Psychology Constructs the Female

by Naomi Weisstein (1968) A feminist classic that exposed the sexism underlying the psychology establishment of the time. by Naomi Weisstein. Transcribed for digital reproduction by John Burke

(Editors Note: Naomi Weisstein was a founder of the CWLU. She rocked the psychology establishment when this article was first presented as a paper in 1968. It was widely distributed in the women's liberation movement.)

It is an implicit assumption that the area of psychology which concerns itself with personality has the onerous but necessary task of describing the limits of human possibility. Thus when we are about to consider the liberation of women, we naturally look to psychology to tell us what “true” liberation would mean: what would give women the freedom to fulfill their own intrinsic natures. Psychologists have set about describing the true natures of women with a certainty and a sense of their own infallibility rarely found in the secular world. Bruno Bettelheim, of the University of Chicago, tells us (1965) that “we must start with the realization that, as much as women want to be good scientists or engineers, they want first and foremost to be womanly companions of men and to be mothers.’ Erik Erikson of Harvard University (1964), upon noting that young women often ask whether they can “have an identity before they know whom they will marry, and for whom they will make a home”, explains somewhat elegiacally that “much of a young woman’s identity is already defined in her kind of attractiveness and in the selectivity of her search for the man (or men) by whom she wishes to be sought...” Mature womanly fulfillment, for Erikson, rests on the fact that a woman’s “somatic design harbors an ‘inner space’ destined to bear the offspring of chosen men, and with it, a biological, psychological and ethical commitment to take care of human infancy.” Some psychiatrists even see the acceptance of woman’s role by women as a solution to societal problems. “Woman is nurturance...,” writes Joseph Rheingold (1964), a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, “anatomy decrees the life of a woman... when women grow up without dread of their biological functions and without subversion by feminist doctrine, and therefore enter upon motherhood with a sense of fulfillment and altruistic sentiment, we shall attain the goal of a good life and a secure world in which to live it.” (p. 714)

These views from men who are assumed to be experts reflect, in a surprisingly transparent way, the cultural consensus. They not only assert that a woman is defined by her ability to attract men, they see no alternative definitions. They think that the definition of a woman in terms of a man is the way it should be; and they back it up with psychosexual incantation and biological ritual curses. A woman has an identity if she is attractive enough to obtain a man, and thus, a home; for this will allow her to set about her life’s task of “joyful altruism and nurturance.”

Business certainly does not disagree. If views such as Bettelheim’s and Erikson’s do indeed have something to do with real liberation for women, then seldom in human history has so much money and effort been spent on helping a group of people realize their true potential. Clothing, cosmetics, home furnishings, are multi-million dollar businesses: if you don’t like investing in firms that make weaponry and flaming gasoline, then there’s a lot of cash in “inner space.” Sheet and pillowcase manufacturers are concerned to fill this inner space:

Mother, for a while this morning, I thought I wasn’t cut out for married life. Hank was late for work and forgot is apricot juice and waked out without kissing me, and when I was all alone I started crying. But then the postman came with the sheets and towels you sent, that look like big bandana handkerchiefs, and you know what I thought? That those big red and blue handkerchiefs are for girls like me to dry their tears on so they can get busy and do what a housewife has to do. Throw pen the windows and start getting the house ready, and the dinner, maybe clan the silver and put new geraniums in the box. Everything to be ready for him when he walks through that door. (Fieldcrest, 1966; emphasis added.)

Of course, it is not only the sheet and pillowcase manufacturers, the cosmetics industry, the home furnishings salesmen who profit from and make use of the cultural definitions of man and woman. The example above is blatantly and overtly pitched to a particular kind of sexist stereotype: the child nymph. But almost all aspects of the media are normative, that is, they have to do with the ways in which beautiful people, or just folks, or ordinary Americans, or extraordinary Americans should live their lives. They define the possible; and the possibilities are usually in terms of what is male and what is female. Men and women alike are waiting for Hank, the Silva Thins man, to walk back through that door.

It is an interesting but limited exercise to show that psychologists and psychiatrists embrace these sexist norms of our culture, that they do not see beyond the most superficial and stultifying media conceptions of female nature, and that their ideas of female nature serve industry and commerce so well. Just because it’s good for business doesn’t mean it’s wrong. What I will show is that it is wrong: that there isn’t the tiniest shred of evidence that these fantasies of servitude and childish dependence have anything to do with women’s true potential; that the idea of the nature of human possibility which rests on the accidents of individual development or genitalia, on what is possible today because of what happened yesterday, on the fundamentalist myth of sex organ causality, has strangled and deflected psychology so that it is relatively useless in describing, explaining, or predicting humans and their behavior. It then goes without saying that present psychology is less than worthless in contributing to a vision which could truly liberate--men as well as women.

The central argument of my article, then, is this. Psychology has nothing to say about what women are really like, what they need and what they want, especially because psychology does not know. I want to stress that this failure is not limited to women; rather, the kind of psychology which has addressed itself to how people act and who they are has failed to understand, in the first place, why people act the way they do, and certainly failed to understand what might make them act differently.

The kind of psychology which has addressed itself to these questions divides itself into two professional areas: academic personality research, and clinical psychology and psychiatry. The basic reason for failure is the same in both these areas: the central assumption for most psychologists of human personality has been that human behavior rests on an individual and inner dynamic, perhaps fixed in infancy, perhaps fixed by genitalia, perhaps simply arranged in a rather immovable cognitive network. But this assumption is rapidly losing ground as personality psychologists fail again and again to get consistency in the assumed personalities of their subjects (Block, 1968). Meanwhile, the evidence is collecting that what a person does, and who he believes himself to be, will in general be a function of what people around him expect him to be, and what the overall situation in which he is acting implies that he is. Compared to the influence of the social context within which a person lives, his or her history and “traits”, as well as biological makeup, may simply be random variations, “noise” superimposed on the true signal which can predict behavior.

Some academic personality psychologists are at least looking at the counter evidence and questioning their theories; no such corrective is occurring in clinical psychology and psychiatry. Freudians and neo-Freudians, Adlerians and neo-Adlerians, classicists and swingers, clinicians and psychiatrists, simply refuse to look at the evidence against their theory and practice. And they support their theory and practice with stuff so transparently biased as to have absolutely no standing as empirical evidence.

To summarize: the first reason for psychology’s failure to understand what people are and how they act is that psychology has looked for inner traits when it should have been looking for social context; the second reason for psychology’s failure is that the theoreticians of personality have generally been clinicians and psychiatrists, and they have never considered it necessary to have evidence in support of their theories.


Let us turn to this latter cause of failure first: the acceptance by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists of theory without evidence. If we inspect the literature of personality, it is immediately obvious that the bulk of it is written by clinicians and psychiatrists, and that the major support for their theories is “years of intensive clinical experience.” This is a tradition started by Freud. His“insights”occurred during the course of his work with his patients. Now there is nothing wrong with such an approach to theory formulation; a person is free to make up[ theories with any inspiration which works; divine revelation, intensive clinical practice, a random numbers table. But he is not free to claim any validity for his theory until it has been tested and confirmed. But theories re treated in no such tentative way in ordinary clinical practice. Consider Freud. What he thought constituted evidence violated the most minimal conditions of scientific rigor. In The Sexual Enlightenment of Children (1963), the classic document which is supposed to demonstrate empirically the existence of a castration complex and its connection to a phobia, Freud based his analysis not on the little boy who had the phobia, but on the reports of the father of the little boy, himself in therapy, and a devotee of Freudian theory. I really don’t have to comment further on the contamination in this kind of evidence. It is remarkable that only recently has Freud’s classic theory on the sexuality of women--the notion of the double orgasm--been actually tested physiologically and found just plain wrong. Now those who claim that fifty years of psychoanalytic experience constitute evidence enough of the essential truths of Freud’s theory should ponder the robust health of the double orgasm. Did women, until Masters and Johnson (1966), believe they were having two different kinds of orgasm? Did their psychiatrists intimidate them into reporting something that was not true? If so, were there other things they reported that were also not true? Did psychiatrists ever learn anything different than their theories had led them to believe? If clinical experience means anything at al, surely we should have been done with the double orgasm myth long before the Masters and Johnson studies.

But certainly, you may object, “years of intensive clinical experience” is the only reliable measure in a discipline which rests for its findings on insight, sensitivity and intuition. The problem with insight, sensitivity and intuition is that they can confirm for all time the biases that one started out with. People used to be absolutely convinced of their ability to tell which of their number were engaging in witchcraft. All it required was some sensitivity to the workings of the devil.

Years of intensive clinical experience is not the same thing as empirical evidence. The first thing an experimenter learns in any kind of experiment which involves humans is the concept of the “double blind”. The term is taken from medical experiments, where one group is given a drug which is presumably supposed to change behavior in a certain way, and a control group is given a placebo. If the observers or the subjects know which group took which drug, the result invariably comes out on the positive side for the new drug. Only when it is not known which subject took which pill, is validity remotely approximated. In addition, with judgments of human behavior, it is so difficult to precisely tie down just what behavior is going on, let alone what behavior should be expected, that one must test and test again the reliability of judgments. How many judges, blind, will agree in their observations? Can they replicate their own judgments at some later time? When, in actual practice, these judgment criteria are tested for clinical judgments, then we find that the judges cannot judge reliably, nor can they judge consistently: they do no better than chance in identifying which of a certain set of stories were written by men and which by women; which of a whole battery of clinical test results are the products of homosexuals and which are the products of heterosexuals (Hooker, 1957); and which of a battery of clinical test results and interviews (where questions are asked such as “do you have delusions” (Little and Schneidman, 1959) are products of psychotics, neurotics, psychosomatics or normals. Lest this summary escape your notice, let me stress the implications of these findings. The ability of judges, chosen for their clinical expertise, to distinguish male heterosexuals from male homosexuals on the basis of three widely used clinical projective tests--the Rorshach, the TAT, and the MAP--was no better than chance. The reason this is such devastating news, of course, is that sexuality is supposed to be of fundamental importance in the deep dynamic of personality; if what is considered gross sexual deviance cannot be caught, then what are psychologists talking about when they, for example, claim that at the basis of paranoid psychosis is “latent homosexual panic”? They can’t even identify what homosexual anything is, let alone “latent homosexual panic”.1 More frightening, expert clinicians cannot be consistent on what diagnostic category to assign to a person, again on the basis of both tests and interviews; a number of normals in the Little and Schneidman study were described as psychotic, in such categories as “schizophrenic with homosexual tendencies” or “schizoid character with depressive trends.” But most disheartening, when the judges were asked to rejudge the test protocols some weeks later, their diagnoses of the same subjects on the basis of the same protocol differed markedly from their initial judgments. It is obvious that even simple descriptive conventions in clinical psychology cannot be consistently applied; that these descriptive conventions have any explanatory significance is therefore, of course, out of the question.

As a graduate student at Harvard some years ago, I was a member of a seminar which was asked to identify which of two piles of a clinical test, the TAT, had been written by males and which by females. Only four students out of twenty identified the piles correctly, and this was after one and one half months of intensively studying the differences between men and women. Since this result is below chance--that is, this result would occur by chance about four out of a thousand times--we may conclude that there is finally a consistency here: students are judging knowledgeably within the context of psychological teaching about the differences between men and women; the teachings themselves are erroneous.

You may argue that the theory may be scientifically “unsound” but at least it cures people. There is no evidence that it does. n 1952, Eysenck reported the results of what is called an “outcome of therapy” study of neurotics which showed that, of the patients who received psychoanalysis the improvement rate was 44 percent; of the patients who received psychotherapy the improvement rate was 64 percent; and of the patients who received no treatment at all the improvement rate was 72 percent. These findings have never been refuted; subsequently, later studies have confirmed the negative results of the Eysenck study (Barron and Leary, 1955; Bergin, 1963; Cartwright and Vogel, 1960; Truax, 1963; Powers and Witmer, 1951.) How can clinicians and psychiatrists, then, in all good conscience, continue to practice? Largely by ignoring these results and being careful not to do outcome-of-therapy studies. The attitude is nicely summarized by Rotter (1960) (quoted in Astin, 1961): “Research studies in psychotherapy tend to be concerned with psychotherapeutic procedure and less with outcome... to some extent, it reflects an interest in the psychotherapy situation as a kind of personality laboratory.” Some laboratory.


Thus, since clinical experience and tools can be shown to be worse than useless when tested for consistency, efficacy, agreement and reliability, we can safely conclude that theories of a clinical nature advanced about women are also worse than useless. I want to turn now to the second major point in my article, which is that, even when psychological theory is constructed so that it may be tested, and rigorous standards of evidence are used, it has become increasingly clear that in order to understand why people do what they do, and certainly in order to change what people do, psychologists must turn away from the theory of the causal nature of the inner dynamic and look to the social context within which individuals live.

Before examining the relevance of this approach for the question of women, let me first sketch the groundwork for this assertion.

In the first place, it is clear (Block, 1968) that personality tests never yield consistent predictions; a rigid authoritarian on one measure will be an unauthoritarian on the next. But the reason for this inconsistency is only now becoming clear, and it seems overwhelmingly to have much more to do with the social situation in which the subject finds himself than with the subject himself.

In a series of brilliant experiments, Rosenthal and his co-workers (Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968; Rosenthal, 1966) have shown that if one group of experimenters has one hypothesis about what it expects to find, and another group of experimenters has the opposite hypothesis, both groups will obtain results in accord with their hypotheses. The results obtained are not due to mishandling of data by biased experimenters; rather, somehow, the bias of the experimenter creates a changed environment in which subjects actually act differently. For instance, in one experiment, subjects were to assign numbers to pictures of men’s faces, with high numbers representing the subject’s judgment that the man in the picture was a successful person, and low numbers representing the subject’s judgment that the man in the picture was an unsuccessful person. One group of experimenters was told that the subjects tended to rate the faces high; another group of experimenters was told that the subjects tended to rate the faces low. Each group of experimenters was instructed to follow precisely the same procedure: they were required to read to read to subjects a set of instructions, and to say nothing else. For the 375 subjects run, the results showed clearly that those subjects who performed the task with experimenters who expected high ratings gave high ratings, and those subjects who performed the task with experimenters who expected low ratings gave low ratings. How did this happen? The experimenters all used the same words; it was something in their conduct which made one group of subjects do one thing, and another group of subjects do another thing.2

The concreteness of the changed conditions produced by expectation is a fact, a reality; even with animal subjects, in two separate studies (Rosenthal and Fode, 1960; Rosenthal and Lawson, 1961), those experimenters who were told that rats learning mazes had been specially bred for brightness obtained better learning from their rats than did experimenters believing their rats to have been bred for dullness. In a very recent study, Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) extended their analysis to the natural classroom situation. Here, they tested a group of students and reported to the teachers that some among the students tested “showed great promise.” Actually, the students so named had been selected on a random basis. Some time later, the experimenters retested the same group of students; those students whose teachers had been told they were “promising” showed real and dramatic increments in the IQs as compared to the rest of the students. Something in the conduct of the teachers towards those whom the teachers believed to be “bright” students made those students brighter.

Thus, even in carefully controlled experiments, and with no outward or conscious difference in behavior, the hypotheses we start with will influence enormously the behavior of another organism. These studies are extremely important when assessing the validity of psychological studies of women. Since it is beyond doubt that most of us start with notions as to the nature of men and women, the validity of a number of observations of sex differences is questionable, even when these observations have been made under carefully controlled conditions. Second, and more important, the Rosenthal experiments point quite clearly to the influence of social expectation. In some extremely important ways, people are what you expect them to be or at least they behave as you expect them to behave. Thus if women, according to Bettelheim, want first and foremost to be good wives and mothers, it is extremely likely that this is what Bruno Bettelheim, and the rest of society, want them to be.

There is another series of brilliant social psychological experiments which point to the overwhelming effect of social context. These are the obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram (1965a) in which subjects are asked to obey the orders of unknown experimenters, orders which carry with them the distinct possibility that the subject is killing somebody.

In Milgram’s experiments, a subject is told that he is administering a learning experiment, and that he is to deal out shocks each time the other “subject” (in reality, a confederate of the experimenter) answers incorrectly. The equipment appears to provide graduated shocks ranging upwards from 15 volts through 450 volts; for each of four consecutive voltages there are verbal descriptions such as “mild shock”, “danger, severe shock” and, finally, for the 435 and 450 volt switches a red XXX marked over the switches. Each time the stooge answers incorrectly the subject is supposed to increase the voltage. As the voltage increases, the stooge begins to cry in pain; he demands that he experiment stop; finally, he refuses to answer at all. When he stops responding, the experimenter instructs the subject to continue increasing the voltage; for each shock administered the stooge screams in agony. Under these conditions, about 62.5 percent of the subjects administered shocks that they believed to be possibly lethal.

No tested individual differences between subjects predicted how many would continue to obey, and which would break off the experiment. When 40 psychiatrists predicted how many of a group of 100 subjects would go on to give the lethal shock, their predictions were orders of magnitude below the actual percentages; most expected only one-tenth of 1 percent of the subjects to obey to the end.

But even though psychiatrists have no idea how people will behave in this situation, and even though individual differences do not predict which subjects will obey and which will not, it is easy to predict when subjects will be obedient and when they will be defiant. All the experimenter has to do is change the social situation. In a variant of the experiment, Milgram (1965b) had two stooges present in addition to the “victim”; these worked along with the subject in administering electric shocks. When these two stooges refused to go on with the experiment, only 10 percent of the subjects continued to the maximum voltage. This is critical for personality theory. It says that behavior is predicted from the social situation, not from the individual history.

Finally, an ingenious experiment by Schachter and Singer (1962) showed that subjects injected with adrenaline, which produces a state of physiological arousal in all but minor respects identical to that which occurs when subjects are extremely afraid, became euphoric when they were in a room with a stooge who was acting euphoric, and became extremely angry when they were placed in a room with a stooge who was acting extremely angry.

To summarize: If subjects under quite innocuous and non-coercive social conditions can be made to kill other subjects and other other types of social conditions will positively refuse to do so; if subjects can react to a state of physiological fear by becoming euphoric because there is somebody else round who is euphoric or angry because there is somebody else round who is angry; if students become intelligent because teachers expect them to be intelligent, and rats run mazes better because experimenters are told the rats are bright, then it is obvious that a study of human behavior requires, first and foremost, a study of the social contexts within which people move, the expectations as to how they will behave, and the authority which tells them who they are and what they are supposed to do.


Biologists also have at times assumed they could describe the limits of human potential from their observations of animal rather than human behavior. Here, as in psychology, there has been no end of theorizing about the sexes, again with a sense of absolute certainty. These theories fall into two major categories.

