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Group Title: This magazine is about schools
Title: Liberation of women
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00086883/00001
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Title: Liberation of women sexual repression and the family
Uniform Title: This magazine is about schools
Physical Description: 15 p. : ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Limpus, Laurel
Publisher: New England Free Press
Place of Publication: Boston
Publication Date: 197-?
Subject: Feminism   ( lcsh )
Women -- Sexual behavior   ( lcsh )
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Statement of Responsibility: Laurel Limpus.
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Full Text
oLp I/Was





Laurel Limpus

Laurel Limpus is a graduate student in
sociology at the University of Toronto.
She is a member of the Woman's Li-
beration group in Toronto.

THIS IS AN ATTEMPT to deal with some of the theoretical
problems of the liberation of women, particularly as
they relate to sexuality and sexual repression.
Obviously the problem of sexuality is a dual one: when
I speak of female liberation, I mean liberation from the
myths that have enslaved and confined women in their
own minds as well as in the minds of others; I don't
mean liberation from men. Men and women are
mutually oppressed by a culture and a heritage that
mutilates the relationships possible between them.

One of the reasons we find it difficult to deal with the
problem of female liberation is because the problem is
so pervasive, so all encompassing; it involves the total
realm of bourgeois consciousness. We are facing
oppression that is both psychological and ideological;
it concerns people's definitions of themselves and of
each other and of the roles that are possible between
them. It is, therefore, difficult for us to grasp it with
any theoretical rigor and clarity. The problem is
compounded by the fact that women make up a very

peculiar social group: tlicy are not a class; tlieir
position of oppression is unique: and the mental
repression that stilles ihein stifles at thle same time the
ilen who oni the surlace appear to he their oppressors.

Juliet Mitchell, in her article, "Wonimn: Tlie Longest
Revolution." has summed up the peculiarly unique
situation of women as a group very well:
"Tihey Lre not oe of a number of isolable units, but half a
loality. the humirna species Women are essential and
irreplaceable. they cannot therefore be exploited in the
s.inie \\ay us oilier social groups can They are fundamental
to the human condition, yet in their economic, social and
political roles, they are marginal. It is precisely this
comhinaiion-fiundamental and mdrginal at one and the same
lime-ltha has been l'atal to them."

TII CENTRAL PROBLLM is that this society had produced
an image and a mythology of women that has deprived
them of their humanity and creative role in society.
For a variety of reasons, one of the central agents of
this oppression has been the institution of the family.
Many factors come together when we look at the
family. For one thing, as we shall see later, the family
seems, at the present time, to be the primary agent of
sexual repression in this society. For another, it is by
defining women primarily within the family that this
society has deprived her of her humanity and her
creativity. If women are to liberate themselves, they
must come squarely to grips with the reality of the
family and the social forces that have produced it at
this particular period in history.

Both Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex and Juliet
Mitchell have stressed what I have found to be very
useful distinction between the mythologized roles of
men and women: using de Beauvoir's terminology for
a moment, men are encouraged to play out their lives
in the realm of transcendence, whereas women are
confined to immanence. This simply means that men
work, create, do things, are in positions of authority,

create their own histories; whereas women are confined
to the home, where their function is not to create, but
to maintain: Women keep house and raise children. Of
course the reality is not quite like this, since work in
capitalist society is usually alienating, stifling, and
stunting, and most men engaging in it could hardly be
described as creating their own histories by transcending
themselves. Within the present social context, however,
it is still true that men are trained to go out, work,
shape their own lives; and that women are not, and
that thus, even within the context of their alienating
nature of work, they have often more opportunities to
satisfy their needs for creativity than do women. The
point that must be made here is that ideologically men
are urged towards creativity and that women are not.
As Juliet Mitchell says:
"But women are offered a universe of their own: the family.
Like woman herself, the family appears as a natural object.
but It is actually a cultural creation. There is nothing
inevitable about the form or role of the family any more
than there is about the character or role of women. It is the
function of ideology to present these given social types as
aspects of nature herself." (underlining mine)

Mitchell's use of the word ideology here is very
important, because now she is talking about the
dimension of consciousness; she is saying that women
are ideologically oppressed; that they are defining
themselves in a culturally created way which they
believe is natural. The myth that women's natural
place is in the home and that naturally she will find
the fulfillment of her creativity in bearing and raising
children and in submitting to a man is just that: a
myth. More than that, it is a terribly destructive myth,
like most of the mythology of bourgeois society. As
long as it is believed and adhered to by women as well
as by men, it systematically destroys their real potential
to develop as individuals rather than as marionettes.
And I firmly believe that it is to women, and not to
men, that this point has to be made, because the most
disturbing aspect of this whole question is the extent
to which women cling tenaciously to these very
conceptions of themselves which stunt their humanity.

