Monday, December 06, 2010

She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker

by Brigid O'Farrell, Cornell University Press, 2010, 304 pp.

On December 10, 2010, World Human Rights Day, the AFL-CIO is hosting an event at its headquarters in Washington DC to honour Eleanor Roosevelt. The speakers are Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and Julie Kushner, director of Region 9A of the United Auto Workers, and, Brigid O'Farrell, the author of this book.

Human Rights Day is an appropriate date because of Roosevelt's prominent and pivotal work in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, has now been translated into 375 languages, and counting.

Especially pertinent to workers and the labour movement are these three articles of the Declaration:

Article 23

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

--from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, official English translation.

It is noteworthy that the recently created United Nations Human Rights Council is developing a method for reviewing and delivering opinions on human rights complaints on a regular basis.

According to the unions organizing the Friday, December 10, event, Eleanor Roosevelt "was born to privilege and married a U.S. President, but Eleanor Roosevelt was a committed, lifelong advocate for workers and a proud union member for more than 25 years. She Was One of Us reveals—for the first time—the story of our greatest First Lady’s deep ties to the American Labor movement."

The Cornell University Press webpage for the book is more explicit about Roosevelt's union membership, in the AFL-CIO's Newspaper Guild. I have not yet seen the book, but here is the remainder of the description from the publisher's site:

Brigid O'Farrell follows Roosevelt—one of the most admired and, in her time, controversial women in the world—from the tenements of New York City to the White House, from local union halls to the convention floor of the AFL-CIO, from coal mines to political rallies to the United Nations.

Roosevelt worked with activists around the world to develop a shared vision of labor rights as human rights, which are central to democracy. In her view, everyone had the right to a decent job, fair working conditions, a living wage, and a voice at work. She Was One of Us provides a fresh and compelling account of her activities on behalf of workers, her guiding principles, her circle of friends—including Rose Schneiderman of the Women's Trade Union League and the garment unions and Walter Reuther, "the most dangerous man in Detroit"—and her adversaries, such as the influential journalist Westbrook Pegler, who attacked her as a dilettante and her labor allies as "thugs and extortioners." As O'Farrell makes clear, Roosevelt was not afraid to take on opponents of workers' rights or to criticize labor leaders if they abused their power; she never wavered in her support for the rank and file.

Today, union membership has declined to levels not seen since the Great Depression, and the silencing of American workers has contributed to rising inequality. In She Was One of Us, Eleanor Roosevelt's voice can once again be heard by those still working for social justice and human rights.

This event and book came to my attention through the US National Council of Women's Organizations. Brigid O'Farrell is a member of NCWO, and she researched labor issues at NCWO and at the Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI). She is now affiliated with the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at George Washington University.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's first ladies

by Kristie Miller.
Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010

Guest review by Jo Freeman. This review has been reposted by permission of the author, from Senior Women's Web at

Woodrow Wilson's Women

More than most men, Woodrow Wilson needed women. He needed their love, their support and their companionship. In the confines of his home, he surrounded himself with women. He had two wives (sequentially), one mistress, and three daughters.

Theirs is a complex story of love and politics. In this book, Ellen and Edith come alive as real persons and not just appendages to their famous husband, even though they eagerly took on the job of helpmate as their major role in life. The author tells their story in an engaging manner while opening a new window on the character of our 28th President and the entire Wilson presidency.

Born in Savannah, Georgia on May 15, 1860, Ellen Axson met Woodrow Wilson in Rome, Georgia when she was 23. A talented artist, she was convinced that no man was good enough for her. Both were the children of Presbyterian ministers with strong allegiances to the Confederacy, though her Southern roots were deeper.

Woodrow was on his way to an academic career. Ellen quickly set aside whatever ambitions she had to become a model faculty wife. She translated scholarly articles from German and digested other material to save him time. She studied home economics so she could better manage her household and entertain his colleagues. In her spare time she reared and home-schooled their daughters.

After Woodrow became President of Princeton University in 1902 her responsibilities increased. She had to entertain constantly, relieving her husband of a responsibility he did not like. She became his advisor on the intricacies of academic politics. All this was good training for her two years as wife of the Governor of New Jersey and then first lady. As Woodrow moved into electoral politics, she helped shape his ideas and write his speeches. Indeed many thought that she was the better politician of the two.

Woodrow and Ellen were a devoted couple, writing intimate and passionate letters to each other whenever they were apart more than a few days. This did not prevent him from establishing an intense friendship with Mary Allen Hulbert Peck, a married woman he met in Bermuda in 1907. Woodrow had been ordered to take a rest for his health; Ellen had stayed behind to care for an ill daughter. Wilson continued his relationship with Mary, writing and visiting her for years. Ellen was wounded, but the only change it made in their life was that she made more time for her own painting.

