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Pre-2008 Posts

An Open Letter from American Feminists

Columnists and opinion writers from The Weekly Standard to the Washington Post to Slate have recently accused American feminists of focusing obsessively on minor or even nonexistent injustices in the United States while ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world.    A number of reasons are given for this supposed neglect:  narcissism, ideological rigidity, reflexive anti-Americanism, fear of seeming insensitive or even racist.  Yet what is the evidence for this apparently now broadly accepted claim that feminists don’t support the struggles of women around the globe? It usually comes down to a quick scan of the home page of the National Organization for Women’s website,  observing that a particular writer hasn’t covered a particular outrage,  plus a handful of quotes wrenched out of context. 
 In fact, as a bit of research would easily show, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of US feminist organizations involved in promoting  women’s rights and well-being around the globe — V-Day, Equality Now, MADRE, the Global Fund for Women, the International Women’s Health Coalition and Feminist Majority, to name some of the most prominent.  (The National Organization for Women itself has a section on its website devoted to global feminism, on which it denounces a wide array of   practices including female genital mutilation (FGM), “honor” murder, trafficking, dowry deaths and domestic violence).  Feminists at Amnesty International, Human Rights  Watch and the United Nations have moved those organizations to add the rights of women and girls to their agenda. Feminist magazines and blogs– Ms,,’s Broadsheet feature, womensenews,com (which has an edition in Arabic) — as well as feminist reporters and commentators in the mainstream media, regularly report on and condemn outrages against women  wherever they occur, from rape, battery and murder in the US to the denial of women’s  human rights in the developing or Muslim world. 
As feminists, we call on journalists and opinion writers to report  the true position of  our movement.   We believe that women’s rights are human rights,  and stand  in solidarity with our sisters who are fighting  for equal political, economic, social and reproductive rights around the globe.  Specifically,  contrary to the accusations of pundits,  we  support their struggle against female genital mutilation, “honor” murder, forced marriage, child marriage,  compulsory Islamic dress codes, the criminalization of sex outside marriage, brutal punishments like lashing and stoning, family laws that favor men and that place adult women under the legal power of fathers, brothers, and husbands, and laws that discount legal testimony made by women.   We strongly oppose the denial of education, health care and equal political and economic rights to women. 
We reject the use of women’s rights language to justify invading foreign countries. Instead, we call on the United States government  to  live up to  its expressed commitment to women’s rights through peaceful means.  Specifically, we call upon it to: 

  • offer asylum to women and girls fleeing  gender-based persecution, including  female genital mutilation, domestic violence, and forced marriage; 
  • promote women’s rights and well-being in all their foreign policy  and foreign aid decisions; 
  • use its diplomatic powers to pressure its allies — especially Saudi Arabia, one of the most oppressive countries in the world for women — to embrace women’s rights; 
  • drop the Mexico City policy–aka the ‘gag rule’–which bars funds for AIDS- related  and contraception-related health services abroad  if they provide abortions, abortion information, or advocate for legalizing abortion; 
  • generously support the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which supports  women’s reproductive health including safe maternity around the globe, and whose funding  is vetoed every year by President Bush; 
  • become a signatory to The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),  the basic UN women’s human rights document, now  signed by 185 nations. The US  is one of a handful of holdouts, along with  Iran, Sudan, and Somalia.  

Finally, we call upon the United States, and all the industrialized nations of the West, to share their unprecedented wealth, often gained at the expense of the developing world,  with those who need it  in such a way that women benefit.
Katha Pollitt, writer
Marge Piercy, writer
Susan Faludi
Alix Kates Shulman, writer
Julianne Malveaux, president Bennett college for women
Anne Lamott, writer
Mary Gordon
Linda Gordon, historian, NYU
Jennifer Baumgardner, writer
Ruth Rosen, historian
Jane Smiley,  writer
Anna Fels, MD, writer
Debra Dickerson, writer/blogger,
Margo Jefferson, writer
Jessica Valenti, writer/blogger,
Dana Goldstein, The American Prospect
Karen Houppert, writer
Gloria Jacobs, The Feminist Press
Carole Joffe,  Sociology, UC Davis
Janet Afary, Middle East Historian, Purdue University
Barrie Thorne, Professor and Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies and Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley 
Catharine R. Stimpson
Lakshmi Chaudhry, writer
Rosalyn Baxandall, chair, American Studies SUNY-Old Westbury
Naomi Weisstein
Alisa Solomon,writer
Judith Ezekiel, historian, Wright State U/U de Toulouse
Barbara Bick
Amy Swerdlow
Kathryn Scarbrough
Bea Kreloff
Drucilla Cornell, prof political science women’s studies and comparative literature, Rutgers
Sonia Jaffe Robbins, writer/editor
Laura X,activist
Linda Stein, sculptor
Stephanie Gilmore, historian, Trinity College
Ariel Dougherty, Media Equity Collaborative, co founder Women Make Movies
Amie Newman, Associate editor, RH Reality check
Merle Hoffman, Choices women’s Medical Center and On the Issues magazine
Adele M. Stan, columnist, American Prospect Online
Michelle Goldberg, writer 

and over 100 other writers, activists, and scholars

If you want to add your name, just email Katha Pollitt with your full name and some kind of identifier, title, or position.

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30 thoughts on “An Open Letter from American Feminists

  1. I wish it were true that most American feminists gave a shit about women Global South. But it does seem like American feminists are so wrapped up in theory, so disconnected from what’s going on in the world. Sure, some feminists care about stopping girl trafficking, FGM, dowry deaths etc. But many others (including the signers of the petition here), would rather talk about how empowered they feel by their bikini waxes, or how we can’t criticize trafficking and FGM because that is denying women’s agency.

    Posted by xochitl | January 23, 2008, 4:27 am
  2. I think most American feminists do indeed give a shit about women in the Global South.

    If wishes were horses and beggars could ride, I’d like to see many many more feminists giving a shit about women in the Global South *and* giving a shit about theory as well. We need it all. We need everything we can have. We need all the brilliance, mastery, knowledge of women’s history, knowledge of theory, activism, compassion, caring, we can possibly have on the part of as many women as possible.

