and Female Oppression
a collection of articles
Dana Densmore is active in
female liberation in Boston.
This article originally ap-
peared as a series of essays
in the first two issues of
No More Fun and Games, a
journal of female liberation
published by a group of women
This article is one of a
series chosen by Boston-area
20o women and published by NEFP.
New England Free Press
791 Tremont St.
Boston, Mass. 02118
I. OUR PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE
What is the essential characteristic of man that distinguishes him
from other animals? Perhaps it would be that man. is a toolmaker
What does it mean to be a toolmaker?
When the first stick was snatched up as a weapon, that act was the
first act of toolmaking. The stick was a part of nature. It was
outside of man, alien to him, as alien as the other being threatening
him. In picking it up he made it his, made it serve him, made it a
tool. That was the beginning of technology.
Man also has a capacity for abstract reasoning. He constructs
theoretical systems for the pleasure of the intellectual adventure
and the beauty of the system. Moreover he has a unique consciousness
of the world and his place in it. He has philosophy. He seeks to
know and to understand and to experience for the sake of the know-
ledge and the understanding and the experience, solely to expand
But this reasoning power and this knowledge are also turned back
by the toolmaker for the further conquest of nature, to lift man
ever further above nature, freeing him from nature and its mindless
The ape, the dog, the fish, come into being, reproduce, and die.
Their existence can be said to be purely biological. All their
actions are directed toward survival in order to reproduce. Nature
is totally alien. They wrest their sustenance from it but do not
attempt to free themselves of it by controlling it.
Man does not free himself from nature, moreover, just to increase
his survival rate so that he may reproduce more prolifically and make
more certain the continuance of the species. He frees himself
in order to enjoy his individual life more thoroughly.
In creating he expresses himself and feels power. In acting upon
nature with his imagination, in building a dike or a dam, in working
out a law or system of mathematics or physics or sociology, in
painting a picture or writing a poem or a piece of music, he expresses
himself as an individual above nature, free from nature, exercising
power over nature.
Man must reproduce, of course, but that isn't the point of living
The point of living is living living up to the highest human potential
using imagination to gain mastery over nature, expanding consciousness
with thinking and experience, achieving self-ext
Human beings are distinguished for the purposes of reproduction
into male and female. The dye is cast at the time of conception
and the individual is structurally and genetically of one sex or the
other. The male version, ultimately, will produce one kind of sex
cell and the female a slightly different kind.
Reproduction is accomplished by the coming together of these
two kinds of cells and a fusion in which the nucleus of one kind
merges with the nucleus of the other producing a new single cell
different from either of the original cells. This one cell then begins
to divide and subdivide, growing, one cell becoming many, the many
cells eventually beginning to diversify, eventually becoming a com-
plete new organism.
In lower animals it is common for the creation of the new cell
and the early stages of its growth to take place within the body
of the female, where it takes nourishment from the body of the
female. The female human being is also equipped to do this. How-
ever, thereis no more reason for her to continue to bear this bur-
den suggested by the anatomy than there was for man to continue
to face the elements naked, something also suggested by the anatomy.
Man freed himself from this burden, this inconvenience, this
inadaptability by fashioning clothes. Similarly he is perfectly
capable of turning his imagination, his technology, to free himself
from the burden, the inconvenience, and the inadaptability of nourish-
ing the new organism in his own body during the first nine months
of its life. It is not in man's nature to accept passively any limita-
tions of nature. His imagination constantly seeks new ways to
free himself from it.
Provided he sees it is a burden. In that particular case, however,
Why not? Because the entire description we gave of what human
beings are evidently can be applied only to the male members.
The female members are not permitted to actualize their human
potential. They are not permitted to tuin their imagination to
the mastery in an active way of the world around them or to give
meaning to their lives as individuals, over and above the mere
reproduction of the species.
Man is the doer. He acts in the world with his imagination, his
mind, his spirit, exerting power as an individual, creating, expressing
himself, rising above the merely physical, the merely biological.
Woman is the sustainer. She does not express her unique individu-
ality, does not create, does not act. She is a purely biological creature,
living in an alien world she did not make and does not influence.
precisely in the same way the lower animals do.
The creation of new life takes place in her body (she is passive
even in this: her body is being used perhaps even against
her will). She nourishes it there, giving of her own body to build
the new one. After it is born she nourishes the new organism
through her breasts, protecting it and caring for it until it becomes
old enough to care for itself.
Similarly she sustains her man, nourishing him by preparing food,
caring for him, doing all the menial chores, making his life comfortable
and convenient, encouraging him and admiring him, providing affec-
tion and sexual gratification.
Man, then, does not see child-bearing as a burden, an inconven-
ience, or a limitation because he has nothing to do with it. He has
already freed himself of it by assigning it to the fern ale along with the
other distasteful, unchallenging, and merely supportive tasks.
Since we must assume that the female has the same innate abilities
as the male (an assumption almost impossible to avoid: they are
members of the same species) we should ask why she is required
to stifle them and play a role defined by men for the benefit of
men--a role which is supportive and not active.
How did she become so enslaved? The answer is that she never
was free. Her relative physical weakness and her dependence on
the man during her continual pregnancies gave him an advantage
he only consolidated and never relinquished, except in certain
limited ways for brief periods of time when it was in his advantage
to do so. Since he never permitted her to free herself from the
gross biological processes of reproduction she remained enslaved
by them and dependent on him for the expression of her own
humanity: she lives only through him.
She lives, a parasite, in a world he built. She is dependent on him
for the expression of her own humanity: she lives only through him.
She is told to find fulfillment through her biological processes:
the fulfillment men find by conquering nature she is asked to find
in submitting to nature. But the idea is preposterour. No animal
finds fulfillment in the biological processes. It is nature, an alien
thing over which they have no control. Fulfillment can only come
by realizing one's human potential in conscious, creative action,
the individual asserting itself and expressing itself as an individual.
Women must realize the magnitude and horror of this systematic
mutilation of humanity, the unthinkable atrocity of the castration
of billions of women over millions of years in denying them the right
to realize, their potential as human beings, according to man's own
definition to himself of humanity, forcing upon them a role and
even a self-image which is sub-human. Woman, determined by
biology and merely supportive, is a human being with human
potential forced to live like an animal.
