Women's liberation movement
The women's liberation movement was a loose agreement of women and feminist thinking that emerged in the United States, United Kingdom, and other developed countries during the late 1960s and persisted throughout the 1970s.
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In the USA
Although one could go as far back as Abigail Adams who asked her husband John Adams to "remember the ladies" in the Constitution, the feminist movement in America did not begin in full force until the 1960s. The training ground for feminism was the Civil Rights Movement. During the 1960s the Presidents Commission on the Status of Women was formed under President Kennedy who emphasized the importance of the committees work at its first meeting on February 12, 1962. After its inception each state had members who would report back to the President. In theory it was a positive step in the right direction as far as procuring equal rights for women was concerned, but it was besieged with setbacks. The problem during this era was that it was hard to follow through on ideas and proposals because as is often the case in politics, it was hard to get everyone to agree on everything. In 1966 a frustrated Betty Friedan and some of her friends decided to form a new organization and they called it the National Organization for Women (NOW). After installing Friedan as their first President, NOW stated that one of their goals was to bring women into the mainstream of society and to keep moving forward in an atmosphere of change.
The women that originally formed NOW felt that it was very important not to get too extreme at first but then in the late 1960s younger groups started to emerge. Although having the backing of a sizeable group of young people is considered to be a good thing for any movement, the fact that Friedan and her fellow co-founders of NOW were all from the WWII generation, and the newer groups that were joining the women's liberation movement had much different priorities eventually caused a clash within the movement. One example of a clash took place during the 1968 Mrs. America pageant when the New York Radical Women (N.Y.R.W) decided to protest the event. One of the members got metal trash cans and threw items that they considered to be objects of female torture such as bras, pots, pans and copies of Ladies Home Journal, and threw them into the cans. Friedan was furious about these actions. She felt that actions such as these would prevent people from taking their movement seriously.
In the view of the newer generations, Friedan was for maintaining the Status Quo; she wanted women to wear makeup and dresses and to look a certain way. The newer generation disagreed with these desires. Friedan also stated that she didn’t want a bunch of people to think that NOW was just a bunch of lesbians. The fact was however that a great deal of the younger people that were participating in the women’s movement were indeed lesbians. Disagreement over policy caused an inevitable split within the organization in the late 1970s that almost resulted in the destruction of the organization. More conservative members of the organization began expelling the more radical members. It was at this point that lesbian women began to pursue their own interests. To many, lesbianism was about separatism and the creation of lesbian culture began to escalate.
A book called Lesbian Nation was released that discussed the problems of lesbian women within society. A record label called Olivia Records was formed and a woman by the name of Jill Johnston proposed an all female society. The refrain for many was “Personal is political” and what is supposedly meant by this is notion that who a person sleeps with, how they dress, and how they wear their hair is a political statement. There were some individuals within the movement that felt that in order to be a true feminist that they had to refuse to sleep with men, but with this notion we see an idea that is only embraced by the more radical and extreme factions of the women’s movement.
There were many things that the Women’s Movement pointed to as examples of their successes. They felt that one success was the establishment of Roe vs. Wade, which gave women the right to choose abortion as an option. Another success was the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was meant as a logical extension to women’s suffrage and even though it has yet to be passed, it has gotten through both the House and the Senate, and remnants of it continue to this day. Another success of the women’s movement could be Title 9, which called for women to have equal opportunities in college sports. Although Title 9 is far from perfect, and conversation continues to this day, it is still considered successful nonetheless.
If we analyze the history of the women’s movement we do see that they have come a long way, however, as is the case in any other political movement there is no question that they still have a long way to go before the women reach their goals of equality in opportunity.
In June, 1967 Jo Freeman attended a "free school" course on women at the University of Chicago led by Heather Booth and Naomi Weisstein. Freeman invited them to organize a woman’s workshop at the National Conference of New Politics (NCNP), to be held in Chicago over Labor Day weekend that year. At the conference a woman's caucus was formed, and it (led by Freeman and Shulamith Firestone) presented its own demands to the plenary session.
In response to their demands, the women were told their resolution was not important enough for a floor discussion. While threatening to tie up the convention with procedural motions, they succeeded in having their statement tacked on to the end of the agenda. Through that effort their demands were never discussed. Towards the end of the conference, NCNP Director William F. Pepper refused to recognize any of the women waiting to speak and instead called on someone to speak about the American Indians. Five women, including Firestone, rushed the podium to demand to know why. William F. Pepper then patted Firestone on the head and said, "Move on little girl; we have more important issues to talk about here than women's liberation", or possibly, "Cool down, little girl. We have more important things to talk about than women's problems." \
A meeting was called together by Freeman and Firestone for all of the women who had been at the "free school" course and the women’s workshop during the conference. This meeting spawned the first Chicago women’s liberation group. This group was known as the Westside group because it met weekly in Freeman’s apartment on Chicago’s west side. After a few months of meeting, Freeman started the newsletter called Voice of the women’s liberation movement. This newsletter circulated across the country (and in a few foreign countries), and gave the women's liberation movement its name. Many of the women in the Westside group went on to start other feminist organizations, including the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.
Within the year, women's liberation groups sprang up all over America. In 1968, the first American national gathering of women's liberation activists was held in Lake Villa, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.
That same year, at the University of Washington, a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organizer reflected on a meeting about white college men working with poor white men, and "noted that sometimes after analyzing societal ills, the men shared leisure time by 'balling a chick together.' He pointed out that such activities did much to enhance the political consciousness of poor white youth. A woman in the audience asked, 'And what did it do for the consciousness of the chick?'" After the meeting, a handful of women formed Seattle's first women's liberation group.
Also in 1968, 100 women protested the Miss America Beauty Pageant because it promoted "physical attractiveness and charm as the primary measures of a woman’s worth," especially the swimsuit portion of the contest (Echols, Alice "Nothing Distant About It", 1994, pg 149).
The ideology of radical feminism in the United States developed as a component of the women's liberation movement. Within groups such as New York Radical Women (1967–1969), (no relation to Radical Women, a present-day socialist feminist organization), which Ellen Willis characterized as "the first women's liberation group in New York City", a radical feminist ideology began to emerge that declared that "the personal is political" and "sisterhood is powerful", formulations that arose from these consciousness-raising sessions.
In the UK
The first National Women's Liberation Movement Conference took place in Britain, for three days, from 27 February 1970, at Ruskin College. It was attended by 600 women. There were a further nine such conferences up to that held in Birmingham in 1978.
In 1970, in Ireland, the Irish Women's Liberation Movement published a manifesto for women and conducted protests and activism such as the Contraceptive Train. The first women's liberation march in London occurred in 1971.
In 1970, Australian feminist Germaine Greer published her book, The Female Eunuch. Also in 1970, Sisterhood Is Powerful, An Anthology of Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement edited by the American feminist Robin Morgan, was published.
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