Feminism in the United States

history of the feminist movement in the USA

Feminism in the United States refers to a range of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending a state of equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women in the United States.

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Feminism in the United States has never emerged from the women who are most victimized by sexist oppression; women who are daily beaten down, mentally, physically, and spiritually-women who are powerless to change their condition in life. They are a silent majority. A mark of their victimization is that they accept their lot in life without visible question, without organized protest, without collective anger or rage. ~ Bell Hooks
  • For many feminists, however, Playboy’s philanthropy could only go so far. Controversy erupted in 1971 when the foundation offered legal support to the National Organization for Women. Instead NOW asked for one night’s profit from all Playboy Clubs. The organization publicized their request I order to put pressure on “Playboy”, but Hefner refused to go along, calling it “crude extortion.” NOW went on to declare that “no amount of money ‘would compensate for the low rating of the source. . . [T]o accept money from the [Playboy Foundation] would only contaminate us.” The conflict caused Barbara A. Townley of New Orleans to write, “I’m wholeheartedly in factor of women’s rights, but I don’t think Hugh Hefner even remotely resembled the Antichrist. . . . thanks for you offer to help. Perhaps when the women’s movement. . . starts going after the real dragons, we can get together.
    If some feminists in the seventies reacted foundation money, others accepted it as reparations, or as a necessary evil in difficult economic times, or they simply accepted it. Noting that funding for women’s projects was sparse in the early seventies, Marjorie Fine Knowles, writing for the Women’s Studies Newsletter, promoted the Playboy Foundation among organizations that were willing to assist or work toward feminist goals. Likewise, when the foundation paid the printing costs of the Dayton Women’s Center’s service directory, scholar Judith Ezekiel notes that there was “surprisingly little debate.” An ACLU board member said o foundation money, “How much s hand wash and how much is real, I don’t know. . . . but I’ll put up with it.” At the height of the women’s movement, Playboy’s money inspired debate. There was no consensus among feminists.
  • By the last third of the twentieth century, a number of factors fueled movement building by feminists of color who focused on matters they would soon associate with reproductive justice. These included the influence of international and U.S. antiracist and feminist-led human rights movements. Movement activists organize against laws and policies that amounted to official reproductive abuse of peple of color and their communities. Abuses included coerced sterilization; welfare and fostering policies that punished poor women for “illegitimate” motherhood, and the Hyde Amendment, which denied federal aid to poor women seeking abortions. In other words, reproductive justice was born from the claims of women of color that they had the right to be sexual persons and to be fertile. They claimed the right to decide to become parents and the right to the resources they needed to take care of their children. They also claimed the right to mangage their fertility by having access to contraception and abortion services. And they made the case that the reproduction-related abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s and beyond constituted the direct legacies of a long history of reproductive abuse, reaching back into the slavery regime and earlier. They also drew on their own histories to define the fundamental human rights of all fertile and reproducing persons.
  • Abortion-rights groups often adopted population-control arguments as a more pragmatic alternative to those involving women's rights. For movement pragmatists, women's-rights claims likely seemed risky. In the early 1970s, the women's movement remained poorly understood and, in some cases, unpopular, A 1970 Harris poll, for example, found that sympathy for the women's movement did not top fifty percent in any of the age groups surveyed."
  • [A]s feminists gained positions of leadership in the abortion-rights movement, women activists began reinterpreting abortion rights, arguing that they reflected the constitutional significance of women's interests in autonomy and equality. As had been the case for Betty Friedan and Carol Greitzer before Roe, many feminists viewed abortion as being a women's-rights issue. With the controversy surrounding population control and the necessity of defending Roe, feminists saw a valuable opportunity to reframe abortion as an issue of rights for women.
  • Abortion-rights groups often adopted population-control arguments as an alternative to those involving liberty and equality for women. Some supporters of abortion rights had no independent interest in the women’s movement or its demands. Many other activists, however, sympathizes with or even focused on the struggle for women’s liberation. For movement pragmatists, however, women’s rights claims seemed risky. In the early 1970s the women’s movement remained poorly understood and, in some cases, unpopular. For example, the 1971 Virginia Slims American Women’s Opinion Poll found that only 42 percent of respondents favored a movement to “strengthen or change women’s status in society.” Moreover, the women’s movement pushed not only for abortion but also for equal employment, changes in the portrayal of women in the media, and publicly funded child care. Invoking women’s liberation appeared likely to create the kind of controversy the movement could ill afford.

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