-- A STRATEGY FOR THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT-
(Editor's note: The CWLU was an explicitly socialist feminist organization.
This 1972 position paper tried to define what that meant in practical
have written this paper to express and share with other women ideas
for a new strategy for the women's movement. Currently there are two
ideological poles, representing the prevailing tendencies within the
movement. One is the direction toward new lifestyles within a women's
culture, emphasizing personal liberation and growth, and the relationship
of women to women. Given our real need to break loose from the old
patternssocially, psychologically, and economicallyand
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.
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.
feminists, we share both the personal and the structural analysis.
We see a combination of the two as essential if we are to become a
lasting mass movement. We think that it is important to define ourselves
as socialist feminists, and to start conscious organizing around this
strategy. This must be done now because of the current state of our
movement. We have reached a crucial point in our history.
one hand, the strengths of our movement are obvious: it has become
an important force of our time, and it has also succeeded in providing
services and support for some women's immediate needs. Thousands of
women see themselves as part of the movement; a vaguely defined "women's
consciousness" has been widely diffused through rap groups, demonstrations,
action projects, counter-institutional activity, and through the mass
media. Women in the movement have a growing understanding of common
oppression and the imperative of collective solutions. With the realization
that what we saw as personal problems were in fact social ones, we
have come to understand that the solutions must also be social ones.
With the realization that all women lack control over their lives,
we have come to understand that that control can only be gained if
we act together. We have come to understand the specific needs of
various groups of women and that different groups of women have different
ways in which they will fight for control over their own lives.
other hand, the women's movement is currently divided. In most places
it is broken into small groups which are hard to find, hard to join,
and hard to understand politically. At the same time, conservative
but organizationally clever entrepreneurs are attaching themselves
to the movement, and are beginning to determine the politics of large
numbers of people. If our movement is to survive, let alone flourish,
it is time to begin to organize for power. We need to turn consciousness
into action, choose priorities for our struggles, and win. To do this
we need a strategy.
strategy must grow from an understanding of the dynamics of power,
with the realization that those who have power have a vested interest
in preserving it and the institutional forms which maintain it. Wresting
control of the institutions which now oppress us must be our central
effort if women's liberation is to achieve its goals. To reach out
to most women we must address their real needs and self-interests.
moment we think that it is important to argue for a strategy which
will achieve the following three things: 1) it must win reforms that
will objectively improve women's lives; 2) it must give women a sense
of their own power, both potentially and in reality; and 3) it must
alter existing relations of power. We argue here for socialist feminist
organizations. We are not arguing for any one specific organization
but for the successful development of organizations so that we may
be able to learn from experience and bring our movement to its potential
To make this argument we have written this paper. It has been designed
- Socialist Feminismthe 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.
An applied example of our strategy
- Consciousnessthe 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 our movementA
socialist feminist approach to respond to and develop a context
for our programs and concerns.
- Organizationthe importance of building
organizations for the women's liberation movement and some thoughts
on organizational forms.
that we are presenting are probably shared by many women in the movement,
but so far they have not been articulated or identified nationally.
We are not organized partly because our tolerance for different approaches,
which our ideology encourages, makes it hard to present a new or contrary
position. Furthermore, certain factors in our movement work against
any kind of organization. Fears of elitism, the emphasis on personal
alternatives and strengths, fear of failure, disbelief in the possibility
of winning, and even fear of winning, have all played a role in our
addressing the paper now to women who share our ideas of socialist
feminism, whether they are women working in the movement, women who
have never been active, women who have dropped out of the movement,
or women working in mixed organizations. We hope that it may provide
a common language in which we can begin to talk, a context in which
we can meet to plan how to move.
I. SOCIALIST FEMINISM
to identify ourselves with the heritage and future of feminism and
socialism in our struggle for revolution. From feminism we have learned
the fullness of our own potential as women, the strength of women.
We have seen our common self-interest with other women and our common
oppression. Having found these real bonds as women, we realize we
can rely on each other as we fight for liberation. Feminism has moved
us to see more concretely what becomes of people shaped by social
conditions they do not control. We find our love and hate focused
through our feminismlove for other women bound by the
same conditions, hate for the oppression that binds us. A great strength
we find in feminism is the reaffirmation of human values, ideals of
sisterhood: taking care of people, being sensitive to people's needs
and developing potential.
we have come to understand an institutionalized system of oppression
based on the domination of men over women: sexism. Its contradictions
are based on the hostile social relations set into force by this domination.
This antagonism can be mediated by the culture and the flexibility
of the social institutions so that in certain times and places it
seems to be a stable relationship. But the antagonisms cannot be eliminated
and will break out to the surface until there is no longer a system
share a particular conception of feminism that is socialist. It is
one that focuses on how power has been denied women because of their
class position. We see capitalism as an institutionalized form of
oppression based on profit for private owners of publicly-worked-for
wealth. It sets into motion hostile social relations in classes. Those
classes too have their relations mediated through the culture and
institutions. Thus alliances and divisions appear within and between
classes at times clouding the intensity or clarity of their contradiction.
But the basic hostile nature of class relations will be present until
there is no longer a minority owning the productive resources and
getting wealthy from the paid and unpaid labor of the rest
the socialist vision of a humanist world made possible through a redistribution
of wealth and an end to the distinction between the ruling class and
those who are ruled.
come to understand that only through an organized collective response
can we fight such a system. Sisterhood thus also means to us a struggle
for real power over our own lives and the lives of our sisters. Our
personal relations and our political fight merge together and create
our sense of feminism. Through the concept of sisterhood, women have
tried to be responsive to the needs of all women rather than a selected
few, and to support, criticize and encourage other women rather than
competing with them.
Our Vision--Socialist Feminism is Desirable and Not Possible
Under the Existing System
would be among the things we envision in the new order, part of everyday
life for all people:
- free, humane, competent medical care with an emphasis
on preventive medicine, under the service of community organizations
- peoples' control over their own bodies--i.e., access
to safe, free birth control, abortion, sterilization, free from
coercion or social stigma
- attractive, comfortable housing designed to allow
for private and collective living
- varied, nutritious, abundant diet
- social respect for the work people do, understanding
that all jobs can be made socially necessary and important
- democratic councils through which all people control
the decisions which most directly affect their lives on the job,
in the home, and community
- scientific resources geared toward the improvement
of life for all, rather than conquest and destruction through military
and police aggression
- varied, quality consumer products to meet our needs
an end of housework as private, unpaid labor
- redefinition of jobs, with adequate training to prepare
people for jobs of their choice; rotation of jobs to meet the life
cycle needs of those working at them, as well as those receiving
- political and civil liberties which would encourage
the participation of all people in the political life of the country
- disarming of and community control of police
- social responsibility for the raising of children
and free client-controlled childcare available on a 24-hour basis
to accommodate the needs of those who use it and work in it
- free, public quality education integrated with work
and community activities for people of all ages
- freedom to define social and sexual relationships
- a popular culture which enhances rather than degrades
one's self respect and respect for others
- support for internal development and self-determination
for countries around the world
this vision to be more concrete about what a socialist feminist society
might mean or try to be. This vision of society is in direct opposition
to the present one which is based on the domination of the few over
the many through sex, race and class. While there are concessions
that it can make, the present form would not or could not adjust to
the kind of people-oriented society outlined above.
Contradictions--An Alternative Is Necessary
feminism is not only desirable but it is also necessary because the
current system of capitalism is not stable and cannot last in its
present form. However, this does not mean that the society will inevitably
become socialist. A fascist or barbaric form is also an alternative.
The system that will replace capitalism will be determined by the
orientation and power of groups fighting for alternatives. Hence,
we must struggle to bring our vision of socialist feminism to fruition.
are phenomena necessary to maintain the system but by their own internal
logic produce forces destructive to it. A knowledge of them helps
explain the chaos around us, giving a stable context to understand
the historically changing process we are in. Such an understanding
also helps us pick out weak spots of the process, points for defense
and attack. Examples of these contradictions are all around us in
varying degrees of severity. Sexism and capitalism reinforce one another,
shape each other and have shaped us.
