What is Women’s Liberation? (1970)
What is women’s liberation? It is simply organized rage against real oppression. Recently a woman phoned to say she had just had an abortion at one of the best hospitals in the District of Columbia. Because she couldn’t find a doctor to help her before, she couldn’t have the abortion until her fifth month of pregnancy. She therefore had to have a more complicated and dangerous saline injection, rather than a simple D and C. The saline solution, when injected into the womb, brings on labor contractions in several hours to several days thereafter. The woman had to wait in the hospital until the fetus was expelled, and for the entire operation she paid the exhorbitant fee of $1,000, in advance, not counting the time she lost from work, etc.
The doctor she went to, an ob./gyn. who practices at that hospital, didn’t let her know when to enter the hospital until three hours prior to the time he could see her. He told her nothing about the procedure, only that when she went into labor she might ask a nurse for a pain-killer. She waited in terror, not knowing what would happen, on the maternity ward watching newborns come and go until she aborted. She was treated like someone’s dead aunt hidden in a closet. Nurses brought her food only when she rang persistently to ask for it, but she was given no other attention.
When she finally went into labor three days later she was in great pain. The nurse refused to give her any drugs; no doctor was phoned. When the nurse finally came to her room about an hour after she first rang, she angrily gave her a bedpan and told her to call after the fetus was expelled. There, alone in her bed, the woman went through several hours of labor, had her five month old fetus in the bedpan, and two hours after the ordeal was over, the nurse finally came to take the pan away.
This woman had to stay in the bed with the bloody fetus in the pan the whole time since she was too weak to move. No antibiotics were given, and she was sent home several hours afterward. She later developed high fever and some infection, and was finally treated by her family doctor since the ob/gyn was not available.
I repeat: this was not a charity case in a city hospital. This was a $1,000 operation at the city’s best. You can imagine what happens at D.C. General, the public hospital, but most women never get to a hospital at all.
This is the oppression women’s liberation is about. It is caused by the sexism of a profit-based society that refuses to provide adequate health care, that refuses to develop safe contraception, that refuses to allow women the choice of when to bear children, that bases its health system, like everything else, on profit for drug companies, private corporations and not on human needs, that refuses to take responsibility for rearing future generations of children. This is what the women’s liberation movement is fighting not only the images of femaleness Time stresses, although those sexy ads and beauty contests are a good indication of the kind of shuffling women are being trained to do.
Since women are both wage and non-wage workers’ and since the basis for the economic and social oppression we face cannot be solved on bread and butter struggles alone, it is necessary that we organize into one massive union as sisters who will fight sexism and capitalist exploitation of that ideology. We must organize where we now are in hospitals, in industry, at service jobs, and at home in our communities.
We must make programmatic demands that will lead in the direction of our freedom. We need: free medical care that is non-profit and based on preventive medicine; free and safe contraception and abortion; free child-care facilities, day and night for all; wages paid to women for currently uncompensated labor-during pregnancy, for childrearing, for domestic work at home; equal wages for equal work; and an end to sexist and racist tracking and education.
There are some models that women are now experimenting with:
1. Union caucuses: Women, Inc., a woman’s caucus of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Union, has been demonstrating in Antioch and Stockton, California against both Fibreboard, the corporation that employs them, and their union, for discrimination in wages, in services (day-care, for example), and in hiring/firing, placement on seniority lists, rewritten job definitions, and general discrimination against women workers. They are demanding equal pay for equal work, an end to the misuse of state protective labor legislation, an end to the arbitrary lay-offs of women and for company supported child-care facilities.
This may be the first example of a separate woman’s struggle within the organized labor movement since the turn of the century. It certainly is a breakthrough in not allowing either the bosses or the union to channel dissent solely into wage-demands.
2. Organizing women in women’s work-There has been almost no organizing done in jobs women primarily hold-either by unions or by movement groups. Generally women are seen only as temporary workers, so they are ignored. Women’s liberation groups all over are trying to organize secretaries, waitresses and domestics, to give a few examples, not only as workers around worker-type grievances, but as women who will probably not always work these particular jobs, but who will always suffer from exploitative sexism. Therefore, we are organizing around the general condition of women.
3. In the early part of this century the I.W.W. attempted to organize everyone into one big union-the employed, the skilled, the unskilled, and the unemployed. They failed, and were ripped apart by cops, the government, and their own lack of clear direction. It is the intent of Women’s Liberation to organize women as one big union wherever they are. Sexism is a total life confrontation. We, as women are now divided into classes, according to race, and by the arbitrary definition of worker vs. non-worker (housewife). We must unite to end the oppression of all women.
There has always been sexism, no matter What the economic system. But sexism has no chance of being eliminated under capitalism. Should some of us think we have made it, whatever that means, the rest of us will still be used to supply cheap, free and reserve labor, to consume, to scab on each other. We need a socialist system based on human needs, not the profit of some off the exploitation of all the others. We as women must create a total revolution-a classless society where racism and sexism cannot exist. Only in solidarity can we be free, but only in struggle can we create that freedom.
By – Marilyn Salzman Webb
Source: Win Magazine Jan. 1970
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