The Feminist Movement
Origins of Feminism
A reawakening of the women's movement
- Suffrage had succeeded in 1920 in obtaining the vote for women. But then the energy of the movement was generally lost to the process of quiescience (satisfaction and relief at the accmoplishment of its goals turned energy elsewhere).
- Remember that suffrage had been a largely middle and upper class movement.
- Remember also that suffrage had struggled to overcome a division based in two different arguments for suffrage: (1) women were citizens of the United States guaranteed their rights through the Constitution and should vote, and (2) women were the moral guardians of society and moral quality in government depended upon women having a vote.
Post-war Consumer Materialism was gendered
- Women had been the backbone of civilian war industry in World War II, but postwar consumer materialism returned them to the home to raise families and do the work of the household. But now, many times they were isolated in the suburbs.
- Life was socially gendered in postwar consumer materialism. Women's place was as mother raising her children. Men's place was in the capitalist economy.
- Life was economically gendered as well. Some women were engaged in the economy for supplemental incomes and in years prior to their marriage and assuming their role as mothers. These jobs tended to be in gendered professions such as nursing and airline stewardesses. Women working in men's jobs could expect about 65 percent of the wage of men in the same job.
Groups in the Feminist Movement
Begins as a cultural movement
- Feminism arose from a rhetoric resisting postwar consumer materialism. It attempted to change the cultural place of women in a broad based strategy involving alteration of the way men and women saw the relationship between genders
- This cultural movement was loosely organized. Groups of women got togetrher to discuss their lives.
- This was a place for public communication. Women were broadly empowered to speak to their own condition and the condition of others. The power of the movement to alter perceptions and attitudes was in their own hands, in their view. They spoke to each other more than those beyond the group.
- The movement was largely middle class including suburban women and young pre-marital women working in the cities.
Spawns a political movment
- By 1966, 300 women had formed a political movement as a spin off: The National Organization for Women (NOW).
- This was a political movement committed to engaging government in addressing women's problems and finally pushing for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constituiton.
- NOW had 300 charter members and was a formal organization with membership, a leadership structure, dues, and annual meetings.
Spawns Radical Feminists
- The cultural movement also spun off a number of identity movements that sought recognition for their own status.
- Included were Lesbian-Feminists; COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), an organization of female sex workers; WITCH (Women's Internation Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), a socialist organization; and National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO).
Media of Feminist Rhetoric
- The most important medium by far was the consciousness raising group. These were public spheres of women engaging with each other in the movements work. They were spontaneously formed networks growing naturally out of the sharing of experiences.
- Some mass media was used as well. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was the book that launched the movement. MS magazine was central to the cultural movement, publishing material that could be picked up by the consciousness raising groups to be brought into the lives of ordinary women. And NOW had a full blown publicity campaign to appeal to and expand its member base.
- There were also mass rallies, demonostrations, and planned media events designed to force feminist issues and critique into media attention. For example, in 1968, demonstrators organized by the New York Radical Feminists came to the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, NJ. Feminism viewed the pageant with its bathing suit parades, and evening gown competitions as a celebration of women's status as objects of patriarchical ornamentation. The demonstrators threw products of consumer materialism they considered to be symbols of oppressing women -- makeup, false eyelashes, pots, and mops -- into a trash can on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Then they unfurled a banner in the Atlantic City Convention Center during the pageant emblazoned with "Women's Liberation." The demonstration became a favorite story in the newspapers and television news.
The Double Role of Rhetoric in Cultural Feminism
Feminism began as a cultural movement. Rhetoric plays a double role in cultural movements. Not only do the movements use rhetoric as all other movements do, but an important ideological claim of cultural movements is that those among the movement's potential member group suffer as victims of current rhetorical practices. Thus, the ideology defines rhetoric both as a source of oppression, and subsequently as a source of liberation. The following explains this relationship.
Rhetoric as "Equipment for Living"
When we were studying the New Deal, we discussed how Roosevelt
provided people a perspective that made them understand their personal pain
during the depression in terms that defined its public dimension. We called
this the New Deal motive. This function
of rhetoric -- empowering people to understand their problems from a particular
perspective -- is part of personal lives as well as public lives. The
rhetoric of cultural movements sees this function of rhetoric shaping the way
people answer key questions about their lives:
- How should I understand what is happening to me?
