The Tyranny of Structurelessness

"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 experiments of the feminist movement in resisting the idea of leaders and even discarding any structure or division of labor. As Hilary Wainwright wrote in Z Magazine, Freeman described how "this apparent lack of structure too often disguised an informal, unacknowledged and unaccountable leadership that was all the more pernicious because its very existence was denied".[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 historyEdit

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] It was issued in pamphlet form by Agitprop[clarification needed] in 1972, and later by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists, Leeds Group, United Kingdom. In 1973 the author published different versions in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology and in Ms. magazine.[9][10] It was also published in Radical Feminism by Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone.[11] 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.[12] Howard J. Ehrlich discussed the negative impact of the article on anarchist organizing in Reinventing Anarchy, Again.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Alice Echols, Ellen Willis, Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967–1975, 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. ^ Wainwright, Hilary (October 9, 2006). "Imagine there's no leaders". Transnational Institute. Retrieved February 17, 2009. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Starhawk, "Power and Anarchy", The Awakened Woman, August 19, 2004
  5. ^ Rosie Meade, "Classic Texts: no. 11, Jo Freeman. The Tyranny of Structurelessness" (c. 1972), Community Development Journal, Oxford Unity Press, December 9, 2008.
  6. ^ (PAL-101) "Exercising Leadership: Mobilizing Group Resources" General Course Information, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Fall 2008.
  7. ^ Freeman, Jo. "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". Retrieved February 17, 2009.
  8. ^ Freeman, Jo (1972). "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". The Second Wave. 2 (1): 20.
  9. ^ Freeman, Jo (July 1973). "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". Ms. Magazine: 76–78, 86–89.
  10. ^ Freeman, Jo (1972–73). "The Tyranny of Structurelessness". Berkeley Journal of Sociology. 17: 151–164.
  11. ^ Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, Radical Feminism, Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.. 1975, 282–288.
  12. ^ Gordon, Uri (2007). Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory. London: Pluto Press. pp. 62–65. ISBN 978-0-7453-2684-9.
  13. ^ Howard J. Ehrlich, Reinventing Anarchy, Again, AK Press, 1996, 178-179 ISBN 1-873176-88-0, ISBN 978-1-873176-88-7

External linksEdit