Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

. . . not at least until you’ve read Susan Faludi’s fascinating review of radical feminism in the late 1960s and early 70s and one of its stars, Shulamith Firestone.

One of the recurrent themes in modern history is the association between revolution and mental illness–as both a political attack from the right and as a lived reality.  Some of the most radical Whigs in the American Revolution–the kind who supported women’s rights, for example!–were accused of suffering from revolutionary spirit as from a mental illness, the “contagion of liberty.”  James Otis, Jr., for example, the ardent Whig and brother of Mercy Otis Warren, was one of them.

So too radical feminism had its visionaries who, as Faludi suggests, “helped to create a new society.  But [Firestone] couldn’t live in it.”  After struggling with mental illness for at least thirty years, Firestone’s body was discovered last summer in her Greenwich Village apartment apparently several days after her death:

Clearly, something terrible had happened to Firestone, but it was not her despair alone that led [Kate] Millett to choose this passage. When she finished reading, she said, “I think we should remember Shulie, because we are in the same place now.” It was hard to say which moment the mourners were there to mark: the passing of Firestone or that of a whole generation of feminists who had been unable to thrive in the world they had done so much to create.

Firestone wasn’t the only radfem to suffer from mental illness; as Faludi’s article says, Millett herself “had a breakdown and was committed to a mental hospital.”  They weren’t alone.  Faludi writes:

In 1970, in a contribution to Notes from the Second Year, titled “Woman and Her Mind,” Meredith Tax argued that the condition of women constituted a state of “female schizophrenia”—a realm of unreality where a woman either belonged to a man or was “nowhere, disappeared, teetering on the edge of a void with no work to do and no felt identity at all.” By mid-century, Elaine Showalter noted, in “The Female Malady” (1985), scores of literary and journalistic works had defined schizophrenia as a “bitter metaphor” for the “cultural situation” of women. It was this state of affairs that the radical feminists had set out to change, only to find themselves doubly alienated. The first alienation was a by-product of their political vision: radical insight can resemble the mind-set described by the clinical psychologist Louis Sass, in “Madness and Modernism” (1992), when he wrote that the schizophrenic is “acutely aware of the inauthenticities and compromises of normal social existence.” The second alienation was tragic: alienation from one another.

Medical researchers have long puzzled over schizophrenia’s late emergence (it was first diagnosed in 1911, in Switzerland) and its prevalence in the industrial world, where the illness is degenerative and permanent. (In “primitive” societies, when it exists at all, it is typically a passing malady.) In 2005, when Jean-Paul Selten and Elizabeth Cantor-Graae, experts on the epidemiology of schizophrenia, reviewed various risk factors—foremost among them migration, racism, and urban upbringing—they found that the factors all involved chronic isolation and loneliness, a condition that they called “social defeat.” They theorized that “social support protects against the development of schizophrenia.”

The second-wave feminists had hoped to alleviate this isolation through the refuge of sisterhood. “We were like pioneers who’d left the Old Country,” Phyllis Chesler, a feminist psychologist and the author of “Women and Madness” (1972), told me. “And we had nowhere to go back to. We had only each other.” That is, until the movement’s collapse. Last fall, as I interviewed New York’s founding radical feminists, the stories of “social defeat” mounted: painful solitude, poverty, infirmity, mental illness, and even homelessness. In a 1998 essay, “The Feminist Time Forgot,” Kate Millett lamented the lengthening list of her sisters who had “disappeared to struggle alone in makeshift oblivion or vanished into asylums and have yet to return to tell the tale,” or who fell into “despairs that could only end in death.” She noted the suicides of Ellen Frankfort, the author of “Vaginal Politics,” and Elizabeth Fisher, the founder of Aphra, the first feminist literary journal. “We haven’t helped each other much,” Millett concluded. We “haven’t been able to build solidly enough to have created community or safety.”

Go read the whole thing.  I’m so glad it’s available to nonsubscribers online, so do take advantage of it.  I thought it was really interesting, but I’m certainly not a specialist.  I’d love to hear from those of you who are specialists in the history of modern U.S. feminism!

51 thoughts on “Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

  1. Extremely interesting, I am waiting for the wise commenters to shed light on the topic. Then, I may be able to contribute on “social support protects against the development of schizophrenia.”