Contradictions in Our Power
of the distribution of power and its effect on society's institutions
must recognize the historical context of our oppression. Our oppression
is different from that of our sisters at the turn of the century who
had no legal rights, were confined to the home, and bore children
from maturity to death. Thus, what is liberating at one time may be
a factor of oppression at another. For example, women were denied
their own sexuality because of social attitudes, inadequate birth
control, the shelter of the family, women's private role in the economy,
and the lack of knowledge about their bodies. The development of a
more advanced technology (the pill and machines) and education objectively
gave more freedom to our sisters. At the same time, these developments
also made possible new forms for the oppression of women, increased
sexual objectification and abuse.
realm of women and work, legislation which protected women was of
great benefit in easing their burden. Currently, however, in the name
of easing our burden, such legislation is used to deny women equal
opportunity. Of course, women and all people have a right to safe
and good working conditions; but these need to be fought for all workers.
our changing history helps us to avoid stereotyping our opposition
or own own notions of what liberation means. The development of a
strategy makes it clear that technological advances, legislative changes
or educational developments are not good or bad in themselves. When
we know the context in which any specific change occurs, we can judge
the value of that change for our goals.
learned from history that, in fact, what is progressive for the system
as a whole is also the seeds for its destruction. For example, increasing
the availability of jobs for women and encouraging talented women
to enter the labor force helps employers and strengthens capitalism
but at the same time gives women an opportunity to come together physically
and unionize as a collective force for change. Other women, seeing
this, will raise their expectations and demands on the system for
a larder share than it can offer all.
that these contradictions are the reality in which we live, we can
fight that otherwise supposed "monolith" of control at its
weak points and gain strength for ourselves. If our analysis is correct,
on the basis of those contradictions, women and other powerless people
will find concrete bases for unity to struggle in their self-interest.
Now we see severe contradictions and possibilities for fights for
structural changes on issues of childcare (for adequate care and community
control), inclusion in the political system, jobs and working conditions
for workers' control, etc.
analyses have identified various institutions (e.g., the family or
sexual relations) as the crucial contradiction of sexism. However,
these contradictions reflect the social relations of a sexist society,
or institutions in which sexism occurs. Eliminating these "prime
factors" would neither eliminate sexism nor necessarily create
supportive alternatives for women. As the factory may be the locus
for capitalist exploitation, it is not the basis of that exploitation.
Private ownership and profit is the basis, giving rise to the class
relations. Similarly, the family is a crucial locus of sexist oppression
but it is not the basis of that exploitation. Control by men over
women and the relegation of women to secondary roles is the basis
of sexism, giving rise to a sexist society.
not find helpful the constant cry that before we organize, we need
to develop a complete theory of the nature of our oppression or find
the prime contradiction of our oppression (as if there is just one).
Some analyses, in fact, have led us only to further inaction with
the rationale of not having the total picture.
institution oppresses women as long as the society is based on the
oppression of women. Our struggle against sexism is against those
institutions, social relations and ideas which divide women and keep
them powerless, and subservient to men. At different periods our oppression
may be greater in one area than another, and this should direct our
relations of societyits institutions, culture and ideology--grow
out of this system. But these ideas take on a life of their own, no
longer dependent on or necessary to the economic base. In fact, they
can develop in contradiction to that base. So, for example, racism
or sexism serve much more than narrow economic function. Thus, what
is important is not just redistribution of goods but a change in authority,
control and ideas. Clearly, all elements of a class society are not
reflections of the economic relations; however, in the last instance
(at the point where contradictions become revolutionary in dimension)
economic relations are the crucial link.
at every level of society influence each other and within each level
(economic, social, ideological) they are mirrored and overdetermined.
That is, the pace at which contradictions develop is complex, sometimes
reinforcing, sometimes cancelling each other. Thus, long range planning
and a carefully worked out strategy are needed to continually respond
to the complexity of the contradictions in American society. But we
reflect in our theory that there are contradictions and that an alternative
system is 1) desirable and not possible now, and 2) necessary to provide
a true end to hostilities (between classes, sexes, races, nations).
it futile to argue which is more primary--capitalism or sexism. We
are oppressed by both. As they are systems united against our interests,
so our struggle is against both. This understanding implies more than
women's caucuses in a "movement" organization. What we as
socialist feminists need are organizations which can work for our
particular vision, our self-interest in a way that will guarantee
the combined fight against sexism and capitalism. At times this will
mean independent organizations, at other times joint activity recognizing
situations and general conditions.
The American Context of the Contradictions
of oppression we face are filtered through the unique conditions of
the American situation. We have a very heterogeneous working class,
more diversified by ethnic background, race and job status than most
other countries. This gives us many different strengths but also many
internal divisions. Also, we have a heritage of slavery with an oppressed
black and minority population. This now is as basic to the society
as is sexism and is linked with it.
the power of the ruling class is widespread and disseminated through
every aspect of the society. This makes for a difficult enemyhard
to isolate, focus on at its root, and hold accountable while its ideas
filter into our minds. As the leading world imperialist power, our
national struggle must consider strategic relationships linking our
struggle with those around the world. Also, we live in a society with
relative material comfort. This means that what we have to offer must
not be just economic solutions. The question of quality of life is
not- only to be raised but also ideas for a new social order.
are cut off from our history of left struggle since the destruction
of the left in the fifties. To our great loss this has sometimes denied
us a sense of long-term struggle and strategy development. One of
our overriding responsibilities at this particular historical period
is to develop a strategy which will both call into question the validity
of current economic and social relations and at the same time make
socialist feminism a meaningful possibility. This will hot occur except
as more and more people gain the political experience necessary to
develop a concrete understanding of the viability of our vision.
Role of Ideology in the Development of Strategy
section outlines our ideology--socialist feminism. It is this ideology
which guides the development of our strategy and tactics, sets our
priorities, and gives us an overall focus for our work. The key ideological
understanding is that all issues are political, are based on power,
and that our actions have political implications.
this ideology both out of practice and in reading and discussion--matching
theory to the real world. To an extent ideology plays the role of
consciousness--it is a clear picture of reality which strengthens
our ability to communicate and argue for our position. Stated explicitly,
ideology helps provide links for women, in seeing how one struggle
is related to others. Some individuals, aware of many social contradictions,
may make an intellectual leap -- understand the parts as a whole through
a socialist feminist ideology.
are guided by an ideology Our own particular relationship to ideology
has two special functions. First, it provides ideas which guide us,
defining the framework and reason for our actions. Second, it defines
our view of the world concretely, thus providing a system of analysis
through which women can understand socialist feminism as a world view.
underpinnings for a socialist feminist strategy are laid out here
and should be evident in the paper. But this paper is designed primarily
to propose a strategy. It flows from and should help us define our
ideology even better in the future; but it is a different undertaking--determining
what we should do NOW.
one reason we feel confident in describing a strategy when we do not
have the full blueprint for how revolution will occur. One is not
developed full blown and then the other becomes possible.
is this an attempt at overall strategy. Overall strategy helps us
to see the way to seizure of state power and the critical break from
the past, developing new institutions and a new social order based
on equality of people and redistribution of wealth and resources.
We can only develop an understanding of exactly how this will occur
as we gain experience in building our movement. Continually moving
from political work to further theoretical development and back to
political work is a necessity. Revolution has several stages and it
is important to have an understanding of the historical period we
given the ideology presented here, we have developed the following
priorities for this particular point in time:
- 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.
- We must present intermediate goals that are realizable as well
as desirable to show the necessity and possibility of organizing
- We must develop collective actions.
crucial need is to weaken the power of the ruling class, give women
a sense of their own power, and improve our lives so that we are welded
together as a force prepared to struggle together. Concern with these
issues is the basis for the socialist feminist strategy we outline
in the next sections.
II. POWER AND SISTERHOOD
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.
on power is an institutional focus, one that examines the structure
of existing institutions and determines who, specifically, has power
and how that power is used to oppress women. This includes understanding
the interrelation between the economic sector and the social institutions
which reinforce ruling class control. The family, church, schools
and government priorities which oppress us reflect and reinforce this
control. These are reflected in and are served by the dominant ideology,
a cultural dominance which controls our everyday private lives.
our culture so reflects the ideas of those in power that it is often
difficult to identify who the enemy is. The opposition seems to be
all encompassing and everywhere, hard to pinpoint in origins or basics.
