Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth-Century Feminism

Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth-Century Feminism

Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth-Century Feminism

Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth-Century Feminism

Synopsis

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is one of the nation's oldest and most influential voices for equality in education, the professions, and public life. Tracing the history of the AAUW, Susan Levine provides a new perspective on the meaning of feminism for women in mainstream organizations. In so doing, she explores the problems that women confront and the strategies they have developed to achieve equal rights. By examining the experience of groups like AAUW, Levine suggests that feminism was not so much "reborn" in the 1970s as it was adopted by a rapidly growing constituency of college educated women demanding the realization of their goals.

Excerpt

Postwar women's organizations pursued women's rights and articulated demands for improvement in women's public status in a climate shaped not only by a crisis in women's education and antifeminism but also by a more general identity crisis among liberal reform organizations. Sparked most dramatically by demands for racial equality after the war, American liberal groups were forced to reevaluate their own behavior and prejudices even as they sought to press for an end to public discrimination. aauw and other women's groups had long articulated a universal philosophy of equality, opportunity, and democracy, but after World War II that philosophy was put to the test. the results marked not only an opening of private associations to racial diversity, but a transformation in the very culture of women's organizations as well.

Women's optimism regarding their wartime public achievements was confronted almost immediately after the war by demands for racial equality within the ranks of their own organizations. Having fought for democracy abroad, black soldiers returned home unwilling to submit to second-class citizenship. Black communities, which had sacrificed their sons during the war, began to demand the privileges of citizenship that the United States so proudly claimed to represent. Liberal groups, including the national women's organizations, could not ignore the deeper mean-

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