Ellen was just as ambitious for Woodrow as he was. She wanted to be the wife of a great man. When he became President she continued to be his sounding board and chief advisor, sitting in on meetings and helping with his correspondence. She also lent her name and prestige to various charitable endeavors in addition to her own projects, one of which was designing the White House rose garden.

Ellen died of kidney failure on August 6, 1914. Woodrow wept profusely; her death left him totally depressed and despondent. Friends wondered if he could carry on as President. Seven months later he found a balm for his pain.

Edith Bolling had also married at 23, to Norman Galt in 1896. Born in a small town in Virginia, her formal education was spotty as her family was large and her brothers got preference. She married the son of a jewelry store owner in Washington, D.C., and herself became the owner in 1908 after the men died. Her only child was born prematurely, living just three days.

Her route to the grieving widower was through Woodrow’s friend and personal physician, who was dating a friend of Edith’s. One contact led to another until Edith had her first dinner with Woodrow in the White House on March 23, 1915. Within a few weeks he had professed his love and was writing her daily.

They married on December 18, 1915, later than Woodrow wished but still close enough to Ellen’s death to provoke some unseemly gossip.

Before marrying Edith, Woodrow had to extricate himself from his relationship with Mary, who had divorced her husband in 1912. It’s unclear whether Woodrow was no longer emotionally attached to Mary at the time Ellen died, or whether he did not think she would make a suitable first lady.

Whatever the reason, he did not call her to his side, though she seems to have expected as much. After he became engaged to Edith, he sent Mary a “Dear John” letter. He also sent her several sizable checks as she was in financial straits. Despite rumors that Mary might publish some of Woodrow’s letters to her, there was no scandal.

Once married, Woodrow could seldom bear to be away from Edith, sharing his work as well as his leisure with her. She would often read dispatches to him from abroad, or decode messages and code his to be sent oversees. She made phone calls for him, reviewed his speeches and generally acted like an extension of his own self.

Although Edith had long tasted independence, she devoted her life to a man who, according to her social secretary, “needs love and care more than any I have ever seen.” She rose with him at 5:00 a.m. to make him breakfast in order not to disturb the servants. She watched over his diet and his exercise, and made sure that his work was interspersed with some fun.

In the Spring of 1919 Woodrow suffered what in retrospect look like a series of small strokes. At the time they were attributed to various causes, particularly overwork. They presaged the major stroke he suffered in October, which paralyzed his left side. In between he had more bouts of disability, especially on a September tour through the US to sell the League of Nations to the public. The tour was cut short in Utah after what would be his last speech. As their train rushed the ailing President home, Edith wrote that their life was “in ruins.”

The extent of Woodrow’s disability was not disclosed to the public, though there was much speculation that he had suffered a stroke. Even when word leaked out after four months of dissimulation, it was still unclear how ill he was. Woodrow had long suffered from high blood pressure, but at the time the only treatment was rest – which became impossible during the treaty negotiations in Europe and the fight for the League. Now Edith made sure he got plenty of rest, mostly by not letting anyone with official business see him at all.

When Woodrow’s mind was able to function some of the time, Edith took over the task of deciding what matters should be brought to his attention and what should be delegated to others in the Administration, or simply ignored. She thought work would help restore him to heath if it wasn’t too strenuous or upsetting.

Edith watched closely over her husband, acting as his gatekeeper, determining which public business was important enough to take up his limited time and energy. She spoke with the officials who wanted to talk to Woodrow and decided whom to allow into his sick room. Decisions on appointments and other matters were announced by her. All this led to speculation that she had become the first woman President. While it’s unlikely that she made any decisions, she gave the impression that she was more than her husband’s amanuensis.

There was little pressure for Woodrow to resign, partially because no one knew how much or how soon he would recover. Vice President Thomas Marshall made no effort to take over. He had been kept out of the loop since taking office in 1913, tasked solely with presiding over the Senate. Edith knew more about the affairs of state – thanks to four years of Woodrow’s tutelage – than the Vice President did.

After his Presidency ended, the Wilsons moved into a newly purchased house in Washington. Woodrow did some writing, but he was very frail, dying on February 23, 1924. Edith lived there another forty years, sharing the house with one or more siblings until her death on December 28 (Woodrow’s birthday), 1961. She spent these decades promoting her husband’s legacy, controlling access to his papers, and generally being the dean of all First Ladies. Others may have thought that she was the woman who would be President, but she never did.