The ruling class, so reinforced, often appears as a monolith of control.
However, as feminists and as socialists we are able to analyze the
basic structures of society and how these are used to oppress women.
This focus on power provides a framework for analyzing how power relations
can be altered.
section, we focus on a strategy for developing mass women's organizations
by focusing on the relationship that we see between reforms and power.
There are three questions crucial to our conception of this relationship:
1) Will the reform materially improve women's lives? 2) Will the reform
give women a sense of their own power? 3) Will the reform alter existing
relations of power?
The Self-Interest of Women
are for liberation not just for abstract reasons and a sense of what
is "correct" for women, or because they will be the "wave
of the future." They are attracted because we present a picture
of reality that they also know, as well as hold out a vision that
they wish to share. But talking of such a reality is not sufficient.
If we are going to be a movement of all women, we must be able to
serve our own self-interest. Unable to fully offer alternatives for
women ourselves, we must be able to hold out the realistic promise
of obtaining some of these alternatives through struggles which can
self-interest because we feel that recently the movement has gotten
far away from thinking about it or what moves women to act, or what
moves us to act. idealism alone now guides us abstractly. We argue
it, we live it, we see it. But we cannot always count on it. We raise
the subject of self-interest to insure that we really are speaking
to women's needs.
we do not emphasize .self-interest in any narrow sense. Self-interest
is not just the accumulation of all physical and concrete needs. We
know women do not live by bread alone and want deeply for themselves
and others the enjoyment of culture and relationships that express
their hopes and accomplishments. Self-interest is the interest of
our sisters and our class. It means bringing into being and recognizing
our consciousness, culture and control of the society.
develop ways to transform women's currently felt interests in line
with our vision. Real sisterhood changes concern from individual needs
into concern for one's group, organizational and class needs. With
strategy and struggle for short-term goals, women can come to perceive
a long-term self-interest. Abstract social goals are defined and given
concrete form in program. We should choose issues for our direct action
campaigns around which women will unite, can win, and on which their
views of what is advantageous to them will change.
example, while destroying racism is a deep concern of ours, we would
not organize white women around racism as an issue. Stated as such,
it is not concrete enough to do something about; and it is not a concern
for most white women. However, uniting white and black groups around
common concerns would be a concrete way to objectively also fight
racism. We also can develop means to discuss and make explicit these
ideas. But direct action for concrete reforms makes our ideology have
want to speak to most women, we have to be serious about winning.
Women have been losers too long. Women will only flock to women's
liberation ideas when they know that it will help them and others
become winners, gain something that they want for themselves and their
daughters and others. This differentiates us from many groups such
as PL, IS, and purist sects more concerned with the correctness of
political principles than in converting a simple, true idea into a
means for winning something for the people involved.
better lives for ourselves and others now. We would not want success
for some at the expense of others, but we want to fight to win for
success. Out of this commitment to our sisters, we have challenged
our own thinking, our own sense of weakness, and our own inability
to push ahead, so we may solidify the gains our movement is making
and move to greater gains.
this treads on our fear of success (often greater than our fears of
failure). "If you win, do you really lose? " Women have
been losers so long, we often resist any chance at material victories.
It is important to consider how we define victories to avoid co-optation.
This goes back to our original criteria for strategy. We fight for
reforms that will improve women's lives but we place priority on developing
struggles which will also give women a sense of their own power and
limit the arbitrary power of those in control.
not believe that reform built on reform will eventually lead to socialism
or women's liberation. We anticipate a severe rift in social relations
or many such breaks prior to full alterations in power. But we think
that the increased demands for real benefits created by this strategy
will heighten contradictions and prepare us for struggles leading
to the rift. The nature of this revolution and the future that follows
it will bet ~ fined by the struggles leading up to it.
as we are not effective, winning, feeling our strength, sometimes
there is a danger of resentment toward our sisters with statements
like, "why is it they can't see and they won't join us? "
This will happen to an extent as long as we're not effective. The
main burden is on us to provide activity that women will want to join.
If women do not join us, our first thought must be: what are we doing
that is not clear enough, not related sufficiently to the specific
problems women are facing that they are not joining us? Of course,
there are many reasons women may not join us at certain times, for
example, threats from their husbands, fear of social identification,
lack of babysitters or real disagreements. Our task is finding ways
to develop and build our strength as a movement. To this end we propose
Power and Reform
feminist strategy aims at realigning power relations through the process
of building a base of power for women through a mass movement united
around struggling for our self-interest Our goal is to build this
movement. We oppose the utopian position which argues against any
change until the perfect solution is possible. On the other hand,
we also are not for working on any and every reform action that presents
itself. Our strategy allows us to define priorities and timetables
to lend structure to issues in terms of particular situations.
about what reforms to fight for and how. must be made on the basis
of the following three criteria:
1. WILL THE REFORM MATERIALLY IMPROVE WOMEN'S LIVES? Our
lives as women are oppressive in many ways; therefore we want to
work to improve our lives now. Whatever our priorities, we must
focus on meeting our immediate needs. When we can show that we can
meet women's needs they will want to join us. While we believe that
sexist capitalism cannot implement all of the reforms we are for,
it is possible to use its own rules against itself. That is, we
can force change through pressure. Thus, our strategy is quite different
from that of raising maximalist demandsdemanding something
that can't be done under capitalism in order to prove that capitalism
is bad. Many reforms are really beneficial to us, can be won and
build our confidence. Nevertheless, the reform itself is not the
only end. We also are oppressed by our real (and felt) lack of power
to control that reform.
2. WILL THE STRUGGLE FOR THE REFORM GIVE WOMEN A SENSE OF THEIR
OWN POWER? We need to struggle around issues where success is
obviously our victory rather than a gift from those in power. Our
struggle for reforms must build our movement. Our movement's strength
can only be sustained through organizations. Through organizations,
individual women can collectively have a sense of their power. Otherwise,
even when we win, we don't know it or can't claim it. (Who forced
troop withdrawals in Indochinathe President or the movement?
Who forced abortion law reform in New Yorkthe state
legislature or the women's movement?). Through organizations, one
victory builds on another. They have a life longer than the individual
participants and strength greater than their parts.
3. WILL THE REFORM ALTER EXISTING RELATIONS OF POWER? Women
in American society have little control over any aspect of our lives.
We want not only concrete improvements but the right to decide on
those improvements and priorities. We want power restructured, wealth
redistributed, and an end to exploitation. Those most closely affected
by institutions have the right to decide what those institutions
do. (This means councils of workers, consumers of an institution's
services, parents in childcare centers, etc.)
projects now, of great value to our movement, work on only one or
two of the above points. The third is the most difficult and least
developed in our movement. Specific battles may not win or even try
to work on all three levels. But our lasting success will depend ore
interrelating the three points on and among projects.
Toleration and Priorities
to emphasize the need for a multi-level approach to womens liberation.
Having such an approach, we can avoid some of the pitfalls of dogmatic
sectarianism about the correctness of a single issue or program. We
must be open and encourage alternatives. The need for a coherent strategy
which encompasses education, service and action--but mixes them consciously--cannot
be emphasized too much. There are some moments when an issue is ripe
and other times when it is important, but will not move women, cannot
be won and does not speak to women's felt needs.
cannot degenerate into a vague pluralism that says any effort is as
good as any other effort. We can be anti-sectarian, encourage a variety
of approaches and know that we must move to many approaches end' reach
the many aspects of our lives as women. At the same time, we can follow
a coherent strategy to set priorities for immediate work that we think
are important. Of course, the test of tolerance and sectarianism is
in reality. We must see how we are perceived, received and grow. Reality
is a good cure.
Applying the Three Criteria
almost any activity that works for women. At this time, however, we
wish to emphasize the importance of all three criteria mentioned earlier:
improving women's lives, giving women a sense of their power, and
altering relations of power. The three criteria should be applied
to any proposed activity.
abortion issue, for example, the socialist feminist approach is different
from seeking only legislative change by working through closed channels
and thereby maintaining the right of those in power to make the rules.
