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Womens Liberation Movement

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Why did the Women’s Liberation Movement Emerge in the late 1960’s? Discuss with reference to Britain and the United States of America.

In a decade where the whole world was experiencing revolutions due to social discontent, this increased the desire, of women, in the late 1960’s to ‘confront existing structures of oppression,’ giving the impetus for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Caine argues the emergence of the movement bought a ‘new tone,’ when discussing women’s oppression. Rather than focusing directly on women’s suffrage, this was a political movement demanding ‘rapid and radical change,’ in an ever increasing ambience of liberalisation. Upon inception, it is vital to highlight one can account different reasons for the emergence of the movement in Britain and America, as different domestic situations led to different reasons for the emergence of a more radical form of feminism. This essay, together with a multiplicity of historians, will consider the importance of World War II and the Civil Rights Movement, and the impact they had on the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Linked to this is the ever apparent discrimination women faced and increasing desires to change this, coupled with developments of new opportunities, demonstrated by the aforementioned world events. Additionally, the impact of literature such as Betty Friedan’s, The Feminine Mystique, needs to be considered. Whilst all the factors play an important role in contributing to the emergence, it will be concluded that the increased confidence especially politically, demonstrated by the factors mentioned, by women was ultimately responsible for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960’s. It has been argued that, predominantly in Britain, the Second World War gave women the idea of greater freedom. In the aftermath of the Second World War, women had a clear sense of what life could be like, free from oppression. Hannam agrees, believing the Second World War raised expectations of women due to their ‘extensive participation in the war effort.’ The exposure to the working world, where women were frequently employed in areas usually designed for males allowed women to dream of the possibilities. Hannam explains how the war created an atmosphere of liberation where women could now demand and expect full civil rights. The women that participated in the war effort, gaining a sense of the possibilities, could not have been expected to return to their previous life. Duiker and Spielvogel align themselves with Hannam indicating that, in Britain exclusively, the women who aided the war effort were the ones who were responsible for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement. After the war had ended, jobs were still separated by sex, with almost all of the higher level jobs offered back to males. Comparatively, the salary of a working woman was demonstrably lower than that of their male counterpart, with women, ‘fired in their droves,’ expected to return to household activities. The women that furthered the war effort became disillusioned. It could be convincingly argued therefore, the emergence of the Liberation Movement in the 1960’s, especially in Britain, sought to confront economic oppression suffered by women, contrasting the glimpses of parity experienced during the Second World War. Conversely, some historians posit a relatively weak counter claim. Revisionist historian Caine believed the ‘optimistic if somewhat simplistic idea,’ that the Second World War played a significant role in the emergence of Women’s Liberation Movement should not be wholly accepted. Caine concedes that wartime allowed women greater responsibility and freedom in the workplace but emphasises this was only a temporary and exceptional measure. Caine explains how a more careful in depth study of wartime exposes ‘the limitations in opportunity’ which henceforth could not have provided any basis for change once the war ended. Despite the fact the responsibilities experienced by women may have been temporary, there can be no doubt the Second World War, solely in Britain, can be used to explain the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960’s. Whilst it has been argued that the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain had a specific factor, not universally applicable, the same is said for America. The emergence of a movement for women focusing on greater representation and equal rights evolved at a time when minority groups were in the spotlight. Since the early 1950’s, American politics and society had been dominated by the struggle for equality by the African-American population. Absorbing an ideology of freedom and liberation led many historians to confidently assert that the Civil Rights Movement caused the Women’s Liberation Movement. Sheila Rowbotham asserts that the Civil Rights Movement created the basis for the emergence of the Liberation Movement as women understood how to express grievances and aspirations for change. It was the Civil Rights Movement that gave women the ‘impetus to stand up for what they believed in,’ paving the way for women’s freedom. Women became increasingly accustomed to questioning governmental authority and ‘demonstrating against the illegitimate use of power.’ Hannam enforces this idea arguing that women’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement enabled them to ‘learn new tactics and raise questions about their own lack of rights.’ Ironically, women working with radical groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were fighting against discrimination and inequality, something they were victims of. As well as providing tactics to be able to stand up and fight, the Civil Rights highlighted to women societal sexual inequalities needing to be addressed. Believing they now had the capabilities and confidence to question their own lack of rights, the National Organisation of Women (NOW) was created to highlight discrimination and ‘bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society,’ strengthening the argument that the Civil Rights Movement led to the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement predominantly in America. Naturally, some historians try, unsuccessfully, to refute the importance of the Civil Rights Movement to the Women’s Liberation in America. Nickie Charles believes the significance of the Civil Rights in bringing women’s liberation has been over stated. Charles indicates, although widely believed, the Civil Rights Movement did not necessarily result in the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement with women actively protesting for freedom, as there were events preceding those of the 1950’s which hold more importance. Charles alludes to certain ‘structural changes’’ especially in ‘identity, consciousness and values,’ that emerged after the Second World War, forcing women to challenge inequalities. It was these changes, emphasised during the Civil Rights in America, which Charles states actually originated during the Second World War thus trying to negate the impact of the Civil Rights, albeit ineffectively. Intrinsically linked to the Civil Rights Movement, and applicable to both countries, is the idea of apparent discrimination and new opportunities leading to the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Eve Setch logically argued that, in Britain, the anger many women faced over existing discrimination ‘mustered once more into an organised form.’ To exemplify, women were outraged, even by 1969, there had been no advances towards equality of pay in the workforce, clearly indicated in Sheila Rowbotham’s pamphlet of that year which links unequal rights at work with the necessity of highlighting women subjugation in British society, Lovenduski argues. As previously stated, women were paid considerably less than males in the same jobs. Breitenbach and Mackay strengthen Setch’s argument describing, in Scotland, how women became increasingly frustrated over the issues of abortion, equal rights, rape, domestic violence and equal opportunities. These examples of discrimination, Breitenbach and Mackay believe, led to the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement, not only in Scotland but across the whole of Britain. The movement, wanted to ‘further the aim of gender inequality,’ by highlighting the existing components preventing it. Similarly, in Wales, Charles underlines the Liberation Movement was designed to end any law or institution that ‘perpetuates male dominance and men’s aggression towards women.’ A strong argument can be provided, stating certain discriminatory policies provided the basis, certainly in Britain, for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Further examples from the United States only serve to strengthen this argument. Agreeing with the previous historians, Linden-Ward and Hurd-Green explain how the principle aim of the Liberation Movement was allowing women to participate ‘in the mainstream of American society,’ eradicating discrimination. Women were eager for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to be inaugurated enforcing provisions against gender discrimination. With no viable solution imminent, women created the Liberation Movement to disseminate their thoughts and feelings throughout the world. Within both American and British societies, new opportunities experienced by women towards the end of the 1960’s, gave them an impetus to create a Movement furthering this advancement towards equality. The introduction of the Pill, a method by which women were now able to control, to some extent, their own fertility, was seen as important at the time. With this control, women were now able to make significant choices about ‘other life arenas, especially work.’ Related to the introduction of the Pill, was the announcement of the Abortion Act 1967 providing a further way in which women were now able to control their own fertility, Coote and Campbell conclude. Charles concurs, indicating it was not only in Britain that new opportunities led to the Liberation Movement, but in America also. The resistance towards the creation and implementation of the Equal Pay Act 1963 and Civil Rights Act 1964, which both alluded to greater gender equality, in the ‘climate of expectation,’ provided the basis for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement which developed new opportunities. It was these foretastes of potential social similarity that gave women incentives to create a Movement to fight for equality. Naturally, there are challenges to this seemingly resounding argument. Revisionist Charles Allen concludes whilst there were contradictions between the increasing presence of women in the workforce and the existence of sexual discrimination, this did not provide the basis for the Liberation Movement. Allen argues, although it created discontent amongst women, the real inspiration came from the Civil Rights Movement. Allen’s unconvincing response proves that discrimination and new opportunities certainly did account for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960’s. One could argue to a certain extent that the reason for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement came from women’s increasing political activity at this time. Coote and Campbell propose an argument suggesting, in America, the increase in participation by women ‘in the struggles to liberate blacks and Vietnamese’ provided women with the idea of creating the Liberation Movement. It was the participation in radical groups urging the Government to liberate the persecuted minorities that sparked the idea for their own radical movement. Additionally, they indicate, in Britain, the campaign for equal pay and opportunity, led by women trade unionists of the National Joint Action Campaign for Women's Equal Rights, ‘had a formative influence on the newly emerging Women’s Liberation Movement.’ In agreement, Bouchier exemplifies cases where women became actively involved with political groups, furthering the point that increased political activism led to the emergence of the Liberation Movement. The involvement by women in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain provided them with their first political experience. Similarly, many of the women who took part in the Liberation Movement had their ‘political baptism,’ in the Civil Rights Movement and the radical groups that existed at that time, Bouchier declares. The abuse targeted at women during political demonstrations led to the emergence of a women’s political movement too. Derogatory comments aimed at women speakers during the counter inaugural demonstration of Mobilisation for Peace in 1969 ensured women ‘abandoned male dominated movements for the caucus-like Liberation groups.’ Henceforth, it is apparent not only their participation in politically active groups, but the discrimination experienced, led to the creation of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Freeman provides a strong counter-claim, suggesting political activism led to ‘occasional and spontaneous uprisings’ by women. They were, she truthfully explains, unlikely to benefit anything without the essential networks of communication. Thus, one could reasonably conclude, it was these networks of communication that led to the emergence of the Liberation Movement, negating the actual impact of increased political activism. The networks provided means of converting spontaneous uprisings into a more organised, threatening way of achieving their aims, which became known as the Women’s Liberation Movement. It would be wrong to account for the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement without considering the impact of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique.’ Following its publication in 1963, historians have asserted a strong case implying its importance for the emergence of the Liberation Movement. Judith Evans believes the creation of a more radical movement, calling for women’s liberation began with the Feminine Mystique. Friedan calls the situation of women ‘the problem that has no name,’ trying to redefine the roles of women in society. With its publication, Friedan objects to the societal pressure for women to conform to the stereotypical roles, being raised not desiring any promising careers in order to stay at home and look after the children. The resistance against the traditional views, Evans believes, is what caused the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Crediting Friedan’s book with ‘enlivening the feminist movement in the US,’ Sally Scholz furthers Evans’s argument believing, via the publication of the book, women realised they were not alone in feeling dissatisfied with familial life. The Feminine Mystique encouraged women to change the traditional views which expected women to be nothing more than housewives. Naturally, this argument has not unified all historians. Questioning the importance of Friedan’s literature, Linden-Ward and Hurd-Green, with a degree of success, assert the belief that Friedan’s book sparked off the Women’s Liberation Movement as ‘a myth,’ attributing its emergence to aforementioned factors. More significantly, Thompson agrees, opposing the traditional views of the importance of the Feminine Mystique believing it excludes black women, focusing on ‘a rising number of white middle class women unwilling to be treated like second class citizens.’ This racial exclusion strengthens Evans’s and Thompson’s case, negating the connection of Friedan’s Feminine Mystique to the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement, as it did not impact all women across Britain and America, focusing only on white, privileged women. Accordingly, this essay has identified the main factors surrounding the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Within the late 1960’s there were a number of factors that linked together, accounting for the emergence of the Liberation Movement in both Britain and America. Whilst these factors all emphasised the plight and struggles of women living in society in this era, without an increasing political awareness demonstrated by women, it would not have led to the creation of the Movement. Their experiences in the factors highlighted in this essay served to increase their political understanding, giving them the confidence and ability to be able to stand up for what they believed in. Evidently, women were persecuted in both Britain and the United States during this era, but their ability to be able to coordinate their desires for greater equality into a unified movement can only be attributed to the confidence gained with their involvement in the factors indicated. Thus, it can be concluded with a degree of certainty, a combination of increasing awareness and confidence of women, coupled with the discussed issues, led to the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain and America in the late 1960’s.

