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Sexual liberation in the 60’s

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HOW IT WAS

Sexual Liberation in the 60’s came to people in all sorts of experiences.  The background of music was one.  “It Ain’t Me Babe” the nasally unfamiliar voice filled my room and filled my psyche.  Everything I thought I knew about love and sex were never to be the same as I absorbed a whole new way of looking at and feeling life around me through Bob Dylan.  It was June, 1969, and I had been deep in despair over the assault on how I had put together what I believed was life.  The disparity between what I thought my life was about and how it was left me devastated.  I had counted on the things I had seen in the movies, read about in books and heard from girlfriends and family.  Life was about getting married, having a family and being a good person.  You needed to be  pretty enough for someone to fall in love with you, be very interested in making out with you , and yet you maintained your virginity(check). Then they would give you an engagement ring (check) and on your wedding night give you that experience you saw in the movies called sex.  Well, that wasn’t what happened exactly.  But close enough, and I luxuriated in the orgasms I didn’t even know were part of the deal.

I had looked every time I babysat through the books of the people for whom I sat.  I looked for books that might tell me what sex was.  We had had the gym instructors show us the diagram of the body parts as we sat stoney and silent in a special gym class.  It was all deadly serious was what I gathered from that introduction to not getting pregnant.  I had heard the priests talk about the denigration of women by men somehow related to sex.  Sex in my family was something mom and dad did we knew but behind closed doors. Occasionally we would hear sounds coming from their room and both my sister and I were totally disdainful and didn’t see how they had sex, since they weren’t gloriously attractive people like in the movies.  We worried we were not going to be attractive enough. We knew there were expectations of girls that had to do with not being sexual, that message was everywhere in catechism, in english class, in the gym but at the same time we were supposed to be “sexy” and that that was of value. We also worried we would somehow give away ourselves in a situation that became sexual and out of control.  I once had a girlfriend who needed to go to the doctor to find out if she was pregnant.  She wasn’t, but she cried all the way home because the doctor she said had her feel so bad about herself.  It was a huge relief to be married and safely out of the range of such disasters.

So the bounty of sex and orgasm I enjoyed with my fighter pilot husband who came home after weeks and/or months to a feast of sexual activity that we both enjoyed a lot was unexpected joy.  There would be breaks.  In the last six weeks of pregnancy and first six weeks after birth, the doctor required you not to have sex.  But that somehow just added to the dance, to the jubilee which followed the birth of the babies.

Then when he came back from Viet Nam, our life blew up and he was gone.  Going back to college was an inspired move and opening my mind to a whole new world.  University of South Florida had a very active anti war movement, and I was exposed to the politics and upheaval of the late 60’s protests.  Mind altering ideas came from funny looking people with slashes of paint on their face like Jerry Rubin.  It was about the war, but then again it was about being free and I wasn’t sure what that meant but it seemed to be related to breaking down racial barriers in attitudes that included people different from ourselves, and also breaking down sexual barriers we’d acquired just by virtue of growing up in the culture of the 50’s.  It all seemed to go together.

I was also deep into my own personal upheaval and trauma with the loss of my marriage and the family I thought we were.  I was in psychotherapy and had moved from recognizing the source of pain unexpressed in my childhood that was not to be denied in the loss of my marriage.  This was all a time of finding the assumptions and beliefs I had challenged by the reality around me.  The door was open suddenly to seeing the world around me and myself in a wholly different way.  Sexuality then was also being challenged.

So if sex wasn’t about being with the  one,  your husband  for your lifetime, till death do you part, and having babies, then what was it to be for me.  I wanted no part of the “gay divorcee” image that I saw in the few examples around me.  Divorce was failure and scandalous.  But I was starting to feel good after my first term in college and managing the kids was working out pretty good.  I certainly lowered my standards in terms of things like reading to the kids every night after baths.  I felt guilty about what they weren’t getting every minute.  I was distracted, worried and absent to them I’m pretty sure even if my body was  there at that time.  I had extreme emotional responses whenever Tom was around.  He would drive his VW into the driveway at times I didn’t expect and leave whenever he did.  It didn’t seem like I had anything to do with what was happening there, and certainly no control over what he did.

