Reporter News Supplement
B LACK WOMEN INWOMEN'S LIBERATION
By Betty Jean Overton *
"Women of the World Unite," rings the battlecry of the Women's Liberation Movement.-Surprisingly, some black women have added their voices to this cry for "Women's Lib," as the movement is popularly styled. Other black women consider Women's Lib "a peculiar blend of feminism and white liberalism," designed to divert them from the Black revolution and turn their attention to "bras, Miss America contests, kitchens, and male chauvinism."
Those black women who cry as loud as their white counterparts for an end to the traditional rule of female in the freedom movements are tied of "always being relegated to passing out coffee and making: telephone calls, while the men make the speeches and inspire the crowds."
Some of these black women became angered by such statements as Stokely Carmichael's: "The proper position for the female in the (Civil Rights) movement is prone." These women now seek a new.identity outside the traditional stereotypes of "mammies, promiscuous females and dominating wives." They are seemingly trying to fit themselves somewhere into definitions of Women's Lib, such as that offered by Zoe Von Ende of the Denver Post: "an atteihpt to encourage women to determine theirown roles and not be forcedinto positions - emotional, physical, or psychological - established for them by society, traditions which ignore reality and emphasize sentimentality and subtle oppression."
The reasons behind black women championing Women'sLib are, at times, ambiguous. Many of the black women involved will admit that at the present much is still uncertain about the correct path, but what is quite clear to most of these crusaders is that some action must be taken.
A few black women are beginning to feel that it is important, first, to become free as women in order to contribute more
fully to the task of black liberation. Some feel that black men, like all men, have.placed women in the stereotypes of domestics, whose duty it is to stay in the background, cook, clean, have babies and obey, leaving all the glory for the men. Black women point to the civil rights movement as an example of this type of male oppression. With few exceptions, black women have not had active roles in the forefront of the fight. Some, such as Katherine Cleaver and Coretta King, have come to their positions in the shadow of their husbands.
"Most black women in the movement have been expounding all their energies in 'liberating' black men (if you yourself are
not free, how can you liberate someone else?). It is really disgusting to hear black-women talk about giving men their manhood, or allowing them to get it. How can someone 'give' one something as personal as one's adulthood?" wrote Mary Ann Weathers in No More Fun and Games, a journal of female liberation.
Some black women now see themselves as "doubly oppressed." "We have been enslaved not only as black people, but as women, ever since the white slave owners saw fit to use our bodies and bur children for their own selfish purposes," said Maxine White in a recent article in Rat. But Shirley Chisholm, (D-N. Y.), the only black woman in Congress, expressed a similar view when she said she had been more discriminated against "as a woman than as a Negro."
Cory Logan's article appearing in Women expresses another viewpoint. Miss Logan reasons that "because of the oppression of black women, they are the strongest in the fight for liberation. And as they are the most oppressed, they have the right to lead the fight for black liberation. Black women have always led the struggle to fight against white male supremacy dating from slavery times."
* Mrs. Overton, who graduated from Tennessee State University in June, is one of three interns spending the summer working with Race Relations Information Center under the direction of male chauvinist and RRIC staff writer, Jack White. This fall, Mrs. Overton will begin her teaching career.
But some black women are now contending that not only do they have to fight against white male supremacy, they also.
have to combat black males' reliance upon their women to "hold them up." "We've got to be supportive, but not at the expense of our freedoms as women," said Mary Pellow, of Nashville, Tennessee.
Despite critical attacks by other black women and men, most of the black women involved in Women's Lib do not see it as a division of their loyalty to the fight for black liberation, but as an extension of that fight. Black women are beginning to see themselves as having a responsibility as women to advance the cause of Women's Liberation simply because they, as women, have felt oppression. Many feel that all womeu,regardless of color, have an obligation to fight for the rights of women to be free of what they view as the shackles of male oppression.
"We do not have to look at ourselves as someone's personal sex objects, maids, babysitters, domestics and the like in
exchange for a man's attention," wrote Mary Ann Weathers. As an extension of the black movement, Denise Jenkins describes Women's Lib in Ramparts (Dec., 1969) as "more than, a fight to give black women and all women their rightful place in society, more than a fight forjob opportunities for women, more than a desire for equal money for equal work, more than a fight against the stereotype of women as 'a little less than the male.' It is essentially a fight for freedom, for equality, and for dignity, which are the same things that the black revolution has as its goals."
These crusading women predict that black women Will come more .and more to see the importance and relevance of women's liberation. Male chauvinism must die, they contend, be it white or black.
Black women who oppose women's liberation also have strong arguments. Perhaps the strongest is that Women's Lib is potentially diverting. By aligning themselves with the Women's Liberation Movement, they are dividing the strengths of the black revolutionary force. Sue Palmer of the Milwaukee Journal wrote, "For the black women, racial liberation, which seeks to guarantee the right to decent housing, adequate food, reasonable job opportunities, as well as recognition of black identity and culture, takes precedence over sexual liberation. How can we women be so selfish as to think of liberating ourselves while our men remain tied to racism in America. The fight for black liberation, if it is to ever realize any type of concrete success in America, is going to require the joint efforts of black women and men. A house divided cannot stand nor can a nation divided free itself of the shackles of oppression."
Another argument raised by those who cast a jaundiced eye on Women's Lib is that the movement is now primarily an uppermniddle-class white movement that does not relate to black women. "We are not interested in freeing ourselves of our husband's oppression, we are more interested in helping him to find a good job, so he can stand on his own feet," said a young housewife. Although some white Women's Lib groups are trying to make the movement relevant to all women, today It is mainly directed at a segment of the white female population.
"We do not know how to approach black women and we are reluctant to tell them what to do. We do not want them to think of us as the great white liberals," said Joanne Cook, a leader of the Women's Lib group in Nashville. Although some black women have attended meetings of the Women's Liberation Movement in Nashville, they do not take an active part in the organization. This situation is reflected in other cities, and while It is true that some black women have formed their own Women's liberation groups such as Women Against Oppression, in Los Angeles, the movement has not attracted much attention among the majority of black women.
Ironically, some black women see themselves as having more freedom than their white counterparts, and as such, will not stand to profit from an involvement in Women's Lib. The black woman has often had to be the breadwinner and head of the house, not by choice but through necessity. This makes unique her relation to the Women's Liberation Movement. This type of matriarchal system has been hocld up as another argument for the black female to stay away -from the Women's Liberation Movement.
"Why reinforce our men's feeling. of Insecurity?" asked Marion Reed, a civil rights worker. "Why help the white world to further emasculate them, by trying to build ourselves up?" What are they liberating themselves away from? "If I'm liberating myself away from my man," said Mary Pellow, "then women's liberation Is not for me, because in the long run I've got to relate to a man."
As Women's Lib gains impetus in American society, black women remain divided on the role that they should take. Those who are convinced that the struggle holds importance for them join their voices to the chorus of their white sisters and decry the status of woman as underlings. In the other camp, black women continue to fan the home flames of the black revolt, working alongside their nz in the battle for freedom.
RACE RELA TIONS REPORTER is published twice a month by Race Relations Information. Center, Box 6)56, Nashville, Tenn. 3 72)2. Robert F. Campbell, executive director; Jim Leeson, editor, Mrs. Pat Braden, editorial associate. RRJC, the successor to Southern Education Reporting Service, reports on race relations In the United States. Telephone: 615 327-136).