Every day she continues to submit to her oppression and
to accept the role and the self-image assigned to her by the male,
to live a parasite in a world made by men and structured to free
him and enslave her, to define herself in terms of the gross, alien,
mindless demands of th' species and the arrogant demands of
the male ego rather than in terms of herself as an individual with
human potential, she assists at her own castration, she takes upon
her conscience the burden of this staggering waste of resources.
Whether she acquiesces for the insultingly poor bribes that are
the wages of prostitution, or because she is terrified to stand on
her own, parasite without host in the world built by and controlled
by her masters, or because her pride (how foolish it is to have pride
when you are only a function and not an individual!) won't let
her admit that she has been used so basely, driving her to assert
that fulfillment for her (like the Emperor's new clothes) really
exists, and she finds it, as the men all say truly feminine women
will, in bearing children and caring for a man; whatever her reasons
for continuing to ally herself with her oppressors the crime is so
serious that there can be no justification.
SDoes she think, having been subtly excluded from the human race,
denied an individuality, and assigned a purely supportive role, that
she is consequently of no worth and the murder of her potential
a small crime?
She is wrong, because every potential is equally precious.. One may
be weaker or less intelligent or poorer in judgement than another
but he is nevertheless equal in that he is just as much a human being
(that can't be taken away from him or given up by him anymore
than a female can ever cease being a female) and he consequently
deserves respect for the qualities and abilities he does have.
Moreover, it's not herself alone that she's cheating, but all of humani-
ty. Her imagination, her heart and brain should be out there
acting on the wrld to make it better, restructuring it into an
unoppressive place for all people, -making her contributions toward
a richer world for everyone, developing and expressing her individu-
ality as a useful contributing member of the hurmn society.
It will do no good to ask males to admit females into their species
and their world, to ask them for new, human roles. They have
been the oppressors for all time; it is vain to think they would
give it up now. Moreover, they're comfortable. They've set things
up this way because this is the way they like things. Woman
the inessential, does the inessential work, assuring the continuation
of the species, while man goes about the essential work, living and
developing himself as an individual. He has used his imagination
to make nature (in this case the alien not self woman) serve him.
Woman must stand up right where she is and say NO' NO'
I am not an animal, NO, I am not the inessential, NO, I will not
be the oppressed, the slave, the sub-human. She must cry, I AM!
She must walk out into the world determining her own destiny an
It won't be easy for woman to dump the oppressor off her back.
He's at once the individual men who abuse her and ridicule her and
ignore her, and the system they've built to perpetuate and institutional-
ize the arrangement. She beats one only to run head-on into the other.
But she can't afford NOT to dump him off. As long as he's there,
as long as she's denying herself for crumbs of his approval she's
only an appendage to him--useful within context but not respected.
Why should he respect her if she doesn't respect herself, if she
won't even BE herself?
II. ON FEMALE ENSLAVEMENT...
AND MEN'S STAKE IN IT
Men have constructed an elaborate rationalization of why women
are naturally suited to their role. This is the whole fantasy of
WOMAN'S NATURE: gentle, loving, unaggressive, tender, modest,
giving, patient, naive, simplistic, simple, irrational, instinctual,
This is What they want her to be, so they set it up as the ideal
of womanhood and, treating it now as a norm, say that because
women are that way they are suited to the role imposed on them
and must be happy.
Any woman who dares reject the role or admit she is unhappy
in it is accused of being unwomanly, neurotic, "trying to be a
man." She is treated like a freak, a misfit; she is assumed to be
Even women who can't fool themselves about their situation,
who know that they're miserable and frustrated and humiliated
as women, still subscribe to the male categories to the extent
of feeling guilty and regarding themselves as neurotics.
The true woman who accepts her destiny without complain
is much celebrated in the mythology. In practice, men walk all
over her but that's to be expected, because being a true woman
MEANS you let men walk all over you without ever complaining.
Because there's such great stigma attached to not accepting your
sexual role, very few women will admit they are unhappy with
it and most women take great pains to avoid appearing "unfeminine."
Even men who seem to enjoy independent women just (except
in a very few rare cases) want a more challenging conquest; and
in the end if she doesn't yield, it will boil down to the same thing.
A secure man can give his woman a lot of leeway, but only as
long as he knows that if he ever wants it the final word will be
his, that it is he that is CHOOSING to give her this freedom.
Men are insecure about their own sexual roles too, but for
In the case of women, there is a basic alienation and rebellion
which comes to its first crisis at puberty when the girl realizes
what she's getting stuck with biologically and its social consequences.
Basically she doesn't WANT to be a woman. She wants to
be free and respected like men, she doesn't want to be enslaved
and held down and ordered around like women.
But she learns that to get anywhere in this man's world she
needs his approval and the only way to get his approval is to play
the part of the happy slave and find fulfillment in being a sexual
object, being giving and understanding, being willing to center
her life around a man and play the role assigned.
If a man isn't sexually attracted to her, she's nothing. Old
maid, frigid, failure, lesbian, and, the ultimate accusation which
alone implies all the others, "man-hater!" The most militant
feminist collapses in abject hysterical denials at this charge.
Why is she so defensive? There are plenty of men who are
quite proud of being woman-haters. No one accuses them of being
impotent or homosexual.
The reason is that a man can lead a full, profitable, meaningful
life without women but women's lives are held to be meaningless
and unnatural unless they are built around a man.
So if a woman is a man-hater her whole life is perverted and
unnatural, whereas a woman-hater's life is merely considered less
rich or less interesting.
But that's not the only reason woman-haters are perfectly
comfortable with and even proud of their attitude and why
men wouldn't be particularly insulted or threatened to be
falsely accused of it.
It seems perfectly natural to everyone that one might hate
women. Women are empty-headed, petty, parasitic, irrational,
stupid, and sterile.
With individual exceptions, men are free and strong and admirable
by the standards and structures of this society. Men, who control
the society, have set up "masculine" traits as noble and "feminine"
traits as ignoble.