I asked the reviewer: I wonder how much she influenced his decision in January 1918 to support women's suffrage "as a war measure." He had been busting the picketers outside the White house the year before, but somehow he met with Carrie Chapman Catt and they exchanged causes - she backed the war, and he backed suffrage. - FW

Answer: "Edith appears to have had no interest in Suffrage one way or the other. Woodrow moved gradually from opposition to support. One of his daughters was a suffrage supporter; she may have had some influence on her father. Read my review of the Alice Paul book [ ], or better yet, read the book." -JF

Friday, November 05, 2010

A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot, by Mary Walton

Guest review by Jo Freeman:
"Persistence Pays"

A review of
A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot
by Mary Walton
New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010, xi, 284 pp.

One hundred years ago, a fragile looking young woman disembarked from an ocean liner in Philadelphia to be greeted by her mother and a handful of reporters. During her two years of work for woman suffrage in Great Britain with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), headed by the controversial Emmeline Pankhurst, Alice Paul had become hot copy in her own country. In the next decade she would become even more so as she led the militant wing of the suffrage movement to victory in 1920.

This book chronicles her life through that momentous achievement, with a short Epilogue for the rest of her 92 years. The middle portion of her life was lived in relative obscurity, but before she died on July 9, 1977 she was celebrated widely for the cause she led after she returned to the US in 1910.

At that time the US suffrage movement was just beginning to emerge from years of “the doldrums” after gaining equal suffrage for women in four states in the 1890s. A victory in Washington State in November of 1910 brought the number to five. While the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was focused on attaining suffrage state by state, Alice Paul resolved to do it by Constitutional amendment.

Initially she persuaded NAWSA to make her the head of its Congressional Committee. In that capacity she staged a pageant on March 3, as Woodrow Wilson arrived in Washington for his inauguration the next day. Walton describes what happened in a chapter aptly entitled “I did not know men could be such Fiends.”

She also addresses the matter of why the parade had a separate section for black women, a matter that has haunted feminists down to the present day. Turns out that who marched where was much more complicated than the decision of one woman to conform the public procession to the cultural norms of a Southern city, and it wasn’t all that segregated.

Paul soon formed her own organization, the Congressional Union, to push for a federal amendment. She started her own newspaper and raised her own funds. She did not consult with NAWSA on any of this, or even report on the activities of its Congressional Committee which she still headed. Not surprisingly, NAWSA’s leadership was not happy at this, and the two groups soon went their separate ways.

While Walton’s biography includes much on the organizations Paul headed and the women she worked with, NAWSA is mentioned mostly as an impediment to Paul’s work. One would never know that the women who worked on Carrie Chapman Catt’s winning plan were much of a factor in gaining the 19th Amendment.

Woodrow Wilson, however, gets his own chapter. A good deal of Paul’s activity was focused on him, and not on the Members of Congress who had to pass a Constitutional Amendment. Wilson was, as Walton points out, “a complex man.” He preferred the company of women to men, but saw them only as homemakers whose God-given job was to make men comfortable.

Although Wilson personally did not believe in woman suffrage, he tried to keep it out of his 1912 campaign. Nonetheless he was willing to meet with suffragists – both NAWSA and Paul’s – many times. In 1914, after seven meetings with suffragists in almost two years, he announced that he would vote “yes” in the New Jersey referendum on suffrage (it lost). This was a major shift in his personal views, but did not mean he was for a federal amendment.

Paul was already racheting up the pressure by sending her women to campaign against all Democrats – even those who supported suffrage – in the Western states where women could vote. She borrowed from the British suffragists the idea that it was necessary to hold the party in power responsible for all policy positions, and to punish all candidates who were members of that party regardless of their personal views or votes on suffrage.

The 1914 campaign was a trial run for that of 1916, when a new organization – the National Woman’s Party – was formed to inflict on the Democrats the wrath of the women. This campaign, which was much publicized at the time, gets surprisingly little attention in this book.

The author devotes considerable pages to the “Silent Sentinels” outside the White House. Under Alice Paul’s command they took up their places in January of 1917 and stayed for over a year. Initially they were ignored by the White House, though certainly not by the press which showered them with disdain and ridicule.

Their banners often contained Wilson’s own stirring words about democracy, especially after he asked Congress for a declaration of war on April 2. But in June, they told a visiting Russian delegation that AMERICA IS NOT A DEMOCRACY ... TELL OUR GOVERNMENT THAT IT MUST LIBERATE THE PEOPLE BEFORE IT CAN CLAIM FREE RUSSIA AS AN ALLY. Russia had just recently overthrown the Czar and was in the midst of a revolution.

This banner enraged not just the President but the American people, some of whom physically attacked the sentinels and ripped up their banners. Official tolerance of the pickets ended and arrests began. Over the next two years over 500 women were arrested and 168 served time in jail.