Victories on the abortion issue must be WON by women actively fighting
for their rights. During the struggle it is important to focus on
who is making and influencing decisions about abortion and to identify
these individuals and institutions to women.
is broader than a "write your senator" campaign. It means,
for example, finding out and publicizing the church groups lobbying
against abortion and challenging their tax-exempt status for lobbying.
It also means finding out what corporate executives are on those church
'boards and launching consumer action against them and their businesses
for their support of the church's lobby. Any campaign undertaken should
identify such interconnections. We must unite women in direct, political
action to change such repressive measures as the abortion law and
at the same time focus on the power relations of those involved. Victories
can be achieved and our campaigns are specific enough so that we can
measure our success or failures.
action may include a variety of activities, such as:
- Confrontation with specific demands
- Forcing an issue at a public hearing
- Embarrassment pressure--picketing, for example
- Public expose in the press or in a hearing
- Mass public protest meeting
- Mass demonstration tied to a specific campaign
- Guerilla and dramatic activities (WITCH, etc.)
- Legal, disruptive actionsstrikes, boycotts,
stockholders meetings, for example.
- Civil disobedience--This may be useful on occasion,
but we think at many times other tactics may be just as effective,
less alienating to potential allies, and less costly.
is activity selected should be related to an overall strategy around
a particular issue and with an eye toward what will achieve the reform
and build the movement.
action approach described above is different from many activities
of such groups as Moratorium which organized direct actions without
a permanent mass organizational framework. Such groups do not involve
a mass of women in continuing, persistent work and do not focus on
targets that can result both in reform victories and a shift of power
relations. Large demonstrations are fine to focus attention on an
abstract issue of a generalized principle (such as free abortion on
demand, no forced sterilization, free 24-hour client-controlled childcare,
etc.). However, to win in both the above senses, the demand must be
directed toward some individual in the institution from whom a response
is demanded and who actually has the power to do something.
such as SWP-YSA do not acknowledge the importance of these power demands
in mass struggles. They have no intermediate strategy to move from
reform to revolution such as this workers' or client control strategy
provides. As a result, they fluctuate between ultimate demands with
no possibility of winning (free, 24-hour child-care, for example)
and minimal reform demands (the right to leaflet, for example) unable
to build a challenge to existing power relations.
Issues for further consideration
is without difficulties, or right for every circumstance. This strategy
we have found most useful for a great variety of current situations.
We need to further develop the ideas, learning from action, so that
we not only win, but win what we want. As we develop, we need to keep
in mind issues such as the following:
- This is an intermediate strategy. We must re-evaluate
our work to insure that we move along a revolutionary trajectory.
- We must provide ways that people can move from an
understanding of specific issues, to an understanding of inter-related
- We need keep both ultimate and immediate concerns
in mind. We must be conscious of ways in which our ideology is defined
and implied in specific struggles. Doing so, we must take into account
the needs and strengths of the individuals, their understanding
of what is possible and the nature of the opposition.
do all these things, we need reference groups which can put our organizing
efforts into context. Such groups help us choose priorities between
struggles and develop strategy for revolutionary struggles.
Role of Counter-institutions
trend in the current women's movement is to organize counter-institutional
projects to directly meet the needs of women. This work is important
for the women's movement but must occur in the context of a movement
which has other foci as well.
can do a number of things. They can help to raise the expectations
of women who use and staff the institutions as to what is possible.
They can provide services which meet the needs of women now. They
can demonstrate that the problems addressed are social in nature and
in solution. They convey to the broad constituencies we seek to address
that we have positive programs to offer for solving the problems we
draw attention to, and that we are not simply negative in orientation.
In contrast to consciousness-raising, such programs dispel the specter
of endless problems without apparent solutions.
a feminist-sponsored health center provides a needed service that
materially improves our immediate condition. It demonstrates that
women acting together can change some of their circumstances. It can
contribute to building an organized base of power among women ready
to fight on an ongoing basis for their rights.
counter institutions have some limitations. They may foster false
optimism about change by indicating that problems can be solved in
the spaces between existing institutions. Such programs could take
up all the time of more than all of us involved in the present movement
and never meet all the needs. Such activities cannot alter the power
relations if they make no demands on those in power.
the importance of combining counter-institutions with direct action
organizing to build on the strengths of each. Such organizing focuses
demands on social institutions, thus countering the conclusion that
society is unchangeable. It also counters an over-optimism about the
potential of self-help to change women's lives by pressing the point
that significant changes can be made for all women only through far-reaching
changes in power relations. The most useful role of the counter-institutional
projects is providing a vision for an alternative and at the same
time demonstrating the need for demanding change from those in power.
How Do We Get Power?
(Or Building and Maintaining Real Sisterhood)
specifically on political or direct action, how do we incorporate
this approach into our movement? We believe that many women would
join us if we had the structures and activities so they could become
involved in struggles on concrete issues. We need a perspective which
will allow us to undertake both short and long term struggles and
campaigns which have a focus on winning. Following is a partial summary
of the criteria we feel must be considered in selecting and planning
a program for direct action:
The goals of the movement should be ones which can:
- broaden and relate to many aspects of women's lives
- convert a vision into specific activity
- help women gain self-respect
- unite women and build a mass organization because
it focuses on women's needs
- identify the felt needs that would move women to fight
on the issue
A project should be chosen so that it:
- moves women into direct action and groups where they
can evaluate their efforts (e.g. ongoing organizations)
- can identify specifically what institutions and who
within those institutions exercises control over the issue and has
the power to make reforms in response to pressure
- identifies what a victory would be
The project should:
- be broken into parts and fought as reforms that can
conceivably be won
- provide step-by-step activity for involvement
Application of the Strategy: An Example
a concrete strategy, it is necessary to plan full campaigns having
many aspects which translate a general issue into an implementable
program. Here is an example of how some of us developed one projectfighting
for child care with the Action Committee for Decent Childcare. We
based this project on the kinds of ideas offered in this paper.
decided that a struggle for free, 24-hour, client-controlled childcare
would meet our ideological criteria. However, this position, as an
initial statement of our goals, had an immediate weakness. Raising
this demand before we had an organization alienated us from even the
women who later became our strongest allies. Our vision seemed so
wild-eyed, so far from the existing situation, that it appeared completely
unrealistic. Once we won some specific demands, raising these same
ideals became more rational and acceptable because the possibility
was realwomen began to gain a sense of their own power.
be pointed out that we had decided to form a mass organization. We
were attempting to reach a different group of women from those already
in the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, an anti-capitalist feminist
organization. We felt that women who worked with the Action Committee
for Decent Childcare would, at some point, become interested in joining
CWLU. Such women would probably never join a women's liberation organization
without some intermediate alternative. But whether or not they joined
CWLU, the movement's ideas and strength would grow with this mass
not to say that it is necessary to have an organization like CWLU
before a more mass based organization can be built. Rather, in individual
cities, women will need to determine who they are attempting to reach,
and the specific political context of their situation.
also not opposed to raising our vision as a demand; and in fact, there
are some instances where that may be very important. Out of our experience,
however, we learned the significance of fully understanding who the
constituency is, and what the organization is attempting to accomplish.
problem we faced was in our understanding of our oppression as women.
We knew that childcare was an issue for many women, but failed to
take into consideration the problems such women face. The very women
we hoped to involve (those with young children) were among the least
likely to ever be active in any kind of social movement. They simply
don't have the time (because they don't have childcare), are less
mobile, and don't think of themselves as active community members.
The prevailing notion that women need something to do after their
children are in school also makes these women less likely to consider
Development of a strategy
three months gathering information about every aspect of the issue
of childcare and considering all of the alternatives for vying for
power. After the initial period, research was used to serve actions.
We immediately eliminated the federal level since it is too remote
to attack without a national organization to force some change. However,
in instances where local offices really have power they might be appropriate
targets. State and local agencies (and perhaps a few federal branches
with responsibility for implementing guidelines or overseeing state
and local programs) appeared to be easier and more successful targets.