If asked, however, they would explain that these feminine
traits aren't contemptible in a woman, only in a man, but what
that really means is that they aren't ,a perversion of thje female.
Contemptible attributes are still contemptible attributes within the
value system of a single society. Little girls know perfectly well that
little boys look down on them for being sissies.
Women are "natural slaves" and so it's fitting that they act like
slaves. Still, the value system of society elevates freedom and
individuality. Even women internalize these male standards which
have been set up as society's standards.
Women, in fact, have more contempt for women than men do,
because the glamor of sexual attraction is lacking. There is some
tendency among women to admire a man who despises them
since they see themselves as despicable and consequently can't
respect men who admire them.
This is a sick and destructive situation but a perfectly natural
result of the perverted role allocation.
Women, then, have good reason to reject their sexual roles,
and in fact do at first, but are brainwashed by the society's
mythology and pressured by the threat of losing their sexual
attractiveness. This would mean losing their qualification, their
ticket, to the approval of men, and they know that without it
they cannot have a normal, meaningful life.
So eventually they accept it. After all, they have no choice;
they ARE women, they AREN'T men; they can't change their
anatomy, so they might as well accept it and at least get the approval
for being "true" women.
Because they have tried to rebel, made the desire to be men
conscious, and come to realize that it was completely impossible,
that sexual differentiation was absolute, not conditional, each
realizing that whatever her personality, whatever her desires or aspira-
tions, she is still a woman, they are on one level much more secure in
their sexual identity than men. Anatomy itself determines sexual
role for a woman: she may be afraid of APPEARING unfeminine
but she knows she's stuck with being a woman.
Men have never consciously faced the desire to be women and
found it impossible. So it is less clear in their minds that the sexual
differentiation is a matter of anatomy and not a matter of how you
act, the role you play, active or passive.
They think they are men because they are active, domineering,
strong, courageous, individualistic, aggressive, coldly logical, success-
ful in business. When they fail in any of those things or recognize
in themselves shortcomings and weaknesses and "feminine" qualities
of character, they think they are unmanly, and this terrifies them
because not to be a man is to be a woman, and they despise women.
The result is a constant desperate attempt to PROVE that they are
Their bad faith in enslaving women got them into this trouble.
They took human beings with human potential identical to their own
and enslaved them. To justify this they had to create a false dichotomy
between male and female, assigning certain human characteristics
exclusively to one, others exclusively to the other, in order to make
it seem that the sexes were quite different by nature to justify the
It is not a shame for women to want to be free like men, since free-
dom is recognized as a good thing by the society; they recognize
that they cannot be free but they understand why they might wish
But for a man to wish to be passive is a great shame to him;it's
unmanly and that's contemptible. He doesn't understand what's wrong
with him to want such a thing.
Women, then, are in a much better position in this respect. All
the human characteristics and aspirations they find in themselves
are either admired in the society (masculine) or assigned to her
This explains the great insecurity men have about their own
masculine role and why they are particularly threatened by rebellion
by women-more than one would expect from the attachment
of any master to his position of mastery.
It may be that the oppression suffered by everyone in this society
(oppression by economic necessity and political impotence) makes
the male even less likely to give up the little power things he does
Pushed around himself, exploited and dehumanized, he has a
compulsive need to push someone else around to regain his pride.
Women are perfect for this, since there are lots of them and they
don't fight back.
Another reason men have never been willing to give up their
mastery of women is that they are actually frightened of having
to do women's work. First of all, it is degrading, as men are suited
to more challenging and enjoyable work and maybe in performing
the mindless drudgery of women they would become LIKE women,
a terrifying thought.
Since they've shoved it off on women and refuse to do it, it has
come to appear even a greater calamity to the male nature than it
actually would be (believing, of course, all the while, that it is
enjoyed by women, who are suited to it by nature).
In this discussion we've noted a number of reasons men will be
unwilling to give up their sovereignty:
1) Having made this phony dichotomy between "masculine"
and "feminine" traits and attitudes, and seeing in themselves certain
of the "feminine" qualities, they are uncertain in their sexual identity
and try to make themselves appear more manly by emphasizing
the sexual difference-by making women "more womanly."
2) Men are afraid of doing unpleasant or unchallenging "woman's
work", afraid it will be degrading and unbearable to their loftier
souls. They have a heavy stake, then, in her being "better at it" and
"more suited to it."
3) It gives them someone to feel superior to, someone to push
also someone to need them and admire them.
4) Finally there's the simple conservative attitude: "I'm comforta-
ble with the status quo. I don't want anything to rock the boat,
because chances are it won't be as comfortable afterwards."
II. SEXGLE GIRL
And what of the throat-catching excitement of new
romance? The pregnant frightened seriousness of its
first encounters and the joys of sexual conquest, the
cliff-hanging excruciating suspense, the intense role-
playing for tangible immediate stakes?
The ideal woman is created out of the frail mortal
that was you. She is witty, shy, laughing, a little
bold, downcast eyes smoldering. Everything is done with
just the right touch, just the right timing....
One could not help but take pride in a job so well
done: fine acting and consummate artistry, the creation
of a Desirable Woman out of a simple female body trans-
formed by your imagination.
You are not passive, although that must be the
chief impression conveyed to the man so that he will
think the conquest entirely his.
You do not sit by and through just BEING lure him
into your net, no, being a woman is an active thing,
you MAKE yourself a woman, you create the role and
To be a woman you must please and attract the man,
and to do that a thousand little postures and tricks
are required, all tailored to the demands of the moment.
False, all false, admitted. But, you may argue,
since that is your definition, why then you truly ARE
this bundle of falsehoods. And, false or not, the
game is rewarding.
There are the rewards of self-satisfaction reaped
by any actress who plays her role superbly, heightened
here by the fact that success brings not mere applause
from an audience but the conquest and enchantment of
an exciting man who adores the "woman" you have created
and moreover believes absolutely that this incredible
creature is you. Which means, for practical purposes,
that he adores you--and you did EARN it, didn't you?