Some of that time was served in the Occoquan Workhouse, whose superintendent took great pleasure in giving the women a hard time. When they refused to eat the worm-filled food, he had them force fed. The stories they told the press about this experience made them martyrs.

A year after the silent sentinels raised their banners and two months after New York joined the growing number of states to enfranchise women, Wilson asked Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment granting women suffrage as a war measure. It still took another eighteen months and a new Congress before the requisite two-thirds of both houses voted to do so.

Even then victory was not certain. In fact the 36th State barely ratified it in time for most, but not all, women to vote in the 1920 general election. It was an exciting time. Walton tells this story in a compelling style that lets you live the experience.

Reprinted, courtesy of the author, from

See also:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity

by Marguerite Rigoglioso. (Palgrave MacMillan, 2010)

I have not yet seen this book, it's coming out at the end of September 2010. It's the second book by this author, who also wrote The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece. My interview with her about Virgin Birth can be heard at
There's another podcast about her new book at
Marguerite has forwarded a press release and the table of contents for the new book. - FW


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 16, 2010


Palgrave Macmillan announces the release of the pioneering new book Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity by Marguerite Rigoglioso.

Various goddesses of the ancient Mediterranean world were once understood to be Virgin Mothers––creators who birthed the entire cosmos without need of a male consort. This is the first book to explore evidence of the original parthenogenetic power of deities such as Athena, Hera, Artemis, Gaia, Demeter, Persephone, and the Gnostic Sophia. It provides stunning feminist insights about the deeper meaning of related stories, such as the judgment of Paris, the labors of Heracles, and the exploits of the Amazons. It also roots the Thesmophoria and Eleusinian Mysteries in female parthenogenetic power, thereby providing what is at long last a coherent understanding of these mysterious rites.
"An original piece of scholarship that dares to imagine traditions at the foundation of Western culture in an entirely new light."
–– Gregory Shaw, author of Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus

Marguerite Rigoglioso, Ph.D., is a member of the faculties of Dominican University of California, the California Institute of Integral Studies, and the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, where she teaches courses on women and religion. Her pioneering research on female deities and women’s religious leadership in the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond has appeared in various anthologies and journals, including Feminist Theology, The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, Societies of Peace, She Is Everywhere, Trivia, and the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, where her paper on the cult of Demeter and Persephone in Sicily received an honorable mention for the New Scholar Award. She is also the editor of Where to Publish Articles on Women’s Studies, Feminist Religious Studies, and Feminist/Womanist Topics.

A detailed table of contents follows:


In the Beginning: Chaos, Nyx, and Ge/Gaia

Athena/Neith/Metis: Primordial Creatrix of Self-Replication
Neith as an Autogenetic Deity
Identification of Metis and Neith
The Greek Athena's Roots in North Africa
The Relationship of Neith/Metis/Athena to the Libyan Amazons
The Grecization of Neith/Athena and Her Cult

Artemis: Virgin Mother of the Wild, Patron of Amazons
Artemis as Creatrix
Artemis and Her Mother, Leto
Artemis's Connection with Athena/Neith
Artemis and the Amazons
Artemis as Parthenos

Hera: Virgin Queen of Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld
Mythological Evidence for Hera as a Great Goddess
Evidence at Samos for Hera as a Virgin Mother
Evidence at Argos for Hera as a Virgin Mother
Hera's Parthenogenetic Birth of Ares, Hephaestus, and Typhon
Hera as Guardian of Parthenogenetic Secrets
Hera, the Hesperides, and the Apples of Parthenogenesis
"Judgment of Paris" as Loss of Parthenogenetic Power
Heracles as Foe of Parthenogenesis
The Lernaean Hydra
The Nemean Lion
The Ceryneian Stag
The Oxen of Geryones and Stymphalian Birds
The Belt of Hippolyte
The Apples of the Hesperides