One biological theory of differences in nature argues that since females and males differ in their sex hormones, and sex hormones enter the brain (Hamburg and Lunde in Maccoby, 1966), there must be innate behavioral differences. But the only thing this argument tells us is that there are differences in physiological state. The problem is whether these differences are at all relevant to behavior.

Consider, for example, differences in testosterone levels. A man who calls himself Tiger has recently argued (1970) that the greater quantities of testosterone found in human males as compared with human females (of a certain age group) determines innate differences in aggressiveness, competitiveness, dominance, ability to hunt, ability to hold public office, and so forth. But Tiger demonstrates in this argument the same manly and courageous refusal to be intimidated by evidence which we have already seen in our consideration of the clinical and psychiatric tradition. The evidence does not support his argument, and in some cases, directly contradicts it. Testosterone level co-varies neither with hunting ability, nor with dominance, nor with aggression, nor with competitiveness. As Storch has pointed out (1970), all normal male mammals in the reproductive age group produce much greater quantities of testosterone than females; yet many of these males are neither hunters nor are they aggressive. Among some hunting mammals, such as the large cats, it turns out that more hunting is done by the female than the male. And there exist primate species where the female is clearly more aggressive, competitive and dominant than the male (Mitchell, 1969; and see later). Thus, for some species, being female, and therefore, having less testosterone than the male of that species, means hunting more, or being more aggressive, or more dominant. Nor does having more testosterone preclude behavior commonly thought of as “female”: there exist primate species where females do not touch infants except to feed them; the males care for the infants (Mitchell, 1969; see fuller discussion later). So it is not clear what testosterone or any other sex-hormonal difference means for differences in nature of sex-role behavior.

In other words, one can observe identical sex-role behavior (e,g, “mothering”) in males and females despite known differences in physiological state, i.e. sex hormones. What about the converse to this? That is, can one obtain differences in behavior given a single physiological state? The answer is overwhelmingly yes, not only as regards no-sex specific hormones (as in the Schachter and Singer 1962 experiment cited above) but also as regards gender itself. Studies of hermaphrodites with the same diagnosis (the genetic, gonadal, hormonal sex, the internal reproductive organs, and the ambiguous appearances of the external genitalia were identical) have shown that one will consider oneself male or female depending simply on whether one was defined and raised as male or female (Money, 1970; Hampton and Hampton, 1961):

There is no more convincing evidence of the power of social interaction on gender-identity differentiation than in the case of congenital hermaphrodites who are of the same diagnosis and similar degree of hermaphroditism but are differently assigned and with a different postnatal medical and life history. (Money, 1970: 432)

Thus, for example, if out of two individuals diagnosed as having the adrenogenital syndrome of female hermaphroditism, one is raised as a girl and one as a boy, each will act and identify her/himself accordingly. The one raised as a girl will consider herself a girl; the one raised as a boy will consider himself a boy; and each will conduct her/himself successfully in accord with that self-definition.

So, identical behavior occurs given different physiological states; and different behavior occurs given an identical physiological starting point. So it is not clear that differences in sex hormones are at all relevant to behavior.

There is a second category of theory based on biology, a reductionist theory. It goes like this. Sex-role behavior in some primate species is described, and it is concluded that this is the “natural” behavior for humans. Putting aside the not insignificant problem of observer bias (for instance, Harlow, 1962, of the university of Wisconsin, after observing differences between male and female rhesus monkeys, quotes Lawrence Sterne to the effect that women are silly and trivial, and concludes that “men and women have differed in the past and they will differ in the future”), there are a number of problems with this approach.

The most general and serious problem is that there are no grounds to assume that anything primates do is necessary, natural or desirable in humans, for the simple reason that humans are not non-humans. Fir instance, it is found that male chimpanzees placed alone with infants will not “mother” them. Jumping from hard data to ideological speculation researchers conclude from this information that human females are necessary for the safe growth of human infants. It would be as reasonable to conclude, following this logic, that it is quite useless to teach human infants to speak, since it has been tried with chimpanzees and it does not work.

The most general and serious problem is that there are no grounds to assume that anything primates do is necessary, natural or desirable in humans, for the simple reason that humans are not non-humans. Fir instance, it is found that male chimpanzees placed alone with infants will not “mother” them. Jumping from hard data to ideological speculation researchers conclude from this information that human females are necessary for the safe growth of human infants. It would be as reasonable to conclude, following this logic, that it is quite useless to teach human infants to speak, since it has been tried with chimpanzees and it does not work.

Is there then any value at all in primate observations as they relate to human females and males? There is a value but it is limited: its function can be no more than to show some extant examples of diverse sex-role behavior. It must be stressed, however, that this is an extremely limited function. The extant behavior does not begin to suggest all the possibilities, either for non-human primates or for humans. Bearing these caveats in mind, it is nonetheless interesting that if one inspects the limited set of existing non-human primate sex-role behaviors, one finds, in fact, a much larger range of sex-role behavior than is commonly believed to exist. “Biology” appears to limit very little; the fact that a female gives birth does not man, even in non-humans, that she necessarily cares for the infant (in marmosets, for instance, the male carries the infant at all times except when the infant is feeding [Mitchell, 1969]); “natural” female and male behavior carries all the way from females who are much more aggressive and competitive than males (e.g. Tamarins, see Mitchell, 1969) and male “mothers” (e.g. Titi monkeys, night monkeys, and marmosets, see Mitchell, 1969)4 to submissive and passive females and male antagonists (e.g. rhesus monkeys).

But even for the limited function that primate arguments serve, the evidence has been misused. Invariably, only those primates have been cited which exhibit exactly the kind of behavior that the proponents of the biological basis of human female behavior wish were true for humans. Thus, baboons and rhesus monkeys are generally cited: males in these groups exhibit some of the most irritable and aggressive behavior found in primates, and if one wishes to argue that females are naturally passive and submissive, these groups provide vivid examples. There are abundant counter examples, such as those mentioned above (Mitchell, 1969); in fact, in general, a counter-example can be found for every sex-role behavior cited, including, as mentioned in the case of marmosets, male “mothering”.

But the presence of counter examples has not stopped florid and overarching theories of the natural or biological basis of male privilege from proliferating. For instance, there have been a number of theories dealing with the innate incapacity in human males for monogamy. Here, as in most of this type of theorizing, baboons are a favorite example, probably because of their fantasy value: the family unit of the hamadryas baboon, for instance, consists of a highly constant pattern of one male and a number of females and their young. And again, the counter examples, such as the invariably monogamous gibbon, are ignored.

An extreme example of this maiming and selective truncation of the evidence in the service of a plea for the maintenance of male privilege is a recent book,Men in Groups (1969) by Tiger (see above and note 3). The central claim of this book is that females are incapable of honorable collective action because they are incapable of “bonding” as in “male bonding”. What is “male bonding”? Its surface definition is simple: “a particular relationship between two or more males such that they react differently to members of their bonding units as compared to individuals outside of it” (pp. 19-20). If one deletes the word male, the definition, on its face, would seem to include all organisms that have any kind of social organization. But this is not what Tiger means. For instance, Tiger asserts that females are incapable of bonding; and this alleged incapacity indicates to Tiger that females should be restricted from public life. Why is bonding an exclusively male behavior? Because, says Tiger, it is seen in male primates. All male primates? No, very few male primates. Tiger cites two examples where male bonding is seen: rhesus monkeys and baboons. Surprise, surprise. But not even all baboons: as mentioned earlier, the hamadryas social organization consists of one-male units; so does that of the Gelada baboon (Mitchell, 1969). And the great apes do not go in for male bonding much either. The “male bond” is hardly a serious contribution to scholarship; one reviewer in Science has observed that the book “shows basically more resemblance to a partisan political tract than to a work of objective social science”, with male bonding being “some kind of behavioral phlogiston” (Fried, 1969: 884).

In short, primate arguments have generally misused the evidence; primate studies themselves have, in any case, only the very limited function of describing some possible sex-role behavior; and at present, primate observations have been sufficiently limited so that even the range of possible sex-role behavior for non-human primates is not known. This range is not known since there is only minimal observation of what happens to behavior if the physical or social environment is changed. In one study (Itani, 1963), different troops of Japanese macaques were observed. Here, there appeared to be cultural differences: males in 3 out of the 18 troops observed differed in their amount of aggressiveness and infant-caring behavior. There could be no possibility of differential evolution here; the differences seemed largely transmitted by infant socialization. Thus, the very limited evidence points to some plasticity in the sex-role behavior of non-human primates; if we can figure out experiments which massively change the social organization of primate groups, it is possible that we might observe great changes in behavior. At present, however, we must conclude that, since given a constant physical environment non-human primates do not seem to change their social conditions very much by themselves, the “innateness” and fixedness of their behavior is simply not known. Thus, even if there were some way, which there isn’t, to settle on the behavior of a particular primate species as being the “natural” way for humans, we would not know whether or not this were simply some function of the present social organization of that species. And finally, once again it must be stressed that even if non-human primate behavior turned out to be relatively fixed, this would say little about our behavior. More immediate and relevant evidence, i.e. the evidence from social psychology, points to the enormous plasticity in human behavior, not only from one culture to the next, but from one experimental group to the next. One of the most salient features of human social organization is its variety’ there are a umber of cultures in which there is at least a rough equality between men and women (Mead, 1949). In summary, primate arguments can tell us very little about our “innate” sex-role behavior; if they tell us anything at all, they tell us that there is no one biologically “natural” female or male behavior, and that sex-role behavior in non-human primates is much more varied than has previously been thought.


In brief, the uselessness of present psychology (and biology) with regard to women is simply a special case of the general conclusion: one must understand the social conditions under which women live if one is going to attempt to explain the behavior of women. And to understand the social conditions under which women live, one must be cognizant of the social expectations about women.

How are women characterized in our culture, and in psychology? They are inconsistent, emotionally unstable, lacking in a strong conscience or superego, weaker, “nurturant” rather than productive, “intuitive” rather than intelligent, and, if they are at al “normal”, suited to the home and the family. In short, the list adds p to a typical minority group stereotype of inferiority. (Hacker, 1951): if they know their place, which is in the home, they are really quite lovable, happy, childlike, loving creatures. In a review of the intellectual differences between little boys and little girls, Eleanor Maccoby (1966) has shown that there are no intellectual differences until about high school, or, if there are, girls are slightly ahead of boys. At high school, girls begin to do worse on a few intellectual tasks, such as arithmetic reasoning, and beyond high school, the achievement of women now measured in terms of productivity and accomplishment drops off even more rapidly. There are a number of other, non-intellectual tests which show sex differences: I chose the intellectual differences since it is seen clearly that women start becoming inferior. It is no use to talk about women being different but equal: all of the tests I can think of have a “good” outcome and a “bad” outcome. Women usually end up at the “bad” outcome. In light of social expectations about women, what is surprising is not that women end up where society expects they will; what is surprising is that little girls don’t get the message that they are supposed to be stupid until high school; and what is even more remarkable is that some women resist this message even after high school, college and graduate school.

My article began with remarks on the task of the discovery of the limits of human potential. Psychologists must realize that it is they who are limiting discovery of human potential. They refuse to accept evidence, if they are clinical psychologists, or, if they are rigorous, they assume that people move in a context-free ether, with only their innate dispositions and their individual traits determining what they will do. Until psychologists begin to respect evidence, and until they begin looking at the social contexts within which people move, psychology will have nothing of substance to offer in this task of discovery. I don’t know what immutable differences exist between men and women apart from differences in their genitals; perhaps there are some other unchangeable differences; probably there are a number of irrelevant differences. But it is clear that until social expectations for men and women are equal, until we provide equal respect for both men and women, our answers to this question will simply reflect our prejudices.


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1 It should be noted that psychologists have been as quick to assert absolute truths about the nature of homosexuality as they have been about the nature of women. The arguments presented in this article apply equally to the nature of homosexuality; psychologists know nothing about it; there is no more evidence for the “naturalness” of homosexuality than for the “naturalness” of heterosexuality. Psychology has functioned as a pseudo-scientific buttress for our cultural sex-role notions, that is, as a buttress for patriarchal ideology and patriarchal social organization: women’s liberation and gay liberation fight against a common victimization.

2 I am indebted to Jesse Lemisch for his valuable suggestions in the interpretation of these studies.

3 Schwarz-Belkin (1914) claims that the name was originally Mouse, but this may be a reference to an earlier L. Tiger (putative).

4 All these are lower-order primates, which makes their behavior with reference to humans unnatural, or more natural; take your choice.

The Last of the Red Hot Mammas, or, the Liberation of Women as Performed by the Inmates of the World

(1969) This play was performed at the founding convention of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. A play performed by an entire audience, and by Marylee A., Ellen A., Amy C., Pat M. Sherry Jenkins, Amy Kesselman, Naomi Weisstein (1969)

(Editors Note:This play was first performed at the founding conference of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union in 1969.)  


The play is in three parts basically. The first is a little comic relief skit, to be played very broadly and lightly by the witches. Witch Number 1 is endearing, frenzied, distracted, and generally cheerful; Witch Number Two is more experienced, a little pompous, but also good-hearted. Nothing heavy.

he second part involves the audience, with the two witches calling out the names of parts to be read, so as to pace the play and not allow it to drag. One copy of the script is cut up into parts and distributed to women to the audience in advance of the play. The witches call the parts of women throughout the play, and make some side comments. The person called Narrator in the play is one or the other witch. This is a typographical error. The third part of the play involves the two witches, reading who they are (we are all women, etc.). This calls for a change of tone on the part of the witches; from broad comedy to dead seriousness. One of the ways to change this tone is to have the witches get more and more serious throughout the course of the play.

The way the play was originally performed is as follows:

The witches were wearing witchlike costumes with various implements of oppression tied to them (which they later threw into the cauldron), e.g., falsies, coffee can (symbolizing American Imperialism), etc. A theatrical smoke bomb was used when the cauldron exploded. It was very effective and pretty smoky. The sound of the explosion was made by hitting the amps which were used by the singers. Another way the play was paced was by the songs. These are very important.

A few people had the complete skit (besides the witches) to help read some of the more difficult parts, and to keep the play going. The words and music to most of the songs are available from the 1st People's Songbook which can be found in most old left bookstores. We tried to supply you with the words to most of the songs at the back of the script. There are a couple of changes that have been made since the play was performed:

p-16: Witch #1: Hey, that's great. What are we doing here in these sillyass costumes, when we should be out there fighting with the men? That's where the real revolution is. With the men. We're nothing but a bunch of hysterical silly women. If socialism comes, if the men achieve their victory, then we'll automatically achieve ours.

p. 19: paragraph 5 (begins with: I am with the woman who never sees the light outside her kitchen I am with the groupies following the rock bands, whose every song is a triumphant celebration of women's degradation; I am with the women who wanted to be scientists and architects and engineers and poets, and ended up being scientist's wives, and architects wives, and engineers wives, and poet's wives;

paragraph 6, last line: the racism of their institutions

paragraph 10 (begins with I am with the contacts in the Latin American cities indifferent legislators. I am with the women who have loved other women, as sisters, as lovers.

Another name for the play is Everywoman, Past Present and Future.

Our experience performing this play is that it has to be successful: it involves the whole audience, and involves them in a way which is very dramatic, especially if the place where it is performed is dark. As different voices begin to speak, and to recite this history of fighting and honor, this history of women dying for the revolution, it becomes very suspenseful; especially since most of us didn't even know that half these women existed (not of course our fault; we it has been suppressed). So it is a very effective play. If you perform it, drop us a line and give us hints on how to make it better, and how it went in your performance.


Witch #1 stumbles on stage awkwardly

"This is my first week as a witch, you know. I suppose you can tell. You can tell, can't you? It's not that I don't want to be a witch. I want to be a witch, I'll be ..... witch. I'll be the - greatest goddamned witch ever. I'll be the witch that starts the revolution -- oops.

I don't mean to be individualistic. I'll be the witch that collectively starts the revolution. It's just that it's hard for me to be a witch: I used to be a bunny.

0, I'm the last of the red hot mammas
They've all died out but me.
A funny thing happened in my hotel suite
it dozen firemen were overcome by heat,
0, I'm the last of the...... 

Witch #2 comes on unnoticed stands in corner, then walks up, taps #1 on shoulder, says; "What are you doing?

# 1: Yessir right on certainly. Well I don't know what I'm doing.

# 2: We have a lot of work to do.

# 1: (breathlessly) I know. O I know, don't I know. We're going to make the revolution. One hundred million women, (tremulously) in America alone. Marching. Singing. Their banners high and full in the wind. it new day. (sings):

United women on the march, their flags unfurled, together fight

# 2: You have spirit ... but you just don't make a revolution like that. I mean, that's not the way you do it. I mean, like, you just don't go out and make a revolution. You need:

An analysis
A strategy it program

# 1: I have an idea.

# 2: (turning around, walking away) O no, she has an idea.

# 1: (taps her on shoulder) Get the pot.

# 2: (wheels around) Get the what?

# 1: The pan, the cauldron The cauldron. I'm going to throw in everything I hate, and then the revolution will happen.

# 2: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Two steps backward, one step forward.

# 1: All right. (goes 2 steps backward, 1 step forward)

# 2: That's a metaphor.

# 1: O hee hee heeee...... a metaphor. Well, I don't care what she says. I'm going to throw in everything. Here's my earrings. Here's my shoes. Here's my little girl doll that cries real tears. Here's my flowered stationery. Here's my padded bra .......

# 2: Your padded bra? Here's my girdle. My high heeled shoes. My false eyelashes.

# l: (backing up with each imprecation) my hair spray, my skin spray, my breath spray, my underarm spray, my douche.

# 2: what about the things basic to woman's oppression? Capitalism, private property, imperialism, the family, the state, private ownership of children.

# 1: Listen. We'll throw in everything in, and then we'll have to have thrown in imperialism and capitalism and the family....

# 2: (Muttering) voluntarism, tailism, adventurism, infantile leftism, economism, schachtmanism.

# l: continues throwing things in:

The industrial revolution (throws typewriter)
capitalism (one dollar) 
the family (baby carriage) 
imperialism (coffee can) 
war (emblem of lost son in Vietnam)

#1: O, I hate this fucking pot I hate it I hate it (runs up with flying kick)

Both witches kick pot at same time.





What is the revolution? When did it begin? It began a long time ago. And as with all revolutions, there were women who were there who we don't know about. We don't know how they lived or how they died, The history of women has not been written. The history of women's resistance has been hidden from us. Women have cried out against oppression and THEIR VOICES WILL NOT BE STILLED LISTEN.


"In our age of generalized decolonization, the immense feminine world actually remains in many regards a colony. Generally exploited in spite of laws, sold sometimes, often beaten, constrained to forced labor, assassinated almost with impunity. The Mediterranean woman is one of the serfs of the contemporary world."


"If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold our selves bound to obey any laws in which we have no voice or representation."


