Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement

Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement

Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement

Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women's Liberation Movement


When Baxandall and Ewen (both American studies, State U. of New York-Old Westbury) interviewed women in several Long Island communities about their real lives, they found that the stereotypes about suburbs have little to do with actual experience. Surmising from the interviews -- as well as diaries, scrapbooks, and other archival sources for earlier in the century -- they conclude that the suburbs have long been and still are centers of social and architectural experimentation where white, black, immigrant, gay, straight, old, young, married, divorced, and single people have struggled to improve their lives.


Consciousness raising (CR) was the major new organizational form, theory of knowledge, and research tool of the women's liberation movement. CR operated on two assumptions: 1) that women were the experts on their own experience-as opposed to professionals such as doctors, psychologists, and religious leaders, usually male, many of whom had believed that they knew what was best for women; and 2) the feminist theory could only arise from the daily lives of women.

CR was usually practiced in small groups because it depended on encouraging every member to participate fully, reflecting the strong emphasis on democracy in the early women's liberation movement. Feminist CR fused analysis, insights, and action. Different women's groups used different CR systems, some more supportive and some more challenging to participants. CR often created emotional and political cohesiveness, but sometimes, especially if women came from different class and racial backgrounds, the process tended to alienate and silence those in the minority.

The CR form was appropriated for therapeutic purposes by support groups-from the disabled to Wall Street executives-and by commercial enterprises, but most of these appropriations neglect the core content of CR. The common denominator in early feminist CR was that women shared experiences in order collectively to analyze how male dominance worked and how it could be changed.

Although there are subtle differences in the two selections below (which would have been important to participants at the time), they also share a basic perspective. Both Pam Parker Allen and the leaders of the Gainesville group were active in the civil rights movement, an experience which shaped that perspective.

The Small Group Process


We have chosen to analyze the group process because we need to have an understanding of what the group structure can and cannot do. In addition we need to analyze our abilities and weaknesses as women. What we found is that it is not easy for us to utilize group processes: processes which we call opening up, sharing, analyzing, and abstracting. We know very well how to open up, that is, talk about our problems; we do it all the time with friends. Some of us have learned to go further and share our experiences with the aim of giving others a perspective on their situations. Fewer of us know how to conceptualize and to generalize from experiences the common rules governing our behavior; and almost none of us knows how to think theoretically.

This is a very individual need: the need for a woman to open up and talk about her feelings about herself and her life; about why she came to a woman's group. This opening up is a reaching out to find human contact. It is important because there are times when we feel alone and confused and we need to open up about who we are and what our problems are. We need to know that someone understands our feelings, our confusion.

The group offers women a place where the response will be positive. "Yes, we know." "Yes, we understand." It is not so much the words that are said in response that are important; rather it is the fact that someone listens and does not ridicule; someone listens and accepts a woman's description of her life. There is the reinforcement that comes from knowing that other women know of what you are speaking; that you are not alone.

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