Masters of War

from Womankind (1971) A succinct angry explanation of how many feminists viewed the Southeast Asia war. Editor's note: The women's liberation movement was universally appalled by the war on SE Asia. This article focuses on women and the war.)

An American GI, in a Saigon hotel, had just finished with a Vietnamese prostitute. He had given her the money and was about to get dressed. She suddenly asked him, “Why are you murdering my people?” He couldn’t answer. He was caught literally with his pants down. A friend of mine told me this story three years ago. It had happened to him and he wanted to talk about it.

The wife of an American POW, a pilot shot down over North Vietnam, was recently on a TV talk show. She said it was a disgrace that the North Vietnamese fed her husband mostly rice and she urged people to write to Hanoi. I guess most women were supposed to sympathize with her. I did, but I sympathized more with the Vietnamese prostitute. It seemed a little arrogant to be asking the North Vietnamese to feed the men who dropped bombs on them better than they can feed their own people.

Guilt and arrogance: people have these feelings about the war in Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg’s troubled conscience for his own part in Vietnam policy was one reason he released the Pentagon Papers. Ever since public disgust with the war has become obvious, politicians have been scurrying around, trying to pin the blame on each other. But if it’s guilt we’re seeing more and more evidence of these days, let’s be reminded that it’s arrogance we’ve seen all along. The Pentagon Papers make one thing perfectly clear:

American policy in Vietnam never had anything to do with democracy or self—determination for the Vietnamese. Instead, from the beginning, the objectives of our policy have been to ‘‘contain China” and to set up a “friendly” government in South Vietnam. “Friendly” meant one which would stand with the US in its struggle against international communism and one which would allow US corporations to exploit Vietnam’s resources. Some people call such a policy imperialism.

The Pentagon Papers also reveal that the men who run our country have been assuming the world is their toy although none of their games have worked as they hoped. In fact, most of those who now believe the policy in Vietnam was wrong believe it was wrong because it didn’t succeed. The policy didn’t work because the Vietnamese refused to play along; namely, they refused to surrender.

The Pentagon Papers show how as the war dragged on, the main policy objective became something called “the need to maintain American credibility.” As we were becoming stuck, our main objective became not to back down. As President Johnson said, we weren’t going to “turn tail and run .“

If you never guessed the attitude of a drunken bully had anything to do with American foreign policy, think about Vietnam. If you imagine the bully to be a different race (say he is white) from the guys he is fighting and you figure he is insisting upon his natural superiority, you get an even better picture.

This handful of men, our “leaders,” display the most outrageous arrogance right now by continuing the war. We still have 200,000 soldiers there. Some won’t come back. Government scientists are busy figuring out how to automate the war so we can continue to kill the “enemy” even after most of our boys have come home.

Most Americans have a right to be bitter about the war in Vietnam. Most women have a special right to be bitter. We were never consulted. We tried to hold our families together when husbands and fathers got killed or hurt.

The government didn’t help very much. When men were listed as “missing,” information was scanty and misleading. Many of us ended up on welfare as a result of the war and now we must worry about losing that, too. We tried to help the men; our brothers, friends, and lovers, figure out how to rearrange their lives to either avoid or accommodate military service — then we’d adjust our lives accordingly. When they came back from Vietnam wounded, strung out on drugs or just plain emotional wrecks we were supposed to comfort them and put the pieces back together.

We can provide comfort for the returning soldiers but not for the men who sent them to Vietnam. What these men tell their consciences is their business. Our business is to see that it ends and never happens again.

Half of China

from Womankind (1972) The CWLU organized the first trip to China by a US feminist group.
(Editor's note: The CWLU China Group sponsored the first trip to the People's Republic of China by a US feminist organization.)

How sad it is to be a woman!
Nothing on earth is held so cheap.
Boys stand leaning at the door
Like gods fallen Out of heaven.
Their hearts brave the Four Oceans,
The wind and dust of a thousand miles.
No one is glad when a girl is born:
By her the family sets no store.
Fu Hsuan

The old Chinese poem accurately reflects the position of women in China before Liberation in 1949. Boy children might bring fame and wealth to their family by becoming scholars or merchants (and even poor peasants had some hope that this would happen), but girls were not able to do that and the therefore were not highly regarded. In very poor families, female children might be killed at birth. In times of famine, flood, or other great hardship, some families sold their children into slavery (as much to give them a home as to get immediate cash). Boys would be sold to work in farms, mines, or factories, but girls were usually sold as prostitutes or child—brides.

