- Sonia Johnson
Sonia Johnson (born
February 27, 1936) is an American feministactivist and writer. She was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment(ERA) and in the late 1970s was publicly critical of the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints(LDS Church; see also Mormon), of which she was a member, against the proposed amendment. She eventually was excommunicated from the church for her activities and went on to publish several radical feminist books.
Sonia Johnson was born in Malad,
Idahoas a fifth-generation Mormon. She attended Utah State Universityand married Rick Johnson following graduation. Following her marriage she earned a Master's degreeand a Doctor of Educationfrom Rutgers College. She was employed as a part-time teacher of English in universities both in the United States and abroad for the following decades. The couple changed their residence often, due to the transfer of her husband to new places of employment. They returned to the United States in 1976.
Mormons for ERA
Johnson began speaking out in support of the ERA in 1977 and co-founded, with three other women, an organization called Mormons for ERA. National exposure occurred with her 1978 testimony in front of the
United States Senate's Constitutional Rights Subcommittee, and she continued speaking and promoting the ERA and denouncing the LDS Church's opposition to the amendment.
The church began disciplinary proceedings against Johnson after she delivered a scathing speech entitled "Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church" at a meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) in New York City in September, 1979. Johnson denounced allegedly immoral and illegal nationwide lobbying efforts by the LDS Church to prevent passage of the ERA. [ Benson, Steve, "Sonia Johnson's Historic Speech, 'Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church'", 2005, at [http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon415.htm ExMormon.Org] ]
Because the speech drew national media attention, Johnson's local Virginia church immediately began excommunication proceedings. A December, 1979 ex-communication letter confirmed that Sonia Johnson was charged with a variety of misdeeds including hindering the worldwide missionary program, damaging internal Mormon social programs, and teaching false doctrine. [Sillitoe, Linda, "Church Politics and Sonia Johnson: The Central Conundrum", "Sunstone Magazine", Issue No: 19, January-February, 1980, at [http://www.sunstoneonline.com/magazine/searchable/mag-text.asp?MagID=19 Sunstoneonline.com] ]
After the rupture with the church Johnson continued promoting the ERA, speaking at numerous functions throughout the country and appearing on television talk shows. In 1981 she published an autobiographical book about her embrace of feminism, titled "From Housewife to Heretic" (Doubleday, 1981).
Throughout this period Johnson emphasized her husband's support of her and her activities. They were parents of four children. Rick Johnson was active in the LDS church at that time, yet he initially supported his wife's ERA activity. However, the marriage ended in divorce shortly after she was excommunicated.
Citizens Party presidential candidate
Johnson ran in the 1984 presidential election, as the presidential candidate of the U.S. Citizens Party, Pennsylvania's
Consumer Partyand California's Peace and Freedom Party. Johnson received 72,161 votes (0.08%) finishing fifth [http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1984&minper=0&f=1&off=0&elect=0] . Her running mate for the Citizens Party was Richard Waltonand for the Peace and Freedom Party Emma Wong Mar. [ [http://www.peaceandfreedom.org/home/index.php/about-us/historical-information/presidential-candidates Presidential and Vice-presidential Candidates ] ] One of her campaign managers Mark Dunlea later authored a novel about a first female president, "Madame President" ["Former Chair Dunlea Publishes Green Political Novel" at [http://www.gpnys.org/?p=33 New York Green Party website] ] .
Publications and personal views
Johnson became increasingly radicalized, especially against state power, as reflected in the books she published after 1987. They include:
*"Telling the Truth" (Crossing Press, 1987)
*"Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation" (Crossing Press, 1987)
*"Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution" (Wildfire Books, 1990)
*"The Ship that Sailed Into the Living Room: Sex and Intimacy Reconsidered" (Wildfire Books, 1991)
*"Out of This World: A Fictionalized True-Life Adventure" (Wildfire Books, 1993)
In "Going Out of Our Minds" Johnson details the personal and political experiences that turned her against the state. In the book she rejects the Equal Rights Amendment, the Supreme Court's
Roe v. Wadedecision, equal opportunity laws, and other government benefits because she considers them cooptation by patriarchy.
In "Wildfire" Johnson elaborates on her beliefs and answers her many critics in and out of the feminist movement. Her bottom line argument is that state violence is male violence and that women relate to the male-dominated state much as women relate to battering husbands who alternately abuse and reward their wives to keep them under control. She compares both relationships to the
Stockholm Syndromein which hostages develop an emotional attachment to their captors.
In chapter three of "Wildfire", entitled "The Great Divorce," Johnson writes: "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?"
During this time Johnson also declared herself a
lesbianand started a relationship with an African Americanwoman. After ending that relationship, she wrote in "The Ship that Sailed Into the Living Room" that even relationships between female couples are a dangerous patriarchal trap, because "two is the ideal number for inequality, for sadism, for the reproduction of patriarchy", and that relationships are "slave Ships" (a concept from which she derived the title of the book).
"Nearly four years after I began my rebellion against relation/sex/slave Ships," she wrote, "experience and my Wise Old Woman are telling me that sex as we know it is a patriarchal construct and "has" no rightful, natural place in our lives, no authentic function or ways. Synonymous with hierarchy/control, sex is engineered as part of the siege against our wholeness and power." [Johnson, Sonia. "The Ship That Sailed into the Living Room: Sex and Intimacy Reconsidered". Wildfire Books, September 1991.]
Johnson also founded Wildfire, a short-lived separatist commune for women that disbanded in 1993. She published several of her books under the imprint "Wildfire Books."
Johnson currently lives in New Mexico with partner Jade DeForest, where they run Casa Feminista, a hotel catering to feminist women. [ [http://www.casafeminista.com Casa Feminista website] , last accessed 28 July 2008.] She continues to speak at feminist events, including the 2007 [http://womensspace.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/feminist-hullaballoo-historic-reunion-of-the-wild-sisters-part-i/ Feminist Hullabaloo] .
*"Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History," Chapter 17 "Sonia Johnson: Mormonism's Feminist Heretic," (University of Illinois Press, 1998)
*Majorie Hyer, "Mormon Bishop Excommunicates Woman Who Is Supporting ERA," "Washington Post", December 6, 1979, p. A1.
Carol Moore, "Our Husband, the State," [http://www.carolmoore.net/articles/johnsonreview.html review] of Sonia Johnson's "Wildfire: Igniting the She!volution", published in Association of Libertarian Feminists News, Spring 1990.
* [http://db3-sql.staff.library.utah.edu/lucene/Manuscripts/null/Ms0287.xml/Bioghist Sonia Johnson papers] at University of Utah Library Collection website.
* [http://www.lib.utah.edu/spc/photo/p99/p99.html Sonia Johnson photograph collection] of LDS-related and other ERA demonstrations at University of Utah Library website.
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