"As our fathers resisted unto blood the lordly avarice of the British ministry, so we their daughters will never wear the yoke which has been prepared for us. We would rather die in the almshouses than yield to the wicked oppression which has been prepared for us."


"The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of absolute tyranny over her...He has endeavored in every way that he could to destroy her confidence and her power, to lessen her self-respect and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life."


"In education, in marriage, in everything, disappointment is the lot of woman. It shall be the business of my life to deepen this disappointment in every woman's heart until she bows down to it no longer."


"What you farmers need to do is raise less corn and more hell."


"It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees."


"I intend to fight to the last. I will hold out indefinitely. The gas is killing us, but we intend to fight on."

MAC TIM BUOI 1953: tortured to death by the French

"I know that you cowardly bandits are going to kill me but I also know that you can never kill all of us, our party, and our people. Soon our party and our people will reduce you and your oppressive masters to naught."

Singers: Song of the French Partisan


My name is Louise Michel. I was born in France in 1830 and was trained to be a school teacher. Very early I dedicated my life to the liberation of the working people of France and to me women have always seemed to be one of the most oppressed groups of people. "Just as I cannot accept the miseries of animals or the poverty of peasants, I cannot accept the condition of women." In return for my continued resistance to the role of wife and mother that was prepared for me, I was kicked out of my house at the age of 20. 1 devoted my life to organizing a system of schools for working women. In 1870 the schools allied themselves with other revolutionary forces in Paris to form the Paris Commune which held Paris in the face of the assault of the reactionary government forces. In this the women of our school became the women's brigade, playing a key role in the defense of the commune. When the commune was smashed I was exiled from my country for my role as leader of the women's brigade.

Singers: Oh, Mary Don't You Weep


Akron, Ohio, 1851. Fugitives were everywhere. A white face could not be trusted. Friend? Enemy? Will they help me to Canada or sell me back into slavery? Free blacks were not safe in Ohio. No black was safe south of Canada.

Singers: Song to Oh Susanna


That song was by Sojourner Truth. Who was Sojourner Truth? There was a meeting of the Ohio Woman's Association. At this convention appeared Sojourner Truth, a tall gaunt black woman in a gray dress and white turban. She had been born a slave in New York and had published a narrative of her life as a slave. Her entry caused consternation in the convention, for the women were finding it rough going in the storm of protest and criticism raised by members of the clergy who had invaded the meeting and were monopolizing the discussion. But SOJOURNER DELIVERED THEM FR0M THEIR ADVERSARIES.


" ... I want women to have their rights, and while the water is stirring- I'll step into the pool. Now that there's a stir about colored men's rights is the time for women to get theirs. I'm sometimes told women ain't fit to vote. Don't you know every woman had seven devils in her?" Seven devils ain't no account. A man had a legion in him.

I think that 'twixt the niggers of the South and the women in the North all a talking 'bout rights, the white man will be in a fix pretty soon.

.....But what's all this here talking about? That man over there says that women needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place -- ain't I a Woman? Look at met Look at my arm! I've plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head me. Aren't I a woman? I could work as much as a man and eat as much, when I could get it, and bear the lash as well. And aren't I a woman? They talks about this thing in the head-what's this they call it?

VOICE: "Intellect


"That's it honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or niggers' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint and your'n holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let no have my little half measure full? Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men "cause Christ warn't a woman. Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man didn't have nothing to do with it!"

Witch # l: This is a definite mindblow. The way I was taught, the only women who existed in history were the suffragettes, and that didn't turn me on, 'cause what's so good about the vote anyway?

# 2: Vote, schmote .... you think they just wanted the vote, 'cause that's what you were taught. Let me tell you, little sister, they raised a lot of heavy questions. Listen:


In 1895 a book was published called the Woman's Bible, which was a series of commentaries on those parts of the Bible which deal with women, exposing the Bible to be a chauvinist document. Righteous indignation poured in upon the woman's movement.


"Reading the book with our own unassisted common sense we do not find that the mother of the race is exalted and dignified in the Old Testament. The female half of humanity rests under the ban of general uncleanness. Even a female kid is not fit for a burnt offering to the gods. Women are denied the consecrated bread and meat, and not allowed to enter the holy places in the temples. It is very depressing to read such sentiments emanating from the brain of man. But to be told that the good Lord said and did all the monstrous things described in the Old Testament makes woman's position sorrowful and helpless...The first step in the elevation of women under all systems of religion is to convince them that the great spirit of the universe is in no way responsible for any of these absurdities. If the Bible is a message from heaven to humanity, neither language nor meaning should be equivocal. If the salvation of our souls depends on obedience to its commands, it is rank injustice to make scholars and scientists the only medium of communication between God and the mass of the people. The Woman's Bible comes to women like a real benediction. It tells her the good Lord did not write the book; that the garden scene is a fake; that she is in no way responsible for the laws of the universe. The Christian scholars and scientists will not tell her this, for they see she is the key to the situation. Take the snake, the fruit tree, and the woman from the tableau, and we have no Fall, nor frowning Judge, no Inferno, no everlasting punishment,...hence, no need of a Savior. Thus, the bottom falls out of the whole Christian theology. Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and higher criticisms, the scholars never touch the position of women."

Witch #1: (Chanting in a mixture of witchiness and bunniness) "Religion is a tool of the ruling class. Take your opiate and shove it up your ass! Religion is a tool ...... "

Witch #2: "Shhhh. You might alienate someone. Anyway, that's not all they did. Then they went on to attack the traditional definition of (in a loud whisper) THE FAMILY. (Everyone on stage covers her head.) And traditional ideas about love and marriage.

Witch #1: (Meanwhile muttering) Alienate somebody? I wouldn't want to do that. Oh no.

Witch #2: "And then there was Victoria Woodhull. She and her sister Tennie Claflin used their newsweekly "Woodhull's and Claflin's Weekly" to expose the hypocrisy of marriage. Victorian America, male Victorian America was scandalized.

Sherry & Kathy Sing: Love and Marriage

Witch #2: "and they were imprisoned for using the mail to transmit obscenity."

Witch #1: "tsk, tsk, shame on them."

Witch 2: "Then in 1871 Victoria goes before Congress and says that women should be guaranteed the right to vote under the 14th amendment. In an orgy of prurient curiosity, thousands of people crowd in to hear the "scarlet woman" talk. PEOPLE SAY THAT SHE IS FOR FREE LOVE!!! "


"The law cannot compel two to love ... Two people are sexually united, married by nature, united by God.... Suppose a separation is desired because one of the two loves and is loved elsewhere? If the union is maintained by force at least two of them, probably three, are unhappy. It is better to break a bad bargain than to keep it. All that is good commendable now existing would continue to exist if all marriage laws were repealed tomorrow..,"Yes, I am a free lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please. And with that right, neither you nor any law you can frame, have any right to interfere; and I have the further right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but as a community, to see that I am protected in it.... I deem it a false and perverse modesty that shuts off discussion and consequently knowledge upon these subjects.

"So long as women know nothing but a blind and servile obedience to the will and wish of men, they did not rebel; but the time has arrived wherein they rebel, demanding freedom, freedom to hold their own lives and bodies from the demoralizing influence of sexual relations that are not founded in and maintained by love. The marriage law is the most damnable outrage upon women that was ever conceived."

Witch #2: "In 1872 a third party was formed. The Equal Rights Party. They ran a write-in campaign for Victoria Woodhull, a woman, for President, and Frederick Douglass, a black man, for Vice-President.

Singers Campaign Song

Witch #1:"There she is, making a campaign speech."


"A Vanderbilt may sit in his office and manipulate stocks or declare dividends by which in a few years he amasses fifty million dollars from the industries of the country, and he is one of the remarkable men of the age. But if a poor, half-starved child should take a loaf of bread from his cupboard to appease her hunger, she would be sent to the tombs. .....An Astor may sit in his sumptuous apartment and watch the property bequested to him rise in value from one to fifty million, and everybody bows to his immense power. But if a tenant of his, whose employer had discharged him because he did not vote the Republican ticket, fails to pay his months rent to Mr. Astor, the law sets him and his family into the street. ... Mr. Stewart, by business tact and the various practices known to trade, succeeds in twenty years in obtaining from customers, whom he entraps into purchasing from him, fifty million dollars and ... he builds costly public beneficiaries, and straightway the world makes him a philanthropist. But a poor man who should come along with a bolt of cloth which he had smuggled into the country and which consequently he could sell at a lower price than Mr. Stewart who paid the tariff, and is therefore authorized by law to add that sum to the price, would be cast into prison. ... Now these three individuals represent three of the principal methods that the privileged classes have invented, by which to monopolize the accumulated wealth of the country."


Witch #2: From the late eighteen hundreds on through the early years of this century there emerged another kind of woman in this country to fight for the rights of women, and of all oppressed peoples. The countless unknown women who fought with the Wobblies, in the strikes, in the Free Speech battles, who were arrested and beaten countless times. The great organizers Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Ella Reeve Bloor, Mother Jones. -when Gurley Flynn was sixteen, an article about her appeared in 'Theodore Dreiser's magazine. It said in part:

"They call her Comrade Elizabeth Flynn, and she is only a girl just turned sixteen, as sweet a sixteen as ever bloomed, with a sensitive, flower face. But she is also an ardent Socialist orator, one of the most active workers in the cause in New York City. In was on January last (1906) that she first made her appearance on the lecture platform and electrified her audience with her eloquence, her youth and her loveliness. Since then she has been in demand as a speaker wherever in the city there has been a Socialist gathering, at Cooper Union or at Carnegie Hall or on the street corners of the East Side."

Witch #1: "What did he look like, this Dreiser? I bet he was ugly."


"It is symbolic, at the least, to note that the first public speech I ever made was titled: "What Socialism Will Do For Women." Among the points I tried to make starting from that first speech and continuing through my life were to the effect that: The state should provide for the maintenance of every child so that the individual woman shall not be compelled to depend for support on the individual man, while bearing the child. The barter and sale that goes on under the name of love is highly obnoxious. . The one system of economics that gives every human being an equal opportunity is Socialism.

The wage earning class the world over are the victims of society. From 1906 on, I was almost constantly on the road; speaking, organizing, fighting, meeting, and going in and out of jail. In my many years with the Wobblies, I participated in almost all the major strikes and demonstrations of those years, and they were bloody ones. Many of my friends and co-workers were framed on murder charges resulting from these battles -- some served long sentences, like Tom Mooney, some, like Joe Hill, were murdered by the bosses. In 1915, 1 received a postmarked letter, 10:00 p.m., from Salt Lake City, November 18. It was from Joe Hill, written a few hours before he was shot.

In part, he said:

"Dear friend Gurley I have been saying good-bye so much now that it is becoming monotonous, but I just cannot help to send you a few more lines because you have been more to me than a Fellow Worker. You have been an inspiration, and when I composed The Rebel Girl, you was right there and with me all the time be sure to locate a few more Rebel Girls like yourself be cause they are needed, and needed badly .... with a warm hand shake across the continent and a last fond goodbye to all, I remain yours as ever, Joe Hill."

Many of my arrests and charges were under the blanket of seditious conspiracy, a charge with which I am sure you are all familiar. My mother was interested all her life in the liberation of women. I can honestly say that whatever battles I was in, as an as a member of the Workers Defense League, as a Communist, as a member of Women's Groups, I was fighting for the liberation of women along with my battle for Socialism."


I was known as Mother Jones to thousands of workers. I was born in Ireland, in 1830. My family was poor. They had fought for generations in the struggle for Ireland's freedom. Many of them died in that fight.

When I came to America, I first lived in Toronto. After finishing school, I began teaching in a convent in Michigan. Later, I came to Chicago and opened a dressmaking establishment. However, I went back to teaching again, this time in Memphis, Tenn. Here I was married in 1861. My husband was an iron moulder and a staunch member of the Iron Moulder's Union.

In 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept Memphis. Its victims were mainly among the -poor and the workers. The rich fled the city. Schools and churches were closed. People were not permitted to enter the house of a yellow fever victim without a permit. The poor could not afford nurses. Across the street from me, tEn persons lay dead from the plague. The dead surrounded us. They were buried at night quickly and without ceremony. All about my house I could hear weeping and the cries of delirium. One by one my four little children sickened and died. I washed their little bodies and got them ready for burial. My husband caught the fever and died. I sat alone through nights of grief. No one came to me. No one could. Other homes were as stricken as mine. All day long, all night long, I heard the grating of the wheels of the death carts.

After the union had buried my husband, I got a permit to nurse the sufferers. This I did until the plague was stamped out. I returned to Chicago and went back into dressmaking, which I continued until my shop was burned down in the Chicago fire. Next door to my shop was the hall of the Knights of Labor, and I used to spend my evenings after work listening to the speeches. After the fire, I decided to devote my time to the struggle of the working people to better the conditions under which they lived. I joined the Knights of Labor. I was particularly concerned with the miners and their conditions. I participated in strike after strike of the minors in Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It got so that when the local sheriff heard I was on my way, he's begin to groan. In Coaldale, I got into a conversation with the sheriff, without his knowing who I was. :Oh, Lord," he said, "that Mother Jones is sure a dangerous woman." "Why don't you arrest her?'' I asked. "Oh, Lord, I couldn't do that - I'd have that mob of women with their mops and brooms after me and the jail ain't big enough to hold them all. They'd mop the life out of a follow."

Later, I was active in the strikes and organizing in Arizona and Colorado. After being arrested and removed from one strike zone, I was taken to see the Governor of Colorado. He said to me, "I am going to turn you free, but you must not go back to the strike zone." "Governor," I said, "I'm going back." "I think you ought to take my advice," he said, "and do what I think you ought to do." "Governor," said I, "if Washington took instructions from such as you, we would be under King George's descendants yet. If Lincoln took orders from you, Grant would never have gone to Gettysburg. I think I had better not take your orders...

And so it went; in and out of jail. I spent twenty-six days as a military prisoner in a cellar under the courthouse. I slept in my clothes by day, and I fought great big sewer rats by night with a beer bottle. I told myself that if I were out of the dungeon, I would have been fighting human sewer rats. I could have boon released at any tine, had I promised not to return to the strike zone, but this I couldn't do.

Men's hearts arc cold. They are indifferent. Not all the coal that is dug warms the world. It remains indifferent to the lives of those who risk their life and crawl through dark, choking crevices with only a bit of lamp on their caps to light their silent way; whose backs are bent with toil, whose very bones ache, whose happiness is sleep, and whose peace is death.

Five hundred women got together and had a dinner and asked me to speak. Most of the women were crazy about women suffrage. They thought that Kingdom come would follow the enfranchisement of women.

"You must stand for free speech in the streets," I told them."How can we?" piped a woman, "when we haven't a vote?" "I have never had a vote, said I, "and I have raised hell all over this country. You don't need a vote to raise hell. You need convictions and a voice.... No matter what your fight, don't be ladylike. God Almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies. I have just fought through sixteen months of bitter warfare in Colorado. I have been up against armed mercenaries, but this old woman. without a vote. and with nothing but a hatpin has scared them.

SINGERS: Viva la Quince Brigada


My name is Dolores Ibarruri, and I was called La Passionara, the passion flower, for in Spain, where I grow up, poor people were taught to submerge their passion in Catholic piety. But where I saw injustice I fought it. I became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain. During the Civil War I was a leader of the forces fighting to defend the Republic.

I was the wife of a poor miner. One day a missionary came to visit to berate me for siding with the revolutionary miners. "God will punish you," she said. "God punish me? Even more? In my house there is one illness after another. My husband and my son work like burros and they earn a pittance. You think that's not enough punishment? Look, I'll toll you.... at times even I begin to doubt God's existence. I've never said this before to anyone; I tell you know so that you will know that it is poverty that turns us into unbelievers. God? 'Where is he when we're dying of hunger, when we don't have a crust of broad to put in our mouths? If God exists, he is blind and deaf to the poor. You think that talking like this is a sin? The devil with sin. When our men come home from the mines covered with mud, wet to the bone, dog-tired and there's only a pot of garlic soup ado with a lot of water and a little broad, and the house is dark and cold - then we curse heaven and earth, and we feel that hell itself can't be worse than our lives on earth.

When the demand for ore fell off and there was an excess of manpower, women were no longer hired. This discriminatory act was carried out under the hypocritical cloak of solicitude for the mother, the woman, the family and the home. Women were freed from brutalizing mine work only to be consciousness into domestic slaves, deprived of all rights. In the mine, the woman was a worker and, as such, she could protest exploitation together with other workers. In the hone, she was stripped of her social identity; she was committed to sacrifice, to privation, to all manner of service by which her husband's and her children's lives wore made more bearable. Thus her own needs wore negligible; her own personality was nullified; in tine she became "the old lady" who "doesn't" understand," who was in the way, whose role eventually became that of a servant to her household and a nursermaid to her grandchildren. This was the tradition of generations.

I began to read Marxist literature and for me it was a window opening on life. My ideas and sentiments began to change and take concrete form, although there was much I did not yet understand. My former Catholic beliefs began to dwindle, although not without resistance, as if they were determined to leave a shadow, a fear, a doubt in the depths of my consciousness. The struggle for a Socialist society - even though it was clearly not imminent -began to give content and substance to my life; it was the force that sustained no under the oppressive conditions of our pariah-like conditions. The more I learned about Socialism, the more reconciled I was to life, which I no longer saw as a swamp, but as a gaining daily victories battlefield on which an immense army of workers was advancing even through its defeats.

SINGERS: Guantanamera

WITCH # 1: Perhaps the group of women most difficult to discover information about are the women of Latin America. With the exceptions of the few who are known, such as Haydee Santamaria, the brave women who fought in the revolutions of Latin America are virtually unknown to their sisters throughout the world. Ono such woman was Juana Azurduy do Padilla.

J.A. dePadilla:

I organized the Indians of my town, Moromor, Bolivia to support the South American independence struggle. In 1809 some students and professors at Chuquisaca, now called Sucre, had seized the capital city and imprisoned the Spanish-appointed governor. The Spanish troops were paying local Indian chiefs to bring their tribes into the fight on- the royalist side against the rebels. My husband and I explained the justice of the revolution to the Indians, who then killed their chief and fled with us into the mountains. This was the beginning of the South American war of independence.

SINGERS: Nigeria chant...


I am a Nigerian woman. When the English stuck their money-grubbing blood-stained fingers into my country, they found us hard to subdue, especially the women. Unlike other African countries, we have no local chieftains whom the British could manipulate into leading our population into submission. So, in order to collect taxes, the British Governor, Ferguson, appointed squads of men and women to raise the money. In 1929 we women had had enough of oppressive British imperialism, and our blood had begun to rise.. Tightly organized we led the ABA riots, chanting "Beat Ferguson, Beat Ferguson." Our menfolk stood back in admiration as we took the first stop in throwing off Britain's yoke.

