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Pre-2008 Posts

The Feminization of Activist Women


Consider these posters (above as a montage and below) from the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.  They were made by a women’s graphics collective and  replicas are available for purchase from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union website.  

Nos Dueles ChileSlaying PassivityWe Do Not Consent to War

Lipstick and Violence/America and Vietnam

These posters are about women’s outspoken resistance to war and oppression.  They are strident, they are uncompromising, they are militant:   “We Do Not Consent to War,” “Women Are People, Not Property,” “Passivity is the dragon that each woman must slay in her quest for independence.” “Nos Duele Chili!” meaning, “Chili Hurts Us!” (following the coup in which Salvadore Allende was slain and the brutal and murderous Augustus Pinochet installed.)

You’ll notice that there isn’t any pink anywhere on these posters.  There isn’t even any color close to pink, like, say, mauve or rose or lavender.  If you go to the CWLU graphics collective pages,  not a one of the probably 30-40 posters reproduced there is pink or includes imagery which is stereotypically or traditionally feminine.  There are no high heels in evidence, no skirts, no lipstick (other than in the bottom poster, compared with blood on the lips of a Vietnamese woman), there is nothing cutesy and girly, although the posters are very much female-centered.

By way of contrast, compare the posters  above with graphics and imagery created for the Code Pink site, a women’s anti-war/anti-racist/feminist site:

Code Pink Peace PartyCode Pink Blogs

Instead of comparing lipstick with blood on the lips of Vietnamese women during the war in Vietnam, Code Pink sells lipstick and pink panties, emblazoned with,  for example, “No peace, no pussy.”

  Code Pink Panties

Consider this imagery from another women’s peace/environmentalist/anti-racist/feminist  group, The Raging Grannies:

Raging Grannies Emblem  

 Above is the emblem for all of the Raging Grannies chapters in the U.S. and Canada, the little old lady in a purple coat, holding an umbrella. 

Can anyone envision a men’s anti-war/anti-racist/pro-feminist group calling itself “Raging Grampies”?  Or “Raging Gramps”?

Ranging Grannies

Why do the raging grannies appear to be so singularly not raging?  Why are they dressed this way?  What are they communicating?

There’s also the Granny Peace Brigade:

Granny Peace Brigade

At least it isn’t pink, and I like it that the slogan is, “We will not be silent.”  But why the little lady in the dress and the white curly hair?  In fact, the women of the Granny Peace Brigade are serious militants:

Granny Peace Brigade

Granny Peace Brigade

Granny Peace Brigade

I have four grandchildren, but I am not a “granny,” with its connotations of harmlessness and frailty.  I am not a granny or a grandmother by identification, either,  even though these words accurately describe one aspect of my life.   When I am old, I will not be an old lady, or a lady at all.   I will not be wearing purple, red hats, or any of those funny clothes the women in some of the Raging Grannies photos are wearing.  I will be wearing black, I will be wearing gray, I will be wearing face paint, I will be wearing warpaint, because my time will be short, and I do not intend to stop fighting until it’s my time to pass over and to join all of the woman warriors who have preceded me.

I have deep respect and admiration for the work that Code Pink, Raging Grannies, Granny Peace Brigade, and similar groups do, and it’s for that reason that I can only wonder about the names and imagery and merchandise they’ve selected for their work.   Are they attempting to distance themselves from radicalism and from feminism, even though these are central to their lives?  Do they want to be viewed, understood, as harmless?  Do they see themselves as frail and powerless?  Are they afraid people will be afraid of them, will view them as a threat?  Are they afraid they will be taken seriously?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then why?  If yes, then why would any of these be a bad thing?  How have women come so far from the militance of these early posters in less than 40 years?

And why would old women not  instead choose imagery like the following?

Wise Women


Susun Weed





65 thoughts on “The Feminization of Activist Women

  1. In my opinion, they are incapable of thinking outside of patriarchal stereotypes when it comes to visual representation. And to me it undermines the favorable work that they do. Pink keeps them in their place. I have to wonder if they are serious or if they are actually patriarchal submissive who simply want to burn the candle at both ends.

    I will not talk to one of my childhood friends until he apologizes to me for calling me granny over and over. He thinks calling me “granny” (after my daughter had her son a year ago) is funny and that I should lighten up. I will not allow it, not in humoring him or agreeing to disagree. If he wants to talk to me, he will respect my wishes not to be called granny.

    Posted by chasingmoksha | February 11, 2007, 11:24 pm
  2. I think you are very, very correct about the kind of ‘pinkization’ reflective in code pink. I think it’s tacky and caters women who would rather distance themselves from identifying with feminism. As though that in itself is a war to be fought, instead of bringing more women to the table. It’s condescending. The graphics are very similar to ‘chick lit’ and cater to a vacuous consumer culture. I agree.

    This type of ‘feminine reclaimation’ is happening in all political realms where women organize – an organization I am part of has these buttons out (in hot pink of course) with the writing “Voters are hot”… um okay.

    [i]Why do the raging grannies appear to be so singularly not raging? Why are they dressed this way? What are they communicating?/ quote [/i]

    but regarding the raging grannies – you have missed a very central component of their activism here.

    They use “hyper-femininity” to disrupt public spaces. They suffer from being relegated to old women who are not seen and not heard – i.e. AGEISM. They could have easily pulled a joan rivers stunt you know – and gotten cosmetic surgery or wore pink leopard spotted leotards, but instead they dress in very LOUD and COMICAL typically AGEIST clothing to draw attention to themselves. Likewise, the war songs they sing are meant to be cheeky and funny. People assume elderly women do not have a voice – but these women use the stereotypes AGAINST them for GOOD. One of the few cases where reclaimation works. elderly women suffer from having their voices stepped on everywhere. Women in general don’t get heard, older women get heard even less. So what the grannies do is wear totally ‘loud’ clothing to draw attention. And these women have been arrested many times.

