Documents: “A Female Junkie Speaks”

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)

3 thoughts on “Documents: “A Female Junkie Speaks”

  1. Hey Trysh,

    I love these posts and love this project. I’ve also thought a lot about working with women in the drug movement (in fact, this was my original dissertation topic before I switched it to anti-drug activism), so I have a few texts that have been useful for looking at women within the field, though, again, finding the tightest connection between what we consider “radical feminists” and drugs or drug use remains difficult.

    These texts are both edited by Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz – they are “Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady” (1982) and “Sisters of the Extreme” (2000). Both books contain selections from female writers contemplating the drug experience. “Sisters” contains much of what’s in “Shaman Woman,” but has a few more additions. The three chapters that might be most applicable come at the end: “Psychedelic Pioneers,” “Beats and Hippies,” and “Choosers and Abusers.”

    While these are useful, I wonder if it might be useful to expand our understanding of what a “radical feminist” looks like (echoing the t-shirt motto, right?). There are plenty of female drug users who write of their experience outside of the Shulamith Firestone model (a model I love, but it may not be applicable here). These women are often internal seekers, looking for truth, equality, and harmony within themselves (and their trips), rather than in the outside world.

    The two examples I can think of off the top of my head are Lenore Kandel, who was jiving on sexual equality for a long time (“The Love Book” was published in 1966) and was the only woman to speak publicly at the Human Be-In in ’67. (I wrote a short piece on Kandel here: http://genderedbodiesalteredminds.blogspot.com/2011/08/lenore-kandel-1932-2009.html) And there’s Trina Robbins, the incredible cartoonist, who released “El Perfecto Comics” with Terry Balawajder Richards, Sharon Rudahl, and Diane Noomin in 1973 to honor an imprisoned Tim Leary. Their work is mind-blowing: a woman trying to convince her parents that LSD is the answer to life’s persistent problems, acid-fueled love (where the woman ultimately castrates the man), meditations on the acid revolution… this is the stuff of feminism, wearing different clothes.

    Just a few thoughts, but definitely keep us updated on this work, Trysh. I’m totally into it!

  2. Trysh,

    Thanks for sending the link to this blog. I’m glad you have begun to find some text addressing the issue… Although slim on reasons for their rejecting drug use, this statement does open some lines of inquiry into the radical feminist position. If this consciousness-raising group’s opinion is representative of the feminist position on drug use, why would disapproval be beneficial to the movement? Perhaps radical feminists worried that approval of drug culture would allow for easy dismissal by the main stream. That is, approval of using drugs could have made feminists easy to lump in with other sets who embraced using and thereby dismissed as part of a whole. But why all the silence? I guess it would not pay to alienate yourself from other groups attempting to break away from the same establishment.

    Nothing quite like speculating in the dark though… I hope more good info turns up!

    Pete

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