“Bit by bit” – A look at the history of equal rights for women
Equal rights for Women are under dire criticism in parts of America, with subjects like reproductive health, pay equality and gender stereotypes receiving daily headlines. While the actions of earlier women’s advocacy groups advanced women’s rights to levels unreachable to previous generations, it has led to a clash of ideals on new topics in modern society. And while Women’s rights can be a notable issue, the overall perception has changed for the better.
Women have had to fight for every right in this country. The rights they currently possess are earned, whether it be by opportunity or by effort. Activist groups such as the Redstockings, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, and the National Organization for Women are all champions for a cause more than 300 years in the making. Their actions have and/or currently are shaping the fabric of women’s lives to this day.
The Redstockings were a women’s liberation group formed by the end of the late sixties. According to their website, the Redstockings would “go on to champion and spread knowledge of vital women’s liberation theory” (Redstockings, 1969). Their manifesto, aptly titled the Redstockings Manifesto, was one of their first conscious-raising papers and would establish a lot of the group’s fundamental agenda going forward.
The seven point manifesto is the de-facto mission statement of the organization and for female kind, calling for women to “break away from male supremacy,” identify the agents of their oppression as men, and “to develop female class consciousness through sharing experience and publicly exposing the sexist foundation of all our institutions.” Essentially their motive was for women to be individuals capable of living their own lives, making their own choices and not being economically, emotionally or sociologically dependent on a man.
The Chicago Women’s Liberation Union also produced some reading material for the women of the 1970’s and would lead womankind on a pathway of proposed equality. Their pamphlet, Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women’s Movement, is widely regarded as one of the definitive sources on socialist feminism. The piece, which was written by the Hyde Park chapter, does what the title describes: it lays out a strategy for the women’s movement.
The pamphlet is organized into five areas: conceptual theory, the potential to gain power as women, consciousness in regards to the women’s movement, issues facing the movement, and how to organize the movement into a reputable force.
An aspect of the conceptual theory, which explores the relative measure of equality, is embodied in the following portion of text:
Understanding our changing history helps us to avoid stereotyping our opposition or own notions of what liberation means. The development of a strategy makes it clear that technological advances, legislative changes or educational developments are not good or bad in themselves. When we know the context in which any specific change occurs, we can judge the value of that change for our goals. (Booth, 1972).
The notion of sort of a fluid situation regarding the equality of women is interesting because it leaves room for continual improvement. That is something that is often disregarded in issues of equality – people often search for Band-Aids when they need stiches.
While there were positives to both of these organizations, they each had their fallbacks. The Redstockings, while revolutionary, marketed themselves as radicals striving for change in interest for the betterment of women. Even though their ultimate goal was humanistic, their marketing strategy allowed them to be connoted as extremists. The imagery of their organization and their humanistic themes brought upon associations of communism (redstockings sounds strikingly similar to red scare).The same is done in the pamphlet distributed by the Hyde Park chapter of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. They diagram an outstanding plan for feminism but also argue that it cannot hold up in the current capitalistic system, urging for a foundational switch to socialistic markets. The actions they took in marketing their message forever altered the perception of the cause.
Perception of the initial actions taken by these advocacy groups, why they formed and how they utilized their message, has settled with time and analysis. The Origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement, published by Jo Freeman while at the University of Chicago, asks those questions. Freeman, the founder of the Chicago Women’s Movement, makes an interesting statement regarding the nature of younger liberation groups in comparison to the older, established ones of the time (her article was written in 1973). Freeman writes:
The younger branch of the movement prides itself on its lack of organization. From its radical routes, it inherited the idea that structures were always conservative and confining, and leaders, isolated and elitist. Thus, eschewing structure and damning the idea of leadership, it has carried the concept of “everyone doing her own thing” to the point where communication is haphazard and nonexistent. (Freeman, 1973).
Another notable point Freeman makes in regard to the lack of structure between the numerous liberation groups of the late sixties is that the lack of structure led to the lack of a clear, unified message; leaving society watching the actions with a hazy acumen of the change for which these groups were calling.
Like Freeman, Joanne Meyerowitz analyzed the liberation movement but she did so by questioning one of its definitive texts, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. The point Meyerowitz began to draw was that the state of feminism from the 1940’s to the 1960’s was not a constant adoration of burning bras and otherwise unfeminine wiles, the imagery of the time period was that of many opinions. The idea being that the voice these messages are coming from all have their own agendas.
Of all the groups that were founded in the interest of women’s’ liberation, the mother of them all is still in existence. The National Organization of Women (NOW), established in 1966, is still in the pursuit of advocating for women and takes a stand on multiple causes such as: reproductive rights, pay equality, marriage equality and body image – all things that would have been heavily fought back against with prejudice, bigotry, and religious intolerance (upon other things) during the times of their initial inception. Had earlier efforts not addressed issues like equal employment opportunity (i.e. sex segregated ads), the Comprehensive Child Care Act, and equal education opportunities then who knows what the current state of women would be? The actions of all the aforementioned groups helped contribute to all of those achievements.