Marriages were arranged by the families of the prospective bride and groom, which led to a number of abuses of women. Married couples lived with the family of the husband, and the wife was very much abused and overworked by her husbands relatives, especially her mother—in—law. The mother—in—law herself had been in the same situation when she was a young bride, and the only power she could have in the household was by abusing the daughter—in—law.

Young women might sometimes be married off to elderly men, and when the husband died, the young widow would be stuck in the household of her in—laws, unable to remarry because of laws and customs which prohibited the remarriage of widows. Or, a child—bride would be taken to live with her husband’s family and worked to death before she was even old enough to have sexual relations with him. It was quite impossible for women to divorce their husbands, but men could divorce their wives, especially if she had committed adultery. In pre—revolutionary China, most suicides were due to some sort of family conflict, and of those, 72% of the suicides were young brides.

Of all the ways in which women were oppressed in China, probably the cruelest was the custom of foot—binding so that her toes were broken and curled under, and her feet remained as small as a child’s throughout her life. This custom began around 1000 AD; at first, it was only the wealthiest people who did this, as an indication that they were so rich they could have wives who didn’t work. Later, the custom spread to all classes of society, and even girls who grew up to be housewives, peasants, or workers were crippled by foot—binding.

By the end of the nineteenth century some Chinese people, mostly of the upper classes, were beginning to decide not to bind their girls’ feet. After the Chinese Revolution of 1911, foot—binding was outlawed, but it continued in some of the remote areas of China until well into the 1940’s. When the Communist Revolution liberated China in 1949, foot—binding, restrictive laws on marriage and divorce, and other forms of oppression against women were abolished. The new Marriage Law of 1950 abolished forced and arranged marriages, made divorce more easy to obtain and gave husband and wife equal rights over property.

Other changes in laws, customs, and institutions have made it possible for women to be educated, and get jobs at equal pay for equal work. Since Liberation, virtually all Chinese children ——girls as well as boys —— are sent to primary schools, and large numbers go to middle schools and universities as well. Chinese women work in a wide variety of jobs, including many which are usually considered "men's work".

Factories, rural communes, schools and various other institutions provide childcare for the families of workers so working parents have no problems taking care of their children. Health care, housing, and other services are also provided, usually by the workplace.

There are still problems with divisions between “men’s work” and “women’s work,” however. Recent American visitors to China were aware that, although half the doctors are women (compared to 7% in the US), all of the nurses are women. In the field of education, virtually all nursery school teachers are women, but very few women teach at the college level. A frequently heard expression is that “women hold up half the sky in China,” but a woman dock—worker admitted that in her job it was closer to “one—third of the sky.”


For more about women in China, see:

Soldiers in the Streets

from Womankind (1972) Bernadette Devlin visited the United States to rally support for Irish freedom. (Editor's note:Bernadette Devlin, then a Northern Irish MP to the British Parliament, visited the USA to rally support for Irish freedom.)

Bernadette Devlin is not exactly a respectable "lady" with a slight problem controlling her temper. She is something else. She is a saint to many Catholics of Northern Ireland, mother to an "illegitimate" baby, and a revolutionary. She is Irish: her people were the first victims of British imperialism (conquered by Oliver Cromwell's Protestant army in 1649), and will probably be the last. She is a woman: her role in her people's fight for freedom is unusual. But as the struggle continues, the unusual becomes a bit more common.

Events in Northern Ireland are changing the lives of every woman there. Pat and Erwina are two Northern Irish women interviewed three months ago in Belfast. Pat is 23, Catholic, and works for the IRA. Twenty years before Pat was born, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) led the fight for Irish independence from England. As a result of that fight Ireland was divided into two countries. One became Eire, Catholic and independent of England politically but not economically. The other, made up of the six northern counties became Northern Ireland, 2/3 Protestant and controlled by England both politically and economically. The present struggle involving the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland has revitalized the IRA. Pat is among its present generation of supporters.

