Joan B. Landes
Claiming that 'the personal is political', second-wave feminists boldly challenged the myths supporting conventional notions of the family and personal life.1 Far from being a platform for personal fulfilment, in feminist writings the private sphere first figured as a site of sexual inequality, unremunerated work, and seething discontent. In Betty Friedan's evocative formulation, the housewife-- the ideal woman of the post-Second World War years in the United States and other advanced industrial societies--suffered silently from a 'problem that has no name'.2 Housewives, however, were only the tip of the iceberg. Students and civil rights activists, married and single women, heterosexuals and lesbians joined the ranks of a resurgent feminist movement which began to name the problems accompanying woman's multiple roles as wife, mother, sexual companion, worker, and political subject. Feminism offered women a public language for their private despair. Consciousness- raising groups and feminist organizations provided women with a route out of private isolation and into public activism. In the burgeoning field of feminist theory accompanying this new phase of activism, the problem of sexual subordination came to be linked closely to the division of public and private life. Breaking the silences of personal life, feminists sought the grounds for a more egalitarian private and public sphere. This last point bears repeating. Whereas it is commonly assumed that feminists, like women, are preoccupied with personal life, feminism's contribution to the theory and practice of a more robust, democratic public sphere is sometimes overlooked. As the slogan 'The Personal Is Political' attests, a feminist movement moves in two directions, placing the gendered organization of both public and private space at centre stage.
Feminists did not invent the vocabulary of public and private, which in ordinary language and political tradition have been intimately linked. The term 'public' suggests the opposite of 'private':