Women's Liberation

In Jo Freeman’s essay, “What the Hell is Women’s Liberation Anyway?” written in 1968, she expresses the dissatisfaction that many women were beginning to feel about the male dominance inherent in the New Left.[1] She recognized that women’s liberation is not about equality with men, but rather a complete restructuring of society into one that is just, whereby individuals can be free to explore and assume their true identities free from societal restrictions based on culture and stereotypes. This next phase in the struggle for freedom from patriarchy sought to break away from the fragmentation that existed in the early movement, pitting black against white, Latina against Asian, and women against men, by encouraging women to take control of their own destinies.

Drawing from ideas of the Black Power movement which focused on self-determination rather the integration into the dominant ideology, the women’s liberation movement insisted that “true freedom could be won only when the oppressed and the activist were one and the same, when subordinate people sought to liberate themselves rather than look to powerful saviors.”[2] The larger goals of the women’s liberation movement was to transform culture and consciousness rather than focusing on policy and legal structures. In many ways it was more of a grass roots movement with its practice of consciousness-raising. Small groups of women gathered to share intimate details of their lives in order to better understand female subordination and how male chauvinism effected their lives.[3] These groups relied on the conviction that “the personal is political,” which meant that the inequality in power dynamics between the sexes could be identified in the minutiae of the daily lives of women.[4] By identifying these realities, women could come together to realize that they were not isolated, and that through their coming together, the liberation would come from within and not from external forces.

This Radical Feminist Theory was contrary to that of NOW’s “goal of integrating women into the American mainstream.”[5] It also stood apart from Women Strike for Peace because of that organizations reliance on “pacifism and motherhood,” principles of womanhood that radical feminists were trying to move away from.[6] One of the most significant contributions made by radical feminists was the revision of sexuality from the female point of view. No longer seen through the lens of attractiveness to men, women revised their sexuality in relation to each other and themselves. Female members of the Puerto Rican Young Lords Party used their sexuality against male leaders to push their agenda. Engaging in a “no-sex strike,” they convinced male leaders to adopt a resolution that endorsed women’s rights. Although not implicitly part of the women’s liberation movement, these female Young Lords took charge of their sexuality to push change in their communities.[7]

Though organizations like NOW and WSP contributed to the changes experienced in women’s lives during the 1960-70’s, through legislative reform and protections for women in the work place and school, the women’s liberation movement did more to transform American culture. Consciousness raising caused deep social changes in the home and workplace. This movement was accessible to women of all races and sexual orientations. Feminism helped women to take greater control of their lives and empowered them to transform themselves from within.

DuBois, Ellen Carol and Lynn Dumenil. Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.

[1] Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil, Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016), 655.

[2] DuBois, Through Women’s Eyes, 614.

[3] DuBois, Through Women’s Eyes, 617.

[4] Ibid., 617.

[5] Ibid., 616.

[6] Ibid., 616.

[7] Ibid.,624.