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Sonia Johnson
Born February 27, 1936 (1936-02-27) (age 86)
Malad, Idaho
Residence New Mexico
Nationality American
Alma mater Utah State University
Rutgers College
Occupation Feminist activist and writer
Known for Supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, excommunicated by LDS Church
Spouse(s) Rick Johnson (divorced)
Partner Jade DeForest

Sonia Johnson (born February 27, 1936) is an American feminist activist 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. She went on to publish several radical feminist books and become a popular feminist speaker.

Early life and education

Sonia Ann Harris, born in Malad, Idaho was a fifth-generation Mormon. She attended Utah State University and married Rick Johnson following graduation. She earned a Master's degree and a Doctor of Education from Rutgers College. She was employed as a part-time teacher of English in universities both in the United States and abroad, following her husband to new places of employment. She had four children during these years. They returned to the United States in 1976.[1][2]

Mormon Church and ERA

Johnson began speaking out in support of the Equal Rights Amendment (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 Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, and she continued speaking and promoting the ERA and denouncing the LDS Church's opposition to the amendment.[1][3]

The Mormon 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.[3]

Because the speech drew national media attention, leaders in Johnson's local Virginia congregation 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.[4] Her husband divorced her soon after, which she blamed on "the mid-life crisis."[2]

After the rupture with the church Johnson continued promoting the ERA, speaking on television and at numerous functions throughout the country, including the 1980 Democratic Convention. She also protested venues like the Republican Party headquarters in Washington. She and twenty ERA supporters were briefly jailed for chaining themselves to the gate of a Mormon temple in Bellevue, Washington. She stated "It was a grand day in my life. Women have to risk civil disobedience for their rights."[2] In 1981 she published an autobiographical book about her embrace of feminism, titled From Housewife to Heretic (Doubleday, 1981).

Citizens Party presidential candidate

Johnson ran in the 1984 presidential election, as the presidential candidate of the U.S. Citizens Party, Pennsylvania's Consumer Party and California's Peace and Freedom Party. Johnson received 72,161 votes (0.08%) finishing fifth.[5] Her running mate for the Citizens Party was Richard Walton and for the Peace and Freedom Party Emma Wong Mar.[6] One of her campaign managers Mark Dunlea later wrote a novel about a first female president, Madame President.[7]

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. Wade decision, 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 Syndrome in 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 lesbian and began a relationship with an African American woman. 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."[8]

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."

Personal life

Johnson currently lives in New Mexico with partner Jade DeForest, where they run Casa Feminista, a hotel catering to feminist women.[9] She continues to speak at feminist events, including the 2007 Feminist Hullabaloo.


External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Barry Commoner
Citizens Party Presidential candidate
1984 (lost)
Succeeded by