Diana Russell
Diana E.H. Russell
11/6/1938 to 7/28/2020
Diana E. H. Russell, world-renowned feminist activist, scholar, and author died July 28th in Oakland, California. She was 81 years old. The cause of her death was respiratory failure.
Diana Russell devoted her life to the remediation of crimes against women. She authored numerous books and articles on marital rape, femicide, incest, misogynist murders of women, and pornography. In addition to her scholarship, Diana was a grass roots organizer. In the mid-1970s, she started lobbying feminists around the world. Her organizing efforts resulted in the first International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Brussels, Belgium. Two thousand women from 40 countries heard first-hand accounts of the gender-related violence and oppression that tribunal speakers had experienced. Simone de Beauvoir in her introductory speech to the Tribunal said: "I salute the International Tribunal as the beginning of the radical decolonization of women." Later, Diana and Belgian feminist Nicole Van de Ven documented the event in a book, Crimes Against Women: The Proceedings of the International Tribunal.
Diana Russell was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, the fourth of the six children of a South African father and a British mother. After completing her Bachelor's degree from the University of Cape Town, at the age of 19, Russell left for the United Kingdom.
In Britain, she enrolled in the London School of Economics in Political Science. In 1961, she completed a Master's degree and received the prize for the best student in the program. In 1963 she was accepted into an interdisciplinary PhD program at Harvard University and she moved to Boston. Her research focused on sociology and the study of revolution.
Diana's research focus stemmed from her own involvement in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. In 1963, Russell had joined the Liberal Party of South Africa that had been founded by Alan Paton, the author of Cry the Beloved Country. While participating in a peaceful protest in Cape Town, Russell was arrested with other party members. She came to the conclusion that non-violent strategies were futile against the brutal violence and repression of the white Afrikaner police state. Thereafter, she joined the African Resistance Movement (ARM), an underground revolutionary movement fighting apartheid in South Africa. The principal strategy of the ARM was to bomb and sabotage government property, and though Russell was only a peripheral member of the ARM, she still risked a 10-year incarceration if caught. During this period, Diana's father was a member of parliament of South Africa.
After completing her doctorate, Diana was hired as a sociology professor at Mills College in Oakland, California. During her first year, she co-taught the first course on women ever offered at Mills. Eventually this course led to the development of the Women's Studies curriculum at Mills –one of the first in the U.S.
In 1977, Diana conducted an extensive series of in-depth interviews with women. Data she gathered from these nine hundred interviews appeared in a series of books: Rape in Marriage (1982), Sexual Exploitation: Rape, Child Sexual Abuse, Workplace Harassment (1984), and The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women (1986). The Secret Trauma, the first scientific study of incestuous abuse ever conducted, was the co-recipient of the prestigious C. Wright Mills Award in 1986.
In 1987, Diana traveled to South Africa to conduct interviews with revolutionary women activists in the anti-apartheid liberation struggle. Upon her return, she published Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa (1989). In 1993, Diana edited an anthology on pornography, Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography. Her 1994 book, Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm, which included 100 pornographic photos, made the connection between pornography and increased incidents of rape.
Perhaps Diana's most significant theoretical contribution to the field of women's studies was a single word. In 1976 Russell redefined 'femicide' as "the killing of females by males because they are female." Russell's intention was to politicize the term. She wanted to bring attention to the misogyny driving lethal crimes against women, which she said gender-neutral terms like murder failed to do. In order to deal with these extreme crimes against women, Diana insisted, it was necessary to recognize that, like race-based hate crimes, "Femicides are [also] lethal hate crimes."
Feminist movements in many countries in Latin America, as in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Chile, and El Salvador among others, have adopted the use of Russell's politicized 'femicide' and have successfully used it socially, politically and legally to address lethal violence against women in their respective countries. In 1992, she co-edited an anthology, Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing.
In addition to her publications, Diana always found time for boots-on-the ground activism. She was often on the front lines of feminist protests in the USA, South Africa, Europe, and the U.K. In concert with other feminists, she demonstrated outside courthouses and theaters; she staged sit-ins in various government offices; she spray-painted feminist slogans on misogynist businesses; and destroyed magazines in porn stores. For many months, she was the solo picketer outside a Berkeley restaurant owned by a trafficker in underage girls. Her acts of civil disobedience often satirized her targets. In 1991, for example, a waitress refused to serve a male customer because he was reading Playboy. She was fired for her act of rebellion. Hefner responded by flying in a large quantity of issues of his magazine that were distributed free to all the diner customers to read. Diana and six friends dressed as waitresses and served ketchup-covered penises and testicles (adroitly sculpted hotdogs) on plates to the crowd that had gathered outside.
