(The following 1998 interview first appeared in the May 1998 issue of Z magazine. See parts 1-5 below. To see the current issue of Z magazine, you can check out its web site at
In the 1970s, the women’s liberation movement developed and grew. Were you involved in any feminist groups when the new wave was originating?
Bernardine Dohrn [BD]: When I came to New York in 1967, I became part of a group of women. Suddenly we were meeting once a week, talking with other women. It seemed to be happening spontaneously everywhere. This small women’s group met through 1967-1968, just discussing our lives, really. How our personal concerns tied to bigger issues. We worked our way toward our understanding of how much gender influenced how we thought about ourselves and ways in which being a woman at that moment in time created barriers to full humanness. We “discovered” together the ways in which male supremacy influenced every aspect of our lives.
The women students who took part in the Columbia rebellion, of course, on the one hand had a secondary role and were relegated to the service of the great men speakers. On the other hand, Columbia and Barnard women were, themselves, critical organizers, analysts, thinkers, and speakers.
So women were coming to radical consciousness at that period of time. Part of what we were doing was, I think, not surprisingly, coming back to ourselves through the process of having been involved in struggling for equality and freedom and justice on behalf of others.
One of the most interesting things about Revolution and social change struggle is the relationship between external and internal change. It’s not an either/or process. You are transformed and opened to the possibility of who you can become, in the process of getting involved in justice and fairness for other people.
The real heart of the 1960s movements to me was that rejection on the part of millions of young people in the United States that “other people are not like us,” that there’s a “them” and an “us”, that the enemy is not human. The solidarity of humanity can be forged across different lines.
Today [in 1998] we’re told that people act only in their immediate self-interest. History is replete with examples which belie this reductionist, reactionary notion. Columbia exemplifies the capacity of people to choose to engage with a resistant world, to act as if people can be better, to challenge racism and national chauvinism.
Do you think the gains the women’s liberation movement made can ever be rolled back or reversed?
BD: Gains can always be unraveled. And frequently are. Unintended consequences happen all along the way of social change. Some things were changed forever, obviously. The role of women in the United States and in the world is not going to go back to what it was. There are powerful forces at work trying to control women’s bodies, to put women back in “their place”, to lock us exclusively back in the home, to divide more privileged women from women who suffer the most, as in welfare reform. All of these forces are constantly at work. Not just in the women’s movement, but in all social change movements. (end of part 6)
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