Women's Liberation: Finding Our Heads

FOR THOSE OF US who passed through high school in the firm belief of the future: we could have the best of our own "liberation," Radcliffe offered a particularly reassuring image of the man's and the woman's world. Mary Bunting continually stressed her image of the ideal Radcliffe girl: wife, mother, career.

Our minds formulated vague and happy pictures of warm homes with interesting tweed-jacketed or blue-jeaned husbands who "respected our minds," kiddies diligently manipulating creative playthings, and also, vaguer still, some fulfilling, creative "work."

But what's wrong with that? Since obviously one would have to be maladjusted to even suggest that such a goal would be undesirable, let me begin at least by describing how it is impossible, even for those Radcliffe women who are assumed to be of the economic elite and therefore able to employ more exploited women than themselves to do the unpleasant household chores.

One of the main problems is of course our own heads, as they have been formed by our entire social education before we ever reached Radcliffe-the role of women in our own families and high schools, those roles which we were taught we must act out in order to be a "good woman"- whatever else we were. ..

Whatever else we might be, we were told, we must remember that the true fulfillment of a woman is through a man, that what our husbands chose to do would be ultimately more important, that we would want to marry a man "more intelligent" than we were, and that even if we were more intelligent we should never let him know it for fear of being considered a "castrating female."

WE TRIED our best to be sexy and interesting, feminine and creative. Why then were the Harvard guys always the more creative musicians and writers, the more dynamic political leaders, while we had the obviously inferior merit of "getting better grades?" We, accepting even the humor of male-dominated Harvard society, laughed at the Radcliffe grindiness guarded a secret contempt for our sisters who were insecure enough to work hard, and strove to be part of male society.

Those of us, who without realizing it, were becoming female Uncle Toms, succeeded to varying degrees in becoming partly accepted as equals by some of the men we knew. We never asked why women were more grindly and less interesting-why we ourselves were less interesting than any number of men we knew.

I never realized the degree to which I held these attitudes until I left Radcliffe, and even more important, until a movement began among women which made me realize how closely my lot was bound up with theirs, with the most "privileged" and the most oppressed, and just what the Radcliffe image of the emancipated female had done to my mind.

THE IMPORTANT thing to realize from the outset, is that it is impossible to be inferior and equal at the same time: it is impossible to consider your role as a "good woman" to be that of tenderly supporting whatever male you happen to be with in whatever he wants to do, and at the same time make plans for your own creative existence.

Ultimately the feeling of temporariness included by the knowledge that you will undoubtedly live where your man wants to live, that your work will of course be interrupted by children, etc., means that women often have great difficulty applying themselves to a long term task or occupation, and tend to restlessly take up occupations and leave them, developing what some psychologists have recently dubbed "the will to fail."

That is women observed in a wide variety of occupations performed significantly less well where men were present than in situations where there were all women. Why? The fear of being a "castrating female"?

At Radcliffe the situation is more complicated, because women do have the desire to succeed academically-but it must be remembered that academic success per se is a significantly inferior quality in a community where creativity and brilliance are the ideal, where men pride themselves on their capacity to spend a semester directing plays, then walk in to an exam and do as well as a woman who has spent the semester grinding.

Working hard at tasks defined by others is the quality of a submissive creature, and we have always been taught to be more submissive than men. This in no way means that women do not become revolutionaries-indeed, our revolt is all the more profound and authentic when it does occur, because our entire lives have been spent, in a variety of subtle ways, in a service of subservient capacity.

THE TENDENCY of women to go into social work, teaching, nursing and other service-type work can be seen in some ways as a positive value in a society which puts little stress on social welfare. But it results from a situation of fundamental inequality.

Men run the society, are politicians, corporate executives, leaders, and creative artists; women are secretaries, waitresses, teachers and housewives-public or private servants.

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