Sex and Caste at 50

Not about sexism

Interpretation of A Kind of Memo has been tangled up with an earlier paper written by Hayden, Mary King, Elaine DeLott, and Emmy Shrader and has led to it being read as a rant against sexism in SNCC. 

References to "the movement" run throughout “A Kind of Memo’ from "insights learned from the movement" to "the problems that various women in the movement come across."  While scholars tend to emphasize the latter point, A Kind of Memo can be read as primarily about the former - as a message for the movement to return to its original ideals.  In A Kind of Memo the movement is repeatedly connected to lessons, "we've learned a great deal in the movement," specifically to "think radically" and about "concepts of people and freedom."  These lessons offer a method that might address some of the problems noted  - "the movement is one place to look for some relief."  As she did in other writing from this period, Hayden relied on the approach of raising questions rather than preaching answers.  

Toward the end of A Kind of Memo, Hayden amplified what she hinted at from the start, that open dialogue and community support were the best organizing strategies.   She explained in 2014

"Sex and Caste" emulates the YWCA's "Wise Way of Work," a feminist slogan from that remnant of the first wave: create a group, talk about a topic personally, create a program to meet the questions and issues raised. I had been a national Y leader; we followed this format all the way up."[1]    

Hayden worked on a human relations project of the YWCA from the spring of 1961 to the summer of 1962, a position held subsequently by Mary King and Bobbi Yancey after she left.  She traveled to colleges throughout the South facilitating small interracial discussion groups.  Hayden recalled, "In my travels I met many young white people trapped in the cage of race for whom these workshops were a way out."[2]

The Memo began with a similar reference to the transformative power of talking. Women's "chance conversations" now needed to be expanded to "open up dialogue." While the “basic human problems” in the Memo revolved around the Sex Caste system, society’s failure to address its “deepest problems” was indicative of the need for radical approaches.   Only by pursuing the “radicalizing question” of why "nobody is writing, or organizing or talking publicly about women" could the movement reach “new alternatives … [for] personal and institutional change."  In particular, A Kind of Memo stressed the need to move "beyond legalistic solutions" to get to issues that were embedded in they way individuals lived and worked.  

Hayden addressed the Memo to women because she saw them as more capable of guiding the movement back to its original ideals.  In a sense, because the sex caste system forced them "to work around or outside hierarchical structures of power," women were closer to the founding vision of SNCC.   At the second SNCC conference in October of 1960, which Hayden attended as one of two delegates from Texas, a system of rotating chairmanships was adopted, along with the recognition that "all members of the committee shall have equal status."[3]   These radical principles were what drew Hayden to the movement.  A Kind of Memo then, was less about women’s subordinate role in the movement, and more about how women might help to create change in the movement itself at a moment when it seemed to be faltering.  

By the fall of 1965, Hayden found herself on one side of an increasingly divided SNCC.  
She remained committed to the practice of nonviolence she adopted when first participating in sit-ins, but the violence during freedom summer raised questions about continued dedication to this ideal for other members of SNCC.   Additionally, the trip to Africa by SNCC's leaders in September of 1964 led to increased discussion about the role of whites in the movement, as well as a stepped up emphasis on linking "the struggle- for self-determination of black peoples' abroad and the struggle of black people in the United States against exploitation."[4]

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