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RC Women’s Liberation—Then, and Now

Re-evaluation Counseling began in the 1950s. In the 1960s and ’70s, the RC Communities came into existence and began to grow. RC liberation theory and practice developed simultaneously with wide-world liberation movements, most of which were based on revolutionary ideas. Harvey would point out how emerging concepts and practices in the wide world—for example, Chinese “speak bitterness” sessions—corresponded to what we were doing in RC, for example, speak-outs by women and people of color.

I feel fortunate to have been a young-adult female activist during the 1960s and ’70s and to have experienced the revolutionary movements of that time. I came into RC in the early days of the wide-world women’s liberation movement, when global movements for transformational change were increasingly emphasizing the importance of fighting sexism. Many of us quoted Mao Tse Tung—“Women hold up half the sky.” Harvey Jackins was clear that women’s liberation had to be at the forefront of any successful revolutionary movement. Many wide-world women’s liberationists came into RC, and many of them became active RC Community builders.

Similar to what was happening in the wide-world women’s movement, we women in RC were struggling with our internalized oppression and the resulting divisions among us. It became clear that we needed to fight for liberation on two fronts: we needed to contradict and discharge internalized oppression in our Co-Counseling sessions and also act collectively in the wider society to end institutionalized oppression. It became clear that men are not the “enemy” or the cause of sexism, and that all women need to be liberated (some women aren’t more “liberated” than others). These were important contributions to women’s liberation.

We were also unclear about certain things. It took a while for us to understand men’s oppression, and men’s oppressor distresses. Over time we learned how to welcome men as our allies, on our terms, with us leading them.

The women’s movement came under attack beginning in the 1980s, and RC women’s liberation lost what had been an external boost to its momentum. Three hundred RC women went to Beijing, China, for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, and made large contributions there, but after that our work “plateaued.” Without our realizing it, RC women’s liberation became marginalized and separated from the day-to-day work of the RC Communities. (It’s important to note that all liberation movements go through stages of growth, plateauing, confusion, and so on.)

Meanwhile we were doing a lot of work on racism. Racism is the key division among women, and it had severely limited our progress. Among other things, we had become confused about sexism in various cultures. We took on1 racism, and as a result we began rebuilding the RC women’s liberation movement more broadly and on a firmer foundation. We also began focusing on discharging our earliest hurts, including our early defeats that had led to discouragement. These developments had a powerful effect on RC women’s liberation.

In 2005 we started rewriting the RC women’s liberation draft policy statement and incorporated into it ideas relevant to the changing times. In 2009 we began holding Contemporary Women’s Issues Workshops, which I initiated with the support of Valerie Jaworski2 and others. The theme of the first workshop was “Sexism—Forgotten, Hidden, Trivialized, Denied.”

At these workshops I talked about how sexism in the Western world had been downplayed (while being magnified in the non-Western world) and the battle against it made invisible. We made the distinction between sexism and male domination and began working persistently on both. (Male domination involves men dominating men as well as women.) Women-and-physical-power work, led by Diane Shisk,3 gave us an additional important way to contradict women’s patterned acceptance of domination, submission, and passivity.

Two struggles now need to be addressed. First, most women and men easily forget how important the fight against sexism and male domination is, both for themselves and for ending the oppressive society. Second, particularly in the Western world, “escaping” from the battle against sexism and male domination is glorified and encouraged (and a few people make billions of dollars from that). For example, we are made to confuse sexual exploitation with sexual freedom, and younger women are encouraged to pursue gender change rather than genuine liberation from all oppression.

We women need to see ourselves as the key agents of our liberation. We have often fixed our attention on men. (What do they need in order to change? How can we “fix” them?) Instead we need to understand that we must lead both women and men in ending sexism and male domination, and transforming society.

We have begun to challenge pornography. Many women have thought that pornography is a men’s issue. It is also a women’s issue. Women are its primary victims, and its impact on women is much greater than we have yet realized.

There is much to do! Let us build a force, with men, to fight sexism and male domination. We women also have a leading role to play in all of the challenges facing humanity, including saving the environment.

Diane Balser
International Liberation
Reference Person for Women
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

1 “Took on” means confronted.
2 Valerie Jaworski is an RC leader in Seattle, Washington, USA.
3 Diane Shisk is the Alternate International Reference Person.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00