Essays On Sisterhood

We can never have too many messages about supporting sisterhood and encouraging one another. Why? Because when we turn on the TV and watch a bunch of “real housewives” throwing punches and slaps at each other and when we open a magazine which asks us “which female celebrity wore it better” we start to get the idea that the media would much rather have us tear each other down as opposed to support one another.

It’s a real shame, but we don’t have to despair because there are plenty of women, media outlets and organizations that are wise enough to stand against this epidemic. One of those women is actress Lea Michele, best known for her roles on ‘Glee’ and now ‘Scream Queens’. She is also the face of a new campaign called ‘Actually She Can’ created by healthcare company Allergan and in conjunction with Her Campus.

Allergan wanted to target millennial women and arm them with the right information about which birth control to choose, and the idea for Actually She Can came from the popular phrase “I can’t even” which they wanted to flip and turn into something more empowering.

As the face of this campaign, Lea is calling on her own experiences in the entertainment industry as a way to encourage millennial women to be friends, not frenemies. In an essay on The Daily Beast to promote her involvement in the campaign, Lea talks about why sisterhood is important to her, and why women’s voices are very powerful in the world.

“For years, women have been using their voices to articulate their goals and vision of the female ambition. They have used their voices as a means towards progress and equality, to express their dreams, and hopes for the future. They have used their voices to share their stories, to encourage understanding and build community,” she begins.

“The voices of courageous women who have championed female ambition are countless…from my personal hero, the legendary singer Barbra Streisand, to feminists like Gloria Steinem and Eve Ensler, to one-name wonders like Oprah and Madonna and all of my inspiring female contemporaries in entertainment and business. These women have been fearless, and in doing so, they have offered us a better view.”

She believes self-expression is vital to our identities, but too often women are not encouraged to express themselves. In fact there are far too many industries and organizations wanting to speak on our behalf and even dictate to us how we should think, feel and act.

“We are held to unrealistic media standards, airbrushed in order to be more perfect, and even told to change the very things that make us unique to fit into a mold. The truth about women is skewed in popular culture, and so many young girls reading the weekly magazines in the grocery checkout aisle are left to wonder where they fit in. While there are so many trailblazers for change there are still stories that aren’t being heard—young women who are not being acknowledged for who they are, and what they are doing,” she said.

Lea says women are far more powerful when they come together rather than battling each other. We are huge fans of the saying “collaborate, don’t compete” and it’s a great daily reminder we can apply to our lives to help one another raise our voices in our communities. Lea says her own circle of female friends has been vital to ensuring her successful career.

“My voice has not only provided me with a career and innumerable opportunities, but more personally, it has helped me to work through some of my insecurities and make peace with myself—flaws and all,” she said.

She knows that being a celebrity has put her in a unique position where her voice is amplified, and poised to influence a lot of people, which is why she chose to get involved in the Actually She Can campaign, which she describes as “a movement that celebrates female ambition and champions the goals of the millennial generation.”

In her own life, she has become great friends with women like Kate Hudson who she starred alongside in ‘Glee’ for a number of episodes, as well as Emma Roberts, her ‘Scream Queens’ co-star, both of whom she says have influenced and encouraged her in numerous ways.

“The risks I take in my personal and professional life feel less scary because I am surrounded by a strong network of vibrant females who want the best for each other. I have embraced these friendships and as a result my overall health and wellness has been enhanced. And these are only a few amazing ladies I have met along the way,” she said.

In an interview with Huffpost Women in 2014, she expanded on the notion of female friendships in Hollywood, saying that in such a competitive industry, female friendships are vital.

“I think it’s so important that women really focus on encouraging and empowering other women. That’s definitely something that people struggle with in [the entertainment] business and in this industry, and that the media especially likes to bring attention to in a negative way. It’s so important that we empower one another because it’s hard enough being a woman! We could use all the support that we can get from each other,” she said at the time.