  2. Well I am not a specialist but I often feel that there is a third alienation as well, from younger women who look back on the “second wave” and find it incomplete in its analysis, its radicalism, and its priorities. I understand the modern critique and find great value in it but I also find it a bit heartless.


  3. The quote “social support prevents schizophrenia” makes me think of those movies that have “if you love somebody enough they won’t get Alzheimers, or if they do it will be beautiful” as a theme.

    Although it’s bitterly amusing after all the arguments stating that mental illness is a disease, change in the brain chemistry, etc, along comes the claim that it’s caused by not getting enough warm fuzzies.


  4. Thanks for that link, Jon.

    truffula: be sure to read the whole article. These women were daring and did important work, but it’s clear that they could barely stand each other by the early 1970s. But I suppose that’s what would have happened in the American Revolution if it had happened in the late 1960s, if the British had owned and operated most of the press (newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV). Imagine if Tories lived in the overwhelming majority of American families, and they were the only ones who had full citizenship rights & were the only ones entitled to graduate or professional training, and owned or controlled most of the wealth in the economy. How could a revolution like that succeed, given the absence of financial, legal, and cultural power on the part of the revolutionaries? And yet, that’s what the second-wave feminists did, by and large. (And many feminists today still resist Firestone’s essential and I think correct insight that the modern bourgeois nuclear family is at the heart of problem.)

    Some revolutions have more social support than others, and I thought Faludi did a good job making it clear just how little support and tremendous the odds were not just in the U.S. in general, but among the New Left as well, for feminist politics. She doesn’t say that the epidemiology of mental illness people say that social support “prevents” schizophrenia–she says that social isolation is a feature associated with the illness, something that I think is clear in the lives of many of the feminists in this story. (Now, maybe social isolation is a result rather than a cause of mental illness–I’d have to read the study cited by Stelten and Cantor-Graee in the article–but I thought it was interesting that schizophrenia is a fairly new diagnosis & that it has a particular social and cultural etiology.)


  5. One of the books to put on your summer reading pile is Kate Millett’s The Loony Bin Trip, republished by University of Illinois Press. It is here where Millett both describes her own bipolar disease and makes a case for the freedom to choose not to be medicated or incarcerated. It’s a great book, in part because she does not slight the effects these decisions have on others — she simply insists that it isn’t up to the person who is emotionally disabled to respond to other people’s feelings about it. Her description of her bipolar disease also suggests why she was able to write the path-breaking Sexual Politics in about 6 months.

    I have to go look for it now, but there is important correspondence about Firestone between Millett (when she was still living in her Bowery loft) and — I think — Ti-Grace Atkinson in the Millett Archive at Duke from the 1990s. Firestone was living in the street, not paying rent, and Millett was tasked with dealing with the situation, mostly because she lived nearby but also because of her own struggles with mental illness. Millett just refuses to intervene, on the principle that coercion of Firestone is morally wrong.


  6. I read this a few days ago and really liked it – although I follow quite a few womanists (on twitter, that bastion of internet feminism) who said some nonspecific disparaging things about Firestone. I didn’t ask them (too much time had elapsed) but as many seem up on Firestone history (which I am not), does anyone know why they wouldn’t like Firestone/her politics? Is it just the stigma of radfems being racist/classist/transphobic? Or something more specific to Firestone?

    Other question: I forgot how much I love Susan Faludi’s writing. I’ve been digging around to see if there’s a blog of some sort to collect her recent work but it appears not – just an outdated website – does anyone have any more information on her current work?


  7. The thing about revolution — and the reason most of us are not revolutionaries — is that it is really hard. How are we going to do this really hard thing? And how willed succeed if we don’t agree on everything? I remember a fight with a grad school friend over whether I should call myself a feminist- socialist or a socialist- feminist. Everything matters.

    I remember the energy I got from reading The Dialectic of Sex back in 1973, but also the sense that it was too hard. And it was, clearly, for all those involved. Oddly, as I was reading Faludi, I thought of one of the gospel passages that is not central to most current Christianity (and I’m being lazy and not looking it up) – where Jesus says that to follow him you have to give up mother, father, siblings and just follow him. Cutting yourself off from things that don’t serve your mission makes life very hard.

