Documents from the Women's Liberation Movement
An On-line Archival Collection
Special Collections Library, Duke University
SOUTHERN STUDENT ORGANIZING COMMITTEE P.O. BOX 6403 NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
THE SOUTHERN STUDENT ORGANIZING COMMITTEE is an association of young, concerned Southerners dedicated to social change.
WE WISH TO JOIN with other individuals and groups in building a democratic society predicated on peace and racial and sexual equality; a society in which every person is guaranteed physical well-being and the opportunity to develop to the fullest extent his native abilities.
SSOC AFFIRMS THE RIGHT of each individual to participate in the decision-making processes in those social, economic and political areas which directly influence his life. We envision a world dedicated to free speech and unfettered inquiry; a community of love and cooperation in an economy of abundance.
SSOC WAS FOUNDED in the belief that the fulfillment of this vision will require radical changes in many of America’s present institutions and prevailing attitudes. We will continually seek new avenues to encourage these transformations.
SSOC WAS FOUNDED in the belief that the South has special problems which create difficulties--and opportunities--for a Southern movement for social change; SSOC will devote a substantial proportion of its resources to the solution of these problems. We also believe that the South possesses valuable traditions, in both black and white cultures, which will enable Southerners to make a unique contribution to a truly democratic America.
To Movement Girls
". . . as slightly made
And as hard to break as a rapier blade.''
"Laugh and be proud,"' says Masefield, "to belong to the old proud pageant of man," Right. Despite all - despite Czechoslovakia and Vietnam and ghettos and all the other sordid things -there is still the Parthenon and the spacecraft reaching for the stars and youth turning away from the sordidness. Hope and resolution. The new knighthood, long-haired and grubby, of the New Left. And girl-knights, too. For "man" in that generic sense--mankind includes woman. Joan of Arc and Elizabeth of England, Sappho and Jane Austen are also part of the old proud pageant of man. And the girls at the barricades.
But a girl, especially a Movement girl, can hear the Masefield line in another way; and then her laugh may ring hollow. Too often for women "to belong to the old proud pageant of man" has meant, guise precisely, to belong to men. Animated possessions. Playboy bunnies. Only incredibly rare circumstances plus incredible resolution and sacrifice have enabled a few brilliant women to break out of the bind women are In. Sappho was an aristocrat and a genius, and girls were perhaps freer in ancient Lesbos than they were again to be for twenty six centuries. Elizabeth was a king's daughter, iron-willed and intelligent. Joan had a flame within her. And Jane Austin had -no husband. None of them had. No husband, no kids. So they were able to join mankind, the old proud pageant of man. Royal princes hoped to marry Elizabeth and by ruling her rule England (as Albert was to rule Victoria); but - for England -Elizabeth didn't marry. For a girl, does it have to be one or the other? Intellectual and spiritual fulfillment or sexual and biological fulfillment? And were these magnificent women somehow less fulfilled than Mrs. H with her brood?
A man defines himself primarily in terms of brain, a thinking--creature. Hand and brain, hence overlordship of earth. But he defines woman, despite her equal brain and deft hands, primarily as a biological creature - a vagina and a womb. -He does not expect or want from her anything much more. Consider for a moment the connotations of the word 'woman' with its sound of 'womb' combined with 'man'. Or the word 'female'. Compare the ring of "Here is a man" to "Here is a woman". The former suggests all that a man is: the proud thinker, the brave warrior, the creative artist, the builder, and, of course, the lover. But 'woman' and 'female' alike suggest no more than the biological roles - the wife or mistress or mother of man. Somehow the word 'girl' seems a bit freer of exclusively biological connotations, partly perhaps because it's an independent word, not a feminine variant on the masculine stem, but most!" because of what a girl is -free. Comparatively free, anyway. But regardless of words, to define woman as a biological creature is to err. If all men were stricken by some incapacitating disease, she could take over and run the world. It might even be a more peaceful world. She, too, is homo sapiens with the brain that will take man to the stars. What has happened here?
