BREAKING WITH INVISIBILITY: A Look at
(Editors Note:In 1985 former members of the CWLU organized a reunion
in Chicago. Cady wrote and distributed this paper at the reunion. It
is highly critical of the way the reunion was organized and explores
some of the uncomfortable issues that the CWLU was never able to satisfactorally
is being written in response to the on-going oppression I feel and observe
within the visible white womens movement which has been "struggling
with these "issues for at least the last 11 years. From an historical
perspective certain "issues" have been "worked on"
at different degrees for centuries. I have asked myself, "What is
our problem?"... now, I'm asking you. Do we have some investment
in maintaining political/social/cultural systems which perpetuate woman-hating
and racist acts of violence? Of course not, is the most reasonable response
but it's 1985 and at some of the most essential levels we haven't even
been able to resist acts of violence we toss ourselves and other women.
The time for theorizing and abstract discussion has been long enough.
We must assume responsibility for ourselves, so, in the context of responsibility,
commitment and hopefully mutual accountability I will present my previously
silent view of reality.
Many of the
positive aspects of the Chicago Womens Liberation Union will be
reviewed and appreciated at this reunion as it should be. Many women here
have been instrumental politically and practically in aspects of womens
liberation which have not only made the quality of many womens lives
better but in some cases, "Jane" for example, saved womens
lives. I have a great deal of respect for the women instrumental in creating
a feminist movement without which I wouldn't be here. I am not trying
to trivialize the women or their work. I am though aware that the effort
and qualitative changes made possible by some women should not grant the
entire organization and its reflection in the womens movement exempt
from necessary criticism. The contents of the invitation to the CWLU Reunion
provoked memories of the Womens Union as I knew it during the last
few years of existence. I will use the invitation as a concrete example
in an effort to resist denying or negating the oppressive attitudes which
caused the union to fall in on itself. The same old attitudes which I
feel still exist.
for the reunion grew-out of the planning for a national conference on
socialist-feminism to be held in Chicago in August, 1985. Since CWLU considered
itself a socialist-feminist" organization it would seem only
natural to have a reunion from which to recruit women to participate in
the conference. The attitude expressed is one of the past is behind us;
lets' renew acquaintances and move on to other issues. We dare not ever
have a reunion to identify what the serious problems were... and probably
still are. They were not and are not just "issues". Our problems
reflect the woman-hating and racist ideologies (practices) that are the
life blood of this culture. Involvement in a movement" doesn't
mean that we have erased from our existence everything we have for years
been taught relative to our roles in maintaining this system. We said
the personal is political but we never got specific - individual identification
and struggle with the ideologies we oppress each other with was tossed
in favor of collective theory and practice on "issues" and "causes"
which we could identify as a common "other" oppressor. We cannot
continue to live in some state of complacency or struggle selectively
toward some self-satisfying state without recognizing that at many levels
we still perpetuate and enforce the ideologies we say we are struggling
against. We dare not have a reunion to discuss the attitudes that main-streamed
the organization and were reflected from the structure through almost
includes: "The schedule for the reunion will look something like
this." This was provoking since I realized it was a committee of
6 women deciding for self-interest reasons to pull together and further
design a tentative program without even trying to survey the interests
of the former members in an effort to meet the needs of the majority.
Some of us should stop calling ourselves socialist-feminists when our
act ions won't let us pass.
exemplify, we can review the proposed schedule.
Notice, from 2pm 'til 5pm: "the last ten years, the next ten years";
the important things to be doing now; "the '85 elections; "what
work (political and otherwise) people have been doing".
serious consideration/attention or focus could there possibly be on even
one part of the discussion in three hours? How much responsible thought
by even one woman can be given on any one of these issues in serious discussion
with even one other former members mind in three hours? Or perhaps we
are going to receive a presentation of what the committee thinks; which
is not at all invalid... but we need to be clear about what were
doing. Dont call it a discussion because that could prove inaccurate
and embarrassing: not to mention insulting when I know most of us individually
do have thoughts on these matters. We deserve more than a presumptuous
program designed to organize us as part of a herd and directed, hopefully
without objections, by those assuming capacity to decide collective goals.