    I see very very few feminists disconnected from what’s going on in the world, and those aren’t the ones who are usually accused of that particular disconnection.

    I have approved your comment, xochitl, but but it’s the only comment of its kind I will approve.

    The women who signed whom you have seen fit to dismiss did, in fact, sign the petition. That may mark a turn in the road for some of them. Maybe some of them, the bikini waxers and the don’t-criticize-trafficking-and-FGM signers will rise to the occasion and become more serious than ever before about the plight of women in the world.

    At some point we are going to have to begin to believe the best about women and to stop treating one another poorly, stop dismissing one another, stop trashing one another.

    Patriarchy does that ALL of the time, you know? We don’t need to participate.

    Posted by womensspace | January 23, 2008, 5:35 am
  3. I wish the letter had called those publications out for their own neglect of both the Global South and women. I have some of the same concerns as xochitl, but agree with you, Heart, that caring about theory and women don’t have to be (are never, actually) mutually exclusive. They’re one and the same.

    Rather than starting with questions about what feminists are concerned enough to what degrees (which misplaced argument I think is actually invited by the defenses in the letter), let’s start by asking: what the hell has The Weekly Standard done for women? I’m sure it talks about “women’s issues” – those that it wants to associate with justifications for the war on terror, such as certain fundamentalist Islamic practices and beliefs. Just like GWB did. But in its every-day reporting, what does the Weekly Standard do for WOMEN, domestic or foreign?

    When has the Washington Post taken the time to consider >50% of the world’s population in its coverage of a trade agreement? Am I missing the part in every WaPo article about business and foreign policy that discusses how decisions affect the poor, who are mostly female?

    And Slate…! Well, speaking of bikini-wax feminism…

    I just wish the letter had been more “let him without sin cast the first stone; since when do we, one small group of prominent women, have to be the sole agents and representatives of all women everywhere at all times, with no responsibility on anyone else’s shoulder”…and less “I’m not racist, some of my best friends and collaborators are ______”

    Screw shouldering the burden for all women; screw the expectation (or possibility!) of speaking for all women.

    American feminists have the power and therefore the responsibility to analyze how the US impacts women around the globe. And white American feminists (who mostly comprise the list of signatories) have the power and responsibility to fight racism within the movement, certainly.

    But primarily, American feminists should be able to expect that at this point, their culture’s mass media would see and treat women’s issues around the globe, including poverty, as THE issues, not as special interests to be ghettoed by a (minority in number) “majority,” who first relegates them to a small, crowded corner, and then points at that corner as being run-down and undesirable.

    They can’t have it both ways; if they want more coverage of real women’s issues, PROVIDE IT – they’re the media, for chrissake.

    I guess what I wish the letter said was:

    Dear Press and Concerned Commentators:

    Hire some female reporters and embed them with Iraqi widows rather than the US Army…and put that WAR NEWS on your front page, with headlines. Insist that your government provide a daily body count for non-US military personnel, including statistics for how many of the dead are civilians, and women, and children. Insist on names, ages, and hometowns. Print this information, daily.

    Interview women working in maquiladoras and a single mom in Detroit the next time you cover some neocon “free trade” plan…and put that in the financial section. And run a similar story every time a company’s profits are reported, along side the report of money “earned,” if that company does any business with any labor-unfriendly, woman-unfriendly suppliers or subsidiaries anywhere on the globe.

    Stop expecting a small group of women to be your moral fig-leaf – allowing YOU the freedom to ignore women, globally, because that’s someone else’s job. Allowing YOU the luxury of griping when someone else isn’t doing YOUR job to YOUR specifications.

    Stop opposing feminists at every turn, and then using what we have done despite you to prove BOTH how much more evolved the US is than whatever society the powers that be have decided is the enemy today AND to prove that what we want to accomplish here is small and meaningless.

    Stop using us to distract people from your own sexism, racism, and US-centrism.

    And, yes, stop lying about what US feminists do and think and work for…but honestly, as bad as that is, that’s the least of your crimes against women.

    Posted by funnie | January 23, 2008, 2:52 pm
  4. EXACTLY!!!


    That was GREAT, funnie.

    As to this:

    Screw shouldering the burden for all women; screw the expectation (or possibility!) of speaking for all women.


    Feminism has never been about any group of women, or any one individual woman, figuring out how to speak for all women. Feminism has instead been centrally about women attempting to navigate the difficulties of their own lives — out of their own individuated self-interest, because they care about their own lives — and then comparing their own lives and difficulties with other women’s, then moving on to place all of those thousands and millions and billions of lives, realities, stories, in the context of white male heterosupremacy, analyzing it all, with the goal of strategizing and making change.

    As comparatively affluent and empowered American feminists, central to that analysis has to be the way what our government does, and what our MEDIA also does (!) affect women throughout the world. Of course, that analysis rarely makes it into print except in our own publications, and thank god for them.

    All of this American feminists don’t address this, that and the other is also the wrong approach, given the way some American feminists have made mistakes at times (and not the ones usually accused of making the mistakes!), addressing and analyzing issues in ways that were less than helpful. At the Hullaballoo last spring, Cherrie Moraga’s message to us, repeated several times (“us” being the women attending, most of whom were white and second wave) was, “Stay out of our business.” I took that seriously and I will continue to take that seriously in my own ongoing writing and blogging about events and news of significance to women. I think most of us who write about news and women’s issues do take that sentiment and challenge seriously because we know none of us can speak for all of us. This goes to Pollitt’s challenge, “As feminists, we call on journalists and opinion writers to report the true position of our movement.” We are not some monolith. There is, in fact, no such thing as “American feminists.” There is a plurality. There is tremendous diversity. There are many voices and they disagree with one another. Most importantly, the discussions and debates we have and the differences we have are extremely important and also deserve analysis and highlighting in mainstream media, deserve intelligent and thoughtful discussion. But our voices have been marginalized for so long, even getting the big issues out there is difficult enough, much less getting the “true position of our movement” out there.