    Also, the images that you use to describe what they ought to be like – are many images of CULTURAL appropriation… I.e. similar to what happened with burqagate back at pandagon.

    This is what used to be on their website (I don’t know if it is anymore – I can’t seem to find a url – this is from a lecture I once did on them):

    “The Raging Grannies…
    Are caring women of all ages who use song to protest and raise awareness of the issues of peace, the environment and social justice. Satirical and serious, they are politically conscious but nonpartisan. The Raging Grannies write their own material, setting politically pointed lyrics to familiar melodies.
    Dressed in eye-catching hats and wild “Granny” clothes, they sing wherever and whenever they can; at peace and environmental rallies, in schools in places where the public congregate. Sometimes they show up where they aren’t expected or wanted!
    (From their website: – no longer on their website)”

    Posted by AradhanaD | February 12, 2007, 12:04 am
  3. Rock on, chasingmoksha.

    Aradhana, I understand what the Raging Grannies are doing, but I think it’s ineffective, in the same way other kinds of reclaiming projects are ineffective, i.e., dressing in traditionally sexxee ways in order to somehow make them your own, or take them back, attempting to reclaim words like “b****,” or “s***,” or “w****,” that kind of thing. I think the Raging Grannies are making fun of themselves in hopes of people paying attention, because gee, what fun to make fun of old ladies who are making fun of themselves. I don’t think it’s effective. I think it plays into stereotypes of older women as frumpy, dowdy, silly, slightly off, not quite with it. I think people respond very well to dignified, stateswomen-like older women, like some of the women on the Democrat side of the poster in my post of a couple of days ago.

    You know– I’m 54. I have four grandkids. I know what ageism is.

    As to cultural appropriation, the images I posted are examples of women from all races, including white women. Having said that, I think women’s imagery is women’s imagery, and as such — in general, there are exceptions — belongs to all women.

    You are free to comment here, Aradhana; however, I won’t be engaging you in any back-and-forth which I think will be nonproductive, i.e., comparing posting empowering images of old women with burqua-gate. Just letting you know.


    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 12:33 am
  4. P.S. The images I posted weren’t intended to be what the Raging Grannies should be like. They were intended to be examples of empowering imagery of older women, which could be used in connection with their work, websites, etc.

    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 12:39 am
  5. Well, if nothing else you have just ensured that I’ll never visit the Code Pink website. What a farce!

    Who gave the brief for this image work, and what is it intended to convey to the viewer? Are we supposed to be impressed because one of them is ‘brown’, or because their group leader seemingly manages to be political and fashionable at the same time? Why are they all wearing skirts? Is this the ‘trendy’ face of feminism these days?

    It trivializes everything women have been fighting for.

    Posted by morgan | February 12, 2007, 12:55 am
  6. So true, Morgan, and it’s unfortunate because they do good work. It’s kind of like pink being the breast cancer color. Why pink? It’s just annoying, and I think it’s annoying to most women, not just feminists. Out here at the local grocery store (I live out in the sticks on a rural peninsula with only small mom and pop groceries), on the sale rack, they have five or six breast cancer t-shirts with the pink ribbon embroidered on and they’ve been there forever with a price tag of five bucks. Who wants to wear something like that? It feels like ruffly flannel pajamas or something when breast cancer is serious as a heart attack. Same thing with anti-war work– there’s nothing pink about it!


    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 1:12 am
  7. Great post Heart! I have seen the local Raging Grannies perform, and I think there is some element of what you’ve said–however, I also found them very loud and out and proud and strong old women. They sang, and it didn’t matter if they could carry a tune–they were NOT shy. I have mixed feelings about the can-can dance they did at the end of their performance, the very end of which involved them turning around and flipping up their broomstick skirts to display black bike shorts with anti-Bush bumperstickers emblazoned across their asses. It was just–mixed, is all I can say. It made an impression, definitely, but I’m just not sure if it was a feminist impression.

    Posted by Amy's Brain Today | February 12, 2007, 1:39 am
  8. Dressing up my body to put on a granny performance is not what I am about. I do not do straight femininity and I don’t do camp femininity. I do me. Me at 58 dresses a lot like me at 20, some combo of jeans or chinos, shirt, jersey, sweater. Simple, comfortable, neither adding nor detracting from the message. I am not a performance. I don’t do skirts, dresses, floppy hats, bows. I don’t sex myself up nor erase my age. As Heart said, there is nothing pink about it!

    Posted by jfr | February 12, 2007, 1:46 am
  9. Great post, Heart. I’ve thought about this a lot too.

    I think the pink is a retreat from the backlash against the powerful feminism of the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar ’70’s type the posters exemplify. I was all about women against the Iraq war, but at recent demos (here in Chicago, of Women’s Liberation Union lore) I saw pink bustiers and frilly pink umbrellas and wondered, “What do pink undergarments have to do with being against the war?”

    Nothing, of course. It’s just an attempt to deflect the “angry, shrill, hysterical woman” image by playing girly. That shit never works. You’re damned anyway, so might as well keep your dignity and show your righteous anger. But where oh where are the unapologetic feminist marchers of today?

    Posted by roamaround | February 12, 2007, 5:16 am
  10. Yes, great post Heart.

    I am a ‘little’ unpopular with some of the groups I work with, they are intent on ‘reclaiming’ pink/hot pink, I actively discourage it.

    My personal view is that pink immediately identifies as ‘woman group’ (which they agree), however, the departure is in that I think such a strong identification becomes instantly dismissive as ” it’s only/just a woman’s group ” and therefore not taken as a serious political movement.

    I have suggested things like wearing ‘all black’ to look ‘mean and serious’ and partially ‘threatening’ (well, at least not jovial and happy, nor compliant or girly!). Nor do they take much heed in the importance of dressing alike (to project ‘army’ or ‘a force’) and to be visually strong in order to gain more media exposure. I worked for almost two decades in media and marketing.