Our struggle wasn't over, though. The British were trying to rob us also of our education and made the schools a luxury for those few who could pay. In 1958 when the British government in our country claimed they had run out of money to run schools, we called their bluff. We forced shut all the schools and beat any teacher who tried to teach. We bombed the houses of members of Parliament and hijacked a train to bring us to the government to demand free education. The British capitulated and gave free education for the first three grades.


Witch #2: Listen now to our Chinese sisters. Here is a young woman whose name we have no record of, who is retelling her experiences. Listen.


In the past, the goal of my life was to please my future husband and raise my future children, to manage a household, to serve as a model for "a kind mother and a good wife." Mother taught me the "three obedience's and four virtues" and other ethical rules of good womanhood. I was a good girl of the traditional type who never ventured out of the door. I remember that at the age of ten I still had to have the maid dress me, and at twelve I still had to have the maid accompany me to school. I was such a weak, helpless, temperamental burden on others.

At seventeen, I stepped out of the family to go to school and began to take my first breath of freedom. Throughout my middle school period, though I was able to get out of the control of the feudalistic family authority, my life was so decadent. I fell into the abyss of love. I pursued happiness. Hypnotized in the clutch of love, I was wasting my youth away.

The gongs and drums of the "liberation" woke me up like thunder in spring, and I began to crawl out of the dirt. In September of 1950 still with dirt on my body, I entered the university. The school was like a big family of revolutionists, making me feel strange at every step. I was groping around and made some trials. I wished to wipe the dirt off my clothes, but my hands were so weak and tired.

One after another, the high tides of social and political movements passed before my eyes, marching columns paraded beside me, and the soaring notes of group singing rang in my ears. I felt alone, I felt the pressure of solitude. I was perplexed. Sometimes I sat alone on the lawn and cried, and sometimes I cried under the covers in bed. When schoolmates asked me why my eyes were so red, I failed to answer. As the days flew by, the "old" and the "new" were battling in my mind. In that battle, time & again, the "new" fell down and the "old" stood up with renewed arrogance. I was spiritually tortured.

I will eternally remember my roommate, little Woi. She was younger than I and called me Big Sister. I was very grateful for her help, but she also put me to shame. She could take hardship and was a person of action. She was very progressive, good at revolutionary doctrine, and lived very actively and happily. When she did things, she was a systematic as a nature adult. I often laughed at her for resembling a boy, and she always answered proudly, "In the ago of Mao-tse-Tung women will never trail behind men." She surely had a deep effect on me. She was a member of the Young Communist League. Her every act and her work made me so ashamed of myself and made me feel like a weakling.

Last November (1950), I began to change. I made a resolution not to imagine things and not to linger with the "old" any longer. I started out to catch up with little Wei, retracing her past footsteps. I took action. I came to hate my birdlike coiffeur and I cut it off. Now my short and straight hair looks as beautiful as that of Wei. I tore off my once-fashionable cowboy pants; humans do not wear dog's clothing. Now I wear the cotton clothes and cotton shoes of the laboring people, and when I walk side by side with Wei people say: "You two look like sisters, so thrifty and solid. This pleases me.

That was my first victory in the new direction.

Then came the movement to join the armed forces under the "Resist America, Aid Korea" campaign. I pushed aside my mother's objections. I wanted to offer my life to the fatherland, to the people. Big red flowers were pinned on me They symbolized the redness of my heart. I felt so honored and proud. When the students threw me up in the air, I was so very happy. That was my second victory in my battle of thought.

Now I have gone one stop further and joined the Now Democratic Youth League Through education by the League I have come to recognize clearly the two divergent roads. One leads to decadence and decline, filled with lifeless atmosphere, darkness and death. The other loads to happiness, activity, hope, light, and now life.

I anticipate Woman's Day this year with enthusiasm, I have prepared my uniform. I am going to throw myself into the human current and follow the flag and march forward bravely. I want to shout with millions of sisters and let the shouting become a strong current.

We want to be masters of the new society. We are the nurses of mankind. We bear the mission of mankind's prosperity. We have to break the chains on our hands and create the garden of happiness for humanity.


My name is Chiu Chin. I was born in 1875 to a wealthy family in Southern China. At 22 my parents married me to a minor government official in Peking. I saw the foreign imperialists ravaging my country with no resistance from the Manchu government. I witnessed many heroic but shortlived revolutionary movements.

In 1904 I determined to leave my two children with my conservative husband and I sailed to Japan. There I spoke to Chinese students, especially the women, about the worsening situation in China and the need for revolution. One organization that I founded, the Society of Universal Love, later pioneered women's political activity in China.

When I first applied to join the Restoration League, I was denied because it was thought improper for a woman to mix with the working men members. They admitted me later after my revolutionary activities convinced them of my seriousness. When the Restoration League was incorporated into Sun Yat Son's United Revolutionary League called the Kuo Ming Tang in 1905, I was put in charge of the Chekiang branch.

I was especially concerned about the positions of women. Under the names of Chin-hsiung, meaning "Compete with men", and Chien Hu Nu Hsia, or "Woman outlaw from Shaohsing," I wrote articles and poems as a "Woman's Champion." Ono of those I entitled "Strive for Woman's Power:''

May Heaven bestow equal power on men and women.
Is it sweet to live lower than cattle?
We would rise in flight, yes, drag ourselves up.

In 1906 I organized a group of Chinese students in Japan to return home to fight the reactionary government. I bought a knife to defend myself and learned to use it. At the final meeting before sailing, I said, "Whoever dares to surrender to the Manchu lackeys and whoever cares to sell out his country for personal advancement will receive death from my dagger." On the long trip home I wrote''

riding on the wind I return once more,
From the eastern sea I come clasping spring thunder.
I cannot sit by and watch the maps change color.
I cannot sit by and lot our country turn to ashes.
The turbid wine cannot chase away tears of anxiety.
To save the country we must get able people.
If we must shed the blood of a hundred thousand heads
We will do it - to win back our land.

I taught, and in 1907 founded the Chinese Women's Journal with a follow teacher and revolutionary in Shanghai. This was the first newspaper in all of Chinese history to be published by women. We refused to run the customary government announcements and sensational news. Instead we devoted out space entirely to stories on patriotism and the emancipation of women. Unfortunately, we were only able to print two issues. My poem entitled "Women's Rights" appeared here.

We want our emancipation.
For our liberty we'll drink a cup.
Men and women were born equal.
Shy should we let the men hold sway.
We will rise and save ourselves, 
Ridding the nation of all her shame. 
In the steps of Joan of Arc
With our own hands we will regain our land.

I became principal of the Tatung College of Physical Culture in Shaohsing. With Hsu Hsi-lin, principal of another school, I began to train the students in marksmanship, military tactics, and bomb making to enable them to make a democratic revolution for China. We set July 19, 1907 as the date for the uprising, but rebel troops began massing early, thereby alerting the Manchu authorities. So Hsu assassinated the governor of Anhwoi province on July 7 and started the rebellion. The revolutionaries took the provincial arsenal, but were eventually beaten back. My follow editor of the Chinese Women's Journal died here. Hsu was arrested and executed. I knew we would be defeated now, but I remained at school to destroy the lists of names and other documents incriminating the revolutionary students, teachers, and their supporters. On July 13 the Manchu army captured the school and arrested me and seven others after a short but fierce battle. They tortured me to tell the names of my comrades, and when I refused, I was executed early on the morning of July 14, 1907. I was 32 years old.

Witch # 2: Here arc the sisters of the Algerian revolution.


I, Djamila Douhirod, joined the terrorist network in the Casbah at the age of 22. One night, while carrying out my mission of planting bombs at the Milk Bar and the Brasserie Coq Harde, the French captured me. The bombs went off, however, killing many French civilians. The French wanted to kill me because fighting for liberation in Algeria especially as a woman was a capital crime. I was condemned to death on July 15, 1957, but the execution was stayed. French Communist supporters of the Algerian Revolution, Georges Arnaud and Jacques Verges, brought my case before the world as an symbol of Algeria's struggle for freedom.

The French carted me off to prison in Rheims for the duration of the war in the hopes of silencing the furor that arose over my case. But on May 25, 1959, El El Moudjahid (the organ of the FLN) declared me the best known Algerian woman. Algeria did not forget its women.


I, Djamila, Doupacha, also joined the terrorist network in Algeria. The French used torture to try and make no submit, but this I could never do, because through my allegiance and struggle with the FIN, I was throwing off my oppression as a woman. In France, the Djamila Boupacha Committee was formed in my defense, and my picture, drawn by Picasso, appeared on many magazine covers. To Algerians and French supporters, my resistance became a symbol of Algeria's revolution.


My name is Defissa Lalliam. I was President of the National Union of Algerian Women after independence. During the revolution, I also joined the FLN fighting corps and was entrusted with organizing the health service. The French arrested me but because of my status as a doctor I was granted provisional liberty, so I immediately returned to fighting with the FLN. In the battle of Setif I was arrested and held till the end of the revolution.

SINGERS: Brave Man

Witch #2: The women of Vietnam have been struggling for many centuries. In the year 248, Thrieu Thi Trinh, a 23 year old Vietnamese peasant woman, led thousands of guerillas against the Chinese feudal governors and drove them out of her country. But the enemy brought in powerful reinforcements, and after six months of heroic struggle, she took her own life, preferring death to the slavery of colonialism. "I want to drive the enemy away to save our people," she said. "I will not resign myself to the usual lot of women who bow their heads and become concubines."

Witch #1: Yeah, they sure did start early. My favorite is a lot more recent, though. Her name was Nguyen Thi Vinh, better known as Ming Khai, the first leader of the Vietnamese Woman's Movement. She was executed by the French in 1941. She wrote with her own blood on the wall of her cell: "A rosy cheeked woman, here I am fighting side by side with you men. On my shoulders weighs that hatred which is common to us. The prison is my school, its inmates -my friends. The sword is my child, the gun my husband."

Witch # 2: Now let's hear from a woman of South Vietnam. Nguyen Thi Ut of Tam Ngai Village, South Vietnam.

NGUYEN THI UT: I was hired as a servant in 1943 at the age of 8. Four years later my mistress started to beat me for eating some fish saved for my employers son. But I grabbed a knife and defended myself. When I was 14, my mistress again took a stick to beat me. This time I threw red pepper in her eyes and ran away. I joined the rebel army, which freed me, my mother and 2 sisters by paying off our debt.

At 17 1 was a liason agent and later a scout for the Resistance. I married Tich, another soldier, on the condition that our marriage would automatically be broken if either of us surrendered to the French. Tich and I lived in an area where Diem was forcing the villagers to build so-called prosperity zones. When the officials came for Tich, I pretended to be sick, thus excusing Tich from this forced labor. All the other people of Tam Ngai village followed my example.

I devised a plan whereby 2 other women and I captured an army post. We invited all the soldiers to a banquet. The commander left only one man to watch the post. I went and told him: "Your chief wants some more wine. Give me your rifle, I'll replace you." 'When I got the gun safely in my hands, I let the waiting NLF guerillas into the fort. Together we captured the drunk commander and the rest of his men without firing a shot.

In 1964 1 became the assistant commander of the village guerilla force and began to organize a women's militia. My NLF activities took all my time. I was never home before midnight and then only to go out again at dawn. Tich was just as busy, so our 6 children had to take care of themselves the whole day. But thanks to sympathetic neighbors and our girl Be, the oldest child, everything was all right. The children, who hated the American imperialists, understand that their parents were out to fight their enemies and drive them away. At times helicopters flew close overhead, and puppet soldiers shouted for the NLF soldiers to surrender. The children would shout back: "The Liberation Front troops are out attacking the army post. Only little Liberation soldiers are at home."

Twice the NLF has honored me. Once I was awarded a carbine and 15 meters of cloth at a ceremony attended by over 3,000 people. And then I was chosen to attend the Congress of Heroes and Elite Fighters of the Liberation Armed Forces. The whole village turned out to congratulate me. Leading the joyful procession was 14 year old Be, who had just been selected to represent the local women's militia group at the regional military conference.

Witch #l: Hey, that's great. What are we doing here in these silly costumes, blah blah .......

Witch #2: Wait a minute. Unfortunately, the victory of the Vietnamese People's Revolution in 1945 did not automatically achieve the liberation and equality of women in the new socialist society in the North. This is despite the inclusion of the struggle for equality of the sexes among the 10 principal tasks of the Revolution by the first Indochinese Communist Party Plenum in October, 1930. For centuries, feudal ideology had built up the idea that women must live under the protection of men because they are basically weak and helpless creatures. According to Confucius:

lst voice: The populace and women are ignorant, filled with bad instincts, and hard to educate ... Morals forbid women to step out of their room. Their only business is the kitchen.

Witch #2: Women's lives were ruled by the three obediences: to the father before marriage, then to the husband, and after his death to the oldest son. From the day of her birth a girl was coldly received by her father, for she could not continue the family line or inherit property. It was commonly said:

Voice #2: If you have a son, you can say you have a descendant. But you cannot say so even if you have 10 daughters.

Witch #2: Many folksongs also reflected the heavy oppression of women's lives

Voice #3: A woman is like a drop of rain;
No one knows whether it will fall into a palace or the mud of the ricefield

Voice #4: The evening star is at the zenith,
But I am still toiling hard to make Father richer.
The inheritance will be divided into several parts
Of which I, as a girl, will receive the tiniest.

SINGERS: Hard is the Fortune

Voice #5: From the market she comes back late.
For the children she has bought a few rice cakes.
Poor kids. How they have cried and wailed.
Not a drop of water to wash them.
Her husband has loafed the whole day away,
Smoking his waterpipe and chewing his betel quid.

Witch #2: But whenever there is oppression there is resistance. Women wrote folksongs ridiculing the supremacy of men:

Voice #6: For three coins one can get a whole host of men.
One can put them in cages and abandon them to the ants.
But one single woman is worth 300 coins.
For her to sit let's spread a flowered mat.

Witch #2: Listen to Nugyen Thi Khiu of Baoninh Village, North



As of 1971, 7 years after the victory of the Revolution, only the men of Baoninh went fishing. Most of the women stayed home and looked after the children, cooked, and did housework. We also took our husbands catch to market. I was one of only a few women who went to sea with the men. But these women didn't fish. We did "women's work"' mending nets, cleaning the boats, and cooking. The fisherman earned 10 work points a day, but we women only got 5.

When the management committee decided to send the boats further out, the women who had gone to sea couldn't go because of our children. We had a meeting to discuss the situation. I said that the solution was to form a women's fishing team with its own boats. The other women hesitated. "We can neither swim nor dive nor cast nets,'' they said. "Besides, what would become of us in case of storms?" I encouraged them. "We shall learn. Come with me to sea tomorrow." I taught the women to run the boat, swim, dive and cast nets; and the management committee gave a boat to our new Minh Khai fishing team, named after the first leader of the Vietnamese Women's Movement.

Our team consistently came home with our boat full of fish before ne men, and so the management committee rewarded us with 3 boats and then 6. In 1964 the Minh Khai team overfulfilled our production quota and broke the village fishing record. The men's teams acknowledged their defeat in the emulation movement.

The women continued fishing even after the U.S. bombing raids began in 1965. The Minh Khai team is still going to sea. I am still at the helm as its leader. More than ever now I concentrate on my work. I know I am only 35, and my -life still lies ahead. I can still fight. The French colonialists and the landlords caused the death of my father. Now the American imperialists have killed my husband. The enemy's cries only deepen my hatred and strengthen my resolution. I direct the fisherwomen to mobilize the people to turn their hatred into greater force fighting the imperialist enemy. When the bombings have been especially heavy, the villagers often ask our team: "Tomorrow will you continue fishing?" "Of course," we always answer with one voice.


My name is Nu and I am from Bui Village, North Vietnam. In 1958, 4 years after the NLF had liberated the North, I was married by my father against my will. I was 13 years old. I locked myself up in my husband's house and refused to eat until my weakened condition and public opinion shamed my father into taking me back into the family home. To emancipate ourselves and give full play to our abilities we women of Bui and many other villages have had to go through thousands of hard trials, as is shown in the story of my life When 2 years later I was one of the first women in the village to learn plow ing, my father said "From now on I disown this degenerate daughter." But my determination and achievements once more made him change his mind.

In 1961 the village militia was reorganized. It had been disbanded on the victory of the NIF 7 years earlier. I added 2 years to my age in order to meet the 18 year required age. I soon distinguished myself by my intelligence and military abilities, and was appointed section commander. When my section was lined up for march, I had to crane my neck to review my comrades. "You are a queer sort of commander. You barely reach my shoulder," one man said. Ignoring him, I shouted my orders and made myself obeyed.

As section commander I was sent to the provincial capital for a military training course when I was 17. When I reported to the cadre teaching the course, he cried out "Good Heavens. Is there no adult left in Bui? How can you carry a rifle?" I was the only woman among 100 students. The men often teased me, saying "When you throw a grenade, it will fall right back on your head." In class I had to sit in the front row in order to see because I was so short. The other students shouted, "Impudent girl. How dare you sit in front of men?" But I didn't let them discourage me. I worked hard and became head of my class and earned its members respect. I passed my exam brilliantly and nobody dared to ridicule me any longer.

When I returned to Bui, my success in the military training course made me ask, "Why couldn't other girls do like me?" So I began organizing a women's militia. But most of the Bui women refused to join it at first. "We feel shy in front of the men. We are clumsy with our hands. If we miss the target, how ashamed we will be." I convinced them by arguing "Everything men can do, we can do. We work in the fields as well as they do, don't we? Anyway, lets have a try." The Bui women did well in theory, better than many of the men. But they were still afraid when the time came to begin target practice. We were very proud when all the members of the women's militia passed this test.

In 1964 the Bui co-operative had trouble with poachers stealing fish at night in our rice fields. The militia women caught these men and ordered them to go out of the paddies. When the marauders realized that the militia was all women, they insolently replied "We can't get out. We're stark naked." Our young militiawomen clicked the bolts of their guns and shouted "Get out or we'll shoot." Panic-stricken, the poachers hastily obeyed their orders. Since then no marauders have dared to come to Bui again.

CROWD BEGINS TO SHOUT: Who are YOU? Yeah, who are you, anyway? Who are you supposed to be, etc....


I am all women, I am every woman. Wherever women are suffering, I am there. Wherever women are struggling, I am there. Wherever women are fighting for the their liberation, I am there.

I am at the bedside of the woman giving birth, screaming in labor; I am with the woman selling her body in Vietnam so that her children may eat. I am with the woman selling her body in the streets of American cities to feed the habit she acquired from her boyfriend.