Although she is in more of a privileged position than most of us, Lea does recognize that every woman’s journey is going to be different, but we owe it to ourselves and each other to unite because life can be tough. A few years ago she sadly lost her ‘Glee’ co-star and real life boyfriend Cory Monteith to a drug overdose and alludes to this by mentioning she has felt loss in her life and that it can be hard to navigate alone. We can all find aspects of our life that are tough, isolating and negative, but having the support of girlfriends can be a lifeline to us.

“I encourage all millennial women to stand proudly on the platform and share their voices in the best way they know how—and to support others that do the same. We have to be diligent, we have to be willing to take risks, we have to be willing to celebrate one another and accept the challenges we face individually and collectively,” ends Leah in her essay.

To find out more about the Actually She Can campaign, get information about birth control, and find out about how you can join the movement, click here. Watch the video below to see how a group of students from Winthrop University in South Carolina are using the hashtag to spread messages of positivity to other girls:

Without doubt, certain fringe as pects of the movement make “good copy,” to use the kindest term avail able for how my brethren in the business approach the subject mat ter. (“Get the bra burning and the karate up front,” an editor I know told a writer I know when preparing one news magazine's women's lib eration story.)

But the irony of all this media attention is that while the minions of C.B.S. News can locate a genuine women's liberation group with rela tive ease (they ferreted out our little group before we had memorized each other's last names), hundreds of women in New York City have failed in their attempts to make contact with the movement. I have spoken to women who have spent as much as three months looking for a group that was open to new members. Un claimed letters have piled up at certain post office box numbers hastily set up and thoughtlessly abandoned by here‐today‐and‐gone‐ tomorrow “organizations” that dis appeared as abruptly as they mate rialized. The elusive qualities of “women's lib” once prompted the writer Sally Kempton to remark, “It's not a movement, it's a state of mind.” The surest way to affiliate with the movement these days is to form your own small group. That's the way it's happening.

TWO years ago the 50 or so women in New York City who had taken to calling themselves the women's liberation movement met on Thursday evenings at a borrowed office on East 11th Street. The offi cial title of the group was the New York Radical Women. There was some justification at the time for thinking grandly in national terms, for similar groups of women were beginning to form in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Washington. New York Radical Women came by its name quite simply: the women were young radicals, mostly under the age of 25, and they come out of the civil rights and/or peace movements, for which many of them had been full time workers. A few years earlier, many of them might have been found on the campuses of Vassar, Radcliffe, Wellesley and the larger coed universities, a past they worked hard to deny. What brought them to gether to a women‐only discussion and action group was a sense of abuse suffered at the hands of the very protest movements that had spawned them. As “movement wom‐ men,” they were tired of doing the typing and fixing the food while “movement men” did the writing and leading. Most were living with or married to movement men who, they be lieved, were treating them as convenient sex objects or as somewhat lesser beings.

Widely repeated quotations, such as Stokeley Carmichael's wisecrack dictum to S.N.C.C., “The position of women in our movement should be prone,” and, three years later, a similar observation by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver had reinforced their uncomfort able suspicion that the social vision of radical men did not include equality for women. Black power, as practiced by black male leaders, appeared to mean that black women would step back while black men stepped forward. The white male radical's eager embrace of machismo ap peared to include those back ward aspects of male supre macy in the Latin culture from which the word mach ismo is derived. Within their one‐to‐one relationships with their men, the women felt, the highly touted “alternate life style” of the radical move ment was working out no bet ter than the “bourgeois” life style they had rejected. If man and wife in a suburban split‐level was a symbol of all that was wrong with plastic, bourgeois America, “man and chick” in a Lower East Side tenement flat was hardly the new order they had dreamed of.

In short, “the movement” was reinforcing, not eliminat ing, their deepest insecurities and feelings of worthlessness as women — feelings which quite possibly had brought them into radical protest poli tics to begin with. So, in small way, they had begun to rebel. They had decided to meet regularly—without their men—to talk about their com mon experience. “Our femin ism was very underdeveloped in those days,” says Anne Koedt, an early member of the group. “We didn't have any idea of what kind of ac tion we could take. We couldn't stop talking about the blacks and Vietnam.”