With the state level dominated by Republicans and the local level
by Democrats (as is often the case) we also considered ways to play
one off against the other.
out this research we attempted to determine the real sources of power
versus the window dressing or public relations functions. With childcare,
a problem exists, because there really is no money allocated. Therefore
there is little real power that can be fought for. It is much more
ambitious to demand that childcare be a priority (which necessitates
an appropriation of funds) than to redirect existing funding, increase,
or control it.
focus for our initial work included consideration of:
1. Whose Problem Is It?
Who is our possible constituency? How do they see the problem? Each
aspect should be considered, and specific appeals and actions developed
for each. For example, women who need child care are those who:
a. work days or nights
b. are in schools or training programs
c. can't afford child carepoor, middle-class
d. are accused of child abuse or are in rehabilitation programs
(i.e., drug abuse programs often have large budgets)
e. want to go off welfare or are being pushed off
f. want to influence the type of care available for their children
(including part-time and nursery school users, who often see themselves
separately from full child care users.)
g. need child care to go shopping or on other errands
h. need it for social service work or civic responsibilities (i.e.,
churches, hospitals and shopping centers could be made responsible
to their constituencies and supporters and people who keep them
i. are single parents and must work
j. want a few hours away from their children (Setting up tot lots
where housewives can socialize might bring such women together,
breaking down their isolation doing private work in the home.)
k. just like to work with children
l. own day care centers and can't keep them going with the high
cost and rigid requirements
m. as taxpayers, want their money to be used in the interests of
2. What are the Sources of the Problem?
This included research into the various public and private interests
involved, such as:
- Department of Children and Family Services
- Community Coordinated Childcare (4C's)
- Department of Public Aid
- State Legislature
- Department of Human Resources
- City Council
- City departments with responsibility for licensing
- Department Stores
- Shopping Centers
- Building Contractors (Also federal guidelines for
contractors, e.g. HUD codes)
3. Who has Information About the Problem?
we talked with various bureaucrats, researchers, lobbying groups,
social service agencies, local community organizations, social service
groups and groups of women working to open childcare centers.
The Initial Strategy Undertaken.
institutional targets such as: collegesstudents and staff;
churchesparishoners and local communities; industryemployees.
Each had some limitations as an initial project. For colleges, this
seemed to be a more localized struggle where we would need to engage
in campus organizing from the beginning and where we did not have
an initial base. For churches there seemed to be some interest but
most could not move ahead because of licensing laws in the city. For
industry, we focused on developing contacts within unionized plants,
for the union is the agent of the employees and had no reason to trust
us before we had developed a real organization. We also considered
welfare but here, too, we did not have the initial base for our first
examining each of the above areas with the continual question of what
we could do to meet women's real needs, give women a sense of their
power and alter power relations, we decided on an initial strategy.
Given the funding situation, we focused on licensing, an equally great
problem, but one that was more manageable. Existing licensing laws
prevented centers from opening rather than encouraging new centers.
became involved because of their need for childcare. Day care operators
joined because we could provide services, communication and expose
their problems with the city government in order to win real changes.
This meant they took risks of retaliation by the city (any center
can be closed down by using the arbitrary licensing laws against them)
When enough operators were involved and singling out any one individual
became difficult. Those who were vulnerable had parents organized
for protection (with community hearings, tours for the press of beautiful
centers about to be closed down for lack of political pull).
important aspect in this issue is women's concern as taxpayers that
their taxes are being used against their interests. This also broadened
who joined uswomen who were not mothers, but concerned
about women and as taxpayers felt they had a right to speak up.
initially we believed our constituency would be all white (this was
our base in the beginning), we very successfully developed a black
and white organization on the basis of self-interest. In a black area,
women demanded the creation of child care centers, because there were
none. In an adjoining white area, women demanded that the few existing
centers not be closed down. Once united, other common issues were
that a few initial victories are extremely important for self-confidence.
A reputation that you can win brings others into the organization.
year, the Action Committee for Decent Childcare:
- forced the city to undertake a complete review of all
- forced the Department of Human Resources to end closed-door
meetings on childcare.
- sponsored the first public meeting with the Department
of Human Resources in August 1971 on day care licensing problems.
- forced the city to set up a committee under Murrell Syler,
Director of Childcare Services in the Mayor's Office, to review
licensing (ACDC had half of the members on that committee).
- written an analysis of the current codes, with recommendations
for change that were used as the basis for the new licensing codes.
- sponsored a series of community meetings in Hyde Park,
the Southwest side, and the North side areas to which state representatives,
senators, and aldermen were invited to present their positions on
day care and to pledge support for specific proposals.
- started moving toward community control of childcare.
- made existing childcare groups more active in pressing
struggles will be to win changes, institution by institution, while
other struggles are, going on for women's community decision-making
over licensing and funding in the city (which we have won partial
work focused on how to build an organization that could implement
our strategy. Locally-based community groups working both on their
own local issues and on concerns which required city-wide action seemed
(and were) the best alternative. Such groups are particularly important
when working with a group of women who are not very mobile and at
the same time heighten the democracy of the organization and provide
for the development of skills among the women involved. We also found
it necessary to develop different structures for the many different
roles women wanted and could playlocal chapters, forums,
day care operator councils, plus a steering committee for coordination
and decision-making In the organization.
our experience, we believe that it is important to continually assess
how the activities of the organization build its base and its power.
All actions should be geared toward building the organization as well
as the importance of the issue. When a decision is made to do an action
because it is abstractly worthwhile, ways should be built in to expand
the organizationin resources, finances, new constituencies,
prestige, publicity (that will later add to our strength).
discovered that it is crucial to have full-time organizers for sustained
activity. Initial funding is also necessary to ensure the maintenance
of the day-to-day operations of the organization. Once off the ground,
an organization can raise its own funds but the initial period is
most difficult. Lacking funds, the Action Committee has been forced
to suspend operation.
NOTE: We offer training sessions for women interested in organizations
such as the one described above.
is a process by which women come to understand the nature of reality
so that they may change it. One's consciousness is related to one's
objective conditions. It is the subtle interplay between the two (consciousness
and conditions) which we emphasize in this section.
is a word that has been used very loosely and has meant many things:
the development of a positive self-image, individual change and growth,
new emotional and sexual relationships with other women, or any of
these coupled with the more general notion of a women's culture. It
also means an understanding of how power is used in society and the
experience of changing that society.
of consciousness-raising has been an extremely significant contribution
of the women's movement The whole notion of support and sisterhood
has arisen as a result of women's realization of their prescribed
roles and attitudes toward one another. Women have come both to feel
less isolated through consciousness-raising and to learn that women's
isolation is a social phenomenon We have come to understand more about
the incredible problems which women confront in daily life and to
respect the solutions we have been forced to make for survival. Consciousness
has therefore been both a source of strength to women and a source
of personal analysis. We have learned, for example, some sense of
how power is used because we can see how it functions in individual
Consciousness and Objective Conditions
is one's awareness of her own fleas about her situation and how the
world functions What excites us about women's liberation consciousness
is that we think it is the most useful description of reality for
most women. This is the key to a socialist feminist understanding
of consciousness. We believe that we see a basic reality, and it is
this true picture of how things are and how they got that way that,
primarily, we have to offer. We are not suggesting one of many ways
that things might be working nowwe offer a description
of the underlying relationships. This understanding makes us more
effective It is useful to women so that they can act and change what
they understand. Socialist feminist consciousness is of such value
because it is useful, it is true.
there is a great interplay between objective conditionsthe
various material and social arrangements of our livesand
consciousness. With material changes such as children, a mate, a home,
one often becomes more circumspect because such a person must be able
to provide for others (by law and social pressure). Or, a sister is
not treated equitably (in job, school, social situations) or denied
rights she had come to expect and suddenly the women's movement is
no longer just "them." In everyday ways, objective conditions
affect our minds.
may also come through receiving information which touches our crucial
values (values which may ordinarily function to maintain us where
we are) and jolts us. It may be of women dying from illegal abortions
or of My Lai massacres. Information changes our consciousness (somewhat
ahead of our conditions) by putting our lives into a new context.