Do you remember steering committee? Do you remember small group discussions?
Do you notice any similarity of "leadership"? Did we, or will
we ever evaluate leadership skills"? This is not the form of
"leadership" (as reflected by the committee) I would choose
to support or to work with organizationally.
in fact many pre-designed structures of organizations to choose from.
All of which I believe were the creations of prominent political characters
of the "right" or the "left" and it seems evident
that no matter what side you choose and whatever degree, we are presented
with new or foreign concepts to struggle to assimilate into or accommodate
ourselves with. Perhaps we should at least consider for a moment kicking
the habit of being so adaptable. Maybe all the existing structures created
by and taught to us by male-dominated societies are not conducive to womens
evolution. Perhaps effective use of male power is not compatible with
womens use of power. It seems that we need to evaluate the structures
we work in. If they prove to be inadequate for our collective purposes
(lacking, distorted or draining) we should accept responsibility for creating
new structures. Those which will reflect our capacity to give birth to
presently unidentifiable structures capable of growing out of the constant
process of womens evolution without the false security of presumptuous
analysis. Some may say that there is no time but I would argue that there
is no time not to be creative; there is no time to continue to accept
without considering the difference between the options we have. choosing
between two non-viable options is not a choice.
understand how busy everyone is, the enormity of "issues", "projects",
and the lack of humans to work on all this - which is exactly why it seems
apparent that. We must change or create structures which provide access
to the majority of people. Then "we" would be more people, therefore
more time, and with time less "issues". With minimal proper
planning we could have been responsible to the former members of CWLU
and the theory we rest and justify ourselves by. The planning of this
reunion appears to be a microcosm of a macrocosm; one we must not trivialize.
Perhaps our exposure to structures and methods of "leadership"
has been only lacking in proper thought. Perhaps there wasn't enough time
in ten years to prepare for a reunion.
at 5pm a few people should be done with us so the "social hour"
will begin. Three hours for serious thought followed by an hour and a
half to relax at the bar. Dinner and a party in the evening is then opened
to friends. Evidently 5 1/2 hours away from the people we may dine and
party with all year... year after year must be too much. I was outraged
that consideration was given "friends" ("women & men")
around dinner and no welcome or hint of accommodation for the children.
I and our children deserve the respect and consideration given those with
"friends" they wanted there. Our children, too, eat dinner like
Did you notice
what time child care is available? Afternoon only. Do we all realize how
exclusionary that decision was? Perhaps I would prefer time alone at the
reunion and make other plans for my son if I enjoy the privilege of making
other arrangements. Perhaps my son is old enough to resist an invitation.
No one person or committee has the right to exercise such elitist attitudes
and expect that I will not feel it as an act of violence to keep us separate.
I wonder what we do with the children at every level of "feminism,
"socialist feminism", "lesbian feminism".
focus of "Feminists" is on women without children; or women
enjoying the luxury of a lifestyle in which childcare is never a serious
consideration in her everyday struggle; or perhaps we should hide them
in closets and relate to them collectively when they are old enough to
be organized". Perhaps the committee assumed my son was old enough
to hang out with me at the bar; or was the assumption that women with
children don't dine and socialize? Did any of the other former members
give birth to more of the invisible members of our culture over the last
ends with, "our committee is open to additional members -- if you
want to join up, please write us." This letter was already written
with a tentative program laid out and offensive decisions made before
I received the invitation and I'm curious about what I missed that might
have motivate my participation with the committee. Nine years after the
union dissolved an ad hoc committee (a "leadership" group) asserts
themselves as though the issues/problems I just reviewed were never issues
Did we notice
that the former "leadership" from either side of the "two
line struggle" are not on the committee? All the time the power struggles
were "happening internally the "leadership" was always
there hoping to accumulate one more win. Anxious about the possibility
of gaining more power and control over women based on the "correct
line"; struggling through to the final destruction of the organization.
Where are they now? Perhaps they were too busy. Perhaps it wouldn't serve
there personal purposes right now. Perhaps there is no fame to claim so
they exempted themselves. Perhaps they thought they did enough already.
invitation have a bi-lingual counterpart that I didn't see?
why a "womens union - feminist" - "anti-racist"
could only provide access to almost only white and primarily middle-class
women. There is nothing inherently wrong with being white or middle class.