I want to consider first how a woman's role as a wife
and the socializer of children acts as a stunting influence
upon her creativity. Then I will look at the very
complex question of the repression of female sexuality,
and the resulting mutilation of male sexuality and the
resulting disintegration of love relations in tis society.

One of the most pervading conceptions in the present
ideology is that the family is a natural, inevitable
phenomenon. Once this is accepted, because of the
apparent universality of the family, women are
relegated automatically to a separate but (perhaps)
equal status. As Mitchell says:

"The casual chain then goes. Maternity. Family. Absence
from Production.and Public Life. Sexual Inequality. The
lynch-pin in this line of argument is the idea of the family."

It is the family, and the ideology that confines women
to it, that prevents her from fully entering into the
arena of production, not her relation to a man. A
woman may still work while living with a man, although
much of the mythology of the "wife" who maintains
a home for her husband and lives for him and through
him rath.:. than for and through herself remains to be
dealt with; but it is her relationship to her children
which prevents her from seriously committing herself
to a job. That doesn't mean, of course, that the job is
going to be creative.

Most of the jobs open to most women are unpleasant-
(waitresses, salesclerks, nurses, secretaries, clerks,
typists, etc.). The mere opening up of job opportunities
to women thus does not solve the problem of women
in production. Further, the nature of these jobs often
makes marriage seem more attractive, thus backing up
the mythology. As Simone de Beauvoir says:

"Modern woman is everywhere permitted to regard her body
as capital for exploitation. It is natural enough for many
women workers and employees to see in the right to work
only an obligation from which marriage will deliver them.
As long as the temptations of convenience exist -in the
economic inequality that favors certain individuals and the

recognized right of women to sell herself to one of these
privileged men she will need to make a greater moral effort
than would a man in choosing the role of independence. It
has not been sufficiently recognized that the temptation is
also an obstacle, and even one of the most dangerous Heie
it is accompanied by a hoax. because in fact theie w ill onl\
be one winner out of thousands in the lottery o' marriage."

Marriage. finally, which is made to seem attractive and
inevitable, is a trap. For girl children as well as mothers.
Most women do not grow up to see themselves as
producers, as creators- instead they see their mothers,
their sisters, their women teachers, and they pattern
themselves after them. They do not see women making
history. As de Beauvoir says again:

"Sihe has alwa5 s been convinced of male superiority. this
male prestige is not a childish mirdge. it has economic and
social foundations; men are surely masters of the world.
Everything tells the young girl that it is for her best interests
to become their vassal."

But to become a vassal, to live through another hlum:an
being, is a deeply frustrating experience, and the
subjected wife takes the revenge of the frustrated.
Ultimately, il is a terrible revenge.

I should note here that much of this pattern of wifely
subservience is changing, and I would like to make it
quite clear that I am referring to those women i.who
still comprise a large paint of the total population) who
would define themselves as wives and who do not work
or have another project. Their husbands have projects,
they do not. They revenge themselves upon tile agent
of their own emptiness, and thus tlie man is muttilated
by his supposedly subservient wife. I also want to
make it clear that I am not talking about men
oppressing women here. This is a situation w which arises
out of expectations and role definitions that are
ideological and that imprison both men and women:

"Men," writes de Beauvoil. "are einclhaned by reason of their
very sovereignty: it is because they alone earn money that
their wi\es denund checks. it is because they alone engage
in a business or profession thJt tleii wives require them i

be successful, it is because they alone embody transcendence
that their wives wish to rob them of it by taking charge of
their projects and successes. If the wife seeks desperately to
bend him to her will, it is because she is alienated in him.
He will free himself in freeing her." (underlining mine).

Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is exactly
the kind of wife who is out to get her husband for both
his transcendence and his la-ck of it. George's worldly
failure is a constant source of humiliation to her for
which she continually torments him. Her own energies
have found no other outlet, except in fantasies of
motherhood, which brings us to the next aspect of
women's exploitation in the family.

