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