Joanna Russ on Radicalism

russ1…just then one of the men from Jean’s co-op waved to us and came over. He began talking earnestly about Jean’s commitment to social revolution and Jean said lightly, “Oh, you’d be amazed at the number of things I’m not committed to,” but he wasn’t going to take it it as a joke…(Some of the things Jean is not entirely committed to in his opinion: Communism, Third World peoples, the workers, ecology, and organic foods. The one thing she is absolutely not committed to: white middle-class young men who suffer.)

“I gathered X’s shirt-front in one hand and brought us nose to nose. Oh I had cool! I said the following, which I am going to quote you in full because I am proud of it, very proud of it indeed, and it embarrassed him. Radicals shouldn’t be embarrassed. It went like this:

‘You a radical? Bullshit. Radicals are people who fight their own oppression. People who fight other people’s oppression are liberals or worse. Radicalism is being pushed to the wall. Would you dare to tell Sawyer’ (a Black acquaintance of his) ‘that he’s selfish because he’s committed to himself? Yet you tell us. Do you dare to tell a little country with bombs being dropped on it that it’s selfish? Yet you dare to tell us. You’re white, male, and middle-class–what can you do for the revolution except commit suicide? When the sharks start swimming around our raft, you’re gonna get Daddy to send a helicopter for you; you could shave your beard and cut your hair and in five minutes go right back to the enemy…’

“Isn’t that stunning? (Even if it wasn’t quite as good as that.)…

“Leaning her silly, beautiful, drunken head on my shoulder, [Jean] said, ‘Oh Esther, I don’t want to be a feminist. I don’t enjoy it. It’s no fun.”

“I know,” I said. ‘I don’t either.’ People think you decide to be a ‘radical,’ for God’s sake, like deciding to be a librarian or a ship’s chandler. You ‘make up your mind,’ you ‘commit yourself’ (sounds like a mental hospital, doesn’t it?).

“I said Don’t worry, we could be buried together and have engraved on our tombstone the awful truth, which some day somebody will understand:


~Joanna Russ, On Strike Against God (Out & Out Books, 1980)


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