The Fruits of Hate Speech: Anita is Protested


BY FAR THE WATERSHED EVENT FOR GAY rights in Chicago during the 1970s, still mentioned most often by local activists today, was Chicago's march against Anita Bryant on June 14, 1977. Bryant ignited a national firestorm after her successful opposition to a Dade County, Fla., law protecting gay people, and the national gay movement became galvanized in protest.

Bryant was a former Miss Oklahoma, a singer, and a spokesperson for Florida orange juice who was outspoken in her anti-gay rhetoric. Her highly publicized homophobic remarks sparked activists to launch a successful orange-juice boycott and motivated gays in a way that the anti-gay Rev. Fred Phelps has done in more recent years. She was scheduled to speak that evening at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., and activists including Chuck Renslow helped organize the opposition. "I got an anonymous call that day from a woman who worked at the limousine company driving Anita," Renslow recalled in 2008. "She was the dispatcher, and she told me where and when Anita would be arriving, so that we could plan our pickets. She said we have to stick together."

Organizers said an estimated 5,000 gays and lesbians circled Medinah Temple (police said 2,000), called together by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago and the Committee for Gay Rights. Although the event had been sold out, it was estimated that only about one-third showed up to hear Bryant. Only a few arrests were recorded.

"Media coverage of the march was extensive, with front-page. coverage in the daily newspapers as well as on several television stations," said veteran Pride Parade organizer Rich Pfeiffer in 2008. "Two weeks later, the annual Pride Parade with the theme 'Gays and Lesbians in History' saw an increase in participants as well as spectators, it was a fitting theme because history was made that night at the Medinah Temple with the largest GLBT demonstration to that date in Chicago history.

At 9 p.m., protesters marched to Pioneer Court, plaza south of the Chicago Tribune building, where speakers addressed 'the crowd under Tribune windows. 'Anita Bryant is not our enemy; she only represents the enemy," said GayLife Publisher Grant Ford in his newspaper's June 24 edition. "This is only the first time we will meet like this. All our good works will be undone if we go home tonight and forget that we will march again and again and again, until we have our rights. We will be free.”

More than 30 years later, those at the event are still inspired by what it meant for the Chicago gay and lesbian community. 

The Fruits of Hate Speech: Anita is Protested, Excerpt from Out and Proud in Chicago, Tracy Baim, Editor, page 120, 2008, Surrey Books. 

GL Coalition: Can we all get along?


THE GAY AND LESBIAN COALITION OF METROPOLITAN Chicago was formed out of a conflict but eventually turned into an important link between diverse parts of the activist, business, and nonprofit communities. On Oct. 20, 1975, two women, Toby Schneiter and Nancy Davis, staged a sit-in at a Cook County Marriage License Bureau facility and were arrested.

Many activists believed this event would hurt more mainstream efforts to pass a city gay-rights law and that the fight for marriage was years away. They feared a media backlash, especially since one of the women, Schneiter, was still married to a man. The women joined forces with Jeff Graubart and called themselves the Chicago Gay Rights Action Coalition, claiming to represent the community and espousing socialist views. Some activists believed the whole thing was a publicity stunt for a book, Heterosexual, that Schneiter and Davis had written. Bill Kelley wrote in The Chicago Gay Crusader that media reaction was actually generally favorable.

"This political action was done at a time when the Illinois Gay Rights [later: Gay and Lesbian] Task Force was working closely with Ald, Clifford Kelley to get a gay-rights bill passed in the City Council, and many gay and lesbian activists felt their efforts were undermined by the sit-in and subsequent arrest of Davis and Schneiter," said Mark Sherkow, who from 1974 to 1 9 79 represented the Rogers Park Gay Center (which later became the Rogers Park/ Edgewater Gay Alliance) as its delegate to the Coalition. (In 1978 he was the secretary of the Coalition's executive committee.) "Worse, the two protesters had issued a flier proclaiming they spoke for and represented the gay and lesbian community of Chicago.”

Organizers of the Coalition issued a press release denouncing the sit-in and formed an organization that lasted several years. Its first major public meeting was called for Jan. 13 1976, at the Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Community Church, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Chris Riddiough and Guy Warner were early leaders of the Coalition.

"In my work with IGLTF and the Coalition, I grew to admire many of the people who made up the community, from Renee Hanover to Guy Warner to Al Wardell and many others," Riddiough said in 2007. "At the time, Chicago seemed in some ways to be more 'backward' than the gay meccas like New York City and San Francisco, but in ways think we were able to build a more solid and diverse community, in part because we needed each other more. Indirectly I think the Chicago organizing tradition also helped solidify the community.

A mid-1970s Coalition leadership photo included Delilah Kenney, Guy Warner, and Chris Riddiough Warner and Riddiough are pictured middle and right in 2007. Photos courtesy Gay Chicago Magazine, Hal Baim und John Fernez.

A mid-1970s Coalition leadership photo included Delilah Kenney, Guy Warner, and Chris Riddiough Warner and Riddiough are pictured middle and right in 2007. Photos courtesy Gay Chicago Magazine, Hal Baim und John Fernez.

Trying to bring so many diverse voices and interests to the table was difficult, "There had been a number of complaints that African- Americans were being discriminated against by bars by being asked for five IDs at the door and then being denied admittance to the bar," Sherkow said. "The Coalition discussed this issue in the second or third year of its existence. Most of the bars present did not want the Coalition to form the committee, and many of them left the Coalition after the decision was made to form the committee. The committee eventually issued a report which suggested that such discrimination probably did exist. The Coalition continued to exist for a year or two, but eventually disbanded."

But Sherkow said the impact of the Coalition is still felt today: "It was an important meeting place for Chicago gay and lesbian activists…. It was also a place for representatives of businesses to interact with representatives of organizations. We got to know one another and work with one another, and this interaction probably spurred all of us in our activism. Its membership is too numerous to mention, but a few members stand out in my mind: Guy Warner of Mattachine Midwest; Jim Bussen of Dignity; Marie Kuda and Renee Hanover; Gary Chichester of Man's Country and Chuck Renslow of the Gold Coast and Man's Country; David Boyer of Touché and Marge Summit and Delilah Kenney; Jim Edminster of Integrity; as well as Chris Riddiough, Bill Kelley, Rene Van Hulle, Michael Harrington, Max Smith, Al Wardell, Ira Jones, Ron Helizon, Joe Murray, Elaine Wessel and Chris Cothran. The Coalition was one of those places in time where a lot of people got together and reinforced each other in their activism, and probably set the stage for the working together and community-building that, in my mind, has been a hallmark of the Chicago GLBT community since that time." 

GL Coalition: Can We All Get Along?, Excerpt from Out and Proud in Chicago, Tracy Baim, Editor, page 111, 2008, Surrey Books.

Womankind Article on Lesbians

CWLU News | November 1971


Dear Lavender Woman: 

I submitted the following article to WOMANKIND a feminist newspaper, about a month ago. They refused to print it, offered no explanation, and never returned it. I think my letter reflects attitudes held by many Lesbians. I am sad and frustrated with much of the Woman's Movement in Chicago. I cannot be a sister to many of the straight women - I can be only a name—Lesbian. It is too late for liberalism structured around the phrase, “I understand”. I no longer understand. Even Time Magazine prints 'Letters to the Editor" that are expressing dissenting opinions.