Demeter and Persephone: Double Goddesses of Parthenogenesis
Older Roots for Demeter as Great Goddess
Who Was Persephone?
Signs of Parthenogenesis in the Demeter/Persephone Mythologem
Reconstruction of the Demeter/Persephone Mythologem: Pure Parthenogenesis Interrupted
Persephone as Holy Parthenos
Persephone's Connection with Virgin Mother Goddesses
Persephone's Connection with Weaving
Persephone's Connection with the Bee
Persephone's Connection with the Pomegranate
Persephone's Connection with Flower Gathering
Persephone's Parthenogenetically Related Title
Persephone as Paradigmatic Raped Virgin Mother
Persephone as Virgin Mother of the God's "Double"
Persephone as Virgin Mother of (the) Aeon
As Above, So Below: The Appropriation of Divine Birth Priestesshoods
Daughters of Danaus as Divine Birth Priestesses
The Melissai of Paros as Divine Birth Priestesses
Metanaera of Eleusis as a Basilinna
Metanaera's Daughters as Divine Birth Priestesses
Divine Genealogies of Legendary Founders:
The Advent of Dionysus and Hieros Gamos in the Eleusinian Tradition
Degeneration of Esoteric Knowledge: Demophoön's Failed Immortalization
The Great Beneficence of Demeter: Making the Best of a Patriarchal Situation
The Thesmophoria: Known Fragments
Thesmophoria as Commemoration of Pure Parthenogenesis
Matriarchal, Amazonian Elements in the Rite
The Centrality of Chastity/Virginity
Bawdy Joking and Inner Tantra
Friendliness Toward the Pomegranate
Entering an Altered State of Consciousness
Altered-State Ascents and Descents
Pursuit, Penalty, and Beautiful Birth
The Eleusinian Mysteries: Known Fragments
The Lesser Mysteries
The Greater Mysteries
The Eleusinian Mysteries as Cosmic Rape and Birth of the God
Female Origins of the Rite
Entering Altered-State Reality
Being Raped: The Dildo of Descent
Baubo as Dildo
Grieving for the Matriarchy
Witnessing the Divine Birth
Uniting (with) the Ineffable

CHAPTER 6 by Angeleen Campra
Sophia: Divine Generative Virgin
Sophia as Bridge to an Older Paradigm
Sophia of the Valentinian Cosmogony
Summary of the Valentianian Creation Story
Parthenogenesis in Sophia's Story
Sophia in The Thunder: Perfect Mind
Parthenogenetic References in Thunder
Parthenogenetic References in Other Gnostic Texts
Wisdom as the Ability to Generate Life –– Parthenogenetically
The Legacy of the Loss of Female Parthenogenetic Power

For more about the author and her works, check this site:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rupert Murdoch vs. feminist writing: Vicki Noble

The following statement by Vicki Noble was written in the context of a discussion about how it has come to be that right-wing women in the US have appropriated the term "feminist." She gives a chilling insight into the difficulty of disseminating radical feminist writings and voices today. - FW

Yes, all wonderful questions—why indeed are there apparently no radical feminists speaking out these days in America, speaking to the younger women, writing books and communicating? I believe my personal experience almost certainly serves to generalize about the process by which our voices have been eliminated from the larger public discourse in this country.

In 1994, Rupert Murdoch bought HarperSanFrancisco, thus temporarily ending the long publishing careers of many early Bay Area feminist authors and creative artists (myself, Judy Grahn, Starhawk, for example). At that moment, all our most well-known classic books began, unceremoniously, to be put out of print. It’s not that we didn’t fight this, but I’m afraid it was a done deal. (Each of us has resurrected over the years, so I’m not whining, we’re all continuing to do our work—I’m just telling you the history, which for many people is unknown.) An excellent article in [The Nation] Magazine in the late 1990s, called “The Corporatization of Publishing,”* articulated the widespread negative effects of this phenomenon on a much larger (global) scale. (Independent bookstores, distributors, and publishers went out of business, along with individual artists.)

In case you might think this was subtle or negotiable in any way, or that I’m overstating the case, I’ll give you a blatant example of how direct the message was to us: In 1997, an editor at Three Rivers Press (an offshoot of Random House) told me, after publishing a book on Motherpeace and in response to a subsequent book proposal, “If you take the Goddess and the kundalini out of it, we might be able to publish it.” Since it was a book on ecstatic healing in the Goddess tradition, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that could have even been possible for me to do (had I been interested in selling my soul so directly to the corporation).

During the same period of time (late 1990s), I stopped being invited to teach at places like Omega Institute in New York, I think because my radical feminist message is too “confrontational” in comparison to some of the new mainstream and corporate women who jumped on the Goddess bandwagon and began to produce and attend workshops and conferences for women (Women of Power; Women, Money, and Power; etc.). Groups like “Gather the Women” emerged with conferences on what they publicized as the brand new notion of women coming together to make changes in the world. Now the public commercial centers for growth and “new age” teachings can offer events for women without rocking the boat, offending anyone, or requiring any profound transformation or change (especially to social structures or capitalism). It was an effective marketing strategy. The success of this overall strategy can be seen in the emerging numbers of women who are excited, apparently, about having discovered that their gender gives them a step up the ladder right now—-while working actively in support of patriarchal corporate, capitalist and mainstream religious values and goals (i.e. They work against reproductive rights and threaten the gains we made three decades ago, they cut social services and gut social programs that feminists established in the 1970s, and they keep their eye on the money).