I am with the woman who never sees the light outside her kitchen; I am with the woman who never sees the light outside her factory; I am with the woman who's fingers are stiff from endless typing and whose legs ache from the high heels that she must wear to please her boss; I am with the groupies following the rock bands __ what monstrous liars convinced them that this is their liberation.

I am with the woman bleeding to death on the kitchen table of a quack abortionist; I am with the woman answering endless questions of the inquisitive caseworkers; and I am with the caseworkers, whose dreams of making a new social order have long been smothered in the endless bureaucracy, the endless forms, the racism of their superiors.

I am with the beauty queen painting her face and spraying her hair with poison; I am with the black prostitute straightening her hair and lightening her skin; I am with the young child for whom an apron is the only thing she has been taught to dream of; I am at the hospital where a beaten child is being treated for wounds caused by a mother driven by desperation past sanity, past compassion; I am with the forty-five year old file clerk, raped and strangled in her one room walkup.

I am with all women; I am all women, and our struggle grows.

I am with the Vietnamese guerillas, fighting for the right to control their country; I am with the women in Ireland, living on the streets of Derry with their children because their houses have been burned or they have been evicted.

I am with the contacts in the Latin American cities, arranging supplies for the guerillas, hearing the secret police in every footstep. I am with the welfare mothers in New York and Hartford and Wisconsin who will not be turned away by the indifferent legislators.

I am with the airlIne stewardesses fighting to retain their jobs after they reach thirty and their market value has decreased; I am with the witches hexing Wall Street and the bridal fairs and the beauty contests; I am with women struggling everywhere.


And where there are women too beaten down to fight, I will be there; and we will take strength together. Everywhere; for we will have a new world, a just world, a world without oppression and degradation!


Song of a French Partisan
(this song is sung on one of Leonard Cohen's albums and you can get the melody from that)

As they poured across the border we were cautioned to surrender this I could not do. I took my gun and vanished.
I have changed my name so often I have lost my wife and children But I've many friends Some of them are with me.
An old woman gave us shelter, kept us hidden in a garret Then the soldiers came. She died without a whimper.
There were three of us this morning I'm the only one this evening but I must go on the frontiers are my prison
Oh the wind the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing freedom soon will come; then we'll come out of the shadows.

Oh Mary Don' t You Weep

Oh Mary don't you weep don't you mourn (three times) 'cause Pharoah's army got drownded, oh Mary don't you weep
If I could I surely would Stand on the rock where Moses stood 'cause Pharoah's army got drownded Oh, Mary don't you weep
One of these times in the middle of the night A woman's army's gonna set things right 'cause Pharoah's army got drownded Oh, Mary don't you weep

Campaign Song (sung to tune of Coming Through the Rye)

Yes, Victoria we've selected for
our chosen head. 
With Fred Douglas on our ticket we
will raise the dead.

Sojourner Truth's Song, (sung to tune of O Susannah

I'm on my way to Canada
That cold but friendly land
The dire effects of slavery
I can no longer stand.

Oh righteous father
Do look down on me
I'm on my way to Canada
Where colored folks are free.

The Queen is standing on the shore
Her arms extended wide
To welcome us poor fugitives
On to Freedom's side.

Union Maid

There once was a union maid
Who never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks
And the deputy sheriffs who made the raid

She went to the union hall
When a meeting it was called
And when the company guys came around
She always stood her ground

You can't scare me I'm sticking to the union (three times) 'til the day I die.
(There are more verses you may want to use. They can be found in any book of old union songs or in Peoples' Songbook)


We never could find the words to this song, so it was just hummed.

Nigerian Chant

You can use any African song or chant that you know or can learn.

Hard is the Fortune (old Amer. folksong)

Hard is the fortune of all womankind
She's always controlled; she's always confined.
Controlled by her father until she is wed
Controlled by her husband until she is dead.*

Love and Marriage

Love and Marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can't have one without the other

Brave Man

This is an original song written by a woman in Chicago which would be impossible for you to use without the music. In the place of this song, can be sung any anti-war song which can apply to American genocide in Vietnam. You might want to use Saigon Bride which is sung by Joan Baez on one of her albums.

Vive La Quince Brigada

Words and music in the People's Songbook


The hex is an original one written by a woman in Chicago. You can write your own and use any hex which can dramatically deal with women's oppression and you can use any witchy background music.

How to Start Your Own Consciousness-raising Group

from Black Maria (1971) Black Maria was a literary magazine with roots in the CWLU. This article was originally a CWLU leaflet. Reprinted from a leaflet distributed by The Chicago Women's Liberation Union (1971)

(Editors Note: The CWLU organized many consciousness raising groups around the city.)

Consciousness-raising groups are the backbone of the Women's Liberation Movement. All over the country women are meeting regularly to share experiences each has always thought were "my own problems". A lot of women are upset by remarks men make to us on the street, for instance, but we think other women handle the situation much better than we do, or just aren't bothered as much. Through consciousness-raising we begin to understand ourselves and other women by looking at situations like this in our own lives. We see that "personal problems shared by so many others--not being able to get out of the house often enough, becoming exhausted from taking care of the children all day, perhaps feeling trapped--are really 'Political problems. Understanding them is the first step toward dealing with them collectively, whether in forming a day care center, exploring job possibilities, or planning the best strategy for getting our husbands to help with the housework. It's easy to form a group of your own. Here's how:

A consciousness-raising group consists of a small number of women (generally not more than 12) who meet informally once a week at a member's home or women's center. Ask friends to bring friends--it isn't necessary to know everyone. Sisterhood is a warm feeling!

A different topic could be chosen each week, and everyone discusses it in terms of her own life. Go around in a circle, each woman talking in turn so that everyone speaks; this keeps anyone from dominating a discussion and helps keep on the topic. After everyone has talked (when you start your own group you will find it isn't hard to speak in a small, close group), you might want to discuss the information you gained as you went around the room.

The first meeting: each person can talk about why she wants to join Women's Liberation, what she thinks the group will be like, and tells a little bit about her own background and how she came to be at the meeting. This breaks the ice very effectively. Topics: a different one each week or so. They should be both specific and basic. Here is a partial list of topics that other groups have discussed:

why did you marry the man you did? (or date the man you do?)

How do you feel men see you?

How do you feel about housework? What does your husband do around the house?

Do you feel guilty when your house is dirty?

Do you think that what you do with your day is as important as what your husband does with his day?

What did you want to do in life?

What kept you from doing it?

How did you learn as a little girl what "feminine" meant?

Do you worry about being "truly feminine"?

What does "femininity" mean to you in terms of your own life?

What did you do as a little girl that was different from what little boys did? Why?

Did you ever want to do anything else? What did your parents teach you about sex?

How do you feel about menstruation?

How did you feel when you had your first period?

What was your first sex experience?

What is a "nice girl"? Were you a "nice girl"?

Do you pretend to have an orgasm?

Have you had an abortion?

How do you feel about being pregnant?

Do you enjoy taking care of your children? All the time?

What hopes do you have for your daughter? For your son? Are these hopes different? If so, why?

Do you think you could get a better job? Why not?

Do you compete with other women? In what ways?

Are you economically dependent on a man?

How do you relate to women of a different economic status and/or race? What things do you have in common? What things differ?

What do you feel about lesbianism? What do you know about it?

Who was Sojourner Truth? Elizabeth Cady Stanton?

What do we know about our history as women?

What is the basis of love between a woman and a man? Between a woman and a woman? Between parent and child?

You don't have to stick to this list. Other topics will present themselves. At the end of each meeting you can choose the topic for the next week.

After a period of several months, your group might want to begin study or action projects. CWLU has literature available and a special introductory packet that might provide a good basis for discussion.

Your group might want to start its own action project; for example, a group in California joined the picket line of women factory workers who were protesting discriminatory hiring practices, a group in Washington, D.C. held hearings on the pill, several groups began newspapers and magazines. or, you can check to see what on-going projects are happening in the city that you might want to become involved with: learning how to give pregnancy tests, having a study group in the Liberation School for Women, doing abortion counseling, working for childcare, etc. The CWLU office (927-1790) can put you in touch with these projects.

Starting new groups: Once your group has begun, you will find that other friends want to join. Some will want to come as guests. But consciousness- raising really depends on participation. Sisterhood doesn't come from just listening. It is important to keep the group small enough for everyone to participate. What you can do is keep a list of women who express interest. When your group has met four or five times you will be confident enough so that two or three of you can help a new group get started from the list. Go to the first meeting or two, to make sure the new group gets off on the right track. Every week new groups start all over the country. Before you know it, you will have several groups in your area, and you will begin to feel that you really belong to a movement.

Notes on a Writers Workshop

by Donna I. from Black Maria (1971) An analysis of a Writers Workshop offered through the CWLU's Liberation School. by Donna I. (1972)

(Editors Note: In 1971, the staff of Black Maria magazine, a literary journal with roots in the CWLU, ran a writer's workshop as part of the CWLU's Liberation School. This article, published in the December 1971 issue of Black Maria, is a report on that workshop)

"Poetry ought to have a mother as well as a father." - Virginia Woolf Woolf

All writing is a social act (even diaries, I suspect), and systems for expressing sounds, words, and ideas have distinguished human societies for thousands of years. Unfortunately, knowledge of the written language has been preciously guarded, more often than not, by an elite group of priests, scribes, aristocrats, or scholars. Even "universal education" has not eliminated the old mystique, so that most people approach our written language with as much awe as they would Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Writing, like any attempt to communicate, is also a risk. Our thoughts will make contact in ways which we cannot control. Perhaps some will not understand, and ridicule what we say. Perhaps others will be grateful that we have expressed feelings and ideas which they have never been able to articulate. Whether praised, blamed, or simply ignored, once words are in print, they no longer belong only to the writer, but take on a life of their own.

Despite the risk and common fear, hundreds of "ordinary" women have come forward, through the support of their sisters, to express their dreams as well as their terrors; to dig up herstory; to argue; to analyze; to invent; to sing. In short, to startle and overturn the old notions of emptyhead, chatterbox, harpy, gossip, and bitch.

The most astonishing thing about this great burst of creativity is that most of the writers are "amateurs." Women are discovering that they are not non-verbal, not illogical, not too emotional and ignorant to finish a thought. We are learning that writing can be an end in itself, for it often helps us clarify our thoughts into ideas and organize our ideas into a point of view; or through word images and rhythm, we may transform perceptions and impressions into beautiful poetry or songs. And that once these are set down in print, we enjoy an invisible communication with many people, beyond the circle of our daily lives.

As we grow in skill and confidence, shall we imitate masculine styles, forms, themes in our writing? Or shall we assert that part of woman which is still to be expressed, still to be explored? Take war, for example, which has often been portrayed in literature but rarely through a woman's eyes. The deadly game has been only partially revealed through images of grenades, guns, tanks, terror, explosion, mutilation, for the struggle to sustain families, production, and hope on the "home front" is an equally fierce battle against death. The futility, the absurdity of war is called "armed conflict." How would women--who must continue to build while governments use their sons, lovers, brothers to destroy--define it?

Then there is sex. Eroticism in literature has been so dominated by male writers that many women feel malformed, neurotic, impure because their experience nowhere resembles man's arrogant portrayal of it. Art reinforced traditional morality in cutting women off from their own bodies, but it certainly did not reflect reality. Now that we know female sexuality to be potentially deeper, richer, more intense, more demanding than the male's, let's bury the old empty-cup-waiting-to-be-filled, dull half-waiting-to-be-made-whole nonsense once and for all. Let the nature of female sexual experience no longer be taboo but a rich and various subject to stir the imagination of women artists.

Examples multiply. Novels, stories, poems, abound in female characters waiting to scratch each other's eyes out at the drop of a hat (or the sudden appearance of a male.) Quickly now, name one example from literature in which two women are allowed to be real friends. Warmth, affection, understanding are as vital as air, food, or water; none of us could have survived without having known strong and enduring bonds among our own sex. Sheer terror must have inspired male writers to so distort the reality of woman-to-woman relationships. Novelist Anais Nin has written: "There is no mockery between women. One lies down at peace as at one's own breast." If this is true--and I believe it often is--the portrait of woman's humanity to woman will profoundly enrich not only art but life now and in the future.

Turn this time to written history, some of the world's most audacious fiction. Judging from it,our sex hardly existed these thousands of years. But what of Mercy Warren, Maud Nathan, Abigail Adams, Aesara of Lucania, Cassandra, Agrippina III Arete of Cyrene, Cleopatra, Clothilde of the Merovingians, Diotima, the Wife of Bath, Alexandra Kollantai, Hypatia, Emma Willard, Emily James Putnam, the warrior Varangians, Charlotte Corday, Louisa May Alcott, Aphra Behn, Madame Curie, Rosa Luxembourg, Emily Dickenson, Eve, Judith, Vera Zasulich, Lucretia Mott, Yosana Akiko, Clara Lemlich, Mother Jones, Emma Goldman, Mary Dreier, Mary Emerson, Lucy Parsons, Anne Hutchinson, the Grimkes, Voltarine de Cleyre, Louise Michel, to name only a few? our story is proud, fascinating, and long overdue for telling.

Having touched briefly on what women might choose to write, let's return to Woolf's belief that poetry should have a mother as well as a father. What did she mean by that simple but puzzling phrase? We know and could cite evidence of society's attempt to straitjacket woman's mind. But that does not mean that the real, the essential, did not struggle a gainst what was imposed. The mother, the sister, the girlfriend, the wife does not look out on life only through the blinders of her role. In those private moments when the blinders are not on--what and how does she see? what does she know? It is not that women should write like women, but that expressing our unique vision will -expand, add new dimensions to a language which men now own:

man n... at the highest level of animal development, mainly characterized by his exceptional mentality.

woman n...the female being(distinguished from man).

or reason n ... the mental powers concerned with drawing conclusions or inferences.

intuition n ... direct perception of truths, facts, etc. independently of any reasoning process.

These key definitions are clearly biased, certainly inaccurate. Woman is called any being that is non-man, and the form of knowledge proverbially associated with her sounds more like a physical than a "mental power". From these "definitions" and the many more there is no room to quote, it becomes obvious that the language we grew up with is not enough; ordinary words and meanings must be transformed, discarded, or reoriented as women begin to speak their own piece. A whole new range of sounds, rhythms, shadings, accents, images will accompany woman's voice; and we shall invent brand new forms to express what we have felt and believed, what we see and need and plan to do:

For women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics. But this creative power differs greatly from the creative power of men.
--Virginia Woolf
A Room of One's Own

With some of these ideas consciously or unconsciously in mind, the Black Maria Collective set up an eight-week Writer's Workshop, which was offered to Chicago-area women through the Liberation School of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. Through our efforts to scout up articles for the magazine, we discovered that many women whose experiences, work, or interests might have produced fascinating and valuable articles were not writing. Those we contacted generally pleaded a lack of time. But when we looked into ourselves and asked why we weren't writing either, we guessed that lack of discipline, and more importantly, lack of self-confidence were probably the biggest stumbling blocks for "non-professional" but potential women writers.

We started out on the theory that all women have something to say, but that their talent is buried under many layers of conditioning. If all went well, we hoped a writer's workshop would fill three related, vital needs. First among these is a warm and supportive atmosphere where the creativity of all workshoppers would be stimulated and encouraged. Second, because writing in total isolation is often a dead end street, the group would offer the kind of constructive feedback--criticism, praise, suggestions- which is so much a part of any healthy work-in-progress. Third, we hoped that discussing already published writings of the Women's Movement, from a stylistic rather than purely political point of view, would sharpen our understanding of what makes good writing good, bad writing bad, and suggest the variety of approaches possible (book reviews, reporting, polemic, collective writing, historical and biographical sketch, etc.) Finally, our practical goal was for every workshopper to complete a piece of writing on her own time.

Although we had planned mostly for discussions, six out of the eight meetings included in-class exercises. Generally very brief (15 to 20 minutes), these writing sessions ended with us reading aloud and commenting on what we had just written. Since the convenors hadn't foreseen the necessity for writing during our meetings and hadn't thought through a variety of techniques, most of these exercises were limited to writing movie reviews, critiques, etc. Yet it is a measure of women's real hunger to express themselves that most of the workshoppers found the very act of writing a anything a rewarding experience.

Two high spots of the workshop were our first and last meetings, during which we wrote to music and art. Photos, posters, paintings were pinned up around the room and music by Ramsey Lewis, Smetana, the Beatles, Eric Satie, Moussorgsky was played on the phonograph for 45 minutes. Everybody was asked simply to write and the results were spectacular.

We had come together in a small room, wellstocked with old, but familiar-looking chairs, sofas, small tables. During the "experiment" some of us stayed at the meeting table; others curled up in corner chairs; I was most at ease stretched out on the floor. This freedom of movement reinforced the attempt to liberate our imaginations. At the same time the well-worn look of the room, it's space limits, provided a sense of intimacy among the strangers gathered there.

The 45 minutes up, we came back together around the meeting table to share what we had just written. Real enthusiasm and warmth sprung up in the group, although most of us experienced a few moments of real terror as our turn to share came around. Some of us had given in completely to the experiment-situation; some resented it. But we all had written, and written hard. One woman had vividly recreated her young son's joy in what the world feels, smells, and tastes like. Another had written a poem about rhythm. Another had let her imagination lovingly follow a wooded path portrayed in one of the posters displayed in the room. The music had unlatched the door to an interior world of colors, sights, and sounds which daily life and socialization stiffly and deny.

Almost immediately it became evident that our workshoppers were at different stages of writing development. Though painfully aware, we acted pretty helpless when people's different needs were sometimes at odds. At one early session someone had brought her writing for discussion, but was too timid or too intimidated by our "schedule" to say anything. It must have seemed to her that we piddled the evening away in writing exercises and film viewing, while she had some real, live work in her pocket all the time. Yet others needed the exercises simply because it "forced" their pens to paper and gave them a healthy feeling of productivity.

Unfortunately the convenors had not prepared for the natural split which existed within the group: those who were already writing and wanted feedback on their work, and those who believed they couldn't write, didn't have anything to say, or didn't know how to say it and wanted practice. The "alreadys" generally had to give way to the "not yets," which meant it took us four or five weeks to get around to one woman's article simply because we always ran out of time. Ideally, both convenors and workshoppers could have dreamed up many more games and experiments (similar to the music-exercise) for those who needed to work up their writing courage, while those seeking criticism and comments could have spent their time in valuable discussion.

Fortunately, anyone who was working on a writing project did get the benefit of the group's (or part of the group's) comments sooner or later. But surprisingly, we were often more shy about giving criticism than receiving it. one night several poems were passed around, read, and then a deadly pall fell over the group. Who'll be first to speak? What do I say? What do these mean? How will she feel? our poet waited. Finally a couple of people cleared their throats and ventured a sentence or two. Did the poet interpret our silence as disapproval--or worse-indifference?