    You are right though, reclaiming pink is about as effective as reclaiming the bad words. Not going to work in the political anti-woman climate.

    But I can’t have you diss’ing purple! 😉 Stormy’s ‘corporate colour’ of choice (but purely for personal use, not the political !)

    I’m old and cranky, what the hell do I know???
    [but slightly younger than Heart *wink*] Are the can-can ‘grannies’ all I have to look forward to?

    Reclaiming pink, such a baaaad idea.

    Posted by stormy | February 12, 2007, 9:36 am
  11. I wonder if the difference has anything to do with the fact that the old posters* were created by movement women from start to finish, from sketch-on-back-of-envelope to final print job.

    I wonder also if the poster-producing process itself was something of a radical act, as the trade of printing was more-or-less closed to women at the time.

    Maybe today’s “Code Pink” (and similar) media materials are done by marketing companies and so, in the quest for mass appeal, their rough edges are smoothed and messages homogenized and sanitized for mass consumption.

    * so I was told by my art history professor, at any rate. I suppose she may have been misinformed.

    Posted by antiprincess | February 12, 2007, 3:12 pm
  12. as a founding member (in Victoria, BC, 1987) of the Raging Grannies, i’ll explain our choice of clothing. We were and still are deeply concerned about the future of the grandchildren of this earth, and as peace activists we were not being heard. In 1985, qnd ’86 our peace group (men and women) were doing street theatre, to draw attention to the dangers of nuclear powered and nuclear armed ships coming into our harbours and travelling the Strait of Juan de Fuca just off our shores. We noticed that the men in our peace group had become shy or too busy to do street theatre so we renamed ourselves, decided to dress as old women (most but not all of us were old) with a theatrical flair to our costumes TO GET THE ATTENTION WE NEEDED in order to get our opinions and research heard.
    We never thought the idea would become internationally embraced, and have much admiration for the many strong women who have embraced this technique to get their messages heard.
    When we meet with politicians and other influential people, we do not sing and we are not dressed to the nines, we simply are dressed as earnest ordinary people who have a strong message to discuss.
    I admire the women everywhere who speak out for peace and sanity. My hope is we will not get hung up on appearances, but look instead at the work we do and the impact we are making in the world.

    Posted by fran thoburn | February 12, 2007, 3:32 pm
  13. I am one of the almost original Raging Grannies since 1988. I am approaching 80 yrs. I have been an activist for 58 of those years and when I first saw the Victoria (BC in Canada) I said I want to be one of them so I started a group. We dress up to get attention because who the hell looks at an old woman. And we do get the attention and then we sing, not always in tune but they hear those words loud and clear. We lampoon the awful things that are happening in the world, but we are serious and raging mad at the people who cause oppression and poverty and war. And anyone who says I am not a feminist should listen to what I say. I dont thing anyone has ever accused me of not being a militant activist. We just do it a different way. And as Molly Ivens said. “I am still kickin’ ass!”

    Posted by Jean McLaren | February 12, 2007, 3:56 pm
  14. Very interesting re poster-producing, antiprincess.

    And on the pink/femininity – yes, I am sure it is to make feminism more ‘user-friendly’, but that never works – d-d if you do, d-d if you don’t, might as well go with the strong images from the 70’s.

    Posted by profacero | February 12, 2007, 4:31 pm
  15. As a Canadian Raging Grannie, perhaps I should answer some of the comments about Raging Grannies. The idea began in Canada, in 1982 when US war ships were to enter Esquimalt harbour in British Columbia. Many Canadians wanted our government to tell the U S that their ships were not welcome if they carried nuclear weapons (New Zeland had done that). Our government would not do that, so a group of older women attended the harbour to protest..they dressed as “harmless” old ladies to show the contrast. Later, these women took part in protests to save the old growth forests, sometimes being arrested. This type of thing would bring no press coverage, if the arrests were of young “hippies” in those days. But, arresting a grandmother did bring publicity and that is what was needed. There are differences between U S and Canadian ways of dealing with governments and other powers…and there are differences in approach to world events. My “gaggle” still protests: against Canada being in Afganistan, the imprisonment of suspected terrorists with no charges laid…violence against women…we sing and “carry on” it is non-threatening and so catches the eye of many who would not otherwise pay attention.

    Posted by cass | February 12, 2007, 4:57 pm
  16. Whoa, the Raging Grannies have arrived in force!

    Welcome, now I will read your comments. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 5:45 pm
  17. But, arresting a grandmother did bring publicity and that is what was needed.

    So true!

    I appreciate these comments and deeply respect the work all of you do.


    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 5:49 pm
  18. we have an agreement in codepink (one of about 11 core agreements), that one’s criticism only carries as much weight as the work one has done.

    the other part of that agreement is that if one does criticize, then she is committed to doing the work it takes to implement the improvement.

    peace, power, protest, participation, zanne sam joi

    Posted by zanne joi | February 12, 2007, 5:50 pm
  19. Hey, zanne joi, those agreements are entirely reasonable and thanks for weighing in.

    Heart, feeling a bit sheepish…

    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 6:05 pm
  20. Raging Grannies are pretty much dismissed as ineffective in Canada. They play the cute old lady card, and that’s pretty much how the media depicts them. They pretty much support the male lefty agenda, you know, 20/20 vision for old growth forests, sawhet owls and war, but not able to see how the patriarchy they shore up defines our rape culture. I would be embarrassed to be involved with them, and I’m 64.

    Posted by Pony | February 12, 2007, 6:31 pm
  21. “we have an agreement in codepink (one of about 11 core agreements), that one’s criticism only carries as much weight as the work one has done.

    the other part of that agreement is that if one does criticize, then she is committed to doing the work it takes to implement the improvement.”


    That pretty much shuts down disagreement about republicans and conservatives to card carrying members of those political parties.

