Or again, concerning an independent women’s movement
They lose sight of the Primary Struggle. Some special organizing of women’s groups is possible, perhaps, but dangerous: ід terms of turning in on themselves, in terms of becoming petit bourgeois little cliques where they just talk about taking can of the kids all the time, or become a gripe session. (Italics mine)
We have here a complete denial by blacks (and women, no less) of their own principles of Black Power as applied to another group: the right of the oppressed to organize around their oppression as they see and define it, It is sad that the Black Power movement, which taught women so much about their political needs through the obvious parallels, should be the last to see that parallel is reverse. (For a deeper analysis of why this is so, see Chapter 5.) Grass-roots organizing, around one’s own op pression, the end of leadership and power plays, the need for a mass base prior to bloody struggle, all the most important principles of radical politics suddenly do not apply to women, in a double standard of the worst order.
The women’s liberation groups still attempting to work within the larger leftist movement haven’t a chance, foi
their line is dictated from above, their analysis and tactics shaped by the very class whose illegitimate power they are. protesting. And thus they rarely succeed in doing more than increasing the tension that already threatens their frayed leftist groups with extinction. If ever they do become powerful they are bought off with tokens, or, if necessary, the larger group quietly disintegrates and reorganizes without them. Often, in the end, they are forced to split off and join the independent women’s movement after all.
b) Middle-of-the-Road Politicos. Working separately from, but still under the protection of the male umbrella, these groups are ambivalent and confused. They vacillate. Their obvious imitation of traditional (male) left analysis, rhetoric, tactics, and strategy, whether or not they are suited to the achievement of their own distinct goals, is compensated for by a lot of sentimentalizing about the Oppressed Sisters Out There. Their own politics tends to be ambiguous, because their loyalties are: if they are no longer so sure that it is capitalism which directly causes the exploitation of women, they do not go so far as to intimate that men might have anything to do with it. Men are Brothers. Women are Sisters. If one must talk about enemies at all, why not leave it open and call it The System?
c) The Feminist Politicos. This position describes perhaps the largest proportion of the anonymous cell groups of the women’s liberation movement across the country: it is the position toward which many of the Middle-of-the – Roaders eventually drift. Basically it is a conservative feminism with leftist overtones (or perhaps, more accurately, it is a leftism with feminist overtones). While the feminist politicos admit that women must organize around their own oppression as they feel it, that they can best do this in independent groups, and that the primary concentration of any women’s group should be on women’s issues, every effort is still made to fit such activities into the existing leftist analysis and framework of priorities—in which, of course, Ladies never go first.
Despite the seeming diversity within such a spectrum, the three positions can be reduced to one common denominator: Feminism is secondary in the order of political priorities, and must be tailored to fit into a preexistent (male-created) political framework. The fear that if it isn’t watched feminism will go off the deep end, to become divorced from The Revolution, gives away the politicos’ fear that feminism is not a legitimate issue in itself, one that will (unfortunately) require a revolution to achieve its ends.
And here we have the crux of it: Politico women are unable to evolve an authentic politics because they have never truly confronted their oppression as women in a gut way. Their inability to originate a feminist leftist analysis of their own, their need to tie their issue at all times to some “primary struggle” rather than seeing it as revolutionary in itself, let alone central to all revolution, is derived directly from their lingering feelings of inferiority as women. Their inability to put their own needs first, their need for male approval—in this case anti-establishment male approval—to legitimate them politically, renders them incapable of breaking from other movements when necessary, and thus consigns them to mere left reformism,’ lack of originality, and, ultimately, political sterility.
However, the contrast of radical feminism, the more militant position in the women’s liberation movement, has forced the politicos, as well as the conservative feminists, into a growing defensiveness, and, finally, into an increasing radicalism. At first Cuban and NLF women were the unquestioned models, their freedom idolized; now there is a let’s-wait-and-see attitude. Last year purely feminist issues were never brought up without tacking on a tribute to the blacks, workers, or students. This year spokesmen on the left instead talk pompously and importantly of the abolition of the nuclear family. For the Left Brotherhood have been quick to jump in to see what they could co-opt—coming up with a statement against monogamy, at which clear sign of male-at-work, feminists could only laugh bitterly. But still, where SDS didn’t care a damn about a silly woman’s movement a few years ago, it now has taken to giving its’ women a more and more glamorous – role to keep them from bolting, e. g., first place on the Ten Most Wanted list of Weathermen and assorted guerrillas. There are the beginnings of the official leftist acknowledgment of women as an important oppressed group in their own right; some shallow understanding of the need for an independent feminist movement; some degree of consideration of women’s issues and complaints, e. g.j abortion or day-care centers; and the growing tokenism. And, as with the early stages of Black Power, there is the same attempt to appease, the same nervous liberal laughter, the same insensitivity to how it feels to be a woman, disguised under a we’re-trying-give-us-a-kiss grin.
