In Redstockings' 40th anniversary year: straightening out some history with original documents from the Women's Liberation Archives for Action....
1960'S RADICAL FEMINISM
It was an era of mimeographed thunderbolts from women in the name of Women's Liberation and Radical Feminism and the occasion for the debut of some of Redstockings' most provocative broadsides. Soon they would be reprinted widely in the underground and feminist press, and then push through to mainstream publishing, along with other galvanizing Women's Liberation Movement materials.
Forty years ago, on June 27-28, 1969, mostly under the name "Women's Liberation," Redstockings activists flooded a New Left women's conference in New York City with a spate of new writings.
Partly because of the decision to issue the papers under the name "Women's Liberation", instead of the group's already fairly well-exposed name Redstockings, and other short-term considerations, it may be news for many women's liberation history buffs and scholars that these were Redstockings papers or that they first appeared as early as 1969 rather than as "1970's feminism". There are lessons to draw from all this for women's liberation activists and organizers.
NEW PAPERS OF JUNE 27, 1969
So--for Redstockings' 40th anniversary year--to clear up the confusion, set the record straight, and draw the attention of new generations to some of the spirited resources of radical feminist history and theory, here are the Redstockings papers -- all available from www.redstockings.org-- that were first published at that weekend conference in New York City, June 27-28, 1969:
-- The Politics of Housework by Pat Mainardi, that razor sharp sword against the many common ruses men use to avoid sharing the housework (a weapon also needing backup from the united strength of a growing Women's Liberation Movement that the paper was written to help organize)
-- `Consumerism' and Women by Ellen Willis, took on a widespread anti-woman misconception in the radical movement at the time, given credence by the New Left women who had organized the Conference, that women's
major form of oppression was as consumers, and singularly foolish consumers, at that. "The pervasive image of the empty-headed female consumer constantly trying her husband's patience with her extravagant purchases contributes to the myth of male superiority....and maintains individualist illusions. If we are to build a mass movement we must
recognize that no personal decision, like rejecting consumption, can alleviate our oppression....The task of the women's liberation movement is to collectively combat male domination in the home, in bed, on the job."
-- Resistances to Consciousness by Irene Peslikis, with lucid simplicity, captured ways of "thinking" among women themselves that evaded the disturbing truths of common oppression, primarily to hang onto the belief that "individual solutions are possible, that we don't need solidarity and a revolution for our liberation."
-- Manhating by Pamela Kearon: "The question of man-hating among radical women seems like the most difficult one... you really feel crummy dragging it all out again only to encounter the raised eyebrows, the surprised expression, voices vibrating with moral indignation..."
-- Principles (anonymously issued to represent the group, but written by Kathie Sarachild): its themes would soon be condensed into the Redstockings Manifesto, but the Principles remained on Redstockings' literature list as a unique statement of taking woman's standpoint politically and a commitment to plain speaking and clearly argued common interests over rhetoric and dogma.
-- On Activism and the Media by Shulamith Firestone: the only paper published by a Redstocking that day under the name Redstockings. It focused on issues of consciousness-raising versus action and argued for more--not less-- use of the mass media. "Until this country is split wide open with hot parlor debates, violent marital quarrels, protest at campuses and employment centers on women's issues, until we don't have to justify working on women's issues by tying them in with other kinds of oppressions, we cannot afford to ignore the media."
REPRINTS ALSO DISTRIBUTED
In addition to the new papers the Redstockings brought to the conference, they also made reprints for the occasion, as with the others, under the name "Women's Liberation" but with the Redstockings post office information as the address, of a number of papers that had already appeared making arguments for consciousness-raising and the pro-woman line that most Redstockings felt represented the truest, most radical analysis and most effective strategy for the movement at that juncture.
They are part of the packet called Redstockings' First Literature List and a Sampling of Its Materials.