The myth that childbearing and rearing is the fulfill-
ment of a woman's destiny is by far, in my opinion,
the most damaging and destructive myth that imprisons
her. Having children is no substitute for creating one's
own life, for producing. And since so many women in
this culture devote themselves to nothing else, they end
up by becoming intolerable burdens upon their children
because in fact these children are their whole lives.
Juliet Mitchell has caught the situation exactly:

"At present, reproduction in our society is often a kind of
sad mimicry of reproduction. Work in a capitalist society is
an alienation of labour in the making of a social product
which is confiscated by capital. But it can still sometimes
be a real act of creation, purposive and responsible, even in
conditions of the worst exploitation. Maternity is often a
caricature of this. The biological product the child- is
treated as if it were a solid product. Parenthood becomes
a kind of substitute for work, an activity in which the child
is seen as an object created by the mother, in the same way
as a commodity is created by a worker. Naturally. the child
does not- literally escape, but the mother's alienation can be
much worse than that of the worker whose product is
appropriated by the boss. No human being can create
another human being. A person's biological origin is dii
abstraction. The child as an autonomous person neitably
threatens the activity which claims to create it contrmuall)
merely as a possession of the parent. Possessions are lelt as
extensions of the self. The child as a possession is supremely
this. Anything the child does is therefore a threat to the
mother herself who has renounced her autonomy through
this misconception of her reproductive role. There are few
more precarious ventures on which to base a life."

So we have the forty- or fifty-year-old woman
complaining to her grown child: "But I gave you
everything." This is quite true; this is the tragedy. It
is a gift the child hardly wanted, and indeed many
children are daily mutilated by it. And it leaves women
at the waning of their years with the feeling that they
have been deceived, that their children are ungrateful,
that no one appreciates them because they have come
to the realization that they have done nothing.

This is not to say that there are not women who
genuinely love their children or anything of the kind.
It merely points out that the prevailing ideology leads
many women into the mistake of thinking that having
children will be the ultimate project (to use de Beau-
voir's terminology again) of their lives. Just because
women bear children does not necessarily mean that
they must rear them. It certainly does not mean that
this is all they should do. But this society has seen to
it that there are no other institutions for the rearing of
children except the nuclear family.

THL SLCOND PROBLEM that of repressed female
sexuality is so vast, unexplored and variegated that
what I have to say only represents a few scattered
thoughts largely taken from my own experience and
those of my friends. I'll try later to relate them to the
work of Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich.

The problem of sexuality again clearly illustrates that
men and women are oppressed together in an
institutional framework which makes inhuman demands
ol them and inculcates destructive beliefs about
themselves. I want to stress, though, that we women
shouldn't become obsessed with freeing ourselves from
sick male sexuality. It is more important to free
ourselves from the structures which make both male
and female sexuality sick. The male definition of
virility which makes woman an object of prey is just
as much a mutilation of the human potential of the

male for a true love relationship as it is of the female's.
Although we as women experience this predatory
attitude and are often outraged by it, we must realize
that our own hangups often contribute to it, and that
in any case we will get nowhere by venting our hostility
upon men. We must both be liberated together, and
we must understand the extent to which our fear and
frigidity, which has been inculcated in most of us from
infancy onwards and against which most of us have had
to struggle for our sexual liberation, has hurt and
mutilated them.

Since the myths emphasize male virility and female
chastity, within the family men have been inculcated
with predatory attitudes while women have been filled
with profound sexual fear. From early infancy women
have had deep sexual inhibitions instilled within them,
and these fears and inhibitions are so tenacious that
even when you consciously reject the morality of your
parents, you often find that your body will not obey
the dictates of your mind. You can believe in sexual
freedom and still be frigid. For many years that was
certainly true for me.

I have talked to very many women about this subject
and have found that almost all of them have had the
same experience or similar ones; they found that their
ideas had changed, but that they still could not respond
sexually. Many of these women, including myself, have
finally succeeded in responding sexually, but only after
a long and anguished period of doubt and fear and
struggle. Many young girls, who feel only revulsion
when they think they should feel ecstasy, react with
immense relief when they are told that this is a quite
common experience. Since of course this is not the
kind of problem one ordinarily talks about, they did
not know that anyone else had been through this, and
they had thought that they were monsters.

The repression of these young women is matched only
by their sexual ignorance, which is of course integrally
related to it. When I went into the dorms at the

University of Toronto to talk about birth control, about
half of the girls there didn't understand the mechanics
of menstruation. One of them asked me if when a man
comes the sperm can actually be seen. like little tadpoles.
This may sound funny, but it is really tragic. How will
women like this react in a sexual situation, and what
will be the effect upon the men who initiate them.
Although there is a great deal of talk about sexual
liberation and promiscuity floating around, my guess
would be that the reality of the situation of many
couples engaging in sexual relations is frigidity, fear,
impotence, inhibition, and ignorance.

