I spent the day trying to grasp the nuances of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union’s position on culture.
The CWLU, a socialist-feminsit group, was unusual in the attention they dedicated to culture. Rather than viewing culture as yet another part of superstructure, and thus dismissing it as inconsequential, the CWLU sought to understand how culture related to the base.
In a much circulated manifesto, Socialist Feminism (1972), the CWLU proclaimed
Currently there are two ideological poles, representing the prevailing tendencies within the movement. One is the direction toward new lifestyles within a women’s culture, emphasizing personal liberation and growth, and the relationship of women to women. Given our real need to break loose from the old patterns — socially, psychologically, and economically — and given the necessity for new patterns in the post revolutionary society, we understand, support and enjoy this tendency.
In a document earlier that year, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Band defended the use of culture as a revolutionary force.
These positions were way out there for people who claimed to be socialist, and particularly for women who were still in conversation if not relationship with socialist men, many of whom dismissed the need for an “autonomous” women’s liberation movement. The socialist line was that sexism would end with capitalism.
What is so interesting for my project is to compare the rhetoric used by artists interested in women’s culture. From Feminist Studio Workshop, by Arlene Raven, Judy Chicago and Sheila de Bretteville Womanspace Feb/march 1973, 17.
Our need for self-realization, and the support of the women movement, enabled us to reject the restrictions for female role, but the rejection of the narrow female role was only the first step in opening up our creative lives … we will come together as a community of working individuals whose work grows out of our experiences was women and our shared social context.
The CWLU went to great lengths in Socialist Feminism to point out that attention to culture must be combined with
a structural analysis of our society and its economic base. It focuses on the ways in which productive relations oppress us
Feminist artists did this through analysis of sexism in the art world and via rejection of the art object as a vehicle for consumption. One group, the Feminist Art Workers, eschewed the privileged title of artist and performed their work for the women’s movement community, rather than in art venues.