaching and social work, which were flooded by men. Women's share of professional and technical jobs declined by a third, with a commensurate decline in women's relative income. The result of this was the creation of a class of well-educated, underemployed and underpaid women. These women became the social base of the new movement. 
Many of them joined NOW, but as with any social movement there was a mushroom effect which resulted in numerous new organizations within a few years. In 1968, women who were unhappy with NOW's support of women's right to choose abortion left to form the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL) in order to focus on economic and educational issues. The same year Federally Employed Women (FEW) organized for equal opportunity within the government. In 1969 men and women who wanted to devote their energies to legalizing abortion founded the National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (NARAL). Between 1969 and 1971 women's caucuses formed in professional associations that did not already have separate women's organizations from the Suffrage and post-Suffrage era. In 1971 women who wanted to work within the political parties founded the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC). And in 1972 unionized women formed the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
In 1967 and 1968, unaware of and unknown to NOW or to the state commissions, the other branch of the movement was taking shape. While it did not begin on the campuses, its activators were ont he younger side of the generation gap. Although few ere students, all were under thirty and had received their political education as participants in or concerned observers of the social action projects of the preceding decade. Many came directly from new left and civil rights organizations, where they had been shunted into traditional roles and faced with the contradiction of working in a freedom movement but not being very free. Others had attended various courses on women in the multitude of free universities springing up around the country during those years.
During 1967 and 1968, at least five groups formed spontaneously and independently in five different cities -- Chicago, Toronto, Detroit, Seattle and Gainesville, Florida. They arose at a very auspicious moment. The blacks had just kicked the whites out of the civil rights movement, student power had been discredited by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the organized new left was on the wane. Only draft-resistance activities were on the rise, and this movement more than any other of its time exemplified the social inequities of the sexes. Men could resist the draft; the women could only counsel resistance.
There had been individual temporary caucuses and conferences of women as early as 1964, but it was not until 1967 that the groups developed a determined, if cautious, continuity and began to expand. In 1968 they held a national conference attended by over 200 women from around this country and Canada on less than one month's notice. For the next few years, they expanded exponentially.
This expansion was more amoebic than organized, because the younger branch of the movement prided itself on its lack of organization. Eschewing structure and damning leadership, it carried the concept of "everyone doing her own thing" almost to its logical extreme. The thousands of sister chapters around the country were virtually independent of one another, linked only by journals, newsletters and cross-country travelers. Some cities had a coordinating committee that tried to maintain communication among local groups and to channel newcomers into appropriate ones, but none of these committees had any power over the activities, let alone the ideas, of the groups it served.
One result of this style was a very broadly based, creative movement, to which individuals could elate as they desired, with no concern for orthodoxy or doctrine. Another result was political impotence. It was impossible for this branch of the movement to organize a nationwide action, even if there could have been agreement on issues. Fortunately, the older branch of the movement had the structure necessary to coordinate such actions and was usually the one to initiate them.