    Nice try but no go.

    Posted by Pony | February 12, 2007, 6:37 pm
  22. LOL Pony. I knew there was something wrong with what she said, but because I have not had my coffee yet all I could think of was “Oh yeah? You’re still PINK!”

    Posted by chasingmoksha | February 12, 2007, 6:39 pm
  23. CM I’m just between surgical procedures, so make another pot of coffee and carry on here without me.

    This is like reverse racism. You might get some publicity for playing your race card, Uncle Tom’ing it so to speak, and no offense intended, but you better then be prepared to live with that being how you’re going to be seen. No one holds doors open for me, and you can shove your over 5565 benefits that come with a buttload of sexism and ageism.

    Rad fems in the 70s fought so that we didn’t have to use stereotypes to get through, and I refuse to play that game.

    Posted by Pony | February 12, 2007, 7:06 pm
  24. Yeah, true re not using stereotypes to gain attention. On the other hand, street theater is a time-honored form of political activism. The thing is, that kind of thing has never been my style and so that figures in to how I see these things. I hate getting dressed up in costumes, always have, and I never do, even if it’s some sort of occasion where you’re supposed to wear a costume. I’ve participated in many demonstrations/protests, but not in a street theater kind of way.


    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 8:03 pm
  25. I am thoroughly enjoying this thread; so glad it came across my “google alert” that I have set to let me know when something comes up on the web about Raging Grannies. I’d just like to add the note that many of us belong to other organizations, feminist, political, and more, where our voices were not heard beyond the room we stood in, and sometimes not even then.
    After adopting the Raging Granny persona we found the press to be a vehicle for our opinions, and the media coverage almost always favorable. In addition to international press coverage….CNN, all the major TV networks, SF Chronicle, NY Times, and even, yes, the Dreaded FOX-TV. When we were covered in Rolling Stone magazine it was an instant “connection” with the young folks we met, many of whom had seen us in the magazine. For just some of the press coverage go to

    Posted by Granny Ruth Robertson | February 12, 2007, 8:19 pm
  26. sorry typed that in wrong it is

    And that page is primarily coverage of Grannies in just one group, the Peninsula Raging Grannies Action League based in Palo Alto, CA

    Canadian Grannies are often seen in the French press and Rochester Raging Grannies on C-SPAN and CNN. Canadian Grannies have been the inspiration for ALL Grannies and to say they are “dismissed” in Canada is to show a lack of understanding as to what they have created for Grannies worldwide (Israel, Japan, Greece, UK more)

    Posted by Granny Ruth Robertson | February 12, 2007, 8:24 pm
  27. As a very active raging Granny with Raging Granny Action League here in Northern California I personally go for more dignified but still very Granny-ish outfits. That is, when I am not in costume for our street theater.

    However, whatever form it takes, the Granny image has the huge advantage of being smear-proof. After seeing endless photos of protesters looking like folks on the margins, which in itself is threatening to many Americans, I am consider it a PR victory to see our non-threatening image, especially when it is, for instance, bigger than the photo of Cheney. It is also hard to dismiss us as ill-informed or misfits, as is sometimes implied or even overtly stated in the press about other activists.

    Thanks to our excellent media spokesperson, we also get tons of coverage for our issues and even for a candidate or two. Besides just appearing as Grannies, we work hard to prominently display props and signs that convey our message. For instance our photo with frying pan and the sign saying “Out of the frying pan into the fire” made the AP feed and is an educational comment on the Bush speech on Iraq. In advertising/PR terms, the coverage we bring to progressive issues is worth vast sums.

    We also use street theater with an emphasis on educational photo ops, such as costumed hazmat inspectors on Hiroshima day. Our group works hard to research and educate about issues, as opposed to bashing politicians we don’t like, however much fun that is. And we even find that other activists are not fully informed about the issues and can often use a dose of information.

    When we appear at rallies we offer audience participation via song sheets and repetitive choruses to our songs, often a huge relief to the audience in between over-long speeches. We also get a lot of love vibes from young activists who express great appreciation for our presence, representing a generation they might otherwise feel alienated from.

    I think our presence has a calming influence on the police, by lowering the perceived threat level. We sometimes put ourselves between the police and the protesters so everyone relaxes a bit.

    Finally, being composed of and run by older women, we don’t have to spend time or energy dealing with male domination or ageism issues and can chose our timing and physical environment to suit our aging bodies.

    Granny Gail

    Posted by Gail Sredanovic | February 12, 2007, 10:25 pm
  28. Regarding Code Pink. I’m surprised no one has mentioned that the name was chosen was a pointed response to the Code Red and Code Orange designations after the 9-11 attacks. I viewed it as a response then to the militants and males in power in our US government that feel they can ‘make war’ anytime they want.

    Also, my identity is a complex mixture of many parts… I’ve always been a woman, a thinker, a Christian, white, of European background, but I’ve married into a family so now have Muslim arab close relatives whom I love dearly. I’ve been over 65- and under 30; a grandmother- a single mother- a mother- a wife -a single woman- a young girl. I have grey hair now, but had brown hair. So we change in body, in relationships, in perspectives, in responsibilities. I embrace all that I have been and all that I am now… and all that I may become. I embrace all humanity. So slamming certain groups provides no great benefit. Working for peace and against all injustices are much better goals, in my opinion. Each person should find a place to ‘be active’ in the ways most meaningful to them, which will benefit others.

    I enjoy being a Raging Granny. I admire the work that Code Pink has done. Last year Code Pink sponsored several Iraqi women on tour throughout the US and we were able to have one of them speak in my home town. And that really impacted a number of people in our community! So more power to Code Pink. And more power to today’s feminists. It’s the results and the respect for all humanity on the way to achieving one’s goals that counts, in my opinion.

    Peace, salaam, shalom..

