America in Ferment: The Tumultuous 1960s
|Digital History ID 3342|
Alongside NOW, other more radical feminist groups emerged during the 1960s among college students who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left. Women within these organizations for social change often found themselves treated as "second-class citizens," responsible for kitchen work, typing, and serving "as a sexual supply for their male comrades after hours." "We were the movement secretaries and the shit-workers," one woman recalled. "We were the earth mothers and the sex-objects for the movement's men." In 1964, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson presented an indignant assault on the treatment of women civil rights workers in a paper entitled "The Position of Women in SNCC," to a SNCC staff meeting. Stokely Carmichael reputedly responded, "The only position for women in SNCC is prone."
In cities across the country, independent women's groups sprouted up in 1967. In the fall, at the first national gathering of women's groups at the National Conference for New Politics, women demanded 51 percent of all committee seats in the name of minority rights. When men refused to meet their demands, the women walked out--signaling the beginning of a critical split between the New Left and the women's movement. The next year, radical women's groups appeared on the front pages of the nation's newspapers when they staged a protest of the Miss America pageant and provided a "freedom trash can," in which women could throw "old bras, girdles, high heeled shoes, women's magazines, curlers, and other instruments of torture to women." They concluded their rally by crowning a sheep Miss America.
Over the next three years, the number of women's liberation groups rapidly multiplied, bearing such names as the Redstockings, WITCH (the Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), and the Feminists. By 1970, there were at least 500 women's liberation groups, including 50 in New York, 25 in Boston, 30 in Chicago, and 35 in San Francisco. Women's liberation groups established the first feminist bookstores, battered women's shelters, rape crisis centers, and abortion counseling centers. In 1971, Gloria Steinem and others published Ms., the first national feminist magazine. The first 300,000 copies were sold out in eight days.
Radical new ideas began to fill the air. One women's liberation leader, Ti-Grace Atkinson, denounced marriage as "slavery," "legalized rape," and "unpaid labor." Meanwhile, a host of new words and phrases entered the language, such as "consciousness raising," "Ms.," "bra burning," "sexism," "male chauvinist pig."
On August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the women's liberation movement dramatically demonstrated its growing strength by mounting a massive march called Strike for Equality. In New York City, 50,000 women marched down Fifth Avenue; in Boston, 2,000 marched; in Chicago, 3,000. Members of virtually all feminist groups joined together in a display of unity and strength.