Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement

By Linda Gordon; Rosalyn Baxandall | Go to book overview

The contraceptive hormonal pill, introduced in high-dosage form in 1960, was immediately used by millions of women who were denied information about its bothersome and sometimes dangerous side effects. The women's liberation movement was responsible for exposing these dangers and challenging the drug companies' single-minded focus on profit. Women's testimony at the hearings described in this selection sparked a national movement demanding a warning label; after achieving this first goal, feminists continued the struggle and won lower-dosage pills and fuller warning labels in 1977. Oral contraceptive sales dropped steeply after these victories.

The women's movement conducted a similar campaign against unsafe IUDs in the mid- 1970s. In exposed the fact that the Dalkon Shield was responsible for a high incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease, causing at least twenty deaths and hundreds of thousands of severe infections and injuries in the U.S. A class-action suit forced this IUD off the U.S. market in the 1980s (although then the manufacturer, A. H. Robins, "dumped" 35,000 of these devices onto the Third World market).

Feminist campaigns like these not only won specific victories but transformed women into more educated, vigilant, and assertive clients of health care (see chapter 5). The author of the following article, Judith Coburn, is a journalist who covered the Vietnam war as well as the women's liberation movement. Like many female journalist of the time, she combined reporting on movements with participation in them.


Off the Pill

JUDITH COBURN 1970

"MEN, TAKE THIS PILL. WHILE YOU LISTEN TO THE HEARINGS, FEEL IT CIRCULATING THROUGH YOUR SYSTEM. CAUTION: IT MAY CAUSE CANCER, STROKE, DIABETES, BLOOD CLOTS, ETC. ETC."

-- WASHINGTON, D.C. WOMEN'S LIBERATION LEAFLET

Early this year, 30 members of Washington Women's Liberation, carrying this leaflet, disrupted Senator Gaylord Nelson's hearings on the Pill. We went to the hearings to protest the alliance of drug companies, population control experts, and the government, an alliance we believe has given the Pill a clean bill of health at women's expense. The disruption was a particular shock to Senator Nelson--a longtime foe of the drug industry--who held the hearings in what he believed to be women's interests.

To sit in the Nelson hearings was a nightmare. Male witness after male witness droned on in technical language about the more than 50 serious, sometimes fatal, side- effects which might be caused by the Pill. The catch is that most researchers say their evidence doesn't show a definite cause-and-effect relationship between the side-effects and the Pill--yet. Women are left with enough evidence to scare them, but not enough to convince them to give up the miracle Pill and go back to the old methods.

While we pondered this choice, we listened to the most horrifying testimony of all. Dr. Roy Hertz, formerly of the National Institute of Health, told Senator Nelson he feared a Pill-caused cancer epidemic in the U.S. in the 1970's. Suddenly there was a new dimension. A woman might not escape such a catastrophe even if she had gone off the Pill immediately after the first terrifying reports of Pill side- effects came out.

Then we had to listen to the jokes. Senator Thomas McIntyre (a Pill critic) asked a witness, Dr. Robert Kistner of the Harvard Medical School, "Could you distinguish for me the differences between a side-effect and a complication?" Dr. Kistner, "Yes, one takes in estrogen, one frequently becomes nauseated. Estrogen pulls in sodium and women don't excrete the fluid, and they may become edematous and blow up. These are side-effects, but if a woman takes estrogen and gets a blood clot and dies, that is a complication." (General laughter in the hearing room.)