While the perception of feminism may be subjective in modern society, the actuality of the matter is these are people acting with the intention of doing something good for humankind. They back legislation, they organize discussions and they continually push the boundaries that form the restrictions of their lives. I read a roundtable discussion about what feminism is today from the American Psychology Association and it simplified it quite nicely. To paraphrase, the women on the roundtable called being a feminist being nothing more than being a strong, critical-thinking woman in modern society. The work of countless women across the span of decades allowed for that.
Meyerowitz, J. (1993). Beyond the feminine mystique: A reassessment of postwar mass culture, 1946-1958. The Journal of American History, 79(4), 1455. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/224916962?accountid=3783
Meyerowitz, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, pens this scholarly article in an effort to analyze the generalizations of postwar mass culture. Her report consisted of sampling 489 nonfiction articles, ranging from topics of general “Hollywood gossip to serious considerations of gender” and developing an assessment of how the female gender was perceived during the time period in contrast with Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.” Meyerowitz contends that the articles she sampled did not “glorify domesticity” or plead for women to stay in the confines of their homes. She would continue to argue that the mass culture of the period is riddled with opposing views.
Meyerowitz does an admirable job of providing views that show both sides of then-society coming to accord with women’s equality issues. Her well-noted paper, brings an air of credibility to an often opinionated topic. The point Meyerowitz eventually ends with is looking at the effect Friedan’s work had on the society of the time. The text of the article is featured in the Journal of American History and parts of the research was first presented at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women: two facts that give any point derived from the article considerable weight.
Freeman, J (1973) The Origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 78, No. 4, Changing Women in a Changing Society pp. 792-811. The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2776604
Freeman, a professor from the University of Chicago, published this essay in the American Journal of Sociology as a means to describe the sociological origins of the women’s movement as a means to express why the movement occurred. Freeman uses a proposition based approach in an attempt to describe that societal movements do not act spontaneously: there has to be a network for new ideas and multiple participants have to be involved for these events to take shape. Freeman compiled her various research throughout her time as a founder of the Chicago Women’s Movement and was the editor of the first newsletter for her organization.
Something Freeman does well in her pursuit to verbally diagram the origins of the women’s liberation movement is that she takes the reader through a historical tour that explains the situation of contemporary issues by identifying the groups that came before them and led to their current entanglement. The extensive historical account allows intrinsic insight into the creations of various organizations and develops a four-point account of women’s liberation in the middle of the 1960’s.
Redstockings, (1969) Redstockings Manifesto. Retrieved from: http://www.redstockings.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=76&Itemid=59
The Redstockings wrote their Manifesto in July of 1969 as a means of declaring unity among womankind and announcing their “liberation from male supremacy.” The goal of the Redstockings was to make it clear that Women are an oppressed class. They asserted their oppressors are men and all further actions their organization will take will be in interest of the betterment of women. Honesty and an end to individual skirmishes in interest of the cause was recognized. The document serves as a mission statement for the group, adding a guise of formality to their issue.
The obvious issue in the Redstockings Manifesto stems from the name. Words like Manifesto and the visual of red in the primary logo had to associate to conservatives images of communism – which had to have a negative effect (even if it was subconscious) on the bottom line of their message. While the document makes basic points about equal rights, it does it in a fashion where it feels extremist – which really wasn’t what the organization was about. They were a grouping of women who wanted to champion equality, not promote a facet of life destructive to American society, according to their website.
Booth, H., Creamer, D., Davis, S., Dobbin, D., Kaufman, R., Klass, T. (1972) Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women’s Movement. Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Retrieved from: http://www.cwluherstory.com/socialist-feminism-a-strategy-for-the-womens-movement.html
The thorough “Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women’s Movement” lays out what socialism is and what it is not. The group established three points in an effort to determine what they want from their mission. The plan was laid out in multiple concepts like; power, consciousness, current issues and organization. The pamphlet, widely considered as a guide to the subject, was produced by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union.
The really attachable thing about the source is that it doesn’t oversell what they are trying to say (unlike the Redstockings’ Manifesto). They say what they need to say by just stating the facts and not self-sensationalizing their message. It shows a sense of structure to developing their message which really benefits the credibility and clarity of what they are trying to produce. The overall message is much more virtuosic than self-serving.
National Organization of Women, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.now.org/
I used basic, factual information from portions of this website to illustrate the common issues of the topic. The information pulled were simply bullet points in a list to illustrate the agenda of modern Women’s liberation groups.
The National Organization of Women (NOW) is one of the founding women’s liberation movement organizations and have been active in their causes for the past 50 years.
Murray Law, B. 2006. “What Feminism Means Today.” American Psychological Association. Retrieved From: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2006/09/feminism.aspx
The article illustrates opinions from a grouping of women, in the field of psychology, about what feminism is today. The work, while it may be limited in scope, shows achievements in the perceptions of what women can be.
The article features a transcript from a round table discussion. The American Psychological Association “is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA is the world’s largest association of psychologists, with more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students as its members,” according to their website.