by Terry R. and Lucy G. (1969) A strategy paper for organizing the growing women's liberation movement. by Terry R. and Lucy G. (undated but probably 1969-1970)
(Editors Note: This essay was written as the Chicago Women's Liberation Union was being organized.)
As the growth of the Women's Liberation movement has so far produced very little in the way of coherence strategy or organization, many radical women have come to feel a need for a way to have contact with others interested in doing similar kinds of organizing, in the context of a women's organization. Experience has shown that the pattern too often is that Women's Liberation groups become either vehicles for personal grievances or, if they are activists are dominated exclusively by the needs of middle-class women and without a political perspective. Thus many radical women (the "politicos") turn back towards male-dominated political groups, and in doing so submerge their skills and their potential to organize other women, and neglect the struggle against male supremacy.
We now have the opportunity to break this pattern. To do so we must develop a theoretical-strategic perspective that will give our organization focus, in helping us to decide who and how we want to organize, and around what issues. What we present here are neither programmatic suggestions nor a substitute for more thorough analysis, but a way of beginning to build that analysis.
The oppression of women is fundamentally tied to the same economic and social system that oppresses blacks, launches imperialist wars, and values private property above human life. -vie must deal with it not in isolation but rather as it interacts with both race and class oppression. Women are oppressed both culturally and economically and while it is false to separate the two, it is crucial to understand the ways in which each operates in different class and race groups. Women as sex objects, women as consumers, women as a cheap and exploitable and reserve labor force. Women as unpaid laborers in the home, women as transmitters,of bourgeois ideology, women as social mediators between their families and the system: the result is not a simple scaling of differences but a complex interaction between sex, race and class oppression that we are only just beginning to understand. Such an understanding would be a step towards eliminating the barriers which militate against collective action and class consciousness as well as against the liberation of women.
In this light we can begin to examine some of the dangers and pitfalls of an organization for women's liberation whose constituency and membership is based overwhelmingly in the middle class. The first problem is one many of us are already familiar with. Middle class women who become aware of their own oppression as women, still realize that they are not, in fact, the most oppressed people around, and lacking a sense of legitimacy in organizing, turn inward to focus on personal experiences. Failing to make the connections between the heavier oppression of working-class women and their own oppression with a political analysis, women sometimes simply define "women's liberation" in terms of their own needs. Their demands and the ways in which they raise issues will often not appeal to working-class women, particularly black women, who have a very different perspective.
Also, when middle-class women get turned on to women's liberation from a subjective focus, they may exaggerate the relative importance of oppression by sex. They are "revolutionary," though not necessarily socialist (since after all, they say, socialism has not yet fully liberated women). But sometimes they believe the revolution they are working towards is a female revolution and completely divorce themselves from any struggles other than women's struggles. This is really a silly idea; but the fact that anyone takes it seriously indicates the lack of hard thinking in our movement.
These pitfalls are made more serious by the existence of a huge constituency of women that is now just waiting to be organized: the professional women who are increasingly enraged at being fucked over in their jobs, and the increasing number of college-trained young women who are finding they were educated in high style to be full-time wives and mothers. In professional organizations and universities, women's caucuses are being formed. Groups like NOW that include quite militant women are growing and will continue to grow. To many (not all) of these people, "women's Lib" means little more than tenure for women professors, more women in certain high-level positions, etc. (Female capitalism?) These groups are not to be condemned, but we must see their shortcomings and construct radical alternatives.
A movement that does not have a broad base among working-class women, both black and white, must constantly beware becoming a special-interest group for relatively privileged women.
Okay. Okay, one might respond, but we are really a bunch of serious radical women who want to organize broad constituencies and who relate to anti-imperialist struggles# anti-racism struggles, etc. Shouldn't we go ahead and get ourselves together? The obvious answer is yes we should. And in light of the above-mentioned problems, the following solutions are offered:
- Where possible we should work extra hard to broaden the base of over movement by talking to working-class black and white women; in addition, we must 'find a all -possible ways of trying to understand the oppression of black and brown-women, and show in practice that "women's liberation" is not a white thing, but a revolutionary thing.
- When organizing in a student or middle-class constituency, to concentrate on demands that both speak to those women and to their sisters in the working-class (free day-care, free abortions, equal wage scales) rather than those that,will simply sharpen the class differences between women (tenure for female faculty, groovy day-care centers for affluent communities).
- Our attitude about what liberation means, and what women need, should be put forth tentatively, with the understanding that these ideas will change as our movement grows and learns.
- We must constantly struggle against the artificial separation of "women's issues" from the entire struggle for a new society. This does not mean subordinating women's liberation to a bunch of other issues. It does mean understanding the ways oppression of women and other forms of oppression are mutually reinforcing, building a clear and political analysis, and forming demands that bring these connections home to people. Women are people;we deserve better than to have to choose between women's liberation and ending the Vietnam war; between women's liberation and socialist revolution.
Our growing understanding of women's oppression can help us in raising all the basic issues to women. And our experiences can help us in building a clearer analysis and strategy; we badly need both theory and practice, and ,the one will help us in the other.