IN Marxist canons, “the woman question” is one of many manifestations of a sick, capitalist society which “the revolution” is supposed to finish off smartly. Some of the women who devoted their Thursday evening meeting time to New York Radical Women believed they were merely dusting off and stream lining an orthodox, ideological issue. Feminism was bad politics and a dirty word since it excluded the larger picture.

But others in the group. like Anne Koedt and Shuli Firestone, an intense and talkative young activist, had begun to see things from different, heretical perspec tive. Woman's oppressor was Man, they argued, and not a specific economic system. After all, they pointed out, male supremacy was still flourishing in the Soviet Union, Cuba and China, where power was still lodged in a male bureaucracy. Even the beloved Che wrote a guide book for revolutionaries in which he waxed ecstatic over the advantages to a guerrilla movement of having women along in the mountains—to prepare and cook the food. The heretics tentatively put forward the idea that femin ism must be a separate move‐ ment of its own.

New York Radical Women's split in perspective—was the ultimate oppressor Man or Capitalism?— occupied end less hours of debate at the Thursday evening meetings. Two warring factions emerged, dubbing each other “the feminists” and “the politicos.” But other things were happen ing as well. For one thing, new women were coming in droves to the Thursday eve ning talk fest, and a growing feeling of sisterhood was permeating the room. Meet ings began awkwardly and shyly, with no recognized chairman and no discernible agenda. Often the suggestion, “Let's sit closer together, sisters,” helped break the ice. But once the evening's initial awkwardness had passed, volubility was never a prob lem. “We had so much to say,” an early member re lates, “and most of us had never said it to another woman before.”

Soon how to say it became an important question. Young women like Carol Hanisch, a titian‐haired recruit to the civil rights movement from a farm in Iowa, and her friend Kathie Amatniek, a Radcliffe graduate and a working film editor, had spent over a year in Mississippi working with S.N.C.C. There they had been impressed with the Southern revival‐style mass meeting at which blacks got up and “testified” about their own ex perience with “the Man.”

Might the technique also work for women? And wasn”t it the same sort of thing that Mao Tse‐tung had advocated to raise political conscious ness in Chinese villages? As Carol Hanisch reminded the group, Mao”s slogan had been “Speak pain to recall pain”— precisely what New York Radical Women was doing!

The personal‐testimony meth od encouraged all women who came to the meeting to speak their thoughts. The tech nique of “going around the room” in turn brought re sponses from many who had never opened their mouths at male‐dominated meetings and were experiencing the same difficulty in a room full of articulate members of their own sex. Specific questions such as, “If you've thought of having a baby, do you want a girl or a boy?” touched off accounts of what it meant to be a girl‐child—the second choice in a society that prizes boys. An examination of “What happens to your rela tionship when your man earns more money than you, and what happens when you earn more money than him?” brought a flood of anecdotes about the male ego and money. “We all told similar stories,” relates a member of the group. “We discovered that, to a man, they all felt challenged if we were the breadwinners. It meant that we were no longer dependent. We had somehow robbed them of their ‘rightful’ role.”

“We began to see our ‘fem inization’ as a two‐level proc ess,” says Anne Koedt. “On one level, a woman is brought up to believe that she is a girl and that is her biological des tiny. She isn't suppposed to want to achieve anything. If, by some chance, she manages to escape the psychological damage, she finds that the structure is prohibitive. Even though she wants to achieve, she finds she is discouraged at every turn and she still can't become President.”

FEW topics, the women found, were unfruitful. Humili ations that each of them had suffered privately—from being turned down for a job with the comment, “We were look ing for a man,” to catcalls and wolf whistles on the street— turned out to be universal agonies. “I had always felt degraded, actually turned into an object,” said one woman. “I was no longer a human be ing when a guy on the street would start to make those in credible animal noises at me. I never was flattered by it, I always understood that behind that whistle a masked hostility. When we started to talk about it in the group, discovered that every woman in the room had similar feel ings. None of us knew how to cope with this street hostility. We had always had to grin and bear it. We had always been told to dress as women, to be very sexy and alluring to men, and what did it get us? Comments like ‘Look at the legs on that babe’ and ‘would I like to — her.’