When we talked a little about this failure, it became clear that people wanted very much to respond.

Unfortunately most of us seemed to feel incapable, inadequate, unsure, tongue-tied. For some, giving "constructive criticism" was a brand-new experience, and it is likely that many genuinely did not know what was expected of them. Just talking about it seemed to produce a painful, embarrassed tension.

For others who may try to set up workshops similar to ours, the same problem may come up again. Perhaps some time could be spent at one of the first sessions talking about what can be gained from criticism, the kind of comments we look for or have been most helpful to us in the past, and emphasizing that questions are sometimes the most helpful of all. (I now wonder what would have happened on the night of the "silent treatment" if someone had been frank enough to admit they didn't understand. It would surely have broken the ice.) Even more important, making sure that everyone who will be involved in the discussion has a copy of the written work at least a week in advance might go a long way toward avoiding the confused emotions of doubt and fear which spoiled one or two of our criticism sessions.

There have been writer's workshops before, but what distinguished ours was the belief that an woman who wanted to write could. She had only to believe in herself first:

The sincerity and friendliness of the group has facilitated an atmosphere of helpful criticism which improves each member's writing skills. (A.S.)

I think we are at least to the point where each woman feels capable of writing something. This is a big step, given the pre-conditioning we had all been subjected to. Another accomplishment (which, together with the first, just about breaks the field right open) is the willingness we developed to share our writing with others and to accept criticism. (K.R.)

A larger understanding has been evolving- that the participants can write and do have exciting material to write about. It seemed as though every woman had an "I'm not sure I can do it" feeling that first evening. There have been less apologies as time passed one. (K.N.)

I personally benefitted from the "exercises" we did in class ... because the experience made me feel like tackling other projects. I _always went home feeling especially good on those nights-_ full of words and ideas. (D.I.)

(from evaluations written by workshopppers.)

In the case of our workshop, women's energies were directed toward the obstacles that keep us from writing. However, the real victory was not so much words put down on paper but that we got back in touch with our imaginations. objective analysis is necessary, but developing solutions to the misery, rigidity, and isolation of American life will take every ounce of creativity we can all muster. Few of us suspect how much of what we will need for the struggle ahead we already possess. But why take my word for it? Remember your daydreams and nightdreams. Listen, for a moment, to yourself.


High School Women Ask: What is Women's Liberation?

from Womankind (1971) Chicago high school women confront sexism in their daily lives. from Womankind (December 1971)

(Editors Note: The CWLU did a lot of organizing among working class high school and community college students. Here are some reflections by high school women.)  

Women's Liberation is a movement of people coming together out of a need to learn what it means to be human, to understand what it means for forces around us to keep us from that humanity, and to act together creatively out of a sense of what it means to be free. Let's begin by sharing how we can be ourselves, let's move ahead with ideas of what we want to be:

...some stories and questions about our lives...

Kathy Evans, age 16, gets up at 6:15 to get to school by 7:45. Why does she need so much time?

Among the many things she does, is to smear on foundation to cover up those nasty pimples, when actually exposure to the air would speed up their departure. Then eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, etc. to disguise her own natural beauty, but making her look like those gorgeous covergirls and ad-models. Blush over her own roses, a touch-up on her nails, and she's ready to take down her hair.

As she begins to brush she glances through the pictures in Seventeen magazine with all those perfect-looking girls and beautiful clothes. The advertisements cry out to her, "Buy our product and you'll be beautiful ... The boys will love you and you'll be happy." She sighs thinking of her small allowance.

Kathy struggles into a constricting girdle to flatten her tummy, no matter it pinches and feels hot all day -- she's used to that by now. On with the nylons, $2.50 stockings that can be ruined the first time by a little snag and run. She slips on her skirt, not quite mini, but short enough to be dangerous when sitting or bending over.

By now it is 7:15 so Kathy grabs a piece of toast; not too much because she's on a diet (so what else is new?). No matter she'll be droopy through her morning classes for lack of food.

Finally, our young lady is all dressed and ready to go. She grabs her purse, loaded with extra make-up, nail polish, etc., etc., picks up her books and is out the door, ready to sell her polished surface self to the world.

Why do girls wear makeup?

Why can't we just dig our bodies?

Do we worry about who we are or what we look like?

What is an honest relationship with a guy?

How are friendships between girls and between a girl and a guy different?

You come into school in the morning. After the bell rings the PA comes on and a familiar voice calmly screams at you: "Don't sit at the open windows in the John, because ladies don't do such a thing."

Following announcements you stroll through the hall to your first class. Here you are greeted “good morning" with a warning to shut up and keep your voice down in the hall or else. “After all you are ladies and well-bred ladies don't scream, but are softspoken and gentle."

The day continues and so do the warnings "Speak softly" - "sit like a lady" - "don't wear tight pants to or from school. We don't want people to get the wrong idea about what we teach here"...Sound familiar???????????????????

What exactly is a "lady"?

Sally, age 15, came home exuberant. She had helped her team win at the swim meet with Southwest High, by coming in first in the butterfly competition. But it wasn't just that her team had won, because she loved to swim. It was her way of expressing herself, giving her such a feeling of freedom as her body moved swiftly through the water. Her mind and body were together, smooth and coordinated.

But her world was soon to shatter, because she returned home to over hear a conversation that her mother was having with a neighbor:

"Madge, I don't understand why you let your daughter swim so much. It just isn't good for her. She is becoming a young woman now. All that swimming will develop her muscles and soon she will be unattractive to men.”

Sally was shocked and hurt. She didn't understand but she began to change. She started losing races, swimming wasn't as much fun as it used to be, and gradually she learned to be satisfied with sun bathing alongside the pool.

Why do girls wear makeup?

How do we know what we want to do with our lives?

How many alternatives do we really consider?

What if we tried to follow our dreams?

(this article was written by high school women as they viewed their lives)

Why Women's Liberation

from Black Maria (1971) Some basic questions answered in a clear direct way. from Black Maria (1971)

(Editors Note: A statement from the Black Maria Collective on women's liberation. Black Maria was a literary magazine with roots in the CWLU)

Over the last year we have heard many women express their opinions and doubts on the subject of women's liberation. These are some of the issues raised in rap groups, at speaking engagements, and overheard conversations among women. In our own group we have often struggled to find some of the answers. It's presumptuous to say the following are complete answers or that every woman would answer them in this way (in fact we were not able to come to a consensus on each question in our own group). Our hope is that the following discussions will provide a starting place for deeper thought.

Why do you need a movement? If you really want liberation you can get it.

The society has established standards which prevent individuals from fulfilling their potentials (i.e. a woman should get married and take care of children). A movement helps change the climate of social custom in order that women have the freedom to choose alternatives to the previously rigid customs. Only when large numbers of people demand a change to their oppression are they taken seriously, and after a while demands that seemed silly at first become thought of as perfectly acceptable; to reach this level of tolerance, women must discover their potential and begin to react against the forces obstructing them from their goals.

What does a liberated woman have that an unliberated woman doesn't have?

A sense of her own identity and the realization that her life is her own to control. She is not dependent on other people for her security -emotional and monetary -nor does she believe what social custom has determined is her nature. She rejects the idea of women's natural dependency and passivity as a myth, and is concerned with the fulfillment of her potential as a person.

I don't like women. I get along better with men.

This is one of the most common statements by women about women. And it is one of the first emotions to be totally transformed as a woman begins to question what society and men expect of her. Rap groups, small gatherings where women meet to talk about their lives and feelings, often help us to understand how much we really have in common, what and who all of us are up against. In the long run, we have realized there is nowhere to turn but to each other. Hundreds, thousands of women are finding strength, a real feeling of sisterhood by uniting with other women. We are rediscovering ourselves.

Doesn't women's liberation discriminate against men (or... aren't you being unfair-more strongly stated-aren't you a man hater)?

It seems when the issues of equal jobs and equal pay are discussed this issue is raised. Women are not asking for "token" jobs and pay which another person is better qualified to receive. They are struggling to inch their way into those skills, professions and academic endeavors which they have the aptitude, strength and interest to succeed in. Women are not saying these are rights due only to them but human rights belonging to all. They have a history of struggling against discrimination, not of promoting it.

Aside from the struggle for a decent job and pay commensurate to the work exchanged women are often forced (emotionally and physically) to perform an additional multitude of chores and responsibilities; supervising children, washing clothes and dishes, cooking.... All this takes place after a work day which is as grinding and tiring as any males. This not only exhausts her but tends to shackle her time, keeping her from more stimulating endeavors.

Do mothers in the Women's Liberation Movement neglect their children?

I think that women who are working for equality and who are finding their own lives freer can give more to their children. Many women who are feeling the frustrations and loneliness of being a housewife take it out on the children by being bitchy and overly demanding. It is also a freeing thing for children who now have a mother who can really relate to them, instead of one who is caught up in the game playing that goes on in so many families.

Does wanting to be pretty mean you're a cop-out?

No. A movement should make it possible for women to find support for working towards the realization of important goals, it should not restrict or dictate "correct" ways of dressing or acting or thinking. There is room among people who agree on some points to be different: ways of dressing are not intrinsic to the question of women's freedom as concerns her inner needs. The reaction against a "pretty" looking woman assumes that she is looking that way for the purpose of attracting someone to her, whereas she may only be living up to her own standards of being comfortable.

Don't most women who join women's liberation do so because they're ugly?

The women's movement encourages us to take off our masks, to look honestly at our lives, to take risks, to speak freely about our needs and desires, to offer friendship, affection, and understanding to other women, to struggle for the right of all women, all people, to choose what they will become. Ugliness is not physical.---it is anything social, political, or psychological which limits or denies full human development (beauty).

No Lady

from Black Maria (1971) A grim look at life for incarcerated women.
CarolJean K. (1971)

(Editors Note:This account of life in prison came from Black Maria, a magazine published by a group of CWLUers. Dwight Prison was the Illinois facility where the CWLU Prison Project did its work with inmates.)  

No Lady
Prison didn't improve me none.
There was ten of us girls in the county jail
five white, five black awaitin' trial for sellin shit
The white girls, they all got probation.
Us black girls, we all go to Dwight. Me, three months
An I ask myself sittin on them concrete benches in
the county.
How come? How come me an my sisters goin to jail
An the white girls goin back to college?
Their mothers come in here an weep -they get probation.
My momma come in here -nose spread all over her face
-she weepin too.
But I goin to Dwight.
An I think about that -But I don't come up with no
Ain't got no money for a lawyer. Hell, I couldn't
even make bail.
Met the defender five minutes before my trial
An I done what he said. Didn't seem like no trial to
Not like T.V.
I didn't understand none of it.
Six months to a year they give me.
They ride us out there in a bus.
My Lord, we rode -I thought we was goin to the ends
of the earth in that jumpitty bus
An then we get there -to the "campus" an Miss
An two hunred rules sayin mostly what you can't do.
An the warders wanta punish you all the time.
See me playin the game -goin to charm class an the
body dynamics (to learn my Feminine Role)
An I take keypunchin, and I do real well.
My boyfriend, he come to see me twice, and then he
stop comin'
An when I have the baby, I give it up,
Weren't nothin else for me to do.
They give me twenty-five dollar when I get outta
An I wearin my winter clothes in July, and everyone
know where I comin from
Six months I try to find a job, make it straight.
But every door I push against closed tight.
This here piece of paper say I'm a first-class key
But the man who give the job, he say I flunk the test
Sheeit man, I didn't flunk that test.
You think I'm a criminal.
I done my time, but you
ain't reclassified me.
I always be a criminal to you.
So I use some of the other things that prison taught
That charm course made a darn good looker-hooker.
Three years later I back again. But I ain't takin no
charm courses.
No Sir, I been that route.
You call me "criminal", an I guess I am.
one of the counselors say I mentally ill.
I needs treatment. Two hours a week they give group
The other hunred and fifteen -they lock me up like
an animal.
An I ain't go no neurosis noways. Sheeit, it's this
place make you ill.
All them white warders they so superior.
All the time tellin you "Don't give me no sass,
Squat! Use your pot!
Down on your black ass, girl!
other night, I took sick with the cramps;
There weren't no doctor til mornin.
He poke me in the sore spot an say, "Girl -
You jus wanta go to the hospital. Get you some tea
an toast."
Tea an toast!
My girlfriend -she die of diabetes, before they do
anything for her.
She come outta here in a box. Looks like it won be
no different for me.
That's how it is, Lady.
No. Prison didn't improve me none.

To visit Dwight Penitentiary is to be made aware of the dichotomy in society's professed attitudes of rehabilitation for the "fallen woman," and the punishment philosophy which still characterizes much of the program, even when the administrators sanctimoniously deny it.

Once you get past the administration building (faithfully modelled after a bastille,) the physical facilities aren't too bad. Some of the cottages are in better repair than others, but, in general, this women's prison is more comfortable than most men's. The psychological degradations of prison life, however, are felt acutely by the inmates. There are, for example, many pregnant women who come to Dwight. These women may keep their babies until they are seven months old, and then, if the mother has not been released, she must find a place for the baby on the outside. The long bus trip from Chicago, the expensive taxi ride to and from the prison, and the lack of a nursery with toys keep the woman's family from bringing older children to see their mother. Thus, family ties are weakened, and both the mother and the children are punished.

There are 115 women at Dwight. (Another nine are in the work release program, housed in a separate facility.) The youngest woman is 18, and the oldest is 67. The women have the following educational opportunities: grade school, high school, T.V. college, secretarial school, or beauty culture school. In addition, women are assigned to industry (the sewing room,) the laundry, or the greenhouse. Thirty-nine per cent of the inmates were convicted of murder or manslaughter, and thirty-five per cent are known addicts. Most of the others (who may have been arrested for an offense such as prostitution,) are probably supporting a drug habit. The inmate herself is rarely allowed to decide with which program she will participate. (Indeed, the inmate makes no decisions at all while incarcerated. It is not even permitted to stay away from a meal. One is forced to go through the cafeteria line.) The education and work programs are arbitrarily assigned. The secretarial program is a case in point. This is a pilot program operated by Joliet Junior College under the supervision of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Because the program was started only a year ago, the sponsors are anxious that it appear to be 100%. successful. Therefore, they do not accept all applicants, but administer a "secretarial aptitude" test. Of the 44 applicants, only 15 were accepted at the school; the rest were channelled into less desirable programs.

Presumably, graduates of the secretarial program and beauty culture school will be able to find employment on the outside, but one wonders what a woman who spends three years working in a greenhouse, and who then returns to the ghetto, is equipped to do. one of the wardens told me that no matter what the eventual employment opportunities, she thought it was "nice for a woman to know how to arrange flowers." Also, I called various florist shops to inquire about possible employment for former prisoners, and I learned that most of these shops are family-owned, and as of last week, there were no openings in this area. Even more insidious is the labelling of the laundry room as employment-oriented rehabilitation. Most commercial laundries are non-union sweatshops which have been exploiting black women for years. And no special training for these hellholes is required. It would be more honest of the Dwight officials to state that the laundry was a needed service of the prison, and let it go at that. Calling work at the laundry "rehabilitation" is an example of the way in which we change the name of programs, but not their character.

Since prison officials are not anxious to have the public scrutinize their operations, they make it quite difficult for interested persons to talk to inmates. Thus, it is not easy to make concrete recommendations about what people on the outside can be mobilized to do. The answers must come from ex-convicts who have undergone the prison experience. (Some answers are already coming from movement women, who never expected to see the inside of a county jail or prison, but are there because of their political activities.

Prison officials want to keep a "smooth surface" on the face of their operation, but we should insist on our right to interview our sisters, and to see what might be done to lessen the effects of this "house of misery".

One example of the reluctance to grant information came in an interview which I had with the superintendent a few weeks ago. When I asked her about the treatment of lesbians at Dwight, she responded stiffly that there was no such thing as homosexuality at that institution, because the cottages had single rooms! (True, and a bible rested on every pillow...)

Many of us in the women's movement find it impossible to be comfortable on the outside, knowing that our sisters are behind bars. Ale are aware that our "good" lives are cushioned by generous allowances and nice homes. A white-skinned woman who has never known a moment's deprivation is hardly entitled to feelings of superiority for never having stolen anything. She has had no need to.

Sister on the Outside

Bright, intelligent eyes glinting out of a clever face, proudly framed by an Afro: This is Toni, currently the successful manager of a suburban boutique. Two years ago, she was at Alderson (a federal prison for women in West Virginia) doing time for possession and sale of LSD, and she gleaned valuable insights from the experience. While maintaining that some people will always have to be locked up for the protection of society, she questions the rehabilitative value of the institution. "The wardens grade your behavior on your adjustment to prison life. That means you have to act like an adolescent in order to adjust. Take your social worker, for example. When you go to see her, you're always in a begging position. I was supposed to be sent to a halfway house, and she wouldn't give me the slightest bit of information about when or where I was to go. It was a form of mental torture, really." If we don't allow inmates the slightest measure of control over their lives during their incarceration, how can we expect a successful adjustment to the myriad complexities of life on the outside?

Toni spent ten days in Cook County Jail, shortly after Winston Moore became warden. "If I ever do anything again, it'll be a federal rap... I'm afraid of Cook County Jail." This is understandable, since she developed a severe case of colitis, for which she received no medication, and the condition was aggravated by the oily, heavy carbohydrate diet. "There was supposed to be a doctor once a week, but it was hard to get to see him. Sometimes we had doubts that there really was a doctor-When you get there, they give you a mandatory shot of penicillin, too bad if you're allergic."

Little attempt was made to separate inmates, and women is all stages of drug withdrawal were put in the "kick cell". "It's frightening," Toni remembered, "you're in a cell with someone who has absolutely no control at all." And while she was there, "they brought in a woman who was very obviously insane; she was attacking people every minute. She was so dangerous they should have put her in a mental hospital." How were fights handled? Toni laughs wryly. "They brought in the men guards--the 'goon squad' we called them. They just beat whoever was fighting into submission."

The tedium of the days was the worst thing about Cook County. "I was so bored, I began washing the windows." The principal occupation of many of the women was "to talk down the air vents to the fellas. There were some great love scenes going." True Confession and comic books were all that was available in the way of reading material. For Toni, a voracious reader this was one of the main deprivations, and she read every comic at least three times, for want of anything else.

The boredom and absence of male companionship often leads women into the gay scene. "You have to watch who you go into the shower with," Toni reports. "Once, as I was coming out, this girl, six-foot-two, a real bruiser, said to me, 'Do you play? Well you're going to.' Luckily, I was rescued by a girl who claimed I was her brother. But it's a tough thing to avoid; especially if you don't have money, you become sexually dependent on someone. And most of the butches are very chauvinistic -they want their partners to do the housework."