- How should I respond to events in my life? How should I act? What is the right thing to do?
- What threatens me? How can I resist it?
- Who are my friends? How can I tell friends from enemies?
- What can I be? Who determines what I can be?
Rhetorical Motives Frame Understanding and Action
This power that rhetoric has is recognized when we talk about rhetorical motives. Rhetorical motives such as the New Deal motive are perceivable because they provide certain characteristics (illustrated with the New Deal motive):
- A typical vocabulary with which people describe the things happening in their lives (dispossessed, greedy, hope, work)
- Characteristic actions that people expect to happen to them or that they see around them are described in this vocabulary and in the typical narratives of the motive (the greedy, thinking only of themselves and their personal benefit, exploit the dispossessed)
- Appropriate responses to the situations in their lives are named in the motive and praised for their appropriateness (people will leave fear behind and trust their government to make decisions that will improve the economy)
- Roles are assigned to the people (characters) that are a part of the world around them (the president will lead, Congress is to pass necessary legislation, people are to trust the actions of the government to address the depression)
Feminism's Rhetorical Motive is an example
Feminist ideology focused critique on postwar consumer materialism. This ideology provided an analysis of the language with which patriarchy perpetuated its own power and trapped women into a notion of the "right" that kept them within the power of men. The ideology pointed to the following characteristics of postwar consumer materialism's patriarchy:
- Differentiated sex roles. It saw men and women assigned differing roles in society, each appropriate to the characteristics of that sex.
- Women were responsible for the home. Because women had a greater moral sensitivity they were in charge of teaching morals to children within the family. Women were child-raisers and care-givers.
- Men were by nature competitive. They were better equipped to succeed in the much more hostile, competitive, world beyond the home. Their task was to compete successfully in the economy to provide for the family, and to protect the family from the hostility of the external world.
- Established a vertical hierarchy within families in which men were the rulers or "Lords" of the family. Thus, women and children were to obey the husband in the nuclear family. In turn, the husband had responsibilities to protect and provide for the women and children.
- These relationships were performed and reinforced in the language of patriarchy. That language provided expectations for men and women to perform these roles, provided disparaging terms for those who violated the roles (dykes, "girly-men"), condemned weakness in men and strength in women.
- It also critiqued the gendering of formal English. The use of "he," "him," and "his" when the point was to refer to persons of either gender, the use of names like "fireman," "mailman," or "policeman" that made certain professions gendered were attacked.
The Rhetorical Goals and Strategies of Cultural Feminism
Cultural Feminism sought to:
- redefine the characterizations of those who are a part of the group that are the potential members of the movement (women or gays)
- give members the power to redefine their roles, to escape the confines of role definitions in the dominant rhetoric, to empower members to define themselves,
- to loosen the definitions of propriety imposed by the social structure through rhetoric.
The strategies to accomplish these goals were to:
- Take the dominant motive (patriarchal motive, for example) and call attention to it as an arbitrary choice rather than a "natural" or "true" way of approaching day to day life,
- Undermine the dominant motive by a critique of its oppressiveness,
- Provide members an alternative motive that empowers them to view their lives in different ways.
- Teach members to employ the alternative motive as a way of understanding their day-to-day life.
- Deploy typical movement strategies to attract and direct energy including the use of ideographs (<patriarchy>, <women's liberation>, <control over our bodies>) within slogans.
The Rhetoric of Consciousness Raising Groups
Consciousness Raising Groups
- One rhetorical practice common in cultural feminism was consciousness raising groups.
- The purpose of consciousness raising groups was to permit a broad range of members to describe events in their lives in the language of the alternative motive. Thus, they praised and condemned life events according to the perspective of the motive.
Rhetorical Rules for the Community
The consciousness raising groups were communities formed as public spheres where rhetoric circulated among members to achieve community purposes. We have learned this as one of the definitions of rhetoric. What, then, were the rules created to govern rhetorical interaction in these communities:
- Who leads? Formally, the groups passed leadership from member to member. Sometimes this was taking turns; sometimes they used a device like to whom a spinning bottle pointed. But authority in a group is generally granted to those who mastered the feminist motive.
