The earlier Women’s Movement did not usually engage broad economic issues. It focused more on problems of women versus men. Only by addressing class barriers to women’s inclusion in the labor force and the barriers to men’s full participation in the family can we address the pay differentials between women’s and men’s paid work as well as women’s greater freedom to pursue careers.
BY HARRIET FRAAD | APRIL 3, 2016
The Women’s Movement Re-Emerges
Today we see a re-emergence of a Women’s Movement in the aftermath of the Trump election, the first weeks of Trump’s misogyny and New Deal rollbacks. This is a different movement from what emerged in the 1960s and 70s. This difference has a great deal to do with political economy.
The earlier Women’s Movement did not usually engage broad economic issues. It focused more on problems of women versus men. The movement wanted access to the full range of jobs. We wanted equal wages. We needed to break out of the restricted world of domesticity into the political and economic worlds. It was a movement of predominantly young women wanting into the system. As a slogan said, “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate.”
Women had previously been pushed out of the home and into the workforce to take jobs vacated by men fighting in World War II. Rosie the Riveter was a model for us. She was endorsed by the U.S. government. After World War II, women were pushed back into the home to make room for returning GIs. In the late 1940s and 50s, sex discrimination replaced work encouragement. The happy suburban housewife replaced Rosie the Riveter. Widespread, quality, federally-funded daycare centers were closed. Propaganda abounded claiming that children were harmed if women worked outside of the home. That of course demeaned the 25 percent of women who remained in the labor force by necessity or choice. They were “bad, unfeminine women and neglectful mothers.”
The current Women’s Movement arose after the recession of 2008, the Occupy Movement of 2011 and the Bernie Sanders campaign. Now the broad economic system is felt and seen as a central problem for all but the richest Americans. Unlike the 1960s and 1970s, women now see men as much more in the same boat as themselves. The need for basic economic change is for both men and women together rather than women versus men, one gender versus the other. The American economic boat is sinking: Men and women are drowning together.
Today, many women see that the women versus men focus of the 1960s and 70s served to divide women and men and prevented them from rallying to change the economic system to the benefit of both.Just as today’s integrated demonstrations of the Black Lives Matter Movement show that Blacks, Browns and Whites need to unite, the Women’s Movement and the recent March for Women’s Lives were enthusiastically integrated by all colors, all sexes, and all ages together.
What is Different Now?
In the late 1950s and early 1960s economic conditions were radically different from today. At the end of World War II, all of the other advanced economies were destroyed. Only the United States remained untouched by war’s decimation. Economic opportunities were wide open for white males. At that time the United States was a predominantly white nation. (The minority population has since doubled and will be a majority of Americans by 2043). Unions had made huge strides in achieving family wages for men in unionized jobs. In 1965 over 30 percent of the workforce was unionized. Today less than 7 percent of U.S. private sector workers are in unions.
In the more racist and sexist America of the 1950s and 1960s, the best jobs were reserved for white males. Women earned a mere 59 cents to the dollar paid to men for the same work. Women could hardly survive on their earnings. Many professional opportunities were likewise barred to women. We were restricted to pink collar labor and the lowest paid professions, extensions of women’s domestic roles, such as social work, teaching and nursing. Even within those professions, the few men present were given faster and better promotions. Within those realities the Women’s Movement struggled for economic and political recognition for women as the civil rights movement struggled for those rights for people of color.
Mistakes of the 1960s -1970s Women’s Movement
There were two main streams of energy and focus in the 1960s and 70s Women’s Movement. One grew out of the protests against the War in Vietnam which were infused with class awareness. Radical class-consciousness followed women into what was then called “The Women’s Liberation Movement.”
The earliest writings of the Women’s Liberation Movement included articles such as, “The Class Structure Within the Women’s Movement” (Barbara Mehrof, 1968) which was a Marxian class analysis quoting Engels, and “The Liberal Takeover of the Women’s Movement” (Carol Hanish 1975) which decried the dominant CIA influence of Steinem and MS magazine. Hanish protested Gloria Steinem’s influence in reducing the class militancy of the Movement, and molding it into a liberally accepted gender-only Movement. The Hanish article acknowledged what had been a successful CIA takeover of the movement erasing its class emphasis.
At first, women felt that if we, who were at the bottom of the wage hierarchy stood up together, we would erase all class, race, and gender barriers. As one of those founding mothers of the Women’s Liberation Movement, I can testify that we were naïve. To give only one example, we were so impressed that Steinem could deliver the slick MS magazine with no ads that we did not question who was funding that effort and why.
