This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email email@example.com
Science for the People: A Natural Birth of a Woman’s Group
by Carol Axelrod & Ruth Crocker
“I am doing good political work in Science for the People, but I’m not dealing with the special problems of women.”
“I’d like to write an article for the magazine but I’m not sure I can do one that’s good enough.”
“In my laboratory I am taken less seriously than my male co-workers.”
“I want to get into a study group to read Marx, but I am intimidated by people (usually men) who have more theoretical knowledge than I do.”
“I would like to see a column in the magazine devoted to women’s issues, and more articles written by women.”
“It is easy to pretend that all remnants of sexism have been eliminated from the Boston chapter of Science for the People, but we women know it’s still there. How can one deal with it in the most effective way?”
It was clearly time for us to meet together as women in Science for the People and to end our isolation from each other. The first two meetings were explosions of concerns, resentments and interests that had been dammed up for too long. By the time the third meeting was over, we had divided into two groups in order to fulfill the major needs which had emerged.
The impetus for our meeting can be traced back to last Fall’s Eastern Regional Conference where it was decided that people in the local chapters should take a close look at problems of “sexism, racism and elitism.” The Boston chapter then held two general meetings about “Interpersonal Relations and the Class Struggle.” These meetings centered around problems that have been destructive to our work, but we never really got around to sexism or any issues of special concern to women. Subsequently the Boston Steering Committee suggested that we plan for a general meeting to deal with the question of radical feminism versus socialist feminism. A planning committee (composed of women and men) started to form, but it soon became clear to a few of the women involved that what was really needed was not a theoretical discussion but instead a vehicle for women to get together on the basis of our common experiences as women, in science, in the Left, and in Science for the People. So that’s what we’re doing. And the result is that there are so many possible directions to take, so many needs are being expressed, that we are amazed we didn’t do it sooner.
Our original group of about eighteen has split just about in half. The two groups meet separately most of the time but we’ll all get together about once a month. One of the groups is going to focus on studying together, and has arranged to be one of ten study groups that are formed for the summer by a new organization of socialist feminists. Our alliance with the social feminists allows us to participate in building what will hopefully become a strong, action-oriented, politically coherent organization, and remain at the same time primarily identified with Science for the People. The other half of us is more interested in meeting as a support group that will deal more specifically with immediate problems of sexism at our places of work and even within Science for the People itself. One idea is to focus on a different person’s situation and concentrate all our attention on this one woman. We expect that common denominators will emerge from these discussions, that the larger context which created the problems will supplant our previous personal feelings that individual neuroses are the basis for negative experience.
It is important for us, as Linda Gordon says in her article in Liberation,1
to understand any given situation from the point of view of the most oppressed group concerned. When there are women present, this group will always be female. When there are race differences, it will be black women. When there are class differences, it will be poor women.
Most of us feel so high and optimistic about this new mode of activity in Boston Science for the People that we hardly notice that another meeting has been added to our already overloaded schedules. Somehow these gatherings just don’t feel like the meetings we’re used to. We expect our women’s group is going to be not only a learning and growing experience for us, but also that it will add to the coherence and effectiveness of the organization as a whole.
We would like reactions, ideas, comments, etc. from readers and from other Science for the People chapters.