    Anyway. Great comment.

    Posted by womensspace | January 23, 2008, 5:04 pm
  5. if i could stand/clap/cheer–and type at the same time–then that’s how i’d celebrate funnie’s on-target comment.

    why do we continue to expect anything from the regressive media who have trivialized the most important presidential race of my lifetime? it’s up to us bloggers. thanks womensspace.

    (approaching 75 and waiting for just one candidate to talk about aging issues)

    Posted by naomi dagen bloom | January 24, 2008, 2:49 pm
  6. Hey, naomi, always good to hear from you!

    Women’s Space was mentioned in Front Page, David Horowitz’s ultraconservative Zionist publication, in an article about the Open Letter from American Feminists. Horowitz wants us standing against fundamentalist brutalities against women in Muslim countries ONLY though. He doesn’t want us standing against Israeli brutalities against Palestinian women, children, girls.

    That’s the way men see women’s issues most of the time– as useful pawns on male chessboards. Women’s issues get used against women by men all of the time, because in men’s minds the fight is really just between the real people, the men.

    Posted by womensspace | January 24, 2008, 6:09 pm
  7. Gross.

    Well, I guess the next logical step is to ask (rhetorically, not inviting them here) Horowitz and his writer and editor pals (and their readers) what THEY are doing to put women’s freedom – that means for all women everywhere, not just the “Enemy’s Women” – on the Front Page, as it were.

    What are YOU, Horowitz, doing for women, daily?

    You obviously don’t think talking about women is part of YOUR job as a political commentator every day. And your readers obviously don’t think that keeping abreast of women’s issues, political issues faced by over half of the world, every day, should be on their regularly-scheduled current events menu.

    Having relegated us to a special-interest “women’s” political corner, and having delegated the job of covering our issues to someone else, someone you don’t support in DOING the job, you really do lose the right to complain about how that’s done. Sorry!

    Posted by funnie | January 24, 2008, 7:20 pm
  8. Also, Mr. Horowitz – fire your fact-checker (if you bother with one).


    The Open Letter mentions the feminist “V-Day” organized to protest violence against women. We challenge the signers of this letter to identify the speeches given during “V-Day” that protested female genital mutilation in the Islamic world. We challenge them to identify the Vagina Monologue of Islamic misogyny.


    Today, V-Day is a global movement that supports anti-violence organizations throughout the world, helping them to continue and expand their core work on the ground, while drawing public attention to the larger fight to stop worldwide violence (including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual slavery) against women and girls.

    Posted by funnie | January 24, 2008, 7:26 pm
  9. “I just wish the letter had been more “let him without sin cast the first stone; since when do we, one small group of prominent women, have to be the sole agents and representatives of all women everywhere at all times, with no responsibility on anyone else’s shoulder”…and less “I’m not racist, some of my best friends and collaborators are ______.

    Spectacular, Funnie.

    Upon reading the letter I was put off by what you pegged in a sentence. An opportunity to address the real problem of how mainstream media covers women got missed in the knee-jerk defensiveness.

    Reminds me of this Derrick Jensen quote:

    Pretend you’re in an abusive relationship. Picture yourself saying to this other person, “I have the right to be treated with respect.” Now, that may developmentally be important for you to say, but there comes a point when it’s no longer appropriate to keep the focus on you — you’re not the problem. Contrast how that former statement feels with how it feels to say: ‘You have no right to treat me this way.” The former is almost a supplication, the latter almost a command. And its focus is on the perpetrator.

    Posted by Sam | January 24, 2008, 7:38 pm
  10. One factor in this I have written about before is the classic double-bind that is inflicted on feminsts – if we, as American or Western women, attack sexism in our own culture, we are attacked for being “petty” and are told “Oh look, women in other places have it so much worse, how can you be so selfish?”
    If we attack sexism in cultures other than our own, we are told we are being insensitive to their unique culture – that we are being ethnocentric and imposing our own wishes on the women there, who are pefectly happy with what is going on or have “more important” concerns than feminism.

    Posted by Amananta | January 29, 2008, 10:07 pm
  11. I have seen a ton of articles stating feminists are not concerned about Muslim women and the like. This has always puzzled me deeply, because I know so many feminists who *are* concerned about this issues–and deeply so. We read blogs and feminist message boards, and we hear about issues in Muslim countries. These are written and/or posted by concerned, frightened women. If women are being attacked on a group basis, no matter what the excuse (i.e. “Sharia Law”, tradition, or “because that’s the way it’s always been), its still women being threatened, harassed, raped, and murdered because of nothing other than their sex.

    As for Ethnocentrism–did anyone ever teach the current political regime that concept?

    Posted by Laur | January 31, 2008, 10:04 am
  12. I have seen a ton of articles stating feminists are not concerned about Muslim women and the like. This has always puzzled me deeply, because I know so many feminists who *are* concerned about this issues–and deeply so. We read blogs and feminist message boards, and we hear about issues in Muslim countries. These are written and/or posted by concerned, frightened women. If women are being attacked on a group basis, no matter what the excuse (i.e. “Sharia Law”, tradition, or “because that’s the way it’s always been), its still women being threatened, harassed, raped, and murdered because of nothing other than their sex.

    As for Ethnocentrism–did anyone ever teach the current U.S. political regime that concept?

    Posted by Laur | January 31, 2008, 10:06 am
  13. I remember feminist concern for and coverage of women from many different parts of the world in the feminist press as far back as the early seventies (or late 60s? Can’t remember when I started reading Adrienne Rich, but it was early on and I remember reading some articles in Ms magazine that were international in scope too). As far as I am concerned the canard that all Second Wave feminists were only concerned about white middle class women in the US is a big fat lie. Most of the founders of the Women’s Liberation movement at the time were white middle class women. White middle class women were certainly a concernof the movement and remained so but the scope of concern expanded fairly rapidly. Of course it may not have seemed rapid enough for most women of color in the US at that time, and they are right, but it was warp speed for the time and place of good old America in the 60s. It is certainly a lie when applied to feminists today.