But no, it's not the same. In fact, it's not the
same at all. It's deception and unreal and the conquest
it engineers is the ignoble manipulation of another
human being, however he begs for it, however much he
himself contributes to his own deception by demanding
the false qualities and blinding himself to others that
are yours most rightfully.
No, no, no more conquests. You work for your
conquest, but you are begging this man to master you,
not meeting him honorably halfway. Your success, your
conquest, is only in being conquered.
You tempt him, entice him, titillate him, antil
he can't resist any longer and he takes you. Then
you are possessed. You.
He thinks it's that little doll you showed him
who was begging for a master and will treat you accor-
dingly. If the little doll was more docile and more
subservient than you, watch out.
He thinks he knows how you want to be treated and
adds the weight of this datum to his opinion on how
ALL women want to be treated.
Maybe for you the conquest has been made, the
suspense is over, and it's time to get back on a more
But it's too late. He adores that role-playing
little doll and he's not about to give it up.
So you did wrong. Never mind that your plain
unvarnished self never would have landed him at all.
When women stoop to conquer they relinquish all rights
to respect later and set the stage for the whole act
by declaring themselves traditional role-playing women
who delight in their own degradation.
And while we're at it, maybe you should ask
yourself how much you've internalized all this
To what extent do you believe you ARE this bundle
of falsehoods? To what extent has it seeped into your
consciousness, penetrated below what you intellectually
recognize about yourself to condition everything and
cause you to fall into role-playing instinctively with-
out a deliberate conscious decision?
It is almost inevitable that some of the mass of
propaganda about our sexual identity that constantly
bombards us should condition our own self-image.
We can't always be on guard against definition
from without, and in fact most of it occurred before
it was us that they were defining, when it was "woman",
a mysterious or strange and distasteful other we only
later realized we would grow into one day.
By the time we could measure the reality of
ourselves against the myth, it was too late for us to
make a totally objective judgement about what we were.
But look particularly hard at the sexual myths
you have internalized.
Psychologists (male) have defined you as a creature
whose ego development demands a delicate balance of
narcissism and masochism.
This is the "scientific" view of woman, as opposed
to the purely mythic and male-wish-fulfillment identi-
What is your own sexual self-image? How much nar-
ciscism and masochism are in it? And how much does
your sexual self-image condition your whole self-image?
In the heady joy of the sexual encounter are you
reveling in masochism euphemistically calling your
Why should you like being dominated by a man?
What is there to recommend a man who makes decisions
without consulting you, who expects you to conform
to his ideas about how women should act?
He isn't being virile and manly, he's showing
disrespect for you and disregard for your wishes and
needs; he is demanding that you yield up your liberty,
your mind and will; he is crushing your ego.
Virility is the euphemism. The real word is sadism.
IV. ON THE TEMPTATION TO BE A
We are constantly bombarded in this society by
the images of feminine beauty. There is almost an
obsession with it.
It is used extensively in advertising, particu-
larly in advertising directed at women: be like this,
they are saying, use our product.
The image sells everything, not just beauty
products, but the beauty products reap the benefits
of the image having sunk so well into everyone's
And oh! those beauty products. Shimmering,
magical, just waiting to turn the plainest girl into
a heartbreakingly beautiful, transfixing graven image.
Or so they claim and imply, over and over, with
extravagent hypnotizing advertising copy and photo-
graph after photograph of dewy-fresh perfect faces.
Inevitably it penetrates the subconscious in an
insidious and permanent way.
We may be sophisticated enough (or bitter enough)
to reject specific advertising claims, but we cannot
purge the image from us: if only we could get that
look with a few sweeps of a lambsdown buffer dusting
on translucent powder making our faces glow like
satin, accented with shimmery slicked-on lip glow, a
brush of glittery transparent blusher, eyes soft-
fringed and luminous, lash-shaded and mysteriously
shadowed...suppose we could get the look they promise
from their products and the look they all sell in
their advertising? Ah, how few could resist!
Many of us are scarred by attempts as teenagers
to win the promised glamor from cosmetics. Somehow
it always just looked painted, harsh, worse than ever,
and yet real life fell so far short of the ideals
already burned into our consciousness that the defeat
was bitter too and neither the plain nor the painted
solution was satisfactory.
How often the date sat impatiently below while
the girl in anguish and despair tinged with self-
loathing applies and wipes away the magical products
that despite their magic are helpless against her
horrifying plainness. She will never be a woman,
Then, as we grew older and better looking, our
faces more mature and our handling of cosmetics more
expert, there are times when nature and artifice
combine to make us unquestionably beautiful, for
a moment, an hour, or an evening.
The incredible elation of looking in a mirror
(the lighting just right...) and seeing, not the
familiar, plain, troublesome self, but a beautiful
object, not ourself, but a thing outside, a beauti-
ful thing, worthy of worship...no one could resist
falling in love with such a face.
The lighting changes, or the evening wears on,
and the face slips imperceptibly back into plainness,
harshness. Happy gaity becomes forced gaity, we
laugh louder because we must make up for the ugliness
we suddenly found, must distract attention from it.
Or we crawl back into ourselves in an agony of
humiliated self-consciousness. We had thought our-
selves beautiful, and carried on, attracting attention
to what we thought was irresistable beauty but had
somehow shifted into plainness again. How they must
be laughing at us.
We we do succeed we make ourselves objects,
outside ourselves, something we expect others to
admire because we admire, and which we admire through
But it's not us really. Narcissism is not really
love of the self, because self is the soul, the
personality, and that is always something quite
different, something complex and complicated, something
strange and human and very familiar and of this earth.
That beautiful object we stand in awe before has
nothing to do with the person we know so well, it is
altogether outside, separate, object, a beautiful
image, not a person at all. A feast for the eyes.
A feast for the eyes, and not for the mind.
That beautiful object is just an object, a work of
ait to look at, not to know, total appearance, bearing
no personality or will. To the extent that one is
caught up in the beauty of it, one perceives object
and not person.
This goes for others as well as for ourselves.
The morebeautiful we are, the moreadmired our appear-
ance, the closer we approach the dream of the incredi-
ble beauty, the less reality our personality or intell
lect or will have.
