Women's Liberation Front
by Jo Freeman
in Moderator, November 1968.
reading this article, turn to the first page of this magazine and read
the masthead. There you'll find that subscriptions to Moderator are "Free
to all qualified male students. $3 per year to all others." Overt
discrimination against women? Probably, but more realistically, Moderator
is just a little less hypocritical than its contemporaries. Even if they
decided to remove the word "male" very few women would receive
this magazine free.
women aren't qualified.
is sent to campus leaders, particularly those students who might potentially
work for the large corporations which advertise in its pages. Women are
rarely found among the ranks of campus leaders end even more rarely work
for corporations in a managerial capacity.
coed finishes four years of higher education in the belief that, if she
so chooses, she can get just as good a job and rise just as high in her
profession as a man of similar abilities. Very few women even get off
starts with finding a job. Check any Help Wanted section of a major newspaper.
Want-ads cannot be segregated by race under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act, but they are still segregated by sex. Few women bother to look at
the "male" section to discover that most of the good jobs are
listed there. They also don't notice that the dually listed jobs offer
salaries to women about 20 percent below those to men. Only 25 states
require equal pay for equal work and companies frequently circumvent those
laws by giving the women's job a lesser title.
barriers, and more subtle ones continue to continue to harass women throughout
their working lives. When a male grad applies to a company he is put into
management training and is reasonably confident that he will enter management
soon in his career. When the typical women grad applies she is given a
typing test and told she should rise through the clerical ranks.
doesn't go far. The higher one looks in any company or occupation the
fewer women one finds. Those that do make it freely admit that they have
to work twice as hard and make many more sacrifices than a male co-worker
-- and still receive less pay.
life of a working women is well described with a few statistics from Department of Labor publications:
seventy percent or all women with college degrees work, only two percent
are executives. Forty percent teach and over twenty percent are employed
in clerical sales or factory jobs. The median income of working women
with degrees is 51 percent that of men and the median income of women
in professional, technical and managerial capacities is sixty percent
that of men.
increasing concentration of all working women in the low-pay, low-status
occupations is reflected in the gap between the incomes of women and men.
In 1965, the median income of year-round, full-time workers was: white
men, $6,704; nonwhite men, $4,277 white women, $3,991; nonwhite women,
that lost sentence again, carefully. The median income, of white women
is lower than that of nonwhite men. Sex is as great a deterrent as race
to achieving one's share of the world's goods. Black women are doubly
cursed and have the lowest income of all. Yet the median education of
both groups is higher then that of their male counterparts.
facts have always been shrouded by the belief that "things are getting
better." But in reality the gap between the incomes of women and
men has widened at the rate half a percent a year for the last 15 years.
to Mary Keyserling, Director of the Women's Bureau of the Department of
women are relatively more disadvantaged today than they were 25 years
ago. In 1940 they held 45 percent of all professional and technical
positions. Currently they hold only 37 percent. This deterioration has
occurred despite the increase in women's share of total employment over
the some period and the rising number of women who enroll in and graduate
from institutions of higher education.
share of the educational pie is also decreasing. In 1965 women earned
one out of three B.A.s and M.A.s and one in ten Ph.D.s. In 1930 the figures
were two out of fiveand one in seven respectively.
statistics illustrate but don't explain the fact that with 51 percent
of the population women are the country's largest "minority group."
The explanation does not lie in "nature," that scapegoat which
has been used for eons to justify the subjugation of all minority groups.
the answer lies among the hazy myths about women and the traditional beliefs
on proper sex-roles, those invisible bonds that are greater then chains
because they are not understood to exist.
roles differ with each culture but all cultures carefully shape children
from birth to fit accepted concepts of masculine and feminine behavior
and to believe that these concepts have some eternal validity. In our
society these roles are reflected in our movies, our fictions, our advertising
and our opinions; they stereotype women and men as badly as they do any
culture is dominated by the values of the white male. The individual worth
of each human being is defined by the standards of this group. Women,
like blacks, don't measure up. So they are relegated into that great underclass
whose main function is to free the white male from menial concerns.
