Capitalism Hits Home: Why The Women’s Liberation Movement Fractured

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During its inception, the Women’s Liberation Movement was rooted in anti-capitalist and anti-racist ideals, pushing for equality for all. Today, however, feminism tends to focus mainly on gender equality. In this episode of Capitalism Hits Home, Dr. Fraad discusses how that fracture happened and the deliberate forces behind it. Now more than ever we need an intersectional and collaborative approach to our social movements, with involvement from everyone. 

Transcript has been edited for clarity

Hello! This is Dr. Harriet Fraad with “Capitalism Hits Home:” a program about the intersection of big political issues, economic issues, and our personal lives.

Today, I want to talk about the women's liberation movement, now called the feminist movement. I have both a scholarly interest in that and personal experience as a founding mother since 1968, which was the second wave of the women's movement in the late 60s. In 1965, there was Betty Friedan's book, and by 1968, there was the first women's liberation organization. It is captured in the book, Revolution, and some of the documents are also in Rosalyn Baxandall’s and Linda Gordon's history book. At any rate, what happened to our movement, which began with the idea that we at the bottom, black and white together, if we stood up, we could bring everyone with us because we were at the bottom? Hadn’t that movement, which grew out of the left, out of the protests against the war in Vietnam, and the radical movement that wanted a more egalitarian society in the 60s, become inflicted with the kind of corporate feminism of Hillary Clinton? Against Bernie's advocacy of a fifteen-dollar minimum wage, she advocated instead, $12.50, even though two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women: often women with children. Or Sheryl Sandberg’s (CEO at Facebook) book Leaning In, which is about how women at the top should support each other. She talks about how anyone can do it as a woman: you can have children and also have a brilliant career. She does not mention in her book, something I found out later, that she had nine full-time servants (which of course helps raising children) doing housework, so that you have time and energy for a career. At any rate, how did this happen? How did the movement, from wanting equality for all, morph into an equality for women within a system of ever greater inequality? The second wave movement started in 1968, with Notes from the First-Year periodical from the women's liberation movement. How did it go from advocating equality for all to equality within a system of vast inequality in the United States?

In 1970, America was the most egalitarian nation of all the developed wealthy nations. Now, it is the least, and now the demands for economic equality are not really known as part of the feminist movement. Well, what happened? One of the things that happened was that the CIA put vast amounts of money, hundreds of thousands, (which went, of course, far further because the American dollar was worth about ten times more at that time) into agents who were to help change the women's liberation movement to a gender only movement, leaving the class system intact. At the same time, it put an equal wealth of agents into the civil rights movement to make sure that the civil rights movement became a black power movement for race only with enemies being white people (as in the gender movement enemies were men, not a gender system, not capitalism that benefits so much from separating its workers, and paying blacks less and women less, but a gender-only movement). One of the ways it did that was with Ms. Magazine, and we were so naive back then. I remember discussing with people what a terrific thing it was that we now had Ms. Magazine: a beautiful glossy magazine without advertisements to promote our cause. We were so naïve. We did not think, well who is paying for it then if there are no ads. It turns out, sure enough, the CIA.

Gloria Steinem herself was a highly paid, very successful CIA agent. She began by going to youth festivals in Europe where communist countries and socialist countries, as well as capitalist countries got together with their youth, and talked about their country and their politics. She was supposed to find the Americans interested in socialism and communism, and rat them out to the CIA. She did so well at her job that she got promoted. She spearheaded the movement to make (with their vast thousands to help her) our women's liberation movement into a feminist movement for gender only, changing women's access to equality within a system of vastly unequal and evermore economically and class unequal society.

Well, how did she do it? Partly, it was the slow isolation of class discussions from periodicals. Ms. Magazine was the most popular of feminist periodicals. It was free and sent to us by the thousands with no advertisements: of course not, it was paid for. Naive us, did not think about that. It encouraged us to set up alternative organizations for women (rape crisis centers; battered women's shelters; and women's clinics), and in setting those clinics up, to look for state money, to look for private money, to look for money all the time to set up an alternative, rather than make a mass demand that the state provide for rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters for women and their families leaving homes of battery and clinics where women's reproductive concerns could be honored and treated.

Look what is happening now that the right wing is doing to planned parenthood, which was given a huge boost at that time. The demand was not there that the state should take over these important duties that allow women to be equals in society but rather to set up alternative institutions that took a lot of our work and energy and required complying with the state and city authorities and with the wealthy people who founded them: grant writing and staffing (all those things you need to do when you set up an alternative institution). So that was part of it.

Another part of it was a steady stream of propaganda pushing women that men were the problem. Gloria Steinem's contribution was: “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” So, instead of saying, look, we all need to work together to change all those things that divide us, (or even to say that women who have been so deferential to men sometimes need separate meetings so that we can speak out because we are intimidated and in a man and woman co-educational group that is a valid concern or that blacks need some separate meetings because they are used to listening to whites over each other in a racist society, that's okay), it was a separatist movement to keep us apart for obvious reasons.

