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Sisterhood is Powerful Hardcover – 1970
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The anthology includes essays/articles on Women in Medicine; Women in the Military; Women in Journalism; Women and the Welfare System; Women in Factories; Women in the Catholic Church (by Mary Daly, author of The Church and the Second Sex; Madison Avenue Brainwashing; Birth Control; “Notes of a radical Lesbian”; Sexual Politics (in Literature); “To Be Black and Female”; “The Mexican-American Woman”; “The Politics of Housework”; Self-Defense; etc. It also includes poetry, as well as various historically important documents (e.g., the NOW Bill of Rights; the Redstockings Manifesto; WITCH documents, etc.). Authors include Naomi Weisstein; Mary Jane Sherfey; Kate Millett; Marge Piercy; Florynce Kennedy; Rita Mae Brown; Sylvia Plath; Valerie Solanas (her famous ‘SCUM Manifesto’), and many others.
To give you a brief sample of what is contained herein, Judith Ann’s essay, “The Secretarial Proletariat” states, “This is … one of the most oppressive aspects of female clerical work; since the working conditions were so bad and our daily life so dull, the only bright spots in our lives were our relationships or hoped-for relationships with men. We sought refuge from our oppression as working women in the male supremacist institutions of dating and marriage, and in escapist consumerism of make-up and pretty clothes.” (Pg. 90)
Lucinda Cisler’s article on birth control notes, “It is curious that many Catholic women seek to be sterilized, although, like other good birth-control methods, the procedure is contrary to Church teachings. Perhaps this is because it is easier to confess one single, final big sin than to keep appearing in the confessional week after week saying, ‘Father, I sinned seven times: I took my pills.’” (Pg. 257)
Gene Damon’s essay “The Least of These” includes the statement, “Many years ago, in an issue of ‘The Ladder,’ a reader wrote to the effect that the only thing holding back the civil-rights movement of Lesbians was the many couples living alone together in ‘egoism à deux.’ Very sadly, it is as true today as it was then. We seldom march, seldom picket, but frequently do run away… to our shame, I might add. But a good look at our group condition, to some extent, explains this.” (Pg. 300)
Don’t expect a MODERN collection of writings; these essays were written from 45-50 years ago. But as a comprehensive collection of writings from this crucial early period, it can hardly be bettered.
To read this book is to spiral back in time to a place where information on borth control was hard to obtain, abortion was a back alley reality, equal pay for equal work was never enforced, sexual harassment (which is not mentioned) rape and assault were life's little dirty secrets, and title IX was not yet reality.
If the text often seems frenzied and uncompromising, remember what all they were up against. Sexism had been so entrenched, both laws and culture needed to be chaged. Socialization plays a big part in sexism.
Lest such derogatory attitudes be assigned to the domininant society, a couple of groups in the counterculture are also faulted as well. These unenlightened attitudes in SDS and SNCC often formed the impetus for the women's liberation movement, although there was some genuine equality between the sexes within various chapters.
Unfortunately, this was the exception to the rule. Groups that understood the evils of violence and subordination made light of rape and assault when directed at women.The advent of the pill meant women who did not want to sleep with their comrades had severe hangups.
The women's liberation movement was instrumental (to a greater extent than early mainstream groups) in identifying and naming sexual self determination and violence against women.
Those who have been previously versed in women's history will find this a who's who book of second wave (the first, of course being the suffragists, and the third being generation X) activists. From Robin Morgan amd to Alix Kates Schluman, Kate Millet, Mary Daly, Lindsey Van Gelder, Marge Piercy and Eleanor Holmes Norton, there is an impressive list of activists. Excluding the deranged Valire Solanis (later convicted of shooting Andy Warhol) most of the contributors are articulate, intellegent and therefore inspiring. Since she did little to promote the women's movement, one must question her inclusion in the anthology. Certainly, it would have reinforced negative sterotypes about women who are involved in the feminist movement, thereby reducing it to spectacle.
Missing is Gloria Steinem who did not not enter national conciousness until the advent of Ms magazine---although her New York oppion column "After Black power,women's liberation" could have been included. Steinem also wrote one of the most riveting articles on Abortion law hearings during 1969. Even though she would later be the target of much suspcion among many of these women, Steinem's role in the women's movement remains undisputed. Ironically, Morgan would assume editorship of Ms magazine years later
Because the book has not been republished or reedited, it is more for the committed activist and historian than newcommers. Although many of the breakthroughs for women have of course occured, references to names, events and places no longer carry the same punch. It is still a necessary addition to any feminist's library.