Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 21, September 6, 1976.
25 Years Later
25 Years Later
But in the meantime, by waging the sex struggle [unclear: r] within the left - since, as you've said, the sex [unclear: ggle] is, temporarily at least, irrelevant within [unclear: er] political sectors - aren't feminists weakening [unclear: left], hence fortifying those who exploit both [unclear: is] women and the poor everywhere?
[unclear: No], and in the long run it can only fortify the For one thing, by being confronted as leftists, [unclear: is], as opponents of exploitation, leftist men [unclear: forced] to start watering their wine. More and [unclear: re] groups feel compelled to keep their macho male [unclear: ders] in check. That's progress. Here in our [unclear: paper], Liberation, the male-oriented majority [unclear: obliged] to let a woman become its director, [unclear: t's] progress. Leftist men are beginning to watch [unclear: r] language, are.....
But is it real? I mean, I've learned, for example, [unclear: er] to use the word "chick", to pay attention [unclear: women] in any group discussion, to wash dishes, [unclear: n] the house, do the shopping. But am I any [unclear: sexist] in my thoughts? Have I rejected the male [unclear: nes?]
[unclear: You] mean inside you? To be blunt, who cares? [unclear: nk] for a minute. You know a racist Southerner, [unclear: a] know he's racist because you've known him all [unclear: life]. But now he never says "nigger". He listens [unclear: ill] black men's complaints and tries to do his best [unclear: leal] with them. He goes out of his way to put [unclear: n] other racists. He insists that black children [unclear: given] a better-than-average education to offset [unclear: years] of no education. He gives references for [unclear: k] men's loan applications. He backs the black [unclear: didates] in his district both with money and his [unclear: Do] you think the blacks give a damn that he's [unclear: as] much a racist now as before "in his soul"? [unclear: t] of the objective exploitation is habit. If you [unclear: check] your habits, make it so that its "natural" [unclear: ave] counterhabits, that's a big step. If you wash [unclear: es], clean house, and take the attitude that you [unclear: 't] feel any less "a man" for doing it, you're [unclear: ling] to set up new habits. A couple of generations [unclear: ing] that they have to appear nonracist at all [unclear: s,] and the third generation will grow up nonracist [unclear: act]. So play at being nonsexist, and keep playing, [unclear: ok] of it as a game. In your private thoughts, go [unclear: d] and think of yourself as superior to women. [unclear: as] long as you play convincingly - that you keep [unclear: hing] dishes, shopping, cleaning the house, taking [unclear: of] children - you're setting precedents, especially [unclear: like] you who have a certain macho "pose". The [unclear: ble] is, I don't believe it. I don't think you really [unclear: doing] what you say. It's one thing to wash [unclear: es], it's another to change diapers day in, day out.
[unclear: Well], I don't have any children......
[unclear: Why] not? You chose not to. Do you think the [unclear: hers] you know chose to have children? Or were [unclear: intimidated] into having them? Or, more subtly, [unclear: they] raised into thinking that it's natural and [unclear: nal] and womanly to have children and therefore [unclear: e] to have them? But who made that choice [unclear: table]? Those are the values that have to be [unclear: ged].
[unclear: ne]. And that's why, and I understand it, that [unclear: feminists] have insisted on being separatists. [unclear: n] terms of the revolution, theirs as well as mine, [unclear: re] win if we break up into totally separate [unclear: s?] Can the feminist movement achieve its ends [unclear: cluding] men from its struggle? Yet the dominant [unclear: f] the women's movement today, here in [unclear: es] at least, and it's also quite true for America, [unclear: aratist].
[unclear: st] a minute, We have to investigate why they're [unclear: atist]. I can't speak for America, but here in [unclear: ee] there are many groups, consciousness groups, [unclear: h] do exclude men because they find it very [unclear: rtant] to rediscover their identity as women, to [unclear: rstand] themselves as women. They can only do [unclear: y] speaking among themselves, telling each other [unclear: s] they would never dare in front of husbands, [unclear: t], brothers, fathers, or any other masculine [unclear: r]. Their need to speak with the intensity and hon[unclear: required] can only be fulfilled this way. And [unclear: have] managed to communicate with a profun[unclear: hat] I never thought possible or
[unclear: nable] when I was 25. When I was among even [unclear: lost] intimate of my women friends then truly [unclear: line] problems were never discussed. So now, for [unclear: rst] time, because of these consciousness groups [unclear: ecause] of the toughness of the desire to genuinely [unclear: ont] women's problems within these groups, real [unclear: lahips] among women have developed. I mean, in the [unclear: ast], in my youth, until very recenlty, women [unclear: d] never to become genuine friends with other women. They saw each other as rivals, enemies even, or at least competitors. Now, mostly as a result of these consciousness groups, not only are women capable of being true friends, they have learned to be warm, open, deeply tender with each other, they are turning sisterhood and fraternity into realities - and without making that relationship dependent on lesbian sexuality.
Of course, there are many battles, even strictly feminist battles with social impact, in which the women do expect men to join, and many have. I'm thinking, for example, of the struggle here to legalize abortion. When we staged the first massive demonstration on that issue, three or four years ago, I remember well the great quantity of men present. This doesn't mean that they were not sexist; to uproot what has been anchored in one's behaviour pattern and value system from the earliest days of childhood takes years, decades. But these were men who were, at least, conscious of that sexism in society and took a political stand against it. On such occasions men are welcome, indeed encouraged, to join the struggle.