    Posted by Branjor | January 31, 2008, 5:33 pm
  14. So true, Branjor.

    You know U.S. feminists — including oob and Ms Magazine — were responsible for bringing the situation of Afghan women under the Taliban to international attention in the 90s. Ditto the rapes-for-genocide in Bosnia-Hercogovina. These stories were nothing more than afterthoughts in mainstream media, nobody was paying attention, until feminists forced the issue in various ways.

    Both publications have always offered news and analysis of the situations and circumstances of women throughout the world, ever since their earliest issues.

    When was Sisterhood is Global written? A long time ago. I’ll go look. 1996. Including chapters written by Marjorie Agosin (Chile), Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Shulamit Aloni (Israel), Peggy Antrobus (Caribbean), Simone de Beauvoir (France), Lidia Falcon (Spain), Hema Goonatilake (Sri Lanka), Fatima Mernessi (Morocco), Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt), Ana Titkow (Poland), Marilyn Waring (New Zealand), and Xiao Lu (China).

    The attack on the Second Wave disgusts me. The woman-hating of it, the misogyny of it, the sucking-up-to-men-including-white-men of it, because white men are all about discrediting the actual achievements of feminism. Feminist women attacking feminist leaders of the Second Wave is despicable. This is the cheapest of cheap shots.

    And some of the women who do this will, out the other side of their mouths, praise rank male misogynists, white and men of color both, like they’ve lost their minds.

    There is no effort, as Satsuma said somewhere recently, and as you say, Branjor, to place the events of the Second Wave in their historic context. The same is true as to the First Wave– there is no effort made to place the events of the First wave within their historic context. It’s just, “quick, let me find something they said that I can use to trash them, I know they said something, where was that, somewhere on page 483 of the third volume of this set of books, I swear she was quoted as saying [insert incriminating sentence here].”

    There is also no effort made to follow a woman’s life and career, see how she might have changed her mind over the years, if she did say something incriminating.

    You know, here I quoted Kwame Ture recently (Stokely Carmichael). He said some good things. He also said, “The position of women in the [civil rights] movement is prone.” I have seen women who have reported that statement smacked down within an inch of their keyboards, to wit, yeah, but (insert all sorts of explanations and context and analysis and other things he said here).

    Well, on my list of projects is a thorough revamping of my blogroll. I am sick of misogynist women claiming to be feminist. Why don’t they identify themselves by the causes they really hold dear– it would be more honest. If a woman doesn’t like women, can’t honor women, can’t appreciate women leaders, she’s no feminist.

    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2008, 7:15 pm
  15. Great posts everyone! I don’t think conservative patriarchal publications have any interest in feminism or women’s rights. They want to co-op women for their issues, but have never given a damn about the rights of women anywhere in the world. Their work is untrue and contaminated from the get go.

    Anyone who has any knowledge about second wave and first wave feminism at all will know it has always been an international movement. To this day I am working with women around the world on a variety of projects. The very first publication I put out in the early 80s was international in scope.

    So this men’s disinformation campaign is just to be expected.

    What is unfathomable to me is the ignorance and lack of herstorical perspective younger women have today of the movement. Clueless a lot of times about the origins of anti-pornography campaigns, no knowledge of what prohibition was really all about, etc.

    Mary Daly has been called a racist for years and years and has been attacked for her groundbreaking articles on genital mutilation and widow burning, for example. Her writing on global women’s attrocities came out in 1978! Black women are still calling her a racist! Even though they have never met her.

    The challenge is to keep the pressure on the mainstream media, and to wake women up to the fact that this is a fight for the rights of women everywhere, and we all have to pitch in.

    My direct experience of women’s liberation is that it has always been international and inter-racial. We were all in it together, and there was much more solidarity back then then there is now. Early on even straight women were very much a part of lesbian organizations, and we all worked together.

    The problem with men in the media is that they don’t know how to access or read alternative ideas. They are white men who don’t have access to the grassroots campaigns of women.

    Even in the civil rights movement, only white men were sent south to cover the story and they NEVER interviewed black women in the movement. Now we’re finding out that black women engineered the entire Montgomery bus boycotte campaign and that it was a woman’s idea to begin with. We are also learning that the majority of the bus riders were women, who had a strong stake in changing the racist status quo on buses.

    I could go on… what I am very concerned about is the complete lack of interest in our own herstory. In the post-modern mush that comes up now, and the pro-porn flippancy of lesbian groups today, the lack of interest in the herstorical context of anything is shocking to behold! Shocking, and this is going to be a real ongoing problem.

    The movement is not honoring its own past and its own activists. Men make sure they put up the statues and get the national holidays in their names. They make sure their legacy is preserved, and endlessly trumpet the accomplishments of other men. A lot of times women have a very very hard time doing this! I don’t know why this is. I also don’t know why women nitpick over words here and often miss the entire context of posts. There is a reluctance to admit the big picture.

    We can honor the hard work, or we can trash it. Trash the leaders too much, and they’re going to go away. Feminism had a hard time with heroism and leadership to begin with, and this is its weakness.

    Feminism has always been way ahead of the mainstream media. The fact that we hold Bill Clinton’s feet to the fire over his sexual contempt for young women employees is because feminism made the abuse and using of women in the work place an issue. Just compare how the media reported on JFK to reporting on Clinton and Monica Lewinski and Paul Jones, for example.

    I’m not sure I understand what Cherrie Morraga means when she told white women not to get involved with women of color issues. I wasn’t at that conference, so I don’t know the context of the remarks. I assume we all need our separatist groups and the times when we are with women who 100% get every word we are saying– white radical lesbian feminists who LOVE theory and activism combined, for example. Black radical separatists who think white women are holding back the discussion. We all want spaces where our people get us.

    But we can also come together and cut some slack every now and then. I’m thinking of women in Mexico City who recently kicked the men off their buses at rush hour. Now that is radical! I get energy from international feminism all the time.