By the mid to late 1970s, the Women’s Movement was largely robbed of its class components. It devolved into a series of women’s institutions that did not question capitalism. One institution, NOW, pushes for legislation that benefits women, legislation which is useful but divorced from a class context. Other institutions, like Rape Crisis Centers and Battered Women’s Shelters are equally useful services. They largely depend on city and state funding and are devoid of political or economic critiques.
In a dramatic third example, the early Women’s Movement combined demands for legalized abortion with the demands of minority women against forced sterilization. Forced sterilizations were widely practiced against women in prison and against minority women, who were often tricked into signing away their reproductive rights. By dropping the forced sterilization issue, many poor and particularly minority women were excluded from the movement.
In summary, the domination of the Women’s Movement by both the CIA’s Gloria Steinem and the liberal establishment, split the Women’s Movement from minority women and white working class women. These are the 99 percent who need to work for a living and desperately need free childcare, medical care, paid family leaves, and elder care as well as recognition of the importance of menial labor, domestic labor, and emotional labor. The Women’s Movement became a movement for gender equality within an America with ever-greater social and economic inequality.
Disparaging Traditional Labor
The Women’s Movement from its beginnings made a serious mistake in largely ignoring the strengths and knowledge that one can develop through creating cleanliness, order and nurturing vulnerable life. It also ignored the knowledge and power of emotional labor. Women joined men in disparaging women’s traditional labor rather than learning from it, valorizing it, teaching it to each other and teaching its importance to men.
Men were less motivated to join in labor that both the society and their partners devalued. Had we recognized the importance of that labor, taught its value to ourselves and our male partners, we would have expanded our appeal to all women including traditional housewives and women and men who work on menial jobs. Had we emphasized and valued our skills, we would have entered the labor force at the higher level for which our skills actually prepared us.
The Movement made another error that alienated us from working-class women. It did not stress the crucial importance of free quality daycare, after school care and elder care that would allow mothers and adult daughters to be freer from some of our domestic labor and caring labor that hold women back at every level of employment. It is that labor in domestic and childcare areas that still holds women back economically and politically.
The 1960s and 70s Women’s Movement raised the crucial issue of sexual objectification of women. Women boycotted beauty contests and products with blatantly sexist advertisements. But they did not address the class issue.
Unfortunately, then and now, sex work of all kinds was, and is a way that young women can make a decent living without money from home, an elite education and the related ability to intern for free in order to advance. The “sugar industry” in which young women sell their companionship and often sexual access to “sugar daddies” includes women who are sugar babies in college and graduate school. Sugar daddies pay for tuition and or housing, school fees, etc. A prominent sugar daddy site is called “Sugar Baby University.” The sugar industry is a way coeds who are not from wealthy families can graduate and begin their lives without crippling debt. Addressing class issues obviously impacts sexual objectification.
What Feminist Demands Were Met by the 1960s-70s Women’s Movement?
The 1960s and70s Women’s Movement did accomplish a great deal. Most professions are now actually open to women. In those professions where women may be sexually and emotionally harassed out of full participation such as elite business schools, and the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we have an established legal right to demand change.
Women are now the majority in higher education. Women are the majority of managers. We went from earning 59 percent of the male dollar to 77 percent of the male dollar for most women, but 70 percent of the male dollar for mothers, because of the failure to win free quality childcare for mothers. Title IX, which women demanded, allowed equal funding for women’s sports. Women were encouraged to speak out with support from a felt sisterhood. Marriage was no longer honored as a career choice for women. The demonstrations against Bridal Fairs and the need for women to enter paid employment helped to accomplish that goal. It was the Women’s Movement that started rape crisis centers, battered women’s shelters and the abortion clinics which were later funded by local, state and federal funds. (1) Women’s professional, economic, and political vistas opened.
What the Women’s Movement Did Not Accomplish and Why?
The 1960s and 70s Movement neglected class issues that hold women back such as quality universal free or heavily subsidized childcare, after school care, health care, elder care, and paid maternity and paternity leaves. Failure to fight strongly for and, win on these issues, left 99 percent of women behind, working a second shift of domestic and caring labor and needing financial help from partners who may be violent and/or emotionally abusive.
The Feminist Movement of the 1960s and 70s was naïve. Not surprisingly, the demands they won benefitted capitalism. Women en masse got out of the home when their husbands’ family wages no longer supported them. Women entered the labor force where female labor somewhat compensated for men’s displacement. The Feminist Movement helped women enter the capitalist marketplace.