One of the most subtly destructive effects the myth of
female chastity has had is to make women lie about the
nature of their own sexuality. While the prevailing
myths about virility make men feel they must be
predatory, the prevailing myths about female sexuality
often make even semi-liberated women demand to be
treated as prey. This is a very complicated point; but
I think it is important enough to be treated at length
because it illustrates the interrelationship between
male and female sexual sickness. Even though it is
generally admitted even now that women have desires
and are supposed to respond sexually, I have noticed
that even in supposedly radical circles girls can still be
labelled "promiscuous." There are tremendous residual
moral condemnations of female sexuality in all of us,
in spite of our radical rhetoric. A woman, even a
relatively sexually liberated one, often finds it hard to
approach a man sexually the way a man can approach
her. Needless to say, less liberated women will be even
more dishonest about their desires. A man I know
once remarked that he knew few women who could
look at him sexually (for example, stare at his genitals
without embarrassment) the way he could look at a
woman. I have found these residual fears in myself,
and 1 know other women who experience the same
thing. This means that since women will often be
dishonest about their desires and encourage the man
to pursue them, they force him to become the very
predatory person that radical women object to.

Sexual repression is clearly structural, and the central
agent of repression is the family, which has inculcated
both the subservience of women and sexual taboos.
From infancy onwards we are all subjected to this
process, and this process is obviously related to the
institutions of society.

Much of the resentment of liberated women against
men is sexual, because they feel they are being treated
as objects (as in fact they are). Fashion, advertising,
movies, Playboy Magazine, all betray the fact that
women are culturally conceived of as objects and,
worse still, often accept this definition and try to make
themselves into a more desirable commodity on the
sexual market, We must remember, however, that
every month some woman is more than willing to be
the playmate of the month and that the problem exists
in her consciousness as much as in that of the men who
stare at her. This is ideology, self-definition, conscious
acceptance of myths, and these things are related to
institutions, to economic and social structures.

Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse both tried to deal
with the institutional background of this mutilation of
erotic life. While the agent of sexual repression and
mutilation is the family, it reflects, in microcosm, the
demands of society. Reich argues that our society is
systematically producing people through the family
who are incapable of love and sexual surrender because
it needs such people in order to perpetuate itself.
Parental repression in childhood, especially of sexuality,
cuts down the vital vegetative side of life the antithesis
to the present mechanization of existence and has led
to the building in the individual of an intricate character
armour. A neurosis has been created; and most of us
share it. This armour is essentially fearful and
protective, and prevents one from loving, because it
keeps repressed and dammed up those life energies
which would ordinarily flow outwards as love, which
would let us surrender. So we fear love and sexuality,
and are anxious and guilty about love-making.

Reich postulates that sexual orgastic impotence is
directly related to the existence of this character
armour, and that when this armour is broken down, the
individual's loving, creative, and sexual energies are
released. He also postulates that the neurotic character
armoured individual is a necessity for the present
authoritarian mechanized capitalistic society, and that
people freed of this armour find that they can no longer
function in this society as successfully as before:
"Quite spontaneously, patients began to feel the moralistic
attitudes of the environment as something alien and queer.
They began to feel a strong'need for some vital work in which
they could have a personal interest. If the work in which they
were engaged lent itself to the absorption of real interest,
they blossomed out. If, however, their work was mechanical,
as that of an employee, a merchant or a clerk, it became an
almost unbearable burden, and they felt a sharp protest of
the organism against empty, mechanical work."

These same people also found themselves, because of
their new sexual responsiveness, much more serious
about the importance of interpersonal relationships
than before:

"Their previous behavior had been the result of the fact that
they experienced no sensations in the sexual act whatsoever;
whereas now, they experienced full sensation in the act and
therefore regarded it as an important part of their lives, not
to be dealt with as lightly as their former behavior would
indicate. That, in other words, they became more 'moral'
in the sense of wanting only one partner-one who loved and
satisfied them."

Thus, a released sexuality appeared to lead not to the
so-called promiscuity of the frigid woman, but to the
desire to establish a serious love relationship.

It is obvious that the changes that Reich observed in
his patients who became capable of full sexual response
has deep social and political implications. As he says:
"The picture presented at the end by all of them was
that of a different kind of society," namely one in
which work was human and creative, sexuality was
unrepressed and spontaneous, and love relationships

replaced the present moralistic compulsive and often
repressed marriage system. This leads Reich to
hypothesize that the present system of sexual repression
has a social function:
"The purpose of the demand for sexual abstinence is that ot
making the adolescent submissive and capable of marriage.
The children destined for this kind of marriage are brought up
in sexual abstinence; they show neuroses and those character
Iraits with which we are familiar. Their sexual abstinence has
the function of making them submissive. Sexual suppression
is an essential instrument in the production of economic
enslavement." (underlining mine)

It is important to realize exactly what Reich is saying
here. lie is saying that a society of sick individuals has
been created, largely through the suppression of
sexuality, the life function, in order to create men fit
to work in a social order where the priorities are not
human, but profit. lie also makes it clear that in order
to change society we must also attempt to change the
individuals created by it: "The cultural revolution
requires the alteration of the psychic structure of the
mass individual."