    Bottom line, you can never trust malestream publications to get much of anything right with women, and that’s because the men who work for these magazines secretly use porn on the internet, buy prostitutes (Dick Morris), and sleaze around in bars making sexist jokes with ‘the boys.” They bond over box seats at the Super Bore, and over baseball games. Tape record men alone in a room, and you’ll get a barrage of woman hatred and sports mixed up in a patriarchal stew (and that’s being unkind to one of my favorite dishes!!!).

    So thanks everyone for checking in here and correcting the conservative men, who are and ever will be anti-feminists, until women make it so hard to act this way, that they are forced to “pretend” that women are equal!

    Second wave women — honor them! First wave women- read about them and honor their memory in your current activism. Young women, honor them! Let’s all get that we need to respect the hard work of liberation. Most people out in the world don’t even do this work. Feminists are out there day and night–even the name feminism gets trashed by the young, who cluelessly feed right into the right wing hate speech bandwagon–often unknowingly.

    Let’s be honest about social justice movements! We should not be afraid to call out womanhating in any justice movement!
    Stokley Charmichael and H. Rap Brown and the various movement men who had no respect for the cause of women’s freedom as women.

    Then we need to honor the men who really stuck their necks out and did feminist work too, so young men can see what this looks like.

    It’s all about knowing your own past and using it to empower you in the present. We did all this research in the 60s and 70s to create a lesbian herstory, now let’s get people to read it and take it seriously. The connection between leftist causes and LGBT is pretty much gone, so we have to be very vigilant about the disinformation campaigns and vigilant in seeing what women will betray any cause for their own advancement — Lynn Cheney and Ann Colter come to mind here.

    There’s a lot of money in conservative organizations, and most of these women are just going for the money. Leftist groups are poor as church mice, and when we still struggle with the basics and don’t build independent sources of wealth, we leave ourselves vulnerable! Let’s get with it!

    It’s a very hard boat to row, because it is easy to become economically or culturally isolated from the real out of sheer frustration. I get this way often, and I undrestand the difficulty of economic advancement and then women who get envious of it. Or I can see how straight women don’t want to really deal with lesbian issues, but are “trying” to be inclusive. It’s complex, but I know we can do it, because look how far we’ve come to begin with! Believe me, we have come so far, we forgot just how much we’ve got patriarchy on the run. It takes us more seriously than we take ourselves sometimes!!

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 8:08 pm
  16. Mary Daly has been called a racist for years and years and has been attacked for her groundbreaking articles on genital mutilation and widow burning, for example. Her writing on global women’s attrocities came out in 1978! Black women are still calling her a racist! Even though they have never met her.

    It’s really worse than that, even.

    For years the story circulated that Mary Daly refused to meet with Audre Lorde after Audre Lorde’s “Open Letter to Mary Daly” was published in Lorde’s book(s). This was the story because this was what Lorde claimed– that she invited Daly to meet with her to discuss issues in depth and that Daly refused. In fact, Daly said, she had specifically written to Lorde in hopes of arranging a meeting. Lorde insisted this was not true.

    After Lorde’s death, her (authorized) biography was written. In that biography, the author states that in going through Lorde’s personal papers in order to research and write the biography, she found Daly’s letter asking for a meeting with Lorde.

    Does anyone (but me, and not even me, really) trumpet that from the rooftops? No. It is erased as soon as it’s published because so many prefer to attack and dismiss the work of the Second Wave and do not want to be confused with the truth, with the facts. They like this spin about “racist, middle class white feminists” that was never true from the get-go.

    There is this talk of “decentering white feminism.” Fine, more power to you, go for it, but do it *honestly*. Don’t do it *dishonestly*. It is not “decentering white feminism* to lie about the past, lie about history, promulgate lies out of ignorance and laziness and to be ignorant about feminist history. In the end, all you will do, once your credibility is damaged for the inaccuracies you have spread, is *decenter yourself*.

    As to the Civil Rights movement, most young people have no clue that Second Wave feminism *came out of* the Civil Rights/Anti-War movements. And why? Because of the hideous sexism in those movements! On the part of men of ALL colors. I have posted here about the murder of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash at the hands of leaders of the AIM as well. There was horrible sexism throughout the Left (and there still is) and that is what gave rise to Second Wave feminism to begin with. There were plenty of white women who participated in the Civil Rights actions and movements of the 60s, they got arrested, they got shot (Viola Liuzzu), they got shot *at*, they paid their dues.

    Which is another thing. Which of SO many of these young feminist women has EVER been arrested for her activism? Has ever been teargassed (I have been, more than once)? Has ever been harassed by police? Most of us out of the 60s and 70s have been, and so all of this crap spouted by Ph.D. candidates, or people with Ph.Ds. (the new ivory tower) who seem to know nothing about feminism is not impressive.

    I wrote a blog post about Viola Liuzzo a while back. I’m going to find it.

    AND. Since I’m on a role. What’s up with women new to feminism suddenly all urgent about their newest pet issue, whatever it is, browbeating the rest of us who have been involved in the work forever? For longer than they have been alive?

    But they don’t know about it, do they, and why is *that*?

    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2008, 8:30 pm
  17. Here is a post about Viola Liuzzo.

    All her activism did was get her shot and killed.

    I mean, let’s nail her, that white Second Waver, she must have said something, sometime.

    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2008, 8:32 pm
  18. Amen sister Heart! Go tell it on the mountain! I must say, I really love it when you get on that good old feminist religion soap box and let loose! I too found it odd that Mary Daly would refuse to have anything to do with Audre Lorde. It didn’t make sense, but the story of this has been going on forever. Then Lorde’s biography came out, and surprise, the Mary Daly letter to Lorde was actually in the private papers of Audre Lorde to begin with. Lorde’s handwriting was even on the letter, so we know for a fact that she read it. Lorde flat out lied about Mary Daly. She said that Mary Daly had NEVER responded to Lorde’s request for dialogue or a meeting.

