Scholar and Feminist IX Petition, circa 1982

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/8’ .

/May 15, 1982

Dear Friend:

Many of you attended The Scholar and the Feminist IX, "Towards a Politics of Sexuality," on April 24, 1982, or followed it through recent press coverage. Those involved in the conference are concerned about certain distortions being circulated in our community, particularly among those not present. We feel that it is important to reiterate the purpose of the conference and to criticize the Coalition's (for a Feminist Sexuality and Against s/m) tactics, leaflet, and general tendency to conflate, exaggerate, and distort. We have drawn up a petition, which we hope to circulate to feminist, gay, and radical press.

A copy of the petition is enclosed; it speaks for itself. We hope that you will sign it. '

Please return the form on p.3 as soon as possible (and before June 5). Feel free to share the petition with like—minded friends.

Thanks very much for your support.


May 15, 1982

We the undersigned strongly criticize the unprincipled actions of a group calling itself the Coalition for a Feminist Sexuality and Against Sadomasochism in its protest against the ninth annual Scholar and Feminist conference, and in its personal attacks on several of the invited speakers and planning committee members.

On April 24, 1982, the Women's Center at Barnard College held this year's conference, entitled "Towards a Politics of Sexuality." The aim of the conference, as its program stated, was "to address women's sexual autonomy, choice and pleasure, acknowledging that sexuality is simultaneously a domain of restriction, repression and danger as well as exploration, pleasure and agency." To this end, the Women's Center and a planning committee of feminist scholars, writers, students, and activists invited some 40 women, representing a wide range of disciplines and perspectives, to speak and lead workshops on sexuality and feminism. Their diverse subject matter included such issues as feminist thinking about sex in the 19th century, debates about sexuality within the present movement, childhood and adolescent sexuality, eroticism and taboo, the relation of sexuality to class and race, and the question of whether there is such a thing as a "politically correct" feminist sexuality.

The signers of this letter, many of whom were actively involved in the conference as planners, speakers, or participants, regard it as an important intellectual and political event, a breakthrough for feminism. An understanding of sexuality is crucial to an analysis of women's oppression, yet sex remains an explosive, politically dangerous subject, evoking ecumenical hostility from the right, left and center. Within the feminist movement, demands for ideological conformity have increasingly stifled honest discussion of sexual issues.

We see the behavior of the Coalition——organized by Women Against Pornography, Women Against Violence Against Women, and New York Radical Feminists-—as an appalling example of this tendency. In the days preceding the Barnard conference, Coalition members called prominent feminists to denounce the organizers for inviting practitioners and proponents of "anti-feminist" sexuality to speak. At the conference, the Coalition distributed a leaflet protesting the event for "endorsing a tiny offshoot of the women's movement that is part of the backlash against radical feminism" and excluding "feminists who have developed the [sic;7 feminist analysis of sexual violence." The leaflet also accused participants of supporting violence against women and child abuse. Immediately afterward, opponents of the conference began spreading rumors that it had been taken over by sadomasochists.

What prompted these attacks? The half dozen or so women cited in the protest flyer, either by name or by unmistakable hints, have all spoken publicly,written, and/or joined organizations.expressing ideas about sexuality, pornography, the anti—pornography movement, sadomasochism, or butch—femme roles that disagree with the Coalition's politics. In choosing speakers, the planning committee deliberately included feminists with controversial ideas and minority viewpoints. We unequivocally support

the right of these voices to be part of the conference and the feminist movement. We protest the Coalition's efforts to silence sexual non-conformists and non—conformist thinking and to intimidate anyone who dares create a

forum which includes such views.

when the Coalition charges that they were excluded, its members

misunderstand the central goal of the conference which was not to restate present positions but to critically examine theories of sexuality, both within and without the women's movement. The organizers wanted a conference that would explore the dialectic of sexual pleasure and sexual danger in women's lives. They therefore invited theorists committed to integrating these two poles of women's experience, rather than concentrating on one or the other. In addition, since the anti—pornography position is the most familiar and widely publicized feminist perspective on sexuality, indeed the View that has dominated discussion within the movement, the committee felt that the best way to encourage fresh insights and further exploration was to give preference to feminists whose ideas or fields of interest have received less public attention. We think this is a reasonable approach to planning a conference, though one on which honorable people may disagree.