    Posted by Lorna | February 12, 2007, 11:21 pm
  29. Loving hearing from all of you women, getting an education, thanks for all you’ve commented so far. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | February 12, 2007, 11:56 pm
  30. I’m a Raging Granny. I can tell you no one ever paid any attention to me before, but they do now. After Ashcroft spoke in dDetroit, the reporters came out to a protest of 20 to 30 people, including 8 Grannies. The reporters made a beeline for us, and walked right past the other protesters. In the past reporters would take pictures of the one communist demonstrator or the one demonstrator with 50 buttons on their hat and ignore the rest of the normal looking people in attendance. People watching TV or reading the paper were left with the impression it was only the far left & nut cases out there. Now they take pictures of Raging Grannies and print our lyrics or play snips of our songs. And they really like our songs!

    In any case, we need more people out there, doing whatever they can, in whatever way they feel most effective.

    Holding a protest, AGAIN, well OK then, we need to continue to raise consciousness.

    Want to join Code Pink? Cool.

    Want to be a Raging Granny? Great.

    Got a better newer idea? Let’s hear it.

    See all of you in the streets!

    Posted by Kathy | February 13, 2007, 12:46 am
  31. “People watching TV or reading the paper were left with the impression it was only the far left & nut cases out there. ”

    What about the “grannies” who are the far far left? Might not have been your intent, but you just rudely painted a lot of women who read this forum into a corner: you’re the cozy woman next door, they’re the batshit radicals. I think Heart’s message in the opening post was that you’re also painting yourself into a corner, there. It might be a safer corner, a more expedient corner, a corner with a bunch of perks, but it’s still a corner.

    Cindy Sheehan’s singular identity of Mother of Dead Kid was useful for a while, but men didn’t privilege that by rewarding her with authority, men only privileged her taking up that role. Which is why Real Activists [tm] pathetically and paradoxically dumped her on the side of the road and told her to stay the hell away from their serious buisiness.

    You know what other activists got mainstream media attention, especially just as the Iraq war started out: young women who got naked (often urged on by old men), but nudity activism was big stuff. So yeah, they were girls gone wild — nut jobs — and didn’t really get very far, but they got attention, they got print. I’m just pointing out that attention isn’t the all and be all of performative activism.

    Just offering some ideas; it’s hard to say, but it does kind of bug me how many statements here by grannies vis-a-vis other protesters have a very “us” vs.” them” dymanic, like they’re one thing, you’re another. On one hand, I think that’s great, older women not getting lost in the crowd for a change. On the other, it’s also kind of sad, that kind of separation, not the least of which is that it relies on a patriarchal division between women; i.e. what trope or gimmick would younger women have to pull to be noticed in the male crowd?

    Oh, there’s that nudity thing.

    Or there was that radical cheerleading thing that took off all over the place a few years back. Of course, unlike grannies, which men couldn’t co-opt (since everyone “owns” one or two they don’t much need to), males really took to the cheerleading, particularly because they received the most attention, whether they were men hamming it up or transwomen using it for secondary purposes.

    Posted by Rich | February 13, 2007, 1:33 am
  32. In order to address the appropriateness of the tactics we use we must simultaneously address the issue of the goals we are working towards. If our goal is a short term one, like ending the war in Iraq, almost any non-violent action, if it furthers the goal, is appropriate. Personal style will help dictate what tactics each one of us use, but just about anything that works is ok, if it hastens the end of the war. If wearing pink is part of an effective strategy towards ending the war, then wear pink, if that is your preference

    On the other hand, if the goal is something as long term as creating a genderless society which is not based on a politics of hieirarchy and oppression, something which cannot be accomplished in any one of our lifetimes, or even in only a few generations of future lifetimes, then the question of tactics changes. I do not want to embody in my protest against a gender-based society the very aspects of femininity that I am protesting nor do I want to enact in my protest the very forms of oppression that I am protesting. If my goal it to dismantle gender then wearing pink, an expression of gender, makes no sense.

    My achievement of crone status has helped me see all this more clearly. I am working for change but it is not change that is going to all happen in my lifetime. I must be patient in my actions, working hard to undo my patriarchal conditioning, embodying and enacting the kind of society I envision in everything I do as best as I am able. There is no way to hurry this. It makes no more sense to work towards a genderless society by enacting femininity than it does to work towards a non-violent society through the practice of violence.

    Posted by jfr | February 13, 2007, 3:51 am
  33. “So slamming certain groups provides no great benefit. Working for peace and against all injustices are much better goals, in my opinion.”

    With all due respect, Lorna, working for peace and justice actually requires slamming certain groups. I respect the time and energy Code Pink women are putting into an urgent cause, but I reserve the right to critique their strategy.

    Using pink underwear as a peace statement is problematic: “No peace, no pussy” sends the message that women’s sexuality is a bargaining chip for male powerbrokers. It represents women as subordinates in political and sexual decision making, and as a woman I have a right to object to that.

    I do have an idea: Code Pink should rethink the cutesexygirly direction the organization seems to have taken and fight the war with the unapologetic anger the situation merits. To do otherwise is an injustice to all women.

    Posted by roamaround | February 13, 2007, 4:01 am
  34. The unassailability of the granny image was what the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo deployed to bring down the dictatorship in Argentina.

    Posted by profacero | February 13, 2007, 4:19 am
  35. No one has any grief with mothers grandmothers and women being out there protesting, which is what was done in Argentina, with great effect because they didn’t make themselves ridiculous. They weren’t being cute patriarchal stereotypes who confuse patronizing dismissal and freaks and creeps media coverage as activism.