If people at the bottom realize their common cause, the tiny minority at the top is in trouble. So, that was part of it: the CIA and the constant stream of propaganda, as well as those things that were racist and sexist from the start that were part of our history as early as the American Revolution. Jane Adams has very famous writings to her husband John Adams in the original government and original signer of the Declaration of Independence and the constitution. Then wait a minute. What about the other half of the population? By keeping women in a subordinate position, you kept women taking care of the mass of the workforce. You gave men a feudal prerogative that they were the head of the feudal manor, which was the home. They had full-time servants in women: full-time sexual servants; full-time housekeepers; full-time connectors with themselves, relatives, friends; full-time emotional workers to help them feel better after a hard and exploited day at work, and also help keep a family system, which pushes men not to organize because women need the money to keep the household going. You have divisions within the family of the man who wants to go on strike and the woman who needs the funds to keep the household going, rather than a man and woman on strike together, who understand each other's play. So, it was a very clever ploy that has its tentacles squeezing the women's movement to this day: keeping men and women separate, when together we can make a change, and individually and separately, we can't.

Another way was that since men and women were to have separate organizations, the women's movement would not allow men. It was not that we needed some separate groups in order to figure out what our voices were. In consciousness raising, which were small groups, women talked together to figure out: what are our lives like? What are the things that bother us? What should be our platform? It is a very democratic way to figure out our platform, something which has gone by the wayside, but is basic democracy in figuring out the platform of any organization. What bothers people? How can we decide on issues that we want to champion together? So, since you separated out men from women, gay women were able to bring their lovers to meetings, and were encouraged in their love choice, and straight women were condemned, and their lovers were, and husbands were excluded. So, you had a whole push towards the gay movement, which should be supported, not instead of, but alongside the movement for men and working women's equal rights everywhere. Because of that, 43 percent of the American workforce, that are women, are in what is called pink collar trades. They are in professions and in jobs, overwhelmingly performed by women, whether it is home health aids, some of the most poorly paid (paid less than parking lot attendants), or early childhood education workers, who are also paid less than parking lot attendants, to take care of children because it is women's work. So, you can pay less for it. You can subordinate a whole part of the working class that has to work into women's jobs that are considered lower. Of course, you do not have to do that.

Jacinda Ardern is a heroine of any women's liberation movement and is the prime minister of New Zealand: a much beloved prime minister, who got 70 per cent of vote last time. She's a socialist labor candidate. In New Zealand, I should say that over 80 percent of the people vote who are entitled to vote, whereas the United States it is less than half. At any rate, Jacinda Ardern, the socialist labor prime minister of New Zealand, had a very bold initiative. She took traditional women's jobs who are staffed in New Zealand and the Maori, who were the original settlers, the first settlers of New Zealand, who are darker people called aboriginal people and all women. It is overwhelmingly women (early childhood workers; home health care aides; the aides in the hospital; the orderlies; the custodians and janitors, who are women and people of color; the social workers; the women's professions, which are paid less than the male dominated professions; the nurses; the primary school teachers), all paid less. She took those jobs and the skills that are needed. For example, a nurse's aide or a home health care worker often has to carry heavy people. If you are a home health aide, you have to lift people to bathe them; you have to lift them when they collapse; and you have to move them from one place to another. She equated those with heavy lifting jobs in factories and in trucking, and made them equivalent, and therefore, they got the salaries of those higher jobs. She took the skills, and she found out what they were. She matched them up with what they pay the male jobs. Those workers across the board, whether they are emotional workers like counselors or therapists or social workers, or emotional workers like home health care workers and nurses’ aides and nurses, and gave them the equivalent pay for the skills that they have to show. So, across the board, all those workers got a 30.5 percent increase in their salaries, as well as the respect that goes with higher wages. That is what women's liberation needs to do. That is what we wanted to do from the very beginning. That was what was usurped from us by the CIA to try to keep a class divided America, with the mass of people at the bottom and with room at the top for those people, those women like Sheryl Sandberg: those three percent of women who make over 150,000 a year to join the male ranks because they have the money and because they are making that money, and to erase the idea that America is not democratic because we have “equality of opportunity.” Quite a stretch!

The lesson here is a lesson all over the place that feminists need to get together with people fighting racism, fighting climate change, and with a class basis, so that there is class equality: no one hugely rich, no one desperately poor. No Jeff Bezos spending 500 million dollars, entertaining himself further by going into space, while the homeless are crowding the streets. No more. That is what we have to stand for.

Anyway, thank you for listening and watching. I hope you tell your friends about it and get them to watch too. I hope that you groove on the message. I hope you respond and send your comments to Democracy at Work for “Capitalism Hits Home.” Thank you Patreon subscribers, for keeping this operation going and thank you Democracy at Work for organizing this and making it possible.

Goodbye for now.

Transcript by Asma Siddiqi
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Showing 2 comments

  • Jim Tracey
    commented 2022-04-11 16:22:59 -0400
    “Jacinda Ardern is a heroine of any women’s liberation movement and is the prime minister of New Zealand: a much beloved prime minister, who got 70 per cent of vote last time”
    If, by “last time” you mean the September 2017 New Zealand general election, Ardern got 37.9% of those who voted, i.e. 30.1% of the electorate voted for her and a multi-party coalition gave her the premiership.
    The October 2020 New Zealand general election got Ardern 48.1% of the electoral vote i.e 39.5% of the electorate voted for her.

    " I should say that over 80 percent of the people vote who are entitled to vote, whereas the United States it is less than half."
    The 2020 United States presidential election election saw the highest voter turnout – 66.2% – by percentage since 1900.

    " So, across the board, all those workers got a 30.5 percent increase in their salaries, as well as the respect that goes with higher wages." ??
    please do elaborate Harriet how increased financial remuneration equates to ‘respect’.
  • Ismael Cook
    commented 2022-04-04 08:10:55 -0400
    Awesome and interesting article. Great things you’ve always shared with us. Thanks. Just continue composing this kind of post.


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