I lived in the neighborhood of the faculty of University of South Florida in Tampa, and the friends who had been our friends were all aware and engaged with me and the kids in this big public spectacle our life had become.  The neighborhood was a gift.  It might have been a totally different story without the support and encouragement to keep moving forward from those friends.  But also, one by one, their husbands came to my door.  It was so ironic-the women feeling sorry for me in the daytime, their husbands showing up at my door at night.  It made my blood run cold, and just had me feel fearful and confused as I politely turned them away.  I think the polite was just because I was so scared about what it said about me that they were there.

I was  at a local college hangout-the Collage with my next door neighbors  when I met Bobbye.   Strobe lights were flashing, Bob Dylan was wailing, “How does it feee-el, to be on your own-with no direction home, a complete unknown…”  It was so my inside feeling that hearing Bob Dylan sing that was devastating in that moment.  And then there was Bobbye Generone.   He had wavy black long hair, and a beard, blue jeans and he made me laugh.  The things he said I didn’t quite understand, but it was about freedom, personal freedom-whatever that was.  I invited him to my house on Sunday when I was having my neighbors for dinner.  He came.  We made love.  I had never made love like we made love.  It wasn’t coming from anywhere else other than enjoyment of the moment and fun.  It wasn’t a courtship, it didn’t promise a tomorrow, it didn’t validate yesterday.  It just was.  And it was great.

That’s how come I was listening to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones the week that followed, playing the records over and over again.  Listening to their words-words that didn’t fall easily into my realm of understanding.  But I just listened.  “It Ain’t me, babe.  No, no, no-it ain’t me, babe.”  It changed my life.  The words and soul of Bob Dylan changed my feelings about what was happening around me, it changed how I saw what was happening.  This tragedy that seemed so personal that I felt so helpless to manage actually wasn’t mine alone, but a human potential.  The edge of truth from a source I never would have encountered had my life continued as it had been before the fall of my life blowing up seemed miraculous.

Suddenly I had compassion for men and saw that the design I put around my desire was a package that I thought life was about.  Betrayed when it turned out as it did, this opening to seeing the predicament men were in a moment of clarity had the  anger and feeling of being a victim to a monster dissipate .  In the process of having my life fall apart, new ground and a new perspective on choices I had as a result were now clear.  I saw that-the hard cold resentment and hot anger of betrayals were no longer  serving me.  I  saw there was something else even if I didn’t have a handle on it, or know how to talk about it yet.

Turned out this perspective allowed for another  good decision as life moved forward,  and provided the basis for the move to  California.
And best of all, Berkeley.

 

 

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1960 Feminism and sisterhood

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The history of feminism from suffragettes to millineals is about the women and men who established the measures of women’s rights, civil rights  and living toward equality  and freedom to choose their politics and their sexuality.  Fifty years after the Civil Rights Bill, there is the challenge to reduce those rights, not just a whisper but a roar in forty state bills in process that would limit not just abortion, but birth control in some cases, and as such reducing the power for women to choose the use of their bodies.  The barefoot frontrunners are the women who have led and continue to provide the measures of equality as a reality in daily life.  They step out on unpaved roads and byways to claim equality and dignity for humanity.  As Nelson Mandela, Nobel Laureate stated, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. ”

Barefoot Frontrunners is about women’s rights, civil rights as lived through,  and makes the claim that  the future of humanity depends on carrying forward the goals of feminism.  Embedded in the Civil Rights Act of 1964,   discrimination due to race, country of origin or sex became unlawful.  But further, the civil rights act provided the affirmative action plan with preferential  access to jobs and education.  Politics was personal, in as much as it was the living day to day in this period of chaos and change that took policy to reality.  A transition for women born in 1940 who came of age at the time of the Civil Rights Act.  Their intimate stories of sexual and political change convey a view of the pattern that is in process world wide.  Significantly, Birth control and women’s right to choose also became accessible to women in 1964, and provided the other side of the equation by which women found their path to freedom and equality.

