IN 1970 ROBIN MORGAN, poet, social activist and radical feminist, penned the now-famous, much-anthologized essay "Goodbye to All That," which heralded the radical feminists' farewell to the male dominated Left whose practices and politics they perceived, accurately enough, as being as oppressive to women as those of any other male group. Going Too Far, a collection of Morgan's writings on the Women's Movement, interspersed with bits of narrative which attempt to put the pieces into personal and historical perspective, might have been called "Goodbye, Again," Morgan's valediction, as she says, "this time to simplification and intolerence, no matter the source."
Despite the fact that many of the essays, windy rhetoric at gale force, make for some very tedious going, this "personal chronicle of a feminist" emerges as a fascinating document of both personal and social history. It is fascinating because Morgan, now 35, has been a leader of the Women's Movement since the formation of New York Radical Women in the early '60s, and in many ways the transformations of her consciousness mirror the transformations of the Movement as a whole. Those transformations have taken her from the young wife (she has been married for 15 years to the poet Kenneth Pitchford) who "spent hours trying to reflect acceptable beauty standards" and who "felt legitimized by a successful crown roast"; to the sexually liberated, "supership chick" of the New Left; to the founder of WITCH, a feminist group whose confrontative tactics were reminiscent of the Yippies; to the serious Movement theorist, spokeswoman and organizer who spent several grueling years traveling around the country rallying support; to the "metaphysical feminist" who has a renewed commitment to her art and to spirituality, who has a new respect for diversity and who now refuses to simplify or stereotype.
Along the way, Morgan has some valuable insights as she reflects on both the achievements and mistakes of the Movement - the latter category including a pre-occuptaion with rhetoric, a contempt for the diversity of women's experiences and attitudes, the anit-intellectualism, the infighting and power struggles. She is also honest about her own mistakes and short-sightedness, having chosen not to rewrite any of the essays despite the acknowledged embarrassment of having to see her own missteps into silliness and mindless rhetoric laid bare before her.
From these essays and her comments on them, Morgan emerges, nevertheless, as an admirably courageous figure who never quite ceased her personal struggle for intellectual truth, who risked and endured considerable vilification for struggling to maintain her own marriage when some radical feminists refused any communication with men and for speaking out for the need for unity among women at a time in the recent past when the "lesbian-straight split" threatened to destroy the organized Movement.
What is lacking in Morgan's thinking becomes apparent, however, as one reaches the most recently written essays near the end of Going Too Far. Having heard her say that she will no longer simplify or stereotype, one begins to look for intellectual clarity and pragmatism, only to find what seems to be some tather fuzzy thinking and a certain woozy spirituality. "The Politics of Sado-Masochistic Fantasies," for example, promises to be an interesting discussion of a legitimately fascinating psychological question - whey even qvowed feminists, who would never engage in sado-masochistic practices in "real life," continue to find satisfaction in fantasies of sexual subjugation, yet the "answer" which Morgan proposes is a murky "parable," a personal hypothesis presented without any evidence and with an inadequately explained psychological basis.
Equally difficult to follow is an essay on femal paranoia, and one is hard put, really, to explain what she means by "metaphysical feminism," which becomes mixed up with Morgan's commitment both to John Donne and the 17th-century "metaphysical poets" and to the Wiccean religion, an attempt to revive the ancient pre-Christian and matriarchal religion of witchcraft.
After reading Going Too Far one may be excused for feeling slightly less hopeful about the future of the Women's Movement than does its author, precisely because the transformations in her sensibility seem to reflect so accurately certain potentially dangerous tendencies within the Movement. That the Women's Movement is in trouble and has suffered significant setbacks is unquestionable: witness the increasingly real possibility that the ERA may not pass, or the recently enacted law eliminating Medicaid funds for abortions, to name the two most visible examples. The reasons for this are more complex, but in large part it has to do with our having lost sight of the fundamental insight of the radical feminists with whom Morgan was aligned in the '60s: that the opression of women is a political (and hence an economic) problem, and that any revolution which liberates women must include an economic revolution.
The majority of women in this country cannot afford to be preoccupied with such abstract issues as "women's culture," with delving into the Wiccean religion or restoring a matriarchal society. Unless the Women's Movement proposes to speak for all women, it is doomed to failure, and Robin Morgan, and radical feminists like her, have gone too far for that to be allowed to happen.