When I asked about the gay scene at Alderson, Toni sighed. "First of all, you have to remember that in prison you have different values. The free world is just an abstraction. The federal prison wasn't so bad, and yet it was bad. Everyone there hopes that a butch type will be coming in. They made a really funny mistake on my name. They changed the "e" to an "ill. So instead of Toni Keller, it looked like Toni Killer! They were all expecting a real tough butch," laughed Toni.

Toni feels that many girls go to prison because of badly developed mother images. "One day, my friend, who was pregnant, came running up the hil. She was really happy, because her mother had just been admitted to the penitentiary! Three generations!"

Toni thought some more. "But it isn't just a bad mother image, it's the whole society, which is based on material acquisition. I think that the only solution is to have a society which respects people for what they are."

"With me, You Know What's For Sale"

Shelley is a prostitute who has just been released after eighteen months in a state penitentiary.

" I went to the joint because they got me on a drug charge; it was just a little grass, but they used my past record against me -which they're not supposed to be allowed to do. The judge called me a confirmed recidivist. You know what that means? It means that I come back a lot. This game's been my main thing since I was eighteen. I'm thirty-two years old now, and five of my working years I've spent behind bars -most of the time at Cook County Jail. I'm not looking to go back, but I figure that getting busted is what they call ... an occupational hazard. But it doesn't get to me personally. I never committed any crime--a crime is when you do something to hurt someone; but me, I never hurt anyone. Sure, I broke the law, but it's a dumb law, isn't it?

You were talking to me about liberation? Well, I was liberated before you ever knew what it was and way before it got to be a popular thing... I never swallowed any of that stuff about Love -except for once when I got married and I thought that that was going to be it--but it didn't last. And I don't believe anyone who says she's loved the same man fifteen-twenty years. It just isn't true.

(How are you liberated?) Well, as I said, I don't believe in Love, but I do believe in sex and I don't mind selling it because that's honest. You housewives it's hard to tell what you're selling. But what I have is right out on the counter

(How did you spend you; time in prison?) I did easy time. I always do easy time. The best thing you can do is to stay real loose. In the joint I was in you had to play rehabilitation games. If I ever go back, I'll get to be a college graduate because I've got a lot of credits from the T.V. college now. But what I use doesn't need a college education! If I describe the place, it won't sound so bad because you have to stay there and get treated like a child. I was lucky to have some money coming in to me, but there were a lot of girls who got sexually dependent just to get some cigarette money, and that's a bad scene. I used to share what my mother sent me. It was funny-he once sent me this note that said: 'Dear Shelley, I've written to the warden to tell her that she'd better release you right away, because we can't afford to keep you there anymore!

I had one real bad thing happen. They don't gas white women having Negro men coming to visit--and they kept cutting my visits short with this one man I've been tight with about two years. I don't think they gave me all his letters either. And that's one place where your letters are your only contact with the outside, so it's important.

When I came in, I had a yeast infection--and they immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was syphilis. So they gave me this really massive dose of antibiotics and told everyone to stay away from me. It was real embarrassing, and it wasn't even true, as they later found out.

Some of the guards were all right, but a lot of them were piggies, and they all had their little favorites. Me? (she laughs) Now I was never anybody's favorite prisoner. I didn't play. (What do you mean?) I mean, I didn't go with other chicks and I didn't get tight with anybody. There was one girl I used to talk to sometimes, but I wouldn't say it was a close friendship.

'Me all went to group therapy once a week because it was something to do, and you think maybe you'll learn something about yourself. (Did you?) No, because they say the same thing to everyone just about. They said that I was immature and didn't want to accept the responsibility of being a woman. (How did you feel about that?) I feel -like I don't want to play their games. They don't like my main thing and I do. They want me to stop doing it; so group therapy is their hustle and sex is mine. But it was better than sitting around all the time. The boredom is the worst part of it all.

The only hustle that was worse than therapy was the religious hustle. I know girls who used to change religions every week--just so they's get early release. And it's true. The ministers and priests are always in there pitching for their favorites. But that's one thing that was even worse than sitting in your cell--going to chapel.

One thing I know about myself is that I'm tough-really tough. Nothing in the joint ever really got to me. But I wasn't there too long. The one way they try to break you is by not letting you take any pride in yourself and pride's what makes you real--you know what I mean? (How about now?) Well sure, I'm self-supporting, aren't I? Nobody ever got me for any less than I'm worth. I sell my body. But as I said, I keep what I'm selling separate from what's not for sale. So, don't talk to me about liberation."

Socialist Feminism -- A Strategy for the Women's Liberation Movement

by the Hyde Park Chapter of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union (1972) A major theoretical paper that helped lay the basis for the CWLU's political direction. by the Hyde Park Chapter of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union

(Editor's note: The CWLU was an explicitly socialist feminist organization. This 1972 position paper tried to define what that meant in practical terms.)


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.

We Look at Ms.

by Sue (1972) A CWLU member casts a feminist eye on the early days of Ms Magazine. by Sue (1972)

(Editors Note: Ms Magazine generated strong feelings across America. A CWLU member examines this feminist icon when it was still new.)  

Annoyed by its slickness, I avoided Ms for a few months - just an intellectual GLAMOUR or MADEMOISELLE, I thought, the same ads' beckoning suave men to romance with a flawless skinned beauty, offering me Gloria Steinem and other free-swinging beauties as my new role models.

But, curious at last, I bought a copy, and I enjoyed it. I got a new view of Marilyn Monroe, whom I’d, always liked anyway; had a good conversation on sex and orgasms after a friend and I had both read "The Liberated Orgasm" article in the August issue; and I laughed at the captions on Pat Nixon's photos in "What if Pat Nixon Were a Feminist ?”

Then I looked at the other issues. I was happy to read about women photographers and poets and historic feminist fighters, to read new works by Sylvia Plath and Doris Lessing, and to discover Simone de Beauvoir’s conversion to feminist political action. Ingrid Bengis' article "On Getting Angry" dealt so forcefully with our common experience of men's sexist attacks that I recommended it strongly to friends teaching women's liberation courses. The survival article on cars with its good drawings at last made my car a comprehensible machine.


Furthermore, I knew a lot of other women who read Ms It is the national magazine of women's liberation available on newsstands everywhere, highly publicized, and eagerly read by nearly half a million women after only a few months of publication. All kinds of women read the magazine - high school students, college students, secretaries, factory workers, housewives, secretaries, social workers, actresses, writers, young women, older women. Women read it who sense things are wrong in their own lives, who know that women are on the move, that something's happening out there and they want to know what it is. Most are women who do not subscribe to movement magazines and newspapers, like WOMEN: A JOURNAL OF LIBERATION, OFF OUR BACKS, THE FEMINIST VOICE, or WOMANKIND. They read McCALLS, LADIES HOME JOURNAL REDBOOK, SEVENTEEN, COSMOPOLITAN, GLAMOUR, TRUE CONFESSIONS, and the other traditional popular women's magazines.

It was clear that the women's movement had created a national market. There is profit in publishing a national women's liberation magazine. We have a high profile, more and more people are listening to us and in many areas we are becoming a force to be reckoned with. Ms national profile enables it to reach a wide audience. For many women it is among the first steps of identifying themselves with the women's liberation movement. Because it is an attractive, glossy magazine with good covers and graphics, the transition to reading a woman's magazine that is not devoted to glamour, style, and household beauty is not too difficult.


But, my old suspicions crept back to nag me as I read on. Why did Johnnie Tillman’s article on "Welfare Is a Woman's Issue" as well as “Three Lives in Appalachia" appear in the back of the magazine? Why did the articles on women, marriages, and families feature mostly white, middle-class professional people like doctors, social workers, lawyers, professors, ministers, and their wives? Why were the ads just like those in GLAMOUR and LIFE? What's so liberated about an article by two black professional women on how whites should talk to their black friends at cocktail parties?

In many ways, Ms is a deceptive and dangerous magazine. While claiming to speak nationally for all women in women's liberation, Ms is clearly written by and for only part of the women in America, middle class women. As a commercial venture, dependent on profits, Ms will exist only as long as it makes money. In order to make that money, Ms makes certain limiting choices.

First of all, Ms. costs a dollar, $1.00, each month. Right away, it costs more for poorer women than richer women, as $1.00 is a larger bite out of a salary of $89 a week, than out of $175 a week. The price reflects the magazine's commercial nature; it is a profit-making investment for some few people. Paid articles, glossy format and good graphics cost money. The high price also suggests that Ms is aimed at women with ample pocket money - not welfare or working women who have to stretch inadequate incomes far.

If articles were contributed, rather than paid for, who would write for Ms? If the magazine were less glossy, who would read it? The high circulation of low-cost magazines like TV DIGEST, MODERN SCREEN, and WOMEN'S DAY suggests that it is not glossy format and expensively priced articles that draw readers. Rather, people buy a magazine that responds to a strong need - wanting to know the week's TV programs, curiosity about Hollywood gods and goddesses, and a supermarket low-cost women's magazine. The audience for a national women's liberation magazine has been proven, so we would like to see Ms adapt its style and format to lower cost.


Second, the Marlboro man, mink coats, Replique tigers, and the Coppertone bikini beauty all beckon me to spend my money in search of handsome men, when all I need is a pack of cigarettes or some suntan lotion. Dig it - the mink coat ad featured a young black woman wearing the coat - "An exquisite extra-dark natural mink bred only by Great Lakes Mink men and designed by Geoffrey...”

Yet, before Ms appeared, Gloria Steinem did promise that Ms would not publish sexist ads. When a woman wrote in to complain that the Coppertone ad with the bronze blonde in the white bikini was sexist, the Editor's Note said, "Read the ad copy. It speaks to 'people,' not women."

Since when does the copy seal the product. "However," the Note continues, "there's disagreement about that ad in the office, too, especially concerning the model's 'pose.' Please continue to send us your reactions to the ads; we're forwarding your comments to the advertisers, as we promised." Come on, Ms how about you refusing to print sexist ads?


Thirdly, I noticed that the articles are usually written about and by individual, middle class, college educated women - "Have One, Adopt One," "Anatomy of an Affair," "Rosalyn Drexler Fights her Fat," and "The Housewives' Moment of Truth, " to name a few. The article “Why Women Fear Success," while an interesting commentary, is itself based on a study done of undergraduates at the University of Michigan. The article about fan magazines is not written for women who regularly read those magazines to show how their sensational lies feed on women's boredom and loneliness.

Ms. does not speak to the lives of housewives, married young with three small kids, a marriage gone sour, and dim, dull job prospects. It does not deal with the daily lives of waitresses and factory worker. "The Song of the Shirt", about women garment workers, is a historical article discussing the conditions in 1867, not present day America.

The implied snobbery of the magazine maintains and continues the elitism of America's class society. All women are not born equal. Ms is dangerous in that it gives many women a double message -"Join with us at Ms to be a liberated women," but also "You can't be like us because you didn't go to college, and we put you in the back of the magazine to prove it."

There is a kind of intellectual bias in the magazine that suggests the writers and editors all went to college. The vocabulary in the article would send a lot of readers to the dictionary, or else into a pit of self-doubt, once a gain reminded of their "stupidity" for not knowing a work. In fact, knowing that word's meaning is a fringe benefit of the class privilege of a college education, not an individual act of smarts.

Another choice Ms has made is to walk a cautious line on lesbianism, featuring only an occasional article written by a prominent lesbian, for example, Jill Johnston's "The Return of the Amazon Mother" and "Lesbian Love and Sexuality" by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Other articles take little notice of lesbian values, and imply that all women are heterosexual.


A national magazine of women's liberation is here to stay it seems, and for the meantime we’ll continue to read Ms The letters to the editor are enjoyable to read and indicate a wide audience responding to the magazine. The articles, though limited, are on the whole well-written, lively, and interesting. Many are personal articles full of anecdotes out of the author's life, and they read as if the writer is talking to her readers. Ms avoids long, dull overly analytical articles, and at the same time tackles serious issues in depth. The many useful sections of the magazine include the articles on machines (cars, bikes, sewing machines), references to where to get films and literature mentioned in articles, a guide to where to get help from selected national women's groups, and a list of women's movement publications.

The rest of the women's movement can use Ms as a forum for publishing its articles and ideas. While changing the aims and content of Ms is no priority item for radical women's organizations, we would like to see some changes - basically less appeal to college-educated middle class women, and broader appeal to all women.

Specifically, we want to see:

  • More articles about collective women's struggles. Feature women fighting in Ireland and North Vietnam, instead of portraying the women of Bangladesh as suffering victims. How about an article about a strike by nurses or telephone operators, as well as the article about the employees' class action suit against READER'S DIGEST for discrimination in employment (October, 1972).
  • More articles about our common oppressive experiences, like "On Getting Angry." High school tracking, for instance, hits every woman in America. Early marriages confine working class and middle class women in motherhood before they have confidence and experience in their creative and working abilities.
  • Articles on more typical women's jobs, such as waitress, secretary, nurse, saleswomen, and factory work.
  • Attention to how other parts of our culture, such as TV, Hollywood, and rock’n’roll, oppress women in female stereotypes.

If Ms really wants to liberate women in America, then our sisters at Ms have a responsibility to fight the myths and self-destruction that growing up in a sexist society has brought to all women, not to create a new journal that carries on half the lies while pretending to end them all.

A Black Woman's View of Women's Liberation

An interview with Brenda Eichelberger, a founding member of the Chicago chapter of the National Black Feminist Organization (undated but probably 1975 ).(undated but probably 1975)

(Editors Note: Brenda Eichelberger was a founding member of the National Black Feminist Organization. This interview was published in Secret Storm, the publication of the CWLU Outreach Committee.)  

Brenda Eichelberger is a black women who lives on the South side of Chicago. She works as a counselor at Bryant Elementary School. Brenda is a founding member of the National Black Feminist Organization. In this interview, Secret Storm talked about being a black women and her feelings and ideas about women's liberation.

SS: How did you first get interested in women's liberation?

Brenda: For as long as I can remember I've been a feminist, even when I didn't know that word existed. My brother is very close to my age, and when we were growing up I couldn't understand the benefits he got. If he had been older then I might have understood, but he wasn't that much older than me. For instance, he got the top bunk bed because he was a boy, even though I wanted it. Then we both wanted a bike and our family had only enough money for one, my brother got it. Also, living in the city, I had housework to do but my brother had "no soil to till.”

I really got involved in women's liberation by reading about the National Black Feminist Organization in the May, 1974, MS magazine. Before reading that article, I didn't know any other black woman felt the way that I did about feminism. I knew white women who were my friends, but they didn't have the added oppression of race. A lot of black groups were macho. I couldn't completely identify with any group. Anyway, all I need to know was that one woman anywhere who felt like I did. I got busy organizing the National Black Feminist Chapter in Chicago.

SS: What problems do you face as a black woman?

Brenda: From the standpoint of being black, black women live in neighborhoods with lots of crime. Also, the guilty of goods and services is poor. For example, clothing stores don't have much selection or good quality clothes. Black women shop in groceries that stock poor quality food at high prices. Black women have less chance to pick up a good book or magazine to find out what's happening at the drugstore because they have a poor selection mainly, "True Confessions, etc." All the time you are aware of the very heavy security in stores.

Black women are discriminated against in schools, jobs and health care. If you are on welfare, you receive bad treatment. Most blacks must wait hours in line before seeing a doctor. For years white upper and middle class women could afford to get safe abortions. Black women either had a child or had an unsafe abortion. Some black women have been sterilized against their will or without even knowing what is being done to them. Puerto Rican and black women were used as guinea pigs to test the "pill" before it was marketed. Black women often are unknowing guinea pigs in medical research. Black women have special health problems, like a high rate of hypertension and an increasing suicide rate (80% in the last 20 years).

From the standpoint of the black woman, black men come out of a macho orientation. Many black men feel that black women should stand behind them, not beside them. This is hard to fight because black men are easily threatened by women's independence. This is because society has a pecking order and when a black man needs to vent anger or anxiety he'll take it out on the one group lower than he is - the black woman. The NBFO is setting up consciousness raising groups (rap groups) for black men. Black men and women have to learn to live and work together with respect. We also work with predominately white groups if we have the same goal.

SS: What can black women do?

Brenda: Get into an organization like the NBFO. You have to work with other women to change things. If black women don't stand up and do together what we've been trying to do individually, we will only get small successes like a college degree, a house, or a good job. These small successes make some black women feel that they're better than others. In this way, the space between people is widened when we should be closing it. This is how we are kept oppressed.

SS: How has NBFO changed your life?

Brenda: I met really great women I couldn't have met anywhere else. I could never have this great a relationship with another woman as I do with women in NBFO. I get high knowing that black women, the most oppressed group in America, can be a powerful force when we get together. When we work together we're unlimited - we can't be divided.

The National Black Feminist Organization’s Chicago Chapter welcomes all black women. They have a monthly meeting that rotates around the city, also, a monthly newsletter, consciousness raising groups and workshops. NBFO will help you with childcare and transportation so you can attend.

(Editor's Note: The National Black Feminist Organization no longer exists.)

Stand Up and Be Counted

from Secret Storm (undated, but probably 1975-1976) A review of a film that explored issues of women's liberation. from Secret Storm (undated, but probably 1975-1976)

(Editors Note: A film review of the movie "Stand Up and Be Counted" which explored how women were changed by the women's liberation movement.)

There's a flick playing around the neighborhoods that everybody should check out. It's called "Stand Up and Be Counted", and it's about women's liberation. The story takes place in Denver and the main characters include a career girl, her sister and her mother. The sister is very into both the ideas of women's liberation and building a movement. The mother belongs to a women’s liberation group for older women. At the start of the movie, the career girl does not like women's liberation at all, thinks her sister is sorta nuts and that the movement is rather extreme. The movie shows the changes she goes through and how she comes to understand, support, and be a part of the movement.

That’s the strongest point of the film - it shows women going through changes, and how painful the realizations that you're oppressed - that your husband doesn't listen when you talk, that your boss just doesn't give a shit about your working conditions, that even though he 'helps', the housework is still women's work - how painful these realizations are.

It's so easy to see your self in the women in the film. It's amazing - they say things we've all said to each other, to our children, and to our husbands and boyfriends. You can really feel what they're feeling too. The heaviest scenes come down with this mother of three little kids and her husband. He never has time to talk to her, he doesn't take her ideas seriously (much less her emotions). She does all the housework, takes care of the kids by herself, you know, the whole bit. One day the baby-sitter finds some really good sketches of women's fashions that she had done over the years. The sitter convinces her that they're good, she takes them to some designer and he offers her a job, working at home, in her own time. She tries several times to tell her husband about it, but he never has time to listen. After about a month, he tells he was fired three weeks before and has just been offered a job in New York City, that she will have to stay behind with the kids and sell the house, since he has to move RIGHT NOW. She starts off with trying to tell him that she has a job and that she could support them until he found another job in Denver, but he just doesn't listen. Besides, she says, she doesn't want to live in New York City (what a place to raise kids!). Many tears later; he leaves for New York, still not understanding why she is holding out. You can tell that she decided that she wasn't going to simply pick up and leave Denver on a moment's notice, that she was going to start to think about what she wanted.