    This big lie really carried the day in women’s studies classes. Lorde’s “open letter to Mary Daly” gets read and studied, while Daly’s works are ignored. The racist accusations live on, but her work gets overlooked. Why did Lorde lie about this? This is one of the great mysteries of feminism, and something I have pondered for years. I think Lorde had a lot of problems with the truth, and struggled with her own contradictions. All women struggle with this, but pioneers had to struggle more I think. We have to admit when our leaders lie and when they tell the truth. We have to acknowledge that lies and slander are out there in the movement. Heart can speak to the personal attacks on her, for example. I can speak for the attacks on me over the decades. It happens and we need to try to honor truth and be patient.

    Mary Daly in her own recent books said she had deeply personal reasons for not answering the letter right away, and she just was silent while the controversy and false discrediting of her went on and on. I thought Daly was actually a rather shy academic when I met her several times, who was truly frightened when women attacked her so viciously in print all the time. She was frightened of getting shot at or killed at her lectures. (something I personally witnessed, not hearsay).

    But I had a long argument with a black lesbian feminist about all of this awhile ago, and she then said Mary Daly “took too long to answer Audre, and didn’t acknowledge Audre’s cancer.”
    She was hell bent on saying that Mary Daly was a racist, and used examples like “she didn’t look black women in the eye at lectures.” I asked her: “Did you personally witness this?” “Well no, but we heard she did this!” It’s always a whisper campaign “I heard she was a racist” etc. etc.

    This is the kind of creepy thing that goes on out there. Then the class attacks on Daly, when she came from a working class Irish Catholic background. She had to borrow money from a catholic bishop to continue her studies in Europe, for example.

    The women’s movement really did come out of the attraocities leftist men committed against activist women. Weird how big civil rights movements only meant the freedom of men– the anti-war movement was so sexist and dreadful that I really had it out with some of the biggies back then including Daniel Berrigan. Now that was a story. Daly thought the “peace” movement wasn’t that great either, and I always felt validated when she called it out, and also said the drug culture wasn’t cool either.

    Full disclosure here– Mary Daly is the greatest lesbian feminist thinker of the 20th century. No one comes close to her analysis of patriarchy, and her tactics for counterattacking patriarchy and reversing its reversals are as valid today as they were back then.

    White women were sexually harassed by black male civil rights activists in the south. Women were told they were racist if they didn’t sleep with male activists! This really happened, and it’s covered up.

    Not many women today have been arrested or tear gased, but it happened to a lot of us. My church was firebombed, and I can still remember the smell of the gas in the santuary to this day. Yes, gay and lesbian churches were burned to the ground.

    All of us have stories of what we did in the 60s, 70s, 80s and on. We were all there, and we all contributed to the world that exists today.

    As Heart mentions above, there is a big old disconnect between activism and the ivory tower, and its weird. Sometimes I think young women are not very adept at asking questions to begin with, so they don’t get the information they need. It’s all about the cool, the latest internet toys, the most fashionable “cause” but a lot of it is skin deep.

    I even see young women, who have no idea what happened when, sliding back into really weird conservative positions, never realizing that the right wing has been working on a huge anti-feminist disinformation campaign.

    It is never cool to be for women’s rights, it never earns you points in patriarchy, and men will do everything in their power to prevent women from getting these rights. Corporations pay billions of dollars in harassment suits and discrimination suits!

    Back in the 60s, the Black Panther Party killed a white woman accountant in Oakland for knowing too much. David Horowitz was a personal friend of this woman, and I think that is one reason why he freaked out and became a neo-con. Women were killed by their own “brothers’ in these causes. Women were raped by SDS men. This is not hearsay, these are women who have told their PERSONAL stories directly to me.

    The truth in all its complexity needs to be told! We know that Frederick Douglas was a real feminist, and that Martin Luther King had no idea what feminism was. There was no excuse for his historical ignorance because Douglas’ writings were available at that time. How could a 19th century black man know more than most 20th century black men about women’s rights? Maybe there was something in the 19th century that was ahead of us even to this day!

    White women risked their lives in abolitionist work, and I think Douglas admired these women and believed in their freedom as well. I can’t say the same about Huey Newton, Malcolm X or Luis Farrakhan. We’ve got a lot of “real talkin” to do here.

    Let’s be clear about our herstory and clear about what we all did back then! I’d like to see a young woman / old woman dialogue here on Heart’s pages dealing with this misinformation — a kind of cross-generational talk fest.

    Just a suggestion. I think if you don’t know the past, it’s awfully easy to be flippant in that Gen X sort of way — the mocking, make fun of insecurity that I find so annoying. Yes, it’s hard to say “I admire those sisters from the past!” It’s hard for women to say, “yes I admire those kick butt radical lesbian separatists — hard for straight women to admire us fire breathing dragons, but we did some mighty fine fighting out there. We are still fearless and we are still the warriors.

    Well enough said….we who have lived through this period really do know what we are talking about. You can take it or leave it, you can mock your own past, or you can build on it. Either way, patriarchy is always looking for a way to divide women, to isolate activists, to make fun of all of us. And we have to stick up for sisterhood. It’s hard, but if we don’t get our herstory right, no one else out there in maleland is going to care. Men aren’t going to fight to have our version of events enshrined anywhere, because in maleland its all about men all the time everywhere in history! Arrgh! Arrgh arrgh — love that word lately! 🙂

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 9:19 pm
  19. Heart I sent a big old spam over to you! Great writing on the movement! Love it when you tell it out!!!

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 9:19 pm
  20. So true re women forced to sleep with men on the Left and in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements (read Marge Piercy’s “The Grand Coolie Damn,” or Robin Morgan’s “Goodbye to All That”) and women KILLED by their “comrades”! What about that one woman, hmm, now I’m not recalling her name, but she wrote about maternal thinking, hmm, dang. A low estrogen moment. Jane Alpert! She was partnered with Sam Melville, a leftist imprisoned in Attica, who was a HORRIFYING abuser and womanizer. He got her involved in the bombings that resulted in him going to Attica and she had to go to prison for a while, too, because she wrote the communiques. Anyway, when she left Melville and the misogynist Left behind and became a radical feminist, she was “excommunicated” from the women’s movement by Ti-Grace Atkinson, if I’m not mistaken, who took Melville’s side and the side of the sexist assholes at Attica. They may have been revolutionaries but they were misogynist revolutionaries and it’s disgusting that any feminist women sided with them against feminist women they abused. Okay, I’m remembering now, Alpert wrote “Mother Right,” not “Maternal Thinking,” that was someone else.