    And what Truffula said. I actually feel this more in my academic life, where people say, well,in this book you didn’t do X. And I respond, no, I made it possible for you to think about X. About 10 years ago colleague told me she liked to teach Judy Walkowitz’s book on prostitution, because her Grad students were so surprised that Walkowitz dealt with class: somehow they thought that their generation was the one that discovered that all women were not the same.


  8. It blows me away that revolutionaries like Firestone can be slagged off for not using the vocabulary of a recent gender studies course. I can’t shake the feeling that they’re not paying attention to what she said in her 1970s words because they don’t want to.

    Maybe I’m focusing on it because it’s one of my big beefs and I’m misinterpreting, but I want to vent.

    I completely agree that rights are for everyone, and that anything less than that means you’re talking about privileges, not rights.

    But the people who are strong against racism or classism or transphobia are never — really: never, as far as I can see — asked why they aren’t equally strong on misogyny and sexism. It’s only on sites talking about women’s rights that it’s very important not to overlook any other deprived group.

    What’s up with that? To me it looks like the little brother of the good old “We have real problems and once we’ve dealt with all of them, then it’ll be your turn, dear.”

    It also seems pretty clear why so many people try so hard not to face women’s rights. For most people, being broadminded about race or transgender has no impact on their personal daily lives. They even get to pat themselves on the back for doing what’s right. But women and men are everywhere. Every human being on the planet has work to do on this open heart surgery of the soul. And there’s no anesthetic. Hence the brushes with madness and delirium.


  9. The condemnation of political opponents as mentally ill is not something associated with the right. Rather it was a hall mark of the USSR during the Brezhnev era. Political dissidents were routinely condemned to psychiatric prisons as a way of bypassing Soviet courts. Which for all their faults at least required by this time a charge of violating actually existing law. Just recently Putin has resurrected the legal infrastructure of this means of dealing with political opponents.


  10. I think, in answer to Quixote, that the difficulty is less that they’re privileging one aspect of oppression over another, but that they are inextricable from each other and to claim “women’s liberation” and ignore many, many other women’s experiences of womanhood is fundamentally wrong. I think you’re right that anti-racist activists & trans activists aren’t questioned as much as women’s rights activists are, but to be honest, it appears to me that much of the questioning comes from within the feminist movement – because we hold ourselves to higher standards than we hold others, I hope.

    I’ve been reading up on Firestone and the n+1 collection of memories has been fascinating. The first mention I’ve seen of the race bit is about Angela Davis being critical of the “Dialectic of Sex” and Firestone’s treatment of race therein (described very briefly by Nina Power). Clearly, I need to read it.


  11. Discrimination on any basis is a travesty for many men and women. Broadly labeling most men as misogynists may itself be discriminatory.

    Addressing only “social support protects against the development of schizophrenia” seems to me an assumption rather than a finding. The term “revolutionary” is way too vague to use in the post’s context. It’s appears to me that socially isolated strong willed and persistent individuals will do.

    Contrary to the quote, my shallow observation of an arbitrary set of major such people shows very little sign of mental illness. Non standard behavior, however, seem to be quite common.


  12. Something that struck me when I read _The Dialectic of Sex_ (*years* after grad school, my grad program wouldn’t have touched it with a 10 foot pole) was the way it got sunk for being ludicrous in some parts, essentialist in others, all of the critiques people have alluded to here. Somehow, Firestone didn’t get read *anyway*, despite being also full of fascinating, challenging ideas.

    These flaws are somehow used to bury feminist theorizing, while (say) Marx, Durkheim, Freud, Levi-Strauss, etc. get read *anyway*, *in spite of*, *against the grain of*, and so forth.

    I’m not so much thinking of feminists themselves (I think feminists do read previous feminists in this way; their criticisms and harvestings and jettisonings do the kind of work applied to all social theory) but in the social sciences and humanities at large. No one says oh did you read the part about Lévi-Strauss saying most women are ugly, can you believe anyone ever took that guy seriously? What a joke don’t bother. But that kind of dismissal gets used on Firestone (when she’s mentioned at all), as if her writing were more “Dianetics” than dialectics.


  13. I first read Firestone as an u/grad. Believe it or not, she made it onto a reading list for even us lowly 20 year olds. It blew me away at the time; I totally loved it.