I call you sisters and yet our kinship has been distant. Most of you are afraid of me and yourselves. You have frightened yourselves into political factions and closets to avoid yourselves. I am a Lesbian. 

The Women's Movement in Chicago is crucial for every woman. But to whom are the straight women in the Union trying to relate? I get a strong sense of white middle class heterosexual networks. These networks continue to ignore Lesbians, third world women, (straight or gay). 

In the first issue of WOMANKIND the word Lesbian is not in print once. On the back page, “Who we are…” I see “single, divorced, widowed…” This is confusing. The categories exclude any woman who does not define her existence in terms of a man—past, present, or future. Even if there was not one gay woman on the paper staff who considered herself gay, the implications of heterosexual eliteness are strong. If no Lesbian bothered to express herself in the paper, the connotations are not subtle, and are impotent. There has been no comfortable alliance made— no outreach to Lesbians—and no concern for the gaps. But we cannot superimpose that concern on you in the Women's Union. We won't ask you to learn for us. We just keep waiting for you to want to learn for yourselves. I cannot teach my oppressor until she realizes she is my oppressor. 

My concerns with women are strong on many levels. My personal struggles, as vours, are draining. My commitment to live outside of the closet as a Lesbian is often mind—fucking. 

We all suffer oppression from a male-oriented, role-oriented, violence-oriented society. But how long must I continue to suffer oppression at the hands of sisters?

How many of you know anything about Lesbianism on a gut level? How many of you have exploited my sisters in order to “come out” so you could be “right on”? How long can you avoid the topic in your rap groups? How many of you thought it was okay that no homophile organization had been contacted regarding the “Lesbian plot” course you offered through the Union? How many of you consider your Lesbian sisters image-damaging to the Movement? And how many of you base your opinions of Lesbianism on myth derived from the writings of straight male psychiatrists whose interests lie in penis protection? 

It is time we were honest with one another. It is time we talked. It is time we realize the battles we fight are the same. 

I wear an abortion button next to my gay pride button.

Linda Shear

Dear Linda, 

We were glad to see your letter reprinted in the Feminist Voice, because we think that there should be much more open discussion within the women's movement about gay liberation, and especially the relation (or lack of it) of Lesbians to the women’s movement. In order to grow we all need to be more aware of where each other Is coming from, and why things happen the way they do - in other words, to be self-critical and to criticize each other. 

We’d like to do this regarding your letter, which was sent to us and not printed in WOMANKIND. It seems that there are two different aspects to this – theoretical and practical. It was a conscious collective decision to not print your letter (theory), but it was because of a fuck-up that you weren’t answered personally (practice). 

Because we see WOMANKIND as an outreach paper, not as an internal movement paper print letters or articles that are directed toward a movement audience. This means that we feel that gay liberation and Lesbianism should be, and is, a part of WOMANKIND, but that struggles between gay liberation and women’s liberation or between gay and straight women in the women’s movement should be in more movement oriented papers. This is why we're glad your letter was in the Feminist Voice, because from a recent meeting with their staff, we understand that they see themselves as more of a forum for movement discussion. We also realize now that we should have (and will) put your letter in the Union's membership newsletter - because it really was addressed to the entire Union, not only to WOMANKIND. We also want to see WOMANKIND as more of a totality — so that issue isn’t isolated, and that they will be seen as a continuing, growing process. Because of this, we went ahead with the first issue when promised articles on lesbianism didn’t come through. Articles are another problem — most articles on Lesbianism are written to a movement, or at least “hip” audience, with jargon and references that would need explaining, in order to not be elitist. We really need articles for a straight — both sexually and culturally — audience, that don’t assume they are sympathetic to gay liberation, or know about current hassles/problems. We’d like to encourage people to write, and would like to hear from you again if you know of and or have suggestions.

Our not responding to your letter and explaining this, was purely a fuck-up. Because we don’t have a way of ensuring that collective decisions are really carried out by the person that volunteers, we all thought that you had been told what was going on and your letter returned. We’re going to try to correct this by having one or two people responsible on a rotating basis for specifically making sure that criticisms, suggestions, etc. are followed through (taking a tip from our Feminist Voice sisters). This is one of the problems of trying to working together, collectively instead of hierarchically.

We make stakes, because we doing something new, but by reevaluating our work in theory and practice, we’ll be able to correct them. Your letter has helped us do that by creating discussion which better defined for us what we’re trying to do, and by pointing up mistakes in how we’re going it. Thank you. 

-- WOMANKIND work group

Any forms of behavior that don't fit into the image that television and Reader's Digest believe the American people should be like is usually categorized as either subnatural or supernatural. The myths about homosexuals fall into both categories, depending on how close it is to being you. Lesbians are subnatural when they live next door and supernatural when they live in Paris and write books. 

Most people's ideas about lesbianism come from pornographic films and magazines, all of which are produced by and for men. It's a very strange thing to find your existence defined as a part of somebody's pornographic fantasy library — sex episode No. 93. 

One night at my regular women's liberation group meeting, one of the women said, “You know, the first night you told us you were a lesbian, I sat in terror the rest of the meeting, waiting for you to attack me or something.” 

Men who are obsessed with sex are convinced that lesbians are obsessed with sex. Actually, like a lot of other women, lesbians are obsessed with love and fidelity. They are also strongly interested in independence and in having a lifework to do, but other than that, lesbians are not extraordinary. 

I once met a lesbian who had built her own house, with her own hands, to her own specifications. (She was about 4’ 11” tall.) But I have no doubt that any woman probably could — except that she probably married an architect or a builder instead. Homosexuality and other “bizarre” characteristics are associated with art and artiness partly so that artists can be considered that much more supernatural. This keeps people in general from considering themselves as artists; if you can't cut off an ear, you can't paint. 

It wasn't because she was a lesbian that Gertrude Stein wrote well; she wrote because she wanted to, and she had a disciplined, 

sensitive mind, and she didn't have to work in a dimestore eight hours a day. 

The women in history who were the less fortunate counterparts of Gertrude Stein, unable to retire on Papa's. money, cut off their hair and joined the merchant marine; or sneaked out West and had a life of adventure as cowboys. Some were never discovered until the local mortician … all astonished … came running out of the funeral parlor. “My God, guess what I just found out about Harry Willets….” 

As a matter of fact, old Harry may never have thought of loving another woman in her life, but she still goes down in history as a lesbian. Every woman who steps out of line gets assigned a. sexual definition — lesbian, whore, nymphomaniac, castrator, adultress. 

Lesbians who dress and act in a particular manner do so as a means of mutual recognition — that's how they know who's eligible to fall in love with, since you're not allowed to just ask. If anybody was allowed to fall in love with anybody, the word “homosexual” wouldn't be needed. It’s used now only to set people off in separate categories, artificially; so they'll know who to be afraid of — each other. 

Bogeymen and bogeywomen function to keep people off of the streets, and home watching television and reading Reader's Digest. 

Lesbianism isn't something you are — it's something you do. Specifically, it's the love you give somebody who happens, also, to be female.

Judy Grahn

Gertrude Stein was a well-known, American-born writer. She lived in Paris in the early twentieth century with Alice B. Toklas, who was her companion, secretary, and lover. Stein, who was supported by her father’s money was influential as a writer and a patron of the arts.  —editor's note

I was walking down the road holding hands with the woman I love. It was late at night, very dark, so no one could see us. I didn't really care whether anyone saw me or what people would think, but she was embarrassed about showing our love when straight people were around. I didn't care what they know; for me it was a great act of courage to openly show affection for another woman. 