Barefoot Frontunners argues that the sustainable future the planet needs and wants begins with feminism.   Feminism, humanity and sustainability are wedded in what will have that transformation take place.  Collaboration and cooperation is the future that is sustainable whether we talk about the weather or the economy, and the women of the world are moving toward that in whatever measures are available to them.  Malala Yousafzai, Gabby Gifford are referenced in this work because they both reflect and inspire the spirit of modern feminism by their own steps, they represent the power of their presence in the world.

Barefoot Frontrunners seeks to establish the debt owed by all women to those who have come before us, the gains they have made, the ground they have established as they lived through and brought forward the measures of equality we work with today.  The history of how the rights, privileges and legal changes came to be is a history unknown to many women today, and it is important to recognize and carry forward the goals of feminism.

Barefoot Frontrunners  sounds the alarm that those rights and privileges achieved primarily by having the birth control and choices available to women in how they have children and when although legal for over 50 years, there are grounds for concern about the  serious challenges in state legislation to reduce those rights.  The so called War on Women is evidenced and provided in daily the work of the GOP congress is to reduce women’s rights and reduce the power women have shown in their impact on the changes underway.  Politically and  economically, there is a committed effort  to take women back not forward to a future of their choosing.  The context for modern feminism is to carry forward the work of the previous generations to achieve equality and dignity, and to encourage and support education and choice for women around the world who strive to achieve that for themselves.

The Interviews

The women age 70 who were interviewed tell their story of living through the sociopolitical changes of their lives 1940-2014, where much of the  transformation to sexual and political freedom took place.  These women  responded to an email invitation to share their story:  how they  found themselves consistently  had much to do with finding each other from Seneca Falls in 1848 through the fifty years, it has been about a few women who opened the conceptual doors to freedom for many.    The barefoot frontrunners interviews, for instance, came through a woman’s circle that has met for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The group meets on the 3rd Thursday of the month and is hosted by one of 4 women who have been the hosts for this length of time.  There are women who have come only once or a few occasions over these years,  and some who have become regulars, but most have attended no more than three times.  The population is mixed in education, income, marital status and age and race.  There was a large response of over 50 requests by women to participate in this research for barefoot frontrunners.

WOMEN’S GROUPS

Every woman interviewed brought up the value of women friends and women’s groups.  The past fifty years of personal and political passage with economic and legal ground established provided the path to equality as a concept and a context through which the range of choices for these women in day to day was their individual process. 

 Born in 1940,  when it was illegal to have a book on family planning by Margaret Sanger in a book store, each new freedom with each change in the culture and in the world around them reflected in the laws provided both opportunity and challenges.  What they chose an how they chose provided new dilemmas and new responsibilities for them. They were the frontrunners, leading themselves down unknown trails often trial and error being the means to take on the new roles that resulted in the home and workplace. These women were the barefoot frontrunners, in as much as  there was the breaking from the known to the unknown of new identities and responsibilities.  It is safe to say that those who responded were interested and motivated to tell their stories because they were happy with their passage.    Easily several hundred women received the email offer to be interviewed for this research, consistently the ones who participated reported the positive end of the spectrum:  good health, vitality, enthusiastic about their current life and optimistic about the future.    Those who self selected participation would seem to reflect a positive deviance sampling,

We will talk specifically about the fact that for many women coming through the years of change, there was little or no direct experience with those who led the issues and practices of feminism.  In fact, for some there was a total lack of identification and a sense of strong alienation to the images they saw on television or read about in the newspapers to the strident representatives of feminism and social change of the 60’s.


