Women’s Lib Organizations (1970)
By Karen Durbin
In attempting to put together an alphabet soup of the women’s liberation movement, I began to feel that I was assembling some sort of descriptive telephone book for a small city. With each new discovered and defined group came inklings of a dozen others just beyond, until it became apparent that whatever else the movement is, its numbers are legion and no comprehensive list could be got ready by deadline time.
In a recent article (November 21) on the new feminism, Time Magazine reported that there are at least 50 groups in New York… 35 in the San Francisco Bay Area. . . 30 in Chicago, 25 in Boston and a scattering of others in cities ranging from Gainesville, Fla. to Toronto. I can add to that list an indeterminate number of British groups and a large movement in Berlin (where radical feminists have organized into communes, opened childcare and information centers and operate a mobile health care service). Fifty in New York? At least. Furthermore, the groups vary greatly in type. Some are small, informal conscious· ness-raising groups like the one described in this issue. Others are organized around a single issue central to the movement such as abortion or free child-care, some along extra-feminist lines (for example, professional groups such as Media Women or the numerous high school, college and graduate school groups). Still others are feminist caucuses within organizations that are, to put it mildly in some cases, not primarily feminist (e.g. YSA Women, the Women’s Rights Caucus of the New Democratic Coalition, SDS Women). Finally, there are the groups whose organization and politics are primarily feminist, independent and non·femi· nist professional and political afftliations, and who operate in a wider sphere than the informal consciousness-raising groups. I don’t have a complete list of these groups-as far as I know, no one does, since it is a characteristic peculiar to the women’s liberation movement that it cuts across all social divisions of class and race and that it is as politically complex and fluid as a movement can be. New groups are constantly forming, old ones divide and multiply into new or undergo radical transformations as women strive for a new and truer definition not only of themselves but of politics as well. I began this project with the idea of producing a neat diagram of the movement, a tidy, conscientious parsing of its elements. That idea has been abandoned; how does one diagram upheaval? Instead, what follows is an attempt to describe briefly six groups whose differences of style and concentration will yield a rough measure of the movement as a whole.
Citywide women’s liberation coalition.
This group properly has no name and does·;’t particularly want one, but is generally referred to as Citywide. It began in the spring of 1969 as a coalition of revolutionary women, some from other feminist groups, many from non-feminist radical organizations (e.g. SDS, Newsreel, Levianthan and later, RYM 11), who met every other Thursday evening to concentrate on women’s liberation issues. It .has a fluctuating attendance membership of 50-70 women, who tend to believe that while capitalism/imperialism and male chauvinism maintain each other, the greater power and therefore the focus of attack resides in the system rather than in male chauvinism. They are distinct from much of the rest of the women’s liberation movement by the fact that they acknowledge the possibility of strategic alliances with maledominated radical groups. They see women’s liberation as essential to any real revolution, but do not always place primary emphasis on it. Suggesting that freedom is the recognition of necessity one woman active in the coalition gave as an example the need for black and brown women to multiply in order to combat American genocidal policies as more important than the demand for control over their bodies, i.e. free abortion and birth control. The same woman pointed out, however, that there was a growing trend in the coalition toward a more strictly feminist approach. According to another member, the coalition has organized separate day-care, abortion and health collectives and is in the process of developing others. A propaganda collective is planned, as well as others to work with high school and college students, and people are moving to Brooklyn and Queens to organize there. The coalition is also willing to assist any women in starting their own consciousness-raising groups. The group may be contacted through the Leviathan office, 2700 Broadway, New York City.
Self-described as a political organization to annihilate sex roles The Feminists began on October 17, 1968 as a breakaway group from N.O.W. which they considered too hierarchical and supedlcial in its approach to women’s liberation. An intense and highly disciplined group, they meet twice a week and conduct frequent workshops and special meetings as well. Penalties for irregular attendance are temporary loss of voting privileges and, if necessary, expulsion from the group. They require further that not more than one third of their membership be either married or living with a man, on the basis that such arrangement are inherently inequitable. They are also insistantly democratic: the chair and secretary of each meeting are chosen by lot,-and all work, whether menial or demanding of special skills, is assigned by lot with provision against the same sort of task-writing a position paper, for examplefalling to one member twice before it has made the round of the group.
The Feminists’ rules reflect their political theory which states, in part, that all political classes grew out of the male-female role system _ . . The pathology of oppression can only be fully comprehended in its primary development, the male-female division. Because the male-female system is primary, the freedom of every oppressed individual depends upon the freeing of every individual from every aspect of the male-female system. They demand that marriage and the family be eliminated., that children be cared for by the society as a whole and not belong to anyone and that extra-uterine means of reproduction be developed as a humane goal. They also oppose sexual intercourse (at present its psychology is dominancepassivity) and suggest the exploration of other means of sexual gratification as a way toward physical relations. . .(that) would be an extension of communication between individuals. In a demonstration at the Marriage License Bureau and City Hall the Feminists made additional demands for economic and educational reparations for women and repeal of all state laws pertaining to marriage, divorce and annulment. An interesting packet describing in greater detail the structure and basic principles of the group may be obtained for twenty·five cents by writing to The Feminists at 320 West 108th Street.
National Organization for Women.
