The Tyranny of Structurelessness

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"The Tyranny of Structurelessness" is an influential essay by American feminist Jo Freeman that concerns power relations within radical feminist collectives. The essay, inspired by Freeman's experiences in a 1960s women's liberation group,[1][2] reflected on the feminist movement's experiments in resisting leadership hierarchy and structured division of labor. This lack of structure, Freeman writes, disguised an informal, unacknowledged, and unaccountable leadership and ensured its malefaction by denying its existence.[3] As a solution, Freeman suggests formalizing the existing hierarchies in the group and subjecting them to democratic control.

The phrase has been used to describe one problem in organizing (the other being "rigidity of structure", according to ecofeminist Starhawk).[4]

In 2008 Community Development Journal reviewed the article as a "classic text" which editors felt had influenced the practice of community development.[5] That year a John F. Kennedy School of Government course used the paper in a course on leadership.[6]

Publication history[edit]

The essay originated as a speech given to the Southern Female Rights Union at a conference in Beulah, Mississippi in May 1970.[7] Freeman has stated that it was transcribed in 1971 for the feminist magazine Notes from the Third Year (whose editors chose not to publish it) and submitted to several women's liberation movement publications, only one of which sought her permission to publish it.

Other outlets published it without asking for permission. It was first officially published in the journal The Second Wave in 1972.[8] Agitprop issued the essay pamphlet form in 1972.[9] The Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists, Leeds Group, United Kingdom, later distributed it as well. In 1973 the author published different versions in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology and in Ms. magazine.[10][11] It was also published in Radical Feminism by Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone.[12] Later printings included that of the Anarchist Workers' Association (Kingston Group), and in 1984 in a pamphlet called Untying the Knot: Feminism, Anarchism & Organisation jointly published by Dark Star Press and Rebel Press (printed by Aldgate Press).


The essay's concept, as a phrase, haunts contemporary anarchist organizing, according to Uri Gordon, especially as her solution—to formalize existing hierarchy for democratic regulation—does not align with anarchism. Anarcha-feminist Cathy Levine disagreed with Freeman's recommendation, which Levine considered patriarchal and regressive. Anarchist Jason McQuinn wrote that organizations with formal structures fare similarly if not worse. Other anarchists have cited the essay in their preference for formal federations in lieu of distributed networks.[13] Howard J. Ehrlich discussed the negative impact of the article on anarchist organizing in Reinventing Anarchy, Again.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alice Echols, Ellen Willis, Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967–1975 Archived 2021-08-10 at the Wayback Machine, University of Minnesota Press, 67, 1989 ISBN 0-8166-1787-2, ISBN 978-0-8166-1787-6
  2. ^ Rebick, Judy (September 22, 2002). "Lip service: the anti-globalization movement on gender politics". Herizons.
  3. ^ Rycroft, Robert S. (2017). The American Middle Class: An Economic Encyclopedia of Progress and Poverty [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 248. ISBN 978-1-61069-758-3.
  4. ^ Starhawk, "Power and Anarchy" Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine, The Awakened Woman Archived 2009-03-19 at the Wayback Machine, August 19, 2004
  5. ^ Rosie Meade, "Classic Texts: no. 11, Jo Freeman. The Tyranny of Structurelessness" Archived 2021-08-10 at the Wayback Machine (c. 1972), Community Development Journal, Oxford Unity Press, December 9, 2008.
  6. ^ (PAL-101) "Exercising Leadership: Mobilizing Group Resources" General Course Information Archived 2012-02-20 at the Wayback Machine, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Fall 2008.
  7. ^ Freeman, Jo. "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". Archived from the original on February 14, 2009. Retrieved February 17, 2009.
  8. ^ Freeman, Jo (1972). "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". The Second Wave. 2 (1): 20.
  9. ^ Franks, M. (2001). Women and Revivalism in the West: Choosing ‘Fundamentalism’ in a Liberal Democracy. Palgrave Macmillan UK. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-230-59810-2. Archived from the original on 2021-08-10. Retrieved 2021-08-10.
  10. ^ Freeman, Jo (July 1973). "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". Ms. Magazine: 76–78, 86–89.
  11. ^ Freeman, Jo (1972–73). "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". Berkeley Journal of Sociology. 17: 151–164.
  12. ^ Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, Radical Feminism, Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.. 1975, 282–288.
  13. ^ Gordon, Uri (2007). Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory. London: Pluto Press. pp. 62–65. ISBN 978-0-7453-2684-9.
  14. ^ Howard J. Ehrlich, Reinventing Anarchy, Again Archived 2021-08-10 at the Wayback Machine, AK Press, 1996, 178-179 ISBN 1-873176-88-0, ISBN 978-1-873176-88-7

External links[edit]