Let’s start with the interview with Carol in the same woman’s group for over 33 years, as well as what she calls now her Palm Springs  golf group.  Jean brought up the women who sustained her after her husband’s passing with annual trips abroad.  Mother’s groups of decades was commonly reported long after there were no children in the lives of the women who participated.  There were many reports and descriptions of how women have relied on each other through periods of transition and  changes.     Consistently through the stories they told, the comfort and creative aspect of being with other women to face life’s changes was a familiar theme  of the women who came forward for an interview.  Sexuality, vitality and enthusiasm for their lives was the consistent finding of these women who elected to respond happy to tell their stories and pleased with the outcome of their journey to the modern context of feminism.

The conditions for change always included alliance with other women in the reports that were given.    For women, growing up in the family of origin, there were changes in location, marital status or career that set up the need for change.  Often the dynamic was unexpected and nor welcomed.  In the face of a crisis and chaos, new choices were presented and with that, shifts in identity and lifestyle.  A disruption to the status quo provoked discomfort and painful departures from the expectations assumed to be what the future was to be.

Each woman provided a description of their process, and the changes that came as a result.   The path for women  born in the 1940’s who passed through the counter culture social revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the choices and options available to them were part of those shifts.  While these women were living their lives, change was underway.  President Kennedy in 1961 brought together a group of women who were educated and experienced from the campaign that elected him to take on the role he offered them to change history for women.  They were the Commission on the Status of Women, and they came up with what they termed “injuries of sex” to women at home and at the work place.  When these women could not get a response to the need for change within the government as a Commission, they left the government and became the powerful source of change within the Woman’s Movement that stirred the nation to recognition of the need for social change.

In 1964, two significant game changers occurred as well.  First,  the  1964 Civil Rights Act prompted granting women more preference in entry to college and jobs through Affirmative Action.  Birth Control in 1964 and Roe VS Wade in 1973 granted choice and access where none existed before.     For the women who told their stories for barefoot frontrunners, their experience of the changes around them were mixed.  Each of their histories relative to the changes underway were shades of recognition and access to college entry, womens studies, and new views of what was available  to them in their lives.  They married, had children, divorced, many crossed the country to get to Northern California.   California was the mecca for those who aspired to the the counter culture presented on television and the magazines as the New Society.

Many of those interviewed said explicitly ” I didn’t  want a life like my mother,”   and yet they had no roadmap for the new choices, the new responsibilities they would encounter.  The transition was trial and error to some extent, and there were many women who looked askance at their sisters and mothers and daughters and decided they wanted no part of the revision of the roles for women.  Tension between the women who chose the path of uncertainty inherent in this new conception of living life, and those who stayed with the traditional was real and expressed in leaving behind family members who no longer spoke as reported by some of the women.

As Anne, 72, described it:  I didn’t want my mother’s life or to be like my mother, but I had no idea how to do my life otherwise.  And every time I failed at some part of my life-my marriage or my kids or my kid’s school, or a job and money, I compared my life with my mother’s and felt a failure.”   It was the peers, the women who were making an effort to go back to school, advocate and support change who found comfort with each other in moments of loss and confusion as reported by the women interviewed.

Jane, 71,  spoke of it as “the consistent challenge to be a free woman to make my own decisions, to deal with my mistakes.  It was hard to learn how not to feel like a failure when I fell short of where I thought I should be.  It was hard to get back on track sometimes when I really didn’t know  where I was going.”

SUPPORT SYSTEMS

“Counter culture Explosion” is how the period of the late 60’s are described by Sylvia born in 1941.  She, like others, found the life she could not have dreamed possible and as she navigated her way through college, graduate school,  the work she wanted as an artist she was fulfilled. The women friends with whom she shared her intimate fears and passions were her consistent support system.  “Family is just not something I’m good at,” Sylvia says.  Today, her broken relationship with her family in the midwest and her daughter  are the only regrets she has in having taken her life full on defining her own terms. “My friends are my family,” she says and the sense of loss that she still carries that is evident.

CURRENT RELATIONSHIP STATUS

Of the sample of 100, serial monogamous relationships were reported by most of the women:  6 never married, 18 married once, 29 married twice,  4 married three times; 19 currently divorced with no  partner, 21 living with other than partner, 3 widowed.