"The beginning of my activities came with the establishment of a Republican newspaper called Republican News. As a typist, runner of errands, I began to work for that. I learned quite a lot. Before that I'd had the feeling I was one of those people who were content because I had an extremely good job, good prospects. After coming out of a ghetto I got on pretty well. I was making 30 pounds a week and there was no bigotry against Catholics where I worked I was a personal secretary at Belfast Hospital. This house was raided on July 26, and they found some documents which proved I was either in an illegal organization or assisting in propaganda for an illegal organization. Not the newspaper which was not banned, but I had written certain bulletins. After about 12 court appearances, I was sentenced to nine months in prison and I was suspended for three years. If I do anything bad in those three years I go to jail for nine months. I get the feeling I’ll do the nine months."

"The Catholics feel themselves separated from the rest of Ireland; their national heritage, their language, their culture. The Catholic's feel they don't belong; what is missing is the rest of the country. Because the rest of the country is missing, the priority is to unite the country."

"Once Ireland is united there will be no return to the militarism of the IRA. The people, you see, must allow it. If the people don't allow the IRA to exist, it wouldn't. If Mrs. so-and-so next door didn't give me her money tomorrow for my collection for the IRA, the IRA doesn't exist. If the people don't open their doors and let men on the run come in and sleep at night, the IRA doesn't exist. If people don't hide the guns, the IRA doesn't exist. It ceases to be. It's the people's army, without the people it dies.”

Erwina is 37, a school teacher with a Protestant background, and a mother of two daughters. She is active in the women's action committees of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

There women's action committees were set up when the policy of the British Government changed and the Conservatives were returned. Then there were arms searches and there were brutalities against young boys. The women started demonstrations in a fairly militant way in their own areas; now they act as a kind of a vanguard for warning the area when there's a raid on. The problem of Catholic children harassing and being hurt by soldiers is related to ghetto conditions in Northern Ireland.

"You've got to remember the size of the Catholic family and the size of the house. They live in small houses. Where do the children go? There are no playgrounds, there is no room for them in the house. Probably if they all stayed in the house playing, well it would just cause a nervous breakdown. And the parents, they've got to get out. So there is this lack of control caused primarily by living conditions and lack of recreational facilities."

To better control the population, the Northern Irish Government has a policy of "internment" for suspected activists.

"Internment" is a legal sounding word for putting people into concentration camps.

"Since August 9, internees have been subject to torture, forced to lean against the wall till they pass out and forced to run oven broken glass. There's a very strong emotional reaction in Ireland if women are interned or tortured. We have had lots of cases of women getting rifle butts in the ribs or a smack with a knife. Of the women who have been interrogated we have had reports of torture. We got a woman out on amnesty. She was pregnant with five in her family. They had found ammunition in her house."

"Under normal circumstances, we would be in the civil rights movement for equal pay, for work of equal value, and proper security for deserted wives, practical difficulties which we face. But the actual struggle at the minute is against army brutality."

What's ahead for the women of Northern Ireland? A recent development came at the funeral of an IRA member, when guards of honor wearing para-military uniforms and carrying small arms were arrested. Two women's organizations announced that at the trial a picket of women with burley sticks; wearing the IRA combat jackets and black berets would be there. The advance publicity brought swarming numbers of troops and civil officials, as well as the Shankill Protestant woman's association. Naturally, the picket was never allowed to form, and the republican women were beaten and carried off as they stepped out of their cars and buses arriving for the demonstration.

The women were initially charged with wearing Para-military uniforms, possessing offensive weapons, and subsequently charged under the Special Powers Act as well. The singing, shouting solidarity of the women as they were carried off to prison, discussing whether or not to recognize the court (an offense in Ireland which carries an extra six months with any other sentence you might have gotten) was irritating to the troops. So was the women's wolf whistling, asking permission to go to the toilet, then singing an incredibly obscene, anti-soldier song to the tune of the Sash, a fascist Orange song.

In the words of Erwina "There's been a tradition in Ireland to see that the politics are left to men and the women stay home and keep the home fires burning. This has changed in this struggle."

A History of International Women's Day

from Womankind (1972) A historical view of the world's day for women. Many people were unaware that it originated in the USA. (Editor's note: This is a historical look at the origins of International Women's Day in the USA and how it spread throughout the world.)

International Women's Day, a holiday celebrated world wide, honors working women and women’s struggle everywhere. Taught that women's place in history is relatively undistinguished, it should be a real source of pride and inspiration to American women to know that International Women's Day originated in honor of two all women strikes which took place in the U.S.