The reprints at the Conference were:
-- What Can Be Learned: A Critique of Our Miss America Protest by Carol Hanisch (11/27/1968)
-- Feminist Consciousness Raising and "Organizing" by Kathie Sarachild (11/27/1968)
-- Consciousness Raising and Intuition by Kathie Sarachild (11/27/1968)
-- Women and the Left: Liberation Forum by Ellen Willis
(distributed at the conference with no title and no author's name, only the signature "Women's Liberation" with the Redstockings post office box address, but first published 2/15/1969 in the Guardian radical newsweekly under Willis's name)
-- The Politics of `Free Love': Forced Fornication
(an unsigned editorial of 6/14/1969 from the Guardian that was written by Marjorie Stamberg)
STILL IN PRINT, BUT ERRORS
With all of this said, the good news is that many of the Redstockings papers above are still in print. And they are available not only from the Redstockings Women's Liberation Archives for Action, but in commercial and academic anthologies representing everything from Women's Studies anthologies to 1960's Readers to documentary histories of the United States, as well on a number of archival web sites other than Redstockings'.
The bad news is that even in collections of original source documents, and even in reprints of Redstockings materials on the web, most are either undated or wrongly dated or wrongly attributed.
And this is no arcane question, of interest only to academics rather than activists, but one of practical significance to the strength of feminism. Inaccurate knowledge--or no knowledge-- of the dates of changes in Women's Liberation Movement thinking, as reflected in the emerging work of the Movement, deprives women of an understanding of how the movement develops -- through debate, action and reflection and then further action and analysis. Without an accurate chronology of movement experience, little can be known about what truly follows what, about what can and cannot be a cause and effect. A liberation movement, to a large extent, is a learning process and without as solid data as possible, little learning can happen.
THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE IS A LEARNING PROCESS
It was to foster and help with this women's liberation learning process that Redstockings began the Archives for Action in 1989, twenty years after the Redstockings of 1969. Today, the Archive, and the women's liberation think tank for action it serves, is a large part of Redstockings' program.
Feminists, community, and youth organizers use our material for all kinds of activism, such as speakouts, campaigns, conferences, zap actions, consciousness-raising and study groups. In addition, students, journalists, and professors use Archives material for women's studies classes, school research papers, and to produce films, articles and books.
Please make a 40th birthday donation to Redstockings to help with the cost of storing and organizing the Archive's treasure trove of ideas, papers, graphics and other materials that inspire and assist today's activists and organizers.
to: Redstockings of the Women's Liberation Movement
P.O. Box 744, Stuyvesant Station
New York, NY 10009
Redstockings is a "501c-3 organizations" in the IRS tax code so
contributions are tax deductible for people whose circumstances make this
FOR WOMEN'S LIBERATION, NOTHING LESS!
"Redstockings" was a name taken in 1969 by one of the founding women's liberation groups of the 1960's to represent the union of two traditions: the "bluestocking" label disparagingly pinned on feminists of earlier centuries—and "red" for revolution.
Redstockings today, incorporated by veterans of the 1960's group, is organizing very much in the original spirit, as a different kind of "think tank"—grass roots-oriented and down-to-earth—for defending and advancing the women's liberation agenda. Archives for Action is a project Redstockings established in 1989 to make the formative and radical 1960's experience of the movement more widely available for the taking stock needed for new understandings and improved strategies.
“Their view of history was not as past—as static; but of history as movement, as development, as continuing struggle; a history of the present as well as the past—for the future. It is a history of the arguments and the debates, not just to show progress but how it came about. Theirs was a history that sums up in order to move forward, a history not just to give credit but to record, record attempts and mistakes, a history to use—-an arsenal for women, as they put it. It was a history by the activists, those who write history to change history…” –Kathie Sarachild describing History of Woman Suffrage, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Gage, 1881, in “The Power of History,” from Redstockings’ Feminist Revolution.
Originally sent as Redstockings mass emailing on Redstocking's 40th anniversary on June 29, 2006.