    As someone who is firmly entrenched in the third wave, I am also saddened by how much of my generation engage with the second wave. It frustrates me no end that so many fabulous feminists aren’t even read because they’re considered to be (or are) transphobic or racist, whilst, as is noted above, so many male authors who are not only both but also sexist to boot are forgiven time and time again. I think working academics are a bit better for this than some, but in more mainstream discussion, it can be quite brutal. It also frustrates me as a historian, because it forgets the historical moment that these texts were written in (which doesn’t mean we should ignore their faults) by pretending they had all the knowledge, critique and even technology in writing those texts that we have today.


  14. Hi all, thanks for carrying on the conversation. I’m at a conference this weekend, & so was busy traveling and conferencing all day long.

    Kathleen: Nice to hear from you again! I have missed you.


  15. I remember the trashing that went on in the seventies and how feminists were cannibalizing each other. Some of the betrayals were as bad as those from the lefty males and far more hurtful.
    No one was used to women as leaders, not even other women.


  16. Great point, Sweet Sue–one of the things I liked about Faludi’s article was that she made clear that the non-hierarchical and radical commitment to democratic participation meant that it was very difficult for any leaders to emerge effectively out of the fertile stew of feminist collectives in the late 1960s and early 1970s–women like Firestone who tried to provide some leadership and direction were accused of having “male values” or “masculine ambition” & so were rejected by the groups they had founded.

    I think the pain you reference is still evident in Faludi’s telling–Susan Brownmiller, for example, doesn’t really want to talk about a lot of the stuff Faludi wants to explore with her.


  17. And p.s. to Feminist Avatar and Kathleen, on the rejection of feminist intellectuals by other/younger generations of feminists. This is indeed a troubling feature of the movement–to some extent it’s perhaps natural for each generation to want to believe that they invented the wheel. But as you both point out, it’s ultimately self-defeating and undermining NOT to have more respect or at least intellectual awareness of one’s forbears.

    Remember what happened when Mary Daly died? Bleh. As I have written here before, feminism truly is the hapless frump of social justice movements–we’re always embarrassed by her, never proud.

    I hope the conversation here continues–I’ll be conferencing again today (and talking to people IRL! Amazing!) but will try to check in later.


  18. Great post and thread. I’ve been trying to think of something to offer from actual memory from back in the early ’70s, because I surely wasn’t reading much back then. But as that poem about April says, thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season. In substantial ignorance of some of the complex interconnections involved, then, I’ll sign onto quixote’s comment above, @10:22.

    An interesting article in the NYT today about gender and (student) presidential elections at Phillips Andover that *slightly* interesects with *some* (but not most) of the questions and issues floating around herein. It would appear, at least, that “lean in” is getting some rhetorical traction at the K-12 level down below.


  19. It also seems pretty clear why so many people try so hard not to face women’s rights. For most people, being broadminded about race or transgender has no impact on their personal daily lives. They even get to pat themselves on the back for doing what’s right. But women and men are everywhere
    Right you are, quixote. I call that -please forgive me-The fuck stops here syndrome. For all too many (men and even some women) feminism is one big old cock block and nothing must block the cock.


  20. Feminist Avatar — this kind of forgetting also makes second-wave feminists who were from the working class or were women of color even more invisible. They were there in the struggle, but I’ll bet most third-wave feminists can’t name even one.


  21. Aw, thanks Historiann.

    About what people have said here about second and third wave feminists — I sort of agree? But at the same time, I think this exact conversation is held all over the feminist blogosphere, and that maybe all waves of feminists should give themselves more credit for mutually thoughtful engagement.

    Where it all really falls apart is in “mainstream” academia and activism (mainstream isn’t quite the right word).


    Shulamith Firestone said some weird things and so anything else she may have said …pfffft.

    bell hooks popped out of the earth for one second, said something which can, usually on disingenuous grounds, be repackaged conveniently as “hey white feminists shut up” and popped back into the earth again. That she might be a prolific author on many topics or may have said anything more complex and discomfiting than that… pffft.

    As compared to my doctoral training (which was excellent where it was excellent, absent where it was absent), I feel like I’ve received an incredible postdoctoral education just reading feminist blogs. So my own feeling is that it’s not so much feminism that needs to get its act together as… everything else.