But there are also a great many groups, at least here in France, which proudly procalim their separatism and define their struggle as strictly lesbian.
Let's be precise. Within the MLF [Women's Liberation Movement] there are many groups, yes, which call themselves lesbians. Many of these women, thanks to the MLF and the consciousness groups, are now capable of saying openly that they are lesbian, and that's great. It didn't used to be that way at all. There are other women who have become lesbian out of a sort of political commitment; that is, they feel that it is a political act to be lesbian, the equivalent somewhat within the sex struggle of the black power advocates within the racial struggle. And, true, these women tend to be more dogmatic about the exclusion of men from their struggle.
But that does not mean that they ignore the numerous struggles being waged everywhere against oppression. For example, when Pierre Overney, the young Maoist organizer, was killed in cold blood during a demonstration, and the whole left staged a protest march across Paris, all of these so-called radical lesbian separatists joined the demonstration and carried flowers to his grave. This, on the other hand, did not mean they expressed their solidarity with Overney the male, but that they identified with the protest against the state which exploits and abuses the people - women and men.
One of the consequences of women's liberation, according to recent surveys carried out on American campuses, is that male impotence has vastly increased, especially among those young men trying to confront their sexism........
It's their own fault. They try to play roles....
But precisely, it is that they have become aware that they used to play roles, that it was easy to be macho and make believe that they were selfish, virile types when in fact, they now realize, they often felt they had to make love or had to make an attempt to seduce the woman because that was what was expected, while now....
Having become aware of the role they played, which, nevertheless satisfied them - in both respects, that is, it was easy and it satisfied them sexually while now they must worry about satisfying the woman, they can't satisfy themselves. Too bad. I mean that. If they felt genuine affection for the women they were with, if they are honest with themselves and with their partners, they would automatically think of satisfying both. Now they're worried about being judged sexist if they don't satisfy the woman, so they can't perform at all. But it's still a performance, isn't it? Such men are impotent because of the contradiction they live. It is too bad that it is this group of men, who are at least conscious of sexism, which suffers most from the women's movement, while the vast majority of men profit from it, making life more intolerable for women.....
This talk about women being freer puzzles me. In our society, freedom is achieved with money and power, Do women have any more power today, after almost a decade of the women's movement?
In the sense in which you ask, no, Intellectual women, young women who are willing to risk marginalization, the daughters of the rich when they are willing and capable to discard their parents' value system: these women, yes, are freer. That is, because of their education, life-style, or financial resources, such women can withdraw from the harsh competitive society, live in communes or on the fringes, and develop relations with other similar women or men sensitive to their problems and feel freer. In other words, as individuals, women who can afford it for whatever reason can feel freer. But as a class women certainly are not freer, precisely because, as you say, they do not have economic power. There are all sorts of statistics these days to prove that the number of women lawyers, politicians, doctors, advertising executives, etc., is increasing. But such statistics are misleading. The number of powerful women lawyers and executives is not. How many women lawyers can pick up a phone and call a judge or government official to fix anything or demand special favours? Such women must always operate through established male equivalents. Women doctors? How many are surgeons, hospital directors? Women in government? Yes, a few, tokens. In France we have two. One, serious, hardworking Simone Weil, is Minister of Health. The other, Francoise Giroud, who is the Minister in charge of women, is strictly a showpiece, meant to placate bourgeois women's needs for integration into the system. But how many women control Senate appropriations? How many women control the editorial policy of newspapers? How many are judges? How many are bank presidents, capable of financing enterprieses? Just because there are many more women in middle-level positions, as journalists say, in no way means they have power. And even those women must play the male game to succeed.
Now, that doesn't mean that I do not believe that women have not made progress in the struggle. But the progress is the result of mass action. Take the new abortion law proposed by Simone Veil. Despite the fact that abortions will not be covered by the national health program and hence will be more available to the wealthy than to the poor, the law is certainty a great step forward. But for all the seriousness with which Simone Veil fought for such a law, the reason she could present it is because thousands of women have been agitating all over France for such a law, because thousands of women have publicly claimed that they have had abortions (thus forcing the government to either prosecute them or change the taw), because hundreds of doctors and midwives, have risked prosecution by admitting they have performed them, because some were tried and fought the issue in the courts, etc. What I'm saying is that, in mass actions, women can have power. The more women become conscious of the need for such mass action, the more progress will be achieved. And, to return to the woman who can afford to seek individual liberation, the more she can influence her friends and sisters, the more that consciousness will spread, which in turn, when frustrated by the system, will stimulate mass action.
Of course, the more that consciousness spreads, the more men will be aggressive and violent. But then, the more men are aggressive, the more women will need other women to fight back, that is, the more the need for mass action will be clear. Most workers of the capitalist world today are aware of the class struggle, whether they call themselves Marxists or not, in fact, whether they even heard of Marx or not. And so it must become in the sex struggle. And it will.
Are you optimistic? Do you think the changes you have been struggling for will take place?
I don't know. Not in my lifetime anyway. Maybe in four generations. I don't know about the revolution. But the changes that women are struggling for, yes, that I am certain of, in the long run women will win.