On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for women. Their ranks were broken up by the police. Fifty-one years later, March 8, 1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labor. The police were present on this occasion too.

In 1910 at the Second International, a world wide socialist party congress, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed that March 8th be proclaimed International Women's Day, to commemorate the US demonstrations and honor working women the wor ld over. Zetkin, a renowned revolutionary theoretician who argued with Lenin on women's rights, was considered a grave threat to the European governments of her time; the Kaiser called her “the most dangerous sorceress in the empire."

The labor struggle in the US is an exciting one, but it traditionally concentrates on men. A little examination shows that women carried their weight and their share from the beginning, both supporting the men’s organizing and quite soon, after realizing that women's needs were ignored in the existing unions, forming women's caucuses or all women's unions. The first all women strikes took place in the 1820's in the New England tailoring trades. The idea of women striking and demanding better conditions, decent wages, and shorter hours, apparently provided great amusement to the townsfolk of the peaceful mill towns. It would be interesting to know how our sisters a century and a half ago felt about not having their lives and aspirations taken seriously.

The most famous of the early strikes took place at the Lowell cotton mills in Massachusetts. Here young women worked eighty-one hours a week for three dollars, one and a quarter of which went for room and board at the Lowell company boarding houses. The factories originally opened at 7 am, but fore men,noticing that women were less "energetic" if they ate before working, changed the opening hour to 5 am., with a breakfast break at 7 a.m. (for one-half hour). In 1834, after several wage cuts, the Lowell women walked out, only to return several days later at the reduced rates. They were courageous but the company had the power; a poor record or a disciplinary action could lead to blacklisting. In 1836 they walked out again, singing through the streets of the town:

Oh, isn't it a pity such a pretty girl as I
Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die.

Again they returned to work within a few days. In l844 serious organizing led to the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association. Their prime demand was the ten hour day. The leadership and activity of this union is credited with initiating some of the earliest reforms in the conditions of the textile industries.

In the period of intense labor activity following the Civil War, when widowhood and general hard times forced thousands of women into the labor force, thus causing panic and hostility on the part of men, women found themselves excluded from most of the national trade uniqns. So they formed their own, including the Daughters of St. Crispin, a union of women shoemakers. During this era unions were formed by woman cigar makers, umbrella sewers, and printers, as well as tailoresses and laundresses.

The clothing workers formed some of the most famous unions in U.S. history, notably the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, founded about 1900. The garment trade shops in the big cities, such as New York, were deplorable. Fire hazards were rife, light was scant, the sound of machinery deafening, the environment polluted. Women were fined for virtually anything - talking, laughing, singing, machine oil stains on the fabric, stitches too large or too small. Overtime was constant and required, but pay for it was not. With the support of the National Women's Trade Union League, founded in 1903 - a combination of working women and middle-class, often professional women who supported the working women's struggle - the shirtwaist makers launched a series of strikes against Leiserson and Company and Triangle Waist Company, two of the most notorious shops in New York. Called the "Uprising of the 20,000", these actions culminated in the first long-term general strike by women, putting to death tne tiresome arguments that they were unable to organize and carry out a long hard struggle.

For thirteen weeks in the bitter dead of winter, women between 16 and 25 years of age picketed daily, and daily were clubbed by police and carried off in "Black Maria" police vans. The courts were biased in favor of the sweatshop owners; one magistrate charged a striker, "You are on strike against God and Nature, whose prime law it is that man shall earn his bread in the sweat of his brow. You are on strike against God." This elicited a cablegram from George Bernard Shaw, who with other Europeans was following the course of U.S. labor history. He wrote: "Delightful. Medieval America always in intimate personal confidence of the Almighty."

The strike was ultimately broken, as settlements were made shop by shop, but the talent and endurance of the women made it impossible for people to go on claiming that labor organizing was for men only. One year after the strike was broken the infamous Triangle fire occurred. Trapping women on the upper floors (the fire doors had been bolted from the outside to prevent walkouts by the workers) the fire took l46 lives, most of the women between the ages of 13 and 25, most of them recent emigrants to the U.S.

The employers were tried; one was fined $20. A settlement was made to the families of the dead women for $75 per death. Rose Schneiderman, a Garment Workers organizer, berated the community for supporting the law and institutions that made such tragedies possible. "I know from my own experience that it is up to the working people to save themselves," she proclaimed. "The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement."

