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Naming Themselves: A Militant Act for Feminists (1967-1991) | EHNE

Naming Themselves: A Militant Act for Feminists (1967-1991)

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Abstract 

Feminist groups have names that often convey a political, symbolic or historical meaning. A brief overview of names from the primary independent feminist movements born in Europe between 1967 and 1991, reveal important influences and/or intentions in the struggle for women’s rights within highly different national contexts. With their revolutionary dimension, these names advocate the “liberation of women” or the inclusion of men in the feminist struggle, and thereby highlight feminism’s proximity to socialism or the hope for a democratic future after the fall of a dictatorial regime. The term “feminist” is invoked to mobilize women around a common cause. Humour and self-deprecation are also present in the choice of names for feminist movements, as is paying homage to earlier generations of militant women.

Banner from the Norwegian Kvinnefronten movement (Women’s front) indicating the date it was founded and its slogan “Fight against any oppression of women.”
Banner from the Norwegian Kvinnefronten movement (Women’s front) indicating the date it was founded and its slogan “Fight against any oppression of women.”

From the beginnings of the protests of May 1968 to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet regime, new feminist movements emerged in Europe, alongside older organizations for the defence of women’s rights dating from the nineteenth century or the early twentieth century. The names of these organizations sought to immediately reveal their heritage and political orientation. This second-wave feminism was dominated by the idea of women’s liberation, directly arising from the Women’s Lib movement in the United States.

The American Women’s Lib movement translated in 1968 into the Aktionsrat zur Befreiung der Frauen (Action Committee on the Liberation of Women) in Berlin, and then in 1970 into the British Women’s Liberation Movement, Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IRWLM), Mouvement de libération des femmes (MLF, Women’s Liberation Movement) in France, Movimento di Liberazione della Donna (MLD) in Italy, Mouvement de libération des femmes in Geneva, and Front de libération des femmes (FLF, Women’s Liberation Front) in Brussels. In the mid-1970s, the Kinisi gia tin Apeleytherosi ton Gynaikon (KAG, Movement for the Liberation of Women) was created in Greece, followed by the Frente de Liberación de la Mujer (Women’s Liberation Front) in Madrid in 1976. Often the term “women’s liberation movement” covered a multitude of ephemeral groups dispersed across different regions of the country. American influence was also present by reusing the name of the New York group Redstockings in Denmark (Rødstrømpe) and Iceland (Raudsokkahreyfingin, a pioneering group open to both sexes founded in 1970).

Although non-mixed movements dominated the feminist landscape, other more innovative ones emphasized through their name the importance they gave to including men and reflecting on masculine identities. This was the case in France with the small Parisian organization Féminin Masculin Avenir (FMA, Feminine Masculine Future) (1967-1970), as well as in the Netherlands with Man Vrouw Maatschappij (MVM, Man Woman Society) (1968-1988), both of which were mixed and had men among their active members who regularly participated in meetings and actions. The names of both the FMA and MVM explicitly mentioned the word “masculine/man,” and entailed bringing together both sexes in a shared struggle for emancipation. The transformation of society that was envisioned did not stop at the condition of women, as feminism also concerned men.

In the 1970s, many European feminist groups expressed their affinity with socialism through their names. The influential Norwegian Marxist-Leninist feminist group Kvinnefronten (Women’s Front) began operating in 1972. The first two Finnish feminist groups of the period, both created in 1973, were strongly marked by Marxism: Marxist-Feministerna (Feminist Marxists) and Rödkäringarna (The Red Woman).  Moreover, radical feminist groups laid claim to the term “feminist,” often in order to distinguish themselves from traditional pre-war women’s associations, deemed too moderate, or from certain socialist and Marxist movements, which subordinated the cause of women to that of overthrowing the capitalist system. In 1970, the Nyfeministine (New Feminists) became active in Norway. A series of collectives identifying themselves as “feminist” also came into being in 1976 in Spain. A feminist congress in Belgrade in 1978 marked the starting point for Yugoslavian women’s movements. Beginning in 1980, two “Women and Society” groups were created, first in Zagreb and later in Belgrade, with the latter adopting the designation “feminist” in 1986. In 1987, the Yugoslav Feminist Network took shape following a conference at Ljubljana.

After the fall of dictatorial regimes, the names of feminist movements emphasized the democratic ideal. In Greece, the Kinisi Dimokratikon Gynaikon (Movement of Democratic Women) was founded in 1974 with the end of the dictatorial Regime of the Colonels. The end of Francoism made possible the revival of Spanish feminist groups, such as the Associación Democrática de Mujeres (Democratic Association of Women) in 1976.

Other groups were keen to follow on the feminist heritage by making reference to historical figures. In 1970, the Dutch feminist movement Dolle Mina (The Crazy Minas) paid homage through its name to a pioneering Dutch feminist of the nineteenth century, Wilhelmina Elisabeth Drucker, nicknamed Crazy Mina. The militants of the Dolle Mina were represented in magazines—as well as in collective memory—as joyful and ebullient young women (“crazy” because of their joie de vivre), who did not hesitate to whistle after men in the street, or to even kidnap consenting males to garner greater publicity. “Dolle Mina” became a commonly accepted notion for designating energetic and emancipated women, who generated sympathy in public opinion. From 1970, the name Dolle Mina was directly imported by Belgium, where Flemish groups operating under the same name were created in Antwerp and Ghent. Other workerist feminist groups formed in Wallonia, basing themselves on La Louvière, and using the name Marie Mineur, after the nineteenth-century worker’s movement activist of the same name from the Verviers mining region. The term “minor” also served to denounce the fact that even though they were adults, women remained eternal minors, subject to the authority of men.

A number of groups chose to name themselves with humour, imagination, and self-deprecation, using insulting terms to give themselves a name, and even to garner renown. The Chimères (Chimeras) in Paris, Weiberrat (Broads’ Council) in Frankfurt (1968), or Les Bécassines en lutte (The Fighting Bécassines, named after a Belgian feminist journal) did not for all that reach the degree of scandalous notoriety of certain American collectives. The myth of the imaginary association SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) was born in connection with the internationally successful eponymous manifesto by the New York writer Valerie Solanas (1936-1988), in which she sought to justify misandry though a huge sarcastic farce. Her work made enough of a mark for SCUM to become a literary theme in certain European feminist writings.