Obituaries

Anne Forer Pyne, 72, feminist opened eyes

Anne Forer Pyne, an early feminist activist and writer whose use of the phrase “consciousness raising” helped make it a foundational principle of the women’s rights movement, died on March 21 in Tucson, Ariz. She was 72.

Her death, in hospice care, was caused by kidney failure, her brother, Danny Forer, said.

Ms. Pyne, a self-described left-wing hippie, was a young kindergarten teacher in the late 1960s when she began attending meetings of New York Radical Women, a small group that met in cramped Manhattan apartments to discuss how to fight the oppression of women.

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Before overturning entrenched power dynamics and cultural norms, however, they knew they first had to identify and define them. Ms. Pyne, by her account, was uncertain about what, exactly, women needed to be liberated from. So she asked.

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“One night at a meeting I said: ‘Would everyone please give me an example from their own life on how they experienced oppression as a woman?’ I need to hear it to raise my own consciousness.’”

Ms. Pyne’s simple question, quoted by author Susan Brownmiller in her 1999 book, “In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution,” ignited the group. As women shared their firsthand accounts of slights and injustices they had endured — at work, at home and in the bedroom — they found patterns, and solidarity.

Experiences that they assumed had been theirs alone turned out to be collective, and swapping stories became one of the foundational tools of the Second Wave feminist movement. By examining their own experiences in a largely patriarchal world, the women laid bare everyday indignities, like being forced do most of the housework, as well as cultural myths and falsehoods about female sexuality.

The discussions — building on the idea of “consciousness raising” — led to a number of seminal feminist texts, including Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm” (1970) and Shulamith Firestone’s “The Dialectic of Sex” (1970).

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Kathie Sarachild, another member of the group, picked up on Ms. Pyne’s phrase and popularized the concept of consciousness raising as an activist tactic. Women across the country began forming groups in urban apartments and suburban living rooms to analyze the systemic challenges they faced and to offer one another support.

Alix Kates Shulman, an influential feminist writer, later wrote, “What made the discussions so powerful was the sense we had that a great floodlight had been turned onto the world, lighting up all our experience; it was as though all the murky and scary shadows we had been living with all our lives were suddenly wiped away.”

Almost accidentally, Ms. Pyne had inspired a breakthrough, Sarachild said in an interview: the realization that women, not male scientific authorities or political leaders, were the true experts on their own lives.

“It was a massive movement, and it came from asking questions that led to a deeper way of seeing,” Sarachild said.

Anne Forer was born in Manhattan on April 4, 1945, and raised in Queens by parents who identified as communists, according to her brother. Their father, Leon Forer, was a schoolteacher; their mother, the former Marion Kessler, was a nurse. Politics and civil-rights activism were regular dinner-table topics, Forer said.

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Under the pen name Anne Wilensky, Ms. Pyne self-published several novels and collections of vignettes based on her life and experiences in the feminist movement, which she insisted on calling the women’s liberation movement.

Ms. Pyne had a gift for talking plainly about topics not often discussed, a friend, Helen Kritzler, said.