Bibliography Allen. C., ‘Women’s Rights: People and Perspective,’ (USA, 2010) Bouchier.D., ‘The Feminist Challenge: The Movement for Women’s Liberation in Britain and the USA,’ (London, 1983)
Breitenbach. E., Mackay. F., ‘Feminist Politics in Scotland from the 1970’s to 2000’s: Engaging with the Changing State,’ in Breitebach. E., & Thane. P., ‘Women and Citizenship in Britain and Ireland in the Twentieth Century: What Difference did the Vote Make? ’ (London, 2010) p.153
Caine. B., ‘English Feminism 1780-1980 ’(New York, 1997)
Carden. M.L., ‘The New Feminist Movement,’ (New York, 1974) Charles. N., ‘Feminism, The State and Social Policy,’ (London, 2000)
Coote. A., Campbell. B., ‘Sweet Freedom, The Struggle for Womens’s Liberation,’ (London, 1982)
Duiker. W. J., Spielvogel. J. J., ‘World History,’ 7th edn (Boston, 2007)
Evans. J., ‘Feminist Theory Today – Introduction to 2nd Wave Feminism,’ (London, 1995)
Evans. S., ‘Personal Politics, The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left,’ (New York, 1979)
Freeman. J., ‘The Origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement,’ American Journal of Sociology, 4, (1973) p.792-811
Friedan. B., ‘The Feminist Mystique,’ (London, 1963)
Hannam. J., ‘Feminism’ (Harlow, 2012)
Linden-Ward. B., Hurd-Green. C., ‘American Women in the 60’s – Changing the Future,’ (New York, 1993)
Lovenduski. J., ‘Women European Politics; Contemporary Feminism and Public Policy,’ (USA, 1986)

Rowbotham. S., ‘Women in Movement; Feminism and Social Action,’ (New York, 1992) Scholz. S., ‘Feminism, A Beginners Guide,’ (Oxford, 2010) Setch. E., ‘The Face of Metropolitan Feminsim: The London Women’s Liberation Workshop, 1969-1979,’ 20th Century British History, 13, (2002) p.171-190
Thompson. B., ‘Multiracial Feminism; Recasting the Chronology of 2nd Wave Feminism,’ in N. Hewitt., ‘No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism,’ (London, 2010) http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/wlm/womlib/ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10342090

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[ 1 ]. B. Caine., ‘English Feminism 1780-1980 ’(New York, 1997) p.256
[ 2 ]. B. Caine., ‘English Feminism 1780-1980 ’ p.256
[ 3 ]. B. Caine., ‘English Feminism 1780-1980 ’p.256
[ 4 ]. J. Hannam., ‘Feminism’ (Harlow, 2012) p.75
[ 5 ]. J. Hannam., ‘Feminism’ p.75
[ 6 ]. W.J. Duiker., J. J. Spielvogel., ‘World History,’ 7th edn (Boston, 2007) p.842
[ 7 ]. http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/wlm/womlib/ - accessed 12/11/12
[ 8 ]. B. Caine., ‘English Feminism 1780-1980 ’ p.227
[ 9 ]. B. Caine., ‘English Feminism 1780-1980 ’ p.227
[ 10 ]. S. Rowbotham., ‘Women in Movement; Feminism and Social Action,’ (New York, 1992) p.258
[ 11 ]. S. Evans., ‘Personal Politics, The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left,’ (New York, 1979) p.85
[ 12 ]. B. Linden-Ward., C. Hurd-Green., ‘American Women in the 60’s – Changing the Future,’ (New York, 1993) p.xx
[ 13 ]. J. Hannam., ‘Feminism’ p.79
[ 14 ]. J. Hannam., ‘Feminism’ p.79
[ 15 ]. N. Charles., ‘Feminism, The State and Social Policy,’ (London, 2000) p.74
[ 16 ]. E. Setch., ‘The Face of Metropolitan Feminsim: The London Women’s Liberation Workshop, 1969-1979,’ 20th Century British History, 13, (2002) p.171
[ 17 ]. J. Lovenduski., ‘Women European Politics; Contemporary Feminism and Public Policy,’ (USA, 1986) p.73
[ 18 ]. E. Breitenbach., F. Mackay., ‘Feminist Politics in Scotland from the 1970’s to 2000’s: Engaging with the Changing State,’ in E., Breitebach & P. Thane., ‘Women and Citizenship in Britain and Ireland in the Twentieth Century: What Difference did the Vote Make? ’ (London, 2010) p.153
[ 19 ]. E. Breitenbach., F. Mackay., ‘Feminist Politics in Scotland from the 1970’s to 2000’s: Engaging with the Changing State,’ in E., Breitebach & P. Thane., ‘Women and Citizenship in Britain and Ireland in the Twentieth Century: What Difference did the Vote Make? ’ p.153
[ 20 ]. N. Charles., ‘The Refuge Movement and Domestic Violence Policies in Wales,’ in E., Breitebach & P. Thane., ‘Women and Citizenship in Britain and Ireland in the Twentieth Century: What Difference did the Vote Make? ’ p.209
[ 21 ]. B. Linden-Ward., C. Hurd-Green., ‘American Women in the 60’s – Changing the Future,’ p.409
[ 22 ]. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10342090 last accessed 15/11/12
[ 23 ]. A. Coote., B. Campbell., ‘Sweet Freedom, The Struggle for Womens’s Liberation,’ (London, 1982) p.28
[ 24 ]. N. Charles., ‘Feminism, The State and Social Policy,’ p.86-87
[ 25 ]. C. Allen., ‘Women’s Rights: People and Perspective,’ (USA, 2010) p.203
[ 26 ]. A. Coote., B. Campbell., ‘Sweet Freedom, The Struggle for Womens’s Liberation,’ p.13-18
[ 27 ]. D. Bouchier., ‘The Feminist Challenge: The Movement for Women’s Liberation in Britain and the USA,’ (London, 1983) p49-50
[ 28 ]. M. L. Carden., ‘The New Feminist Movement,’ (New York, 1974) p.61
[ 29 ]. J. Freeman., ‘The Origins of the Women’s Liberation Movement,’ American Journal of Sociology, 4, (1973) p.804
[ 30 ]. J. Evans., ‘Feminist Theory Today – Introduction to 2nd Wave Feminism,’ (London, 1995) p.13
[ 31 ]. B. Friedan., ‘The Feminist Mystique,’ (London, 1963) p.5
[ 32 ]. S. Scholz., ‘Feminism, A Beginners Guide,’ (Oxford, 2010) p.71
[ 33 ]. B. Linden-Ward., C. Hurd-Green., ‘American Women in the 60’s – Changing the Future,’ p.408
[ 34 ]. B. Thompson., ‘Multiracial Feminism; Recasting the Chronology of 2nd Wave Feminism,’ in N. Hewitt., ‘No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism,’ (London, 2010) p.40…...

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