The following document
was produced by women activists of the civil rights organization, SNCC
(Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), for a November 1964 organizational
meeting. The authors claimed that their had been repeated sexism
against women, and they sought to address these grievances among their
colleagues. Historians have also come to view this document as an
early manifesto for the emerging Women's Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Position Paper: Women in the Movement
Undoubtedly this list will seem strange to
some, petty to others, laughable to most. The list could
Staff was involved in crucial constitutional
revisions at the Atlanta staff meeting in October. A large committee was
appointed to present revisions to the staff. The committee was all men.
Two organizers were working together to form
a farmers league. Without asking any questions, the male organizer immediately
assigned the clerical work to the female organizer although both had had
equal experience in organizing campaigns.
Although there are some women in Mississippi
project who have been working as long as some of the men, the leadership
group in COFO is all men.
A woman in a field office wondered why she
was held responsible for day-to-day decisions, only to find out later that
she had been appointed project director but not told.
A fall 1964 personnel and resources report
on Mississippi projects lists the number of people on each project. The
section on Laurel, however, lists not the number of persons, but "three
One of SNCC's main administrative officers
apologizes for appointment of a woman as interim project director in a
key Mississippi project area.
A veteran of two years' work for SNCC in two
states spends her day typing and doing clerical work for other people in
Any woman in SNCC, no matter what her position
or experience, has been asked to take minutes in a meeting when she and
other women are outnumbered by men.
The names of several new attorneys entering
a state project this past summer were posted in a central movement office.
The first initial and last name of each lawyer was listed. Next to one
name was written: (girl)
Capable, responsible, and experienced women
who are in leadership positions can expect to have to defer to a man on
their project for final decisionmaking.
A session at the recent October staff meeting
in Atlanta was the first large meeting in the past couple of years where
a woman was asked to chair.
continue as far as there are women in
the movement. Except that most women don't talk about these kinds of incidents,
because the whole subject is [not] discussible--strange to some, petty
to others, laughable to most. The average white person finds it difficult
to understand why the Negro resents being called "boy," or being thought
of as "musical" and "athletic," because the average white person doesn't
realize that he assumes he is superior. And naturally he doesn't understand
the problem of paternalism. So too the average SNCC worker finds it difficult
to discuss the woman problem because of the assumptions of male superiority.
Assumptions of male superiority are as widespread and deep rooted and every
much as crippling to the woman as the assumptions of white supremacy are
to the Negro. Consider why it is in SNCC that women who are competent,
qualified, and experienced, are automatically assigned to the "female"
kinds of jobs such as typing, desk work, telephone work, filing, library
work, cooking, and the assistant kind of administrative work but rarely
the "executive" kind.
The woman in SNCC is often in the same
position as that token Negro hired in a corporation. The management thinks
that it has done its bit. Yet, every day the Negro bears an atmosphere,
attitudes and actions which are tinged with condescension and paternalism,
the most telling of which are when he is not promoted as the equally or
less skilled whites are. This paper is anonymous. Think about the kinds
of things the author, if made known, would have to suffer because of raising
this kind of discussion. Nothing so final as being fired or outright exclusion,
but the kinds of things which are killing to the insides--insinuations,
ridicule, over-exaggerated compensations.
This paper is presented anyway because
it needs to be made know[n] that many women in the
movement are not "happy and contented"
with their status. It needs to be made known that much
talent and experience are being wasted
by this movement when women are not given jobs
commensurate with their abilities. It
needs to be known that just as Negroes were the crucial factor in the economy
of the cotton South, so too in SNCC are women the crucial factor that keeps
the movement running on a day-to-day basis. Yet they are not given equal
say-so when it comes to day-to-day decisionmaking. What can be done? Probably
nothing right away. Most men in this movement are probably too threatened
by the possibility of serious discussion on this subject. Perhaps
this is because they have recently broken away from a matriarchal framework
under which they may have grown up. Then too, many women are as unaware
and insensitive to this subject as men, just as there are many Negroes
who don't understand they are not free or who want to be part of white
America. They don't understand that they have to give up their souls and
stay in their place to be accepted. So too, many women, in order to be
accepted by men, on men's terms, give themselves up to that caricature
of what a woman is--unthinking, pliable, an ornament to please the man.
Maybe the only think that can come out
of this paper is discussion--amidst the laughter--but still
discussion. (Those who laugh the hardest
are often those who need the crutch of male supremacy the most.) And maybe
some women will begin to recognize day-to-day discriminations. And maybe
sometime in the future the whole of the women in this movement will become
so alert as to force the rest of the movement to stop the discrimination
and start the slow process of changing values and ideas so that all of
us gradually come to understand that this is no more a man's world than
it is a white world.