are taught to play a subservient and passive role in order to be considered
"feminine." They are supposed to be dependent, men are supposed
to be independent. Woman is the supporter, man the provider. Girls are
encouraged to develop domestic concerns while young boys learn to orient
themselves outward. To be "feminine" is to be weak, gentle,
submissive, emotional, intuitive, and above all, sexual.
no identity of their own, women are told they must live their lives vicariously
and attain their fulfillment through caring for a man and raising his
children. Historically, this role may once have had value, but with the
pill and advancing technology there in no longer any excuse for confining
women to secondary roles. Yet they are held there by social attitudes
as oppressive as any tangible restraint. Women who try to break out of
the stereotype, who do not conform to the myths or play the roles defined
for them, are ridiculed as unfeminine, castrating, frustrated and frigid.
women join in this mockery and thus contribute to their own oppression.
Men put women down because it justifies their position. Women do it because
like all minority groups they have internalized the opinion and image
of themselves perpetrated by those in authority. Women ore often worse
male chauvinists then are men.
the time most girls enter college their future in already determined.
A coed may believe that "if she so chooses" she can get a good
job, but she rarely chooses. She has been conditioned from birth to fit
her life around home and family and she gears her education to this purpose.
education for men legitimates their right to control and manage this society.
For women, it is a waiting period in which they find a husband and prepare
themselves sufficiently to "keep up with him." Her goal is an
"Mrs." not an "A.B.", and a failure to get the latter
is looked on with less pity than a failure to get the former.
a woman should obtain both she must choose between home or career. A man
accepts both as only natural but for a women to do both requires almost
superhuman effort. Those that do succeed, do so by picking careers, such
as social work and teaching, which can fit around home and husband and
in which the predominance of women workers relieves them from the pressures
to work twice as hard as their colleagues.
employment and life styles of women have become self- fulling prophecies.
Women are assumed to prefer the styles they have been taught to prefer.
Businesses do not recruit women into management because they assume women
are not interested, because they find the thought of a women threatening
to the male ego, and because they are unwilling to adjust their employment
male values and standards require a women to succeed "in a man's
world" but do not provide such minimal compensations as day-care
centers or tax relief to hire babysitters. Time off for vacations, sick-leave
or the draft is allowed for without loss of job or seniority but pregnancy
or child care needs will often cost a woman both. Behind those problems
is a family structure in which the responsibilities and pleasures of home
and work are not shared equitably.
people have become more aware of minority group problems in the last few
years many woman have become conscious of their own status as a minority
group. With this awareness a new feminist movement has begun to rise.
But unlike previous movements, its major thrust is not to prove that women
are as good as men, almost. It is concerned with equality, but does not
feel equality lies in meeting the standards set by white male values.
1966 the National Organization for Women, headed by Betty Friedan, was
formed with the slogan "full equality for women in truly equal partnership
with men." Its membership is primarily career women, women whose
families have grown and no longer occupy all their time, and a few sympathetic
year later younger women in Chicago who had been involved in different
social action projects began meeting to analyze their perpetual secondary
roles in "the Movement." From their initial groupings came the
"women's liberation movement" which in ten months has spread
to 800 members, in thirty chapters in twelve cities.
four chapters are campus based. Students, a privileged class living under
a semblance of equality, have proved difficult to organize until they
are stripped of their illusions by career or married life. The WLM members
are primarily college graduates; young, white and middle-class.
are concerned not just with women's rights but with women's liberation,
which requires a much more thorough restructuring of society, than simply
integrating women into male-defined roles. Their publication, the Voice
of the Women's Liberation Movement (mailed from 5336, S. Greenwood,
Chicago), displays a feminism with a strong political orientation.
WLM's most distinctive aspect is that it bars men from membership and
meetings, and generally ignores them. Like the Black Power Movement, from
which it draws many ideas, it feels women must run things for themselves.
With a few exceptions, the women are not separatists, but they do see
men as agents of an exploitative society and feel women must organize
for their own liberation.
will not liberate women, women must free themselves. The have waited too
long as it is. Now the movement is growing, organizing, and becoming more
militant. The largest minority group is getting angry. They are tired
of working for everyone's liberation except their own.