But there is a larger issue at stake. Far from representing a

"tiny offshoot" of the movement, the Barnard conference affirmed and embodied the mainstream radical tradition of women's liberation, which has always emphasized the breaking of taboos and honest sharing of women's thoughts

and feelings as the bedrock of feminist theory. In response, the Coalition has not only attacked individuals, but has attempted to dismiss and discredit the entire conference by identifying it with an unpopular minority. In the process, they have not hesitated to use classic Mccarthyite smear tactics—- lies, distortions, innuendo, and guilt by association.

The Coalition's leaflet lumps together pornography, s/m fantasies and consensual practices, butch—femme roles, and dissenting opinions on any or all of these subjects as a monolith called "reactionary patriarchal sexuality," which it then equates with actual violence and coercion. The leaflet further claims that "politically incorrect sexuality" is ; code for s/m, though anyone familiar with feminist politics knows that this label has, unhappily, been freely applied to a wide variety of practices including heterosexuality, enjoyment of penetration, and wearing dresses.

Proceeding from these erroneous assumptions, the flyer goes on to imply that any woman who has expressed certain opinions, fraternized with certain individuals, joined certain groups or even defended these groups’ right to exist is thereby disqualified from speaking as a feminist 9n_any subject. Two speakers are identified as "representing" groups though in fact they attended the conference as individuals, representing only themselves. In addition, the Coalition's descriptions of individuals and groups contain outright misinformation. To cite a few examples:

--The leaflet falsely characterizes No More Nice Girls, an abortion rights group represented at an organizing workshop, as advocates of porno- graphy. Not coincidentally, several members of the group have publicly

criticized the anti—pornography movement.

--The leaflet states that Samois, a group of lesbian—feminist sadomasochists, "has endorsed the stand of NAMBLA Zfiorth American Man—Boy Love AssociatiQn7 against laws that prohibity adults from sexually abusing children." Samois has made no such endorsement. (In any case, NAMBLA's stand is against age of consent laws, not laws prohibiting child abuse.)

--The Lesbian Sex Mafia is falsely identified as "Samois' New York City counterpart." LSM addresses the issue of "politically incorrect sexuality" in general, including but not limited to s/m.

The Coalition's leaflet and its fanciful efforts to represent the conference as a sadomasochist plot convey two ominous threats. One is that simply including s/m as a topic of discussion will generate so much hysteria that the diversity of the conference and the other issues it raises will be ignored. Thus the only way to avoid being branded "an s/m conference" is to censor ourselves and exclude the subject altogether. The other threat is that anyone who disagrees with the Coalition's line--or speaks up about her experience with "incorrect practices" like butch—femme roles——will be labeled an s/m advocate. If this doesn't intimidate dissenters into silence, it will at least confuse the public about what they are saying. The function of these bully tactics is to block free discussion

‘and in effect blacklist "unacceptable" people and ideas. Such tactics

are all too reminiscent of the lesbian—baiting that accompanied the rise of the women's movement.

With their insistence that they already know what feminists should think about sex-—and that anyone who disagrees must be purged from the movement——the Coalition repudiates the spirit of free inquiry and the basic principles of a democratic radical movement. If anything, it is their authoritarianism, fear of difference, and lack of principle that deserves the label "backlash."


Please sign my name to the above statement, which will be circulated to feminist, gay, and radical press. The petition will list your name and affiliation only, but we'd like your address and phone to keep you posted on the petition.

name address



*for purposes of identification only.

Mail to: Vance

44-09 Skillman Avenue Sunnyside, NY lllO4