On Man‐Hating

“Man‐hating has been the cause of a deep rift within Women's Libera tion. It is a vital issue be cause it involves ultimate ly the way we feel about ourselves, and how far we are willing to go in our own behalf. I've been at meetings where women actually left because they thought that ‘man‐haters’ were on the loose. All ar guments which tend to suppress the recognition of man‐hating in our midst are reducible to this: FEAR. Man‐hating is con sidered a subversive and therefore dangerous senti ment. Men, who control the definition, have made of it a disgusting perver sion. Many men engage in sexual intercourse, often extensively, even marry, while hating women. These men are called misogyn ists. Now, there is no shame in being a misogy nist. It is a perfectly re spectable attitude. Our whole society (including too many of the women in it) hates women. Per haps we need a Latin or Greek derivative in place of ‘man‐hating’ to make the perfect symmetry of the two attitudes more obvious.”

—Pamela Kearon, a mem ber of The Feminists.

“Consciousness ‐ raising,” in which a woman's personal ex

*My small group has dis cussed holding a street action of our own on the first warm day of spring. We intend to take up stations on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street and whistle at the male passers by. The confrontation, we feel, will be educational for all con cerned. perience at the hands of men was analyzed as a political phenomenon, soon became a keystone of the women's liberation movement.

IN 1963, before there was a women's movement, Betty Friedan published what eventually became an Ameri can classic, “The Feminine Mystique.” The book was a brilliant, factual examination of the post‐World War II “back to the home” movement that tore apart the myth of the fulfilled and happy American housewife. Though “The Femi nine Mystique” held an un questioned place as the intel lectual mind‐opener for most of the young feminists—de Beau vales “The Second Sex,” a broad, philosophical analysis of the cultural restraints on women, was runner‐up in pop ularity—few members of New York Radical Women had ever felt motivated to attend a meeting of Friedan's National Organization for Women, the parliamentary‐style organiza tion of professional women and housewives that she founded in 1966. Friedan, the mother of the movement, and the organization that re cruited in her image were considered hopelessly bour geois. NOW's emphasis on legislative change left the radicals cold. The generation gap created real barriers to communication.

“Actually, we had a lot in common with the NOW women,” reflects Anne Koedt. “The women who started NOW were achievement oriented in their professions. They began with the employ ment issue because that's what they were up against. The ones who started New York Radical Women were achievement‐oriented in the radical movement. From both ends we were fighting a male structure that prevented us from achieving.”

Friedan's book had not en visioned a movement of young feminists emerging from the college campus and radical politics. “If I had it to do all over again,” she says, “I would rewrite my last chapter.” She came to an early meeting of New York Radical Women to listen, ask questions and take notes, and went away convinced that her approach—and NOW's— was more valid. “As far as I'm concerned, we're still the radicals,” she says emphat ically. “We raised our con sciousness a long time ago. I get along with the women's lib people because they're the way the troops we need come up. But the name of the game is confrontation and action, and equal is the gut issue. The legal fight is enormously important. De segregating The New York Times help‐wanted ads was an important step, don't you think? And NOW did it. The women's movement needs its Browns versus Boards of Education.”

“The goals of women's liberation go beyond a simple concept of equality”

Other older women, writers and lifetime feminists, also came around to observe, and stayed to develop a kinship with girls young enough to be their daughters. “I almost wept after my first meeting. I went home and filled my diary,” says Ruth Hersch berger, poet and author of “Adam's Rib,” a witty and unheeded expostulation of women's rights published in 1948. “When I wrote ‘Adam's Rib,’ I was writing for readers who wouldn't accept the first premise. Now there was a whole roomful of people and a whole new vocabulary. could go a whole month on the ammunition I'd get at one meeting.”

IN June of 1968, New York Radical Women produced a mimeographed booklet of some 20 pages entitled “Notes from the First Year.” It sold for 50 cents to women and $1.00 to men. “Notes” was a compendium of speeches, essays and transcriptions of tape‐recorded “rap sessions” of the Thursday evening group on such subjects as sex, abortion and orgasm. Several mimeographed editions later, it remains the most widely circulated source material on the New York women's liber ation movement.