I haven't always been like that. Most of my life, I couldn't bring myself to show affection for women, for fear of being thought a Lesbian. In high school, the boys teased girls who were involved in close friendships with other girls. Ironically, I generally wasn't teased because I kept away from such friendships. But at the same time, I was reluctant to get involved in “normal” relationships with boys. 

When I was 20 1 was a camp counselor for teen—age girls. I held myself aloof from the girls - even when they were going through some crisis, I couldn't touch them or show any affection. Somehow it just didn't seem quite right. 

Even after I became involved in the Women's Liberation Movement, I was disturbed when I saw women acting affectionate toward each other. Once when I saw two of my friends with their arms around each other, the only way I could justify that in my mind was to think, “at least, they aren't Lesbians!” (That was a year and a half ago. They may not have been gay then, but they are now.) And when women

talked of the beauty of other women, I hid behind my camera and told myself that the only reason why I admired women's beauty was that I was a photographer and had a purely esthetic interest in it. 

But gradually things changed. I developed friendships with women of a sort that I hadn't had since before high school: close, trusting, loving relationships. I found that being a Lesbian is not as bad as I thought; to love another woman can be a beautiful and enjoyable experience. 

And the change is not only within me; it is among a great many women I know. Within the last year or two many women have become freer in their manner of relating to women. These are women who don't necessarily define themselves as gay, but they feel free to show their love for women. Not too long ago, I again saw two women I know with their arms around each other. These two probably consider themselves straight —— at any rate, one is married and has children and the other is living with a man. I didn't think that they were or were not Lesbians, because it doesn't matter to me anymore. 


Theory and Action in the Chicago Women's Liberation Union

By Christine R. Riddiough and Margaret Schmid


The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was formed in 1969 and played a leading role in the women’s liberation movement in Chicago during much of the 1970s. Throughout its history the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union concentrated on organizing women to achieve liberation. Not limited to legal equality, the CWLU envisioned a society free of sexism in education, the family, the media, employment, health care, and all areas of social life. CWLU organizing was done with a clear focus on both strategy and theory. Understanding strategy and theory is often difficult – immersion in developing a theory often prevents one from actually being an activist. But without a theory and a strategy that flows from it, our activism can be mindless and even counterproductive.

In CWLU we understood that neither strategy nor activism would get us very far unless we had a theory that linked them. In the theory we developed we acknowledged that the struggle for women's rights was not isolated from other struggles – we recognized the intersection between gender, race and class and the importance of ensuring that our theory, strategy and actions bridged those intersections. We also recognized that our activism had to relate to the conditions facing women in a concrete manner in order to communicate the liberating potential of the women’s movement.

This paper explores critical documents that show the effort in CWLU to provide a theory and strategy as the basis for the organization’s action programs. It contextualizes the work of CWLU and suggests lessons for today’s feminist activists.


The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was formed in 1969 and played a leading role in the women’s liberation movement in Chicago during much of the 1970s. Throughout its history the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union concentrated on organizing women to achieve liberation. This organizing was done with a clear focus on both strategy and theory. In this paper we will examine several documents that demonstrate CWLU commitment to organizing and the connection between that organizing and the theory and strategy underlying it. 

In this paper, we review:

  • documents from the founding conference and from the organizers that show that the main focus of the work of the organization was achieving real gains for women;
  • the political principles of CWLU adopted at the 1969 founding conference. They provided the basis for the organization’s theory and action;
  • the ‘Juliet Mitchell Chart’ named after the British Marxist-feminist and author of ‘The Longest Revolution’ and proposed by a chapter of CWLU as a strategic tool;
  • the position paper ‘Socialist Feminism: Our Strategy for the Women’s Movement’ outlining three strategic goals for projects that CWLU undertook to:
    1. win reforms that objectively improve women's lives;
    2. give women a sense of their own power, both potentially and in reality; and
    3. alter existing relations of power.
  • the paper on ‘Leading CWLU into Outreach’ that discusses the importance of outreach in building the women’s movement.

The Documents

The Founding Conference: Documents from the founding conference and from the organizers show that the main focus of the work of the organization was on achieving real gains for women. The first of these documents, “Toward a Radical Movement”1 , was written in the spring of 1968. The document highlights the focus of the movements of the 1960s and notes that those movements ‘for social change taught women activists about their own oppression.’

The paper went on to describe the history of women in the workplace from the 1940s until the late 1960s. The increased involvement of women in the workplace in the World War II years resulted in a taste of economic independence for women and an understanding of the importance of collective action for them as workers. The paper noted that the authors knew of no models for an egalitarian marriage nor was the supposed sexual liberation of the 1960s a real benefit to women.

The paper concluded by stating:

For the true freedom of all women, there must be a restructuring of the institutions which perpetuate the myths and the subservience of their social situation. It is the explicit consciousness of these hopes and analysis which lead us to fight for women’s liberation and the liberation of all people.

As a whole, the paper presages three important aspects of CWLU theory and strategy. First, that the movement for women’s liberation is inextricably linked to other movements for social justice. Second, that to achieve real liberation for women requires that women as a group organize. Finally, for women to achieve liberation, changes in institutions as well as individual consciousness are key.

‘A Proposal for a Chicago Radical Women’s Conference’3 was circulated in the fall of 1969. It called for a conference ‘for women who are primarily committed to the development of an independent, multi issue women’s movement and who see in particular the need to develop program and structures to enable us to get beyond the stage of personal discussions and to reach out to new women.’ Suggestions for working papers for the conference asked participants to ‘state the broader theoretical assumptions and implications of your suggestions for the development of the women’s movement.’ It also sought papers on strategy to deal with questions like the relationship of the women’s movement to the larger social justice movements of the time. 

As both of these papers indicate, the founders of CWLU were concerned with both a theoretical perspective that would encompass women’s liberation as part of and essential to a broader movement and with developing a strategy that would incorporate women from around the city of Chicago into a movement to achieve liberation for women. 

The Political Principles: The documents described above foreshadowed the statement of political principles that was adopted at the October 1969 founding conference of CWLU. They provided the basis for the organization’s theory and action and stated: 

The struggle for women's liberation is a revolutionary struggle.
Women's liberation is essential to the liberation of all oppressed people.
Women's liberation will not be achieved until all people are free.
We will struggle for the liberation of women and against male supremacy in all sections of society. We will struggle against racism, imperialism, and capitalism, and dedicate ourselves to developing a consciousness of their effect on women.
We are dedicated to a democratic organization and understand that a way to ensure democracy is through full exchange of information and ideas, full political debate, and through unity of theory and practice.
We are committed to building a movement that embodies within it the humane values of the society for which we are fighting. To win this struggle, we must resist exploitative, manipulative, and intolerant attitudes in ourselves. We need to be supportive of each other, to have enthusiasm for change in ourselves and in society, and to have faith that people have unending energy and ability to change.

Several things stand out in reading these principles. The first three lines neatly summarize the position of the founders and reflect their backgrounds as part of the student, anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements. Yet, unlike many position papers and statements of the era, they are succinct. They clearly position women’s liberation as a part of a larger revolutionary movement and as essential to that movement.