NOW was founded in 1966 by Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique. It has more than 5000 members, including some 100 men, with chapters in all the major cities of the U.S. It is the most politically moderate of the feminist organizations and concentrates on working within the system with a program of legislative demands for full equality for women. Those demands include passage of an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution which reads, Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. NOW also demands the repeal of all abortion laws, the establishment of free, state-supported child-care centers and the revision of the tax laws to permit full deduction of all housekeeping and child-care expenses for working parents. The organization functions as an effective legislative pressure group and is considered to be largely responsible for the barring of sexual categorization in Want Ads and was instrumental in winning the fight by airline stewardesses to marry and stay on the job after age 32. NOW is the only currently active feminist organization that did not develop out of New Left-oriented radical politics, a fact that is reflected, perhaps, not only in its tendancy to focus somewhat exclusively on specific legislative inequities without going on to scrutinize the social and political system in which these inequities flourish but also in the structure of the organization itself. Not only is NOW hierarchical-there is a board of directors, as well as national and local officers, all elected for fixed terms-but among its male members there is even a chapter president, a phenomenon that one might safely guess has not been duplicated elsewhere in women’s liberation. There is evidence, however, that a radical trend is developing in NOW which should be interesting to watch. NOW’s Manhattan office is at 328 West 12th Street, telephone 929-8250.
Formed in January 1968, Redstockings insist on the need for a completely new political analysis based on their personal experience as women. Much of their energy has been devoted to personal consciousness-raising, not as therapy. . . but as the only method by which we can ensure that our program for liberation is based on the concrete realities of our lives. They have participated regularly in women’s liberation demonstrations since the start of the movement, however, they recently disrupted and took over an abortion hearing in New York at which women were denied places on the panel. Their persistance in sticking to their slogan, We will not ask what is ‘revolutionary’ or ‘reformist’ only what is good for women, has, on occasion, put them very much at odds with the Citywide faction of the movement. (It’s impossible, for example, to imagine Redstockings accepting the Citywide interpretation of the priorities of black and brown women in regard to abortion and birth control.)
Redstockings flatly blames men for women’s oppression, stating in their manifesto that all other forms of exploitation and oppression (racism, capitalism, imperialism, etc.) are extensions of male supremacy: men dominate women, a few men dominate the rest. The group is opposed to marriage and the nuclear family but does not attempt to liegislate the sexual lives of its members. They further call on all men to give up their male privileges and support women’s liberation, a demand that reflects their own personal pledge to repudiate all economic, racial, educational or status privileges that divide us from other women. They hold an orientation meeting for new women on the first Sunday of every month and they also have a selection of interesting literature for sale. Write Redstockings, P.O. Box 748, Stuyvesant Station, New York, N.Y. 10009.
The Stanton-Anthony Brigade of the Radical Feminists.
Just begun in November by a group of women already active in women’s liberation who felt the need for a group that would concentrate specifically on creating a mass movement. The Brigade, by virtue of the political history of its members, is radical-leftist but emphasizes feminism as the core of its politics. Their program is one of consciousness-raising actions, demonstrations designed to focus national attention on radical feminism and to draw as many women as possible into the movement. They feel that too many women’s liberation actions in the past have been politically self-indulgent (for example, wearing arm bands mourning the death of Ho Chi Minh at the Miss America demonstration) and have as a result turned women away from a movement that should properly be inviting them in.
They also welcome publicity (many groups don’t at this point, largely out of fear and distrust) and when planning demonstrations will take into account ways to circumvent distortion and misunderstanding of their actions. They have begun with a core group of around 20 women and welcome new members. As their membership grows it is to be divided into separate brigades of fifteen women each. So far they have met once a week, usually on Monday nights, and a meeting for new people is planned for the near future. Call Shulamith Firestone, 673-7658, or Minda Bikman, 924-7264, for information.
Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH).
WITCH surfaced on Halloween Day, 1968, with an Up against the Wall Street action involving day-long street theatre in the financial district and talk sessions with the women who work there. It is a flamboyant action-oriented organization with more than thirty autonomous covens around the country. Like most of women’s liberation it has no official leaders and functions by consensus. WITCH is opposed to marriage and the nuclear family but its distinctiveness lies less in its ideology than in its style, which is by turns exuberant, rude, funny and extravagant. On the bus ride to Atlantic City for last summer’s Miss America demonstration, a coven sitting in the back produced several fine, rowdy songs and chants for the demonstration when the bus was barely out of New York. WITCH, more than any other group, suggests in its tone that women’s liberation can be fun. A few excerpts from their manifesto:
WITCH is an all-woman Everything. It’s theater, revolution, magic, terror, joy, garlic flowers, spells. It’s an awareness that witches and gypsies were the original guerrillas and resistance fighters against oppression . . . Witches were the first Friendly Heads and Dealers, the first birth-control practitioners and abortionists, the first alchemists. . . WITCH lives and laughs in every woman. She is the free part of each of us, beneath the shy smiles, the acquiescence to absurd male domination . . . if you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you are a witch. . . you are free and beautiful . . . Whatever is repressive, solely male-oriented, greedy, puritanical, authoritarian-those are your targets. . . . you are pledged to free our brothers from oppression and stereotyped sexual roles as well as ourselves. You are a witch by saying aloud, I am a Witch, three times, and thinking about that. You are a witch by being female, untamed, angry, joyous, and immortal.
WITCH also quotes the Bible (Judges): for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. New members are welcome and may write to P.O. Box ‘694, Stuyvesant Station, New York 10009. – Karen Durbin
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