Even NPR (National Public Radio) has recently admitted that it no longer ascribes to its original mission of providing alternative programming to the mainstream. They have their marketing strategy too! Yoga Journal went mainstream in the last decade, changing its look and shortening its articles to please some imagined public that no longer has the attention span to read something thought-provoking.

We’re simply watching global capitalism do what capitalism has always done: It rapaciously sucks up everything interesting or profitable, turns it inside-out in the usual patriarchal mode of colonization and appropriation, and then spews it back out at us in a pseudo form that we can buy. Anything that holds to its original purpose or integrity is relentlessly denied or viciously stamped out, erased, made invisible. Anyone who can’t be bought just disappears from the public arena.

So—-where did all the feminists go? Well, I’d say we’re all still here, getting older but holding our own, disseminating our wisdom where we can, rocking the boat whenever possible, passing on our genes and our ideas, and always, ALWAYS, creating new forms that respond to the real needs of our communities.

A great and positive example of this creative feminist work behind the scenes is the steady building of the Matriarchal Studies and Gift Economy movements in the last decade. This creative international coalition of feminist activists, Goddess scholars, and indigenous healers, elders, and leaders who come together periodically to discuss, analyze, distill, and refine the discourse on Matriarchal Studies (thanks to Gen and Heide** and their pioneering leadership) is thrilling. It is one of the obvious places where the unstoppable underground stream of female intelligence is again springing up to the surface and taking form.

Perhaps we can begin to take some actions and make some international headway by speaking back (organizationally) to some of these emerging mainstream pseudo-feminists and celebrity political women who are being thrust in our face by the media. I’m up for it.

Love, Vicki

=========author note============
A bibliography of works by Vicki Noble appears with her Wikipedia entry at . Note that the article on her is currently rather slight - perhaps those who know her work would like to add to it. - FW


*The article appeared in The Nation June 3, 1996, and its author, publishing veteran André Schiffrin, also published a related memoir: The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (2000).

** Genevieve Vaughan; and Dr. Heide Göttner-Abendroth, Director of International Academy HAGIA.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On The Farm, Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing Women

by Stevie Cameron (Knopf Canada, August 20, 2010: 768 pages)

With the Pickton serial murder case no longer under appeal, the publication ban is off, and Knopf Canada has released Stevie Cameron's book about the case. A government investigation of the handling of the case has now been promised. Cameron is best known for her investigative books about political corruption in Canada. One of the first to read and review On the Farm is Lee Lakeman. Here is her review:

In On The Farm, Robert Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver’s Missing and Murdered Women, Stevie Cameron relays many details of the conviction of Robert Pickton for murdering and butchering six women and the likelihood that he killed fifty: poor, mostly prostituted, women, one third of whom were Aboriginal. She catalogues a decade of data into one readable narrative that some will see as encyclopedic, though it relies almost totally on the official versions, constructed by the police, the courts, the commercial media, local governments and the harm reduction networks involved.

Cameron includes simple biographies from the hierarchy of characters who usually define these issues and authorize these versions: mostly johns, pimps, wife beaters, boyfriends, sugar daddies, rapists, prosecutors, defense lawyers, handlers, reporters, police and politicians and those charged by the state or community services as ‘victim assistance’ or ‘harm reduction” workers to destitute women. Of Pickton, we get the cliché: he had a horrible mother and childhood and he is motivated by revenge against a prostitute he described as thieving and dangerous. Cameron seems not to notice the sex bias. She contradicts no authority.

Some compassion for individuals at risk or under pressure warms the bare facts but chafes against her over abundant regard for the professional (class) credentials of the hundreds activated after women are harmed or dead. We get many of their cv’s. But their credentials would not have saved us. Throughout, she seems to accept the current social relations that lead us to this colossal legal and social failure. No substantial investigative reporting here only those admissions that authorities have already packaged into their next demand (as in the 2005 Vancouver Police Review that insists it would all be over if we had a regional police force and a nicer attitude to “sex workers”). It is as though the material racism, class biases and sex discrimination are solved.

She reminds us that the murdered women were trapped but she understands that trap as the personal mistake they made of choosing boyfriends and husbands that introduced them to vicious drugs and the mistake they made of getting into the killer’s car. The violence, poverty and racism they suffered previously, the refusal of authorities to interfere with the men who preceded him or with Pickton’s pre murderous activity goes unconnected. She concludes only that “we do not know if women are safer”.