    Posted by Pony | February 13, 2007, 4:43 am
  36. Lots to think about here. For clarity, I l am convinced of the value of grandmothers *as* grandmothers in political activism and of grandmother imagery, as well, particularly if we include as grandmothers those crones who may not have biological children but who have “children” nonetheless, by virtue of love, mentoring, or other kinds of connection. I don’t think it is really possible to overdo when it comes to honoring and respecting the strength and wisdom of old women, particularly given the status of old women in men’s world. In fact, I (briefly– I always have way too many ideas for my own good!) toyed with starting something called a “Thousand Grandmothers Campaign” after having heard Holly Near perform her song, “Thousand Grandmothers” at Michfest two summers ago. I didn’t do it, but somebody else already had, or did, and the Thousand Grandmothers Campaign has taken off and regularly protests the School of the Americas. I do think grandmothers are strategically located, for many reasons and in many ways, to challenge male power. My issue isn’t with grandmothers as political militants, but has to do with how those grandmothers present. I worry that the “granny” idea and presentation defang the power that all of us recognize in the Crone, the power that has caused men throughout the ages to mythologize us as ugly old witches, yet very powerful witches, able to perform all sorts of powerful magic, and dangerous (especially to men) for that reason. Well– we are powerful. We are powerful because we’ve seen it all, done it all, and aren’t impressed with much of it anymore. We’re powerful because we realize that we know more, we are far more wise, far more competent, far more compassionate than any and all of the world’s leaders put together, and yet they are making the decisions which have turned our world into a hellhole while we are doing whatever it is we must do– supporting our families, caring for family and friends, caring for the earth and it’s creatures, holding the world together. We are powerful because we can’t be fooled. We are powerful because we can’t be bought. We are powerful because we aren’t at the mercy of our emotions or our impulses or our longings anymore. We are powerful because you can’t pull the wool over our eyes, we saw you coming and know exactly what you’re up to, we have very, very keen eyesight and we are not hard of hearing, no matter the state of our physical faculties. We Know Things. We See Things. We Understand Things. In a way nobody else does. And so men have made us to be the ugly evil witches, scary, fearsome, and they have murdered many thousands of us on that basis, some way or another, whether at the gallows or in witches pools or in mental hospitals or in our homes or in the streets.

    My sense is, why not be ourselves in all of our power, without trying to make ourselves more palatable, less scary, less threatening than we are. We *are* threatening– because we know. We *are* scary– because we’ve got your number. We *aren’t* palatable, because we don’t need to be and don’t care to be. I am the woman men have warned you about. I am not afraid of you. There is nothing you can do to me. There is no way you can hurt me. Life has taught me, I’m not going until it’s my time, and until then, I’m raising plenty hell. There is a lot of power in that. I would like to wear that power clean and neat. I would like to know right up front how people react to the power that I have and whether I can trust them. I don’t have time for playing games or making nice. I don’t really want to work so hard to make anyone comfortable with who I am. I did that for decades. Those years are in the past for me now.

    I think of Nawal Al Sadaawi whose speech I posted yesterday: “You say I am a savage and dangerous woman. I say I tell the truth, and the truth is savage and dangerous.” The truth of my life *is* savage. It *is* dangerous. But my years have bought me the privilege and the right to walk openly and powerfully in the savage and dangerous truth of my life, without apologizing for it, or making excuses for it, or working to make anybody feel more comfortable around me. As I said in some post somewhere, I don’t care whether people like me in this season of my life, I just value being respected.

    I am not at all critical of the work Raging Grannies do, I think you women ROCK. That was never my issue. My issue is, I wonder why Raging Grannies don’t just openly rage, you know? I know myself to be capable of deep rage, great fierceness and deep love and compassion, all at the same time. I think many old women are the same. Why not just be that, unmodified, no floppy hats, no purple coats (well, Stormy can! 🙂 really don’t have a problem with purple, just with the red-and-purple society thing). Old lady presentation with the permed short hair and the skirts and sensible black shoes is unnecessary. Why not present as the shamans, the woman healers, the witches, gorgons, crones most of us know ourselves to be, in all of our fierce power? If not now, when?

    Love that link, profacero!

    Here are the words to “Thousand Grandmothers” for those who haven’t heard it. It is a powerful, beautiful, soulful women’s anthem. I never liked or appreciated Holly Near until I heard her sing this song. It catches some of the fierce, dignified, dangerous compassion I am meaning to get at when I talk about my own feelings about the power of grandmothers.

    A Thousand Grandmothers
    Words and music by Holly Near

    Send in a thousand grandmothers
    They will surely volunteer
    With their ancient wisdom flowing
    They will lend a loving ear

    First they’ll form a loving circle
    Around the wounded wing
    Then contain the brutal beasts of war
    Sweet freedom songs they’ll sing

    A lullaby much stronger
    Than bombs and threats to kill
    A force unlike we’ve ever seen
    Will break the murderer’s will

    To the prisons we’ll invite them
    The most violent men will weep
    When 1000 women hold them strong
    And pray their souls to keep

    Let them rock the few who steal the most
    And rule with youthful charms
    So they’ll see the damage that they do
    And will fall into grandma’s arms
    2000 loving arms

    If you think these women are too soft
    To face the world at hand
    Then you’ve never known the power of love
    And you fail to understand

    An old woman holds a powerful force
    When she no longer needs to please
    She can cut your shallow life to bits
    And bring you to your knees
    We’d best get down on our knees

    And pray for a thousand grandmothers
    Will you please come volunteer
    No longer tucked deep out of sight
    Will you bring your power here?
    Will you bring your power here?


    Posted by womensspace | February 13, 2007, 5:03 am
  37. One tactic Code Pink employed to stop the war on Iraq that bothered me a lot more than the pink costumes was to go along with most antiwar organizations in supporting John Kerry in 2004. It may have been true then that there was no reasonable alternative, but Kerry did not deserve the support. He was no great friend of women or opponent of the war, but what did standing on principle matter in the face of the imperative to support anybody but Bush! It appears to me the antiwar movement has never recovered from that blunder, so the war situation has gone steadily downhill, war with Iran looming just over the horizon as Democrats and Republicans alike make belligerent noise about how Iran must never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

    Posted by Aletha | February 13, 2007, 5:21 am
  38. Wow, Heart. Thank you for the amazing, inspiring words. I want a copy of the poster you make entitled: “We are powerful because…”

    Not cute and comical; not ingratiating and frivolous: “Fierce, dignified, dangerous” and powerful.

