Document 88A: Elaine DeLott Baker, "The women's memo at Waveland," Denver, Colorado, , Elaine DeLott Baker Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. 2 pp.
This is one of the first journal pieces that I wrote after I began examining the dynamics of my involvement in the movement in conjunction with the beginnings of our book group. In it, I discuss the Literacy House conversations that galvanized us to write the memo and my view of its central message.
The women's memo at Waveland:
Emmie points out that our talks as women about being women at the Literacy House at Tougaloo during the spring, summer, fall before Waveland were deep and far ranging and about the stereotyping, internal oppression, confusions resulting from our sexual involvements, sorting out our lives. Work was a low item on the heirarcy of concerns we talked about. None of us were really that interested in advancing in work, in being leaders in the movement and in SNCC. For the most part we felt lucky to be there and willing to do whatever we could to move the struggle forward. To frame the position paper in terms of discrimination against women in the world of work we shared in SNCC was probably an effort to make the discussions in which we had been involved acceptable and understandable to our work comrades. By pointing out gender discrimination (for which we did not have a name) we attempted to bring our conversations down to an understandable level, to point out how these deep concerns we had related to our work world together. Framing the document in those terms has led to misunderstanding. It sounds as though we were trying to get ahead, get power, get position. However, at the time, the main thrust was to draw a parallel between women's oppression and the oppression of blacks, between race and gender, both of which were manifested in caste, women's caste and black caste. The list and comments about women's treatment in SNCC were a way to communicate the central point, which was the similarity in the stereotyping treatment of blacks and women. Feminism as it has developed in our time is largely about rectifying societal inequities in power and choice and the document has been read largely in those terms. Our conversations with each other were more in the nature of sharing information, experiences, emotions; sorting out our feelings about being treated in certain ways because we were women: we had come to see ourselves as without boundaries caused by accidents of birth, our self vision liberated by the liberating vision of the movement of which we were a part. This liberating self vision springing from the movement was the center of our explorations and expansions. We were engaged in introspection and intimacies of spectacular proportions. Obviously we couldn't share all this with SNCC in a paper. However it was all hugely exciting and we wanted to share, to come out, as it were. Talking about work was a way to frame and share our private lives and concerns. The central theme, however, which was the parallel between all persons experiencing stereotyping, seems to have been lost in the years since our writing.
Recovering our private memories of writing the memo allows us to reconstruct why it had the tone it had, the style. We were diverse and several of us had come from situations which would lend themselves to this kind of writing, which is polemical and somewhat angry, not to say whiney.
Our motive was to share these secret ideas we'd been developing. It was a move toward opening and getting closer to our comrades. Perhaps we have been given too much credit. We were young and new in our ideas; we didn't do the greatest job of presenting these notions. What has been written focuses on our differences (the comparative power of groups by gender and race) while we were really trying to talk about our similarities.
We also seem to feel that the important thing to communicate was how we opened up into these new areas of ourselves and related them to a political critique. We opened by talking to each other within this political context in which we were all living.
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