Thursday, July 10, 2008


(Furies office in basement of 221 llth St. SE, mailing out the newspaper, L-R Ginny Berson, Susan Baker, Coletta Reid [standing], Rita Mae Brown, and Lee Schwing. All were members of the collective except Susan Baker. © JEB Joan E. Biren)

In January 1972, a collective of 12 lesbian-feminists in Washington, DD who had named themselves The FURIES began publishing a monthly newsletter, also named The FURIES. This single periodical played a role in the development of lesbian-feminist theory that cannot be overestimated. A year later, ten of these women would begin planning a women's record company that would eventually become Olivia Records, one of the flagships of Women's Music.

Due to the efforts of the Rainbow History Project, all but one of the issues of The FURIES is available online, along with a good herstory and some of JEB's photographs. However, the newsletters are saved as PDF files, which preserves the integrity of the publication but does not allow for online searches of terms. Therefore, I intend to periodically transcribe one of these pivotal essays and post it here for further preservation of our community history (so rapidly being revised and distorted).

I'm starting with the first essay of the first issue, an article by Ginny Berson about The Furies, past and present, and their statement of purpose. It appears after the fold.

Members of The Furies Collective have been identified by Dr. Annie Valk as Ginny Berson, Joan Biren (JEB), Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunch, Sharon Deevey, Susan Hathaway, Helaine Harris, Nancy Myron, Tasha Peterson, Coletta Reid, Lee Schwing, and Jennifer Woodhul.

Below is the table of contents for Issue #1. You may go to the link above to read more on your own.

The Furies, by Ginny Berson
Such a Nice Girl ..., by Sharon Deevey
Women: Weak or Strong, by Lee Schwing
The Dentist, by Ginny Berson
Roxanne Dunbar: how a female heterosexual serves the interests of male supremacy, by Rita Mae Brown
Edward the Dyke and other poems, by Judy Grahn [NOTE: This is not the poem "Edward the Dyke" but instead work from that collection, including two I have published here at my blog, "Detroit Annie Hitchhiking" and "A History of Lesbianism"
Lesbians in Revolt: Male Supremacy Quakes and Quivers, by Charlotte Bunch for the Furies Collective
Queen Christina: Lesbian Ruler of Sweden, by Helaine Harris
Gossip, by Rita Mae Brown
The Price is Wrong, by Susan Hathaway
What's Going On (lesbian news)

(The Anger of Achilles, painted 1819 by Jacques-Louis David; Achilles has just been told by Agamemnon that he will not be allowed to marry Iphigenia because Agamemnon intends to murder he as sacrifice in hopes of changing the winds so he can sail to battle at Troy; Iphigenia is behind her arrogant father, and behind her is her devastated mother, Clytemnestra, who has one brief moment of hope that Achilles will slay her husband and save her daughter's life. This massive painting hangs in the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; the first time I saw it, I broke down in tears.)

THE FURIES by Ginny Berson, in The Furies #1, January 1972, p. 1

The story of the Furies is the story of strong, powerful women, the "Angry Ones, the avengers of matricide, the protectors of women. Three Greek Goddesses, they were described (by men) as having snakes for hair, blood-shot eyes, and bats' wings; like Lesbians today, they were cursed and feared. They were born when Heaven (the male symbol) was castrated by his son at the urging of Earth (the female symbol). The blood from the wound fell on Earth and fertilized her, and the Furies were born. Their names were Alecto (Never-ceasing), Tisiphone (Avenger of Blood), and Magaera (Grudger). Once extremely powerful, they represented the supremacy of women and the primacy of mother right.

Their most famous exploit (famous because in it they lost much of their power) involved Orestes in the last episode connected with the cycle of the Trojan War. Orestes, acting on the orders of the Sun God Apollo, killed his mother Clytemnestra, because she had killed his father. Clytemnestra had killed the father because he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia, in order to get favorable winds so his fleet could sail to Troy. The Furies tormented Orestes; they literally drove him crazy, putting him under a spell where for days he could not eat or wash his blood-stained hands. He bit off his finger to try to appease them, but to no avail. Finally, in desperation, Orestes went before the court of Athena to plead his case.