Some demands were neither emphasized nor won. Those demands would have benefitted the mass of women and allowed all women to participate more equally in the economy. These factors remain a huge force holding women back. They are universal free quality childcare, after school, and summer care, elder care, universal free health care, paid maternity and paternity leaves with guaranteed positions when women return to paid employment. Still needed are subsidies for single mothers in housing and job protections. All of these crucial empowerments for women were not aggressively demanded or won. These demands would address the poverty conditions of U.S. single mothers and all mothers of the 99 percent.
Current Economic Conditions for U.S. Women and Men
In the half century since the 1960s and 70s Women’s Movement, the U.S. economy has been transformed. For 155 years from 1820-1975 every generation of white families with a white male breadwinner did better than its predecessor. The vast majority of Americans were white at that time. White men earned family wages in a growing nation with a scarce labor force where better jobs were reserved for white men. White men then had two wage supplements: one for their skin color and the other for their gender.
That ended with the advent of computers, mechanization, and the multinational communications systems that allowed factories to operate abroad. The whole world became an exploitable labor force for U.S. capitalists who outsourced tens of millions of jobs, particularly well-paid men’s jobs. They were unchecked in outsourcing those jobs to nations like China, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia with low wages, severe working conditions, and weak or nonexistent ecological protections. Worldwide wage exploitation allowed the corporate 1 percent to amass huge fortunes. With those fortunes, they bought our mass media, the Congress and the Presidency. We ended up with the best democracy money can buy and a wealth distribution that is the most unequal in the Western industrialized world.
The Traditional Family
The economic foundation of U.S. sex and gender roles had been the wage-earning white male and his dependent wife and children. When men’s earnings collapsed, millions of white women joined their minority sisters in the paid workplace. Traditional families based on female dependency collapsed.
Women rejected a deal in which they worked outside the home only to return home to a full second shift. Many men demanded more domestic, emotional and sexual services to bolster their traditional male role of being served by women full time. Traditional marriage collapsed. For the first time in U.S. history the majority of U.S. women are now unmarried. Fully 42 percent of all U.S. babies are born outside of a marriage. Half of those marriages that still happen end in separation or divorce.
Because of the gender-only emphasis of the Women’s Movement and the race-only focus of the civil rights movement, race and gender have been widely discussed. Class remained the most repressed discourse in America until 2011 when the Occupy Movement emerged with its juxtaposition of the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Now the mass of U.S. men and women are both in the same sinking boat. We need each other to win better lives for all of us. (2)
Where do we go from here?
Only a movement unified around class differences and addressing all issues together will have a chance to win the lasting change we need. As it turns out, by addressing class issues the huge discrepancies between minority and white jobs, wages and working conditions can be addressed and corrected. Only by addressing class barriers to women’s inclusion in the labor force and the barriers to men’s full participation in the family can we address the pay differentials between women’s and men’s paid work as well as women’s greater freedom to pursue careers.
Mass cultural campaigns can make the entire group aware and militant against what were only women’s concerns when the women’s movement began. Men in mass media need to be shown cooking, cleaning and caring for their babies. Boys need to be widely seen caring for their doll babies and girls need to be seen with their toy trucks and building sets.
With class transformation and fair taxation, we can change the problems faced by the 99 percent who were the millions demonstrating in the marches for women’s lives all over America. Some of those things we need and can achieve are: free quality child care after school and summer care, quality public education, rewards for emotional labor and caring labor, respect and wage parity for menial labor, paid maternity and paternity leaves, universal quality health care, safe retirement provisions for all and community and political encouragement for all.
All we have is each other. The 1 percent has the money and the physical forces of repression, the police and the military. We do the labor on which America depends. We still have the Internet freedom, HBO and non-corporate media. Most important, we, all together, have each other.
Dr. Harriet Fraad is a licensed mental health counselor and hypnotherapist in private practice in New York City. She is a founding member of the feminist movement and the journal Rethinking Marxism. For 40 years, she has been a radical committed to transforming US personal and political life.
(1) Trump misogyny is now defunding those efforts.
(2) Trump’s followers seem to want to return to the 1950s-60s in order to achieve male dominance, racism and post WW II prosperity without blaming the capitalists who exported their racist, sexist dream. They also do not recognize that capitalists will not bring back their jobs when they can get away with paying low wages while denying poor foreign workers job protections. Capitalists also benefit from their right to freely pollute in other poorer nations.