For her various acts of civil disobedience, Diana paid a price. She was sued, arrested a half dozen times, and, on occasion, physically attacked. She remained undaunted.
She continued to start feminist organizations. In 1977, Diana co-founded Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media (WAVPM), the first feminist anti-pornography organization in the United States and internationally. She also founded FANG (Feminists' Anti-Nuclear Group) in response to the failure of the peace movement to recognize the role of patriarchy in the development of nuclear arms. This culminated in the publication of Exposing Nuclear Phallacies (1989), designated an Outstanding Book on human rights in the United States by the Gustavus Myers Center in 1990. In 1993, Russell initiated an organization called Women United Against Incest, which supports incest survivors with legal assistance against their perpetrators. Similarly, she created the first TV program in South Africa where incest survivors talk in person about their experiences.
After spending a half century conducting research, writing and publishing books and articles, public speaking, and political activism to combat male sexual violence against females, Diana shifted her attention to her memoirs. She died before she could complete them. For a more complete summary of Diana's life and accomplishments, please visit her website: DianaRussell.com.
Consonant with her egalitarian values, Diana lived in a collective household with several other women and a succession of cherished rescue dogs. On the occasions when she allowed herself time-outs from her work, she shared a meal with one of her friends. Those of us fortunate enough to be included in her circle were awed by her single-minded dedication and her remarkable achievements. In addition to our reverence for her, we loved her.
She is survived by her sister Jill Hall, scores of friends and co-activists, and the thousands of women who owe their survival to her work.
In her honor, donations can be made to any feminist organization or to your local animal shelter.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Jul. 29 to Aug. 2, 2020.
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20 Entries
Rest in Paradise, Diana. I am sorry we didn't get better acquainted, but we were both so busy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the work, all the courageous work you did and all the sacrifices you made for all of us! Much love!
Yvonne L. Swan (aka Wanrow 1962-1979)
September 13, 2020
Been many years since our paths crossed but I will always remember our conversations, her love of animals and her larger than life personality. She was always kind and warm towards me. I am grateful to have been in her presence. She breathed life into women's issues and activism. May she rest in peace.
Kathleen Donson Soots
August 9, 2020
As a newly SF State graduate in 1977, I had the honor to meet and work with Diana during the meetings of the early stages of Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media (WAVPM) in San Francisco, which evolved from the San Francisco Conference on Violence Against Women in December 1976. I was one of those feminists who met weekly to organize and plan action. Diana's knowledge and contributions to those meetings were remarkable. I was totally in awe of her. Many of us looked up to her for her research, knowledge and leadership on this subject. The conference had lit a spark in us, and Diana was one of the key feminists who was instrumental in encouraging we young feminists attending those WAVPM meetings to forge forward to end violence in pornography and media as it relates to women. I went on to publicly speak on this issue as result of the WAVP meetings. Thank you, Diana, for your great contributions and work ending violence towards woman and being a beacon to motivate me to join the cause. RIP.
W.H. King
August 7, 2020
I am saddened at the news of Diana’s passing. I first met Diana in 1970, in Berkeley, in a Women’s “consciousness-raising” group. She was already an accomplished sociologist and I was a returning student at UC Berkeley, raising 3 young daughters. I was in awe of Diana and her intellect, and was honored to be an interviewee for her book, The Politics of Rape. It was a difficult subject to talk about back then, but she was encouraging and compassionate. We bonded over our mutual disgust of pornography and its deleterious/violent/dehumanizing effect on men’s behavior toward women. We went to several porn movies together to analyze and discuss them for a new group she had organized. Pornography was a loaded topic at the time, as many women feared being accused of “prudishness” if they verbally condemned it. I appreciated Dana’s strong belief in its damaging effects. We had a few social nights out to a few Oakland bars where some of her Mills College students hung out. It was clear they adored her, each competing to dance with their idol. I think I idolized her, too, and felt honored to have the friendship of such an intelligent woman. And, oh, that marvelous South African accent!!. I remember when she moved into her first Radical feminist house where no men were allowed and an issue arose when her brother was coming to visit and was not allowed to come in. ( I can’t remember what the resolution was). Our lives began to diverge and we met up more and more infrequently, and at some point we lost touch as I moved out of the Bay Area. I never forgot her, though, and heard about her through media from time to time. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more fierce defender of women and a fighter for our rights and freedoms. The world has lost a warrior.