Women suffer hideous abuse including prostitution, disappear and die at the hands of men every year in every major city in Canada. Aboriginal women remain especially vulnerable. Women live without adequate incomes, social services or advocacy. The criminal law is applied in a discriminatory fashion that sustains male violence. The statistics are not even disputed anymore. But that hierarchical status quo maintains hundreds if not thousands of women in prostituted squalor and binds together three groups of women: Pickton’s dead, those still prostituted, and millions of other women in Canada. They are bound into a disadvantaged class that lacks adequate social and legal intervention, documentation or protection from violence against women. Cameron’s narrative, absent as it is of any other stated intention, upholds an unacceptable status quo in which fifty women or more went to their deaths.

No experts on the equality obligations of states to women, no police civilian oversight experts or media monitors or Aboriginal women or anti-violence feminists are consulted interviewed or quoted for expertise. Is there no need to change that hierarchy?

Nor did Stevie Cameron give voice to a single escaped victim although she does relay two second hand stories of the anonymous women she calls Jane Doe and Sandra Gail Ringwald. The first is a name given to half a skull found in a local slough in 1995 that leaves us to worry how long ago Pickton began killing. The second is the story of a woman who survived in 1997, reported Pickton to authorities, but was left to protect herself from further violence. Case dismissed. The attempt to murder her never did result in a case, even of solicitation. Eliminating her evidence from the Pickton murder case accounting for the missing women prevented his conviction of first degree murder by blinding the court to the extent of his evil planning.

The book confirms the mind-numbing bigotry and ignorance of individuals with the criminal justice system but more importantly, the common ideology underpinning our institutions and their functionaries: women are not trusted as victims or witnesses, are deemed unreliable, exaggerating their plight and in themselves dangerous, unworthy of the protection of law. Poverty is constructed as individual responsibility separate from race and sex. In praising tiny accommodations and kindnesses (like the lunch passes for those at court or the tent supplied by the police so the families could see the killing fields) and in refusing to rage against the status quo, the book seems to accept the steady application of social and legal policy that replicates these deadly horrors over and over again.

Prostitution remains unchallenged as an activity of men as though women don’t mind and are not at risk or harmed. Like most women’s legal and social complaints of men’s sexual violence, prostitution is not treated like a serious crime. Only weeks after an apologetic review of police failures in the Pickton case, the new police chief, challenged to explain a 20% increase in sexual assault cases excused his force by saying the cases were not “aggravated by violence” as though he didn’t know that all sexual assault was against the law and a serious transgression of the collective rights of women.

Almost all the women victimized by Pickton first suffered criminal beatings, assaults and sexual exploitation at the hands of other men, assaults either from fathers or step- fathers, husbands, boyfriends, or pimps, assaults that should have been prevented and went unpunished, that rendered the women broken and vulnerable to this deadly predator. To three women he was a “sugar daddy” who paid for wife-like duties then threatened with violence if not obeyed. Those women entered Wish Drop In and “low barrier shelters” where prostitution is talked about as a job and successfully they solicited more vulnerable women to “service” Pickton. Of these, many were disabled physically and mentally. Some were not in a state to give consent to anything.

Uncontested too is that he was known as an “ordinary john”. In spite of the law, unimpeded by police, social workers or hotel staff, Pickton solicited women on the street, in the bars where he was known and through pimps in the downtown eastside ghetto. It is likely he solicited too for the men around him at his brother’s Piggy’s Palace, in the butchery, for the truckers he employed, for the Hells Angels across the street. Such facts should give chills to those promoting a laissez fair attitude to the sex industry.

Virtually all workers against violence against women know the ongoing systemic failure to protect women from the men who abuse them including those women who offer themselves as complainants and witnesses. The failure to properly investigate, prosecute and convict, insulated Pickton in the 1997 events that Cameron tells of Ringwald. That woman, whose consent was impaired by drugs, was solicited in Vancouver, confined in Pickton’s house in Coquitlam, sexually assaulted if not raped, beaten and threatened with death. She was stabbed when she defended herself with a knife from his kitchen and although badly bleeding managed to run across the street nearly nude and still in a handcuff. She was rescued by a passing couple and hospitalized. She told. Police retrieved the key to the handcuffs from his pocket. Those in the criminal justice system judged her inadequate and themselves as helpless. They abandoned her and the case. Pickton disintegrated over the decade into his life as serial killer convicted of murdering six women, confessing to killing 49 and dreaming of killing 75. #

Lee Lakeman is a longtime Canadian frontline worker and activist, best known for her work with the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres and Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Max Dashu reviews Agora, the movie

I did not go see the film Agora - about the revered ancient female philosopher and scientist Hypatia - during its short stay in Vancouver; I was put off by the trailer, which looked artificial and pompous to me. Nevertheless, quite a few women I know did go see it in theatres. One of those is the remarkable Max Dashu, whose review (link here) goes into far more and more accurate background and detail about Hypatia than the film did. Be sure to visit and read the review and look around her website.