Usually, we think, this change happens in ways consistent with women's
pasts rather than through absolute, abrupt breaks from it.
a change in specific conditions and consciousness occur simultaneously,
part of a process developing over months, if not a lifetime. Our material
lives change and our thoughts about it and ourselves change. (Thus,
Freud is so popular in relating all events to childhood because we
are, of course, the same people or had the same origins as our "old"
self). One situation or series of situations may be a catalyst to
a new perception of reality, but this is often a culmination of other
movement we think it is important to emphasize the obvious about consciousness.
We all have consciousness. We all have contradictions in our own "level"
or "levels" of consciousness. Certain factors of our lives
may mean that we emphasize certain things we see to be true; and ignore,
or deny, or just agree to live with others. Our movement needs to
offer women feasible alternatives. These new alternatives can help
close the contradictions with which they live. (The same may be said
is important that what we offer is a view of reality. For example,
women often cannot see who their enemy is because he is not right
on the scene. So, often people vent their anger on a relatively powerless
agent who is carrying out another's will (e.g., the waitress) or cannot
function well in the conditions but who does not have the power (alone)
to change (teacher, mother). What we have that makes us attractive,
is that we see the roots. That is the meaning of the word "radical."
What Our Consciousness Has To Offer
does our conception of consciousness have to offer? It allows women
to generalize from their specific situation or series of situations
to see patterns. This provides a picture of reality that will allow
them to function better because the pieces fit. But we can provide
more than a pattern: we identify causes for events. Only if we understand
these causes will we know how to change those events (not repeat or
be overwhelmed by them). It provides a systematic way to develop our
ideas from ideology to strategy, to program and tactics, because it
identifies things in relation to their importance in reaching our
understand consciousness raising in relation to objective conditions.
Women cannot have "higher consciousness" by trying harder.
There are real limitations on women. Just presenting alternatives
does not often make them adequate or real to women. We must always
relate to the lives of women, in the concrete form.
wonderful thing that a consciousness-raising group does is to help
us see that problems we once felt were personal are social. We must
continue to see how we are not so different from most women. We react
to so many of the same objective conditions (from the pill, economic
job scarcity, more youth in college, etc). This helps to keep things
in perspective. For example, it is not women's liberation that is
making problems for the nuclear family. In part, we are an outgrowth
of many of its problems. In part, we affect its future and the alternatives
offered. So there is the constant interplay of objective and subjective
forces. Popularized women's liberation consciousness itself (as we
all know) is not what causes social change.
Implications of Socialist Feminist Consciousness
our paper with a three-point guideline to strategy: 1) win real concrete
reforms that meet women's needs; 2) give women a sense of their own
power; 3) alter the relations of power. Our understanding of consciousness
allows us to understand the real (root) needs of women, and the ways
in which our powerlessness affects us and gives us the desire to alter
relations of power.
talk and action, constantly, describing a place for emphasizing each.
It helps us set priorities in terms of a concrete situation. (Thus
we move away from abstractly "pure" issues, but see each
issue in a specific situation as one that may or may not demand our
attention, depending on how it relates to the lives of the women we
are able to address and other strategic considerations. )
make us fairly tolerant of what choices women make with their lives
because we see how bound rip conscious decisions are with immediate
situations. We have a great belief in the almost infinite perfectability
of people (given changes in social institutions and generations of
change in consciousness). But we are cautious about the extent of
personal perfection. We know no one can be liberated in this society,
no matter what their consciousness. We are bound in networks of limitations,
immediate, specific and affecting our whole lives.
consciousness is not abstract (though it may at any one point be unclear).
It does not come from an individual's mind (though intellectual focus
develops it). It is not necessarily reflected in all personal actions
of an individual, but is in social actions. A socialist feminist consciousness
is certainly not a natural or spontaneous process that will always
happen when a group of women come together. As events move quickly
to clarify social forces (as declarations of war, arrests, economic
hard times, increased divorce rate, etc. often move events), so our
consciousness is clarified. Consciousness is a key to power, not only
in our individual lives, but as a social force coming into its own
and able to work on its own behalf.
have moved us to believe in women's liberation. Talking to other women,
we came to realize our oppression by understanding the nature of our
upbringing and of our lives as, women. However, the changes we think
will be most permanent in us are those made by participating in a
variety of activities, which, through our involvement, lead us to
further understanding and change. In the process of struggling to
change our oppression, me begin to understand both the specific forms
of oppression and how they are related to one another.
that ideology guided only by reflection and discussion loses touch
with reality and-is not accepted by most women. Further, if our movement
is to continue to expand and to move forward to change our oppression
as women, we must unite in a variety of activities which will build
our power base. This in turn further develops our ideology and our
understanding of the oppression of women.
of consciousness-raising used most frequently in the women's movement
has been the rap group. The fact of group participation has been very
important in changing women's feelings of isolation and individuality.
It has made it easier for us to understand the commonality of interest
among all women and what is necessary for change. The rap group format
is one in which everyone can contribute. Women can develop skills
through understanding one another's experience and dealing with the
feelings that experience has created. But because consciousness and
conditions are intertwined, rap groups by themselves may be a dead
lead to a concentration on the improvement of ideas or one's self
with no eye toward action. The purism of endless refining and redefining
should not be mistaken for success. A good analysis is not equal to
action. Consciousness must not become an end in itself and an inhibitor
to seizing power. We are arguing neither for an uncritical turn of
mind nor for the blissful ignorance of all but the most narrow issues
for the many. We are arguing that ideology must be integrated into
the on-going life of the movement, and that this is best done in relation
to and with testing, by concrete changes resulting from actions.
rap group format may present another obstacle to the full development
of the movement. Discovering more and more examples of the effects
of oppression on personal life can make the task of social and personal
change seem impossible. It is not difficult to reach the stage where
any work toward liberation seems irrelevant because early socialization
practices cannot be changed at once. Direct action supplements rap
groups. It provides opportunities to develop and use new skills while
bringing about change. In this context, both rap groups and the development
of a socialist feminist analysis can proceed without the dangers of
purism or hopelessness.
development of women's capabilities may be hampered by the very things
in consciousness-raising which at fast seem to stimulate so much growth.
Women come together as sisters on the basis of shared weakness and
common problems. As women grow stronger, they themselves may become
frightened; sometimes the strength of one may divide the others from
her. Thus sisterhood may be lost as strength is gained.
more concrete what we mean by socialist feminism, in this section
we address a few issues currently facing the women's movement. For
each of these issues we sketch what we see as a socialist feminist
context. The issues include independent women's organizations separatism,
class organizing, counter-culture, lesbianism and vanguards.
Independent Women's Organizations
the isolation and unorganized state of the women's movement in a number
of areas of the country, many women who might agree with ideas presented
here are not presently working as part of the independent women's
movement. Many women have filtered back into mixed organizations or
left the women's movement, feeling that it rejected their skills.
in mixed organizations who know they are for women's liberation are
caught in the bind of either feeling guilty or hostile to the independent
women's movement (because they feel that the movement condemns them
for the choice they made). Our concerns, we expect, are shared by
many women in mixed organizations. We hope emphasizing the need for
an independent women's movement also helps develop ways for working
with women and men in mixed organizations.
for developing organizations and having organizational pride. This
is a point many act as if we had "overcome." We argue for
developing leaders and organizers responsible to such organizations
and through them to us in the movement. A few years ago it was not
"in" to be for organizers. Now leaders are "out."
We argue for a leadership that is responsible (again, not so obvious
to some) and useful to all of us. There are so many more points, but
these should provide some for argument and discussion.
fates are bound with that of the independent women's movement. The
movement's advances will concretely affect the lives of all other
women. So too, individual women's advances and defeats, multiplied,
will help shape the movement.
reasons for women working with women have been said often, and still
are true. Bias with any group with common interests, once those interests
are identified, much is shared and a common perspective can be developed
more readily. It is easier to follow our own agenda. (At least it
lessens the likelihood of forgetting our own self-interest, which
is so often submerged in other organizations and institutions). Of
course, there are situations in which organizational problems develop
among women. We find women are just nicer to work with than men.
most basic argument for the independent women's movement and organizations
is that the relations of power are unequal between women and men.