It is men who over the centuries have defined her as vagina and womb, Because of greater physical strength, and by means of that strength, men reduced her and limited her to her secondary and biological role, just as they also enslaved other men. But physical strength is of virtually no importance, in a world of machinery and brain power is all-important. It is time for a change. It is time to stop wasting half the brain power of the world in kitchen and nursery and secondary jobs -secretaries but never bosses with half the average income of men.
"Oh, but listen" -the cries go up- "this is what girls want. They could change it if they really wanted to; they have the vote. They want to be secondary, they want to lean on men, they want kids. Consider the material instinct! The nesting instinct! It's basic, man! Ask the chicks. Anyway, what about the sacred American home? Wow, we can't break up the home' Men need somebody to take care of them and build them up. That's what a woman is made for, that and kids. Sure the blacks and the Vietnamese (males, of course) have got to be free, but women are already as free as they want to be. They may have brains, but with them instinct is stronger, a whole lot stronger. They've got to have a home and kids or they're not fulfilled. Unmarried women aren't real women."
A myth. A myth like the racist myths we're all too familiar with, designed to explain and perpetuate the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another. But the sexist myth is the greatest and most pervasive myth the world has ever told itself- at once explaining, condoning, and perpetuating male superiority and female inferiority, meanwhile denying -craftiest touch of all! - that to be secondary in everything is at all inferior. Only different. Doors sometimes held open, but the dishmop always. Of course girls want what the sexist myth says they want. They've been conditioned for centuries to want such things. Indoctrinated to want them. Brainwashed. Mothers, themselves brainwashed, tell them from infancy: "No, you can't do that because you're a girl. Here, play with your dolly. The Erector set is for your brother; the doll is for you. No, dear, you can't be a space pilot when you grow up; you're a girl. Because - well, because it's not feminine. The only important thing for a girl is to find a husband. Well, Daddy is a man, so we have to do what he says. You don't want to be a lawyer; that's not a nice thing for a girl to be -or a race-car driver either. You want to be a mother, darling, like me. With darling little girls of your own. No, no, let your brother drive. You have to think what boys like. Don't think-or don't let boys know you think. Make him think he thought of it. Don't be aggressive. Well, boys are supposed to be aggressive; girls should be sweet. Be feminine. Darling, boys don't like girls who know about machinery- nasty dirty engines. Be attractive. Be Miss America. Be a blue-ribbon cow with a blue-ribbon udder. Get an uplift bra and udder things. Act sort of helpless. Be feminine [?]. Be womanly [?]. Don't be independent. Let him decide. Don't think. Wiggle your ass. Be attractive." -Brain-washed, baby!
The foundation of the sexist myth is what might be called (with a nod to Betty Friedan) the maternal mystique. Without that, the sexist myth collapses. Is there really a super-powerful inborn maternal instinct to have and care for children or is there only a sexual drive that may result in children that have to be cared for? Is it true that a woman can find real happiness and fulfillment Only through bearing and caring for children? On the answers to these questions hangs the maternal mystique; and on that hangs the whole sexist myth about woman's role. There is, of course, no doubt of the fact that millions of women are propelled towards motherhood; that is the world's danger- the population explosion. The question is whether the compulsion is inborn and instinctive or conditioned and environmental. It is clear that if, indeed, it is inborn and instinctive, then all women, with the exception of an occasional aberrant individual ("not a real woman"), will have it. But Margaret Mead (Male and Female; Sex and Temperament) has examined and described primitive societies where the women hate child-bearing and child-rearing. All the women - with the possible exception of an occasional aberrant individual ("not a real woman"). The women do the childrearing, but lacking the soft glow of the maternal mystique, they do not pretend to like any part of motherhood. And she describes other primitive societies-the Tchambuli and Zuni peoples - where the men take care of the children while the women are the providers for the family. In still other tribes both men and women have what we would call basic masculine characteristics in equal measure If there were an inborn maternal instinct (beyond the mere animal instinct to nurse the baby to weaning), these primitive women would have it- and they definitely do not. The maternal mystique is shot down. The truth is that woman's maternal 'instinct' that is supposed to be so much more powerful than her mind is simply conditioning.