The point at issue was whether matricide was justifiable to avenge your father's murder, or in other words, whether men or women were to dominate. Apollo defended Orestes and totally denied the importance of motherhood, claiming that women were no more than passive sperm receptacles for men, and that the father was the only parent worthy of the name. One might have thought that Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, would have condemned Orestes, but Athena was the creation of the male God, Zeus, sprung full-grown from his head, the first token woman. Athena decided for Orestes. Some mythologists say that Zeus, Athena, and Apollo had conspired from the beginning, ordering Orestes to kill his mother in order to put an end, once and for all, to the religious belief that motherhood was more divine than fatherhood. In any case, that was the result.

The Furies were, of course, furious, and threatened to lay waste to the city of Athens. But Athena had a direct line to Zeus, King of the Gods; she told the Furies to accept the new male supremacist order or lose everything. Some of the Furies and followers relented, the rest pursued Orestes until his death.

We call our paper The FURIES because we are also angry. We are angry because we are oppressed by male supremacy. We have been fucked over all our lives by a system which is based on the domination of men over women, which defines male as good and female as only as good as the man you are with. It is a system in which heterosexuality is rigidly enforced and Lesbianism rigidly suppressed. It is a system which has further divided us by class, race, and nationality.

We are working to change this system which has kept us separate and powerless for so long. We are a collective of twelve Lesbians living and working in Washington, D.C. We are rural and urban; from the Southwest, Midwest, South and Northeast. Our ages range from 18 to 28. We are high school drop-outs and Ph.D. candidates. We are lower class, middle class and upper-middle class. We are white. Some of us have been Lesbians for twelve years, others for ten months. We are committed to ending all oppressions by attacking their roots -- male supremacy.

We believe The FURIES will make important contributions to the growing movement to destroy sexism. As a collective, in addition to outside projects, we are spending much time building an ideology which is the basis for action. For too long, women in the Movement have fallen prey to the very male propaganda they seek to refute. They have rejected thought, building an ideology, and all intellectual activity as the realm of men, and tried to build a politics based only on feelings -- the area traditionally left to women. The philosophy has been, "if it feels good, it's O.K. If not, forget it." But that is like saying that strength, which is a "male" characteristic, should be left to men, and women should embrace weakness. Most straight women, to say nothing of men, feel afraid or contemptuous of Lesbians. That fear and contempt is similar to the feelings middle class whites have toward Blacks or lower class people. These feelings are the result of our socialization and are hardly worth glorifying. This is not to say that feelings are irrelevant, only that they are derived from our experience which is limited by our class, race, etc. Furthermore, feelings are too often used to excuse inaction and inability to change.

A political movement cannot advance without systematic thought and practical organization. The haphazard, non-strategic, zig-zag tactics of the straight women's movement, the male left, and many other so-called revolutionary groups have led only to frustration and dissolution. We do not want to make those same mistakes; our ideology forms the basis for developing long-range strategies and short-term tactics, projects, and actions.

The base of our ideological thought is: Sexism is the root of all other oppressions, and Lesbian and woman oppression will not end by smashing capitalism, racism, and imperialism. Lesbianism is not a matter of sexual preference, but rather one of political choice which every woman must make if she is to become woman-identified and thereby end male supremacy. Lesbians, as outcasts from every culture but their own, have the most to gain by ending race, class, and national supremacy within their own ranks. Lesbians must get out of the straight women's movement and form their own movement in order to be taken seriously, to stop straight women from oppressing us, and to force straight women to deal with their own Lesbianism. Lesbians cannot develop a common politics with women who do not accept Lesbianism as a political issue.

In this (see page 8) and following issues of The FURIES we will share our thoughts with you. We welcome your comments, letters, articles, fiction, poetry, news, graphics, and support. We want to build a movement in this country and in the world which can effectively stop the violent, sick, oppressive acts of male supremacy. We want to build a movement which makes all people free.

For the Chinese women whose feet were bound and crippled; for the Ibibos of Africa whose clitori were mutilated; for every woman who has ever been raped, physically, economically, psychologically, we take the name of the FURIES, Goddesses of Vengeance and protectors of women.

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