The women who founded CWLU and many of the early members were involved in political activism through the movements of the 1960s. Heather Booth, one of the authors of ‘Toward a Radical Movement’ had participated in the 1964 Freedom Summer and in student actions at the University of Chicago. Vivian Rothstein, an author of the call for the conference5 had traveled to Vietnam and met with women from their National Liberation Front. For them, as for other women of their generation, these activities gave them the energy to fight on behalf of women and a keen awareness that the progressive movement was still primarily led by men and that even the most active women were marginalized when decisions of any consequence were made. Out of this arose a consciousness that, if women were to be liberated, women had to be made central to the struggle. 

The fifth sentence links the struggle for women’s liberation explicitly to the struggles against racism, imperialism and capitalism. The experiences of women in the movements opposing these forces made it clear that the fight for women’s liberation was not separate from the efforts of other oppressed people in the United States or around the world.

The last segments illustrate how the theories embodied in the other elements of the principles related to the development of an organization and to the importance of organizing. Again, unlike many left organizations of the period, CWLU emphasized putting the principles into practice, both in terms of the organizational structure and in terms of the importance of reaching out to women not yet in the movement.

Over the life of CWLU, only one change was made in the political principles – this was a modification to the fourth sentence in the principles: “We will struggle for the liberation of women and against male supremacy in all sections of society.” In 1972 this statement was revised as follows:

We will struggle for the liberation of women and against sexism in all sections of society. Included in this struggle is the struggle for the right of sexual self-Determination for all people and for the liberation of all homosexuals, especially lesbians. 

The impetus for this change came from lesbians in CWLU who felt it was important to incorporate support for lesbian and gay liberation in the principles in the principles. When the principles were first adopted in 1969, the new gay liberation movement had barely begun. No gay pride parades had been held, no lesbian feminist festivals established, Stonewall was still a whisper in the background, but by 1970 CWLU had started to incorporate lesbian and gay liberation into its program. In the summer of 1970 the connection between gay and lesbian issues and women’s liberation was discussed at a meeting sponsored jointly by CWLU and the women’s caucus of the Chicago Gay Alliance. This led to further discussion within CWLU and ultimately the adoption of the principle above and a position paper on ‘Lesbianism and Socialist Feminism’. 

It is also interesting to note the change from male supremacy to sexism. In 1969, the word sexism was not in general use, but by 1972 the word sexism was used to denote the institutional nature of the oppression of women. The change in the political principles reflected this understanding.

In addition to the political principles, CWLU also adopted a structure to guide its work. Like most local women’s organizations of the time, CWLU was democratic in nature, but unlike many groups CWLU did have a structure. It consisted of a steering committee to guide the organization and included representatives of chapters and work groups within CWLU. Further, from the beginning, CWLU had staff, recognizing that the enormity of the struggle for women’s liberation required a way to focus and move forward that volunteers alone could not provide. Over the course of its existence, over 90 chapters and work groups were formed. Ultimately the chapters combined political discussion with consciousness raising and personal support, while work groups focused on projects aimed at advancing women’s liberation. Much of the theory and strategy for CWLU was developed in the chapters.

The Juliet Mitchell Chart: Over the course of its existence, CWLU adopted several papers proposed by chapters that helped direct the work of the organization. The first of these was the ‘Juliet Mitchell Chart’ named after the British Marxist-feminist. Presented by the Midwives Chapter of CWLU at its second conference (1971), the chart provided a way to link the work of the organization with both the theory and strategy. The paper they wrote (in their words):

will argue for a program and strategy which emphasizes struggle on many different levels, none of which is a clear priority over the others, and none of which is adequate without the development of the others.

They proposed the chart as a way to visually understand and plan the work of the organization. In its original version, one dimension of the chart listed the areas of women’s oppression: production, reproduction, sexuality and socialization of children. These areas of oppression were based on Mitchell’s pamphlet, The Longest Revolution8 (reprinted in Woman’s Estate9 ). Mitchell traced the evolution of socialist views on women from Charles Fourier, August Bebel and Karl Marx to Simone De Beauvoir and Kate Millet. She noted that, “De Beauvoir’s main theoretical innovation was to fuse the ‘economic’ and ‘reproductive’ explanations of women’s subordination by a psychological interpretation of both.” Mitchell described Millet’s contribution in Sexual Politics as establishing, “that within patriarchy the omnipresent system of male domination and female subjugation is achieved through socializing, perpetuated through ideological means, and maintained by institutional methods.” 

Mitchell went on to describe the contributions of radical feminists like Shulamith Firestone to the understanding of women’s oppression and exhorted the new movement to simultaneously recognize the “necessity of radical feminist consciousness and of the development of a socialist analysis of the oppression of women.” She then described her view of the oppression of women:

The key structures of woman’s situation can be listed as follows: Production, Reproduction, Sexuality and the Socialisation of Children. The concrete combination of these produce the ‘complex unity’ of her position; but each separate structure may have reached a different ‘moment’ at any given historical time. Each then must be examined separately in order to see what the present unity is, and how it might be changed.10

The pamphlet described these areas of oppression, noting that while women are often denied the opportunity to enter the workforce,they are nonetheless also subject to oppression in the context of the family through their role in reproduction, sexuality and socialization of children. She concluded that:

for an authentic liberation of women … to occur, there must be a transformation of all the structures into which they are integrated, and all the contradictions must coalesce, to explode – a unite de rupture. A revolutionary movement must base its analysis on the uneven development of each structure, and attack the weakest link in the combination. This may then become the point of departure for a general transformation. What is the situation of the different structures today? What is the concrete situation of the women in each of the positions in which they are inserted?11

This pamphlet was very influential in CWLU and was the basis for extensive discussion and planning. But the Midwives chapter did not stop with Mitchell; they recognized that the understanding of women’s oppression must be combined with a strategy to fight that oppression. In their chart, they incorporated that strategic approach. The original chart had four areas of work: struggles around immediate needs of women, consciousness raising/educational work, development of analysis and strategy, and developing a vision and building alternatives. They showed how the chart might be used, using as examples some of the early activities CWLU had organized and supported:





They also recognized that:

this is just a two dimensional chart. It helps us look at different types of program necessary to organize around women's oppression as women. But it is clear that women are not only oppressed as women, but are also part of all other oppressed groups within this society (e.g. blacks, workers, students, gay people). Because of women's interrelatedness to all of society we must have a view of program which says that our oppression as women cannot be separated from the oppression of all other groups. That means that our movement must work on program which struggles against all kinds of oppression and must respond specifically to the ways the oppression of these groups affects women in them12.

A discussion of the proposal was held at the second CWLU conference in April 1971. A lively debate resulted in the adoption of the chart as a tool for CWLU planning and strategy. In the course of the debate, the strategic areas were changed to reflect the outward oriented work of the organization. Struggles around immediate needs of women became direct action; consciousness raising/educational work was called education; building alternatives became service. Development of analysis and strategy and developing a vision were viewed as part of the internal work of the organization which largely fell to chapters. Throughout the remainder of CWLU’s existence, the Mitchell chart guided the organization’s work. An example is given in table 2.

The Mitchell chart was also used to advance the theoretical perspective behind CWLU strategy. An example is the work of the Lesbian group of CWLU. In 1972 it proposed that CWLU adopt the position paper Lesbianism and Socialist Feminism13 . The paper started by noting that:

to understand how women's oppression and gay people's oppression are related to each other, and to discover the relationship of lesbianism to the women's movement, we need a deeper understanding of the structure and functioning of our society. In this paper we want to examine these questions from our perspective as socialist-feminists. 