3) Radical Feminism. The two positions we have described usually generate a third, the radical feminist position: The women in its ranks range from disillusioned moderate feminists from NOW to disillusioned leftists from the women’s liberation movement, and include others who had been waiting for just such an alternative, women for whom neither conservative bureaucratic feminism nor warmed-over leftist dogma had much appeal.
The contemporary radical feminist position is the direct descendant of the radical feminist line in the old movement, notably that championed by Stanton and Anthony, and later by the militant Congressional Union subsequently known as the Woman’s Party. It sees feminist issues not only as women’s first priority, but as central to any larger revolutionary analysis. It refuses to accept the existing leftist analysis not because it is too radical, but because it is not radical enough: it sees the current leftist analysis as outdated and superficial, because this analysis does not relate the structure of the economic class system to its origins in the sexual class system, the model for all other exploitative systems, and thus the tapeworm that must be eliminated first by any true revolution. In the following chapters I shall explore the ideology of radical feminism and its relation to other radical theory, in order
to illustrate how it alone succeeds in pulling into focus thf many troubled areas of the leftist analysis, providing foi the first time a comprehensive revolutionary solution.
Offhand we may note that the radical feminist move, ment has many political assets that no other movement can claim, a revolutionary potential far higher, as well as qualitatively different, from any in the past:
1) Distribution. Unlike minority groups (a historical accident), or the proletariat (an economic development), women have always made up an oppressed majority clast (51 percent), spread evenly throughout all other classes, The most analogous movement in America, Black Power, even could it instantly mobilize every black in the country, would command only 15 percent of the population Indeed, all the oppressed minorities together, generously assuming no factional infighting, would not make up a majority—unless you included women. That women live with men, while on some levels our worst disadvantage— the isolation of women from each other has been responsible for the absence or weakness of women’s liberation movements in the past—is, in another sense, an advantage: a revolutionary in every bedroom cannot fail to shake up the status quo. And if it’s your wife who is revolting, you can’t just split to the suburbs. Feminism, when it truly achieves its goals, will crack through the most basic structures of our society.
2) Personal Politics. The feminist movement is the first to combine effectively the “personal” with the "political.” It is developing a new way of relating, a new political style, one that will eventually reconcile the personal— always the feminine prerogative—with the public, with the “world outside,” to restore that world to its emotions, and literally to its senses.
The dichotomy between emotions and intellect has kept the established movement from developing a mass base: on the one hand, there are the orthodox leftists, either abstract university intellectuals out of touch with concrete reality, or, in their activist guise, militantly into machismo, self-indulgent in their action with little concern for political effectiveness. On the other, there is Woodstock Nation, the Youth Revolt, the Flower and Drug Generation of Hippies, Yippies, Crazies, Motherfuckers, Mad Dogs, Hog Farmers, and the like, who, though they understand that the old leafletting and pamphletting and Marxist analysis are no longer where it’s at—that the problem is much deeper than merely the struggle of the proletariat, which, in any case, is hardly the American vanguard—yet have no solid historical analysis of their own with which to replace it; indeed, who are apolitical. Thus the Movement is foundering, either marginal, splintered, and ineffective due to its rigid and outdated analysis or, where it does have mass movement appeal, lacking a solid base in history and economics, “drop out” rather than revolutionary. The feminist movement is the urgently needed solder.
3) The End of Power Psychology. Most revolutionary movements are unable to practice among themselves what they preach. Strong leadership cults, factionalism, “ego – tripping,” backbiting are the rule rather than the exception. The woman’s movement, in its short history, has a somewhat better record than most in this area. One of its major stated goals is internal democracy—and it goes to (often absurd) lengths to pursue this goal.
Which is not to claim that it is successful. There is much more rhetoric than reality on the subject, often disguising hypocritically the same old games and power plays—often with new and complex feminine variations. But it is too much to expect that, given its deep roots in sexual class and family structure, anyone bom today would be successful at eliminating the power psychology. And though it is true that many females have never assumed the dominant (power over others) role, there are many others who, identifying all their lives with men, find themselves in the peculiar position of having to eradicate, at the same time, not only their submissive natures, but their dominant natures as well, thus burning their candle at both ends.
But if any revolutionary movement can succeed at establishing an egalitarian structure, radical feminism will
To question the basic relations between the sexes and between parents and children is to take the psychological pattern of dominance-submission to its very roots. Through examining politically this psychology, feminism will be the first movement ever to deal in a materialist way with the problem.