Female First

A key direction I’ve been giving at women’s workshops is “female first.” It is the latest of several such directions. An earlier one, “I am fully female in every fiber,” points to the fact that female biology is fine, that it was and is a pretext for the oppression rather than the cause of it. “Female first” is an attempt to contradict the historical reality that in class societies all men’s lives have superseded in importance all women’s lives. Men have been the primary sex and have dominated women in almost all, if not all, oppressive societies. Females coming first challenges and serves as a basis to transform male domination and sexism.

“Female first” does not mean that sexism comes first, before other oppressions. We are also not proposing that women reverse roles with men. It means that in ending sexism and male domination, we must abolish the secondary, subordinate role of women in oppressive societies. It means that the battle against sexism should occupy a primary place in our minds. It means that sexism is a key oppression in the world and that there are times (for example, at women’s workshops) when the battle against it comes first. Most important, it is a consistent contradiction to the secondary, subservient status of women.

“Female first” also contradicts the denial and general acceptance of sexism, particularly in the contemporary period. It is the best way we’ve found to bring to the surface and challenge—in all its detail—the depth, invisibility, and lack of understanding of the oppression women face.

For a woman client to repeatedly take the direction, “Female first!” and then answer her counselor’s question, “And what does that mean?” can bring up vast amounts of distress about female oppression, as well as how other oppressions intersect with it.


When we look at any oppression, we are looking at the structures, institutions, and distresses that affect an entire group (while also understanding that every person’s experiences with the oppression are unique). When we look at female oppression, we are looking at a collective experience that involves the subordination of women to men.

In many non-RC women’s movements, particularly in the Western world, solutions have been individual rather than directed at abolishing the entire oppression. For instance, people have focused on voting for a woman for head of state rather than on ending the whole system of sexism and male domination. While we discharge on our own unique experiences, we need to have a picture of what has happened to all of us. One woman cannot be liberated entirely without the liberation of all women.


We need to make visible the sexism and male domination within every oppressed group. All systems of oppression are male dominated. If we look at racism without looking at sexism, or at anti-Jewish oppression without looking at sexism, or at ageism without looking at sexism, we leave intact the male domination in each of those oppressions.

We usually say, “Black women,” “working-class women,” “Chinese women,” “Jewish women,” “young women,” “Muslim women,” and so forth. To raise awareness of how deeply sexism and male domination have affected everyone, and to emphasize how being female has been subsumed by other oppressions, at women’s workshops I’ve been asking women to say, “female and Black,” “female and working class,” “female and Chinese,” “female and Jewish,” “female and young,” “female and Muslim,” and so forth.

We need to apply the principle in the RC women’s policy that as females we have more in common with each other than we have differences. While we must work on the differences among us in order to create a sense of unity, being female must come first. For most of us this will feel very hard.

When I look at my early distresses, the Jewish ones seem to predominate, particularly since I was born during World War II, when many of my family members were being killed in Europe. The primary battle my people faced was with anti-Jewish oppression. Putting “female first” has felt like a betrayal of Jews, of my own people. But in practice it has meant that I’ve been able to look hard at the sexism among Jews, at how sexism has affected my Jewishness, and at what I share in common with all women (all of whom face at least two oppressions).

The fear is always that we are going to unite with women who oppress us in our other identities. In practice, when we remember the importance of race, class, and Lesbian oppression and also “female first,” we can work on both the divisions and the commonality. I advise all women leaders, from all geographic areas and constituencies, to take the direction of “female first” so that they can fully integrate the battle against sexism into all of their RC and wide-world leadership.


As women we each need to work on our own history of sexist mistreatment as well as the sexism we have witnessed. This includes feelings of discouragement from the defeats we have suffered and seen. We also carry recordings1 from the defeats of women in earlier generations, including in the beginning of class societies. We carry discouragement from how women have been subordinated and forced to accept all aspects of sexism over all periods of time.

We need to face these feelings, understanding that while they seem like they’re in present time, they are not. We need to go back and stand alongside the young girls we were who tried as hard as they could to fight back. Our task is not to relive the early defeats but to discharge them and move decisively against the oppression in our present lives. This is a revolutionary task.


One of the places we feel most discouraged and defeated is in our relationships with men. It feels like we need to accommodate to sexism, both institutionally and in our relationships, in order to have close relationships with men or, in choosing not to settle, give up on men completely.

At a recent women’s workshop in a class on winning men over as allies, I did a demonstration with an Area2 Reference Person who had struggled with keeping men in her Area. She worked on the pull to separate from and give up on men, on early hurts in her relationships with men, and on feeling rejected by men for not being the “right kind of woman.” The contradiction3 for her was that she is “fully female,” that all women are the right kind of women, and that she should have as many men as possible close in and following her lead.

To transform our relationships with men and lead them in being partners with us in eliminating sexism, we must prioritize sexism, put ourselves first, and show them it is in their interest to challenge and eliminate sexism. We must face our hurts from sexism and where we feel defeated and powerless in interrupting it. We must fight how we ourselves have been sexually exploited and the ways that men and class societies have exploited all women economically.

We need to work much more on this at workshops. It is a joint project of all women.

Diane Balser

International Liberation Reference Person for Women

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

(Present Time 182, January 2016)

1 Distress recordings
An Area is a local RC Community.
3 Contradiction to the distress

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00