One problem though, is that many white feminists, middle class or any
class, actively involved with the womens movement refuse to make
class distinctions. They insist upon blending under common issues, common
theory, and common unstated privilege of denying the existence of many
Union on some very essential levels resorted to abstract theoretical politics
which provide a safe environment for all the superficial ways of dealing
with "issues". The problems we collectively have reflect the
woman-hating and racist ideologies we refuse to deal with in ourselves
and with each other. I don't think we have time to lie to ourselves or
theorize for the next 200 years. For as long as we collectively deny,
negate, trivialize these attitudes in ourselves we will remain chained
to the system we claim to be struggling against. We cannot continue to
close our eyes or hide in "correct political lines" or excuse
ourselves and each other via silence.
struggled collectively with our own unique ways of acting out the misogynist
and racist ideologies which have and will fundamentally affect any form
of government we might choose. What is our problem? What could we be afraid
of? Is it fear of an uncharted path? Do we lack the confidence' of giving
birth to more than babies, books and organizations? Why not create viable
analysis, struggle from the inside out and be pleased with how internalizing
and expanding our real knowledge will be reflected and future multi-cultural
society conducive to the growth and development rather than destruction
Most of us
probably agree that the lies must stop including the ones we tell ourselves.
We can look
at the now non-existent CWLU and perhaps learn something. We never talked
about women of color unless she was an issue. Black, Latina, Chicana,
Asian, Indian women did not exist for us in any other than a superficial,
relatively painless way. Did we ever work in coalition with Latina Mujeres
en Action? Some of us talked about "forced sterilization" but
I don t recall our working in coalition to bring an end to it. We talked
about Inez Garcia" too. With the exception of one Black woman
that I knew of, the Womens Union could not provide access to women
of color. I remember being informed about "Prison Project and
their work at Dwight. This was the only Chapter I heard about, which reflected
anti-racist struggle" and they were kicked out. I wonder what
they did or said that removed them from the terribly ambiguous, broad
and rarely defined perspective of "socialist-feminism. It
seems that while we can speak of the legal systems' power to "interpret"
laws and selectively apply them and how oppressive the whole system is...
some of us "learned the skills" to use on each other. Do we
notice woman-hating and racism in those actions now,.. or has nothing
with the Joanne Little Coalition. I was inexperienced, under-educated,
and unskilled: no particularly useful knowledge, no real resources, yet,
a representative of CWLU. What exactly did I have to offer? I did work
a great deal though, so, I must have been useful at some level but no
serious thought was given to what part we had in the coalition. The "Chairwoman"
at the time managed to make a racist statement at one of the coalition
meetings which CWLU apologized for. But, we didn't kick her out. We didn't
talk about it very much. We said we struggle against racism"... Excuses
and apologies werent good enough then and there has been no sign
of 'real' process to indicate these attitudes are changing.
leadership lacked serious consideration and respect for the working class
also. The idea seems to me now as an attempt to be absorbed by the "working
class" therefore, avoiding having to deal with the idiosyncrasies
of their own. Class is not just economic. I don t care how much or how
little money a person makes. I do care a great deal though about the use
of power which can be purchased and further used on those with less power.
exception of a few actual working-class women -most of the members had
economically middle-class backgrounds. Inherent in the background were
common values, standards) options, credentials, access to privilege, and
money to fund some of their decisions to "join the working class".
people never decided to be under-educated, under-skilled) minus options,
minus viable alternatives. You could always decide not to be hungry and
can t know about my concern for my child's hunger. We risk survival -
you choose to grovel for as long as you can and rest easy on your options.
Does anyone recall "to each according to their needs; from each according
to ability?" I don't believe the objective should be that we all
will eventually grovel for survival. The "redistribution of wealth"
is not to be seen exclusively in dollar bills; wealth seems to be a package
of common values, standards, options, credentials, access to privilege
and money. Did we ever talk about class? Other than abstract theory?