Tsiporah Judith Anderson-Gottlieb
August 6, 2020
She was a great inspiration to me. Supported me through the difficult work of setting up Rape Crisis Cape Town. She was with her time, letting me talk about difficulties and challenges for hours and she was so helpful with suggestions and insights. She was a wonderful combination of vulnerability, determination and courage. She simply couldn't believe that after she uncovered and exposed abuse, bullying, exploitation and murder of women, the world didn't immediately take it on and put it right. This made her angry and caused her to work even harder. I hope before she died that she realised how much she had changed the world for the better for both women and men.
Anne Mayne
August 5, 2020
In loving memory of a wonderful person. We will love you and miss you always.
mary barter
August 2, 2020
I miss my constant comrade in the fight against violence against women and girls. Please note that one of the rape survivors interviewed for Diana Russell's book The Politics of Rape: The Victim's Perspective (1975) responded to the announcement on Berkeleyside (https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/07/30/remembering-diana-e-h-russell-world-renowned-feminist-activist) Thank you, Doris B. for mentioning this groundbreaking book. I am guessing that the great news that this is now available on Google Books is more recent than the list of online publications listed on the Books and Articles Online tab on her website. Here is a link to the Books tab on her website with abstracts and reviews, which does include The Politics of Rape.

Laura X, founder/director of the former
National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape
Women's History Library
(510) 587-3372 Berkeley, Ca.
New website: http://lauraxinstitute.org
for Laura's Social Movements Archives
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurarorthweinjr
Laura X
July 31, 2020
Su legado perdurará para la eternidad. Qué descanse en paz. Estudiaré su obra para las futuras generaciones.
Lidiethe Madden Arias
July 31, 2020
It was a great privilege to have met and worked with Diana Russell back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Her commitment to working to end violence against women and girls was inspirational as was the energy she gave to this work.
Jill Radford Professor emerita, Teesside Universitty
July 30, 2020
Diana, Vive y Vivirá por siempre en la lucha de las Mujeres Sobrevivientes de Violencia. Ella seguirá en las calles alzando su voz en todas las Protestas de las Mujeres Del Mundo por el Derecho a Una Vida Sin Violencia.
Carmen Castro Umaña
July 30, 2020
What an inspiring woman who was part of my political education. A true feminist hero.
July 30, 2020
La Dra. Russell deja un enorme legado feminista. El llamado que hizo en el 76 para nombrar el femicidio es elemento indispensable para hablar hoy día acerca de la violencia de género en México y en América latina.
July 29, 2020
La Dra. Diana Russell deja un enorme legado para todas las mujeres feministas en el mundo. Como académica y también como una coherente activista. Hoy el constructo teórico que inició como "femicide" es elemento indispensable en la enseñanza de las violencias de género en México y en América latina. Un legado de lucha para acceder a la justicia
Claudia E.
July 29, 2020
I too lived with Diana within the last several years. She had this lovely large home in Berkeley where she had an all women's living space. What I liked about Diana on a personal level was her commitment to feminism and her good health. She exercised daily and ate well. She was still going to the gym in her late 70's where she loved to sing with her head phones on. She also loved her dog (Lovies) and really always did right by the environment. She saved rain water and had solar
panels. She was vegan and fully supported animal rights. She was a wonder with plants too. Diana had a strong personality but was still kind. She believed in action and lived a full life. I will always remember her for her strength and quirks. Rest in peace Diana.
July 29, 2020
When I worked in rape crisis Diana’s work provided me with valuable insights into trauma and the women I worked with a great deal of comfort in the knowledge that what they were experiencing was a natural reaction to terrible events in their lives. I put acquaintance but this is only through her books
Sue Leigh
July 29, 2020
Very sad news. She was a great inspiration and gave us many tools to understand the conditions that lead to misogynist killing of women.
Montserrat Sagot
July 29, 2020
Tamarack Verrall
July 29, 2020
Brilliant, hard working, caring. This trailblazer will be missed.
July 29, 2020
Thank you for posting. I lived in her household in Berkeley for the last three years I was in California (the obit says she passed in Oakland but maybe she was in a hospital). We had very interesting conversations about feminism and femicide. She had a droll sense of humor. I remember her with fondness and am happy to have known her.
Lois Hoeffler
July 29, 2020
We are all blessed by her brave work and her enduring legacy.
Mickey Z.
July 29, 2020
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