NEW YORK (AP) — Meredith Tax, a prominent activist and writer of second-wave feminism who challenged herself, her peers and the world at large to rethink long-held ideas about gender, race and class, has died. She was 80.
Tax died Sunday, according to her friend Frances Kissling, who did not immediately provide additional details. Her death had been announced on Facebook by the activist Ariane Brunet.
“A true activist who could perceive the importance of a women’s struggle anywhere in the world and would make damn sure we would know about it and join the cause,” Brunet wrote. “We are blessed that such a companion lived and refused to give up on life till death said ‘Enough you did your best.’”
The life of Tax, born into an upwardly mobile Jewish family in Milwaukee, was often a story of self-discovery. She was a graduate of Brandeis University and a fellowship student in London who had dreams of a gilded career in the arts, “a glass cage,” before the 1960s politicized her, then radicalized her into “studying the world instead of literature.” Contentious even within communities of activists, she confronted Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights supporters over the issue of sterilization abuse and was thrown out of the Leninist October League after criticizing their treatment of women. She faced her own reckoning in the 1970s when she worked in a Zenith TV factory in Chicago and was the only white person on the assembly line.
“The first thing I had to learn how to do was hard physical labor; the second was to shut up,” she wrote in a mini-autobiography on her blog. “I had always been such a bright girl, in love with my own ideas. Now I had to learn how to listen very deeply, listen the way people do when they are in the minority, taking in not only what people said but what they didn’t say, the changes in their voices, their body language.”
Earlier in 2022, Tax lamented what she regarded as the lack of a feminist equivalent to Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street. Writing in The Nation, she alleged that “young feminists concentrate on social media, blogs, and campaigns — an emphasis that entails paying a lot of attention to personalities, branding, and celebrity.”
“While #Me Too is unquestionably a powerful movement against job-related sexual harassment and assault, it is not a membership organization, so there is no way for people who support it to ensure its consistency or change its public face,” she wrote.
Rachel Carmona, executive director of Women’s March, disputed Tax’s perspective. In a letter to The Nation, she cited the massive 2017 gatherings held soon after President Donald Trump’s inauguration as “an example of online activism transforming itself into activism in the streets, on the ground, where and when it was needed most.”
Tax’s books included the nonfiction “The Rising of the Women” and the novels “Rivington Street” and its sequel “Union Square.” She wrote for The Nation, The Guardian and The Village Voice among other publications, and has been praised for her 1970 pamphlet “Woman and Her Mind,” a founding text of second-wave feminism, in which she explored how society conditioned the behavior of men and women.
“Men are taught to be active, to go and seek what they need; not to look pretty and wait for it to come into their vicinity. Men don’t observe each passing cloud over human relations as if their whole future depended on it,” she wrote. “There’s a reason for that. It doesn’t. Women are hyper-aware of their surroundings. They have to be. Walk down a street without being tuned in and you’re in real danger; our society is one in which men rape, mug and murder women whom they don’t know every day.”
Tax helped found the PEN American Center Women’s Committee, the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA) and the Women’s World Organization for Rights, Literature, and Democracy (Women’s WORLD). More recently, she chaired the board of The Center for Secular Space, founded in 2011 “to strengthen secular voices, oppose fundamentalism, and promote universality in human rights.”
Tax was married twice, most recently to the author and philosopher Marshall Berman, and had a child with each husband.