Barefoot frontrunners-women who set the context for modern feminism



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.   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 osomosis 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.  Beginning with, Margaret Sanger who founded Planned Parenthood and began her family planning work in the 40’s,  the birth control pill in 1964 moved the dial to choice and liberty to women nationwide.  Individually or collectively women brought new conceptions to their lives in this significant time of sociopolitical history.

Ironically,  most of us were only vaguely aware of the groundwork and advances provided by the women who came before us.  The few who stood to represent  the Women’s Liberation movement were considered angry feminists.  Sound familiar?  Yep, when Hillary Clinton was running for President, they called her an angry feminist.  An old phrase used to discount the intent and development of equality for women, this expression in the 70’s toned down the effect of women jumping in with two feet to seek the marks of equality.  Not all women then, and certainly not all women now identify with the ideals of feminism, the strident assertions of equality and lack of tolerance for sexism.   Much was gained for all women as the relatively few demanded change in New York, in Chicago and California, opening the doors for political and social change.

The story of liberation for women is personal and evidenced by the choices available to women and their action in including themselves in the process.  There are many parts of the world where the process of liberation has taken effect; it seems to correlate with the parts of the world where family planning is in effect.  While this is true, the segments of the world where women are punished for their sexuality could in effect limit the full evolvement of women’s liberation and equality in the world.  People like Eve Ensler have taken on their own liberation through work to free the women who endure the most negative consequences of being female in a country where there are child brides, bride burning, rape and abuse to women.

Each of us, our mother’s, our aunt’s, our sister’s have a story about their path to choice and liberation.  Each story is a contribution to ending the limitations of being female without choice or freedom to choose.

Your story, our stories are important because they are the basis for the change of consciousness awarding power and choice to women world wide.  


For my friends and I coming up in the 50’s and 60’s, it was living our lives in a way to be included in the scenario of the role of women, our heads down as we made our way along the paths we could find to the lives we created.  For many, introduction to larger world views such as the Anti War movement, the Civil Rights movement brought us together.  We spoke of freedom, and we began to examine our own lives.

We reached out for the lives we wanted but  had not even see around us, we wanted education and work that brought us to the recognition of what we could bring to life’s table.  On the dark days-the days we didn’t feel certainty about the new paths and new problems that came with the new paths, we asked ourselves if we were foolish for our choices.  Most of us returned to college and graduated as adults, and found work and careers that challenged and rewarded us.  Only some of us were aware of the debt we owed to the few women, our leaders in the Women’s movement, who took strident stands and brought legislation to local and state government tables that were of benefit to us.


In interviews with women born in the 40’s,    90% knew they would be working for the rest of their lives in some capacity.  80% were single, divorced, remarried and single again of their own choosing. Most had returned to school getting degrees that gave them the opening to jobs, if not careers that were satisfying to them.   Those interviewed were living in Northern California, but had migrated during the 60’s-80’s from New York, Chicago, Missouri, Georgia, New Jersey and Illinois.  Clearly the Northern California location and  their proximity to the favorable view of the changes in sexual identity and lifestyle were consistent with the adaptations initially inspired by the Womens Movement, Civil Rights and Anti War movement of the mid and late 60’s


The history of the barefoot frontrunners then and now opened the doors to women world wide and brought women to the realm of political leadership.    Frontrunners because they brought to women openings in consciousness and practices paths that were then accessible to others, and will not end their efforts till women world wide gain women’s rights.


The argument here is that the future of women worldwide may in fact be related; as long as some women can be left behind whether it’s the streets of Richmond, Ca or India or the Middle East, the gains of feminism and the women’s movement hang in the balance.  We’re not there yet certainly applies.

1)   In many ways, the work is not only not done, and not complete with women left behind in many areas of the United States, South America, Mexico, India, the Middle East and elsewhere where women if they have rights are not given the means to determine their own destiny and find equaulity in how the options and choices available to them

2)  But more to the point, today, in Congress 2013, there are attempts to limit the freedom of choice available to women.  The attempt to reduce the options for education and responsibility of choice  for women is not a service to women or society.

3)  Today many women do not identify with feminism and see it  as a negative stereotype, and are mostly unaware of the fact that women’s rights have come through hard won battles and struggles that continue and can setback the progress started by the women’s movement.  There is the view that the Womens Movement is once again needed and is a remnant of the past that needs to be inspired newly and brought into agreement with the needs of women today world wide.

Effort and commitment

Alongside and leading the baby boomers, the frontrunners made an impact on their lives bringing the public’s awareness to the changes that now,  like soil turned over and  into the  ground, happened out of the vision and commitment of not just women but men who saw equality of sex or race as the goal of humanity.   The history of the effort and commitment of  feminism that produced those changes may not be recognized.  For the current and next generation of women, it’s important that this and future generations be aware of the ground broken and the continued efforts that must be made for women world wide to achieve personal dignity, choice and expression.  In some respects, none of us are free till all of us are free.  Eve Ensler brings that focus to women world wide in her work .  The women from the days of the early temperance movement found in their work together the means to change their history and the history of the women who followed.  It is just the beginning for some women, and others have ridden on the work of the feminine frontrunners and boomers, while others have made it happen.

Historical Context

The social and political structure that defined the lives of women, the experience of these women who since 1964 have had the means to direct their lives is where we begin.  In the case of women’s rights, the personal is political as we live our lives.  The story continues.  What is your story?