It is unthinkable that this work of art has a will,
especially one which is not as totally soft and agree
able as the face it presents. You cannot be taken
seriously, people will not even hear what you say.
(If they did they would be shocked and displeased--
but since they do not take it seriously they say
"You are too pretty to be so smart"--by which they
mean, you are an object, do not presume to complicate
the image with intellect, for intellect is complex
and not always pleasing and beautiful. Do not dare
to spoil my pleasure in your beauty by showing it
to be only the facade of a real person; I will not
believe that, you will only succeed in marring your
How can anyone take a manikin seriously? How,
even, can one take a heartbreakingly beautiful face
seriously? One is far too caught up in admiration
of the object presented. It is merely beautiful,
but it becomes an object when it is presented to
This only goes for women, of course; men's
character and personality and will always shine through
their appearance, both men and women look at them
that way. But one is taught in society by the
emphasis on the images of feminine beauty to view
women differently. The important thing is not the
mind, the will, but the appearance. You ARE your
And if your appearance is pleasing, you are sunk,
for no one will ever look beyond. You have fulfilled
all that is expected of you and you may rest (this
all assumes you have the feminine womanly virtues of
noncharacter such as kindness, gentleness, and the
In fact, if you are beautiful, or if you have
made yourself beautiful, you had BETTER leave it at
that, because you have.no chance of compelling people
to look beyond. They are so enchanted with what they
They adore you for your appearance. If you are
"brainy" it will be taken as quaint, a charming
artectation. it you are disagreeable it is orrensive,
a particularly stinging affront, disrespect for your
beauty, the sacrilege of a work of art. (This does
not detract from the mystique of the beautiful bitch.
That is just another form of flirtation, tantalizing
the man by simultaneously alluring with the beauty
and playing hard to get by putting up a verbal fence--
a fence, by the way, which the man sees himself
ultimately surmounting in triumph.)
It is true that this is part of the burden of
being a woman. We are expected to be beautiful and
not being beautiful does not make us automatically
accepted as people. To some extent and for some
people we are never more than our appearance.
If we are ugly and plain men demand angrily
(at least in their own minds) why we don't DO
something with ourselves; surely a more becoming
hairdo, better meake-up, or even (if the situation
is bad enough) a new nose.
Women react the same way to women. All are
victimized by the image of woman as object, appear-
ance. "Why doesn't she DO something with herself?"
A man who is neat and clean may get away with
being ugly; if he is intelligent and personable he
may even be immensely popular, but for a woman being
neat and clean is never enough if she is still plain,
if she doesn't at least TRY to improve on nature with
the most flattering hairdo (however limp or unruly
her hair is, however many hours of effort and frustra-
tion she must put into the endeavor), the newest
make-ups artfully and painstakingly applied, every
new exercise and diet fad, the newest and chicest
clothes. The ugly woman who does her best in this
way will still be a"dog" but she won't be a threat
and may even be popular if she has the other qualifica-
tions, popular as a "sister".
If you are truly ugly it is always an offense
against your role as woman. You can never be truly
feminine, womanly. Always an affront to men and
women both, trapped as they are in the myth of
How dare you be ugly? You are a woman, an object,
you exist to please the eye, and yet you fail so
utterly. They will still be obsessed with your
appearance, only this time they are affronted rather
They will still have difficulty listening to
what you are saying, this time because they are so
busy wondering why on earth you don't get a nose job
Still, being ugly has its advantages. At least
they will not be lulled into hypnotic admiration with
you as a beautiful object.
You will be a constant gadfly, shattering their
preconceived notions. At least they cannot say you'ree
too pretty to be so smart." They will have to say
"You had better be smart because you're certainly not
pretty" This is certainly a healthier situation for
an individual who wishes to be more than a passive
The most fortuitous situation for a woman might
be to be inoffensively plain, thoroughly nondescript.
It would be very difficult for her to win initial
attention, for with a woman one notices only the
beautiful (admirable) and the ugly (repulsive); one
does not offer a woman a chance to show by words or
actions what her personality or character is in the
way one automatically does to a man.
But when one does command attention there would
be least distraction from the person by the appearance,
least temptation for the woman to be made an object
in the minds of the beholders.
And yet this thoroughly nondescript looking woman
is the one cosmetics advertisements aim at. They want
to take the mouses and with their magic powders and
creams transform them into princesses.
And for many mice they can succeed. Even men,
as we have seen in the case of drag queens, can often
make themselves into beautiful women with enough of
the magic powders and creams.
But to the extent that we keep our self-image
as persons as we manipulate our appearance in this
way, it will seem artificial and unnatural, and look
strange and perhaps even frightening.
Only as we slip into the schizophrenic world of
play-acting and narcissism will we be able to enjoy
the beauty we create. And then we will be imprisoned
within the walls of the object we created in the minds
of others and in our own minds--we will no longer be
able to function as persons, or only fitfully, self-
consciously, and puzzling others by our strange
V. ON CELIBACY
One hangup to liberation is a supposed "need" for sex.
It is something that must be refuted, coped with, demythi-
fled, or the cause of female liberation is doomed.
Already we see girls, thoroughly liberated in their own
heads, understanding their oppression with terrible clarity
trying, deliberately and a trace hysterically, to make them-
selves attractive to men, men for whom they have no
respect, men they may even hate, because of "a basic
Sex is not essential to life, as eating is. Some people
go through their whole lives without engaging in it at
all. including fine, warm, happy people. It is a myth
that this makes one bitter, shriveled up, twisted.
The big stigma of life-long virginity is on women anyway,
created by men because woman's purpose in life is biolo-
gical and if she doesn't fulfill that she's warped and un-
natural and' "must be all cobwebs inside."
Men are suspected at worst of being self-centered or
afraid of sex, but do not carry any stigma of being unnatur-
al. A man's life is taken as a whole on its merits. He was
busy, it may be thought, dedicated, a great man who
couldn't spare the time and energy for demanding relation-
ships with women.
The guerillas don't screw. They eat, when they can,
but they don't screw. They have important things to do,
things that require all their energy.
