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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Women’s Liberation and Feminism



“Women are an oppressed class. Our oppression is total, affecting every facet of our lives. We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor. We are considered inferior beings, whose only purpose is to enhance men’s lives. Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of physical violence.”
- Redstockings (Bitch) Manifesto (1969)





The late 1960s were a time of change, when social and political issues took center stage and nearly everyone had a cause to champion. One movement that forever altered the balance of power in America was Women’s Liberation.



Rosie the Riveter symbolized Female strength and independence



“A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after.”
– Gloria Steinem
During WWII, women were found in factories, helping the war effort while establishing their own financial independence. When men came back from the war, the women lost their jobs and went back to being homemakers and mothers. Yet that freedom they experienced during the war left many of them wondering why they should be stuck at home when they could work as well as a man.
The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, "It's a girl."
- Shirley Chisholm
Then in the 1960s, as the baby boom waned, women entered the workforce in droves. What they found there was disheartening. They discovered that in the male dominated capitalist society, they were treated second class. They were discriminated against in hiring, as men were usually taken first. They were passed over for promotions, and when they did land a man’s job, they were paid only a fraction of what men were paid for the same work.
"The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes."
- Bella Abzug
Seeking long overdue social, political and economic equality, women protested for such things as equal rights, equal pay, maternity leave, childcare, etc. Those who started this movement were quickly labeled “feminists”, and much of the media tried to stereotype these women as radical lesbians and kooks.
"In my heart, I think a woman has two choices: Either she's a feminist or a masochist”
– Gloria Steinem
But they got organized and groups like NOW, the National Organization of Women, grew quickly and became a big lobby for women’s rights in Congress, and the sponsor of the ERA, Equal Rights Amendment (which still hasn’t been ratified). The Women’s Liberation movement embraced many causes from equal rights to abortion, from legalizing contraceptives to freedom from sexual harassment.
Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.
- Gloria Steinem



The timing was perfect. Everyone seemed to be protesting something, either the Vietnam War, student rights, Gay rights, so Women’s Liberation was another popular cause among many. Even women who didn’t consider themselves “feminists” were actively engaged in the fight for womens’ rights.
"I wish someone would have told me that, just because I'm a girl, I don't have to get married."
- Marlo Thomas
Other factors also contributed to the timing. Women were suddenly freed to work as their baby boomer children were now in school. The Pill and other contraceptive devices, liberated women to have sex without worrying about babies. The fashions of the 60s revealed much more of women’s sexuality than ever before. Miniskirts, see-thru blouses and freedom from bras ironically turned women into sex symbols at the same time they demanded to be seen as more than that.





Ban the Bra Protest at Miss America Pageant 1968



"Scratch most feminists and underneath there is a woman who longs to be a sex object. The difference is that is not all she wants to be."
- Betty Rollin
In fact, female protesters at a Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, threw away their bras, which led to the media calling it a “bra burning”, which never really happened, yet seemed to encapsulate the prevailing mindset.
“You’ve come a long way, baby”
– Cigarette commercial (Virginia Slims)
As a result of the Women’s Liberation movement, women no longer felt so oppressed by the male-dominated society, and learned that they were equals and had the power to change society perhaps even more than other groups. Women no longer felt imprisoned at home, and could consider careers their mothers and grandmothers could only dream about.
"Men are not the enemy, but the fellow victims. The real enemy is women's denigration of themselves."
– Betty Friedan
They were now free to enter transient sexual relationships without being labeled whores, without the fear of getting pregnant, and without the social stigma that non-traditional relationships attract in America’s Puritan society.
"[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and  

become lesbians."
- Pat Robertson
Of course Women’s Lib spawned a backlash from conservatives who saw it as undermining the “family values” they cherished. The bible thumpers came out in force to stop the movement, preaching damnation to those preaching equality in America.
We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.
- Gloria Steinem
Men began questioning their own dominance and sexual identity. Were men also a victim of sex role stereotyping? Could men be more sensitive, nuturing, in touch with their feminine side? Could they be homemakers and raise children while women went to work? These were some important social issues raised by Women’s Liberation, and led to a more open and flexible attitude towards sexual roles in American society.




Women's Liberation Protest, London




But Women’s Liberation didn’t stop there! It spread around the world as feminist protests and liberation movements occurred in major cities everywhere. Today most women take for granted the gains garnered by the Women’s Liberation movement, but for many oppressed women around the world, their day has yet to arrive…




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