THE WOMEN AND THEIR CHOICES

 Phyllis, 72, worked 32 years for a government agency.  She has a pension and her social security.  Her retirement allows for travel with her golfing buddies on a regular basis to Palm Springs.  She is well set, more so than her male friends with whom she has lived in a serial monogamy situations, never married.  Active in her younger years in  Women’s Liberation, she now has a Ladies golfing group who plan getaways three times a year that gives her a life design that works for her.  Still she feels the empty place where “something might have been” that she can’t actually describe, but still has a longing for.  It might be the ‘road not traveled blues’ that she describes in not having had a family or a marriage, but overall she sees she is in a stronger position than her women friends who married, many of whom are single now either as widows or as divorced.

 Patricia, 71, in her interview also relies on her friends for company in her life travels.   She was told as a freshmen when she came to study law in college that the courtroom was not the place for women, and was encouraged to choose anthropology instead as an undergraduate.   There is still the sense of bitterness as she tells this story, even though in the end over time she got her Ph.D in Psychology.  She views her work as a means to encourage people to choose what works for them and has been successful in her work as a coach.    The mother of three children, she expresses strongly that her only regret is her choices in terms of the men she married.  She is single by choice, and happy about it.   She meets monthly, and has done so for 34 years  with a group of professional women with whom she feels consistent support and intimate contact through the years.  As she describes her life, she expresses enthusiasm for the fact that just in recent years she is much more confident about herself than she has ever been in her life previously, lives with a boyfriend of 12 years.

Catherine, 71, a retired Stanford Ph.D in Electrical Engineering still has lunch every week with Alice with whom she worked in Cupertino in 1996.  She was the only woman in her physics lab and struggled for two years behind the overt preference the professors gave to the rest of the male students.  This was 1975, and the belief that men were the primary support for families she feels is why the professors openly gave  preferential treatments to men, a frustrating part of her academic history.  After a severe and painful setback academically relative to the “second class”  status she endured in her physics department, she took leave and  some time for herself with her sisters in Santa Barbara.  Once she had recovered and was well again emotionally and physically,  she returned and did complete her Ph.D which to this day she feels was one of her biggest accomplishments.

She has officially retired from her lab work position that resulted from completing her doctorate, and is satisfied with the career that left her comfortable and well set for her retirement.  Although she is looking for another job because even with retirement and social security, she finds it hard to live the life she wants within the confines of a budget. She lives alone, never married and no longer looking for a partner.

Anna, 74, in her interview reveals what many women  saw in entering a new path emerging for women.  With a family of 4 children, she entered Laney College and explored a new world she had never considered at  Esalen in studies with Claudio Naranjo, becoming a follower of his work and community.  She found her place in that communal living in the 70’s and is still resides  with that group.  Claudio Naranjo, known for his work with MDA in rehabilitating people to get past their fears and limitations had a powerfully positive effect on Anna.  Although her experience in the 70’s was a long time ago, she feels the presence of the impact of those days on her today she shares.  The group changed significantly when Claudio Naranjo left the group she reports.  She is quite happy with her life and has just begun a new relationship with a new boyfriend after being single for seven years.

SEXUALITY

With few exceptions, the women interviewed stressed their ongoing interest and enthusiasm for sex.  It would be interesting to study the level of interests of women prior to the sexual liberation shifts in attitudes of the 70’s to see if the interest in sexuality is the same or different.  But for most of the  women over 70, even if currently inactive,   sexual experience, good experiences of intimacy and a trust with a valued partner were all acknowledged as very important.  For those single, they specifically spoke of their desire to find that special relationship in a partner relationship, not necessarily to be married.  In this group, those in a relationship, married or cohabiting made it clear they were there by choice and not obligation.

Sarah 74 spoke of her days of exploring her sexuality as a young woman, leaving one lover for another and the marriage she entered into only 14  years ago.  Her husband now has Alzheimers and she said in a confidential tone that these are the sweetest days of their lives together.  “He lives in the moment, and this has resulted in our having the best sex we’ve had in all our years together.”