It went on to describe, using the areas of oppression from the Mitchell chart, the intersection between women’s oppression and that of lesbians and gay men. The paper suggested that a more complete understanding of the oppression of gay men and lesbians involved going beyond the obvious issue of sexuality to issues related to production, reproduction and socialization of children. At the end of the paper, a strategy for organizing on LGBT issues was discussed using the Mitchell chart to provide context:

The Chicago Women's Liberation Union operates with a three part strategy of service, education and direct action. At the present time, educational and service programs are perhaps the easiest to relate to gay oppression, and direct action struggles more difficult.

Table 2: An example of how the Mitchell Chart was used.



CWLU developed programs in each of the areas of the chart as table 2 illustrates. The primary education programs were the Liberation School for Women, WOMANKIND newspaper and the Speakers’ Bureau. Each of these programs focused on the whole range of issues defined in the Mitchell chart. Service programs of CWLU included the iconic Abortion Counselling Service (‘Jane’), the Legal Clinic and the Rape Crisis Line. Action programs ranged from Action Committee for Decent Childcare (ACDC) to workplace organizing with the Chicago City Hall janitresses (Direct Action for Rights in Employment) to demanding equity for women in Chicago Park District sports programs. 

Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women’s Movement: Two years later, in 1973, CWLU adopted a position paper, ‘Socialist Feminism: Our Strategy for the Women’s Movement’14 . Written by the Hyde Park Chapter, this paper outlined in more detail the ways in which women are oppressed and provided three strategic goals for projects that CWLU undertook:

  1. projects must win reforms that will objectively improve women's lives;
  2. projects must give women a sense of their own power, both potentially and in reality; and
  3. projects must alter existing relations of power. 

The introduction to the paper described the competing perspectives within the women’s movement of the time:

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.

The paper’s five sections laid out a comprehensive approach to organizing:

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

Section I detailed the idea of socialist feminism and described its roots in the traditions of socialism and feminism. It incorporated a feminist perspective that recognized that the institutions of sexism and capitalism combine to oppress women. It then provided a detailed analysis of society and gave examples of the kind of changes it viewed as desirable but not obtainable in current society. It concluded that:

  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.

Perhaps the idea of power and the role it plays in women’s oppression and the necessity of women gaining power to gain liberation was the most important idea detailed in the paper:

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 remainder of the paper discussed specific issues. It concluded by reiterating the three point 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.’ It said:

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.

Throughout its history, CWLU included a focus on direct action. The Socialist Feminist paper put this into perspective. The Hyde Park chapter, which drafted the paper, also gave birth to the Action Committee for Decent Childcare, a program aimed at revising licensing laws for child care centers in Chicago and getting the city to provide funding for centers. Working women, who had limited access to childcare, joined the effort. They staged an action in the office of the city official responsible, at first seeking a study on child care in the city. When the official did not respond, the group took further action, ultimately leading to some of the licensing reform and funding demands they had made initially.

Later in the 1970s CWLU’s Secret Storm work group worked with women in the Chicago Park District to ensure that women had equal access to Park District sports facilities such as playing fields and equipment. These are but a few examples of how CWLU put theory into action.

Leading the CWLU into Outreach: Another perspective that guided the work of CWLU is described in a paper on ‘Leading CWLU into Outreach’16 . Written by Jenny Rohrer and Judy Sayad and influenced by their work on Park District equity for women, it discusses the importance of outreach to women beyond those in CWLU:

Outreach means getting to know a lot of people; it means bring women's consciousness and politics into the everyday lives of people.
It is the whole process of meeting women, talking to them about their lives, about women's liberation, and offering them programs - to use and to work on. It is how we initially mobilize and educate masses of women to begin to take control of their lives, to see their personal problems as political, and to use the tools of service, education, and direct action to make their lives better.

The idea behind outreach was to get women outside the core group of CWLU involved in the organization and in the movement as a whole. It recognized that simply involving the same 100 or 1,000 women in activities would not result in the liberation of women. Overall, CWLU programs addressed many of the issues women faced, but did not always connect with women:

Our programs speak to many of the specific needs in women’s lives, and we have to take our programs out; we have to talk to women who have never heard of a women’s liberation union about their lives and women’s liberation.

Outreach was not an additional tactic to be added to the Mitchell chart nor was it opposed to direct action, rather it was a way to approach all CWLU work. 

This paper provided examples of what outreach would look like in the context of a range of CWLU programs. By offering services in many neighborhoods in Chicago, the Pregnancy Testing program could provide a nucleus for neighborhood women’s organizations. Each CWLU program - from the Health Evaluation and Referral Service to the Legal Clinic - could make better use of WOMANKIND newspaper as a way to get the word to women around the city.

The outreach group also worked to encourage high school and junior college students to get involved in women’s liberation. Through the distribution of leaflets in girl’s bathrooms, young women who might not have heard of women’s liberation got involved in CWLU activities. Work in the Park District began when women’s softball teams were displaced by men’s teams. Women from CWLU worked with the softball teams to challenge the division of resources. Secret Storm spread the word among the players and described other activities for women.

The lesbian group published its own newsletter, Blazing Star, which was distributed to lesbian bars in Chicago. This group worked with bar-sponsored softball teams to encourage more women in the lesbian community to join the women’s movement.

These and comparable efforts in other CWLU work groups aimed to involve women from Chicago’s working class neighborhoods and thus expand its constituency of women.


To fully understand the implications of these documents, we need to reflect on the context in which they were created. CWLU was the first and largest of the women's liberation organizations established in the United States during the 'second wave' of the women's movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Like women's liberation activists around the United States, CWLU members were, on average, in their 20s when they were involved in CWLU. While data on these women is limited, there are some resources that can be used. Feminists Who Changed America17 includes brief biographies of many women who were active in the women's movement in the 1970s. Approximately 32 women associated with CWLU are listed. The median and mean for year of birth is 1943. The data is slightly skewed because two of the women listed were born before 1930. Over 80% were born in the period 1941-1951 Generally, they had some college or were college graduates; few were married or had children.

For most of these women their formative years were the 1950s and 1960s. Many became politically active in high school and college and their activism was informed by the student movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement. This has been documented for women in the women's liberation movement generally by Sara Evans18 and is reflected in unpublished interviews19 of members of CWLU by Margaret Strobel, Professor Emerita of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois Chicago. While books like The Feminine Mystique20 and The Second Sex21 had an impact on these women, that impact generally occurred after they had already been influenced by their experiences as activists in other movements.

As a result there was a predisposition to understand the movement for women's liberation as part of the larger movement for peace and justice. The documents described above clearly reflect this link. Furthermore, involvement in these other movements also predisposed CWLU members to view the oppression of women as part of a larger system of oppression, rather than simply the result of the actions of individual men. The theories described in the paper Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement22 clearly demonstrate this.

In some respects, this is not different from what happened in many other groups at the time. The 1960s and 1970s saw the proliferation of many left-oriented political groups, but what was unique about CWLU (and other groups like the Twin Cities Women's Union that were modeled on CWLU) was the explicit connection between theory and organizing. From its beginning CWLU focused on organizing women. The use of the Juliet Mitchell chart promoted the theories articulated by Mitchell herself and the focus on using these theories to actually guide activism. Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement23 highlights the importance of understanding and changing the relations of power. Leading the CWLU into Outreach24 focuses on the need to involve women from many different communities in the struggle for women's rights. It recognized that women’s liberation would not be achieved until women from social groups beyond those initially involved in the 1970s feminist movement were involved and unless their concerns were clearly addressed.