Everyone of us must have noticed occasions when he was
very involved in something, fighting, working, thinking,
writing, involved to the extent that eating was haphazard,
sleeping deliberately cheated. But the first thing that goes
is sex. It's inconvenient, time-consuming, energy-draining,
We are programmed to crave sex. It sells consumer goods.
It gives a lift and promises a spark of individual self-
assertion in a dull and routinized world. It is a means
to power (the only means they have) for women.
It is also, conversely, a means of power for men, exer-
cized over women, because her sexual desire is directed
Few women ever are actually satisfied, of course, but
they blame the particular man and nurse the myth that
they can be satisfied and that this nirvana is one which
a man and only a man can bring her.
Moreover, sexual freedom is the first freedom a woman
is awarded and she thinks it is very important because
it's all she has; compared to the dullness and restrictiveness
of the rest of her life it glows very brightly.
But we must come to realize that sex is actually a minor
need, blown out of proportion, misunderstood (usually
what passes for sexual need is actually desire to be stroked,
desire for recognition or love, desire to conquer, humiliate
or wield power, or desire to communicate).
We must come to realize that we don't need sex, that
celibacy is not a dragon but even a state that could be desira-
ble, in many cases preferable to sex. How repugnant
it really is, after all, to make love to a man who despises
you, who fears you and wants to hold you down! Doesn't
screwing in an atmosphere devoid of respect get pretty
grim? Why bother? You don't need it.
Erotic energy is just life energy and is quickly worked
off if you are doing interesting, absorbing things. Love
and affection and recognition can easily be found in
comrades, a more honest and open love that love you
for yourself and not for how docile and cute and sexy
and ego-building you are, a love in which you are always
subject, never merely object, always active, never merely
relative. And if despite all this genital tensions persist
you can still masturbate. Isn't that a lot easier anyway?
This is a call not for celibacy but for an acceptance
of celibacy as an honorable alternative, one preferable
to the degradation of most male-female sexual relationships.
But it is only when we accept the idea of celibacy complete-
ly that we will ever be able to liberate ourselves.
Until we accept it completely, until we say "I control
my own body and I don't need any insolent male with
an overbearing presumptuous prick to come and clean out
my pipes" they will always have over us the devastating
threat of withdrawing their sexual attentions and worse,
the threat of our ceasing even to be sexually attractive.
And that devastating rejection is absolutely inevitable. If
you are serious and men realize it they will cease being
attracted to you.
If you don't play the game, the role, you are not a
woman and they will NOT be attracted. You will be
sexless and worse, unnatural and threatening.
You will be feared and despised and viciously maligned,
all by men you know perfectly well you could charm
utterly and wrap around your finger just by falling into
the female role, even by men who have worshipped you
in the past.
How is that possible? Obviously, because they never
were worshipping you. That's the bitter truth, and you'd
better catch on now.
Whenever they're nice to us, it isn't us they're being
nice to but their own solipsistic creations, the versions
of us they manufacture for their own amusement and pleas-
ure and purposes. How presumptuous it is of us to accept
the love and admiration, to crave it even, as if it were
meant for us!
It's their female ideal they adore and they will be resent-
ful and angry if you mar that image and will turn against
you to a man if you try to destroy it.
Unless you accept the idea that you don't need them,
don't need sex from them, it will be utterly impossible
for you to carry through, it will be absolutely necessary
to lead a double life, pretending with men to be something
other than what you know you are. -The strain of this
would be unimaginable and could end in any number of
You, who have had such heady power to charm and
arouse and win men's total admiration and respect, must
be willing to give it up. You must be willing that they
cease to be attracted to you, even find you repulsive,
that they cease to respect you, even despise you, that they
cease to admire you, even find you unnatural and warped
and perverted sexually.
These men who were so tenderly protective will try
to destroy you, to stab you in the back, to use any under-
handed means to get back at you for posing this threat
to them. You have done them the incalculable offense of
not deferring to their sex, of daring to be yourself (putting
your needs ahead of his), of stepping out of your role,
of rejecting the phony sexual differentiations that make
each of them feel like a man.
If you don't act like a woman he doesn't see himself
as a man, since his sexual identity depends on the differ-
ences, and so he feels actually castrated. Expect no love,
no desire, no mercy from this man.
You have to be prepared, then, to be not just unnatractive
but actually sexually repulsive to most men, perhaps includ-
ing all the men you currently admire.
We've spent many years learning to be appealing to
men, to all men, whether we are specifically interested
in them or not. We dress, we walk, we laugh, we talk,
we move our hands and our heads, we sit, we speak, all
in a way carefully cultivated to be feminine and charming.
We need to be thought charming and appealing even
by men who bore us or repulse us, by strangers who may
be trying to pick us up; we have a horror of appearing vul-
gar and repulsive even to the most nauseating creep.
The creeps must all be brushed off gracefully, in a way that
leaves their egos intact and consequently leaves them
with a friendly impression of us.
It's so important that our image be favorable, we are
willing to put up with the fact that it is false, distorted,
that we are being loved for our weaknesses, or for quali-
ties we don't have at all, and our strengths are denied or
If we are going to be liberated we must reject the false
image that makes men love us, and this will make men
cease to love us.
Unless we can accept this we will crumble under the
first look of fear and disgust; or certainly under the first
such look from a man we love and admire.
Ultimately, of course, we will cease to love and admire
such men. We will have contempt for men who show that
they cannot love us for ourselves, men whose egos demand
and require falsehoods.
It will be a less friendly world, but there will be no
unrequited longing. What we're really after is to be loved
for ourselves and if that's impossible, why should we care
about love at all? Friends and enemies will be clearly
lined up, and the friends will be real friends and the enemies
unable to hide behind phony benevolence-nor will we have
to toady to them.
An end to this constant remaking of ourselves according
to what the male ego demands! Let us be ourselves and
good riddance to those who are then repulsed by us!
VI. AGAINST LIBERALS
Liberal men usually come on big for more
rights for women. Enlightened self-interest
tells them that female talents can be utilized,
that an unhappy wife is not a good wife, and
that women who are flighty and empty-headed
and read True Confessions and gossip and giggle
are a drag.