The contribution to “Notes” that attracted the most atten tion from both male and female readers was a one‐ page essay by Anne Koedt entitled, “The Myth of Vaginal Orgasm.” In it she wrote:

“Frigidity has generally been defined by men as the failure of women to have vaginal orgasms. Actually, the vagina is not a highly sensitive area and is not physiologically constructed to achieve orgasm. The clitoris is the sensitive area and is the female equivalent of the penis. All orgasms [in women] are extensions of sensations from this area. This leads to some interesting questions about conventional sex and our role in it. Men have orgasms essentially by friction with the vagina, not with the clitoris. Women have thus been defined sexually in terms of what pleases men; our own biology has not been properly analyzed. Instead we have been fed a myth of the liberated woman and her vaginal orgasm, an orgasm which in fact does not exist. What we must do is redefine our sexuality. We must dis card the ‘normal’ concepts of sex and create new guidelines which take into account mutual sexual enjoyment. We must begin to demand that if a certain sexual position or technique now defined as ‘standard’ is not mutually conducive to orgasm, then it should no longer be defined as standard.”

Anne Koedt's essay went further than many other wom en in the movement would have preferred to go, but she was dealing with a subject that every woman understood. “For years I suffered under a male‐imposed definition of my sexual responses,” one woman says. “From Freud on down, it was men who set the standard of my sexual en joyment. Their way was the way I should achieve nirvana, because their way was the way it worked for them. Me? Oh, I was simply an ‘inade quate woman.’”

BY September, 1968, New York Radical Women felt strong enough to attempt a major action. Sixty women went to Atlantic City hi char tered buses to picket the Miss America pageant. The beauty contest was chosen as a tar get because of the ideal of American womanhood it ex tolled—vacuous, coiffed, cos meticized and with a smidgin of talent.

But New York Radical Wom en did not survive its second year. For one thing, the num ber of new women who flocked to the Thursday eve ning meetings made con sciousness‐raising and “going around the room” an impossi bility. The politico‐feminist split and other internal con flicts—charges of “domina tion” by one or another of the stronger women were thrown back and forth—put a damper on the sisterly euphoria. An attempt to break up the one large group into three smaller ones—by lot— proved disastrous.

Several women felt the need for a new group. They had become intrigued with the role of the witch in world his tory as representing society's persecution of women who flared to be different. From Joan of Arc, who dared to wear men's clothes and lead a men's army, to the women of Salem who dared to defy accepted political, religious mores, the “witch” was pun ished for deviations. Out of this thinking grew WITCH, a handy acronym that the or ganizers announced, half tongue‐in‐cheek, stood for Women's International Ter rorist Conspiracy from Hell.

Much of WITCH was al ways tongue‐in‐cheek, and from its inception its mem bers were at great pains to deny that they were feminists. The Yippie movement had made outrageous disruption a respectable political tactic of the left, and the women of WITCH decided it was more compatible with their think ing to be labeled “kooks” by outsiders than to be labeled man‐haters by movement men.

In the WITCH philosophy, the patriarchy of the nuclear family was synonymous with the patriarchy of the Amer ican business corporation. Thus, four women took jobs at a branch of the Travelers Insurance Company, where a fifth member was working, and attempted to establish a secret coven of clerical work ers on the premises. (For the Travelers' project, WITCH be came “Women Incensed at Travelers' Corporate Hell.”) In short order, the infiltrators were fired for such infractions of office rules as wearing slacks to work. Undaunted, a new quintet of operatives gained employment in the vast typing pools at A.T. & T. “Women Into Telephone Com pany Harassment” gained three sympathizers to the cause before Ma Bell got wise and exorcised the coven from her midst. Two Witches were fired for insubordina tion; the rest were smoked out and dismissed for being “overqualified” for the typing pool.

WITCH's spell over the women's movement did not hold. “At this point,” says Judith Duffet, an original member, “you could say that WITCH is just another small group in women's liberation. We're concerned with con sciousness‐raising and devel oping an ideology through collective thinking. We don't do the freaky, hippie stuff any more.”

