1964-2014: Overview of the feminists who led civil rights



“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,”  Gloria Steinem.

The women who came before the paths to equality were established, before the roads were cleared, without the contextual or political framework of support, these are the barefoot frontrunners.  For many of us the challenges met granted access and choices to live our lives as we have, a range of options opened for us significantly in the late 60’s.   Names like Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Betty Frieden came through to us, in the news and in the women’s studies classes newly offered on the university campuses. (Chapter 2:  History of feminism)   Information and experience of these events were in the back ground.  Hard to imagine the isolation many women experienced in various parts of the country when they first heard of these women and the choices they sought for women.  Hard to imagine when today our iPhones, 24/7 cable news and constant connection allows us to get any amount of information and be in touch moment to moment with life around us.

But the osmosis of the 60’s culture that provoked questions with no answers that we lived through with no road map and  no guarantee of finding a right path was how it was.  In the 1848, in Seneca Falls, reform of slavery was the beginning of feminism for men and women.  Estelle Freedman, Stanford University in her work No Turning Back,  points out that reform of equality and injustice was and is the basis of all feminism (Chapter 3:  Earliest feminist)  Margaret Sanger founder of Planned Parenthood wrote a book on “Comstockery” in protest to the lack of  family planning work.   The women and the children they bore were the source of  the unpaid labor  in the farms and in the factories, her book declared in the 1940’s.

Most certainly the game changer was  birth control pill in 1964.( Chapter 4:  1964 Game changer)  The ability to  provide choice and liberty to women nationwide show up in the timeline as the pivotal moment when women came through and to power.  Civil Rights 1965 provided the legal status of women to move forward into the equality and affirmative action  shifted women’s access into college and jobs not available to them previously.  With these changes, Individually or collectively women brought new conceptions to their lives in this significant time of sociopolitical history.(Chapter 5:  Sociopolitical advances in Feminism)

Ironically,  most of us were only vaguely aware of the groundwork and advances provided by the women who came before us.  Those who stood to represent  the Women’s Liberation movement were considered angry feminists or a joke by some, both men and women.  For many women, feminism was not achievable or desired or seen as representing the identity of choice.  The discussion across the country in the early 7 0’s that showed up on black and white television and in the magazines didn’t seem accessible or desirable, even  alien to many women.  (Chapter 6:  Personal is Political)

Estelle Freedman in No Turning Back:  The Feminist Resource Site states it clearly: there are many forms of feminism.  (Chapter 7:  Equal Pay Amendment) Equal pay for equal work is  a serious conversation today that has gained recognition because Pew Reports that 47% of all households have women as the head of the household supporting the family.   However, a depth and strength of that position seems juxtaposed with the condition of poverty and lack of education for women not only in other parts of the world.  (Chapter 8:  Barefoot Frontrunners Here and Now)   As we recognize the value of the validity of equal pay becoming a reality, the contradiction of women living in poverty with little potential for a future and reduced access to education seems glaringly wrong.  Freedman points out this realm of feminism addressing poverty and lack of education here and world wide is very much the next chapter of feminism.

When you consider where and how the women’s movement and the goals of feminism came into public awareness  in the late 60’s, it comes to the sexual freedom. (Chapter 9:  Sexual history of feminism)   Strident assertions of equality and lack of tolerance for sexism came together demanding change in the atmosphere of the antiwar and civil rights protests and demonstrations.     For men and women, our politics, our  lifestyles chosen in the late 60’s and 70’s corresponded with the way we held our sexual role and identities.  Women gave up dresses for blue jeans, joining the men in the symbolism of the non traditional counter culture attire worn by both. Men and women had long hair and wanted to be seen without the limitations of sexual role and identity.  Men grew beards, women didn’t wear make up or bras to make that point of not being man or woman but human being.  The style of dress and appearance was taken on by socialites and film people who identified with the process of sexual freedom being expressed.   Sexual freedom, personal choice and defining one’s life as a woman were  a consequence of the social change underway across the country.   Brought on by the consciousness raised about the Viet Nam war  to movements addressing the need for change in our draft system, our politics and the racism and sexism now seen and recognized through the crack in the solidity of the country.  New thinking and new choices made for the changes underway. Why is this important to record?  Because the next generation needs to know how change came underway that resulted in the laws of equality and justice; they need to know the value of a society that was in tumult and the results of that time of change.

The story of liberation for women is personal and is marked by the options and choices made by the women in this study ( femChapter 10:  Education and  the choice of  feminism).  Women are victims of their sexuality and their roles as women throughout the world.  Matt Damon has a new non profit that addressed putting wells into areas of poverty around the world to free up the use of girls and women to carry the water.  He sees that education of the girls is a possibility if those ancient roles of women are eliminated by water wells.   Women are punished for their sexuality we know this, clitoral mutilation, sale of children for prostitution and marriage, bride burning, stoning of those accused of adultery all exist in lands far away.  Girls who grow up on the streets of urban cities of the United States, without education and in poverty, are subject to disease and abuse also are victims of their sexuality.  When we talk about feminism, there are so many realms of what it is that is wanting to have women aware of the potential of a life of dignity and choice, and part of the ambivalence toward the term feminism is the lack of inclusion women feel in this process.  This is true now and as much as it has been all along.

Personal experience of the women who came through these times are an indicator of how far we’ve come and the cost and path of feminism for countries overtly and beneath the surface punishing women for being women.  The path of the women who came through the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s to now have much to show us in terms of what the authentic process of change in their personal stories. (Chapter 11:  Essays)

How women have been viewed and researched sexually leads to the recognition that with liberation came new questions about and from women about the role of sex in their lives.  How it was approached then and now shows the changes underway that brought us to where we are now, what the choices around marriage, children and lifestyle have become and where they came from are all within the research discussed. (Chapter 12:  Sexual studies and their politics)


The work of feminism has presented the means to equality, justice and choice to women, as well as political power.  The changes can be measured in how the current generation of women represent themselves and what their expectations are in their participation in work and home.  (CHAPTER 13:  New World of feminism) Today, women choose to be married or not to have a family.  Women choose to have partners for birthing a child, or surrogates or donors.  Women through the Affordable Care Act are not dependent on an employer or marital state to have their own healthcare, their own 401K.  Women of all ages consider themselves to the responsible for their own income; more women are working all through their lives was evidenced in the women interviewed.  Retirement is not something that either men or women can assume will be in their lives.  Their stories convey the balance and process by which the personal became political through the evolution of change in the past fifty years, still weighing the cost and benefits to equality.

Finally we meet some of the women who have been the barefoot frontrunners breaking new ground from where they stood and what their perspective yielded in the creation of their lives within the context of modern feminism.  (Chapter 13:  Markers of the new feminism)   Those who participated in the interviews provide the essence and meaning to an impersonal process through which they gained access to lives of their own design.  The juice of the story of these women and their  lives describe what we must know are acts of courage.  Our witness to the coming through of the disempowered, left behind and discounted has the potential of  granting us understanding and compassion for all  the women throughout the world.  Many  stand at the doorway, risking life and limb literally- to imagine a life of  dignity, respect and freedom.  The context for modern feminism includes their freedom as connected to our own, their worth as a value to our own and a future we will all share,


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