Saturday, April 19, 2008


I've already referenced the Redstockings group once in my reprinting of their essay The Politics of Housework. Their influence was profound, and in learning about them, you'll find out the roots of some of the different forms of feminism. The theoretical choice to blame men rather than male conditioning or institutions for sexism seems to have originated with the Redstockings -- a choice which I believe failed but is still used as a negative label for all forms of feminism. (Though not mine.)

(Redstockings meet for a consciousness-raising session -- image from an article in Life magazine, An 'Oppressed Majority' Demands Its Rights, by Sara Davidson)

According to Wikipedia, "Redstockings, also known as Redstockings of the Women's Liberation Movement, is a radical feminist group that was most active during the 1970s. The word is a neologism, combining the term bluestocking, a pejorative term for intellectual women, with "red", for its association with the revolutionary left.

"The group was started by Ellen Willis and Shulamith Firestone in February 1969 after the breakup of New York Radical Women. Other early members included Kathie Sarachild, Patricia Mainardi, Barbara Leon, Irene Peslikis, and Alix Kates Shulman. Shulamith Firestone soon split with the group to form New York Radical Feminists along with Anne Koedt. Rita Mae Brown was also briefly a member during 1970. The group was mainly active in New York City, where most of the group's members resided, and later also in Gainesville, Florida. A group called Redstockings West was started in San Francisco in 1969, but was independent of the East Coast group. Redstockings went through several phases of activity and inactivity; they first split up in 1970 and were formally refounded in 1973 by Kathie Sarachild, Carol Hanisch, Patricia Mainardi, and Barbara Leon. (Ellen Willis was involved only peripherally with the reformed group.) In the early 1970s, Redstockings were noted for their 'speakouts' and 'zap actions' (a combination of disruptive protest and street theater) on the issue of abortion rights. Redstockings was one of the influential but short-lived radical feminist groups of the Sixties that produced many of the expressions and actions that have become household words to people in the United States--'Sisterhood is Powerful', 'Consciousness-Raising', 'The Personal is Political', 'The Politics of Housework', 'The Pro-Woman Line', 'The Miss America Protest'.

"More recently, the group leads a project to make available radical feminist papers and original source organizing material building on their concept 'History for Activist Use' through the Women's Liberation Archives for Action, as well as putting out new theory on women's oppression and what to do about it. In 2001, they put out a book called Confronting the Myth of America: Women's Liberation and National Health Care. As of 2006, the group is active and operates a website, though Kathie Sarachild is the only original member still active with the group."

"The group is a strong advocate of consciousness raising and what they refer to as 'The Pro-Woman Line' – the idea that women's submission to male supremacy was a conscious adaptation to their lack of power under patriarchy, rather than internalized 'brainwashing' on the part of women, as was held by some other radical feminist groups. Redstockings holds the view that all men oppress all women as a class and that it is the responsibility of individual men to give up male supremacy, rather than the responsibility of women to change themselves.

"Redstockings relationship to other strands of feminism of the 1970s was complex. Like many other radical feminists, they were critical of liberal feminist groups like the National Organization for Women, whom they viewed as advancing women's liberation only as a type of institutional reform while ignoring the interpersonal power of men over women. The Redstockings were more influenced by Marxism than were other radical feminist groups, however, they nevertheless strongly rejected socialist feminism (which they referred to as 'politico' feminism) as subordinating the issue of women's liberation to class struggle. On the other hand, Redstockings were also against cultural feminism, which in their view substituted the building of a separatist women's culture for political engagement. (In Redstockings' view, most other tendencies of radical feminism, especially after 1975, were expressions of 'cultural feminism'.) Brooke Williams was a member of the group who critiqued this tendency strongly.

"Redstockings were strongly opposed to lesbian separatism, seeing interpersonal relationships with men as an important arena of feminist struggle, and hence seeing separatism as escapist. (Like most radical feminists of the time, Redstockings saw lesbianism primarily as a political identity rather than a fundamental part of personal identity, and therefore analyzed it primarily in political terms.) Redstockings were also opposed to male homosexuality, which they saw as a deeply misogynist rejection of women. Redstockings line on gay men and lesbians is often criticized as homophobic."

Their manifesto is after the fold.

July 7, 1969

1. After centuries of individual and preliminary political struggle, women are uniting to achieve their final liberation from male supremacy. Redstockings is dedicated to building this unity and winning our freedom.

2. Women are an oppressed class. Our oppression is total, affecting every facet of our lives. We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor. We are considered inferior beings, whose only purpose is to enhance men’s lives. Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of physical violence.

Because we have lived so intimately with our oppressors, in isolation from each other, we have been kept from seeing our personal suffering as a political condition. This creates the illusion that a woman’s relationship with her man is a matter of interplay between two unique personalities, and can be worked out individually. In reality, every such relationship is a class relationship, and the conflicts between individual men and women are political conflicts that can only be solved collectively.

3. We identify the agents of our oppression as men. Male supremacy is the oldest, most basic form of domination. 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. All power structures throughout history have been male-dominated and male-oriented. Men have controlled all political, economic and cultural institutions and backed up this control with physical force. They have used their power to keep women in an inferior position. All men receive economic, sexual, and psychological benefits from male supremacy. All men have oppressed women.

4. Attempts have been made to shift the burden of responsibility from men to institutions or to women themselves. We condemn these arguments as evasions. Institutions alone do not oppress; they are merely tools of the oppressor. To blame institutions implies that men and women are equally victimized, obscures the fact that men benefit from the subordination of women, and gives men the excuse that they are forced to be oppressors. On the contrary, any man is free to renounce his superior position provided that he is willing to be treated like a woman by other men.

We also reject the idea that women consent to or are to blame for their own oppression. Women’s submission is not the result of brainwashing, stupidity, or mental illness but of continual, daily pressure from men. We do not need to change ourselves, but to change men.

The most slanderous evasion of all is that women can oppress men. The basis for this illusion is the isolation of individual relationships from their political context and the tendency of men to see any legitimate challenge to their privileges as persecution.

5. We regard our personal experience, and our feelings about that experience, as the basis for an analysis of our common situation. We cannot rely on existing ideologies as they are all products of male supremacist culture. We question every generalization and accept none that are not confirmed by our experience.

Our chief task at present is to develop female class consciousness through sharing experience and publicly exposing the sexist foundation of all our institutions. Consciousness-raising is not "therapy," which implies the existence of individual solutions and falsely assumes that the male-female relationship is purely personal, but the only method by which we can ensure that our program for liberation is based on the concrete realities of our lives.

The first requirement for raising class consciousness is honesty, in private and in public, with ourselves and other women.

6. We identify with all women. We define our best interest as that of the poorest, most brutally exploited woman.

We repudiate all economic, racial, educational or status priveleges that divide us from other women. We are determined to recognize and eliminate any prejudices we may hold against other women.

We are committed to achieving internal democracy. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that every woman in our movement has an equal chance to participate, assume responsibility, and develop her political potential.

7. We call on all our sisters to unite with us in struggle.

We call on all men to give up their male privileges and support women’s liberation in the interest of our humanity and their own.

In fighting for our liberation we will always take the side of the women against their oppressors. We will not ask what is "revolutionary" or "reformist," only what is good for women.

The time for individual skirmishes has passed. This time we are going all the way.

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