Naomi Weisstein in a brilliant booklet, "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche as Scientific Law,"* has made it startlingly clear that virtually the entire body of supposed psychological knowledge of women as women is - demonstrably-in error and that the real determinant of what a girl becomes is- demonstrably--what society expects her to become. Consider again what little girls are told. If a girl is taught that she will please by being passive, unassertive, uninterested in machinery and math, emotionally unstable, a home-maker, what will she become? Victorian girls, expected to faint, fluttered down like falling leaves. The only really remarkable thing is that so many defiantly intelligent girls refuse to be what is expected. What enables them to refuse perhaps Is the persistent contradiction girls feel between their awareness of being women and their awareness of being human. Sometimes being human triumphs over even the most intense brainwashing, and then a girl may impiously conclude that a poem or a cure for cancer is as important and fulfilling as adding a few more kids to the teeming cities. But -irrationally the question rises again: Will she not be unfulfilled if she doesn't have children? -Are men without children unfulfilled? Ashley Montagu, the distinguished anthropologist says in The Natural Superiority of Women that both sexes benefit from the experience of caring for a child, but if deprived of that experience, men suffer more from the deprivation than women. (Maybe that primitive society that relegated child-care to the guys had a point.) Shall we now begin to describe men who don't take care of babies as "not real men"? Or shall we just forget the assigning of roles to the sexes? for the fact is that a good many men bear up very well without the 'fulfillment' of child-care -just as a great many women do. Elizabeth the Great of England said near the end of her eventful and splendid 45-year reign: "this I count the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves!" It would be difficult to imagine a fuller, richer life.
So woman as a biological being, driven by overwhelming maternal Instincts, is a myth. The sexist myth. It just isn't true, even though nearly everyone has bought it. Raise fifty boys thinking they're girls, playing with dolls and reading the sticky little-girl stories, and they'll grow up maudlin about motherhood and deft with a diaper. The truth is as simple as this: a girl is a human being with the distinction of humanity, a brain; and she is - incidentally -of the sex that bears children. Not necessarily the sex that cares for them. And since about two kids are all that society can afford to have any woman add to the exploding population, this means that a woman will spend 18 months of her three score years and ten in bearing children. That is, her unique female function will require less time than two years of school. And there will be 68 years left over for human activities. Let's face up to the full implications of this. With the maternal mystique shot down, the whole sexist myth about woman's being secondary and weak and the rest of it falls to pieces. It is false as hell. As false and evil as the parallel racist myths. There is no super maternal instinct, just as there is no such thing as the vaginal orgasm,** just as there is no inborn feminine passivity- all part of the sexist myth designed to keep women dependent on men for all pleasure and fulfullment and to keep them inferior. Much has been written of man's inhumanity to man, but man's inhumanity to woman is still more frightful, for he has attempted to dehumanize her - to make her a little less than fully human. The ultimate inhumanity.
For men the sexist myth is a very good thing indeed. It must be very comfortable to come home from the turbulent arena to be fed and waited on and listened to and encouraged. It's nice to have a clean house and mended socks and a fresh made bed - all the boring menial tasks taken care of. It's comforting to have someone to praise one's deeds in a convincing (if not always convinced) tone. In Adam Bede, Mrs Poyser says shrewdly: "That's what a man wants in a wife, mostly; he wants to make sure o' one fool as 'ull tell him he's wise." And, of course, it's good to have children while leaving all or almost all the work of caring for them to someone else, It's all, in fact, so much of a good thing for men that it's worth all the time and talent they have spent in keeping girls convinced that this is what they want, too, until it is too late. for, of course, there are a great many sad cases of feminine disenchantment in later life; about a third of the marriages end in divorce. The truth is that with prepared foods it requires about three brain cells to do ordinary cooking and cleaning and mending. And does it really require all that many more to raise kids up to the time the schools take over? Yet in at least half the marriages the woman has more brains than her husband, and most of this intelligence goes to waste -or breeds disillusionment and frustration and bitterness at the petty, never-ending, nit-picking tasks her life is made up of. No man - lacking the conditioning and brainwashing--would put up with this womanly [?] existence for a month. He'd forgo marriage first. He has every reason to perpetuate the sexist myth. He, too, has bought it and at least partly believes it, but like the Jew, he thanks God for not making him a woman. And he's anxious to believe that somehow-incomprehensibly- this is what women want.
