During the long period of history women struggled for their rights. They have put much effort into achieving the equality in the society. Consequently, it leads to the emergence of different women’s organizations. Nevertheless, the most popular one was the feminist movement. Women have united in groups for discussing relevant issues of gender discrimination and finding the solutions to it. However, in most cases, these organizations were quite liberal. Women did not argue with males and their demands were always hidden. Everything changed when the radical feminism appeared. This type of feminism had a different vision of the role of women in the society. Consequently, it had different tools of influence that changed the treatment of women in the world.
In the mid 1960-ies in parallel with the liberal course appeared a group of young intellectuals, which spoke about women’s emancipation more radically. New influential approach within feminism formed in the context of strong youth protests of the new movement. The youth movement was the first mass action of young people from the middle class against the institutions and values of the “consumer society” in the history of Europe and the United States (Dean, 2011). Actually, instead of “democracy of elites” students demanded the egalitarian and equitable “participatory democracy”.
The Main Approaches of Radical Feminism
From the beginning of 1960-ies American students were active participants in massive university speeches, sit-ins, protest marches against segregation in the South and the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, they were not satisfied with their role in the youth movement. The disappointment showed when they began to realize their total exclusion from decision-making in left-wing organizations. Immediately, the young activists found that they were still offered a “sacred duty” – to serve coffee while the men would discuss the strategy of the movement. The issues of women’s rights and freedoms put on the agenda of the youth Assembly were met with misunderstanding, rude taunts and bullying from their fellow-men. Women began to create their own groups where they had no strict formal structure or leaders or a clear political program. Basically, any person could organize such a group in school, university, at work, among friends, neighbors, and at church (Dean, 2011). During informal discussions women had the opportunity to talk about their problems, feelings, desires and ambitions that they previously hid or did not even realize. The members of the groups hid in a place where they could share ideas as well as thoughts. Moreover, they could transform their beliefs into real actions. In such a way, there appeared sisterhoods which, in its turn, changed to the radical movements.
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The second radical issue is the idea of patriarchy as a historically formed system of total men domination in all spheres of life. Male authority, in the understanding of the supporters of “women’s liberation”, covers not only politics and economics: it permeates the personal lives of women. Men cannot reform the system that gives them privileges; therefore, the compromise of the program of liberal feminism in law reform does not solve the fundamental problem of the liberation from dependence and oppression. Only a revolutionary struggle of women can subvert the patriarchal system.
In 1970 Shulamith Firestone published the book The Dialectic of Sex: Case for Feminist Revolution which gained a wide popularity among activists. Twenty-five activist students protested and the organizer of the first New York “liberation” groups has proposed a new explanation of the reasons for the total oppression of women. She defined patriarchy through men’s control over the reproductive function of women (Firestone, 1970). According to Firestone, the birth and upbringing of children makes a woman dependent on men in terms of material existence (Firestone, 1970). It is obvious that it creates relations of power and subordination. That is anarchy, and not the natural neuroticism attributed to the Freudianism of all women, that determines their status in the modern society. Radicals made the issue of female sexuality control the center of discussions. They defend the legalization of abortion under the slogan “Right to choose” to ensure the independence and freedom of sexual relations in the first place.
Released in the same year (1970), the book published by Kate Millett Sexual Politics refers to the actual objectives of the movement. For the first time the term “policy”, means a mechanism of power of one group over another, and applies to personal relationships (Millett, 1970). The family, motherhood, sexuality, the body, emotions, and perception of beauty are issues that should subject to feminist understanding, and ideological discussions. The key concept here is of course “patriarchy”, defined as a historically established system of domination of men over women. The strength of this system is that it lies on the universal acceptance of the prejudice of male superiority. “Revolution of consciousness” has been the main task of radical women’s groups, undertaken under the slogan “the Personal is political!” Millett argues that the everyday personal life of women forms a social system and therefore requires a political awareness (Millett, 1970). The Declaration of femimism “liberation” has created a basis for collective strategies and actions that are different from liberal feminism. Discussion and recognition of the personal experience of each member of the group as political inequalities have led, in the opinion of the organizers, to the formation of a collective identity and a new social activity. Personal experience gives rise to the talks on the general problem of women oppression. Male dominance is the oldest form of domination and exploitation of women. Consequently, it affects all aspects of women lives. The members of the movement supported the idea that they were exploited as merely sex objects, cheap labor, and domestic servants. Consequently, the conflicts between men and women were of political essence and could only be solved together. The growth of self-awareness is not psychotherapy; it is the development of solidarity and class consciousness of women. The goal of radical feminism is the liberation from all kinds of suppression of female identity.
