Updated: Aug 30
Consciousness Raising Session, 1969 (Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)
Editor’s Note: A few days ago I articulated my interest in uncovering the radical feminist position on drug use and abuse—or in figuring out why radical feminists didn’t have one. Now in the document-gathering phase, I’ve come across one early statement on drugs that seems particularly noteworthy. “A Female Junkie Speaks,” which appeared in the collection Notes from the Second Year, a volume that might well be subtitled “greatest hits of women’s liberation,” is also difficult to obtain. Edited by Shulamith Firestone, Notes collects various writings by the group New York Radical Women; it appeared in limited numbers in early 1970 and has never been reprinted. Key essays within it form the canon of the movement and are widely anthologized– Pat Mainardi’s “The Politics of Housework,” Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political,” and Kathie Sarachild’s “A Program for Feminist ‘Consciousness-Raising,’” (a later version is available here) to name just a few.
“A Female Junkie Speaks,” however, is not a canonical text, despite its subject’s facility with key concepts in women’s liberation. In this short “interview” with feminist poet and NYRW member Lucille Iverson, she articulates white middle-class culture’s propensity for the symbolic annihilation of women, theorizes the normative female subject position as a form of prostitution, and endorses women’s consciousness-raising and female community as key antidotes to oppression– and addiction. But late in the piece, “Susan” notes her consciousness-raising group’s negative response to her admission that she is a drug addict; the text is frustratingly silent on what prompts the members’ “resent[ment].” It concludes with a hopeful call to radical feminists to actively engage with “female junkies.” Exactly why that call was not heeded will, I hope, be the subject of future posts.
A Female Junkie Speaks Interview by Lucille Iverson Susan, the girl speaking here, has been a drug-user and junkie off and on for almost ten years; she has recently joined Women’s Liberation.
No one can be liberated alone….
To come home and be all alone, man, I can’t stand that.
I was turned on by an article in the Village Voice by Vivian Gornick, and a few days after that I ran into a friend who told me about a consciousness-raising group forming.
In the group I talked about the great resentment I felt toward my older brother who had a preferred status in our family. As the first son he had to be bought for the priesthood with gold—not just paper money, but real gold. His Bar Mitzvah was a great event, but nothing was done to celebrate the maturity of my sister and I. No one ever expected anything of us.
I resented having to play up to men, and I never could play the boy-girl game well. I always felt bad that I couldn’t get along with men by making them feel good and putting myself down. It was a great relief to know that this was not a faulty but a strength.
Yesterday in a doctor’s office where we were all waiting to get prescription drugs, I told some prostitutes about Women’s Liberation. They were really interested. They have known it all along—how men have to be flattered. It’s a lie they have to tell to get along.
I felt so good after going to the group that I cut down on drugs—from two to three times a day to two or three times a week. I felt a release—buoyant. Before, I hardly related to anyone. But in the group you get a lot of love and attention—you feel important, you matter.
When I went to a clinic, I was told that they have so little success with women addicts—far less than with men—that they almost believe it’s physiological. But I don’t think so. It’s because women have nothing important to do, nothing interesting—so why clean up?
I have a job, but I’m still a junkie. My first habit was acquired in 1965. I have kicked several times. I could kick again, but I need help. Bu I’m against using methadone as a substitute. It’s harder to kick the methadone habit than it is to kick junk. And I can’t do it alone—at night, to come home and be alone, man, I can’t take that.
I told my group I was still a junkie and they seemed to resent it. I was feeling good about Women’s Lib, feeling loved and close, but when I told them that, some of them were down on me. But I keep going back.
It would be great if Women’s Liberation went into places like Daytop and Phoenix House to get the women together, it could be a whole new approach to the treatment of female junkies. We could use a “consciousness-raising” group.
Women's Liberation Protest, Wall Street, 1969 (Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)