    My brain is at times like a computer with the hour glass running, takes a while to pull stuff up. Heh. Bitter heh.

    That was Betty Van Patter killed by the Panthers when she learned they’d cooked the books and they feared she would make it public. Her body was found beaten to death in San Francisco Bay. People knew about that, too, including, as I’m recalling, Tom Haydn, they knew who did it, they knew all about it, they said nothing. Her murder has never been solved.

    Posted by womensspace | January 31, 2008, 9:53 pm
  21. Betty Van Patter– right. Jane Alpert… nice to get the names in print again. Tom Hayden, now there is a real piece of sexist work for you. Very creepy man. I met him at a neighborhood event when he was running for Mayor of Los Angeles. He came to the neighborhood, hadn’t a clue who lived here or what our issues were at all. I wasn’t impressed, and of course I asked him if he had repented all his leftist sexist attitudes from the SDS days. People in the room got visibly uncomfortable at my comments… naturally… old leftists are NOT feminists!

    Anyway he answered rather honestly. Then I asked him why he wanted to be a part of the establishment he so hated, and why did people like him always want to run for office later.
    Well you get the picture.

    I think the love affair with the male dominated radical left has yet to be dealt with, and there is way too much worship of these sexists. Women died and were used sexually by these men. Their movement had nothing at all to do with women, but hey, who remembers these small details.

    I never once heard of a woman in a feminist group who was murdered, for example. I think that if women had been the ones being drafted during Vietnam, the boys could have cared less. I think all those so-called movements were really about one group of men trying to grab power from another male group.

    Women need to remember this, and to continue to organize women. This strength protects us from rape, and it also ensures that while we are doing real political thinking and analysis we are not wasting time “dialoguing” with men who don’t get it, long to talk all the time about their pathetic selves, and who won’t do anything unless women hold their feet to the fire!

    Robin Morgan’s “Goodbye to All That” is must reading for everyone!!! I need to reread this. Bet not much has changed!
    Black Panthers, Betty Van Patter, Tom Heydan, Soul on Ice (autobiography of a self-confessed rapist of white women– whatshisname… he thought it find and dandy to rape the white man’s “property.” And rap music just picks up where that old song left off.

    Why do women get sidetracked into men’s nationalist movements? They stink, stank and stunk… to quote the Grinch! 🙂

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 10:19 pm
  22. David Horowitz caring about women’s freedom? Are you kidding? Didn’t see his big fat puss talking head on any show in the 90s denouncing the Taliban. Ms. was, Jay Leno and his wife were, OOBs was… I certainly was talking about it.
    Madeline Albright I think put a stop to an oil pipeline deal with the Taliban because of their womanhating programs.

    All those right wing neo-cons, never heard a peep out of them.
    The Taliban is a perfect example of how dangerous men are when they enslave women. If we jump on this early enough, we actually put a stop to terrorism in its tracks. Terrorism is tried out on women first, and then it spreads like a virus. it’s tried out on lesbians first to scare straight women into compliance… keep this in mind, it’s how it works.

    Womanhatred IS the canary in the coal mine folks. When women are dying and suffering, the human race is in danger.

    Let those neo cons talk about the rights of women, let those right wing christian blabber mouths get down on men for raping women, for beating their wives, for underpaying and screwing over women in the world place. I never really hear them get good and mad at male supremacy at all. Hmmm. Why do women listen to these smarmy voiced idiots? Ever listen to their slimy voices — Dobson, Robertson, that preacher creature voice of male supremacy that should make all women sick. Sonja Johnson said until she had a feminist awakening, she couldn’t even hear that male supremacist tone of voice. Orrin Hatch made the feminists sick and they told Sonja about it. Later she could then hear it.

    I have a fine ear tuned to male condescending voices— a dead give away to the enemy every time! The thing is they are so bad at pretending it is actually pathetically funny, only it isn’t 😦

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 10:30 pm
  23. P.S. T-Grace Atkinson was kind of a poseur in my opinion. I think she just used feminism for selfish reasons. A lot of feminists loved those stupid bombing male radicals back then; I couldn’t see what the attraction was. They made me sick even when I was a teenager. I was always suspicious of anti-war movements because I associated them with jack ass men posturing and preening before the cameras — “the whole world is watching” mentality.

    Mumia Abu Jamal… yikes there goes another one. French feminists love this killer! I’m not a super huge fan of Tammy Bruce, but she at least had the guts to go after Mumia and put out the facts. I think the man he killed is written about in a new book by the victim’s wife.

    Tammy Bruce really stuck up for Nicole Brown Simpson too when she was head of Los Angeles NOW. They fired her! Go to the Andrea Dworkin Memorial site and see who it is dedicated to. Women we need to know the truth and continue to tell about it!

    All of these people shaped my life, and their self-justifications and manipulation of the truth has to be examined. To know the tactics of the neo cons now, you have to know how they were then.

    Thanks Heart for caring about all of this. So few people do these days! You help put a mirror for me to look in, and that’s so important for all women to feel validated and heard! We need to hear deeply and care a lot. Thanks again for showing us and not telling us how this is!!

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 10:37 pm
  24. More spam coming — Tammy Bruce, Mumia Abu Jamal… and more 🙂 Thanks Heart for caring about this and writing about all of this second wave /leftist stuff.

    We’re dealing with the same cons as always, they’ve just turned neo to fool us 🙂

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 10:41 pm
  25. Heart says:
    “AND. Since I’m on a role. What’s up with women new to feminism suddenly all urgent about their newest pet issue, whatever it is, browbeating the rest of us who have been involved in the work forever? For longer than they have been alive?