WHILE WITCH was brew ing its unusual recipe for lib eration, another offshoot of New York Radical Women emerged. The new group was called Redstockings, a play on bluestockings, with the blue re placed by the color of revolu tion. Organized by Shuli Fire stone and Ellen Willis, an articulate rock‐music colum nist for the New Yorker and a serious student of Engels's “Origins of the Family,” Red stockings made no bones about where it stood. It was firmly committed to feminism and action.

Redstockings made its first public appearance at a New York legislative hearing on abortion law reform in Febru ary, 1969, when several women sought to gain the microphone to testify about their own abortions. The hear ing, set up to take testimony from 15 medical and psychi atric “experts” —14 were men—was hastily adjourned. The following month, Red stockings held its own abor tion hearing at the Washing ton Square Methodist Church. Using the consciousness‐rais ing technique, 12 women “testified” about abortion, from their own personal expe rience, before an audience of 300 men and women. The political message of the emotion‐charged evening was that women were the only true experts on unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and that every woman has an in alienable right to decide whether or not she wishes to bear a child.

Redstockings' membership counts are a closely held secret, but I would estimate that the number does not ex ceed 100. Within the move ment, Redstockings push what they call “the pro woman line.” “What it means,” says a member, “is that we take the woman's side in everything. A woman is never to blame for her own submission. None of us need to change ourselves, we need to change men.” Redstockings are also devout about con sciousness‐raising. “Whatever else we may do, conscious ness‐raising is the ongoing political work,” says Kathie Amatniek. For the last few months, the various Redstock ing groups have been raising their consciousness on what they call “the divisions be tween women that keep us apart”—married women vs. single, black women vs. white, middle class vs. working class, etc.

While Redstockings organ ized its abortion speak‐out, the New York chapter of NOW formed a committee to lobby for repeal of restrictive abortion legislation. These dissimilar approaches to the same problem illustrate the difference in style between the two wings of the women's movement.

BUT within New York NOW itself, a newer, wilder brand of feminism made an appear ance. Ti‐Grace Atkinson, a Friedan protegee and the president of New York NOW, found herself in increasing conflict with her own local chapter and Friedan over NOW's hierarchical structure a typical organization plan with an executive board on top. Ti‐Grace, a tall blonde who has been described in print as “aristocratic look ing,” had come to view the power relationship between NOW's executive board and the general membership as a copycat extension of the standard forms of male domi nation over women in the so ciety at large. She proposed to NOW that all executive offices be abolished in favor of rotat ing chairmen chosen by lot from the general membership. When Atkinson's proposal came up for, a vote by the general membership of the New York chapter in October, 1968, and was defeated, Ti Grace resigned her presidency on the spot and went out and formed her own organization. Named the October 17th Movement — the date of Ti Grace's walkout from NOW— it made a second debut this summer as The Feminists, and took its place as the most radical of the women's liber ation groups. (New York NOW suffered no apparent effects from its first organiza tional split. Over the last year it has gained in membership as feminism has gained ac ceptabilty among wider cir‐ cles of women.)

The Feminists made anti elitism and rigorous discipline cardinal principles of their organization. As the only radical feminist group to take a stand against the institution of marriage they held a sit in at the city marriage license bureau last year, rais ing the slogan that “Marriage Is Slavery.” Married women or women living with men may not exceed one‐third of the total membership.

Differences over such mat ters as internal democracy, and the usual personality con flicts that plague all political movements, caused yet an other feminist group and another manifesto to make their appearance this fall. In November, Shuli Firestone and Anne Koedt set up a plan for organizing small groups— or “brigades,” as they prefer to call them—on a neighbor hood basis, and named their over‐all structure the New York Radical Feminists. Eleven decentralized neigh borhood units (three are in the West Village) meet jointly once a month.

The Radical Feminists co exist with the Feminists and the Redstockings without much rivalry, although when pressed, partisans of the vari ous groups will tell you, for instance, that Redstockings do too much consciousness raising and not enough action, or that the Feminists are “fascistic,” or that the Radi cal Feminists are publicity hungry. But in general, since interest in the women's liber ation movement has always exceeded organizational ca pacity, the various groups take the attitude of “the more the merrier.”