Dianne 72 as well as four others mentioned the fact that because of their partner’s medication, sex as they knew it was no longer an option.  Dianne said that she and her husband just “don’t go there” and have pretty much forgotten about that part of their lives, and continue to enjoy each other in different ways.  They have a Sunday social group that they have been part of for years, enjoy the Berkeley Rep matinees and are happy with how their lives have evolved.

THE ROADS CHOSEN

It seemed that for these women and the many who reported their lives similarly, they were at varying levels of awareness of the changes that were underway for them in the 60’s.   They had the benefit of choice in childbearing and marriage after 1964, having experienced the world without choice in their earliest years.  They made changes in  life partners, had children and navigated the waters of choice with ups and downs, wins and losses not without significant doubt and worry about their lives outside the script of their parents’ lives.  Measuring their success was a variable that changed over the years.  Only one reported real regret in choices that she made, and that was the men she had married.

Significant was the fact that these women were self sufficient only by how they chose to live their lives, having scaled down with social security being the principle means of support.  Alternative senior groups around Berkeley and Oakland accounted by some the means to live life as well as they did due to shared expenses.  Only three reported a pension that allowed more choice in lifestyle.  For sure, those who were cohabitating or married , or widowed.  Very few did not mention the need for extra income that they met by making small amounts of money through creative ventures, like house sitting, dog sitting, driving and shopping for others, or other services in the community for which they were paid.   The women who chose to be interviewed would seem to represent the positive deviance of the aging unmarried or widowed woman challenged and active in determining the means to maintain their lifestyles.  They were all in good health, two having recovered from breast cancer years before.  They presented an enthusiasm for their lives, and enjoyed the opportunity to talk about their lives.

The power of relationship  was consistent in all the reports made by these women in telling their stories.  Through their women friends and groups, church groups, travel groups and interest groups,  the paths they described sustained them emotionally and physically.  Most had shifted careers as they shifted identities over the course of their lifetimes.   Only two  reported the issues of sexism deeply in bedded in some workplaces.

THE POWER OF CONNECTION

Over the sewing circles of the 30’s or currently,  or in more current times, the women who gather to work together at for instance Hackermoms  in Berkeley, there is evidence that women have always come together to  inspire, conspire, and encourage each other’s desires.   Their shared  interpretations of how they want to live and the choices that are available to define their life’s course have been a source of reference for most. Women, as opposed to men,  seem more flexible in terms of willingness to be led and to lead others to to life choices and identity.  The thread throughout their lives and the lives of women throughout history is  connecting, with each other and in the process expanding the notion of who we are as women.

LONGEVITY

We know demographically  that women live longer than men, or have in the past but there are indications that women are gathering along with their increased participation in the work force, the medical problems seen as a result of work and stress.  But the skill of connecting and socializing are emphasized as one of the reason for women’s longevity exceeding men’s.

It is a well known fact, that senior women have better skills for maintaining and creating connection and community than men, attributed to their roles based on competition and isolation and independence that have often been their orientation on the job.  The women interviewed for Barefoot Frontrunners by virtue of the self selection  brought chose to participate, and represented the choice of connection and community in their responses.

For the women who lived through the fifty years since the Civil Rights Act, it began often with breaking the rules that had been unselected in their growing up, and finding the right path.  Discomfort, confusion and pain were definitely accounted for in their process.  Being good, being pretty, not being bold or bossy, waiting for one’s turn-all of these social skills needed to be reconsidered and that process was often accounted for in the interviews.  Often these women, as barefoot frontrunners, had to rely on their intuition and inspiration rather than social approval or access.  It could be said that the response to pain in the world is from those experiences of marginalization and intimidation many women experienced in the workplace or academic environment.  Affirmative Action got them in the doors on jobs and college campuses, but the process of individuation they encountered was difficult and painful as reported by some.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by those who see and feel the inequity and exclusion because of their own experiences.  By simple acts of courage over the years of change and transition in the 70’s and 80’s, these women interviewed through small and large acts witnessed and participated within their lifetime, a full shift in what it is to be a woman.  By how these women have  lived their lives, their daughters and granddaughters have the power to determine the choices brought forward to them.   Born of a social revolution and civil rights bill in the 60’s, those rights and legal principles are the law of the land but under severe challenge now in congress.  How will this generation respond?

The women’s movement, the Anti War movement, the civil rights movement  stimulated the polarity of views that allowed for social change and change in how women were perceived and how they perceived themselves. .   The civil rights act of 1964, Affirmative Action all created the opening through which many women passed to get the education, the job and the life of their choosing.

Fifty years of civil rights and women’s rights has brought change in western civilization.  It’s a bell that cannot be unrung.  It is the promise for all civilization as we learn over and over again that all women, all people deserve the life of dignity and choice.  And that all societies who take into account the value of equality for true prosperity and growth will be the future.  Economies that account for the underpaid woman or man doing the same job are the future.  An ecology that brings sustainability to the resources we share as a planet we share-that is our future, that is the context of modern feminism.

 

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1950 Women relieved by Feminists in late 1960s.

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1950  women relieved by feminists in the late 1960s and the Women’s Movement and social revolution underway.  Bra burning feminists definitely alienated many from assuming further understanding of the practice.  But it was a practice, a demonstrated by women who rejected the confines of their social role, their place in the family and in their communities.  All women did not agree with the tactics taken by some, in fact there was quite a bit of polarity among women in the country.   True liberation of limitations of sexual identity restricting women’s choices and expression had a certain amount of agreement, but expressing that statement was not always agreed upon.

The hard work of our grandparents who went to work with no health benefits, retirement or unemployment or social programs that helped the elderly, poor and needy was a result of the church and the families.  There were those who didn’t identify with the process as it occurred in the late 60’s.  Six million women went to work  to take the jobs of the men who were sent overseas during World War II.  The women then returned to their homes after the war and the men took their jobs again.  Better working conditions for workers came about as a result of those women on the jobs during the war, and is seen by some as the beginning of civil rights.  The New Deal brought about the soldiers returning getting VA loans for school and to purchase homes and often relocating to different parts of the country forming nuclear families where there had mostly been extended families.  Now another war was happening in Viet Nam, men were drafted and dissension and protests about the war were common.   Those protests allowed the women to organize and bring about the issues that crystalized in the Women’s Movement in the late 60’s.  

But it must be said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the pivotal moment that made the “injuries of sex” established by the Commission on the Status of Women in 1966, appointed by President John Kennedy, that changed the platform of what was possible for women.

Seeking change and bettering the support of families and equitable conditions in the work place have been a process voiced and advanced by women all along the way from the suffragettes, through World War II and most specifically during the Viet Nam war.

The sexual revolution had as its basis women having what Gloria Steinem termed “the right to the satisfaction and compensation of work.”   Only  4%  of the workers were women in 1941, but by the 1990’s,   53% of women worked outside the home.  Revolution is about conflict, with and without bloodshed, dissatisfaction and a break in the cultural cohesiveness is an important factor.   As well, a revolution represents a breakdown in the assumption of implied and specific beliefs and orientation by a majority to diverse and often conflicting viewpoints and standards by a minority that makes itself heard.

The Viet Nam war is credited with cracking the door for some of the changes that brought about the many classes and groups  in the continuum of equality and opportunity.   Women who had participated in Anti War and Civil Rights Movements had found themselves allocated to their roles as supporters.  The movement that formed in 1966 was a product of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 which gave ground to the social changes the women specifically demanded.   Women’s circles, women’s groups, women’s study groups that raised the consciousness of women, and men to define the practice of feminism.  Equality is one aspect of feminism, social, political and economic equality for all sexes is a broader definition.

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Political revolution

Betty Frieden created a movement of  women who came together and created a platform for the  National Organization of Women in 1970.   Equal pay for equal jobs was identified and a part of the movement for many.  In 1997, the Paycheck Fairness Act would be introduced by Senator Thomas Daschle of South Dakota.  It would be 2013 when the Paycheck Fairness Act through the work of Lily Ledbetter.

The conditions for change as the morality was challenged  around the issues of inequality have been at the center.  Lines were drawn between different segments of the population all across the country producing great conflict, polarities and an environment for  those conditions to be recognized as core to new laws, new identities and new practices.  They happened in families, in communities, in neighborhoods.  Those changes took some time and were fostered by the relentless commitment by the women and men who took the challenges on.

Around the country, Ivy League and State Universities came to the streets in protest of the war, and in support of Civil Rights.  Women came together, as they had from the days of the Suffragettes and before, and changed their own consciousness about power and the sharing of the benefits economically and socially.  Discontent, anger and revolting against the assumed practices of state and national government are what the generations before us gave to this generation.  Women’s ability to choose their destiny over their biology is often seen as a consequence of the birth control law in 1964, the right to choose in 1973 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

How was this being lived through by many women at that time?  Their stories give a fuller picture of that experience.  But it is critical that recognition is given to the process of freedom and liberation of women now in 2014 because in 40 states women’s rights  are being challenged.  To know that the freedom women have today is a benefit that comes from that generation, the Margaret Sanger’s, the Bella Abzug’s, the Jane Fonda’s is important.  What we have comes from a generation who made the demands that produced the changes we enjoy, and we must be responsible to carry forward those gains to our granddaughters and theirs.

 

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1940-1960: barefoot frontrunners and the new feminists

Revolutionary SistersThe Barefoot Frontrunner breaks the rules, finds her own path, and leads to places that have never been before.  The Barefoot Frontrunner’s response  to the pain in the world is to take the step out and towards a place lacking support, guidance or protection.  The indignities and injuries of the world are made visible by their simple acts of courage.  The Barefoot Frontrunner takes their vision of the world, and makes ours better.  These changes came from cracks in the solidity of positions held in society.

World War II presented the opportunity for change because women went to work for the  100’s of thousands of men overseas in the factories and on the farms.  The Anti-war and civil rights movements brought women together and the effects off the dissension and conflict gave access to the break of agreement in how women perceived themselves and their place in the world.   But it was all very personal also for the frontrunners.  Without protection or structure, establishing a foundation of support among themselves and in society, they made individual choices.  Decisions made that altered their lives came at a cost often, and the price for personal liberation came through recognition of the social changes around them.   Doors were opened sometimes accidentally, as in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 where the addendum for female liberation was thrown into the bill by those hoping that addition would kill the passing of the Civil Rights Bill.  Equal Rights would follow but living their lives blurred the personal and political lines that supported their passage to liberation.

WHO ARE THE WOMEN

Looking at the lives of women, the frontrunners from 1960’s,  there were some ahead of the line, some following and some observing with reservation about the wisdom of the changes they saw underway.  If you had a television, or read a newspaper, the evidence of chance was there but not all women felt called to participate.  This work, Barefoot frontrunners seeks to provide the historical context and the personal experience of the women who lived this history.   Barefoot frontrunners emphasizes that the place of women in our society, and their freedom to choose is a relatively new adjustment in political and legal structures of our society.  Barefoot frontrunners seeks to alarm those who may not have noticed that what  has been accomplished is currently in question in 40 states, where the right to choose is being challenged.    The relevance of women given the privilege of choice and the support of society to full equality in the work place that came from the social revolution to the halls of congress and in the courts was a passage we must not  forget.

There is the question about our responsibility in educating and supporting women throughout the world who remain in sexual and social roles without freedom or dignity, and empowering of women struggling in poverty and lacking choice and opportunity right here in this country.

Where the work of liberation and equality advances here and in the world is where the next frontrunners will be found, and where the work that has been done continues.  In the board rooms, on their jobs, at the PTA meetings and in political groupings, their eyes are on the prize of women world wide having access to expressing their lives in the work place and in their homes, and bringing to their sisters world wide the privilege of self determination.

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