The Small Groups

The younger branch of the women's movement was able to expand rapidly in the beginning because it could capitalize on the new left's infrastructure of organizations and media and because its initiators were skilled in local community organizing. Since the primary unit was the small group and no need for national cooperation was perceived, multitudinous splits increased its strength rather than drained its resources. Such fission was often "friendly" in nature and, even when not, served to bring ever-increasing numbers of women under the movement's umbrella.
Unfortunately, these newly recruited masses lacked the organizing skills of the initiators, and, because the very ideas of "leadership" and "organization" were in disrepute, they made no attempt to acquire them. They did not want to deal with traditional political institutions and abjured all traditional political skills. Consequently, the growth of movement institutions did not go beyond the local level, and they were often inadequate to handle the accelerating influx of new people into the movement. Although these small groups were diverse in kind and responsible to no one for their focus, their nature determined both the structure and the strategy of the movement. 
The major, although hardly exclusive, activities of the younger branch were organizing rap groups, putting on conferences, putting out educational literature, running service projects such as bookstores and health centers and organizing occasional marches against pornography or to "Take Back the Night". This branch contributed more in the impact of its ideas than in its activities. It developed several ideological perspectives, much of the terminology of the movement, an amazing number of publications and counter institutions, numerous new issues, and even new techniques for social change.
Nonetheless, its loose structure was flexible only within certain limits, and the movement never transcended them. The rap groups were excellent for changing individual attitudes, but they were not very successful in dealing with social institutions. Their loose, informal structure encouraged participation in discussion, and their supportive atmosphere elicited personal insight but neither was very efficient for handling specific tasks. Thus, although the rap groups were of fundamental value to the development of the movement, the more structured groups were more politically effective. Individual rap groups tended to flounder when their members exhausted the virtues of consciousness raising and decided they wanted to do something more concrete. The problem was that most groups were unwilling to change their structure when they changed their tasks. They accepted the ideology of structurelessness without recognizing the limits on its uses.
Because structurelessness provided no means of resolving political disputes or carrying on ideological debates, the younger branch was racked by internal disputes and personal attacks. "Trashing" sometimes reached epidemic proportions. The two most significant crises were an attempt by the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), youth group of the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), to take over the movement, and the gay/straight split. The Trotskyist YSA saw the younger branch of the movement as a potential recruiting ground for socialist converts and directed its members to join with that purpose in mind. Although YSA members were never numerous, their enormous dedication and their contributions of time and energy enabled them to achieve positions of power quickly in many small groups whose lack of structure left no means of resisting. However, many New Left women had remained within the younger branch, and their past experience with YSA predisposed them to distrust it. Not only did they disagree with YSA politics, but they also recognized that, because YSA members owed their primary allegiance to a centralized national party, those members had the potential to control the entire movement,. The battle that ensued can euphemistically be described as vicious, and it resulted in YSA being largely driven from the younger branch of the movement. (Several years later, in their SWP guise, YSA members began to join NOW, but NOW's structure made it more difficult to control.) However, the alienation and fragmentation this struggle left in its wake made the movement ill prepared to meet its next major crisis.

The gay/straight split occurred not because of the mere presence of lesbians in feminist groups but because a vocal group of those present articulated lesbianism as the essential feminist idea. They argued first that women should identify with, live with, and associated only with women, and eventually that a woman who actually slept with a man was clearly consorting with the enemy and could not be trusted. When this view met the fear and hostility many straight women felt toward homosexuality, the results were explosive. The gay/straight struggle raged for several years and consumed most of the time and energy of the younger branch. By the time the tensions eased, most straight women had either become gay or had left the younger branch. Some jointed NOW, some rejoined the new left, and many simply dropped out of women's groups altogether. After gay women predominated (by about four to one) in the small groups, their anger toward straight women began to moderate. However, the focus of both the gay and the straight women who remained was no longer directed at educating or recruiting nonfeminists into the movement but rather was aimed at building a "Women's culture" for themselves. While a few groups engaged in outreach through public action on issues of concern to all women (e.g. rape) or even on issues concerning straight women exclusively (e.g. domestic violence), most of the small groups concerned themselves with maintaining a comfortable niche for "women identified women" and with insulating themselves from the damnation of the outside world. 
By the mid-1970s the small groups had disappeared or melded into women's culture. Most of the publications they had created folded though a few remain to this day. Some of the service projects "institutionalized" by getting government funding (e.g. battered women's shelters and rape crisis centers) and others survived as small businesses (e.g. bookstores and abortion clinics). Many women remained active in "sub-movements" which focused on specific issues such as battered women, rape, health, etc. Some women did burn out and retreat to their private lives. Others took their feminist consciousness with them into other arenas of activity. In particular the pro-choice, environmental and anti-nuclear movements were energized and informed by feminists, creating such hybrids as ecofeminism. Many other feminists moved into academia where they built campus women's centers and women's studies departments. And a lot of newly politicized women who would have joined a small group in the 1960s joined NOW and other older branch groups bringing with them some of the free-wheeling style and desire for new ideas that had characterized the younger branch.

