40 Years After Women’s March for Equality & `Rat’ Takeover—Part 1

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog /

Forty years ago, on Aug. 26, 1970, between 20,000 and 50,000 women marched in Manhattan to demand equality for women in the United States. And earlier in that same year anti-war Movement women in Downtown Manhattan took control of an anti-war 1960s countercultural underground newspaper, Rat — which had been started by some anti-war Movement folks who had previously been involved with SDS and The Rag underground newspaper in Austin, Texas.

As Robin Morgan wrote in her “Introduction: Women’s Revolution” essay that appeared in the 1970 Random House book which she edited, Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology Of Writings From The Women’s Liberation Movement: “Women have attacked, disrupted, seized, or completely taken over certain media institutions: Rat and High School Free Press, two major underground radical newspapers, have been taken over completely by women.”

In a lengthy essay, titled “Goodbye to All That,” which was published in the Feb. 6-23, 1970 issue of the now-defunct Rat, Morgan explained why she felt Movement women needed to take over Rat in 1970. She wrote the following:

So Rat has been liberated, for this week, at least. Next week? If the men return to reinstate the porny photos, the sexist comic strips, the “nude-chickie” covers (along with their patronizing rhetoric about being in favor of Women’s Liberation) — if this happens, our alternatives are clear. Rat must be taken over permanently by women — or Rat must be destroyed.

Why Rat? …[It] has always tried to be a really radical cum life-style paper… It’s the liberal co-optive masks on the face of sexist hate and fear, worn by real nice guys we all know and like, right? We have met the enemy and he’s our friend. And dangerous…

And that’s what I wanted to write about — the friends, brothers, lovers in the counterfeit male-dominated Left…

Goodbye to the male-dominated peace movement.

Goodbye to the “straight” male-dominated Left…

It is the job of revolutionary feminists to build an ever stronger independent Women’s Liberation Movement, so that the Sisters in counterleft captivity will have somewhere to turn…

All male leadership out of the Left as the only way; and it’s going to happen, whether through men stepping down or through women seizing the helm…

Goodbye, goodbye forever, counterfeit Left, counterleft, male-dominated cracked-class-mirror reflection of the Amerikan Nightmare. Women are the real left… We are rising with a fury older and potentially greater than any force in history, and this time we will be free or no one will survive. POWER TO ALL THE PEOPLE OR TO NONE. All the way down, this time.

Yet for nearly three years before Movement women took over Rat and Morgan urged revolutionary feminist activists in 60s New Left groups to either form and build separatist Women’s Liberation Movement groups in the USA or assume leadership roles in the patriarchal New Left, women activists in SDS had already been demanding an end to male supremacy and male chauvinism both within the United States and within SDS.

At the June 1967 SDS National Convention, for example, the now-deceased former U.S. political prisoner, Marilyn Buck, had chaired a plenary session in which the report of an autonomous women’s workshop on women’s liberation was presented to the National SDS organization as a whole.

And in the March 18, 1968 issue of SDS’s New Left Notes, two other New Left women activists, Naomi Jaffe and Bernardine Dohrn, had already previously written, in an article titled “The Look Is You,” that “over the past few months, small groups have been coming together in various cities to meet around the realization that… we are unfree within the Movement and in personal relationships, as in the society at large” and

…a strategy for the liberation of women, then, does not demand equal jobs (exploitation), but meaningful creative activity for all; not a larger share of power but the abolition of commodity tyranny; not equally reified sexual roles but an end to sexual objectification and exploitation; not equal aggressive leadership in the Movement, but the initiation of a new style of non-dominating leadership…

Following its takeover by revolutionary feminist women 40 years ago, Rat was only published until early 1972. Funding for Rat from its white feminist supporters and white advertisers in Manhattan apparently had dried-up — after a collective of Black and Latina women staff members had eventually been given editorial power at the radical feminist underground newspaper in 1971. And by 1975, one of the founders of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s, Marlene Dixon, would write the following:

What happened to the Women’s Liberation Movement in the early 1970s is precisely what happened to each mass movement of the previous decade: internal differentiation along class and political lines. In the case of the women’s movement, the remnant of Women’s Liberation have come to be dominated by a middle-class leadership, reducing a vigorous and radical social movement to a politically and ideologically co-opted reformist lobby in the halls of Congress…

For the middle class woman, particularly if she has a career or is planning to have a career, the primary problem is to get men out of the way (i.e., to free women from male dominance maintained by institutionalized discrimination), in order to enjoy, along with the men, the full privileges of middle-class status…

Abolishing discrimination would not lead to a `revolution’ in the status of women because it would leave the class structure absolutely untouched. Gloria Steinem might build a corporation, a woman might become a general or a corporation vice-president, but the factory girl would remain the factory girl…

Sisterhood temporarily disguised the fact that all women do not have the same interests…

Political conflict… became acute throughout 1970-71. Under the guise of rejecting “elitism,” left-wing women were attacked mercilessly for being “domineering,” “oppressive,” “elitist,” “male-identified,” etc. In fact, the early radical leadership was in this way either discredited or driven out of the movement…

Leadership thus passed to liberal reformers or left opportunists…

Usually women’s studies programs arose as a demand of Women’s Liberation as the women’s arm of the student movement for democratization and reform of the university… Early women’s studies programs tended to bring in staff who were progressive; this in turn alarmed university and college administrations. The result was a dual tactic of financial strangulation and staff purges…

The co-optation of women’s studies were part of the general purge that was being carried out against radicals and radical activists in North American universities and colleges…Women who had built careers in the context of liberal professionalism were as hostile to the intellectual and social challenge of the Radicals as were their male counterparts…

In addition, on May 9, 1975, a press release would be issued at a Women in Media Conference by Redstockings — a radical feminist group, whose members initiated much of the theory, slogan, writings, and actions that helped launch the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s — which stated:

Gloria Steinem has a ten-year association with the CIA stretching from 1959 to 1969 which she has misrepresented and covered up.

Further, we have become convinced that Ms. magazine, founded and edited by her, is hurting the Women’s Liberation Movement.

As the originators of consciousness-raising and the Miss America Protest, as the women who were the first to talk in public about their abortions and the need for women to control their own bodies, who coined such slogans as “sisterhood is powerful” and “the personal is political” that launched the movement, we are concerned that Steinem, Ms. magazine and Ms. Corporation are endangering the feminist movement.

In 1967 the New York Times made the first revelation of Steinem’s past in setting up a CIA front, the Independent Research Service. This was after Ramparts magazine had just disclosed the organization had been funded by the CIA…

Both Steinem’s career in political journalism and Ms. magazine were launched by the publisher of New York [magazine] Clay Felker who worked as an editor of a newspaper published by this CIA front.

To many people, Ms. appears to be the voice of the women’s liberation movement. But in actuality it has substituted itself for the movement, blocking knowledge of the authentic activists and ideas. Ms. outgrowths proliferate into many other areas—women’s studies programs, television shows, feminist organizations—duplicating and many times substituting for the original, authentic activists and groups that sparked the movement. It is widely recognized that one major CIA strategy is to create or support `parallel organizations which provide an alternative to radicalism…

A look below the surface shows that Ms. is…promoting token women, wonderwomen, and `role models’ and denigrating the real achievements of most women…

This whole structure is backed by curious corporate financing.

Women’s liberation’s popularity and groundbreaking success preceded the installation of Gloria Steinem as the movement’s `leader’ by the rich and powerful. Today all the trappings of the radical upsurge remain, but the content and style have been watered down…”



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The Rag Blog



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The Rag Blog

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