- Who gets to talk? Everyone, by design. Take turns. One of the leader's jobs is to draw the silent into the conversation. Dominating the conversation is condemned by others if it occurs. The rule demanded that true public communication govern rather than a form of mass communication dominated by the leader.
- What are proper subjects? Life experiences. Your experiences get you admission to the group. The group translates these into the understanding provided by the feminist motive.
- What is the proper atttitude toward others in the group? A helping attitude. Point is to help others understand their life experiences. All persons in the group are valued. There is equality, but with differences in authority.
Remember those in these groups created a public sphere: a small group to permit full interaction, informal to permit equality.
- To teach a rhetorical motive. The motive had a vocabulary that you needed to master, and a way of deploying that vocabulary to tell your story. Among the vocabulary were the ideographs <woman>, <chauvenist>, <patriarchy>, and <sisterhood>. Once you mastered the motive, you possessed the vocabulary and narrative skills to live everyday life with the feminist motive.
- To empower women. Consciousness raising groups created a public sphere where expression was valued over silence. Thus, it was an identity movement, empowering women to make a difference by controlling their own lives.
- To build the bonds of a movement. And, remember, this is a movement. The ideograph that held that movement together was <sisterhood>. But participation in consciousness raising groups was a ritual that became a sign of membership: being a feminist.
Rhetorical Strategies to perform consciousness raising
- Begins with a life experience. Thus, it is inductive, working from the experience to its significance. Someone in the group introduces a life experience and the group goes to work on it.
- Converts it into the feminist motive's narrative power.
- Celebrations of Consciousness. Then, the group's sessions typically ends with celebrations of the group and its importance. These include proclamations of insight, an expression of appreciation of <sisters>, often accompanied by hugs and physical bonding, and reports of life more fully lived because of and beyond the group space.
Feminist Rhetorical Motive structured consciousness raising sessions
As those in consciousness raising groups converted their life experiences into support for feminism, they called upon the feminist motive. Their strategies were structured into two moments woven together in the plot: (1) when women were victimized, and (2) when consciousness is raised. The former was framed as a product of the <patriarchy>, and is a tale of oppression and victimization. The latter is a heroic moment, providing an account of the victory of consciousness raising over the <patriarchy> and thus liberation from its power.
Moment 1: Victimization by the patriarchy
- Characters for moment 1
- Antagonist: <patriarchy>. Those telling stories in the framework of the motive often identify specific men victimizing women, but seldom by name. There is a balance between the vividness of individuals acting through the plot and the unnamed. Uultimately, the story does not blame these men themselves, but shifts that blame to the system as raform movements always do: the men themselves are caught in performing the <patriarchy>. Thus, the patriarchy becomes the antagonist that must be overcome.
- Women as victims. These victims are usually the very women initiating the story. The group expresses sympathy focusing on their victimage. Important to the structure is that the woman-victim must accept the reality of their victimage.
- Plot of moment 1. Men victimize women through typical patriarchial techniques. Thus, men and women are placed into the roles that trace to the culture that is postwar consumer materialism.
- This first moment results in no resolution. The impact of the oppression brings the victims to the movement.
Moment 2: Triumph of consciousness raising
- Characters for moment 2
- Antagonist: Your old self. Your old self accepted the victimhood as normal. You accepted your role in postwar consumer materialism with all the advantages and material benefits it provided. Typically the life event brought a moment of conflicted disgust between your old self and the "feeling" that you were victimized.
- Protagonist: Your raised consciousness. But with the group you can now use the vocabulary of the movement to see the oppression and victimage in your day-to-day life including the life experience you brought to the group.
- Sisters: Although you are the primary protagonist, your sisters give you help to get to your new identity. The consciousness raising process is itself a hero of the triumph.
- Plot of Moment 2
- With the help of your group you achieve understanding, and
- Move from victimhood to control over your life.
- Thus, a new identity is achieved as a resolution of the life experience.
Together the two moments that compose the feminist motive move you from victimage to living your life day-to-day without the oppression of postwar capitalist materialism.