Ah, but in the New Left guys are committed to freedom and equality and justice. And Movement girls are pretty free, compared to their mothers. Girls go to the meetings with their guys and speak if they want to. And they take to the streets and get clubbed or busted -they certainly have that freedom. What more do they want? But at the meetings, who does most of the talking and who does most of the sitting silent? Remember, there's just as much intelligence flickering about in that silent section. And when a girl does speak, how often is she listened to inattentively -or even interrupted, actually shouted down by some guy with a bigger voice if not a bigger brain? Or how often does the talk resume when she: sits down exactly as though she hadn't spoken? Above all, how often does a girl remain silent for fear she'll seem to some guy- or guys in general- too aggressive, too 'masculine', too intelligent, too independent? There's the rub. She wants la social life, too. Again, how often in a workshop does a guy preside--and hand the note-taking pad, not to the nearest person but to the nearest girl? And who is at that is corralled to make sandwiches or brownies or to clean up. After all, the Movement girl so free?
And marriage in the Movement: here should be the ideal marriage, free and equal. After all, the guy loves her. But even with children postponed and both partners in school or working, who Is going to do -and be expected to do -the cooking and sweeping and button-sewing? Perhaps in tacit admission of the injustice, the guy will say that he tinkers with tile bike or the record player, their transportation or music. But her hobby of painting their pictures will be disallowed; and she goes on doing the boring cosmetic tasks. How often do we encounter the pattern of the girl's getting a job -even if she has to drop out - to keep the guy in school and doing the cooking and cleaning, too? It would be almost unbelievable if we hadn't bought the sexist myth. As it is, what would be unbelievable would be the guy's dropping out and working so she could finish her degree. So the girl is working and the guy is in school - or maybe just tending to the Revolution. And she, once at the meetings and at the demonstrations herself, works and cooks so the guy can go forth, well-fed and carefree, to the confrontations and the adventures and the building of the new world. A new world for men. The black man moves towards freedom; the girl remains just about where women have always been. And bitterness creeps underneath the door.
Movement guys who believe in freedom for black men and red men and yellow men don't believe in it - not really - for the girls they love. They may say they do, and even think they do, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty they will fight with vigour for the sexist myth that the 'chicks' -Is that a fully human word? - don't 'really' want freedom and do 'really' need the 'fullfillment' of being homemakers and supporters of men and mothers: all they need, apart from being screwed. Men, it's true, have also grown up accepting the sexist myth, but they haven't been brainwashed the way their sisters have. And secretly, deep down, they must suspect that girls are people, with minds as good as, and sometimes better than, their own, and with a taste like their own for the more interesting and dramatic aspects of life. But men conceal this demoralizing suspicion from themselves, even as Southern whites speaking of their 'contented Nigras' must have concealed similar suspicions. Dominance entails a degree of corruption.