    Posted by roamaround | February 13, 2007, 5:41 am
  39. A thoroughly self-respecting woman need not dress in a uniform of black to advertise her militancy. Young or old, she can wear pink, purple, orange, or black without fear of being color-coded. As a feminist from before that term came into usage, I’m troubled by comments posted in this exchange that express the very preoccupation with appearances that they mistakenly attribute to those who might commit civil disobedience in a silly hat.

    It is because Raging Grannies are for the most part aged radicals that we flout and exaggerate the stereotypes of elderly women. We have been disregarded and dismissed throughout our lives, even by the progressive men we worked beside for civil liberties and peace, and with age have come further indignities. Whether in jeans or goddess garb, elderly women are viewed as foolish and inconsequential.

    Our costumes satirize this perception. Frumpy, garish, or absurdly prim, they say “we are a vital force, and we are not afraid.” And when we offer cookies to recruiters or raise our voices at a navy base, our message is heard and reported. Our harmless appearance is the deliberate incongruity that gets attention. It is also more effective in overthrowing the stereotype than if we dressed more conventionally.

    Port Townsend Raging Gran Laureen

    Posted by Laureen Martin | February 13, 2007, 6:23 am
  40. Do I get a whiff of dogmatism and rigidity in s Well, OK it that’s what floats your boat. As one of the responders noted, all forms of activism are welcome and social change is a big tent. And are some of the comments more focused on personal self-fulfillment than on being effecive. Well, OK, self-fulfillment and self expression are good things, too.

    Raging Grannies Action League tries above all to be effective in promoting our cause, which we sometimes describe as the modest goal of saving the world.

    When we communicate we are less concerned with self-expression than with being effective communicators and educators(and, where appropriate, cheerleaders for other activists). We try always to keep our audience in mind.

    Our speciality is placing our message in the media. The person who referred in comments above to “creeps and freaks” media coverage has surely not followed our appearances in the media. Indeed, I myself would be hard pressed to to recount them all. They include numerous thoughtful interviews and video or photos of our signs or street theater that speak volumes about topics that are otherwise being blanked out in our press. Often reporters quote directly from our statements and/or our press releases. One example is the photo of our coffin labeled “fair elections” and our funeral procession with mouners and flowers that protested the 2004 election fraud –a topic that was otherwise pretty much blacked out in our media.

    Then, too, we have to remember the role of humor in promoting communication. This is known in the teaching biz as “lowering the affective screen.” There’s a reason why speakers often start with a joke. Since looking at the awful state of things is hard, we sweeten the pill. Above all,we actually get people to listen.

    Our thanks and homage to the Raging Grannies of British Columbia who got this all started with their brilliant ideas.

    Granny Gail

    Gail Sredanovic

    Posted by Gail Sredanovic | February 13, 2007, 8:59 am
  41. Oops, my editing fell short. The first sentence got cut off and mourners got missspelled. Oh well.
    Granny(not the best typist)Gail

    Posted by Gail Sredanovic | February 13, 2007, 9:07 am
  42. “No peace, no pussy” sends the message that women’s sexuality is a bargaining chip for male powerbrokers. It represents women as subordinates in political and sexual decision making, and as a woman I have a right to object to that.

    well – it’s not like there’s no precedent for the Lysistrata idea.

    on the flip side of that, I think the phrase “girls say yes to boys who say no” was bandied about during the late 60s- early 70s.

    Posted by antiprincess | February 13, 2007, 1:30 pm
  43. Yeah, that’s true antiprincess. But we learned (re “girls say yes to boys who say no.”) We ended up at “Goodbye to All That,” you know?


    Posted by womensspace | February 13, 2007, 1:57 pm
  44. I’m sayin’ – nothing new under the sun.

    Posted by antiprincess | February 13, 2007, 2:34 pm
  45. “well – it’s not like there’s no precedent for the Lysistrata idea. ”

    Yeah, it was a comedy written by men in a society that deemed all women recklessly licentious.

    Also, there was a Lysistrata Project in the early days of the war that held readings of the comedy, not understanding it was a comedy and not high drama, and that movement was made up of a high proportion of men.

    Also also, there was all the Fuck the Vote crap before the presidential election, as if that sort of frat boy atmosphere (helped on by types like Antiprincess, I’m sure) would get out an all important demographic of young males to the polls. Only they sat on their couches drinking gatorade and laughed as Bush was reelected.

    Posted by Rich | February 13, 2007, 3:25 pm
  46. I’ve never heard that phrase. Is that part of your historical research on women of choice, anitprincess?

    Posted by Pony | February 13, 2007, 3:47 pm
  47. pony – here’s a link:

    not really researching anything in particular, just general feminist history.

    Posted by antiprincess | February 13, 2007, 4:15 pm
  48. We ended up at “Goodbye to All That,” you know?

    I wonder if the feminization-of-activist-women pendulum swings at all in a predictable pattern over time.

    Posted by antiprincess | February 13, 2007, 5:26 pm
  49. I wonder if the feminization-of-activist-women pendulum swings at all in a predictable pattern over time.

    Yes, it does and it’s called backlash and patriarchy healing itself and the reassertion of male supremacy and some other things.


    Posted by womensspace | February 13, 2007, 5:32 pm
  50. That is not feminist history nor a feminist phrase. Patently obvious to any media studies 101 student.

    Posted by Pony | February 13, 2007, 5:34 pm
  51. Are some of you being mean, or should I say snarky (I hate that word and shall rant about it sometime today) to Anti-princess. You know regardless of pass dealings, we may win her over if we try.

