[Marxism] What happened to the women's movement?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jun 21 14:02:19 MDT 2004

Monthly Review, May 2001
What Happened to the Women’s Movement?
by Barbara Epstein

 From the late 1960s into the 1980s there was a vibrant women's movement 
in the United States. Culturally influential and politically powerful, 
on its liberal side this movement included national organizations and 
campaigns for reproductive rights, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and 
other reforms. On its radical side it included women's liberation and 
consciousness raising groups, as well as cultural and grassroots 
projects. The women's movement was also made up of innumerable caucuses 
and organizing projects in the professions, unions, government 
bureaucracies, and other institutions. The movement brought about major 
changes in the lives of many women, and also in everyday life in the 
United States. It opened to women professions and blue-collar jobs that 
previously had been reserved for men. It transformed the portrayal of 
women by the media. It introduced the demand for women's equality into 
politics, organized religion, sports, and innumerable other arenas and 
institutions, and as a result the gender balance of participation and 
leadership began to change. By framing inequality and oppression in 
family and personal relations as a political question, the women's 
movement opened up public discussion of issues previously seen as 
private, and therefore beyond public scrutiny. The women's movement 
changed the way we talk, and the way we think. As a result, arguably 
most young women now believe that their options are or at least should 
be as open as men's.

Despite the dramatic accomplishments of the women's movement, and the 
acceptance of women's equality as a goal in most sectors of U.S. 
society, gender equality has not yet been achieved. Many more women work 
outside the home but most continue to be concentrated in low-paying 
jobs; women earn, on the average, considerably less than men; women are 
much more likely than men to be poor. Violence against women is still 
widespread. Responsibility for childcare remains largely the 
responsibility of women; despite the fact that most women work outside 
the home, nowhere is it seen as a societal rather than a familial 
responsibility. In the 1960s and 1970s feminists protested the imbalance 
in power between men and women in family and personal relations. But 
these continue to exist.

Worst of all, there is no longer a mass women's movement. There are many 
organizations working for women's equality in the public arena and in 
private institutions; these include specifically women's organizations 
such as the National Organization for Women, and in environmental, 
health care, social justice and other areas that address women's issues. 
But, where there were once women's organizations with large 
participatory memberships there are now bureaucratic structures run by 
paid staff. Feminist theory, once provocative and freewheeling, has lost 
concern with the conditions of women's lives and has become pretentious 
and tired. This raises two questions. Why is there so little discussion 
of the near-disappearance of a movement that not so long ago was strong 
enough to bring about major changes in the social and cultural 
landscape? What are the causes of the movement's decline?

full: http://www.monthlyreview.org/0501epstein.htm


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