DESPITE the existence of three formal “pure radical feminist” organizations, hun dreds of women who consider themselves women's liber ationists have not yet felt the need to affiliate with any body larger than their own small group. The small group, averaging 8 to 15 members and organized spontaneously by friends calling friends has become the organizational form of the amorphous move ment. Its intimacy seems to suit women. Fear of express ing new or half‐formed thoughts vanishes in a friend ly living‐room atmosphere. “After years of psycho analysis in which my doctor kept telling me my problem was that I wouldn't accept quote—my female role,” says a married woman with two children who holds a master's degree in philosophy, “the small group was a revelation to me. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, it was O.K. to express feelings of hostil ity to men.” Says another woman: “In the small group I have the courage to think things and feel feelings, that I would never have dared to think and feel as an indi‐ vidual.”

THE meetings have often been compared to group therapy, a description that most of the women find irri tating. “Group therapy isn't political and what we're doing is highly political,” is the gen eral response. In an early paper on the nature and func tion of the small group, Carol Hanisch once wrote, “Group therapy implies that we are sick and messed up, but the first function of the small group is to get rid of self blame. We start with the assumption that women are really ‘neat’ people. Therapy means adjusting. We desire to change the objective con‐ ditions.”

The groups are usually leaderless and structureless, and the subjects discussed at the weekly meetings run the gamut of female experience. The Radical Feminists offer to new groups they organize a list of consciousness‐raising topics that includes:

• Discuss your relation ships with men. Have you noticed any recurring pat terns?

• Have you ever felt that men have pressured you into sexual relationships? Have you ever lied about orgasm?

• Discuss your relation ships with other women. Do you compete with women for men?

• Growing up as a girl, were you treated differently from your brother?

• What would you most like to do in life? What has stopped you?

“Three months of this sort of thing,” says Shuli Fire stone, “is enough to make a feminist out of any woman.”

THE kind of collective thinking that has come out of the women's liberation move ment is qualitatively different from the kinds of theorems and analyses that other politi cal movements have gener ated. “Women are different from all other oppressed classes,” says Anne Koedt. “We live in isolation, not in ghettos, and we are in the totally unique position of hav ing a master in our own houses.” It is not surprising, therefore, that marriage and child care are two subjects that receive intensive scrutiny in the small group.

If few in the women's movement are willing to go as far as the Feminists and say that marriage is slavery, it is hard to find a women's liber ationist who is not in some way disaffected by the sound of wedding bells. Loss of per sonal identity and the division of labor within the standard marriage (the husband's role as provider, the wife's role as home maintenance and child care) are the basic points at issue. “I have come to view marriage as a built‐in self destruct for women,” says one divorcee after 12 years of marriage. “I married early, right after college, because it was expected of me. I never had a chance to discover who I was. I was programed into the housewife pattern.” Many married women's liberation ists will no longer use their husbands' last names; some have gone back to their maiden names, and some even to their mothers' maiden names.

One paper that has been widely circulated within the movement is entitled “The Politics of Housework,” by Pat Mainardi, a Redstocking who is a teacher and painter. “Men recognize the essential fact of housework right from the beginning,” she wrote. “Which is that it stinks. You both work, you both have careers, but you are expected to do the housework. Your husband tells you, ‘Don't talk to me about housework. It's too trivial to discuss’ MEAN ING: His purpose is to deal with matters of significance. Your purpose is to deal with matters of insignificance. So you do the housework. House work trivial? Just try getting him to share the burden. The measure of his resistance is the measure of your oppres‐ sion.”

Not only the oppression of housework, but the oppression of child care has become a focus of the women's move ment. Much of the energy of young mothers in the move ment has gone into setting up day‐care collectives that are staffed on an equal basis by mothers and fathers. (Thus far they have proved difficult to sustain.) “Some of the men have actually come to under stand that sharing equally in child care is a political re sponsibility,” says Rosalyn Baxandall, a social worker and an early women's libera tionist. Rosalyn and her hus band, Lee, a playwright, put in a morning a week at an informal cooperative day nursery on the Lower East Side where their 2‐year‐old, Finn, is charter member.

