Women’s voices, Women’s action

IssueJune 2011

“If I ever decided to go through Catonsville again, I would never act with men; it would be a women’s action for me or I wouldn’t act.... I don't want to waste the sisters and brothers we have by marching them off to jail and having mystical experiences or whatever they’re going to have.... I think you have to be serious and realise you could end up in jail but I hope that people would not seek it as we did.”

Mary Moylan, writing from underground (Peace News, 3 July 1970). Mary Moylan was the only woman among the Catonsville Nine, a group of anti-Vietnam war activists who broke into a government office and burnt draft files at a Selective Service office in Baltimore on 17 May 1968. She remained underground until 1978, when she turned herself in and received a three-year prison sentence.

Male violence

“In my view, any male apostle of so-called nonviolence who is not committed body and soul to ending the violence against us is not trustworthy. He is not a comrade, not a brother, not a friend. He is someone to whom our lives are invisible. As women, nonviolence must begin for us in the refusal to be violated, in the refusal to be victimised. [I call on women to] establish values that originate in sisterhood. We must not accept even for a moment male notions of what nonviolence is.” Andrea Dworkin, in an article reprinted from WIN magazine (Peace News, 21 November 1975).

Women’s anger

“I thought I knew my anger. I didn’t think of it as suppressed anger – as it had to be in the cases of women who led married lives. And yet – as the women’s movement began to gain some momentum, I found that expression of the male will to dominate began to rouse in me anger in a new degree – anger rising from my toes with a force that startled me at first. Even when the man would be a very young man and obviously under great pressure to act as he thought a man must – and I would know this and with part of myself forgive him. Part of me couldn’t forgive him. It was very painful for me to look at this new anger; and it is only gradually that I am learning to transmute it – into determination. For a while I felt helpless in its grip....

“For those of us who are women – or gay – it is probably clear enough what anger I mean should be faced. Though it is often hard enough to admit to, even so. But I would very much include, among those who have a personal anger to confront, the men among you. For if women are oppressed by men, and cannot fully be themselves, men in succumbing to all the pressures put upon them from an early age to dominate, lose the chance to be freely themselves, too – to follow all kinds of contrary impulses. And I cannot believe there is not in men a deep, buried anger about this.”

Barbara Deming, “On Anger” (reprinted in Peace News, January 1998).

A gender-blind society

“At the moment there is a preponderance of women active in Trident Ploughshares. Of 13 people in the core group, only four are men and of the 175 Pledgers over 100 are women. Interestingly there are five all-women affinity groups but only one all-male affinity group (and that one is from Sweden which is more gender aware and does encourage men’s groups). More importantly there seems to be a good “feminist” structure of pragmatism based on consensus decision-making, of listening carefully to the many different opinions and voices, of consulting widely, of facilitating a process. Embedded within the campaign is a recognition that the means have to be consistent with the end.

“In any case I personally want to live in a gender-blind society where women and men are equally respected and listened to and sensitive to each other’s needs. But maybe I am not worrying because so far it has not been a problem because I feel at ease with so many women filling the main organisational and support roles in the campaign. I would probably feel very differently if the balance was more equal and there were more men organising the support work. I would fear that it would all become much more directive and hierarchical.”

Angie Zelter, in conversation with David McKenzie about mixed-gender organising (Peace News, June-August 2001).

A new generation

“Above all, I can’t help noticing that many younger women have become radicalised as feminists through their frustration at trying to work politically alongside the men in their movements. I wish it wasn’t true, but on the whole, it seems that women have learnt much more about sexual politics over the last generation than men have.

“Many of the younger feminists I meet seem more interested in learning from the experiences of an older generation of activists than we ever were. This may be partly because more of us are still around in more or less full possession of our marbles.

“Younger feminists also seem to be better able than we were to incorporate fun as an intrinsic part of their politics, rather than as an optional extra, and are much less proscriptive/judgmental about other people’s sexuality.”

Gail Chester, “Women’s liberation is dead, long live women’s liberation!” (Peace News, March 2005)