The Older Branch 

Older branch organizations have stayed with traditional forms of organization, including elected officers and national boards. Some experiemented with new forms such as joint holding of offices. Some have paid staff. All started as top down organizations lacking a mass base. Only NOW subsequently developed a mass base, though not all wanted one. The NWPC tried to build a mass membership, but its success has been limited. Some of the service projects that originated as small groups but then obtained government funding joined together into national coalitions such as the Displaced Homemakers Network and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). Many women who wanted to work full time on feminist issues created staff-based organizations without members, and sought support through contributions, foundations and government contracts for research or services. These include the Center for Women's Policy Studies, National Committee on Pay Equity, and the Women's Legal defense Fund. In addition, some long-standing women's organizations such as the American Association of University Women and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women, became explicitly feminist, and still others such as the American Nurses Association and the National Education Association, implicitly so. They often join with feminist groups to pursue different items on the feminist agenda. 
All have functioned largely as pressure groups, sometimes on the government, and sometimes within their professions. Those based in Washington created a feminist policy network, often working with labor, civil rights and liberal organizations to obtain their goals. Collectively these organizations have used the legal, political and media institutions of the country with great skill, bringing about major changes in law, public policy and many institutional practices. There has been some specialization of function. Lawsuits have been largely handled by the Women's Rights Project of the ACLU with other legal defense groups joining with amicus curiae briefs. NOW has organized most of the large marches. The NWPC has focused on campaign training of women to run for elected office.
As a result of their activities the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission changed many of its originally prejudicial attitudes toward women. Numerous lawsuits were filed under the sex provision of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress in 1972, as did Title IX of the Educational Equity Act. The Supreme Court legalized most abortions in 1973 and radically rewrote Constitutional law on women by 1976. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978. Complaints were filed against several hundred colleges and universities, as well as many businesses, charging sex discrimination. Articles on feminism appeared in virtually every news medium, and a host of new laws were passed prohibiting sex discrimination in a variety of areas. 
The organizations of the older branch have been able to sustain themselves longer than those of the younger branch, but they have had their ups and downs and some (e.g. WEAL, NCADV) no longer exist. Funding is a continual problem. Assaults by the right wing have forced many to choose between staying on the cutting edge of social change or paying their staff. Controversy aids fundraising by direct mail; but direct mail is very expensive to initiate and siphons off a lot of time. Memberships rise during controversies, but fall when they are over; members also require expensive servicing and sometimes want to participate in decision making. Staff based organizations are the most flexible and efficient but also the most dependent on the goodwill and policy preferences of foundations and government contracts. Few contemporary feminist organizations can rely on rich doners as the National Woman's Party did for so long. 
Although NOW began as a Washington pressure group, it is the only new feminist organization to develop a mass membership. It's early history was a convoluted one. NOW suffered three splits between 1967 and 1968. As the only action organization concerned with women's rights, it had attracted many different kinds of people with many different views on what to do and how to do it. With only a national structure and, at that point, no local base, individuals found it difficult to pursue their particular concerns on a local level; they had to persuade the whole organization to support them. This top-down structure, combined with limited resources, placed severe restrictions on diversity and, in turn sever strains ont he organization. Local chapters were also hampered by a lack of organizers to develop new chapters and the lack of a program into which they could fit.
These initial difficulties were overcome as NOW grew to become the largest single feminist organization. Although it never hired organizers to develop chapters, the enormous geographical mobility of its members and their desire to create chapters wherever they moved had the same results. NOW also benefitted greatly from the publicity the movement received in the early seventies. Although much of that publicity was a response to the eye-catching tactics of the younger branch, or was aimed at creating "media stars" (none of whom were NOW leaders), NOW was often the only organization with a telephone and a stable address that incipient movement participants could find. Consequently, its membership grew at the same exponential rate that the younger branch had experienced in the late sixties.

With its first contested presidential election in 1974, NOW developed two major factions that fought for control of the organization and every nearly split it into two. Although these factions articulated their concerns ideologically, the fight in fact was not over issues but rather was a very ordinary attempt by "outs" to become "ins". By 1975, the insurgent faction had established solid control, and, in spite of an occasional contested election, it has remained in power ever since. Over the next few years control of the organization was centralized. A national office was established in Washington, the bylaws were rewritten and state organizations were created. Dues were collected directly from members, not all of whom were members of local chapters, and used to fund a national staff and national projects. While this centralization did drain resources and energy from the chapters, it allowed NOW to focus its efforts and thus to increase its power on the national level. Major national projects, such as ratification of the ERA and opposition to restrictions on abortion, helped recruit money and people. 
Although NOW remains the preeminent national feminist organization, it has only been a tangential part of the feminist policy establishment in Washington. This is partially from its own choice; NOW has usually stayed out of coalitions that it did not run. But it is also because NOW has often chosen controversy over caution. It adopted from the younger branch not only most of its ideas, but a lot of its flamboyant style; organizing demonstrations, sit-ins and other activities designed to catch the public eye. Its size and its actions made it a lightening rod for attacks from the right. Consequently, even among feminists NOW is often in the unenviable position of always being an outsider. The establishment dismisses NOW as too radical, while self-defined radicals disdain it as part of the establishment. 