  22. It is, indeed, a tricky balance. To fill in the historical middle, one could say the same things about many American civil rights activists of the mid-19th century. Many of them appear to have suffered from various mental ailments, from depression (multiple members of the Grimke-Weld household) to hearing voices (Nat Turner). And John Brown, for all the good he did in some ways, was a murderer (in Kansas) and a megalomaniac who got several of his sons, as well as a number of African Americans, killed in his quixotic attempt to raise a slave army (both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman wisely distanced themselves; in fact, they probably count as among the better-balanced activists of their day. Sojourner Truth, on the other hand. . . ). Few lived anything resembling normal lives, and most spent significant portions of those lives in very precarious financial positions. And they, too, suffered from the tendency of true believers to fall out with each other, over matters both big and small.

    I think the idea of the Holy Fool fits in here somewhere. Emily Dickinson definitely does:

    Much Madness is divinest Sense –
    To a discerning Eye –
    Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
    ’Tis the Majority
    In this, as all, prevail –
    Assent – and you are sane –
    Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
    And handled with a Chain –

    Such ideas do, of course, make it difficult to persuade someone who really might benefit from treatment to at least explore the option. But that doesn’t make them less true.


  23. This conversation has got me pondering the feminist diaspora of those times. The revolution did not, in fact, happen but there were a lot more women involved and inspired than those who wrote books or lived lives on the edge. What is their legacy? Did they go on to do radical works on more local scales? I know some who did and there must be many more.

    I’m thinking of the Red Emma collective in Portland, OR. They started with a network of safe houses for battered women–and earned themselves police surveillance for their trouble–but it didn’t stop with that issue or at the end of the 70s. They are carrying on to this day.


  24. From the Anglican Times, dated 11 April 1913:

    WE HAVE received a foolish manifesto from a society calling itself the Spiritual Militancy League for the Women’s Charter of Rights and Liberties. The document in question enumerates fifteen “moral indignities” contained in the Church Service of Holy Matrimony, and calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill “which shall secure the removal from the marriage rite of the State Church of all the aforementioned humiliations to women”. Among the “indignities” are the use of the word “obey” in the case of the bride; the giving away of the bride; the ring; and the phrase, “I pronounce that they be man and wife together.”

    The article continues here.


  25. The article and this discussion are great. The “trashing” Faludi describes among radical feminists in the 1970s is going on today in queer studies, IMO. I completely understand wanting to withdraw.


  26. Faludi’s piece was fascinating, and I’ve been pondering why the 1970s generation was so self-destructive. It’s an old cliche that socialists spent more time trashing each other than capitalists, but Firestone’s cohort seems to me distinctive beyond the usual clash of great egos (don’t you really have to have a big ego to be a revolutionary?) Feminism came out of the left, but male leftist groups always accepted the idea of leadership, even the anarchists following Bakunin. But these feminists rejected the concept in favor of an un-humanly pure vision of communalism, and kept tearing apart their leaders. Then, perhaps, they found that no community at all could grow from such purity. I’m sure that internalized misogynydid a huge amount of damage –look at Firestone’s abusive relationships. I’m wandering now, but is today’s dreadful hobby of tearing down other mothers for failing to meet some mythical ideal a related phenomenon?


  27. male leftist groups always accepted the idea of leadership

    I can write a bit about this from my lived experience. Make of the small sample what you will. Male leftists accept the idea of leadership hierarchies and they push each other around to sort them. In the better male leftist groups, women can participate in the leadership sorting process. There is a whole lot of human experience flowing into accepting this organisational style but it does alienate some people (both men and women). Even when a consensus model is fronted, these hierarchical structures tend to form. I’m generalising grossly but in my experience, the male-pattern view of a consensus model is different from the female-pattern view; the former is more “I get to have my say” and the latter is more “everybody is heard.”

    I have worked in groups that truly operated with a consensus model, both women only and mixed. It takes patience and self discipline; you do have to hand over your voice to the group sometimes and you have to accept that roles exist. Roles come and go though, with the consent of the group. I like this because everybody gets trained up, having opportunities to be the negotiator, the advocate, the peace maker, the worker. The community is stronger for its diversity of role experience. You must agree to continue working with the group even if your preferred approach is not adopted, that is, you must trust the group. Trust is tricky, especially when you live in a society that does not promote or value it. This model can be slow going, lots of talking and lots of listening, and you have to trust that too. Nothing in “western” culture promotes acting this way. It is easier when folks are from similar backgrounds or are driven by very strong uniting motivations and harder when they are not.