Unlike the activists of the liberal trend, members of the “liberation group” did not seek respectability and recognition of the political elite. To overthrow the powerful patriarchal system only with polite demands would fail. That is why, there was a need to change the whole system of values, destroy the age-old stereotypes. Moreover, it was necessary to agitate the mass public consciousness, to influence women and men to provoke discussion and collision of opinions. Educational activities, volunteer work, and radical feminists reinforced the tactics of direct, targeted action. They had all kinds of street performances and theatrical events, aimed at undermining the traditional stereotypes and values. In 1968 in Atlantic City during the contest Miss America young activists gathered crowd of spectators and reporters. Near the outside of the building, which hosted the popular show, they crowned a live sheep, publicly abandoning women’s magazines and the subjects of a female toilet in the trash cans. Such actions were the symbols of the destruction of “the shackles of natural destiny” poured into a powerful stream of new forms of group activity at the level of local communities.
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One should state that the feminist challenge becomes the leading theme of the media. The audience, intrigued or angered by the activism of young feminists, finds itself embroiled in a national taboo debate. The previous stage of the movement for women’s equal rights was not so resonance. Proposed reforms of the liberal women’s organizations of the 1960s, fitted into the democratic framework of the USA, while the radicalism of “liberation” groups threatened destruction of the entire system of traditional cultural values, social institutions and policies. In 1971, a journalist Gloria Steinem began to produce a feminist magazine Ms.: which is the accepted language norm of “miss” or “Mrs.” to indicate a marital status; the new neutral rate of “Ms.” has been aimed at the liberation of female consciousness (Pogrebin, 2011). The huge popularity of this publication has demonstrated the importance and success of the “revolution.” Steinem became one of the leaders of the movement. Being a recognized star of journalism, whose portrait as a fashion model flaunted on the covers of glossy fashion magazines in the 1950s, raised the shocking mass consciousness themes, namely female sexuality, the control over one’s own body and the sexual violence against women (Pogrebin, 2011). Together with popular concepts of the sexual revolution, the radical feminist considered bourgeois marriages and the traditional family as the main instruments of suppression of the individual.
The concept of radical feminism engaged in complex and sometimes contradictory relationship with the ideology of the sexual revolution that began in the youth movement of the 1960s years. One of the objective factors of changes in sexual behavior was the appearance of the pill that enabled women, to some extent, to control the process of reproduction. This has become crucial in determining the ways and means of women’s liberation. The requirement of legalization of abortion for decades has split America into two warring camps. Supporters of freedom of choice achieved the right to abortion in 1973, when the Supreme Court recognized it as one of the basic rights and freedoms of the individual, consistent with the Constitution of the United States (Pogrebin, 2011). It meant that the problem of abortion became one of the leading issues of radical feminism. They supported the ideas of women’s choice and strongly protected it.
To sum up, the radical feminism considers Patriarchy as the source of most serious social problems. Violence and harassment against women because they are women is more important reason for discrimination than race or ethnic discrimination. That is why in the 1960s has appeared a new way of feminism moment that radically has protected women choices and rights respectively. There were many writers who dedicated their work to radical feminism, namely Shulamith Firestone, Kate Millet, and Gloria Steinem. They described the main concepts of radical feminism and women’s struggle on the way achieving the equality in the contemporary society.