The Feminist Agenda

The contemporary feminist agenda has always been a lengthy one, but has not always stayed the same. In this it differed from its predecessor. Suffrage was the consuming passion of the Woman Movement. After it was achieved the National Woman's Party deliberately stuck to one issue -- Congressional passage of the ERA; Alice Paul viewed occasional diversions into other concerns as "side shows." The founders of the women's liberation movement thought concentration on a single issue had been a mistake; most conscientiously sought to be as broad ranging and inclusive as possible.
From the beginning it has been popular to differentiate the older and younger branches ideologically. Specifically the terms "reformist" and "radical" were often used, particularly by members of the younger branch for whom the distinction was of critical importance to their identity as radicals. However, these terms hide more than they reveal because they imply fundamental differences in analysis which simply are not there. Structure and style more adequately distinguished the two branches than ideas. Indeed, had there been fundamental ideological differences it would not have been so easy for ideas, and eventually people, to move among groups in both branches. In reality, feminism in all its manifestations is radical in that it seeks to redefine the basic human relationships between the sexes and to redistribute power and other social goods. It is also conservative in that its driving force are the concepts of liberty and equality which have been part of our civic culture for over two hundred years. There are ideological differences within the overall feminist movement, but they don't correspond to the organizational forms.
Ideology aside, there were were some differences in how participants in the two branches approached feminism, which reflected their past experiences more than their understanding of what feminism meant or what a feminist world would look like. Older branch members were willing to work with existing institutions and were issue oriented. They identified problems and demanded specific changes in laws, policies and private practices to improve women's status and opportunities. Younger branch members adopted from the new left a suspicion of existing institutions. "Working within the system" was to them inherantly suspect. While they rarely disagreed with the issues identified by the older branch organizations, and made similar demands within the institutions of which they were a part (other social movement organizations, academia, etc.) they were more concerned with articulating broad conceptual frameworks which would explain women's oppression and point to far-reaching solutions. In addition to reform and radical, labels such as "liberal" and "socialist" were often used to distinguish among different types of feminism. All of these labels were derived from traditional male ideological frameworks; none are very useful in understanding feminist ideas. 
Younger branch feminists were also more concerned with process, espousing principles of inclusion and participation. From the very beginning a "feminist way" of doing things was often more important than feminist goals. That is why the structure and style of the two branches continued to differ even though issues and ideas readily diffused throughout the entire movement. Long after the two branches had merged to the point that such a distinction was no longer relevant, organizational form and process continued to be a priority and often a source of conflict. Such concerns were neither new nor radical. An "anti-power ethic" has a long and honorable tradition in American history. Even though it is not a specifically feminist one many feminists have incorporated it into their concept of feminism to the point where it became part of their ideology.
Within the younger branch a basic difference of opinion developed quite early. It was disguised as a philosophical difference, was articulated and acted on as a strategic one, but actually was more of a political disagreement than anything else. The original issue was whether the fledgling women's liberation movement should remain a branch of the radical new left movement or become an independent women's movement. Proponents of the two positons became known as "politicos" and "feminists" respectively, and traded arguments about whether the enemy was capitalism or male-dominated institutions and values. In some ways this argument recapitulated that between Florence Kelley and Alice Paul. As did Kelley and her allies, politicos saw women's problems lodged in an inequitable economic system which had to be changed before women could be free. Feminists in both eras acknowledged the role of economics, but saw improving women's opportunities as their priority. However, unlike Kelley, politicos had no faith in the power of law to rectify these problems or the willingness of the state to improve the position for women. They and their feminist counterparts were alienated from traditional political institutions and put their faith only in an undefined revolution. This conflict faded after 1970 when the influx of large numbers of previously apolitical women made an independent, autonomous women's liberation movement a reality instead of an argument. The spectrum shifted toward the feminist direction, but the basic difference in orientation remained until wiped out by the debate over lesiban feminism. Those women who maintained their allegiance to the Left then created their own socialist feminist groups or united in feminist caucuses within Left organizations.
At NOW's 1966 founding convention it passed a broad statement of purpose which articulated a general philosophy of equality and justice under law. It emphasized that "women's problems are linked to many broader questions of social justice; their solution will require concerted action by many groups". The following year it passed a Bill of Rights for women to be presented to candidates and parties in the 1968 elections. The first six planks were quickly passed. They were: enforcement of sex discrimination laws; paid maternity leave; tax deductions for child care; establishment of public, readily available, child care facilities; equal and unsegregated education; and equal job training opportunities, housing and family allowances for women in poverty. Proposals to support the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive control were controversial; they passed but several members quit as a result. By the time NOW organized the first national feminist march down New York City's Fifth Avenue on August 26, 1970, one of these, abortion, had become accepted as a major concern. The central demands were: equal opportunity in employment and education; free abortion on demand; and twenty-four-hour childcare centers. It was not until 1975 that ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment became the dominant motif. Even this was true only for the National office and in the unratified states. Most NOW chapters were in ratified states and they worked on a plethora of local issues.
As it did in the younger branch, lesbianism as an issue generated enormous hostility in older branch organizations. Even NOW initially rejected sexual preference as a legitimate feminist concern. However, by 1977 all feminist and most women's organizations acknowledged it as an important part of the feminist agenda. That year a government sponsored women's conference was held in Houston to commemorate International Women's Year (this was actually in 1975), which passed a National Plan of Action including elimination of discrimination on the basis of sexual preference and laws on private sexual behavior. Although the overall plan identified over two dozen concerns, the ERA, abortion, and sexual preference were the lead issues.
By the late 1970s real ideological differences were emerging in the women's (no longer called liberation) movement -- not the false ones implied by the radical and reform labels. These differences replicated the debate over equality versus difference that had split women during the twenties. The initial emphasis on equality that had bonded feminists of all stripes in the early movement was challeneged by the values of what came to be called cultural feminism. 
As is true of any social movement, the ones which are emphasized are the ones that individuals choose to give their time to. 

The Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment was the dominant issue of the women's movement during the 1970s and part of the 1980s. This was not by choice. Had it not been waiting in the wings for the right historical moment none of the founders would have proposed it. Nonetheless the ERA became the dominant issue because it captured the public's imagination -- pro and con -- as no other issue had. It was the quintessential symbolic issue. It meant what people thought it meant, and all involved projected onto it their greatest fears and their greatest hopes for the future of women.
In 1970 feminist moles in the federal government urged Congresswoman Martha Griffiths (D. Mich), the ERA's chief sponsor in the House of Representatives, to file a petition to discharge it from the House Committee in which it had been burried for almost two decades in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Suffrage. Massive publicity on the rise of the new feminist movement encouraged a groundswell of support for the ERA within the government. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings after some pressure from NOW. A Women's Bureau conference endorsed it, as did the Secretary of Labor. The President of the National Federation of Republican Women and the (women's) Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee wrote their state affiliates urging resolutions of support. After delegates attending the national conference of the Business and Professional Women deluged their representatives wtih telegrams, a discharge petition was signed by enough Members of Congress to bring the issue to the floor. Nonetheless, it took two years and several votes before it was sent to the states for ratification on March 22, 1972.
Passage of the ERA came at a unique point in its history. It had been debated for years by mutual antagonists who would not compromise an inch. In the meantime, social and legal changes intervened to undermine the basis of the opponents' position. Between 1970 and 1972 opposition was greatly attenuated. With a few notable exceptions, the ERA became a symbolic issue on which everyone could agree. Yet even as this agreement was reached a new opposition was developing. Ironically, it was from the right, which had mostly supported the ERA during its lengthy stay in Congress. This opposition grew and eventually consumed more moderate forces, even while the ERA gained support from ancient foes to the left.