While this analysis may seem oversimplified to some,
it clearly points in the direction of the kind of
exploration that has to be done about the social
function of sexual suppression.

Marcuse moves in the same direction, although in
dealing with the question of sexual suppression in its
social context, he expands it throughout history.

Marcuse begins with what has been considered to be
the Freudian idea that the suppression of the libido at
an early age is absolutely necessary for the continuation
of society; otherwise civilization would not continue
to exist, since men must work to survive, and the
libido militates against work. Eros uncontrolled is a
fatal danger; therefore the history of mankind has
been a history of repression. This Freud formulates
in the opposition of the Pleasure and Reality principles:
the first geared to erotic gratification and constantly

suppressed. finding relief in fantasy, art, or psychological
distortions; the second, the Reality principle, geared
through the maintenance of civilization through work.
Marcuse, however, points out that all societies have
been minainined according to certain systems of
domination: certain classes have been in control and
have not worked. Therefore simply to postulate scarcity
of resources as the reason for sexual repression in order
to make men work is not enough. He also points out
that lite advances of technology now make the argument
of scarcity untenable, at least in the developed countries,
and yet there i., still repression.

In other words, technology would now make it possible
for necessary work to be reduced to a minimum, and
that, if sexual repression persists, there must be some
other reason for it than scarcity. This reason according
to Marcuse is the interests of domination, and he calls
the repression necessary for this surplus repression.
Even though it would now be theoretically possible for
men to be comparatively freed from work, they are still
being suppressed to make them work. The Reality
principle does not operate independently of history; it
is not just the fact, but also the organization of scarcity,
that creates repression. In other words, as Reich also
said, psychological realities are related to political needs,
and men are being sexually repressed in order to exploit

As Reich does, Marcuse identifies the sex instincts with
the life instincts, and he further postulates that the
suppression of these instincts was necessary to the
development of Western civilization, which defined
itself in terms of reason, productivity, and the
domination of nature.

With the development of a different kind of civilization
with different values, made possible for the first time by
advanced technology, Marcuse sees the possibility of a
change in the Reality principle, which is not something
inevitable and mystical, but historically determined.
With the passing away of both resource scarcity and he

hopes the present systems of political and social
domination and economic exploitation. he sees the
Reality principle merging more and more with the
repressed Pleasure principle, and a whole new lormi or
erotically liberated life possible. As he says-
"We have suggested that the prevalent instinctual repressionl
resulted, not so much from the necessity of labour, but from
the specific social organization of labour imposed by the
interest in domination- that repression was largely surplus
repression. Consequently, the elimination of surplus repression
would per se tend to eliminate, not labour, but the organu/jtion
of human existence into an instrument of labour."

Very much like Reich, Marcuse envisions man freed
from surplus repression as capable of a much more
receptive relationship both with the environment and
with other people. He is therefore postulating a new
form of social organization related to a new kind of
character organization. He calls this "a total revolution
in the mode of perception and feeling" and makes it
clear that it is only possible in a society in which
production is the means, and not the end, of human
activity: "Possession and procurement of the necessities
of life are the prerequisite, rather than the content, of
a free society." He describes at length during the
second half of Eros and Civilization what the content
of such a free society and a free consciousness might be.

Both Marcuse and Reich have begun arguments that I
think are crucial for any discussion of female liberation.
All the oppressive phenomena which we experience as
women clearly are related to social institutions and
structures, and this includes the sexual inhibition which
we experience and the problem of the woman's role as
defined in the family. Since the problems that face
women are related to the structure of the whole society,
ultimately our study of our particular situation as
women will lead us to the realization that we must
attempt to change this whole society.



"AAlmost everyone is concerned with working for a living. Your
career in the world of work can be one of the most important
things in your life.

If you are a boy, the kind of work you do will determine how
well you provide for yourself and your family, what kind of
home and neighbourhood you live in, what kind of friends
you have, and it may even determine the kind of girl you
meet and marry. Certainly, it will have a great influence on
your ability to lead a full and satisfying life.

If you are a girl, marriage is the career you may have in mind.
You will probably work in paid employment for a while be-
fore marriage. You may want to return to work after your
family is grown up. You may even combine marriage with a
career. Women are most numerous in such fields as teaching,
office work, personal and domestic service, health service and
welfare work. But they are making careers for themselves in
practically all fields of work, and girls can find many interest-
ing and rewarding opportunities if they care to look.9

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of the

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Boston, Mass. 02118

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