What Is Women’s Liberation Saying?
“THE underlying mood of women in America today is one of conflict, frustration, deep division and change.”
That conclusion comes from a poll taken of both men and women. It reflects a mood that has become widespread among women in various parts of the world, especially in the United States.
Is this to say that before our time all women were content with their lot in life? No, because for centuries many of them did have complaints. Then what is different about the situation today?
What is relatively new is how wide an area of life the grievances cover and how persistent the outcry is. Also, beginning about the second half of the 1960’s many women began to organize and take definite action as never before. They now demand changes to correct what they claim are widespread injustices toward their sex. They say that the day is gone when they will passively submit to them.
This movement has generally been given the name “Women’s Liberation.” A dictionary defines the word liberation as being set free from bondage, the quality or state of being free, having the legal and political rights of a citizen. Those advocating women’s liberation are at times called “feminists.”
What kind of freedoms do the women in this movement desire? While the freedoms they want vary in detail from one group of women to another, there are several main trends among most who support the movement. One is their resentment at being treated only as objects for the sexual gratification of males, instead of being treated as persons. Men who regard women in this way are called “sexists.” Also, these women object to the excessive or blind belief in male superiority, labeling such “male chauvinism.”
Another strong objection is the fact that when women work for a salary, they usually do not get the same pay as men who do the same work. Also, they consider it unfair that women are excluded from many occupations and positions dominated by men.
Some of the women demand equal rights in the home. They want to have the husband share equally in doing the housework so that the wife can hold a job. They consider housework ‘inferior’ and would rather work outside the home in jobs they consider more interesting, challenging, or even ‘glamorous.’
Many women demand the right to get a legal abortion if they choose to end a pregnancy. They feel that this would free them from coming into slavery to another person, the unwanted child.
Another demand is that government agencies set up child-care centers. Mothers who work as the sole support of a family want someone to look after their children. They would rather work for a decent wage than accept welfare and barely exist. But they want some arrangement to care for their young children.
Tens of thousands of women have already marched through city streets to make known their demands. In New York, about sixty women ‘seized’ the Statue of Liberty and draped it with a banner that said: “Women of the World Unite!” According to one of the women, Miss Liberty was chosen because “it is ironic that a woman symbolizes the abstract idea of liberty, but in reality we are not free.”
In the Netherlands a group of women burned a corset before a statue of a famous Dutch suffragette. They then raided men’s public washrooms to dramatize their complaint that there were no such washrooms for women. They whistled at men on street corners and discussed out loud their good and bad points. The Dutch women demanded equal pay for women, an equal division of household duties between husband and wife, legalized abortions, sex education in schools and birth-control pills for teen-agers.
Norwegian women shocked the men of their country by turning out in huge numbers to vote for their own women candidates during local elections. Numerous city councils came into their control where their candidates won the majority. This included councils in two of Norway’s largest cities.
Differences of Opinion
However, we are not to think of women’s liberation as a unified, international movement under a central control. There are many groups and individuals involved, and wide differences of opinion exist among them. There are disagreements among women of different countries and racial backgrounds. Even within a nation or racial group there are wide areas of disagreement.
For example, some want to bring women into positions of power in today’s society by working with “The Establishment.” But others want to dismantle the established society completely and replace it with a different order. While some want more equality in marriage, others want to abandon marriage altogether. There are those who want total sexual freedom, including the acceptance of lesbianism for women and homosexuality for men. But others object to that kind of sexual freedom.
The women in the movement are not sure in which political direction they should go. The National Observer remarked of meetings of those in women’s liberation: “The workshops were lively with argument. In one, a group of young women . . . got into a shouting match with older delegates about political procedures and strategy.” One woman protested: ‘Look, I didn’t drive 600 miles to argue.’
While disagreements are common, at the same time the women warn that the depth and breadth of their feelings should not be underestimated. Others agree. The National Observer noted: “For those who don’t already, it is time to take women’s lib seriously.”
This is so because, while there are many disagreements among those favoring women’s liberation, the areas of agreement are even stronger. For instance, in Europe the outcry carries the same ring as in the United States: that women are second-class citizens and suffer discrimination in marriage, education, vocational training and jobs. They, too, demand equal pay for equal work, abortion reform, nursery schools and day-care centers.
What, then, of the claims of those who support the women’s liberation movement? Do they have a point? Is there any truth in what they are saying?