Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo from Casey Hayden and Mary King to a number of other women in the peace and freedom movements
(Editors Note: Casey Hayden and Mary King circulated this paper on
women in the civil rights movement based on their experiences as Student
Non-Violent Coordinating Committee volunteers. It is widely regarded
as one of the first documents of the emerging women's liberation movement.)
1) The caste system is not institutionalized by law (women have the right to vote, to sue for divorce, etc.);
2) Women can't withdraw from the situation (a la nationalism) or overthrow it;
3) There are biological differences (even though those biological
differences are usually discussed or accepted without taking present
and future technology into account so we probably can't be sure what
these differences mean). Many people who are very hip to the implications
of the racial caste system, even people in the movement, don't seem
to be able to see the sexual caste system and if the question is raised
they respond with: "That's the way it's supposed to be. There are
biological differences." Or with other statements which recall
a white segregationist confronted with integration.
reactions to the questions raised here: A very few men seem
to feel, when they hear conversations involving these problems, that
they have a right to be present and participate in them, since they
are so deeply involved. At the same time, very few men can respond non-defensively,
since the whole idea is either beyond their comprehension or threatens
and exposes them. The usual response is laughter. That inability to
see the whole issue as serious, as the straitjacketing of both sexes,
and as societally determined often shapes our own response so that we
learn to think in their terms about ourselves and to feel silly rather
than trust our inner feelings. The problems we're listing here, and
what others have said about them, are therefore largely drawn from conversations
among women only and that difficulty in establishing dialogue with men
is a recurring theme among people we've talked to.
about as deep as the analysis goes publicly, which is not nearly so
deep as we've heard many of you go in chance conversations.
Objectively, the chances seem nil that we could start a movement based on anything as distant to general American thought as a sex?caste system. Therefore, most of us will probably want to work full time on problems such as war, poverty, race. The very fact that the country can't face, much less deal with, the questions we're raising means that the movement is one place to look for some relief. Real efforts at dialogue within the movement and with whatever liberal groups, community women, or students might listen are justified. That is, all the problems between men and women and all the problems of women functioning in society as equal human beings are among the most basic that people face. We've talked in the movement about trying to build a society which would see basic human problems (which are now seen as private troubles), as public problems and would try to shape institutions to meet human needs rather than shaping people to meet the needs of those with power. To raise questions like those above illustrates very directly that society hasn't dealt with some of its deepest problems and opens discussion of why that is so. (In one sense, it is a radicalizing question that can take people beyond legalistic solutions into areas of personal and institutional change.) The second objective reason we'd like to see discussion begin is that we've learned a great deal in the movement and perhaps this is one area where a determined attempt to apply ideas we've learned there can produce some new alternatives.