About Carol Hanisch
Carol Hanisch launched several prominent feminist groups and protests during the heyday of radical feminism. She began her work during the 1960s and has continued for several decades as an activist, editor, and writer. She is known for her insightful analysis of various aspects of the women's liberation movement.
Carol Hanisch grew up in rural Iowa and graduated from Drake University in the early 1960s. As a young adult, she observed unfair aspects of women's lives. She noticed that female university students - and only the female students - were required to live in dormitories with curfews. When they attended evening campus events, they had to return to the dorms while the men were able to linger afterward to socialize with the speakers. After graduating with a journalism degree, Carol Hanisch worked briefly for United Press International (UPI) in Des Moines, where she lost the assigned beat she had been hired to cover when it was given to a new male reporter instead.
Carol Hanisch left her UPI job to work in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. She continued her activism working for the progressive Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). In 1967, she helped start New York Radical Women with Shulamith Firestone and Pam Allen. The core membership of a few dozen women often met in the New York City SCEF office, where Hanisch worked.
New York Radical Women started as an informal gathering, with some confusion as to leadership structure and overall goals. However, the group successfully protested the Miss America Pageant in 1968 and received much publicity. Carol Hanisch helped organize the protest, where she and several other women famously draped a banner that read "Women's Liberation" from the balcony during the high-profile event.
Carol Hanisch moved to Gainesville, Florida to organize women's liberation groups in the South for SCEF from 1969 to 1973. She then moved back to New York to work on Redstockings, a feminist group created after New York Radical Women split into different factions.
Carol Hanisch and other members of Redstockings became the editors of the journal Meeting Ground in 1977, although the journal was a separate endeavor. In 1981, Hanisch resigned as a Redstockings leader to continue with her work on Meeting Ground.
Carol Hanisch said that she started out as one of the "quiet women," as opposed to being an outspoken leader of New York Radical Women. Through her involvement in the group, she became more comfortable with feminist theory.
The group published an anthology in 1968, Notes From the First Year, in which Carol Hanisch's paper was called "Women of the World Unite--We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Men." This was a direct take-off of the lines in The Communist Manifesto, "Workers of the world, unite" and "The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains." Carol Hanisch saw similarities between the struggles of oppressed women and the class struggles of the working poor who were oppressed by capitalism.
In 1969, Carol Hanisch wrote the renowned essay "The Personal is Political," which appeared in the anthology Notes From the Second Year: Women's Liberation. Although she is sometimes credited for coining the phrase "the personal is political," the essay was an explanation of the meaning of an idea that already existed.
Analysis of the Movement
As the women's liberation movement began to deteriorate, Carol Hanisch spoke in the 1980s of the need for a national feminist group to come back together. She noted that throughout history, feminist groups have always had short periods of success. Their gains are then quickly followed by their demise, whether their ideas are co-opted and misinterpreted, or their political force is quashed by those who oppose them.
In the case of 1970s women's liberation, Carol Hanisch said that radical feminist groups had gone from "vital feminism" to small groups working on short-term interests. They had lost sight of the big picture of the struggle to liberate women.
Carol Hanisch has written extensively about the feminist movement, with suggestions of what to do better. In her "Critique of the Miss America Protest," she reflects on the problems with New York Radical Women's event and its aftermath. She says that the ideal of a "utopian," non-authoritarian group structure in which all women participate led to their goals being frustrated due to lack of organization and direction.
Carol Hanisch also analyzed issues that proved divisive among feminists, such as lesbian separatism and the focus on abortion rights. She asked why groups that started by demanding the repeal of all abortion laws later turned to labels such as "pro-choice" and seemed to avoid the word "abortion."
Carol Hanisch pointed out that when the "women's liberation movement" morphed into the "women's movement," they lost "liberation," the ideal for which they had been striving.
Carol Hanisch published a book of feminist protest songs in 1978 called Fight on Sisters and Other Songs for Liberation. The songbook includes words and lyrics to such songs as "Bedroom Backlash," "You Better Stop Blaming Women," and "Song of the Oppressed." In 1997, she published Frankly Feminist: A Collection of Writings from the Hudson Valley Woman 1991-1995.
In addition to feminism and class struggles, Carol Hanisch has worked on environmental, anti-apartheid, and other political issues. She has spoken at many women's history events in the decades since the beginning of radical feminism. She continues to point out practical ways to get involved in the ongoing struggle for women's liberation.