This has been but a fraction of the history of American working women; part of this fraction was enough to inspire an International holiday. Russia first celebrated March 8 after the Revolution; it is not often recognized that one of the major sparks of the Russian Revolution was a mass strike in 1917 by Russian women textile workers. Chinese women began celebrating in l924, paralleling a strong women's movement in the Chinese Communist party. When the women’s liberation movement began in the U.S. and Britain, Women's Day was rediscovered and revived as a feminist holiday. In 1970 the revolutionary Uraguayan Tupamaros celebrated March 8 by freeing 13 women prisoners from Uraguay's jails.

The story of American working women is often tokenly recognized by referring to great heroines of the movement Mother Jones, Ella Reeve Bloor, Kate Mullaney, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. These were remarkable women and so were their stories. A good cure for depression is to read a chapter of Flynn's autobiography or reread the account of Mother Jones terrorizing scabs and participating in the 1919 steel strike at the age of 90. But it should not be forgotten that these were individual women, and that the bulk of the' organizing, struggling, as well as succeeding and failing, was done by ordinary women whom we will never know. These were women who, realized the tactical necessity of standing and working together lest they be destroyed individually, women who put to shame the ridiculous theories of "woman's place'," women who in the famous Lawrence textile strike carried picket signs reading "We want Bread and Roses, too", symbolizing their demands for not only a living wage but a decent and human life, and so inspired James Oppenheim’s song "Bread and Roses"

As we come marching, marching,in the beauty of, the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days
The rising of the women means the, rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life's glories, Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses

partial list of sources

Centuries of Struggle Eleanor Flexner, Atheneum Publishers
I Speak My Own Piece - Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Masses and Mainstream Publishers
Labor's Untold Story - Richard 0. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais
Published by United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America
When Workers Organize - Melvyn Dubofsky, University of Mass. Press

Indochina Peace Campaign

from Womankind (1972) The IPC was a traveling roadshow that challenged the legitimacy of the SE Asia war. This story contains an interview with Jane Fonda. (Editor's note: The Indochina Peace Campaign was a traveling anti-war show that included Jane Fonda, Don Sutherland, Tom Hayden, Holly Near, Scott Camil(a leader of the Viet Nam Veterans against the War), and George Smith( a former POW.)

" Four years ago, I was floating around as Barbarella while there were women facing soldiers with bayonets at the Pentagon. "- Jane Fonda

Three years ago Jane Fonda took time out from Hollywood and traveled to Army bases around the U. S., talking to GIs. Last year, she was in North Vietnam reporting as an eyewitness on U. S. bombing of the dikes. Her most recent film is called FTA (“Free” the Army) and probably won’t be shown at your neighborhood theater. For the past few months, she has been touring the Midwest with the INDOCHINA PEACE CAMPAIGN. By now Barbarella must be in the very distant past.

The INDOCHINA PEACE CAMPAIGN is an intensive campaign to end the war in Indochina, now, while the American people have the power to do so either by electing a candidate (George McGovern) who is committed to ending the war, or by forcing Nixon to do so first because public sentiment against the war makes continuing it impossible.

Traveling and speaking with the Campaign Troupe are Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, George Smith (a former P. 0. W.), Scott Camil (a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War), Tom Hayden, Holly Near (singer) and others. During the last two weeks of October, they’ve appeared many places in Illinois and in the Chicago area.

Jane Fonda is an impressive woman; she knows a great deal about Vietnam; she is a fine actress. To most of us she appears to be a very exceptional person. Maybe we barely think of her as a woman like ourselves. Yet the story of how she went from Barbarella to being accused of treason by a U. S. Congressional Committee has a beginning which sounds familiar to most American women.

“For years, I went around with falsies and a blond wig, convinced that no one would care about me if they saw my real body.”

Imagine, even famous actresses are conditioned to feel ugly! Jane Fonda grew up in Hollywood with a famous actor for a father. Her background enables her to see connections between American movie screen images; racism and sexism; and Vietnam.

“I was terrified seeing those Indians in the movies chase my father, and shoot arrows into the bedrooms of his lily-white wives.

“Those roles my father played didn’t stop at the movie set. Every weekend when I was a child, John Wayne, John Ford, Ward Bond, and my father would come to our house wearing Stetson hats and six-guns. They would sit around a big table, lay their six-shooters down, and play a macho card game. They were the real men.”