    I can see why it was so hard for radical feminists in the 70s to get and keep something different going. Autonomy was something they were trying to get, to give it back over (even in a totally different way from how it was taken) would have been really hard. Their experiences up to that point would not have cultivated deep ability to trust the group in the way that was required. I was not involved directly in any Occupy activities but something I appreciated from a distance was their apparent commitment to the consensus model.

    The people I know who are the best at consensus process are overwhelmingly older women. I don’t know if this is because there are generations missing or because it takes time to get this way. People who work well in this model tend, in my observation, to be affiliated with traditional peace churches.


  28. Truffula’s comments are very perceptive. In thinking about why the early generation was so destructive of leaders, I think it connects to Kathleen’s first comments about how we don’t read feminist works that we think are flawed, a standard we don’t apply to male theorists. We want our feminists pure, uncontaminated… by error, corruption (of whatever kind).

    The long range impact: we carry these things with us. The feminist theory I read in the early-mid-70s shaped the way I have created my life, and also is kind of a ground in my thinking. It’s not always explicit, but it’s there.


  29. Quoting truffula’s wonderful comment here: ” People who work well in this model tend, in my observation, to be affiliated with traditional peace churches.” I’m thinking about @Northern Barbarian’s comment and wondering if the consensus model described so eloquently by truffula was difficult to sustain in the context of feminism specifically because they were revolutionaries, rather than peace workers. Members of peace churches, like the Society of Friends, advocate for change, but are deeply invested in the peaceful, respectful process of listening and working together. It goes to the core of their spiritual mission to listen, to allow the voices of others to be heard respectfully. (They also have a deeply established tradition of doing so.) Feminists trying to dismantle patriarchal-capitalist systems may have found themselves unable to value listening and trusting, because they were angry, because they felt (rightly) that they were fighting for their lives.


  30. Perpetua, I wonder if it’s also that members of peace churches understand humans as flawed, necessarily imperfect (“sinners”, in church lingo), and therefore are better able to value good with bad?


  31. Maybe, but the peace church model means that you’re doomed to a limited political influence. Quakers lost control of PA politics by the 1740s I believe, and although their influence as abolitionists after 1750 was important & they were models for other white abolitionists, we can’t assume that their antislavery stance was only related to their peace church status. A bunch of Moravians moved to the Carolinas and Georgia, where slavery was the central rather than a marginal labor system, and their antislavery stance was dropped pretty quickly. So Pennsylvania Quaker abolitionists weren’t probably as heroic as all that–they were also living in a region in which free labor and temporary bondage were dominant.

    Sorry–am just back from a conference in which Moravians & slavery were on the plate. This all goes to support what Perpetua said about peace churches as merely counter-cultural and not really engines for revolution.


  32. Just a slight quibble or qualification on the timing of Quakers and PA politics. A group of “strict” Quaker older leaders abdicated from control of the PA Assembly (overwhelmingly the most important political institution in the colony) in the mid-1750s, in the face of the Seven Years’ War, but left behind a more moderate and compromise-oriented remnant that steered through that crisis while place-holding for the abdicators. But the abdicators promptly organized what someone at a conference I went to last week quite rightly called one of the “first non-governmental organizations” anywhere for the purpose of regaining the trust of the Indians “by peaceful measures,” and in the face of the ire of the imperial establishment, actually helped to turn the course and influence the outcome of that war. After 1763, the Quakers (in the guise of a new and quite different generational cohort) returned to politics and to substantial power, which they managed to cough-up completely only in 1776. Ironically, the Quaker project to enforce Friends’ testimony on things like slavery and later reform issues was in large part a by-product of ceasing the effort to govern an actual state on the ground. And while they managed to force slave-owning out of their membership in a generation, and set the model for (very) gradual abolition in the north after 1750, they simultaneously began to come down hard on a lot of their own members, largely-female, for things like “marrying out,” “fornication,” and other highly intrusive elements in the personal realm that in some ways flew in the face of the demographic and even the cultural trajectories of the late 18th century. So definitely, a mixed bag on the peace, love, and freedom fronts. That might indeed be an interesting model for thinking about “what happened to the 1960s” when they became the “1970s.” I’d love to hear more local stories about the questions truffula asked above under the rubric of the “feminist diaspora of those times.”