The connection between theory, strategy, organizing and activism is, many respects, unique.

Despite internal controversies, CWLU and many of its projects lasted for eight years before it disbanded in 1977, much longer than any of its sister counterpart organizations. How and why CWLU disbanded is the subject of another paper (Riddiough, 2014) and won’t be addressed here. Its longevity was due to the fact that its members were able to make these connections and its activities were sustained by them. Even after disbanding, projects of CWLU like Blazing Star (the lesbian group) and HERS (Health Evaluation and Referral Service) were sustained for several years. Many individual members continued their activism as staff and leaders of other organizations, including NOW and several unions, their lives having been changed and enriched through their participation in CWLU.

From the experience of CWLU and from the documents described above, we conclude that theory and strategy are at the service of organizing and activism and effective organizing is dependent on the development of theory and strategy.

What are the lessons learned? First, we can and should learn from the work that has gone before in order to build a better, stronger women’s movement today. One of the weaknesses of the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s was the lack of knowledge of previous efforts in the struggle for women’s rights. One theme heard over and over in interviews with activists from that period was ‘we knew nothing’ - that applied to sex, reproduction, finances and history. History books might have a sentence or two on the women’s suffrage movement. That lack of knowledge led us to reinvent the idea of feminism. Today young feminists need not do that if they learn the lessons of the past.

A second lesson is that to be effective, organizing must be done strategically, and that victories are not necessarily lasting. At present, the political right and its War on Women demonstrate the importance of having a long-range strategic view; this is perhaps seen most clearly in the rollbacks of reproductive rights over the last several decades. Internet petition drives, hashtags that disappear in days will not, by themselves, be an effective counter to that right-wing war. Feminists - young and old - must reconsider how to more effectively use the theoretical and strategic tools to inform and enhance our organizing.

While CWLU spent time and energy on discussing theory - and some would say the amount of time and energy was far too great - the primary focus of those discussions was on what could advance the work of the organization rather than on reifying theory. CWLU projects were developed with a consciousness of theory and an understanding that the fight for women's liberation could not be merely an unrelated set of skirmishes, but rather a coordinated battle against systemic oppression. 


As described in its position papers and many other documents, CWLU was an explicitly revolutionary organization. It was founded based on the idea that simple reforms like equal pay for equal work would not be enough to achieve women’s liberation, but with the knowledge that such reforms were an important step toward liberation.

The theory behind the efforts of CWLU was grounded in the idea that socialism and feminism both contributed important perspectives to understanding women’s oppression, and that together were essential to providing a real framework for action.

Organizing – education, service and direct action – formed the core focus of CWLU. Outreach to women around the city was viewed as central to building the organization and the movement. Integrating the action and outreach approaches often proved to be a formidable challenge, but through projects ranging from the Liberation School for Women to WOMANKIND, to work on child care, reproductive rights and services, rights of city workers, rights of lesbians and gays, and opportunities for women in athletic programs, CWLU worked to achieve women’s liberation and left a history to be proud of and learn from. 


Christine R. Riddiough was active in CWLU in the 1970s, a major author of Lesbianism and Socialist Feminism and leader in Blazing Star. She later worked for NOW and the Gay and Lesbian Democrats of America. She currently teaches computer programming and statistics and lives in Washington DC.

Margaret Schmid was a member of the Midwives Chapter, the Womankind Work Group, the Speakers Bureau, and co-chair of CWLU steering committee. After working as a college professor and subsequently a public sector labor union leader, she is retired and lives in Chicago.


The authors would like to thank the staff of the Chicago History Museum and the Northwestern University Library for their assistance in retrieving archival material. The original documents are available in digital form from the authors by emailing criddiough[at]

Course Outline: "Womens Liberation is a Lesbian Plot

1.  April 30    Introduction -- Where we’re at as women

2.  May 7       Sexuality and Power -- Sexual repression, violence and the exercise of power, the political significance of sexual liberation – Required: Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, Ch I, Ch III, read more if you're interested, especially Ch IX. Suggested: Shulamith Firestone, Dialectics of Sex, especially Ch I Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism , especially Ch V, and The Sexual Revolution Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization R.D. Laing, Sanity, Madness and the Family, esp. Introd. and 1 or 2 case studies Sampson, the Psychology of Power

3.  May 14      Female Sexuality and Emotions -- understanding the differences between male and female emotions and sexuality, the implications for heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Shulamith Firestone, “Love” in Notes From the Second Year, and Dialectics of Sex Sue Katz, “Sex as an Institution” Koedt, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm” Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen, The Sexually Responsive Woman

4.  May 21     Homosexual oppression -- psychological, economic, legal. fact sheets on legal and economic oppression Short stories from The Ladder, April, May 1971, p6, Aug, Sept. 1970, p 9, Feb, March, 1971, p 14. Cory, Lesbian in America Martin Hoffman, The Gay World novel to be chosen

5.  May 28     Gay Liberation -- old and new gay culture and politics, roles Gay Flames Packet Articles from other current gay papers, etc,

6.  June 4      Radical Feminism and Radical Lesbianism -- Differences, similarities, interrelationships, implications for womens movement. Articles from the Ladder, Aug, Sept, 1970, p 4; Oct, Nov, 1970; p 4 and 17; 1971, p 4 and p 29. other materials to be chosen

7.  June 11     Womens Culture -- Life styles and living arrangements, music, art, culture and organization. A Journal of Liberation, “How We Live”, selected articles. p 5, 33. issues of “Ain’t I Woman” and “It Ain’t Me Babe”

Lesbianism and Socialist Feminism

A position paper of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.
Written by the Gay Women's Group of the CWLU and adopted by the CWLU at its annual membership conference, November, 1972.

Women's liberation and gay liberation have a lot in common. Both were born out of an awareness that women and male and female homosexuals are discriminated against in jobs, in schools, and by law, and are oppressed by a culture with strict sex role expectations. But to understand how women's oppression and gay people's oppression are related to each other, and to discover the relationship of lesbianism to the women's movement, we need a deeper understanding of the structure and functioning of our society. In this paper we want to examine these questions from our perspective as socialist-feminists.

There are two major trends in the women's movement today, which are most frequently called radical feminism and socialist feminism. Neither of the two are complete ideologies, but they do emphasize different aspects of women's oppression.

We'll look first at the radical feminists, in order to give a background for the rest of the paper. The radical feminists view male supremacy as the basis for women's oppression. This is seen as not only the first form of social oppression historically, but also the primary oppression, or basis of all other forms of exploitation (like racism and imperialism).* The institutions of society are seen as only the tools of the oppressor, male supremacy. This analysis is shared by all radical feminists, and it leads them to emphasize the psychological aspects of women's oppression, although different groups may interpret the basic ideology somewhat differently. For example, the more ‘extreme’ groups tend to see individual men as the enemy, while moderate radical feminist view the male role as the enemy. The moderates then work for the elimination of sex roles, which leads them to view gay liberation as an ally, since homosexuality is see as a blow against sex roles. The extremists are even clearer in their position. Since men are the enemy, they support a completely separatist movement, not only as a tactic for the present, but as a vision of the future. Lesbianism is seen as a political choice that is necessary and central to the struggle against male supremacy. While this brief summary does not do justice to the ideology of radical feminism, it does indicate the importance of lesbianism in that ideology. 