Weren’t these images of racism and male arrogance the cultural background against which Lyndon Johnson could say, referring to the Vietnamese, “The U. S. won’t be bullied by a bunch of yellow dwarfs with pocket knives”.

Jane Fonda went to high school and college in the 1950’s. She recalls the witch-hunting accusations of communism and how Hollywood was affected.

“The only nice thing I remember about the 1950’s was that John Wayne didn’t come to our house anymore. He and my father discovered that they had political differences.”

Henry Fonda was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to tell which of his Hollywood colleagues he thought were communists or Russian agents. Fonda thought it was bunk and refused to talk; John Wayne found things to tell the Committee. The main result of the witch-hunts was that people feared each other and were afraid to criticize the government.

Jane Fonda and others traveling with the Indochina Peace Campaign tell many stories about present U. S. government harassment and intimidation. Jane is accused of treason. Scott Camil, a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, is charged with conspiracy to commit various and sundry crimes against the Republican Convention at Miami Beach. George Smith, former P. 0. W., captured and held by the National Liberation Front for two years said, “The U. S. government would have tried me for treason except they couldn’t subpoena any Vietcong to testify against me.”

All the speakers with the INDOCHINA PEACE CAMPAIGN describe the effects of U. S. Government propaganda. George Smith feels he was brainwashed when he joined the Green Berets in 1963 - not when he was captured by the N.L.F.

“I knew why I was going to Vietnam; I was going to save the Vietnamese people from the communist hordes. Of course, they were also offering me $700 a month which was high pay for a soldier. The first thing I did was make a down payment on a Corvette... Being captured came as a shock. After all, the people were supposed to be on our side. When Agnew talks about the P. 0. W. ‘s of this war being the worst treated in history, he must mean the ones captured by the Americans and turned over to the South Vietnamese Government. I wasn’t badly treated. The worst of it was I lived no better than my captors. We were constantly dodging U. S. bombs.”

The INDOCHINA PEACE CAMPAIGN will continue until the election. Hopefully, it will make a difference and many more people will think about the war when they vote, and they will therefore vote for McGovern. Jane Fonda summed up our responsibility to stop our government when she said, “The U.S. isn’tfighting on the wrong side in Vietnam. the U. S. IS the wrong side in Vietnam.”

Viet Nam: The Voice of Song Will Rise Above the Sound of the Bombs

from Womankind (1972) An account of a US women's trip to Paris to meet women from the NLF, our supposed "enemy" in the SE Asia war. Editor's note: This is an account by a Chicago anti-war activist of a trip to Paris to meet the PRG women (our so-called "enemy") during the Southeast Asia war.)

We were fifteen Americans in this delegation to Paris; we were called the “Little Fish Brigade” to point up our primary involvement as local anti—war organizers as opposed to the previous brigades of so—called “Big Fish”, the organizers of the national mass demonstrations. We came from San Diego, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, and brought with us all the fragmentation and confusion of the American Peace Movement. It was a struggle for us (Zippies and Yippies, Maoists and Activists ) to drop personal agendas for once and work together. Our best efforts, though, went toward the women’s meeting.

We met first as American women, prior to our scheduled evening with the women of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, to discuss what our topics of inquiry would be. They were questions of history and culture, of women’s roles in Vietnam and how they have changed since the 1930’s, questions of how that change has occurred and how it is seen by Vietnamese — both men and women.

From the time the Vietnamese women entered the meeting room in the PRG headquarters, there was a strong feeling of solidarity with us as women, the sort of feeling that doesn’t translate easily into words. There-was also an incredible feeling of warmth, and laughter came easily. We settled quickly the details of procedure - who would translate, what our areas of interest were. Mme Van, one of the women present, had done a taped interview on the subject of women a few months before with other Americans. She was eager for the chance to do a new and improved tape. Her eagerness was infectious.

We began with questions about the status of women - before Ho’s revolution, before the 1930’s. Their series of answers was like reading an old Pearl Buck novel. It was a similar story to that of China: “If a woman had five daughters but no son, she was not considered to have a family. But if she had only one son, and no other children, she was thought to have a family.” It was there that the liberation movement began, amidst all the old heavily stacked values, values that said only the man—child and only men were of value, that women were of no worth whatsoever.

