A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

The Creation of a Feminist
Consciousness

Jane Sherron De Hart

The mainstream African American Civil Rights movement began as a call for equality and full access to American society. By the late 1960s, many African Americans called instead for Black Power, and the Chicano and American Indian movements similarly embraced cultural nationalism, rejecting the culture of the dominant white society.

The women’s movement that emerged in the 1960s in many ways mirrors that divide. Some women sought equal rights in the existing society; others sought the radical transformation of American life. There was little unity in the feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Historian Jane Sherron De Hart traces the various origins of 1960s feminism, showing its variety and its resilience. Analyzing two broadly defined groups, one seeking “women’s rights” and the other seeking “women’s liberation,” she shows how each contributed to the transformation of American society. This piece ends on a note of triumph, with the 1977 International Women’s Year Conference in Houston. In reading De Hart’s analysis and the selections that follow, consider the question: Was the women’s movement the most successful social movement of the postwar era?

Mainstream feminism emerged as a mass movement in the 1960s as different groups and a new generation acquired a feminist consciousness. In the vanguard were educated, middle-class women whose diverse experiences had sharpened their sensitivity to the fundamental inequality between the sexes at a time when America had been thrust into the throes of self-examination by a movement for racial equality. Some were young veterans of the civil rights movement and the New

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