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Our Husband, the State
Book Review by Carol Moore of
Wildfire: Igniting the She!volution by Sonia Johnson. 1989
Published in Association of Libertarian Feminists News, Spring 1990

        Sonia Johnson is the Mormon housewife who was excommunicated from the Mormon church for endorsing the Equal Rights Amendment. She then became a national ERA movement leader, wrote an autobiography, From Housewife to Heretic, and ran as the 1984 presidential candidate of the Citizen’s Party.

         However, in the next few years, Sonia Johnson metamorphosed from a liberal statist into a radical anarchist. In her second book, Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation, (1987, The Crossing Press), Johnson detailed the personal and political experiences that turned her against the state.
         Her dismissal of the Equal Rights Amendment, the pro-choice Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, equal opportunity laws, and government daycare as simple co-optation by patriarchy angered many feminists. But Johnson asserted that either cooperating with or resisting our current male - created and - dominated political - economic system only strengthens that system. Instead, she advocated women’s completely withdrawing from the males’ system and creating women’s communities.
         Johnson’s 1989 book, Wildfire: Igniting the She!volution, elaborates on her beliefs and answers her critics. Her argument claiming that state violence is male violence is summarized in Chapter Three, “The Great Divorce.” Johnson writes that women relate to the male-dominated state the same way that women relate to battering husbands who alternately abuse and reward their wives to keep them under control. She compares this to the “Stockholm Syndrome” whereby hostages and prisoners of war develop a strong emotional bond to their captors.
         Johnson writes, “The victim’s recognition that her abuser holds the power of life and death over her, coupled with an awareness that he has -- magnanimously it seems to her -- allowed her to live, causes her to cleave to him in what is known as ‘traumatic bonding’; she begins to view him as a ‘good guy,’ denying to herself (and others) how dangerous he is, and opposing rescue.”
         She continues: “I have heard women involved in male politics say about our political system almost the same words I have heard battered women use about their abusers: ‘Of course our government isn’t perfect, but where is there a better one? With all its faults, it is still the best system (husband) in the world.’ Like a battered wife, they never think to ask the really relevant questions: who said we needed a husband, or a husband-state, at all?”
         Johnson urges feminist activists to reject the male-dominated state. “What is our primary fear when we entertain the idea of leaving our husband the state? That he will kill us and destroy everything. Though the truth is...that he will kill us and destroy everything if we stay; like the battered women we are, we believe deeply that our presence, our pleading and begging, is what is keeping him from his ultimate destructiveness.”
         Johnson believes women must break free of patriarchy in the same way battered women break free of abusive husbands: by gaining a new perception of ourselves, deprogramming ourselves, breaking our dependency on men’s kindness, building our self— esteem, and asserting economic independence.
         Elsewhere in the book, Johnson details the problems that women, still cursed by internalized oppression, inability to deal with conflict, and the en-cultured tendency to “tear each other apart,” have had in forming women’s communities. However, she believes women can overcome these self-destructive tendencies with awareness and effort. Sonia Johnson calls for nothing less that the creation of a whole new world where women will finally be free.
        Many libertarian feminists may question her analysis of state violence as male violence, the primary function of which is to keep men powerful and women enslaved. And some libertarian men will make the hackneyed, and inaccurate, argument that the few women who’ve gained power have acted ‘worse’ than men with power. However, I believe Johnson presents a level of psychosexual analysis that libertarians should investigate.
       Whether or not libertarian feminists support the notion of state violence as male violence, I hope we can all agree that women -- and men -- should openly decry all forms of personal and political, verbal, emotional, and physical aggression by men against women (and against weaker or gay men and children). I believe that women must support other women in our mutual quest for freedom. When women are free, men will become de facto free.