Socialist feminism emphasizes the important role of institutions in maintaining sexism, and the relationship between the economic system of capitalism and women's oppression. Women's position in society is determined by a combination of our roles in the family and in the labor force, or the productive sector. The liberation of women must involve changes in both of these areas. One of the most complete analyses is that of Juliet Mitchell in Woman's Estate; we describe it below. Because of its emphasis on institutions and on the complexity of society, socialist feminism does not describe a simple relationship between the oppression of the male homosexual, the lesbian and women in general. In fact, possibly because of this complexity, socialist feminism has been slow to discuss gay issues. As socialist feminists we see the need for beginning such a discussion, so that we can understand the relationship between lesbianism and socialist feminism.

This paper is primarily an analysis of lesbian oppression, although it also contains the beginnings of a strategy for a lesbian movement. We do not deal with other aspects of gay relationships here, such as our feelings about lesbian love and pleasure we have found in relationships with other women.

Background on Socialist Feminism

In this section we describe briefly the outline of socialist feminism given by Juliet Mitchell in her book. Woman's Estate, and in her pamphlet "The Longest Revolution".

In Woman's Estate, Mitchell outlines a way to identify and sort out the different parts of women's social role (p. 100). The key parts of this role are production, reproduction, socialization of children, and sexuality. The last three are in the context of the family. That is, the family is the place where these three functions are supposed to be connected. A woman, who clearly has a unique role in reproduction also has the task of raising children. Woman is seen as child-rearer as well as child-bearer. The dominant ideology of our culture also still proclaims the family to be the only "proper" place for sexuality and reproduction, even with the "sexual revolution". The family holds together woman's three main functions in society and so defines "woman’s place".

The first sector of society is production, or how society is organized economically. This sector provides the economic framework that the family fits into, and ties together the other aspects of woman's role. It is the sector of society from which women are effectively excluded, because women's "real" work is at home. Many women work outside the home, but the ideology of the family attempts, and often succeeds in making women identify with their role as unpaid workers in the home rather than as paid workers outside it.

It is important to recognize these different parts of women's role because each of them can change at its own pace. Changes in society can result from changes in any one of them or in a combination of them. If we struggle against women's oppression in one area and ignore the others, we may make immediate changes in women's position in that area. But society will be able to compensate in other areas, leaving women in no better overall position than before. Therefore we must determine the weakest link in women's roles and examine how it relates to the rest of society, so that gains we make in these weak areas won't be swallowed up by the others.

We also realize that there are limitations to Juliet Mitchell's ideas. She gives us an analysis of women's oppression in most aspects, but she neglects some other roles women play (such as consumers under capitalism). She also does not give us a strategy for how to change that oppression. (For an extended discussion of strategy, see the paper "Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement," a position paper of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.)

Even so, this analysis gives us a framework for understanding society and the place of lesbian oppression in that society. Because this paper is about the relationship of lesbianism to women's roles, changes in those roles for women in general are not discussed. For example, increasing availability of birth control and abortion, the rising divorce rate, and new attitudes towards sex and marriage are changing somewhat both the ideas and the facts about women's roles in production, reproduction, sexuality and as socializers of children. While recognizing these changes this paper will discuss the relationship of lesbianism to the dominant ideology of women’s role, which this society’s institutions still reinforce pretty much unchanged. We shall look at each part separately in order to see how the oppression of the lesbian in connected to that of other women, and to see how the struggles for gay liberation and women’s liberation relate.


We begin our examination of lesbian oppression by looking at the lesbian's position in the labor force. That position is essentially the same as that of other women in regard to type of work and pay scales. Many married American women do not work out of economic necessity, but most lesbians do not have a choice about working. Lesbians, like other women who partially or totally support themselves and their families, have to work outside the home except in certain circumstances (such as independent wealth or marriage). Most lesbians work for pay because of the exclusion from the family and the economic advantage of having a husband.

Many lesbians are married, however, and their position in the labor force is more like that of married heterosexual women than like that of non-married (lesbians, single, divorced, widowed) women. Some women married young, not realizing they were lesbians until later. Other suppressed their feelings, thinking their lesbian feelings would disappear in the face of heterosexual experience. When the realization of their lesbianism finally came, many married lesbians chose to get a divorce, although others (especially those with children) chose to remain married (not necessarily telling their husbands the true situation).

For any lesbian the fear of being "found out" and the danger of being fired makes it more difficult to find a job, keep it, and relate to her fellow workers than it would be for heterosexual women.

The restrictions on women in the labor force are supposed to be due to a woman's "physical weaknesses," especially in connection with her reproductive role. There are also social forces that prevent women from taking the same productive role as men. Such social coercion acts on the lesbian as on other women. In fact, the status of the lesbian (and in some ways that of male homosexuals) demonstrates the importance of social weakness as compared to physical weakness. By physical weakness, we mean the idea that women are actually physically incapable of performing the same tasks as men; by social weakness we mean that social forces rather than physical incapability prevent women from taking the same productive role as men. The lesbian, since she doesn't necessarily play the same reproductive role as most heterosexual women, is still treated as if she had these ''physical weaknesses" of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, etc. And so her oppression on the job must be due to social weaknesses or expectations. We can conclude that it is the ideology of the reproductive role and of the physical status of women and not the reality of women's lives which is the cause of women's oppression in this area. Social rather than physical factors determine women's status in the labor force.

Reproduction and Socialization

The other side of woman's minor role in the labor force (in the ideology of women's work, although in fact it's not minor) is her central role in the family. The combination of sexuality, reproduction and socialization make up that role, but each has a separate relationship to the lesbian. Mitchell, in discussing reproduction, says: "As long as reproduction remained a natural phenomenon, of course, women were effectively doomed to social exploitation. In any sense, they were not 'masters’ of a large part of their lives. They had no choice as to whether or how often to give birth to children (apart from precarious methods of contraception and repeated dangerous abortions); their existence was essentially subject to biological processes outside their control" (p. 107), This has changed quite a bit lately for many women, with birth control and abortion becoming more available. But these methods are not always reliable and are still not available to everyone, so control over reproduction is still an issue for most heterosexual women. Yet many lesbians have been able to choose whether to have children and so have control over the reproductive aspects of their lives. Lesbian mothers usually are women who had heterosexual relationships (usually marriage) early in life which resulted in children., or women who chose deliberately to have children and to raise them with their lesbian lover, and sought out a brief heterosexual relationship for this purpose only.

The lesbian's very existence demonstrates the division between sexuality and reproduction. Mitchell goes on to say that "the fact of overwhelming importance is that easily available contraception threatens to dissociate sexual from reproductive experience -- which all contemporary ideology tried to make inseparable, as the raison d'etre of the family." (p. 108) The threat of lesbianism, like contraception, is in showing that sexual experience doesn't have to result in child bearing and rearing.

The relationship of lesbians to women's role as socializers of children also points out inconsistencies in the idea of "woman's place." Most lesbians, except married lesbians, do not raise children in the context of the nuclear family. Either they do not have children, or they raise them alone, with a lesbian lover, or in a group situation. Changes in the family and living arrangements are becoming more common for women in general, also showing alternatives to the traditional nuclear family.

Institutions of socialization (schools, for example) exclude or degrade gay people. Although there are many gay people working as teachers, nurses, and so •on, they usually must be dishonest about their sexuality for fear of being fired.