    Posted by chasingmoksha | February 13, 2007, 5:38 pm
  52. Well, I always do fine with antipricess when she’s here talking to me, just for the record. If I sounded snarky (also hate that word) it was unintentional.


    Posted by womensspace | February 13, 2007, 5:43 pm
  53. That is not feminist history nor a feminist phrase. Patently obvious to any media studies 101 student.

    considering it came out of the anti-war movement, I can’t argue with you there.

    there was a lot of critique about it from feminists at the time.

    I was really only wondering if the originators of the pink peace panties thought they were being new or innovative in the whole celibacy-for-peace/put-out-for-peaceniks thing.

    I see your point about “backlash”, Heart. Food for thought.

    Posted by antiprincess | February 13, 2007, 6:20 pm
  54. damn italics tags.

    Posted by antiprincess | February 13, 2007, 6:31 pm
  55. Hey antiprincess, what did you want to italicize? I thought i fixed it for you. 🙂 You had the whole thing italicized.


    Posted by womensspace | February 13, 2007, 6:41 pm
  56. no – you fixed it just the way I wanted it. when the comment was in the moderation queue, fully italicized, I could still see it and didn’t know you were gonna fix it. hence my dismay.

    but thanks for fixing it!

    Posted by antiprincess | February 13, 2007, 6:49 pm
  57. I disagree. I can wear a purple coat all on my own without male supremacy reasserting itself. I’m pretty sure if I were being controlled by a male figure in my life a purple coat would be ruled out, as well as activism. I was there in the 60’s when liberal men controlled women and dismissed their activist ideas. I am feminine because I am a woman. Becoming an activist does not erase that. Wasn’t feminism supposed to allow me to choose my reproductive course, my career, and my clothes freely?

    And I DO have a big bright purple coat 🙂

    “I wonder if the feminization-of-activist-women pendulum swings at all in a predictable pattern over time.

    Yes, it does and it’s called backlash and patriarchy healing itself and the reassertion of male supremacy and some other things.


    Posted by Kathy | February 14, 2007, 12:24 am
  58. Aradhana: They use “hyper-femininity” to disrupt public spaces.

    Does anyone remember the group “Ladies Against Women”? They were a street theatre group, and funny as hell. They dogged Ronald Reagan for 8 solid years. I first saw them in Detroit in 1980, when we were all counter-demonstrating at the Republican National Convention. They got a lot of press at the time and I think might have been interviewed by both OFF OUR BACKS and Ms magazine. Your comment reminded me of them.

    Here is their website, which has photos, too:

    Posted by MrSoul | February 15, 2007, 12:46 am
  59. Fascinating to read all the above. Then i sighed. In three years trying to raise consciousness about HIV in women over 50, sometimes feels as if the Condom Granny in Florida and me, a NYC grandmother with my knitted Condom Amulets, are in this alone. Love to have some company–any color outfit works for me!

    Maggie Kuhn who founded the Gray Panthers is my role model–quirky, in-your-face, with a sense of humor.

    Posted by naomi dagen bloom | February 15, 2007, 3:26 pm
  60. Hi, naomi dagen bloom! I’ve been to your blog in the past and enjoyed my visits — I’ve added you to the blogroll.


    Posted by womensspace | February 15, 2007, 5:01 pm
  61. Question –

    Who is the artist on the purple picture of the old woman, the one looking directly at the viewer? I want a print SO BAD!

    Posted by Oni no Maggie | February 24, 2007, 12:47 am
  62. Hi, Oni no Maggie, welcome 🙂

    That is the work of Atmara Rebecca Cloe and you can buy a print at this link. She’s got other beautiful work there, too. The name of piece you like is “Face of the Goddess.” 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | February 24, 2007, 4:55 am
  63. Hey, that print is on sale for $10 in 8-1/2 by 11. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | February 24, 2007, 4:58 am
  64. Very happy to come upon this discussion while researching for an upcoming presentation for Women’s History Month on “Women in Activist Politics.”
    I’ve stood with Women in Black, in mindful silence of the violence. I’ve costumed and sang with Raging Grannies, spirited and fun in our anti-war message. I’ve flashed pink now and again when a CoDe Pink call to action resonates. I’ve joined Grandmothers for Peace. I’ve walked with 1,000 Grandmothers to close the school of torture. For decades I’ve walked and marched and spoken out for justice & peace. I’ve spilled out of the designated “free speech” arenas into the streets, over the fences, across the lines and into the federal prison system (where women are the fastest growing and least violent of U.S. prisoners). I am not docile but defiant. I applaud any and all expressions of persistent nonviolent dissent. Sometimes I feel strident, and want to shout out, bang pots, sing out. Sometimes the grief of it all calls me to silence, for awhile. So I stand in public silence. Sometimes I need the energy of the young, whose impatience challenges me to step out of a safety zone and be bold.
    I am not limited to or constrained by any of these current manifestations of women- energized dissent. If none are collectively rising nearby, I sometimes just walk alone, with my own sign or button, or banner. Because now, with these crimes of government, crimes of war, our public dissent, in whatever nonviolent form, is an imperative. Otherwise, our complicity is complete.

    I recently had a conversation with a strong, persistent, and long-time activist woman here in these Appalachian mountains. She didn’t like the pink frills of CoDe Pink, the sombre silence of Women in Black, the benign image of Grandmothers for Peace, or the wild costumes of Raging Grannies. Instead, she suggested, why not a group called: Grannies for Gumption.

    Posted by Clare Hanrahan | March 6, 2007, 6:00 pm
  65. Clare, it’s a privilege to read you– thank you for your comment. I agree with every word of it and feel inspired and encouraged. Grannies for Gumption — HA! I do understand using our grandmotherhood as a shield, I guess, in that it is lousy publicity to harm a grandmother, but I like the “crone” imagery better– more fierce, more fearsome.


    Posted by womensspace | March 6, 2007, 6:26 pm

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