Posted on | May 24, 2015 | 123 Comments
By Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain on Twitter)
A pioneering lesbian activist who called heterosexuality “the ideology of male supremacy” and condemned marriage as “slavery” for women is now working as a math teacher in North Carolina.
As a graduate student in 1969, Margaret Small helped begin what became the Women’s Studies program at the State University of New York’s Buffalo campus and in 1972 co-taught a course called “Lesbianism 101” recognized as the first such class taught in the United States. Since 2009, Small has been employed as a K-12 Mathematics Curriculum Specialist for Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, N.C., according to her LinkedIn profile. However, in the 1970s, she was a member of a radical lesbian collective known as The Furies, co-founded by legendary feminist Charlotte Bunch. Small’s 1975 essay “Lesbians and the Class Position of Women” offered a Marxist interpretation of “lesbian consciousness” as part of a “revolutionary struggle” to end women’s “oppression” in the “relationship of slavery,” as she called marriage.
“Women’s oppression is based in the fact that she reproduces the species,” Small wrote in the essay, published in Lesbianism and the Women’s Movement, a book co-edited by Bunch and Nancy Myron. “The relationship of men to reproduction is defined by a single act of fucking at the moment of impregnation and ends at that point.”
Invoking the historical theories of Friedrich Engels (colleague of Karl Marx and co-author of the 1848 “Communist Manifesto”), Small declared: “Class society arose because of the oppression of women. . . . The exploitation of all women by all men made possible the exploitation of some men by other men. The more exploitative the relationship between men and women becomes, the stronger and more vital become the institutions of male supremacy.”
After getting her master’s degree from SUNY-Buffalo in 1973 Small “worked for 8 years as a machinist, first in a shipyard in San Diego and then at several manufacturing plants in Chicago,” before returning to school at the University of Illinois-Chicago, according to an online profile. She became a math teacher in Chicago public schools, got her PhD. and, in 2000, became “a founding Director of the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School of Chicago (YWLCS),” the only all-girls public school in Chicago. Small moved to North Carolina in 2009 and, in 2013, married her lesbian partner Peggy Baker. Also a former YWLCS teacher, Baker runs an education non-profit, EASL Institute, whose clients include schools in North Carolina, New York and Chicago.
Margaret Small’s pioneering work in the feminist movement has been recognized in numerous books, including Breaking the Wave: Women, Their Organizations, and Feminism, 1945-1985, edited by Kathleen Laughlin and Jacqueline Castledine (2010), and the Historical Dictionary of the Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movements, by JoAnne Myers (2013). Her role in teaching the first lesbian university course (along with Madeline Davis) was cited as No. 10 on a list of “20 Notable College Moments in LGBT History” by Best Colleges Online.
Small’s 1975 essay condemning marriage and heterosexuality has been cited in such books as Separatism and Women’s Community by Dana Shugar and The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Katz. The essay was adapted from a speech Small gave to the Wasington, D.C., think tank Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) on behalf of The Furies.
“In terms of the oppression of women, heterosexuality is the ideology of male supremacy,” Small wrote. “In order for men to have a justification for exploiting women and an ability to enforce that exploitation, heterosexuality has to become, not merely an act in relation to impregnation, but the dominant ideology.”
Under male supremacy, Small asserted, women “become defined as appendages to men” in a system “which maintains the ideological power of men over women.” Small’s article (the full text of which is embedded below) declares: “Heterosexual hegemony insures that people think it natural that male and female form a life-long sexual/reproductive unit with the female belonging to the male.”
Lesbians, Small wrote, were crucial to “the development of revolutionary consciousness” because they are “outside of the reality which heterosexual ideology explains.” Heterosexuality would become “irrelevant” as alternatives to sexual reproduction were developed.
“Male supremacy is what is attacked in lesbian ideology,” Small wrote. “What we are doing in revolutionary struggle is to make our consciousnesses different. When enough people’s consciousnesses are different, then we make a revolution.”
The Furies collective, which Small represented in her speech at IPS, was formed by Bunch and others in 1971, and announced its revolutionary feminist goals in early 1972. Bunch’s manifesto, “Lesbians in Revolt,” is included in many university Women’s Studies textbooks and curricula. Bunch became a distinguished academic at Rutgers University and in 1999 was honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights by President Bill Clinton. (Click here to see C-SPAN video of Hillary Clinton’s speech at the December 1999 ceremony.)
John Hoge and Jeanette Runyon assisted in the research for this article, which is part of the Sex Trouble project that has been supported by contributions from readers. The first edition of Sex Trouble: Radical Feminism and the War on Human Nature is available from Amazon.com, $11.96 in paperback or $1.99 in Kindle ebook format.
The work I do, helping pioneering Marxist lesbian scholars get the kind of recognition they deserve, is just so … rewarding.
— Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) May 25, 2015
Gosh, I don't know how this ignorant stereotype of feminists as angry man-hating communist lesbians got started …
— Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) May 24, 2015
#YouMightBeAFeminist If you're angry because Facebook doesn't let you choose "oppressed" as a relationship status.
— Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) May 24, 2015