While not a new issue, the ERA became newly public at the end of a major period of social reform and at the beginning the women's movement. The timing couldn't have been worse. The sixties saw a major transformation in American society, and like previous social reform movements, it stimulated a backlash. The initial focus of that backlash was on busing, but it quickly spread to encompass the new issues of feminism, abortion, and gay rights, all of which were interpreted as an attack on the family and the American way of life. At the time the right arose, feminism was still riding on the crest of enthusiasm that accompanies all new social movements. This enthusiasm was sufficient for the two-year Congressional campaign but it was not uniform throughout the states. The new feminist organizations were not yet sufficiently organized to transfer resources to where they were most needed or to deal with practical political problems. By the time they were it was too late. 
The 22 states that had already had strong feminist movements quickly ratified the Amendment (except Illinois). In January 1973, a national "Stop ERA" campaign surfaced, headed by noted right-winger Phyllis Schlafly. Drawing on a network of readers of her newsletter, Eagle Forum, Republican women's clubs, and fundamentalist churches, she was able to bring to the anti-ERA campaign a political expertise the feminist organizations did not yet have. The kind of constituent pressure that congresspeople had felt at the national level local legislators felt at thes tate level -- but for the opposite position. By 1975 only another 12 states had ratified and the major women's grops realized that the ERA would require a long, hard political fight in southern and rural states. It took another three years to create viable, knowledgeable ERA coalitions in those states, largely, but not always, led by NOW. In 1978 only one more state was added to the ratification list, but Congress agreed to extend the seven-year deadline until June of 1982.
Although no more states ratified, the war fared better than the battle. Feminism made the personal political and, in the process, raised everyone's consciousness about the importance of family issues, sexuality, and the role of women. It also stimulated major strides toward the legal equality that the ERA was originally written to achieve. Many state equal rights amendments were passed, discriminatory laws were changed, and the Supreme Court reinterpreted the basic premise against which laws affecting women were to be judged from one of protection to one of equal opportunity. But this time the emphasis was different than it was fifty years ago. The argument was not over the meaning of equality, but the role of women. This time the opponents rejected equality of any kind as desirable for women, favoring instead protection of women to pursue the traditional goals of wife and motherhood in a traditional way. To them the ERA symbolized not equal legal rights, but the entire women's liberation movement which, along with the other social movements of the sixties, was, they felt, a severe threat to their basic values and way of life. 


The movement to change restrictive abortion laws began independently of and earlier than the women's liberation movement, but when that movement emerged it quickly captured the abortion issue as its own, energizing and publicizing it along the way. Since then, the two movements have proceeded along parallel tracks. The abortion, or pro-choice movement as it prefers to be called, has distinct organizations devoted solely to that issue. The most prominent of these is NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League). Planned Parenthood (which has a broader agenda) is the most powerful. Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortions, the younger branch nourished many referral groups. Since then, local pro-choice organizations still exist in many cities though their activities vary enormously. These organizations are sustained by a separate set of activists whose primary energies are focused on reproductive freedom even though virtually all are sympathetic to other feminist concerns. The parallel tracks are tied together by these sympathetic activists and their equivalents in feminist organizations. Some activists "cross over" as staff of feminist and pro-choice organizations, but most concentrate on one. Although there are feminists who are anti-abortion, they are a small minority within the women's liberation movement and are ignored. All of the feminist organizations see reproductive freedom as an intrinsic part of the feminist agenda. Everyday organizing and lobbying is handled by the pro-choice organizations; demonstrations may be organized by any group; during crises everyone pitches in. 
Pro-choice activity can be divided into three periods. Before Roe the emphasis was on reforming or repealing state laws (NARAL's acronym at its 1969 founding stood for National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws). The initiators in the early 1960s were largely professionals -- doctors, lawyers, clergy -- and mostly men. Aided by several public crises (a german measles epidemic, the Thalidomide scare) they stimulated vociferous debate. Four states repealed their abortion restrictions and several others loosened them. Referral services mushroomed. Although feminists were attuned to this debate as early as 1967, they didn't begin to impact on it until 1970. By the time Roe was decided in 1973 feminists and feminist consciousness permeated the entire pro-choice movement. The argument had shifted from a physician's right to counsel his (sic) patients to a woman's right to control her body. This approach moved the abortion debate from one of freedom of professional decision-making to a fundamental Constitutional right. Roe itself was the project of a small feminist group in Austin, Texas and the lawyer who argued Roe before the Supreme Court was one of its participants.
After Roe the movement grew complacent. It was the antis -- calling themselves the right to life movement -- who were the activists. 
This changed in 1989 when the Supreme Court handed down its Webster decision. Although the Court had been moving toward permitting greater state regulation of abortion throughout the eighties, it had not questioned the basic premise of Roe. By Webster enough new, anti-choice Justices had been added to the Court that that decision rang the firebell of alarm. Even though the decision was not unexpected, and could have been worse, within a few hours after being announced on July , 1989 pro-choice supporters were commiting civil disobedience all over the country. For the first time young women, who had not known the fear of unwanted pregnancy that was so common before Roe, realized how tenuous reproductive freedom was.
When pro-choice activists were roused from their complacency it escalated the conflict between them and the pro-lifers. Even before Webster, a new, more militant group calling itself Operation Rescue had brought thousands of people to Atlanta during the 1988 Democratic Conveniton to block abortion clinics. Although hundreds were arrested, they continued their strategy of targeting a specific city for massive blockades continuing for weeks at a time. When local police proved inadequate to protect the clinics, they asked the federal courts for injunctions to keep OR away from their doors. Many federal judges complied by invoking an 186 statute passed to protect blacks from the Ku Klux Klan. In 1992, the Court overturned these injunctions, saying the statute was not intended to be used for this purpose. 

