The Paper that Started It All
Frustrated with the unequal gender relations in her marriage and the way in which men ignored women's politcal ideas at local anti-war and civil rights meetings altogether, Beverly Jones, activist and wife of a UF professor, would sit down to write "Towards a Female Liberation Movement" in 1968.
Judith Brown, a member of the UF civil rights student organization of which Jones and her husband were supervisors, would join her to write the second part of the position paper that same year. Brown would also urge Jones to finish her section in time for the first Women's Liberation meeting in Sandy Springs, Maryland where the paper circulated from one feminist's hands to another and became widely acclaimed as "The Florida Paper."
"The Florida Paper" stated that men had too much at stake to make sincere efforts towards reforming the New Left to include women as equals; women were naive to think otherwise. Jones argued,
There is an almost exact parallel between the role of women and the role of black people in this society. Together they constitute the great maintenance force sustaining the white American male. They wipe his ass and breast feed him when he is little, they school him in his youthful years, do his clerical work and raise his and their replacements later, and all through his life in the factories, on the migrant farms, in the restaurants, hospitals, offices, and homes, they sew for him, stoop for him, cook for him, clean for him, sweep, run errands, haul away his garbage, and nurse him when his frail body falters.5
Jones and Brown intended to interrupt this system of maintenance by separating from men in the local student civil rights organization and addressing their own needs through a nation-wide campaign for women's rights. Yet Jones noted that women could not separate physically from men unless they first freed themselves from mental trappings, such as romanticism.
Women who would avoid or extricate themselves from the common plight I've described and would begin new lives, new movements, and new worlds, must first learn to acknowledge the reality of their present condition. They have got to reject the blind and faulty categories of thought foisted on them by the male order for its own benefit.... In other words, they must reject romanticism. Romance, like the rabbit of the dog track, is the illusive, fake, and never-attained reward which for the benefit and amusement of our masters keeps us running and thinking in safe circles.5
In calling for women to put aside romantic notions for a more realistic and strategic perspective, the paper also cited celibacy as a short-term tactic for non-married women to use in order to "stop the world and get off".6 In other words, women could use celibacy as a transient space to move in and out of when they felt the need to separate from men and social pressures in order to become self-conscious of their own thoughts and considerate of the possibilities outside the perimeters of "safe circles."
As an important side note, women's all-female communes would also allow for experimenting with sexuality and relationship structures. Brown, however, criticized communes for their lack of political direction, structure, and constructiveness while envisioning a more revolutionary type of space that could establish women's political self-consciousness. Seven years later, The Women's Center would be the fullfilment of Brown's vision.
In 1968, the two women would travel to Sandy Springs, Maryland for the first Women's Liberation national meeting. There they befriended New York Radical Women and exchanged papers with them: "Notes from the First Year" for "Towards a Female Liberation Movement," which would later become well-known as "The Florida Paper." By forging the beginnings of a life-long partnership with radical feminists in New York, Gainesville would soon become "the southern base" for a "North-South connection."1
"The Florida Paper" helped mobilize and transform a small set of inchoate women's groups into a national force of social change. Chicago West Side Group member, Naomi Weisstein reacted to the publication saying:
'After we got started, for months we were paralyzed with doubt: was there any need for an independent women's movement, since the triumph of socialism would surely dismantle the patriarchy? Then the paper came out. It transformed our thinking... Now we knew we were doing the right thing. Here was a vision of the liberation of women so real, palpable, and compelling that our doubts dissolved and we forged ahead... After that paper, there would be no turning back for us or for the rest of the movement.'7
Despite national acclaim for the "The Florida Paper," Gainesville lacked one important component to take part in the women's liberation movement, a local women's liberation group. In actuality, Gainesville had only a paper, a theoretical framework, but no one to help spread the word or help in organizing a local group.
At this time, Gainesville's new-found friendship with New York Radical Women became most evident. New York women Carol Hanisch, Kathie Sarachild, and Irene Peslikis relocated to Gainesville and there helped found the Gainesville Women's Liberation Group along with Judith Brown and Carol Giardina.8
As "The Florida Paper" passed from hand to hand among women across the nation, Brown and other women inspired by the paper would distribute it throughout the Gainesville community, but not without opposition. One feminist recalls:
They would distribute it in bars and in women's restrooms and they would try to start consciousness-raising groups. The hostility was so tremendous that organizing in the women's restrooms was the only thing that they could do. At the time there was such antagonism.
In response, women often huddled around bathroom stalls to plan the next consciousness-raising location. From 1968 to 1973, various women's groups formed in Gainesville as the paper reached women throughout the community, galvanizing local women's consciousness and increasing restlessness among women. Not until the mid-1970s, however, would the movement become most apparent and have the longest-lasting impact on members of the local community as women moved outside the privacy of their homes and segregated restrooms and transitioned into the public with the founding of several feminist institutions.