[sixties-l] "Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement"

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/06/00

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    Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement
    This rich collection of original materials provides a lens through which to 
    view women's liberation, the most influential social movement in the 
    history of the United States.
    Today's women are so comfortable in their authority that they often forget 
    to credit the women's liberation
    movement of the 1960s and '70s for paving the way, from the kitchen to the 
    boardroom, from sexual
    harassment to self-defense, from cheerleading on the sidelines to playing 
    center on the team. Distinguished scholars and active participants in the 
    movement, Linda Gordon and Rosalyn Baxandall have collected a colorful 
    array of documentssongs, leaflets, cartoons, position papers, that 
    illustrate the range of people, places, organizations, and ideas that made 
    up the movement.
    Dear Sisters chronicles historical change in such broad areas as health, 
    work, and family, and captures
    the subtle humor, unceasing passion, and overwhelming diversity that 
    defined the women's liberation
    THE BOOK CLUB Katha Pollitt and Erik Tarloff
    The case for feminist radicals.
    From:	Katha Pollitt
    To:	Erik Tarloff
    Subject: Hold on to Your Hat
    Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2000,
    Dear Eric,
    I think every movement that gets anywhere has both pragmatists and radicals 
    in it. The Abolitionists and the Women's Suffrage movement, which now seem 
    so staid, were full of firebrands and were regularly excoriated as mad 
    revolutionaries out to destroy civilization. Usually, the pragmatists and 
    radicals hate each otheras the leftist feminists represented in Dear 
    Sisters hated Betty Friedan and the National Organization for Women, whom 
    they regarded as liberal sell-outs interested only in changing a few 
    discriminatory laws. (There was some truth to thatNOW originally refused to 
    make reproductive rights one of its issues; Betty Friedan wanted lesbians 
    banned from NOW because they would give credence to the canard that all 
    feminists were gay.) But when we look back historically, it often seems as 
    if they are working different sides of the same street.
    Would we be where we are now had the women's movement lacked its 
    firebrands? I don't think so. One of the things radicals do is shift the 
    paradigm. In the case of women, you could say that the old paradigm was 
    this: Women are, and should be, subordinate to men; the "liberal" change 
    proposed was "women are men's equals in the workplace but are still 
    uniquely responsible for the home"; and the "radical" idea, which we've 
    still only half-absorbed, is that women are equal, periodthe heroines of 
    their own lives, not the support staff for the male half of humanity or the 
    drudges and cheap labor that keeps the economy going.
    That's a huge conceptual shift, a dramatic break with old established
    ways of seeing. Take reproductive rights. The modest "abortion reform"
    movement that preceded the women's movementit advocated for permitting 
    abortion under very narrow circumstances, like rape, insanity, and fetal 
    deformityhad some success chipping away at state bans on abortion, but it 
    took women's liberationists to pull the rug out from the whole idea that 
    the state had the right to compel women to bear children against their 
    will. And that ideaas we can see from the headlines any dayis still 
    And were those old firebrands so man-hating as all that? A lot of them 
    lived with men, loved men, had children with men, were married to men.
    Some of those women are still with those same men today! Others,
    though, suffered a lot when they found that their lovers and husbands
    were not interested in having a more equal relationship. I agree with you
    completely that feminism is good for men and children, toobut lots of
    men were and are tremendously threatened by it all the same. What I hear 
    throughout Dear Sisters is frustration that just and reasonable claimsthat 
    men should be involved with their kids, take responsibility for home life, 
    respect women as their equals, be sexually faithful (an omnipresent theme 
    in these pages!)--should meet with such resistance.
    We both agree that feminism has been a big success. As the book jacket 
    says, it was "the 20th century's most influential movement." The paradigm 
    shift took place, and although reality doesn't yet correspondwhat does it 
    mean to have general support for the idea of equal pay if women don't in 
    fact get that equal pay?--a great deal has changed, especially for the 
    college-educated, professional, Slate-reading class. My editors, at The 
    Nation and on my books, too, have all been women--(but as one of those 
    editors explained to me, one reason for that is that the men who used to go 
    into editorial jobs now go to Wall Street or dot.coms or other more 
    lucrative fields). And of course, the struggle continues. Feminism is far 
    from finishedin either sense of the word.
    As for the women represented in Dear Sisters, some of them became academics 
    like Gordon and Baxandall themselves; writers (Ellen Willis, Marge Piercy, 
    Laura Shapiro, Susan Brownmiller, Alice Kates Shulman); quite a few are 
    still politically active, in women's health advocacy, for example. Others, 
    though, having spent 10 or 12 years as political organizers outside the 
    mainstream of society, found themselves burned-out and marginalized. They'd 
    missed the moment to make a career, they'd counted too much for emotional 
    support on activist-friendship networks that dispersed as the movement 
    faded; they couldn't find their place in the go-go ^A'80s. (Readers who are 
    curious about how some radical feminists went on with their lives and how 
    they look back on the movement now might take a look at The Feminist Memoir 
    Project, a fascinating collection of essays edited by Ann Snitow and Rachel 
    Blau DuPlessis.
    Will we ever see that kind of radical activism again? If Bush becomes 
    president and tries to roll back reproductive rights, anti-discrimination 
    laws, and so on, we may soon find out!
    Hold on to your hat.

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