House at 219 11th St., SE, now on the National Register of Historic Places
House at 219 11th St., SE, now on the National Register of Historic Places

The Furies Collective was a short-lived commune of twelve young lesbian separatists in Washington, D.C. in 1971-72. They viewed lesbianism as more political than sexual, and declared heterosexual women to be an obstacle to the world revolution they sought. Their theories are still acknowledged among feminist groups.

History and mission

The Furies Collective, which lived at 219 11th St SE in Washington, D.C., was, along with the Gay Liberation House and the Skyline Collective, among Washington, D.C.'s best known communal living groups in the early 1970s. They were an example of lesbian feminism which emerged during the women's movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. The twelve women in the collective were aged eighteen to twenty-eight, all feminists, all lesbians, all European-American, with three children among them. They shared chores and clothes, held some of their money in common, and slept on mattresses on a common floor.

All of the founding members had extensive organizing and activist experience before they started The Furies. In particular, many were members of the women's movement, specifically the DCWLM (D.C. Women's Liberation Movement). The group was modeled after other revolutionary movements such as the Black Panther Party and the Weathermen. In this sense, they aimed to promote a global revolution through the establishment of small radical groups. They wanted to abolish patriarchy, white supremacy and imperialism. They were particularly devoted to developing and exploring feminist theory, especially the way in which sexual identity is socially constructed.

As part of their mission, they started a school to teach women auto and home repair so they would not be dependent on men. Members called for other feminists to create more communes wherein women could nurture their relationships with one another away from male chauvinism. Not only men, but heterosexual women were also seen as impediments to progress.[1]

Most of the members of the collective wrote for their newspaper, The Furies. From January 1972 until mid-1973, the paper was published and distributed nationally. In the first issue in January 1972, contributor Ginny Berson stated her view that:

"... Sexism is the root of all other oppressions, and Lesbian and woman oppression will not end by smashing capitalism, racism, and imperialism. Lesbianism is not a matter of sexual preference, but rather one of political choice which every woman must make if she is to become woman-identified and thereby end male supremacy."[2]

The Furies received criticism from other feminist publications for using elitist, male-determined standards of language and theory. The criticism included focusing on theory because it was a tool used and created by men which ultimately perpetuates male power. Additionally, critics argued that The Furies publishing the names of authors undermines the collective nature of knowledge in the movement and upholds hierarchical power structures that parallel those in society. The members of the collective included little coverage of this criticism in their publication which displays their unwillingness to engage in discussions with other women.[according to whom?] This resistance to criticism and devotion to theory above personal experience alienated many women and hindered the Furies' ability to expand their membership in order to achieve their mass movement goals.[3]

The group promoted a model of lesbianism for all members of the women's movement, an alternative identity which combined sexual orientation, gender identity, and radical philosophy.[1] For member Charlotte Bunch, to be a lesbian "is to love oneself, woman, in a culture that denigrates and despises women." Berson also stated "Lesbians must become feminists and fight against woman oppression, just as feminists must become Lesbians if they hope to end male supremacy."[4]

Members

According to Rita Mae Brown in Rita Will,[5] the members of the collective were "Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunch, Tasha Byrd [sic], Ginny Berson, Sharon Deevey, Susan Hathaway, Lee Schwin [sic], Helaine Harris, Coletta Reid, Jennifer Woodull [sic], Nancy Myron and Joan E. Biren (J.E.B.)" The names marked "[sic]" are actually Tasha Petersen or Peterson, Lee Schwing, and Jennifer Woodul.

Legacy

The collective did not last long but its influence was felt beyond the group's end. Theoretical contributions to the women's movement included connecting the enforcement of heterosexuality with women's oppression, understanding sexual orientation as culturally, rather than biologically, constructed, and the legitimacy of lesbian feminism within the women's movement.[3] Future feminist groups across the country cited the importance of the Furies' theoretical developments of feminism to their own organizing efforts. Former members of the collective went on to other organizing and activist positions, especially in media and publishing.[6]

The first two members asked to leave were Joan E. Biren and Sharon Deevey, followed shortly thereafter by Rita Mae Brown.[7] The newsletter survived the disbanding of the collective in the spring of 1972 by about a year.[8]

Olivia Records was founded in 1973 by former group members and the Radicalesbians.[9]

Recognition

In 2016 the house at 219 11th St. SE which was home to the Furies Collective was named as the first lesbian-related historic landmark in Washington, D.C., when it was unanimously voted into the D.C. Inventory of Historic Sites.[10] Later that same year that house became the first lesbian site on the National Register of Historic Places.[11]

References

  1. ^ a b Valk, Anne. Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. p. 140-141.
  2. ^ The Furies, Vol. 1, Issue 1, as quoted at "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-08. Retrieved 2011-03-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b Valk, Anne (2010). "Living a Feminist Lifestyle". No Permanent Waves. Newark: Rutgers University Press. pp. 221–242, 325.
  4. ^ Valk, Anne. Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. p. 142-143.
  5. ^ Rita Mae Brown, Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, Bantam Books, New York, 1997. p. 267.
  6. ^ Valk, Anne. Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. p. 153-154.
  7. ^ Rita Mae Brown, Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble-Rouser, Bantam Books, New York, 1997. p. 271
  8. ^ "Rainbow History". Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  9. ^ Dolan, Jill. "Feeling Women's Culture: Women's Music, Lesbian Feminism, and the Impact of Emotional Memory". Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism. Spring 2002: 205–219.
  10. ^ "Capitol Hill Rowhome Becomes D.C.'s First Lesbian-Related Historic Landmark".
  11. ^ "Furies Collective becomes first lesbian site on National Register". Metro Weekly.