The Next Revolution

The ERA dominated the women's liberation movement as it did the NWP but it was more by accident than by intention. When NOW proposed a Bill of Rights for Women in 1968 it contained eight planks, only one of which was the ERA. The younger branch never made a list of its demands, but in the many papers that appeared in its media, a constitutional amendment to achieve legal equality was not one of the articulated goals. At the first national feminist march, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Suffrage on August 26 1970, the three demands were equal opportunity in employment and education, free abortion on demand and twenty-four hour child care centers. Even in 1977, when the ERA campaign was at its height, the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas passed resolutions on twenty-five separate issues. By then the three most controversial and visible issues were the ERA, abortion and gay rights.
Of all these issues the ERA captured the public imagination because it was the quintessential symbolic issue. It meant what people thought it meant, and all involved projected onto it both their fears and their hopes. But this time the emphasis was different than it was fifty years ago. The argument was not over the meaning of equality, but the role of women. This time the opponents rejected equality of any kind as desirable for women, favoring instead protection of women to pursue the traditional goals of wife and motherhood in a traditional way. To them the ERA symbolized not equal legal rights, but the entire women's liberation movement which, along with the other social movements of the sixties, was, they felt, a severe threat to their basic values and way of life. 
While not a new issue, the ERA became newly public at the end of a major period of social reform and at the beginning the women's movement. The timing couldn't have been worse. The sixties saw a major transformation in American society, and like previous social reform movements, it stimulated a backlash. The initial focus of that backlash was on busing, but it quickly spread to encompass the new issues of feminism, abortion, and gay rights, all of which were interpreted as an attack on the family and the American way of life. At the time the right arose, feminism was still riding on the crest of enthusiasm that accompanies all new social movements. This enthusiasm was sufficient for the two-year Congressional campaign but it was not uniform throughout the states. The new feminist organizations were not yet sufficiently organized to transfer resources to where they were most needed or to deal with practical political problems. By the time they were it was too late.

Nonetheless, the war fared better than the battle. Feminism made the personal political and, in the process, raised everyone's consciousness about the importance of family issues, sexuality, and the role of women. It also stimulated major strides toward the legal equality that the ERA was originally written to achieve. Many state equal rights amendments were passed, discriminatory laws were changed, and the Supreme Court reinterpreted the basic premise against which laws affecting women were to be judged from one of protection to one of equal opportunity. 
The ERA was ahead of its time in the 1920s. The NWP saw it as a legal revolution, but did not realize that an economic revolution had to come first. Women had only just won the right to work; they had not achieved the right for their work to be taken seriously. The real revolution of the contemporary women's movement is that the vast majority of the public no longer questions the right of any women, married or unmarried, with or without children, to work for wages or to achieve her fullest individual potential. 
The next revolution is a social one -- a revolution in personal and family relationships. Although women have finally won the right to work, there is still a fundamental assumption that the principal social unit is the two-parent family, only one of whom is a primary wage earner. There is still a basic division of labor in which men are expected to be the "breadwinners" and women are expected to focus their energies on the family, though each may "help" with the other's task. 
The women's liberation movement began the social revolution with its critique of established sex roles. But it raised more questions than answers, and the backlash clearly indicates that, like the NWP in the 1920s, the movement is ahead of its time. Our society is not yet ready for the vast changes in the organization of work and in social policies that will be required to bring about this next step. These changes, like those that constituted the economic revolution, will probably accrue over time. They will come about as more women, and more men, adjust their lives to the conflicting pressures of family and work until a threshold of incompatibility is reached. At that time, as in the states, a new feminist movement will be needed to propose a new vision that can confront the problems of the social revolution. 
It's popular to speak of the contemporary feminist movement as the second wave of feminism. In reality it's the third wave of female activism, and the first wave of feminism. Women's movement do not happen in isolation.