It is when girls mount an attack on some aspect of the sexist myth that the radical guys, like those same white supremacists, bring out the weapons to enforce the status quo. Suppose the girl wants and is fitted for an active role in the leadership of the group - or just wants real equality at home. Suppose she suggests that this time he stay home and mind the baby while she goes to the meeting or demonstration (wow!). Then comes the explosion: rough anger or aggrieved whimpers or patient superiority. And at the same time the charges that she is being 'unfeminine' or is some sort of a 'latent lesbian' or is 'castrating' him and maybe their marriage was a mistake and a real woman' wouldn't want these things. All of this hideous, underhanded nonsense is calculated to reduce her, if she really loves him, to her old subservient role. Nevertheless, the blindingly simple truth is that there is nothing even faintly unfeminine - or feminine - about being free and equal. Nor about any activities that a girl may choose to engage in. Every activity that is not linked to the love-making game or to actually bearing a child is in the neutral area, neither feminine nor unfeminine but merely human. What is feminine is not certain activities or inferior roles or passivity or even looking up to guys. What is feminine is a style of being, a lightness, a- manner. It's not easy to define, but it is very easy to say -and this is our concern- what it is not. There is an immense neutral area that is neither feminine nor masculine but merely human. It includes the struggle for justice and it includes bathing the baby, planning a confrontation and making brownies, speaking to an idea and washing clothes. All merely human. A girl with brains who claims the right to speak and be listened to is simply being womanly - and if that sounds like a contradiction in terms, it sounds so because of the twisted connotations of the word 'woman'. And just as a girl is not being unfeminine by demanding human rights, so she is not being 'lesbian' when she demands them. She may, indeed, be a lesbian - and what if she is, freedom-lovers! - but that's her own business. It's one way out of the inferiority bag. At all events, she does not demonstrate lesbianism by speaking out at meetings or being aggressive but by loving another girl. Words should perhaps retain a vestige of precision. As to the guy's being, symbolically or psychologically, 'castrated' by the 'bitchwoman', she might retort that all-too-actual rapes run into the tens of thousands annually and symbolical and psychological rapes into astronomical figures and what is he trying to do anyway? The painful fact is that about half the girls in the Movement are more intelligent than about half the guys; and the guys are going to have to accept girls' intelligence and ability without feeling psychologically castrated and without attempting psychological rape. Up to now women have done all the adjusting, pretending (even to themselves!) that their men had all the brains and talent. It's time for people to live honestly. The deception can't now be continued. Generations of girls, buying the sexist myth that at any cost they had to have kids, have accepted men on men's own terms. But the sexist myth is broken, and radical girls everywhere are beginning to realize it.
They are beginning to realize just how they've been brainwashed into accepting with gratitude the status of a minority group -even to the point of letting men (men in the church and men in the government) decide In the matter of abortion what they may do with their own bodies. Someday this will seem too fantastic to be believed. What is happening now is an awakening. It's like the black awakening a few years earlier. And the same explosive potential is there. Women have been second-class citizens far longer than the blacks. And now girls are awakening to the fact that the sexist myth is dead! just as the racist myth is dead -and things will never be the same again. The process of demythologizing racism -so that it may be seen for the ugly thing it is - has been going on for a decade, with results that would have astonished those first sit-inners at Greensboro in 1960. Now sexism is being demythologized - and seen for the even uglier and more degrading thing it is and in the decade of the 70's the epithet 'sexist' may become as scorching as 'racist' is now. And the spurious equality of 'equal but different" roles may be seen as the shoddy partner of "separate but equal". Something is happening here -and Mister Jones will find out what it is.
Radical girls are realizing that their Freedom Movement is happening. And that all freedom begins inside- the will to be free. The will to withstand the pained outcries and pathetic whimpers and underhanded accusations of the men. They will to reply: "I love you, but I'm not selling out. I don't got to have home and kids for a good life - not if it cost my womanhood. An equal love, darling, an equal union -or nothing." There will, of course, be girls who, because they love, sell out. For awhile. And there's another temptation that everyone feels in their more down moments: the temptation to just be taken care of, and screw freedom and responsibility. Men, too, perhaps would sometimes like to abdicate their freedom, but they have a pride of manhood (as well as a dearth of protectors); many former slaves clung to their white man. But the temptation is greater for girls because of the old pattern and because men will try to persuade them that they are surrendering into true womanhood instead of selling out their womanhood. But the sexist myth is dead. There is no intellectual hiding place any more. Never again can there be a believable or honest rationa1ization of the old degrading role of women. And girls will know it. And more and more, they will not sell out.
The struggle for Female Freedom is underway. The calls for freedom are being heard everywhere. And there are calls, too, for girls to withdraw from the present, male-dominated Movement groups and form their own to fight for feminine freedom a freedom that will not wait for the victories black men and Viet men. Nor are the girls about to let themselves be side-tracked this time by token victories, like the vote. This time, genuine freedom and total equality...now!