  33. For the record, I chose not to speak to Faludi for her New Yorker piece because I said all I cared to say about Shulie Firestone in my movement memoir “In Our Time”(1999), and I thought it was disgraceful that Faludi was going to parse Firestone’s paranoid schizophrenia for a popular audience so soon after her death. One of Shulie’s paranoid delusions in 1970 when she abruptly quit New York Radical Feminists was that my consciousness-raising group and I were plotting a coup against her. For some reason Faludi decided that this particular delusion was actually true. It wasn’t true, although Shulie repeated it many times over the next few years to anyone who’d listen– once to me when we ran into each other accidentally in a natural food bar across the street from the New York Public Library in 1973, when I was working on “Against Our Will” and she was in her demented Rosicrucian phase– trying to figure out the eternal male and female symmetry in Rosicrucian imagery, or so she told me in our bizarre conversation. Faludi leaves out all the wonderful things New York Radical Feminists accomplished after Firestone’s departure– most notably our Speak-Out on Rape and our Conference on Rape in 1971, two events that helped forge a new national consciousness on rape and the sexual abuse of children. Yes, there were unstable people in the radical feminist movement, as there have been unstable people in all political movements. Sometimes grandiose ideological visionaries destroy movements– as Weatherman destroyed the New Left– but generally they just self-destruct, as poor Shulie did before “The Dialectic of Sex was published. As for the infighting, that goes with the territory. You need nerves to steel to stay in for the long haul in a radical political movement.


  34. Thanks so much for your comment, Susan. I misread (or was misled by) Faludi’s article–it seems that it was written to suggest that she had spoken to you as part of her research for the article.

    You write with great compassion about Firestone here, and I can understand why you dislike Faludi’s article and the timing of its appearance. You were there–I wasn’t, and neither was Faludi. However, I didn’t think that Faludi’s article was disrespectful or exploitative of Firestone’s work or of her mental illness. As you say, “there were unstable people in the radical feminist movement, as there have been unstable people in all political movements,” which is what I tried to highlight here (& not just to highlight Firestone’s instability and sad decline.)

    You would probably know much better than I, but I’m guessing that the New Yorker would not be interested in running this article 3, 4, or 10 years after Firestone’s death. (Quite frankly, I was surprised to see it there at all, given that mag’s track record with women writers, women subjects, and feminism.) So that may explain the timing of this article.

    And Indyanna: thanks for the correction on the timing of the decline of the Quakers in 18th C Pennsylvania! I knew someone more familiar with that stuff would correct me. Like other progressive movements, they used disciplining and controlling women’s bodies as a sign to the establishment that they really weren’t all that radical, after all.


  35. To my eyes, “poor Shulie” and “demented” and “bizarre” seem condescending and dismissive rather than compassionate phrasings.


  36. Pingback: Susan Brownmiller comments on Faludi & Firestone: “You need nerves of steel to stay in for the long haul in a radical political movement.” : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  37. Kathleen: I don’t know. I’ve had friends with mental illness whom I could honestly describe with those words while also feeling very sympathetic & compassionate w/r/t their struggles. (And “grandiose” was not applied to Firestone but rather to some in radical movements.) Mentally ill people are sometimes really funny and fun to be around, but they’re also a pain in the a$$ sometimes (esp. when they’re in grandiose and/or demented swings.)

    In the post linked to above I corrected my misimpression that Brownmiller had agreed to talk to Faludi at all. Faludi is quite clear that Brownmiller didn’t talk to her but rather referred her to Brownmiller’s 1999 memoir, In Our Time.


  38. Despite the internal struggles, between and within individuals in the movement, they have had an effect on society that has rarely been seen before or after. This, I believe, is because of the analytical brilliance of the second wave. I can’t think of any other wave or movement with this concentration of analytical brilliance. They paid the price of their genius and we are reaping the benefits. I really wish we had just a bit more gratitude.


