6 Quotes from ‘Female Liberation as the Basis for Social Revolution’

Ideas From Roxanne Dunbar’s Essay About Female Liberation

'Women's Liberation' In Support Of Black Panthers
'Women's Liberation' In Support Of Black Panthers, 1969. David Fenton / Getty Images

Roxanne Dunbar's "Female Liberation as the Basis for Social Revolution" is a 1969 essay that describes society's oppression of the female. It also explains how the women's liberation movement was part of a longer, larger struggle for international social revolution. Here are a few quotations from "Female Liberation as the Basis for Social Revolution" by Roxanne Dunbar.

  • "Women have not just recently begun to struggle against their suppression and exploitation. Women have fought in a million ways in their daily, private lives to survive and to overcome existing conditions."

This relates to the important feminist idea encapsulated in the slogan the personal is political. Women's liberation encouraged women to come together to share their struggles as women because those struggles reflect inequality in society. Rather than suffering alone, women should unite. Roxanne Dunbar points out that women often had to resort to using tears, sex, manipulation or appeals to men's guilt in order to exert power, but as feminists they learned together how to not do those things. The feminist idea of the pro-woman line further explains that women cannot be blamed for devices they have had to use as an oppressed class.

  • "But we do not ignore what seem to be the 'petty' forms of female oppression, such as total identification with housework and sexuality as well as physical helplessness. Rather we understand that our oppression and suppression are institutionalized; that all women suffer the 'petty' forms of oppression."

This means that the oppression is not, in fact, petty. Nor is it individual, because the suffering of women is widespread. And to counteract male supremacy, women must organize into collective action.

  • "The division of labor by sex has not put a lighter physical burden on women, as we might believe, if we look only at the mythology of chivalry in Western ruling class history. Quite the contrary, what was restricted for women was not physical labor, but mobility."

Roxanne Dunbar's historical explanation is that early humans had a division of labor by sex because of the female's reproduction biology. Men roamed, hunted and fought. Women made communities, which they governed. When men joined the communities, they brought their experience of dominance and violent upheaval, and the female became another aspect of male domination. Women had worked as hard, and created society, but had not been privileged to be as mobile as men. Feminists recognized remnants of this when society relegated women to the role of housewife. The female's mobility was again restricted and questioned, while the male was assumed to be free to roam in the world.

  • "We live under an international caste system, at the top of which is the Western white male ruling class, and at the very bottom of which is the female of the non-white colonized world. There is no simple order of 'oppressions' within this caste system. Within each culture, the female is exploited to some degree by the male."

A caste system, as explained in "Female Liberation as the Basis for Social Revolution" is based on identifiable physical characteristics such as sex, race, color or age. Roxanne Dunbar emphasizes the significance of analyzing oppressed females as a caste.

While acknowledging that some people think the term caste is only appropriate in India or to describe Hindu society, Roxanne Dunbar asks what other term is available for "a social category to which one is assigned at birth and from which one cannot escape by any action of one's own."

She also distinguishes between the notion of reducing the oppressed class to the status of thing - as in slaves who were property, or women as sex "objects" - and the truth that a caste system is about humans dominating other humans. Part of the power, the benefit, to the higher caste is that other humans are being dominated.

  • "Even now when 40 percent of the adult female population is in the work force, woman is still defined completely within the family, and the man is seen as 'protector' and 'breadwinner.'"

The family, Roxanne Dunbar asserts, had already fallen apart.

This is because "family" is a capitalist structure that sets up individual competition in society, rather than a communal approach. She refers to family as an ugly individualism that benefits the ruling class. The nuclear family, and particularly the idealized concept of the nuclear family, developed out of and along with the industrial revolution. Modern society encourages the family to continue, from media emphasis to income tax benefits. Women's liberation took a new look at what Roxanne Dunbar calls a "decadent" ideology: the family is inextricably linked with private property, nation states, masculine values, capitalism and "home and country" as the core value.

  • "Feminism is opposed to the masculine ideology. I do not suggest that all women are feminists; though many are; certainly some men are, though very few …By destroying the present society, and building a society on feminist principles, men will be forced to live in the human community on terms very different from the present."

Although many more men could be called feminists than at the time Roxanne Dunbar wrote "Female Liberation as the Basis for Social Revolution," the essential truth is that feminism is opposed to the masculine ideology - not opposed to men. In fact, feminism was and is a humanist movement, as noted. Although anti-feminist backlash would take quotes about "destroying society" out of context, feminism seeks to rethink the oppression in patriarchal society. Female liberation would create a human community where women have political strength, physical strength and collective strength, and where all humans are liberated.

"Female Liberation as the Basis for Social Revolution" was originally published in No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation, issue no. 2, in 1969. It was also included in the 1970 anthology Sisterhood Is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From the Women's Liberation Movement.