Talk to them about women--and you won't
have to bring up the subject; they will--and
they insist that they are with you 100%. As
long as they think you are putting women down
for being what they are, a product of the pres-
ures of society, they're two steps ahead of
you. But when they catch on that it's the pres-
ures you're condemning, they come to a
screetching halt, begin to frown and squirm
Before you know it you're being accused
of being a snob (to imply the degradation was
not a free choice is to insult the women's
intelligence!), anti-man ("there's nothing wrong
with wanting to please a man; I happen to enjoy
pleasing women very much"), and not knowing
what you're talking about ("You don't know what
you're talking about!"). He understands THAT
sort of woman all too well, and will tell you
with his usual smugness that you just don't
Liberal men don't like manniquins; they
have contempt for them. The manniquins are too
artificial, too obviously unreal,.in poor taste.
What they want is for their women to look
NATURAL, like the magazine cover girls, dewy-
fresh but heart-rendingly beautiful.
Oh, yes, they want women to be beautiful,
they love beautiful women. And they're quite
willing that quite a bit of make-up, time, energy
and expense go into the procedure. But the over-
painted manniquin, like the war in Vietnam,, is
just a little too obvious, really in poor taste;
she is held in contempt not because she is
artificial, but because the obviousness of her
artificiality makes her NOT BEAUTIFUL.
It is this failure to be beautiful, then,
that is the affront to the liberal. He wants
his women to be beautiful, but they must be
clever enough to make it all appear natural.
The liberal man cannot admit that it is
society's pressures, as example by his atti-
tude, that produce the artificial women he so
smugly dismisses. He insists that the blame
is entirely theirs; they could have chosen
to be womanly doctors or lawyers or taste-
fully beautiful rich men's wives, but instead
they chose cheap glamour.
And the liberal man is intelligent to
insist on the free choice doctrine, because
to admit that this thing he considers ugly is
a product of society's hysterical progrommation
for beauty and man-pleasing.would be a direct
threat to his own stake in the results of the
programmation, where he skims off from the
top the women clever enough to do it well and
mix it with the just right amount of cultivat-
ed intelligence and charm. It's not programmn-
ation, he says, it's a recognition by women
that their relationships with men are mutually
beneficial and that it is in their own inter-
ests to cultivate these relationships.
The same act is played out on the subject
of silliness and giggling and playing up to
men by women. They just can't respect these
women, they say, and are quick to point them
out as "sisters" who are "hurting our cause."
They should stick to business, the liberal
man says, when his secretary embarrasses him
by too much personal pandering, too much light
headed flirting. But they don't know they are
embarrassing him with excesses. The way they
were brought up, this sort of thing was not
an excess; it was uniformly expected as the
appropriate posture of women toward men.
They are just trying to please him as they
have been taught since childhood. Wait on a
man, be coy, be giggly, play up to him, make
him feel clever and important. But they lack
training in sophistication, they lack educ-
ation, they lack intelligence, maybe,to do
the' whole thing with the finesse which changes
it 'ihto "charm."
And you will never find a liberal man :who
isn't very very big on womanly charm. Take
womanly charm out of his life and you are tak-
ing away the sun. Life would be a desert with-
out it. They are cut to the quick by the sug-
gestion: "How can you suggest that that is a
BAD thing?" They gasp. And don't worry, they
know what they're talking about. Don't bother
to try to distinguish real charm, a very spec-
ial individuality combined with a genuine
liking for people, from womanly charm, which
is a playing up to (they would say "bringing
out the best in") a man, through the methods
of emphasizing her womanliness in order to
point up his masculinity and listening ad-
miringly so as to draw out his ideas. They
are talking about womanly charm and they think
it is a fine thing indeed; in fact, it makes
the world go round. And women get as much
pleasure from it as men. It's all part of the
game, the wonderful delicious game of love
So liberal men are very big on rights
for women, within limits. They should be ed-
ucated, have jobs or even careers when it
doesn't interfere with the family, be know-
ledgeable and articulate, just so that it is
all tempered by womanly charm and a care for
Of course as soon as you get down to
specifics, all the old prejudices come in.
"I wouldn't hire a woman to carry acid, of
course, because they're too emotional and
might lose their heads in a crisis." But in
general you are safe from the boorish lower
class statements like "I'm glad my daughter
isn't neurotic enough to want to be a doctor."
But aside from the objectionable snobbery
and smugness they exhibit in putting down
women who try to play the role they demand
and play it poorly (maybe the women are
basically too honest to do a good job!),
there is another objectionable side to liber-
al men. They expect women, at least, "their"
women, the class of women they associate with
and might be "interested in," to be raving
Being terribly liberal, they are quite
willing to permit the. woman to enjoy herself
sexually, and if she DOESN'T, by God, she
must be sexually maladjusted. He has permitted
her to enjoy sex, or rather has permitted her
to ADMIT it, supposedly she was wild about it
all along, and if she DOESN'T admit it or
even worse, doesn't ENJOY it, she is sick,
warped. In fact, her wild enjoyment of sex
is supposed to make her just adore every
nauseating bit of the role-playing. Since he
finds playing the big man sexy, she's sup-
posed to find playing the docile admiring
woman sexy. He loves sitting at a candle-lit
table, so she's supposed to love carrying the
souffle out of the kitchen. All part of the
wonderful delicious game of love and sex;
these little differences, these roles, all
incredibly sexy. It doesn't occur to them
that the male role happens to be noble and
dominant and the female role passive and de-
meaning. If it's demeaning, you should love
it that way because it makes for better sex
and after all that's what makes the world
go round. Revel in your subservience, they
tell us. What they are saying is, be mas-
No thanks, Mr. Smug Liberal, I've tried
your delic. jus masochistic sex and it naus-
eates me to think about it. I'm a person, not
a delectable little screwing machine equipped
with subroutines for cocktail-mixing anc
souffle-making and listening enchanted to all
the pompous drivel you want to pour out to
VII. ON SISTERHOOD
Do you see yourself stronger, more able to
resist or reject conditioning, more real than other
women? Are you better able to act in this society as
an individual rather than relating solely to the
stereotypes of feminine behavior and the woman's place?