Among children and the adults who take care of them, popular images of gay people are used as negative role models. "Boyish" girls are called tomboys and "effeminate" boys are called sissies. Both of these expressions call up the image of "masculine" lesbians and "effeminate" male homosexuals.* Some of this imagery comes from gay adults, but since they are unable to be open and honest about it, they reinforce the negative attitudes among children towards gay people.


Finally we turn to sexuality, where it would seem we would find the focus of lesbian oppression. Once again, the lesbian faces some of the same type of exploitation as straight women. Though usually outside of heterosexual relationships, she still has the female status of sexual object. She too is seen as the potential property of men.

Lesbianism can also shed some light on the tension that exists between the ideas of love and marriage. As Mitchell notes, "The two have been officially harmonized, but the tension between them has never been abolished. There is a formal contradiction between the voluntary contractual character of "Marriage" and the spontaneous uncontrollable character of "love"—the passion that is celebrated precisely for its involuntary force." (p. 114)

She goes on to state that "obviously the main breach in the traditional value-pattern has, so far, been the increase in premarital sexual experience. This is now virtually legitimized in contemporary society. But its implications are explosive for the ideological conception of marriage that dominated this society; that it is an exclusive and permanent bond.” What Mitchell fails to consider is that marriage is not only exclusive and permanent, but heterosexual. In order to fulfill its child-bearing; and rearing functions, the present “model” family has to be limited to heterosexual relationships. The main breach with this has been homosexuality.

Marriage is still held up as the ideal place for sexuality (pre-marital sex is pre-marital, with marriage the ultimate goal). The nature of both heterosexual and homosexual relationships is affected by this. Marriage is an exclusive and permanent contract and, as the model for human relationships, condemns any variations (homosexuality, heterosexual “affairs etc.) Since homosexual relationships are outside the marriage contract and not socially or legally recognized, they are often forced to be the things society condemns – “undependable”, “promiscuous”. It's very difficult for homosexual relationships to survive in this society, and both homosexual and heterosexual relationships can suffer from the restrictions of marriage. The implications of lesbianism for our society's idea of marriage are more explosive even than those of premarital sex because such relationships have demonstrated the gap between spontaneous love and the legalized contract.

Summary of Theory

Lesbian oppression is necessary for the continuance of the present structure of society. The lesbian provides a threefold threat to the family. Her sexuality shows that love and marriage are not necessary complements, and that sexuality can not be subsumed under a voluntary permanent contract, marriage.

Further, by her unwillingness to become the property of a male, she undermines the exclusiveness (and naturally the heterosexuality) of the marriage contract. By her ability to opt out of traditional child rearing patterns she shows that socialization is not necessarily tied to the nuclear family, and that women are not born to be mothers. By her opportunity to choose her reproductive role, she weakens the foundation of the family ideology and demonstrates the divisions within it. Because of the nature of her relationship to the family structure, she also threatens to expose the social coercion necessary for determining women's position in the labor force. In order for this society to continue functioning in the same way, the lesbian must be oppressed since admission of her existence as a natural phenomena, as an alternative, would expose the contradictions between the ideology of women's role and the reality of women's lives.

Finally we wish to look at the relationship between the oppression of male homosexuals, lesbians, and other women. A quick review shows that the situation is quite different, as reflected in the treatment of the two gay groups by society. The male homosexual is aggressively attacked, while the lesbian is more likely to be ignored. This is partly due to the higher status given to men. Male homosexuals are an affront to this status by trying to act like lower status women and therefore are subject to abuse.

But lesbians are "uppity women" whose actions are unimportant, and are treated as isolated cases when it is necessary to be aware of them at all. On a deeper level this ignoring of lesbianism is actually important to the ideological framework of society. While both male homosexuality and lesbianism threaten the idea of a voluntary heterosexual marriage contract as the end-all and be-all of sexuality, it is the lesbian who exposes the distinctions between women's three roles in the family. Acknowledgement of the possibility that women were not subject to reproductive forces outside their control, and that women could choose whether and when to have children would have weakened the bond between reproduction and sexuality, and the ideological basis of the family. The oppression of the lesbian is closely tied to that of heterosexual women, since society needs to oppress the lesbian in order to maintain the ideological basis for women's oppression.

Although this is but a brief introduction to a socialist-feminist analysis of lesbian oppression, we can conclude that any approach to the subject which focuses on only one aspect of that oppression is incomplete. Change in just one area is inadequate, for that particular improvement in women's condition can be offset by societal reinforcement in other areas. Our struggles must recognize the necessity of understanding the connections between the different parts of women’s oppression and also how that oppression is connected to the oppression of lesbians.

Towards Gay Liberation: How Women’s Liberation Can Relate to Gay Issues

The Chicago Women's Liberation Union operates with a three part strategy of service, education and direct action. At the present time, educational and service programs are perhaps the easiest to relate to gay oppression, and direct action struggles more difficult.

The main methods of education and outreach are the Liberation School for Women, WOMANKIND (monthly newspaper), the Speaker's Bureau, and literature. We should aim for the inclusion of discussion of gay issues wherever it’s appropriate, for example, in "Women and Their Bodies" courses in Liberation School, or in speeches we give on the nature of women's oppression. There should be a reappraisal of heterosexual assumptions in more general situations, such as WOMANKIND articles. We must begin to consider what is the best approach to outreach situations and develop a good selection of outreach literature concerning lesbians.

The major service programs at the present time are the Abortion Counselling Service, the Health Project, and the Legal Clinic. Abortion counselling is clearly oriented towards heterosexual experience and cannot be evaluated on any criteria of gay consciousness. The health project is doing pregnancy testing (which also has a heterosexual bias), but it has more potential than abortion counselling to expand into areas of more concern to lesbians, such as STD testing and general gynecological exams and referrals. The legal clinic also could take lesbian rights cases.

Trying to develop a direct action strategy around gay issues is more difficult, because the situation of gay people is different from that of most other oppressed peoples. As Abbott and Love point out in Sappho Was a Right-On Woman, black activists know that there are some Afro-Americans passing for white, but the black liberation movement doesn’t consider these people as its primary constituency. The gay liberation movement, on the other hand, sees as a major part of its constituency people who are passing for straight (at least part of the time). This makes it considerably harder to organize the gay movement, particularly around direct action struggles, because there are people who might feel free to attend a lesbian rap group or a gay dance, but who dare not become involved in a public demonstration for fear of being exposed, losing their job, etc. For this reason, it is crucial that struggles for gay rights should include organizations which are not identified as gay groups, such as women's liberation or civil liberties groups, so that all people can become involved in the struggle without having to declare themselves gay or straight. This does not mean that we do not support the right of lesbians to form separate groups from the predominantly straight women's liberation groups. Separate organizations have been important to the black and women's movements, and are necessary to build leadership from the constituency of the movement (black, women, gay, etc.) and to direct that movement.

* Saying that sexism is the primary oppression leads to the conclusion that destroying sexism will automatically also destroy the structures that came later: racism, capitalism, and imperialism. This would be true if history was like a set of children’s blocks, where removing the bottom one makes the whole pile fall down. But history is more complex and evolutionary, with each stage evolving from the one before it. Even if women’s subjugation was historically the first instance of one group taking power over another, that doesn't tell us much about how we fight it today. Slavery came before the industrial revolution, but the abortion of slavery didn’t bring with it freedom for industrial workers.