Women are trapped. For years, we have depended on the

-136-

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Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • A Note on the Text IX
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Origins 19
  • 1 - A Movement Arises 21
  • Sex and Caste 21
  • We Don't Need the Men 23
  • An Appeal to Mothers, Black and White 24
  • Burial of Weeping Womanhood 25
  • What Concrete Steps Can Be Taken to Further the Homophile Movement 26
  • Lesbianism and Feminism 27
  • To the Women of the Left 28
  • Principles 34
  • Outreach Leaflet 35
  • Angry Notes from a Black Feminist 37
  • 2 - The New Left 41
  • Underground Woman 42
  • Women Unite! Free the Panthers! 44
  • Declaration of Women's Independence 45
  • Women Shake Up SDS Session 48
  • Letter to the Left 51
  • Sisters in Struggle 1970 52
  • Goodbye to All That 53
  • Unite to Win: - Chicago Women's Graphics Collective 58
  • Pissed Off About the War in Cambodia 1970 59
  • WUNTRAC 61
  • Cartoon and Letter Criticizing Sexist Cartoon 63
  • Platform 64
  • Statement 65
  • 3 - New Organization Forms 67
  • The Small Group Process 67
  • Gainesville Women's Liberation 1970 70
  • Analysis of Chicago Women's Liberation School 82
  • 4 - Feminist Theory 84
  • What Is a Woman? 84
  • Are Men Really the Enemy? 88
  • Manifesto 90
  • A Historical and Critical Essay for Black Women 93
  • Socialist Feminism 96
  • On Separatism 111
  • I Am What I Am 112
  • II - Bodies 115
  • 5 - Health 117
  • 5 - Health 118
  • She Loves Rape 118
  • Wonder Woman 123
  • Self-Help Clinic 124
  • Brochure 126
  • Using a Natural Sponge 1976 127
  • Breastfeeding Successfully in Spite of Doctors and Hospitals 128
  • HR 1504 130
  • Breathing Life into Ourselves: The Evolution of the National Black Women's Health Project 131
  • 6 - Reproductive Rights 134
  • Women Must Control the Means of Reproduction 134
  • Poor Black Women 135
  • Off the Pill 136
  • On Abortion and Abortion Law 140
  • Hernia: A Satire on Abortion Law Repeal 144
  • Women Learn to Perform Abortions 145
  • Who Needs a Shepherd? 147
  • Friends of the Fetus 148
  • An African American Woman Speaks Out for Abortion Rights 149
  • Sterilization: Rights and Abuse of Rights 150
  • Posters Against Sterilization Abuse 1973 152
  • Starting Over 154
  • 7 - Sexuality 155
  • Venus Observed 155
  • The Happiest Day of My Life 163
  • Workshop Resolutions 166
  • Smash Phallic Imperialism 169
  • HIRE (Hooking Is Real Employment) 173
  • 8 - Objectification, Harassment, Violence 175
  • Death in the Spectacle 175
  • Body Odor and Social Order 181
  • No More Miss America 184
  • Excerpt from a Critique of the Miss America Protest 185
  • Antes de hacer dieta . . . 189
  • Fat Liberation Manifesto 191
  • Little Rapes 192
  • Rape: The All American Crime 195
  • The Case of Inez Garcia 201
  • The Sexual Abuse of Children 204
  • Women's Martial Arts Demonstrations 206
  • Karate as Self-Defense for Women 207
  • La Virgen de Guadalupe Defendiendo los Derechos de los Xicanos - [The Virgin of Guadalupe Defending the Rights of Chicanos] 209
  • III - Institutions 211
  • 9 - Family 213
  • For Sadie and Maud 213
  • What's in a Name? 216
  • Machismo 217
  • Communal Living 221
  • The Five of Us (With a Little Help from Our Friends) 222
  • Hippie Communes 225
  • The Single Mother Experience 229
  • Lesbian Mothers and Their Children 233
  • Why Day Care? 234
  • 10 - Education 237
  • 10 - Education 237
  • Consciousness Razors 237
  • What Every Young Girl Should Ask! 242
  • Testimony of a High School Pitcher 243
  • Courses, Spring 1973 246
  • Library Sit-in for Women's History 249
  • Dear Sisters 250
  • 11 - Work 254
  • The Politics of Housework 255
  • Wages for Housework 258
  • Wages Against Housework 259
  • Margaret F. Stewart, Our Lady of Guadalupe 261
  • Luring Women into the Armed Forces 262
  • AFT Resolution on Women's Rights 1970 263
  • Learning Auto Repair 264
  • Open Letter to Local #1299 265
  • The Era of Tokenism and the Role Model Trap 267
  • Women Unionize Office Jobs 270
  • TWA Stewardesses on Strike 273
  • Sexual Harassment: Working Women's Dilemma 274
  • Every Mother a Working Mother 278
  • Welfare Is a Women's Issue 279
  • 12 - Culture 282
  • At Home in San José 282
  • Samplers: One of the Lesser American Arts 283
  • How to Name Baby 285
  • Anatomy Is Destiny or . . . Just Like Daddy 286
  • Pregnant Woman in a Ball of Yarn 291
  • Linen Closet 292
  • "There Was a Young Woman Who Swallowed a Lie . . . ," 293
  • Breaking Out 295
  • Witch 296
  • Medusa 297
  • The Young Warrior 298
  • Mountain-Moving Day 299
  • Women Invade The Boston Globe 300
  • I've Been in Her Shoes 302
  • Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe 309
  • Among the Things That Use to Be 310
  • In the Beauty Parlor 311
  • Sources 313
  • Further Reading 318
  • Acknowledgments 319
  • Index of Contributors 321
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