It is because you were fortunate enough to have
some countervailing influences that others didn't have
to counteract all that propaganda to some degree.
You were, perhaps, more trusted by your parents
in your youth and learned to trust yourself and your
own instincts. Or you were taught straight out that
certain things were vanity, or silly, or unworthy.
You were taught that individual action was honorable
when others were taught only that inaction, womanly
passivity, was honorable.
Now you both carry out what you have learned, both
doing what you were taught was the honorable thing,
and you look down on the others and say you have no
sympathy for their suffering or the slights they incur,
because they "ask for it", they 'like it".
There is nothing male society succeeds in so well
as Divide and Conquer. We have all fallen for it,
so there can be no pointing the finger, but it is a
shameful thing nonetheless.
"You are different," they say, and how eagerly
We are not like those other women who sit at home
all day reading magazines and gossiping. We are not
like those silly bunnies using their bodies and the
padding of torturedly sleek bunny costumes to get big
tips from silly men.
We are not like those empty headed girls who spend
all their money on clothes and all their ingenuity on
snagging men into marriage and get together to giggle
over nothing for hours. We are not like those nagging
possessive wives who have nothing to offer but sp, the
life out of their husbands, We are not like those bitter
dried up women of whatever age who hate sex and are
de ;.-:c~.ly afraid that someone somewhere may be having
a good time.
"You are different," the men say, and justify the
most vicious prejudice and discrimination and cruelty
by inviting us into their select little club (or rather
by giving us the false Illusion that we are in).
They make us accomplices; eager for respect and
acceptance, we insist that we too are prejudiced; we
tor, we agree eagerly that women are contemptible
indeed--most women, that is, the masses of women, not
me of course, but most women.
This is a strange but very widespread schizophrenia
which results among women who have been not entirely
ruined by the womanhood conditioning. They see that
men are free and respected and identify with them,
rejecting their own sex in horror, pretending that
it is some kind of moral failing, convincing themselves
of it even, saying the women like it because they are
lazy and selfish.
In fact only a low self image could produce that
kind of self-destructive conduct, a low self image
and general despair.
They have been taught that it is immoral and
selfish to try to make something of yourself, to
care about yourself, not to devote yourself to your
family and home. But it isn't easy to devote yourself
to your family and all their faults are but symptoms
of their unhappiness.
The kind of "moral strength" it takes to stand
up and fight the world for the right to be an authentic
person, a functioning individual rather than an
undifferentiated function (housekeeper, mother) comes
only from training and encouragement. The ego can
be hopelessly crippled and it is at a very young age
in American Indians, blacks, and women.
So you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, did
you? Despite the disadvantage of being a woman, and
tainted with the laziness and unreliability and stupidity
of other women, and subject to the very natural preju-
dice against women, you succeeded. This proves that
any woman with ambitions could succeed too if she works
hard enough to prove that she's different. Men will
be glad to accept her as an equal if she only proves
that she's different. Or at least most men will.
But the bootstrap theory is false. Those women
are where they are because that's what they've been
They have been taught that to do otherwise is
wrong, and enormous pressures are immediately brought
against them if they try. And suppose they aren't
intelligent enough to get your glamorous jobs even with
the healthiest egos in the world? Do you then write
You have no sympathy for women who "like" playing
the feminine role. They "enjoy" the discrimination,
they "ask for it". But they've been conditioned,
programmed, even traumatized to shun "unfeminine"
If they do enjoy the attention a good job of
femininity brings them, you are cruel to feel
contemptuous of them for enjoying the one pleasure
they're allowed, the one honor in all that degradation.
They're too ruined to assert themselves the way you do,
demanding attention as an individual; that requires
self-respect and they have none; they were taught to
believe fully in their inferiority.
We are all one. All the same influences have
acted on us. If you have somehow escaped the conse-
quences of your conditioning you are lucky, not
superior, not different. We are all sisters.
We all work within the same constraints. The
prostitute, the married woman, the model, the bunny,
and the career woman who makes herself glamorous
are all using their bodies to get what they want or
need from men. We all play the role to one extent
or another and in one style or another and the career
woman who plays lends honor to the system that
oppresses her less healthy, ambitious, talented, edu-
cated, intelligent sisters.
But their oppression oppresses her because she will
never be a man, she will never be accepted as a man;
her mind and talents are just being used; ultimately
all men know she is a woman and will never completely
accept her. Sheis a woman, and women, as she so
eagerly agrees, are stupid, selfish, and lazy, not
to be respected, clearly not the equals of men. She
cannot be exempted just by imagining she is.
This ugly elitism is rampant among the only-
partially-ruined women, the golden ones who were
brought up to have a strong sense of self, the
intelligent educated talented ones who have
There is a complete identification with the ruling
class, coupled not only with a rejection of their own
class, but with an insistence that the pressures,
influences, and conditioning that forced the women
into their oppressed situation did not exist. ("They
never should have HAD so many children, they should
have thought ahead. They knew that marriages break
up. They deserve to be in that fix. I can't have
any sympathy for women with.ten kids.").
This is bad faith and bad sociology. It is worse.
It is an incredible lack of compassion, explainable
only as a defensive rejection to avoid identification.
They are identifying with the men. To have
sympathy for women is by implication to condemn the
circumstances that oppress them, and those circum-
stances are the male power structure. But the
elitist women cannot afford to criticize the male
power structure even by implication because they
are so busy currying favor from men to maintain
their own "success".
So they must maintain an attitude of moral
superiority toward those who do not succeed, and
avoid at any cost analysis of why they "chose" their
An appalling snobbishmen is involved in the
elitist golden career girls brushing off impatiently
as irrelevant the plight of the masses of women who
don't identify with the men, who have been convinced
that they're, in fact, inferior, and who are just
trying to do the best they can in a miserable situation.
We are all one. We are all sisters. We all work
within the same constraints. If some of us are more
successful and less oppressed it is because we are
less crippled, not because we are superior, not
because we are different.