Whether girls withdraw into their own groups depends partly on Movement men. And they who have--thought so deeply and honestly on freedom and justice for other men ought now, urgently, to start thinking even more deeply and honestly on freedom for their girl-comrades, their sisters. Revolution as we all know comes about because there are new ideas blowing in the wind. But the blood and tears come about because an old guard is too set In its ways, too rigid, to feel the wind of change. French aristocrats and racist whites and Columbia trustees. And sexism is more entrenched than racism. But Movement men are young and radical and flexible -flexible enough? Radical enough?
For, make no mistake about it, this is the most radical cause the Movement has grappled with yet. And in a way the whole Movement is on trial. In other struggles there has always been someone outside to blame. But here there are no rigid petrified old men. Only Movement men -waking up to what they've done -to their sisters. Can they wake up? Can they be the first 'ruling class' in history to renounce their special privilege -the special privilege that has been stifling their sisters? Can they radically read just - fast?
Yet -let no Movement girl hold her breath till it happens. If Movement men can help to destroy the rotten sexist myth, that will be great. But essentially any girl's freedom and full humanity is up to her. Her sisters - and even her brothers - can help and support. But freedom must be born in her mind and heart and will. And every Movement girl must be aware that she has the power of choice but that upon her choice hangs not only her own freedom and full womanhood but also that of her sisters.
This is female Freedom, the new radical idea blowing in the wind. Blowing down the illusions of the sexist myth. There will be pain no doubt for girls and guys alike. Both the comfortable dominance and the sometimes -comforting subservience must go. But there will be compensations. The Movement will have won a victory over itself and will be strengthened. It will be able to say to all the world: "Our commitment to freedom and justice runs this deep. What we have done you can do." Girls will discover what being fully human is. And men well, men who have made woman what she is sometimes seem to find their handiwork rather a bore (as independent women do). But when the sexist myth is utterly destroyed , she will not, of course, be a servant but she will also not be, by God, a bore. Free sisters, no longer sitting silent and intimidated but giving what their minds and spirits have to give. The results, you know, will be the first truly human and civilized society on earth. It just might be worth it.
This is the call that is ringing in our ears like a bell: Freedom for Movement girls . . . now!
* Copies at Elaine Fuller, 1854 Wyoming Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C.
** Freud, so fantastically wrong in his conclusions about woman's sexuality, was no less wrong when he concluded that women had two kinds of orgasms: a 'bad', immature, clitoral orgasm and a 'good', mature, normal, vaginal orgasm -making women for 'normal' pleasure totally dependent on the penis. But Masters and Johnson in their important Human Sexual Response totally destroyed the idea of two kinds of orgasm, proving that there was only one orgasm, the clitoral, arrived at in a variety of ways, thus freeing a good many women of guilt at not having vagina orgasms and contributing to their liberation in other ways. See also Ramparts of Dec 14-28, 1968.
A Note on Words: The parallels between sexism and racism are sharp and clear. Each embodies false assumptions in a myth. And just as a racist is one who proclaims or justifies or assumes the supremacy of one race over another, so a sexist is one who proclaims or justifies or assumes the supremacy of one sex (guess which) over the other. But the meaning of sexist is obvious. And that's the whole point. It's a better word than male chauvinist which is bulky, usually mispronounced, and imprecise in meaning. (A chauvinist is a super-patriot; a male chauvinist, then, is a male super-patriot--not an upholder of male supremacy.) Sexist, on the other hand, is short, precise, instantly understandable. It has a sharp, vicious sound; and it inherits the ugly overtones of racist. It is potentially a word of power. Male chauvinist and male chauvinism should be dropped and sexist and sexism adopted throughout the Movement. "Sex not sexism!" Another word that might well be adopted is female in place of women's liberation. The meaning is precise; it includes both women and girls; and is perhaps a stronger word. Consider Female Liberation Front.
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