#IWD2016, The Outlaws to Inlaws Version
It’s International Women’s Day today, and in celebration of that fact I am sharing the cover of one of the earliest issues of the radical feminist newspaper off our backs. The image of a bride laying in a coffin pretty much sums up what radical feminism was about: killing off patriarchy and rebuilding society based on who women really were, not what patriarchy, and it’s handmaidens colonialism, capitalism, and racism, wanted and needed them to be.
It is hard to imagine how limited options were for white, middle-class women, and how the very notion of ‘options’ barely existed for women of color, working-class women, and disabled women. Back in 1970 writer Nancy Ferr shared with off our backs readers a glimpse of how, for her at least, refusing marriage was like staring into the abyss. After rejecting her boyfriend’s offer of marriage she found herself:
“in that limbo that is ‘shortly after college graduation.’ And in my head I have it all worked out… There is no place for women who aren’t either married or out of the competition… I know that my puking and my hysterics [after the marriage proposal] were based on my soul (or whatever) fighting back for a place and a space that were MINE some where altogether different from the only ‘reality’ my society offered. Yes, I’ve got it all worked out in my head. But that’s a long hard struggle away from having it all worked out it my heart… Marriage still spins through my mind, alternately death and salvation. It’s taken a whole year to build a tiny speck of easily-broken confidence and knowledge behind the faith that there is a ‘way’ for me in this world. But every morning it’s still a struggle just to get out of bed.”
A struggle to get out of bed? Wow. As a white, middle-class woman myself I find that impossible to relate to, but such was the reality for women in 1970, whose future was assumed to be one in which she was married with children. Although there had always been women who didn’t or hadn’t married, this generation had to invent what adulthood meant, and they did so in a society that was at times deeply hostile toward their efforts (although it must be said that general support for the women’s movement’s goals was much, much higher in America in the early 1970s than it is today).
The bride was not the only “woman” feminists killed off. During a march for peace in the mid-1960s, American radical feminists critiqued the women’s peace movement for relying on maternalism –protest grounded in women’s moral and political authority as mothers – by holding a funeral for “weeping womanhood.”
Radical feminists did not want equality within the status quo; they wanted to identify the roots of women’s oppression and choke the life out of it. Marriage and the nuclear family was one of the very earliest institutions to be attacked.
Radical feminists’ critique of patriarchal oppression has led to significant changes in marriage law, and to social, economic, and cultural changes as well. We are so very far from overturning sexism, but the dead bride on the cover of off our backs does not have the same symbolic value as it did in 1970. Indeed, it is a bitter pill for many radical activists that marriage equality has replaced marriage abolition as the image of the progressive society.