As long as this is true, men will maintain control unless we have
separate organizations to identify our needs and strengths. Unequals,
treated superficially as equals, will remain unequals. This will be
true unless women come together on the basis of self-respect and separate
organizations or caucuses.
this partly in the interest of ever maintaining democratic and effective
mixed organizations. Women must be united (in caucuses or separate
women's groups) to act on our own program. Otherwise, feeling our
ineffectiveness, we will focus solely on attacking chauvinism in organizations
in a more and more personalized form. Without a strong caucus through
which women can be strong, they sufferfor example, being
told they are "not political" or to submerge their desire
to fight on women's concerns. Organizations also suffer, unable to
proceed, having-to deal with internal problems of chauvinism at every
step. Alternatively, they will not deal with chauvinism et' all.
feminists, we argue for using the principles of power realities to
guide democracy in the organization. Women, in mixed organizations,
would fight for and win the program they wanted and know they had
won it. This would begin to alter structurally the relations of power
in the mixed organization through common struggles in action. At the
same time, we must remember our greatest enemies are those in or serving
the ruling class.
Working With Men
men as a group have vested interests opposed to those of women as
a group. We will, for example, cut into their jobs, challenge their
position of comfort in the family, and take personal power away from
them. In the short-run, and in some ways, men are an enemy.
Why work with men at all?
points, our interests and the interests of men are shared. We commonly
are united in our class position against such things as bad health
care, insufficient jobs, long hours and a powerlessness to affect
priority decisions of our society. Also, at points, sexism oppresses
men. At these points, we can join in common struggle (e.g., they are
trained to kill and be killed, have tenderness drilled -out of them).
Even then, we must be able to organize separately so that we may come
women have historic and emotional bonds to men. When men and women
come together, it is out of the forces of social reality. Those social
bonds are not destroyed by ideological argument alone, but only when
that social reality changes. In many cases, women have no real choice
but marriage for survival, self-respect and warmth or love. We must
look at the lives of most women with fewer assumptions to discover
what their real alternatives are and in what is their happiness. Our
perspective for our struggle must not deny to these women the sources
of support they have found in the past (possibly through men or children).
has sometimes been a weakening of the skills men have to offer to
the movement, by excessive guilt-tripping when men were told to give
up their chauvinism. True, the struggle against chauvinism is a constant
one. But chauvinism is all around us, constantly conditioning us,
and will be most effectively overcome through attacking its institutional
roots, through women united against it. We assume men (and we) will
reflect chauvinism. Too often our actions contradict our knowledge
that originally brought US togetheryou cannot overcome
social problems with personal solutions. Thus a "position"
on men should be tactical: it varies with the real circumstances.
A position on men is not our program. Sexism, not men, is our politcal
has two meanings now in the movement. One is an ideological position
arguing for the separate development of men and women as fully as
possible. Another is a tactical position, arguing for separate organizations
or life alternatives. We too argue for separate organizations as a
tactical decision. However, we argue against an ideological stance
easy to see how the argument for the independent women's movement
could lead to an ideological argument for separatism (or how the two
arguments are related). We do find strength in separatist models.
They show us concretely, how much we can gain from each other as women.
But for reasons previously said we do not believe separatism will
solve our problems. Also, because ideological separatism does not
have the social basis for attraction to the majority of women, it
has turned the struggle to one only within the movement. It moves
toward more and more purity, dividing us from our allies rather than
uniting us on common ground and developing new common ground on which
we can unite.
this is much the same position that women in mixed organizations,
without strong caucuses, find themselves in. (That is, they turn their
struggle to one within the organization fighting chauvinismnot
under certain circumstances, working with men is feasible, desirable
and necessary to achieve our vision. Separatism as personal practice
is a matter at choice, as political position is illusory.
In the Name of Socialism
name of socialism, arguments have been made against the independent
women's movement that did justice neither to feminism nor to socialism.
Such arguments were often part of attempts to develop a class anlaysis
of American society and saw women's liberation as a way to bring women
into "the movement." Many in the women's movement have responded
negatively to the opportunism implied in this using of women's liberation.
Although it is now generally accepted that the fight against sexism
is a main goal, there are still times when the perspective of women's
liberation is challenged for legitimacy from this quarter.
the challenge comes in the form that our primary fight must be against
racism. Since the women's movement is primarily white, this would
mean we need to change struggles. Raising the need to fight racism
abstractly only reaffirms the "purity" of those who raise
it. We argue that struggles against racism will be meaningful on the
basis of common self-interest between black and white groups.
issues, whites and blacks may not be able to unite because our relations
of power are unequal. However, when social forces touch us commonly
in some ways, we can build programs to overcome social divisions.
We must not deride the support we do have because it does not reach
all women right now.
times the argument is one of "giving up privilege." To some
extent this is another abstract purism. More importantly, this is
not the image we want to project, nor will it be successful. Women
will join us because we win rights for them. No one joins in order
to lose something that they need. Rights will be established as they
are fought for and won, not because those with privileges and power
give them up.
challenge to women's liberation has postulated that only productive,
paid working (or, more narrowly, industrial working) women are a revolutionary
force. There have been some interesting but defensive responses to
this showing that housework is productive. But we feel the argument
and the defense have been too narrow. There are many contradictions
in society. Many different kinds of efforts, directed at many different
targets, have included so many more women in our movement. Of course,
only employed workers can withhold labor necessary for corporations
to continue. But the general strike has never won any victories when
it wasn't combined with the general political mobilization of all
exploited classes. While working for it, organizations of unpaid female
labor and community organizing efforts are building the social force
we will need for that revolution and revolutionizing future social
movement has brought forth a women's culture with the development
of women's poetry, music, art, history, women's centers in the cultural
realm, and more practically oriented skills such as auto repair and
karate. This culture has provided a place for our creativity to be
expressed and enabled us to have more independence and self-confidence
in areas where we have been denied knowledge and opportunity for expression
in the past.
it has helped change many women's lives. By providing an example of
our vision, women's culture has helped develop a consciousness of
how things could and should be better (which helps us understand how
we are oppressed now).
same time, feelings of frustration and isolation among other things
have led many women to seek only cultural alternativespersonal
lifestyles of liberation. Many women have chosen to commit themselves
entirely to development of a counter culture, dissociating themselves
from any action or organizations and frequently moving from the city
to the country. For its personal usefulness, we do not argue against
it for those who can. But because of its limitation, we challenge
this as a political program.
feminists, we are helping build an extended women's culture but also
believe that it should be available for all women. This will fully
be possible only if we challenge institutions which have power over
us so that we might make it available to all. Our culture should be
built into the kind of society for which we are fighting. Currently,
our culture is only available to a small minority of women. Women
must join together to struggle for power in order to bring about our
vision for all women.
women's movement developed, the gay movement, too, has grown. The
gay movement has more forcefully brought the issue of sexuality into
the political arena with an analysis of the oppression suffered by
gay people in our society. Hating the conditions that shunt us and
loving women with whom we find new strength and new room to be weak,
many of us come into lesbian relationships. The gay liberation movement
has brought people together collectively to bring an end to that oppression.
Gay or straight lives are joined in that these struggles affect us
as outcasts in society because they have stepped out of the prescribed
roles for women, have long been persecuted. In lesbians' fights against
sexism, all feminists stand to gain. Similarly, since all lesbians
are women, lesbians stand to gain from the struggles of femin
We must join together since our interests are intertwined.
This is not to deny the need for separate lesbian groups or caucuses.
Heterosexual bias is so strong that it persists unless lesbians are
organized separately to argue for a lesbian perspective. The organizational
form may be caucuses or entirely separate groups; but where our interests
are ultimately the same, we should fight together for we can then
be stronger and gain more power.
places, it appears that to be in the women's movement, one must be
gay. Sometimes, in fact, it is argued that lesbians should be the
vanguard of the women's movement. We do not believe that power for
women will be won by a primary focus (for the whole movement) on gayness.
