Whose Revolution is This? Gender's Divisive Role in the Black Panther Party
The gender ideology of the Black Panther Party was a critical component of the Party's formation, its membership, and its day-to-day activities. Founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale consciously set out to challenge alleged deficiencies concerning the role of black men as providers and defenders of the black community. Early recruitment efforts, directed in large part by the Party's Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, focused on men, and early rhetoric asserted the Party's hyper-masculine ideal.
As time passed, women became interested in the Party. Some women perceived the Party's platform as gender neutral, while others were attracted to the Party's unique gendered message. Whatever the reason, women soon became a dominant presence within the Party. As male members were forced into exile, sent to prison, or in some cases, killed, women's roles became increasingly important. Women's membership reached sixty percent, and eventually women were responsible for running the daily activities of the Party.
The increased presence of women in an organization that had quite deliberately organized around black men, raised questions about women's role in the Black Panther revolution. The gender question was thoroughly debated, playing itself out on the front pages of the Party's primary communications vehicle—the Party's official newspaper, The Black Panther.
The nature of articles published in The Black Panther demonstrated the loaded and divisive role that gender played, both within the black community and within the Party itself. Gender added a layer of complexity and tension to intra-Party dynamics in a way that could not have been anticipated in the Party's early days. As a result, the gender dynamic resulted in Party members asking the question, "Whose revolution is this?"
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Seale, Bobby, 1936- (1974-02-12)Held in the Hall of Nations. Seale speaks without a prepared text on the history, perspectives and goals of the Party and on the ways he and the Party had been portrayed by the establishment mass media.