Some of the earliest guidelines that Ho Chi Minh issued from Hanoi threw the old values into question. One of the first was a reform in inheritance laws. For centuries a woman’s right to inherit property from a deceased relative came at the end of the list of male relatives, regardless of rank or closeness of ties. After all of the 5th and 6th cousins, the brothers-in—law to the fourth generation removed, after Uncle Pham’s niece’s son, would the wife of the deceased finally enter the picture, IF there was anything left to be inherited.

But this type of legal change, including more sweeping changes that came with land reform, laid a groundwork for a new image in the Vietnamese woman’s mind; It laid a groundwork for a revolution in women’s values, for a liberation movement that was set to free not just territory from the hands of French colonials, neo-colonial Americans and corrupt Saigonese elites, but to free also and above all, the people, the peasants, the intellectuals, the men, and the women.

Women in Vietnam were not slow to join the liberation struggle. At first the resistance, especially in the homes, was enormous. For Vietnamese women, especially young women, were occupied night and day with all sorts of servile roles and expectations. They were to be cleaning all day, shining whatever there was to shine. The process was that as a woman began to work with the forces struggling for liberation, she began to cut down, just a little at first, on the number of hours that she put into housework. She still managed to do everything, just not quite as fastidiously. Over a period of time, she began to explain to the parents, or her family, that it was only important that things be clean, not that they be sparkling.

As women came into the struggle, they assumed special roles, focusing on education at first, but soon encompassing military roles in some of the special women’s divisions, and more risky and clandestine roles - transporting important materials, communicating with the puppet troops, spreading the message of the people’s war. Now, as has been the case in numerous liberation struggles, including the Farm Workers’ programs in the western United States, women play a key and massive part in the struggle in Vietnam.

We talked some about the reaction of Vietnamese men to the changes as they occurred. At first there was some resistance to the women who became active, we were told. But change became more widespread through the work of the National Liberation Front (the forces fighting the U.S. military in South Vietnam, called the Viet Cong in U.S. newspapers). In the education of each male cadre, the NLF offers a compulsory course on women. The men must study famous Vietnamese women of their country’s history. They must learn, of course, about the position of women in the Eastern world, and they must, most importantly, care for all of their needs as members of the cadre. For the first time, they must learn to sew, to prepare food and to cook, to exist without their life—long “slaves”.

Mme Nguyen Ngoc Dung told us of her brother-in-law. Not unlike many Vietnamese men, he had always insisted that everything be prepared and in order. At meal time, this meant of course, complete service, down to the point that his wife had to remove the bones from his fish before he would eat it. A few years ago, he joined the liberation struggle and spent a year with the NLF cadre school. He came back, she said, a changed man. Not only did he not demand things and service, but he actually helped his wife, sought out things to do, and needless to say, he removed his own fishbones.

At this time, Le Mai, the only man present, departed from his role as stand-by interpreter to back up the story. In a joking way, he spoke of how he himself had been changed. Mme Van and he shared a laugh that came somewhere from past secrets told. As I watched Le Mai smile, it formed a sharp contrast to the joking of Americans about women s liberation, the cartoons, the smirkinq, the resentful laughter. Nothing in Le Mai’s smile hinted of resentment or envy, or fear; he conveyed a clear attitude of “It amazes me in an almost humorous way to see how I have changed in my attitudes toward women.” It was a smile of deep gratitude that said something like “I am richer for this.”

Much else was shared, all in a similar simplicity. Some of it made me realize other important aspects of the movement in Vietnam; they stressed the achievements of their mathematicians, their scientists, their musicians. “The voice of song will rise above the sound of the bombs,” and their victory will hardly be called military. The liberation movement in Vietnam, today and since the 30’s, has been, as nearly as we can tell, a full and complete movement, advancing the culture and the people at the same time that it takes severe B-52 bombing, encouraging societal reforms as it strives to grow rice in regions threatened by bomb-damaged dikes. An important part of that revolution, or that liberation struggle, has been the women’s struggle, but even more than that has been the importance of women in the total struggle.

Eileen Kreutz was a member of Chicago’s Anti—War Work Group. The Anti-War Work Group did educational work about the Indochinese War - the bombing of North Vietnam’s dikes, the nature of U.S. anti—civilian policies, the Nixon’s administration’s war policies.