  39. I really wish we had just a bit more gratitude.

    Agreed. My generation (b. 1960s-70s) has been especially harsh on the second-wavers (in their 60s and 70s now), probably because they’re our mothers’ age or thereabouts. On the other hand, I sometimes think that it only seems like we’re ungrateful because it’s the the Katie Roiphes and Rebecca Walkers who get all of the press. The press loves any kind of conflict, but most of all, they love to manufacture cat fights among women.

    One of the things I’ve tried to do on this blog is foster appreciation for women’s history and the history of feminism, because it sure seems like feminist history is rife with the younger generation pulling down previous generations/waves. If only we could be like male revolutionaries and reformers, and be perfect in every way & in ways that future generations will always appreciate! Funny, that, especially when I think about all of those photos of JFK that still are in the homes of American Catholics to this day, & of all of the sainted images of Martin Luther King everywhere. Even when we got Susan B. Anthony on a U.S. dollar, people didn’t want her!


  40. Historiann — That reminds me of my former in-laws, who have a painting in their home of an elderly black couple gazing worshipfully at a picture of Abraham Lincoln. They themselves believe that affirmative action is wrong because the playing field is completely level now and everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I never asked them what the painting means to them.


  41. gratitude

    Were I a woman who felt left behind or let down by the feminist movement of the 1970s, I don’t think it would help to be be told I should be grateful to anybody. Seeing the value in what second wave feminists accomplished (while also recognizing the complications) does not require that.


  42. Linden: I’ve seen those portraits of Lincoln-worshipping. I’m kind of creeped out by the notion that anyone alive today is displaying it in an other-than-ironic fashion. Wow!

    And truffula: I don’t think anyone of our generation can really feel “let down” by the movement of the 1970s. I can see what you’re saying among women of that generation, but it’s the Katie Roiphes and Rebecca Walkers of the world who really bug me. They get all of the benefits, did none of the work, and yet are very critical of the work and choices their mothers made. I think that’s bullcrap.

    Feminism remains an unfinished project with unrealized goals, but let’s not blame the feminists for that. Let’s instead get to work. All we have is what they had or have, the span of a human lifetime. Significant historical change usually takes a hell of a lot longer than that.


  43. “If only we could be like male revolutionaries and reformers, and be perfect in every way & in ways that future generations will always appreciate!”

    I remember reading a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi where he says that he got the idea for civil disobedience from the British Suffragists. He is called a “Maha Atma” (great soul) and revered as a saintly figure while the Suffragists (both British and American) were ridiculed as shrill harridans.


  44. I am pleased that I recently found Faludi’s article in the New Yorker on my “new” birthday(73 or 18 1/4 Leap Year birthdays) tablet and the google search links to here; didn’t start computer use until near 70 due to my disabilities (CFS/ME and allergic asthma, both relevant because women and illness is a topic in itself).

    Some of us were on the fringes of the feminist movement and spokes in the wheels of the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s, which I was as I began my art career (sculptor), had a child, became ill and a single mother, then disabled by severe CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis is the name in UK -closer to describing its neurological basis- google Hillary Johnson “Osler’s Web” (1995 book) or her Op Ed, NYTimes, “A Case of Chronic Denial” Oct.21, 2008).

    Since April,1985 I have begun/run a small pen-network,
    support group of professional artists who are disabled.
    In the decades, I have networked with many artists with all kinds of art and all kinds of disabilities — mostly women have been in the group. Several artists have had mental disabilities, two members/friends of two decades had/have manic depression, now called bi-polar:one woman and one man. I am familiar with the huge amount of prejudice toward people with mental disabilities/illness, as well as the myths also, about artists, women artists, disabled artists, women…
    (I’m too ill to do a blog and do many comments on (History is my “other” love. Before my art career, I did 33 grad credits in American Civilization at NYU Grad Arts and Science.)

    One myth I comment about is labeling people with whom one disagrees as “crazy” or any of the various diagnostic names of illnesses. One point not made that I saw in the above is that a person can have mental illness and still be “doing”(as in activism and their work), can still be “making sense”. There is a tendency to dismiss someone and their ideas after calling them “crazy” or after the individual has a diagnosis,which may or may not be correct, from the medical professionals.


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