With one exception, the film mainly dealt with women's liberation and how it relates to our relationships with men - fathers, boyfriends and husbands, not with the part of women's liberation that deals with building a new society for everyone. But what it does it does well.

The audience reaction is amazing. You can see men shrinking in their seats at certain scenes, and getting really hostile at other. And then there are points where all the women clap and you can feel the unity among the women in the audience. Of course, where you watch the credits at the end, there's only one woman on the crew. Well, we'll get to that next time around.

Everyone should go and see Stand Up and Be Counted. Bring sisters, mother, brothers, husband or boyfriends. Everyone will have strong feelings about it and there sure will be a lot of discussion.

What is Women's Liberation

from Secret Storm (undated, but probably 1975-1976) A statement that seeks to refute common misconceptions about the women's movement. from Secret Storm (undated, but probably 1975-1976)

(Editors Note: A statement from the Outreach Group on the meaning of women's liberation.)  

During the past few years, there's been plenty of talk about Women's Liberation. Although many people know and agree with the ideas of Women's Liberation, there still seems to be some distorted impressions of what it's all about. One of which is that all women should hate men. Actually, many women in our organization are married with children. Others enjoy meaningful relationships with men and choose not to live the married lifestyle. Nevertheless, we all struggle with men over their ideas that women's abilities should be limited. Some men feel threatened by women's liberation because it represents opposition to the traditional training they have undergone throughout their lives. Another distorted impression is that women's liberation would mean an end to their relationship with their boyfriend or for the married woman, divorce. The truth is that women's liberation is basically a "woman awareness program"; educating women about themselves. Though this learning process, women begin to set aside their doubts and place higher value on themselves, their thoughts and emotions.

Education means realization which is sometimes a painful experience. For many, this would inevitably mean a process of changes. Any basically good relationship will survive these changes and be strengthened by them - not destroyed. Becoming more aware of yourself is the first step to understanding yourself. Understanding enables you to deal with yourself and others more effectively which means living a happier more fulfilled life.


Most men in this country are paid just enough to survive, and most women are paid less; simply because they are women. Forty-two percent of all women are employed and that percentage is steadily increasing. Employees still seem to think " a woman seeking employment needs a little extra money"; or if you're single, " it's just a matter of time before you get married and leave." For those already married, no employee wants to hire a "soon to be pregnant woman . Employees use that type of reasoning to justify the low pay for the majority of people they employ - women. The more proverbial second rate(women) they hire, the more profits they pocket. The women's liberation movement says women should be given equal job opportunities and equal pay for equal work.


A Woman's Place Is In The Home

Idealistic thoughts of what the wife and/or mother role should be help us imagine our marriage being" different from everyone else". A fantasy starring " Pollyanna and Prince Charming ".

Although no woman is forced to take on the responsibilities of family life, no woman needs to be exploited. We have been trained since childhood that every woman must marry and bear a child to fulfill her "purpose" as a woman. Women's liberation means you decide what will fulfill your life as a woman.

Those of us who choose the family lifestyle can still live a full life if the responsibilities are shared by our husbands. Due to the numerous duties of a marriage, such as: maid, cook, waitress, seamstress, carpenter, painter, plumber, economic advisor and for those unemployed - providing twenty four hour child care, are usually considered "women's work". Many women give up outside activity and friends for these nonpaid aspects to marriage. In essence, these women are being denied a full life by becoming involved in what they have always believed would give them a full life - the institution of marriage.

The institution of marriage will remain a prison for many women until their needs as women are met. Only then will they enjoy the relationship of a friend and lover with their husband and a teacher of their children.

Women's liberation means we must realize our needs as women, mentally and emotionally, as well as physically and demand our needs be taken seriously.



In our struggle to help control our reproductive lives, we won the right to abortion. The women's movement is not anti-life; we want to protect life, the quality of our lives and of our children's. Women must be able to make free and informed decisions regarding their bodies. If the right of abortion was denied us, quality medical care would not be available, thus, women would continue to have illegal abortions which were dangerous and at times, resulted in death. A majority of American people feel that a decision for an abortion is a personal one. Women now have the right to make that decision with quality information and medical care available .


Women seeking a divorce come up against more than just huge lawyers fees. They face possible loss of their children, usually no financial security, and their identity changes in the eyes of society. Having been unemployed for various reasons for a certain number of years and now in desperate need of a job, many women face discrimination in this area. Credit is difficult to obtain as well as decent childcare for your children. Alimony is usually insufficient.

People now involved in the women's movement are extending aid to women instructing them in the different avenues of assistance available, information regarding places for childcare, and a legal clinic to help people obtain their own divorce without a lawyer and large fees

Changing women's position in society is going to require a changes in expectation, jobs, childcare, and education. We are struggling for changes in ourselves, other individuals, institutions and policies that set up our lives in sexist patterns.

We believe in democracy. By that we do not mean just voting in elections, but responsible participation of all the people affected by any decision. We also believe men and women should work together for these changes, building a new society in which all people will have the opportunity to develop their full potential.

Power, Resistance, and Science

by Naomi Weisstein(1992) A follow up to Psychology Constructions the Female written 25 years later. by Naomi Weisstein. Transcribed for digital reproduction by John Burke.

(Editors Note: Naomi Weisstein was a founder of the CWLU. She rocked the psychology establishment with the 1968 article "Psychology Constructs the Female" This 1992 article was part of a series of articles commemorating her feminist classic.)

I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the comments on "Psychology Constructs the Female" (PCF), and I welcome this opportunity to participate in a new discussion about the article and to suggest new directions for a feminist psychology. When I wrote PCF in its original form in 1968,[2] the second wave of 20th century US feminism had begun to sweep the country. Transformation charged the air. Women like myself, who had been too intimidated to speak in public, were delivering fiery orations to wildly enthusiastic audiences. Women who had previously considered same-sex sex a crime worse than strangling one's baby declared themselves lesbians. Even the resentment that women of different classes and races usually felt for each other was temporarily muted. We were creating an alternative social context which, in turn, redefined who we were. Thus I was writing from direct experience when I said in PCF, "A study of human behavior requires first and foremost a study of the social contexts within which people move, the expectations as to how they will behave, and the authority which tells us who they are and what they are supposed to do."

But an understanding of how important the social context is in determining behavior seems now to have faded from consciousness. We have a psychology which is still "depoliticized," "individualized" and "decontextualized' (Sandra Bem), still "mired in essentialist views about the differences between men and women' (Rhoda Unger). An area that calls itself feminist psychology averts its eyes from the larger barbarism of the social context in which we operate. It chooses instead to put forth a notion of female difference which, while no longer biologically based, is nevertheless essentialist, or at least highly decontextualized (e.g. Gilligan, 1982; Ruddick, 1990.) Feminist psychology has also claimed that females have a different way of knowing, or know different things than men do, and therefore that science, a male pursuit, is largely irrelevant to the study of gender (e.g. Ros Gill, Una Gault, Oonagh Hartnett and Jane Prince; see also Harding, 1991.) In this paper, I will suggest, in total agreement with Sandra Bem and Rhoda Unger, that we feminist psychologists open our eyes once more to a larger social context and begin to focus on questions of social change. This means that we should return to an inquiry into power and how people resist power. Then, I will suggest that my focus on social change puts me at odds with the current post-modernist feminist obsession with the limitations of science, an obsession which is essentially conservative.


We feminist psychologists need to study power (cf. Sandra Bem; Rhoda Unger; Kahn and Yoder, 1992.) It is clear to me that if we are ever to replace our gendered, genocidal world with a less barbaric, more just and generous one, we must understand how "cultural, institutional, situational, interpersonal and psychological power" (Sandra Bem)--and, I might add, economic power--sustain the current brutality. Sandra Bem summarizes the task perfectly in her question to feminist psychologists: "where is psychology's analysis of how [power and privilege operate to maintain the status quo with respect to gender, sexuality, race, or class... how power gets into the heads of both the marginalized and the powerful alike?" I would add two other questions as well: (1) where is psychology's analysis of the brutality that accompanies power?; and (2) are some of the ugly and violent behaviors associated with gender limited to gender alone, or do they crop up whenever power is unequally distributed?

I would be particularly interested in studying these last two questions. Gender is a most complex and intricate phenomenon, but at the interpersonal level I think that a good portion of the oppressiveness of gender arises from the fact that one person has enormous power over the other. Especially when they are relating to women, and especially when they are "in love," men have been observed to be arrogant, insensitive, unsympathetic, punitive bullies (Hite, 1987; Kitzinger et al., 1992; Spender, 1990.) At the same time, women, especially when they are relating to men and especially when they are "in love," have been observed to be mild, sensitive, empathic, forgiving pussycats (Hite, 1987; Kitzinger et al., 1992; Spender, 1990.) How does this dynamic between men and women arise? Does it need a specifically sexist ideology to hold it in place, or will any power-justifying ideology do? I suspect the latter (Snodgrass, 1985; Wood and Karten, 1986). But this can easily be tested. In Skrypnek's and Snyder's (1982) elegant experiment an individual acted in accord with an unseen partner's gender expectations regardless of the individual's own sex. This paradigm can be modified so that the partner has assumptions about types of power that the other individual may have in addition to is/her gender. Then we can ask whether the behaviors I mentioned also show up regardless of gender when differences in power are assumed to be present.

Consider also the hatred, sadism and violence that men direct against women everywhere. Two and a half decades of feminist research, analysis and agitation have shown us the incredible violence that women suffer all over the world. More than one hundred million women who should be part of the earth's population are missing from it (Sen, 1990.) Where are they? Rape, child molestation, wife beating, female genital mutilation, torture, female infanticide and murder are the dark underside of male power over women. Eruptions of male violence are considered "random," "inexplicable," a product of "male rage, out of control." But are they? Certainly, such action is not just random, but is rather to be understood within the context of a sexist ideology, which permits and promotes it. However, beyond that, this kind of violence seems to happen to every marginalized group: violence against the powerless seems to accompany every hierarchical culture that I know about. I am convinced that violence is an inevitable accompaniment of the interactions between the powerful and the powerless, regardless of gender. The question, "Is it the power locked up in gender, or is it power itself?" is a researchable one. Using approaches such as those taken by Stanley Milgram in his studies of obedience to authority (see PCF), feminist social psychology can experimentally manipulate power and study such dependent variables as a rise in sadism and/or violence against another person.


As long as men have power over women, our gender oppression will continue. As feminists, we need to oppose male power in all its cultural, institutional, situational, interpersonal and psychological forms. As feminist psychologists, we need to understand how resistance arises and the circumstances under which it is effective. This leads to a variety of questions dealing with: individual agency despite gender hegemony; individual defiance versus collective resistance; the dynamics of collective resistance.

I would begin with Rhoda Unger's brilliant exploration of the paradox of feminist dissent: if we are so deeply aware of how socially constructed our world is, what enables us to defy the social order? (Una Gault raises a related issue in a slightly different way when she talk about the need to recognize individual agency in the construction of social forms.) Unger accounts for this paradox by showing how a non-conscious sexist ideology made conscious loses its effectiveness; and by describing a feminist epistemology which is able to tolerate contradiction. By investigating these issues, Unger and Gault increase the sophistication of our social constructionist theories, exploring the slippage between a monumentally overdetermined gender imperative, and the sheer stubbornness and quirkiness of individual defiance.

But if we are to have social change, we need more than individual resistance. This may occasionally start things rolling, but it cannot change the relations of power by itself. The status quo is a social conspiracy against the powerless, and nothing is more feeble against a social conspiracy than individual defiance. We have to oppose power with power--it is as simple as that; we need collective resistance. As anybody who has ever tried it knows, it is extremely difficult to oppose power and authority. How, then, do we persuade substantial numbers of people to do it? In other words, how do we develop collective resistance? And how do we maintain it? Part of the answer is that collective resistance sets up an alternative context which, in turn, maintains that resistance. But it is a tricky business, and it often does not work. We need to use our arsenal of social psychological concepts and techniques to figure out how collective resistance develops and thrives. Now is the perfect time to study collective resistance, at least in the USA, where militant women's groups have begun to form again.


Feminist psychology has to a great extent abandoned a concern with subjugation and sedition and has begun to focus reflexively on issues of methodology and epistemology. So, for instance, Una Gault and Oonagh Hartnett and Jane Prince accuse PCF of narrowly questioning the scientific validity of the methods psychology uses to study women, when it should be questioning whether scientific methodology in general is a useful approach to the study of gender. Ros Gill goes even further and implies that PCF reverse science with a capital "S". At first, I was perplexed by this. PCF criticized a sexism in psychology that cloaked itself in the authority and grandeur of science. What better way to criticize this pretense than by showing that the sexism had nothing whatsoever to do with the science? But now I get their picture of PCF. It is as if internationally known gangsters are meeting in the most elegant resort in Monaco, and I stand outside wearing my science-nerd beanie hat with the airplane propellers on top of it, screwing up my little face, purple with indignation, and yelling, "You guys are not telling the Truth! You promised to tell the Truth!" In other words, how could I have been so naive as to think that Science could have told us anything in the first place? Science, according to such feminist epistemologists as Harding (1991), is a "western," "bourgeois," "imperialist," "androcentic project", whose knowledge is "embedded in social relations." (In the old days, we used to call this "pig" science [Weisstein et al., 1976].) Science describes not ultimate reality but merely the relativist and subjective reality of those who serve it and whom it serves.

I agree with much of this characterization of science. I speak from 30 years of experience as a neuroscientist who has done insurgent research in vision and cognition that has often been infuriating to the scientific establishment. Science does not get us to the noumena--our ideas are filtered through our cultural and social categories, the ongoing social context and our social rank--but filters do pass information, and science is one of the intellectual procedures that holds open the possibility of constructing a model of reality that works and predicts. I believe science can not only change our relation to the natural world (think: penicillin), but it can also change our social world. (For instance, if we really could figure out how resistance to power arises and is maintained, then we could begin to dismantle patriarchy.) Science affords prediction and control, and therefore it can give actual recipes for social change, providing us feminists with a kind of countervailing power.

Moreover, science has its own internal momentum which makes it partially independent of the social relations in which it is embedded. Arrogant, dogmatic, and bullying as science is, the ideas of science do change when the old paradigms are found to be inadequate. Even scientific ideas wedded to existing power relations can be overturned. "Male science" can indeed be coerced into demonstrating "female" truths. (For example, see Rhoda Unger's discussion of my neuroscience research; also Weisstein, 1970, 1973 ; Weisstein and Maguire, 1978.) I should add that if, due to our social location, there actually is a difference in the structure of female or feminist thinking, (an hypothesis I entertain on alternate Wednesdays, just barely) then Science needs us as much as we need science. The old positivism and behaviorism of "pig" science is breaking up. A new more humanistic mind is now needed for the study of the brain and human behavior.

I'm still wearing my beanie hat, aren't I? I don't think I can take it off. Feminist epistemologists would argue that, although the scientific method may eventually lead to recognition of dissenting information within its domain, the domain itself is highly limited. But the domain is in fact practically unlimited. Science (as opposed to the scientific establishment) will entertain hypotheses generated in any way: mystical, intuitive, experiential. It only asks us to make sure that our observations are replicable and our theories have some reasonable relation to other things we know to be true about the subject under study, that is to objective reality.[3] "Aha!", feminist epistemologists might cry, "there is no objective reality. We are all too different from each other to know anything but our own subjective realities, and certainly men and women are too different from each other to agree on some universal truth." But here the argument stops cold. Whether or not there is objective reality is a 4000-year-old philosophical stalemate. The last I heard was that, like God, you cannot prove there is one and you cannot prove there is not one. It comes down to a religious and/or political choice. I believe that current feminist rejection of universal truth is a political choice. Radical and confrontational as the feminist challenge to science may appear, it is, in fact, a deeply conservative retreat.

Ros Gill mentions the "tentativeness," "anxiety" and "paralysis" of postmodernist poststructuralist counter-Enlightenment feminism. Of course, there is paralysis: once knowledge is reduced to insurmountable personal subjectivity, there is no place to go; we are in a swamp of self-referential passivity. Poststructuralist feminism is a high cult of retreat. Sometimes I think that when the fashion passes, we will find many bodies, drowned in their own wordy words, like the Druids in the bogs. Meanwhile, the patriarchy continues to prosper.

It has been my experience that, in times of no movement, reality itself falls into question. In times of dynamism, change and movement, people abandon doubts about reality, properly seeing them as part of the conservative past which they are rejecting. The fog lifts. The fact of movement gives us a clearer picture of what is really out there--what we are fighting against, and what we are fighting for. We need a feminist scholarship which will, once again, be infused, revitalized, and renewed, by movement. Women are subjugated all over the world, and with the consolidation of corporate male rule, our situation will continue to deteriorate. Let us return to an activist, challenging, badass feminist psychology. More than one hundred million women are missing from the face of the earth. We can help to insure that future generations of women will not suffer this holocaust.

[1] As I am in poor health with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, I am particularly grateful for the support, both intellectual and logistical, of Edith Hoshino Altbach, Virginia Blaisdell, Aleatha Carter, Judith Rich Harris, Amy Kesselman, Jesse Lemisch, Catherine Rose, Rhoda Unger and Elizabeth van Hoerenberg.

[2] After its first presentation to an audience of feminist activists at Lake Villa, Illinois, in October 1968, this paper was presented as "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female" at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association at the University of California, Davis, in November 1968. The paper was published, more or less as delivered, by the New England Free Press and, with revisions, in a dozen other places leading to the revised version of 1971, which is the text offered here. (The 1971 version has been reprinted about two dozen times.)

[3] I should note that I am delighted with the new feminist methodologies as ways to develop better hypotheses. Biography, emphasis on the experiential, and the requirement that those gathering information must be empathic, egalitarian and participatory are all, I think great advances in our ability to know the world. But all these methods have their own pitfalls: biography and accounts of direct experience are subject to the fictions that we tell ourselves about ourselves. Una Gault's suggestion that observers can only be fairly observed by like-minded observers may make sense in some areas. But no interpersonal interaction is free from the distorting expectations of the participants .


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Womankind Article Index

by Cheryl Ganz (2000) A complete article index to the CWLU's Womankind newspaper in Adobe Acrobat format. Copies of Womankind are available for viewing at the Chicago Historical Society and Northwestern University Library's Special Collections Department as well as on microfilm at the Library of Congress. You will need the free Acrobat Reader available here.