    But they don’t know about it, do they, and why is *that*?”

    Satsuma says:
    Becasue they were not brought up well as children. Very few women in this group even remember gathering together for regular family meals, and learning how to discuss the issues of the day. This was common in the 60s and 70s.

    So a lot of this has to do with less education, and less social ability. We have a lot of Internet saavy but little social interaction saavy.

    And I notice when younger women don’t know something, they don’t fess up to it. Instead they turn it into “clever” mocking or cutifying (a word I just invented).

    It’s not about real discussion or even an interest in real history or herstory. It’s not even about facts. I can see this kind of discourse all over the blogworld now… a weird kind of cleverness that begs the questions and avoids the tough issues.

    And on a personal level, I think a lot of kids who grew up in the 80s read the conservative attacks on feminism, not the real feminist authors. They often had to fend for themselves, and I think they are rebelling against the baby boomers who did not spend enough time with their children.

    It’s one reason I say that very few women should have children, because you’re not going to be able to do a full time job, be able to read extensively and in depth and raise children all at the same time. And men don’t want to raise children either…but dear reader I digress… maybe erase the above… I’m just trying to figure out why young women do so little herstorical study.

    Even when you have Dworkin at the touch of a button, or even Mary Daly’s early essays, there is a certain laziness out there.

    An art historian friend of mine got internet research papers for a grad class he was teaching. He specifically told the kids NOT to use the internet, but gave them access to one of the best art history libraries in the country. Every one of them used the internet anyway, and the research and writing was terrible.

    So we have a big knowledge gap, because feminist knowledge and truth is actively attacked constantly on the malestream networks. Men want women to fear feminism or to be afraid of being called a feminist. Very much like straight women and Betty Friedan fearing that lesbians would ruin the movement. Lavender manace and all that….

    The thing is, I want a complete knowledge of women past and present. I’ll read a lot of original 19th and 18th century women’s writing, because I really want to know what women did. I’ll plough through a book on J. Robert Oppenheimer, so I can get the names of the few women scientists mentioned, including a woman who won a Nobel Prize for Physics back in the early 60s! I take these names to find out who they were.

    Even a Nobel prize does not preserve your memory.

    Now that we have Generation X and Y so into “mocking” and not knowing we have a real problem here. They are in danger of losing even the recent past of feminist activism.

    When I was in my early 20s, you better believe I wanted to meet all the radical older lesbians in the entire world. I wanted to know about their tactics, their struggles and their insights. I was fascinated with what they had done, and I was willing to do the ordinary work. I wasn’t afraid of just stuffing envelopes and licking stamps. I wasn’t afraid of dull clerical work, and in doing this, I spent a lot of time learning from my elders. I really respected those lesbians who are now in their 60s and 70s.

    It surprised me how little curiosity the next generation of women often has. Not all young women, but many of them. It’s ok to say you don’t know something, but it is not ok to make fun of older feminists who were in the streets. It’s not cool to do that, just because you are in love with mocking and are afraid to be serious. And if you don’t read extensively and do the homework, you really will be missing important information that will be of great use to you later in life.

    The more you read and study, the more questions you ask, the smarter you’ll get. Men mentor other men and help each other get ahead. This is very hard for feminists to do because we often rebell against the very women who got this movement off the ground. It’s the kind of disconnect that patriarchs count on to keep women dumb generation after generation. But don’t fall for that old game 🙂

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 11:47 pm
  26. I’m on such a roll today… enough for now… hope I’m not boring too many women to death here! It’s just my passion going wild on the page! 🙂

    Posted by Satsuma | January 31, 2008, 11:47 pm
  27. You are going wild all right, Satsuma. Just out of curiosity, what in your mind distinguishes Tammy Bruce from a neocon? She certainly is a fan of David Horowitz and George Bush, but not of your friend Hillary Clinton.

    Posted by Aletha | February 1, 2008, 6:32 am
  28. Hi Aletha, long time…. 🙂

    Tammy Bruce described herself as a libertarian. I’ve read most of her books and used to listen to her radio show. I get annoyed at some of her opinions — gun obsession, for example, but admire her courage in sticking up for Nicole Brown Simpson.

    She’s a complex person. I don’t know what she sees in George W. Neo cons and new conservatives are kind of a strange bunch. People who “convert” from one extreme view to another are an odd bunch in my opinion. But I have to take Tammy at her word– she says she is a feminist libertarian.

    Haven’t heard from her lately. Guess even lesbians get suckered by anti-terrorism antics and post 9/11 scare tactics. Sorry to say that because lesbians are supposed to be so perfect in every way… la la la 🙂

    Posted by Satsuma | February 1, 2008, 9:57 pm
  29. Also Aletha, I think a lot of people on the far left in the 60s actually felt guilty for doing the things they did. I’ve always been proud of my political work, and happy that so many things I’ve cared about have come to pass.

    But I didn’t back an organization that murdered people, for example. Horowitz is someone I deeply dislike, beause in some ways, he has never changed — he has always been a sexist– left, right or neo con, that is consistent. But he himself in his own autobiography was deeply deeply upset and horrified by the Black Panthers murdering a friend of his.

    Since I started college literally months after the end of the Vietnam war, I’m a different kind of baby boomer. I was a little suspicious of the hippie / peace movement, mainly because it seemed so male dominated and sexist to me.

    As a lesbian, I was horrifed at the “straight’ sexual revolution, and I was suspicious of drugs. So I was always a bit of an oyster in the oyster bed who didn’t want to walk with the walrus and the carpenter. So I can understand a Tammy Bruce and a Horowitz a bit better I think. Now don’t go all crazy… I don’t support the neo cons, and think they’re just con men going after the money, but there is a truth and complexity to that generation. It’s not me, and heck, being a total spoil sport, I never liked loud music or rock and roll either.

    When you play violin and love 18th century music, America can often be a painful place to live 🙂

    Posted by Satsuma | February 1, 2008, 10:07 pm


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