Did we ever
discuss providing access for differently able women? Why? It seems we
lacked a capacity to realize and relate to women seriously. Maybe they
weren't interested in womens evolution. Maybe we never really knew
any women differently abled. Maybe they don't live in Chicago. I hope
there is access for a member planning to be here- I hope you don't assume
she won t come. I hope you don't plan to use some make shift carrying
method and call that viable access.
to honest efforts toward self-actualization? People talk of the necessity
of collective work, collective struggle, collective action, and I know
this is necessary but will not happen unless the individuals make the
time and create the methods to deal with themselves internally as well
as participating in collective work. A collective is not a collection
of parts of whole people; a collective should be a reflection of self-sufficient
autonomous individuals capable of functioning on their own and coming
together in the spirit and commitment of collectively. The "right"
insists that I deny my existence through certain principles and the "left"
insists on the same denial but for what they perceive as "politically
correct reasons". That is bullshit. I don't want to be collectivized
with any group of people anywhere on this planet which denies a basic
human right to individual process" in favor of intellectual
theory which will forever remain a state of mind rather than reflected
in our state of "being".
capitulations, serial compromises, and refusals to resist lead us back
to square one over and over again. Our trust, faith, strength and dignity
is personal power used to control, direct and lead ourselves - and we
will or can have choices of direction. If we never experience ourselves
than what exactly do we have to offer a collective with or without the
correct" political line, we have nothing except a vacant illusion
of a hypothetical apparition. The power that we have access to within
ourselves increases with every internal struggle being identified and
resolved; a process of evolution. When this strength unifies with collective
strength its force of resistance will equal revolution.
When I discussed
the writing of this paper with a friend, she suggested including thoughts
on our struggle with anti-Semitism. I wondered, "What struggle?
Was this an organizational anti-Semitic act of omission? Were we silently
insisting that Jewish women deny their existence to? How did the members
with Jewish backgrounds feel about this? The classical socialist analysis
on the question of religion reveals it as an institutionalized buffer.
Does the political analysis justify the silence? I understand silence
as support and affirmation of anti-Semitism and cannot comprehend why
we never even raised it as an "issue". Marx wasn't proud of
being a descendent of nine generations of Rabbis but I thought he was
separating himself from the Talmud, not all the knowledge and experience
of his culture. Did I miss something? I also thought he really only wrote
about his thoughts on religion twice - his doctoral dissertation on "Difference
Between the Democritean & Epicurean Philosophy of Nature", 1841
and 'On The Jewish Question", 1844, while living in Germany. (1881/82).
Almost forty years later, Russia and the Pogroms (massacres of Jews) become
more visible in history. Then, the Holocaust, 1933 through '45. How would
Marx have approached the Jewish question in Germany 1944 as opposed to
1844? Will Socialist-feminists even attempt to approach a viable, visible
analysis in 1985?
I wrote this:
A. For myself and for those who realized all these contradictions and
never wrote about them;
B. For all the women who couldn't be here because of our collective weaknesses;
C. For the women who never noticed even a part of my view of reality;
D. For the women "friends" who have tried to use their misogynist/racist
acts of violence to hold me and a world of different" women
E. I wrote this for the children with the hope that they need not start
at square one.
When I consider
what I need and want for the womens movement I fantasize circles
of women capable of supporting each other through levels of self-evolution.
Then, to extend to circles of all people-women, children, men.
Women who recognize woman/hating and racism (in all forms) as violent
forces cultivated and used by our culture and ourselves to insure separation,
powerlessness, hopelessness of ever being what we might be if we ever
got passed all this together.
enough not to be liberal with themselves and other women. Support is not
closing our eyes, silencing ourselves, agreeing or applauding the random
acts of violence we use on each other out of ignorance, friendship, pity,
condescension or arrogance.
enough to take responsibility for their part in perpetuating or changing
our collective consciousness.
qualitative change: a collective leap into a higher level of consciousness;
a level of consciousness we all have access to; then, what happens? Whatever
life could be like we can t even imagine, there is so much to know from
where we are starting. I wish we would all be a least starting. I'm not
suggesting stop what you're doing: we stop to eat, sleep, walk, talk,
why can t we stop to evaluate ourselves, or "time-out" to integrate.
Why can't we evolve in the context of our lives?