¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 These conflicts came to a head in 1969 during protests planned in conjunction with the presidential inauguration. Organized by The National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, the Mobe, as it was known, was decidedly New Left in orientation . The MOBE allotted just one spot for a female speaker, Marilyn Webb, from the group D.C. Women’s Liberation [Valk]. Considered by some women’s liberationist activists to be too sympathetic to the male Left, Webb was not accepted by some of the women participating as a representative. Therefore a second speaker, Shulamith Firestone, from the New York Radical Women, was added to the program.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Although the audience heckled both women when they spoke, doubtlessly missing the nuanced differences in their positions, the women themselves engaged in an ongoing debate over the ensuing months about “what happened in Washington.” At the Mobe, debate again hinged on what constituted political action and to what end. Webb revealed that conflict began before the New York women arrived in D.C. Webb objected to a sentence on the proposed flyer from the New York women that proclaimed “women’s liberation is the final revolution.” She suggested that the group clarify that two revolutions were necessary, both “economic” and “cultural” and that “the second was only possible given the first.” Webb continued to outline what she viewed as “three distinct views on organizing and ideology within our movement” the first positions women as “the vanguard of the revolution” and is akin to “black nationalism.” The second views women as a “constituency” similar to “the working class, blacks etc” and while women may organize separately, everyone is working for the same revolution “as participants in the class struggle” and finally a third position is that women’s liberation, while “part of a revolutionary movement” works “as a separate arm” addressing gender specific issues in the “superstructure” such as “capitalist definition of so the family, work consumption leisure, lady-likeness and male supremacy.”[ii] While the first two position rely on analogies circulating within women moving towards an autonomous movement, the third position she assigns to the New York women divorces their activism from ties to any of these prior legitimizing movements, in effect rendering it less than other movements for liberation.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Firestone did not write a piece for this issue herself, instead asking that VWLM publish an account written by Ellen Willis, another member of NYRW and a close ally, for the Guardian. Willis proclaimed women as “an independent revolutionary movement, potentially representing half the population,” i.e. a fourth position not recognized by Webb, Willis dismissed “anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist analysis” as insufficient for women’s situation. That revolution cannot be limited to “women” as a “special interest group,” because women’s “oppression transcends occupations and class lines.” However, rather than arguing that women then constitute a caste, Willis instead hinges her argument not on a systemic positioning of women, but rather an internal barometer. Women must “develop a group consciousness” which Willis clarifies is “a specifically feminist radical consciousness.” The foundation for women’s identity as a group rests on an analogy Willis makes with black consciousness: “Femaleness, like blackness, is a biological fact, a fundamental condition.”[i]
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Willis went so far as to suggest that women outside the New Left “may have a clearer perspective” (be freer from some false consciousness that came with being the “house nigger of the [left] movement” and that radical women may even have to ally with reformist groups like N.O.W. because consciousness derives from shared oppressions as females. Because “women are the only oppressed people whose biological, emotional and social life is bound up with the oppressor,” their revolution will require emotional as well as economic strategies. “We must provide a place for women to be friends, exchange personal grief’s and give their sisters moral support.” In other words, women needed consciousness-raising.