In November, at the Con gress to Unite Women, a con ference that drew over 500 women's liberationists of vari ous persuasions from the New York area, a resolution de manding 24‐hour‐a‐day child care centers was overwhelm ingly endorsed. Women in the movement have also sug gested plans for a new kind of life style in which a husband and wife would each work half‐day and devote the other half of the day to caring for their children. Another pos sibility would be for the man to work for six months of the year while the woman takes care of the child‐rearing re sponsibilities—with the roles reversed for the next six months.

THE “movement women” who did not endorse the sep aratism of an independent radical feminist movement last year and chose to remain in what the feminists now call “the male left” have this year made women's liberation a major issue in their own po litical groups. Even the weatherwomen of Weather man meet separately to dis cuss how to combat male chauvinism among their fel low revolutionaries. The wo men of Rat, the farthest out of the underground radical newspapers, formed a collec tive and took over editorial management of their paper last month, charging that their men had put out a prod uct filled with sexist, women as ‐ degraded‐ object pornog raphy. Twenty ‐ two ‐ year ‐ old Jane Alpert, free on bail and facing conspiracy charges for a series of terrorist bombings, was spokesman for the Rat women's putsh. A black wo men's liberation committee functions within S.N.C.C., and its leader, Frances M. Beal, has said publicly, “To be black and female is double jeopardy, the slave of a slave.”

The new feminism has moved into some surprisingly Establishment quarters. A spirited women's caucus at New York University Law School forced the university to open its select national scholarship program to wo men students. Women's cau cuses exist among the edito rial employes at McGraw Hill and Newsweek. Last month, 59 women in city government, sent a petition to Mayor Lind say demanding that he active ly seek qualified women for policy‐making posts.

THE movement is a story without an end, because it has just begun. The goals of liberation go beyond a simple concept of equality. Looking through my notebook, I see them expressed simply and directly. Betty Friedan: “We're going to redefine the sex roles.” Anne Koedt: “We're going to be redefining poli tics.” Brave words for a new movement, and braver still for a movement that has been met with laughter and hos tility. Each time a man sloughs off the women's move ment with the comment, “They're nothing but a bunch of lesbians and frustrated bitches,” we quiver with col lective rage. How can such a charge be answered in ra tional terms? It cannot be. (The supersensitivity of the movement to the lesbian is sue, and the existence of a few militant lesbians within the movement once prompted Friedan herself to grouse about “the lavender menace” that was threatening to warp the image of women's rights.

A lavender herring, perhaps, but surely no clear and pres ent danger.)

The small skirmishes and tugs of war that used to be called “the battle of the sexes” have now assumed ideological proportions. It is the aim of the movement to turn men around, and the im plications in that aim are staggering. “Men have used us all their lives as ego fod der,” says Anne Koedt. “They not only control economics and the government, they con trol us. There are the women's pages and the rest of the world.” It is that rest of the world, of course, that we are concerned with. There is women's rights button that sometimes wear and the slo gan on it reads, “Sisterhood is Powerful.” If sisterhood were powerful, what a differ‐ ent world it would be.

Women as a class have never subjugated another group; we have never marched off to wars of conquest in the name of the fatherland. We have never been involved in a decision to annex the terri tory of a neighboring country, or to fight for foreign mar kets on distant shores. Those are the games men play, not us. We see it differently. We want to be neither oppressor nor oppressed. The women's revolution is the final revolu tion of them all.

How does a sympathetic man relate to a feminist woman? Thus far, it has not been easy for those who are trying. The existence of a couple of men's conscious ness‐raising groups—the par ticipants are mostly husbands of activist women—is too new to be labeled a trend. “When our movement gets strong, when men are forced to see us as a conscious issue, what are they going to do?” asks Anne Koedt. And then she answers: “I don't know, but I think there's a part of men that really wants a human rela tionship, and that's going to be the saving grace for all of us.” ■

Continue reading the main story

0 thoughts on “Essays On Sisterhood”

    -->

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *