The Women’s Marches of 2017 and the anniversary marches of 2018 once again bring us to the question: Is the U.S. women’s movement new again, having gone through a decline, death and finally rebirth? Does this new mobilization mean the movement is new? This is not a new question. Throughout the history of the movement, pundits have continually recast feminism as “new,” as in another wave of activism (this time maybe the fourth or fifth wave but who is counting?) or as a movement born fresh and new, independent of its former self. Media observer Jennifer Pozner coined the term “False Feminist Death Syndrome,” in response to the constant reports of feminism’s death. In the same vein, feminist scholar Mary Hawkesworth noted feminism’s reoccurring obituary, observing it was meant to annihilate feminism’s challenge to the status quo. Hawkesworth and Pozner encourage us to question the question – in other words, under what circumstances is a long-lived movement seen as new? Continue reading
By Nancy Whittier
Sexual violence and harassment have been central issues in almost every era of women’s organizing and they are central to a contemporary women’s movement that both builds on and differs from earlier activism. Since 2010, a new generation of activists has targeted sexual violence in new ways. Slutwalks, a theatrical form of protest against the idea that women provoke rape by their dress, brought a new spin to long-standing “Take Back the Night” marches against violence against women. The wave of activism grew as college students began speaking out about assault on campus and gained a broad platform through social media. Students protested institutional failures to follow procedures for addressing sexual assault and used symbolic tactics to highlight the issue. For example, in 2014/15, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz carried her dorm room mattress everywhere as a protest against Columbia’s inaction after she reported sexual assault. “Carry That Weight,” her project title, became the name for an emerging activist group. Another, “No Red Tape,” led to a cross-campus day of action in which activists attached pieces of red tape to clothes or campus statues. Continue reading
By Michael T. Heaney
The facts about the mobilization of women’s movement in the United States over the past 14 months are fairly well established. A new organization calling itself the “Women’s March” formed shortly after the 2016 presidential election. It coordinated massive rallies, consisting mostly of liberal women and their allies, in Washington, DC and around the world. These rallies reached across diverse interests and were among the largest internationally coordinated demonstrations in history. The Women’s March has retained its momentum over the past year, staging a national convention in Detroit in October 2017, and then reprising its post-inauguration performance this past weekend with rallies in hundreds of cities under the slogan “power to the polls”. On the heels of the Women’s March, the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund arose to address widespread sexual harassment and assault. These efforts have spurred the national conversation on the inappropriate treatment of women in the workplace. Millions of people have joined Pantsuit Nation and other internet discussion forums that discuss gender and politics. Indeed, the women’s movement has been a palpable force in American politics and society since the 2016 election. Continue reading
A new documentary on the women’s movement in the 1960s, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, is screening around the country and is available on DVD for instruction use. The film includes a lot of fascinating, previously unreleased footage from the early years of the 2nd Wave feminist movement, as well as new interviews with individuals integral to its founding.
The film is compelling in part because it demonstrates how ideas about gender that now feel common sense were revolutionary not long ago, while also underscoring the fact that the movement’s work is still incomplete. It is also interesting to see how proud those interviewed are of their involvement in the early years of the movement and how much it shaped the rest of their lives. Finally, the documentary provides a unique glimpse into the internal dynamics and disagreements within the movement during these early years. Continue reading
Whittier, Nancy. 2009. The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotion, Social Movements, and the State. Oxford University Press.
It seems like a hard sell to convince academics to spend some of their “free” time in the summer reading books that center on the sexual assault of women and children. Yet, I find myself attempting this because of my certainty in quality of these two books; Danielle McGuire’s beautifully written At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance (2010, Random House) and Nancy Whittier’s incredibly intelligent The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotions, Social Movements and the State (2009, Oxford). Note: I have met Danielle McGuire and I am friends with my graduate school colleague Nancy Whittier. So while I have connected with these authors personally, my goal here is to focus on the intellectual and emotional connection I have with each of their books (knowing them personally is just an added benefit).
So why should you read these books? First, taken together they underscore the importance and often overlooked issue of sexual assault in the study of movements. McGuire, a historian, retells the story of the origins of the civil rights movements through the epidemic of rapes of black women. Starting with anti-rape activism of Rosa Parks, McGuire tells a compelling and sometimes horrifyingly detailed story of the rapes, assaults, and murders of black women in a time when it was “open season” for white men to go “hunting.” Starting (and ending) with the story of Recy Taylor, McGuire carefully traces these cases and the grassroots organizing that sprung up around them, eventually coalescing in an infrastructure that carried the movement forward. Continue reading
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and many of my friends had Facebook posts about the radical anti-war origins of this holiday.
In 1870 feminist Julia Ward Howe penned the anti-war “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” which begins:
Arise then … women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”