A Meal of Our Own

December 23, 2008

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I have been reading a great book lately called The World Split Open, How The Modern Women’s Movement Changed America, by Ruth Rosen. This is a must read for any one who is interested in our present 3rd Feminist Wave. Rosen precisely lays out what worked and what didn’t work in the past, showing me that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Each page not only energizes and feeds me, but actually pulls me back to show me the larger picture. And this larger picture includes so many women and so many women’s groups. We have covered tremendous ground in the past. But there are acres and acres of untouched fields lying before us that are in desperate need of tilling.

Rosen writes about the beginnings of NOW and the problems they faced as a new group. Their experiences sound vaguely familiar to what is going on between our present women’s groups. I have come to the conclusion that we are repeating women’s history, yet we don’t know it. There is nothing new under the sun here. I have decided to include some text from Rosen’s book so that we can see the similarities, especially those of NOW and the New Agenda, the women’s liberation movement and PUMAs. I present this idea so that we can maneuver and manifest through it. 

 

Early Rifts:

NOW certainly experienced squabbles and factions among its members. Tensions between local chapters and national headquarters sometimes erupted into public fights. But tensions were inevitable. How could one organization represent the political and social needs of all women? p.81

A certain wilder spirit of protest began to enter NOW, thanks in part to younger women who by 1967 were creating loosely affiliated small groups collectively known as the women’s liberation movement. Through NOW and the women’s liberation groups often joined forces for specific protests, efforts to form coalitions between the two branches of the movement frequently failed. The demons that haunted the daughters of the fifties never fully disappeared. Meredith Tax, an early activist, realized how much the female generation gap influenced the culture of the young women’s liberation movement:

My friends and I thought of NOW as an organization for people our mother’s age. We were movement girls, not career women; NOW’s demands and organizational style weren’t radical enough for us. We wanted to build a just society, not get a bigger slice of the pie. Besides, we were generational sectarians; we didn’t trust anybody over thirty. 

Influenced by the anti-hierarchical spirt of the New Left groups, as well as by the theatrical thrust of the counterculture, the younger women’s liberation movement was not particularly concerned with proving the respectability; on the contrary, they wanted to shake things up as much as possible. p.84

Meanwhile, NOW officials became increasingly worried that the movement would appear too undisciplined or unrespectable. p.85.

Collisions between the women’s liberation movement and NOW were frequent and probably inevitable. p.86

The truth is, both branches of the movement were essential. NOW activists promoted leadership and the organizing skills that made them effective lobbyists, organizers, and strategists. They also provided the modern women’s movement with the staying power it needed to withstand backlash after backlash. p.87

Young feminists contributed something equally important — a radical critique of patriarchal culture, visions of alternative lifestyles, and the unmasking of the hidden injuries women had suffered. Although they generally chose to work outside established institutions, they created a network of alternative, grassroots, self-help, nonprofit services — rape, crisis centers and battered women’s shelters, for example — that eventually became established institutions themselves. Sometimes the injuries these younger women unmasked changed laws; sometimes NOW’s legislative efforts altered the nation’s consciousness. In many ways, the differences were really about the targets and the style in which the struggle was waged. At times, ideological or generational differences bitterly divided feminists, but neither branch of the movement, by itself, could have brought about the staggering changes that swept through American culture during the remaining decades of the twentieth century. p. 88

So if the 2nd wave movements were separated by age, what separates us now? I am part of the radical movement yet I am 51. I have spent most of my life as a single mother, with never enough money to cover expenses. After starting my own business three years ago I have begun to turn things around and actually have a small amount of savings in a bank. But I don’t have a IRA for what they are worth now. 

I hear others speak bad about The New Agenda. I don’t want to speak bad about them. Deep down inside I need them. I need all of them. They will hobnob with people that I can only dream about. They will understand policies and laws that will tie my head up in knots. They will act calmly and with wisdom while I am screaming on the side of the road with a “fuck you” sign. They will attract flies while I try to swat them with a fly swatter. I will get my hands dirty, digging, removing weeds and they will plant seeds. And later, someday in the future, women everywhere, will sit down together and finally enjoy a wonderful meal of our own.