Quoting Max's biography from the review page:

Max Dashú is known for her expertise on ancient female iconography in world archaeology, goddess traditions, and women shamans. In 1970 she founded the Suppressed Histories Archives to research mother-right cultures, female spheres of power, and the history of their repression. Drawing on her collection of over 15,000 slides, she uses images to teach global womens' history and cultural heritages. Her critique of Cynthia Eller's The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory (2000) has been influential in opening up space for consideration of egalitarian matrilineages. (“Knocking Down Straw Dolls" (2000) republished in Feminist Theology 13.2 (2005), Sage Publications, UK)

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Women’s Movement Inside and Outside the State

by Lee Ann Banaszak
New York: Cambridge, 2010, xv, 247 pp.

Guest review by Jo Freeman - original at


The Feminist Moles in the Federal Government

by Jo Freeman

The Women’s Movement Inside and Outside the State
by Lee Ann Banaszak
New York: Cambridge, 2010, xv, 247 pp.

When I was in college long ago there was an ongoing debate on working inside the system vs outside of the system. To those who wanted to change society, working outside the system was pure; working inside was a form of corruption.

As I watched the women’s liberation movement emerge and unfold in the late 1960s and 1970s, and read more deeply in US history, I realized that this was a false dichotomy. The “system” was bigger than the government and other institutions. Indeed the best way to bring about change was a two-pronged approach, with people “inside” and “outside” the government working for the same goal, if not necessarily with the same methods.

I wrote a bit about that in my first book, The Politics of Women’s Liberation. In her new book Lee Ann Banaszak has proven it.

A major reason so much new law benefitting women was passed in the early 1970s was because insider feminists came out of the woodwork after the women’s liberation movement became public in 1970. Once outsider feminists created a visible demand, the insider feminists used their positions and their knowledge to write the laws and regulations implementing those laws which outsider feminists and Members of Congress (another type of insider) promoted.

Using snowball sampling, Banaszak tracked down women who worked for the federal government and were also involved in the early women’s liberation movement. She relied on oral histories of those who were dead and interviewed those who were living. She put together the story of those who pushed the feminist agenda inside the agencies they worked for and fed crucial information to women outside who could mobilize press attention and constituency pressure on government decision makers.

Banaszak tells us that her 40 informants were highly educated (63% had a post-graduate degree), mostly from middle to upper-middle-class parents, and ten percent non-white. While some of the insiders were men, Banaszak doesn’t say if any of her informants were male. Nor is there a list of interviewees anyplace, though the oral histories are listed.

Some of these people were already working inside the government when the feminist movement erupted in the late 1960s and some joined it later. Some were true moles – keeping quiet about their own policy preferences while arranging for key decision makers to hear feminist views on crucial issues or even sneaking in a few changes in rules and regulations to benefit women. Others were advocates within the government, especially after agencies set up women’s programs in response to the women’s movement. Banaszak found that two-thirds of the feminist insiders worked in “women’s policy offices” at some point in their governmental career.

The range of insider views on what needed to be done was similar to that of feminist outsiders. Some insiders believed that extensive social, political and economic changes were necessary for women’s liberation, and others that women could take care of themselves if they only had an equal chance with men.

The range of their actions was different, largely because the opportunity structure was different. Crucial insiders, especially in the early years, initiated litigation. They could not be the attorneys of record, but they could identify areas for action, refer plaintiffs and write the briefs. A lot of the early court decisions interpreting employment discrimination law were shaped by feminists inside the government who had to stay in the shadows because of their jobs.

Many also participated in feminist marches, though not in “zap actions” or guerilla theater. Occasionally government appointees were speakers at the rallies. At other times insider feminists arranged to have protests directed at their own agencies when they thought it necessary. Working for the federal government was not a serious detriment to protest, at least as private persons.

The insider feminists worked on many issues besides employment discrimination though that got the bulk of their attention. Banaszak identifies educational equity, development, childcare, abortion and violence against women as the major arenas. She provides a of couple quick case studies to show how they did it.

Most of these goals were achieved before Reagan became President in 1981 – under administrations that were supportive or at least benign. While the conservatives did toss a lot of insider feminists out of the government and limit what others could do, Banaszak shows that opportunities for action still existed even in a hostile environment.

A lot depended on where feminists were located in the bureaucracy and who were their supervisors. Basically, they slipped back under the radar, becoming moles more like the early 1960s feminist insiders. In that capacity they could still feed information where it could do the most good, award grants and improve policies around the edges. Banaszak concludes that the sympathy of the Administration matters, but not as much as scholars have said it does. Insider feminists were quite creative in slipping through the cracks.