We do not believe that a primary focus on any particular contradiction
will lead to revolution.
has two common meanings. One is a social force in the front of political
struggle. The other is a conscious leadership such as a political
party provides for certain movements. At different moments, strong
forces in the movement have argued that certain groups should be the
vanguard (black, working, gay, etc.). Many of these arguments have
been so oppressive that some women have reacted against any idea of
functions for vanguards are important at certain points. At times,
our movement may be able to use and will need a vanguard, a leading
and integrating force. Out of respect developed through past leadership
in struggles, a vanguard can synthesize a movement's energies and
help to focus it.
of conscious, responsible leadership can help us develop the best
use of the resources and the varying interests that we will attract.
It does not further and further define the pure line so that we attract
fewer and fewer women. It does not win its respect by merely identifying
itself as a leader. Many previous attempts at vanguard leadership
failed, resting on guilt, rhetoric, and self-imposition.
we are truly strong enough, able to develop program from our independent
sectorsin women's, gay, black, medical, educational, along
geographic and work lines, overlapping and also leaving spacesthen
we will especially need an integrating force, a political party. It
will incorporate and build on our priorities of socialist feminism
because we will have shaped this vanguard of the people's liberation
V. ORGANIZATIONAL NEEDS
to implement the strategy outlined in this paper, women's liberation
organizations are needed. Through the strength of organizations, power
can be won and the women who participate in them can gain a sense
of their own power, a new self-respect, and a form for ensuring the
continuation of our movement. Only organizations can be the carrier
of victories and the repository of past successes.
the women's liberation movement is broken into small groups in most
places and thus is hard to find, hard to join. Women's liberation
has not received recognition for even the few victories we have won
up to now, because there is no organized form to articulate our successes.
With organization, women's liberation can be in the arena along with
other groups, struggling for our own victories.
that the women's liberation movement may die. How can we survive struggling
for five, ten or more years without organizations larger than ourselves
to carry on? More conservative efforts will be able to claim our victories
and attract women and resources unless we offer our own organizational
alternative. They will set the tone and the agenda for the movement
and it will no longer be ours.
As a movement,
we have tried to understand why early feminists died out, sold out,
or lost out in history. Concerned lest we repeat their mistakes, we
have spent much time saying we should expand our class and racial
base. But perhaps a fate similar to the early feminists awaits us
because 1) we have not concretely identified the interests of women
and fought in common for real gains on that interest; and 2) we have
not developed organizations that would fight around that interest.
If we can do these things, we should be able to overcome the limitations
of the earlier women's movement and actively recruit women to our
paper we are not arguing for any one specific organization, although
in the future we would hope a socialist feminist organization might
be possible. Rather, we are arguing for an organizational conception
which would provide a form for working on the range of problems women
faceabortion, child care, health, job discrimination (i.e.
"women's issues") as well as all issues which affect our
lives as women: taxes, housing, the war, welfare, etc. As those issues
affect us, we need forms that belong to us, through which we can respond
and reach other women, and which will insure that the solutions won
reflect our interests.
of organization we propose reflects our confidence in this strategy,
with alliances made on the basis of mutual self-interest and equal
power among groups. Sometimes we have participated in coalitions out
of a sense of guilt or because we did not have our own work. Often
in the women's movement we face requests for our participation in
everyone else's program. In a socialist feminist organization, such
alliances would only be made as they fit into our own strategy.
Structures Appropriate to Goals and Constituency
we have had many bad experiences with organizations which impeded
our personal growth and political progress. Many women, reacting to
the way they have been oppressed by such structures, reject all explicit
structures. We have found this unrealistic because the structures
survive implicitly and continue to affect us while we try to ignore
them or live in the spaces allowed us.
and structures for organization will vary depending on the type of
group being formed. For large, mass organizations, more structure
is necessary in order to be able to integrate new members, and provide
varying levels of responsibility so that those with less time can
also participate. Such organizations, which are designed to achieve
specific goals, need structures also in order to facilitate the development
of strategy and the implementation of decisions.
for flexibility in organizational form is that women of different
styles may feel comfortable in different situations. For example,
those with a college background may see more need for philosophical
discussion. Some with jobs, family and other commitments may feel
greatest priority on starting and ending meetings on time. At times
the decision may have to be for the medium amount of comfort for everyone
rather than the perfect atmosphere for any.
this context, there are several specific organizational ideas that
we think are important in building organizations that serve us. We
need specific forms clearly stated through which women can see where
leadership lies and how to develop it and make it accountable to them.
Below are structural elements we think are necessary for developing
a mass organization:
- explicit structure and decision-making vehicle
- levels of involvement to allow women to make more or
less of a commitment depending on interest and/or time.
- division of labor, reviewed systematically and designed
to help less skilled women gain skills.
- leadership responsible to the organization
- work and involvement having some relationship to decisionmaking
- information dissemination throughout the organization.
Leadership, Elitism and Democracy
has been much discussion in the women's movement about elitism and
leadership. We have been innovative and learned from experiments tried
in different parts of the country. The principle of "if you don't
know, learn; if you do know, teach" has helped many of us develop
and spread our movement.
we have seen leadership patterns emerge in every situation. The solution
is not to destroy leadership. Rather, we must make leaders responsible
to organizations and to the members. In addition, leadership can be
an effective catalyst, a stimulator to advance the movement. Elitism
can be perpetuated only when we do not train each other in what we
in political debate and in voting as a means of distinguishing between
alternatives and deciding how to proceed. Operating on the basis of
consensus means necessarily that we cannot move beyond the lowest
common denominator of agreement. Our movement would never have existed
if we really followed notions of consensus in American society. Moreover,
consensus often hides real disagreement because there is no structured
way for opposition to have a voice, as in a vote. Further, women in
the minority on a particular issue can be oppressed by a consensus
appraoch because their views cannot be seen as a clear, different
position or altering An Such a minority position may be forced into
agreement with the majority.
political debate is crucial for maintaining the viability of our movement.
We can have political debate without endangering our strong feeling
of sisterhood for each other. Sometimes we will win and at other times
we will lose; but political debate and struggle provides stimulation
and challenges US to develop our ideas and positions.
viewpoints, in fact, are healthy in any organization and should not
be submerged because of a fear of difference. But for debate to be
worthwhile, it needs to be tied to clear function within the organization.
While engaging in that debate, we must continue to be clear in identifying
the real enemy we are fighting. We can structure debate within the
organization so it helps us learn, but it is not our sole function.
we have argued for a strategy toward building socialism and feminism
for this specific time in history when we have strength in our sense
of responsibility to women and yet weakness in our isolated situations.
This strategy assumes we want to reach most women and to do that we
must understand and build on their real self-interests. We must develop
winning programs and now emphasize direct action. We have argued three
points in each part of this paper, which define our strategy:
- win reforms which really improve women's lives,
- give women a sense of their own power through organization,
- alter the relations of power. The issue of building and
seizing power is the crucial one in our real situation now. Our.
consciousness of reality and our vision of what relations we would
like to see between people is what guides efforts, attracts people
to us and helps define what we mean by winning.
of this is obvious, many may ask, "so what's new?" To this
we have two kinds of answers. One answer is that precisely because
we think it obvious, we wrote the paper. We do believe, as we said,
that we are a majority of the movement, and that as our strategy reflects
reality, we will (in the course of time) attract a majority of women
to our position. Still restating the obvious clarifies where we are,
where we have come from and how far we have yet to go. Without a strategic
conception, the women's movement has become less clear in its mission
and fervor. We hope to reinforce and help each other identify what
may have once appeared as common sense (before so many splits and
diversions altered our common sense of relating to the needs of women).
is another answer to the common senseness of what we have done. Common
sense is not always too common. We draw attention to some few points
of significance. We hope slur ideas will not be just accepted or rejected
but discussed for how they challenge common past practice. We argue
for the primacy of self-interest, so often lost in discussion of ideology.
Our ideology must guide us, but also must be guided by the realities
shaping our lives.
learned a great deal in the last few years, but because we had no
structure on which to build, we have lost where we could have gained
in experience and power. This paper reflects both our frustration
and our commitment to the development of a women's movement struggling
toward the realization of a socialist feminist vision. We have written
this paper so sisters who be lime as we do may come forward and join
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 battleworth it because we believe
we can win.
Copyright @ 1972 by Hyde Park Chapter, Chicago Women's Liberation
Union. All rights reserved.