¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The process by which historians arrived at “culture” was similar to that of activists and indeed it is a specious divide that posits historians as distinct from activists. Activists inside the academic sphere were often only graduates students in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but many of these women went on to become prominent professors.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In 1970 two movement periodicals, Radical America (Feb 1970), associated with the New Left, and Women: a Journal of Liberation, coming out of the autonomous women’s movement, both published special issues on women’s history (Spring 1970)
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The cover of Radical America appears to be a charcoal? image of women’s bodies embedded in a landscape, with a women’s symbol, strongly associated with the movement for women’s liberation, the only indication of the issue’s focus. Women: A Journal of Liberation on the other hand included an image of Harriet Tubman, as she appeared during the Civil War, holding a rifle, with the tag line “Women in History a recreation of our past.”
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Radical America, the successor to New Left Notes came out of the New Left powerhouse the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In 1970 Radical America published a special issue dedicated to women liberation.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Selma James, wife of CLR James, hero to the New Left, opened the issue with a dismissal of “women’s liberation. James’ worked from an Old Left/New Left position. Her essay, “a woman’s place”, which became the foundation of the wages for housework movement exhibits some disdain for women “in women’s liberation” and points instead to women who “are women’s liberation,” meaning working class women She notes of the latter “the political consciousness of women is … irrelevant. What unites them is their self-consciousness.”
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 James’ concerns were echoed in the article by Gail Paradise Kelly, a graduate student in the education department at Wisconsin, (later professor at SUNY Buffalo). Kelly argued that the reason women in the old left had no consciousness of their oppression is that they conceived of revolution only in institutional forms.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Kelly positions the women’s groups of the “old left” the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom and Women Strike for Peace not as proto-women’s liberation organizations, as Amy Swerdlow tried to do years later, but as conservative women’s groups. Tellingly her evidence of lack of consciousness among these groups rests of the identification of those women as “mothers and housewives.” Asking for peace so that “children will have a chance to survive” seems so obviously not a consciousness of one’s own oppression that Kelly doesn’t bother to defend it any further.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Kelly argues that the “influx” into the Left that ultimately gave rise to the New Left came precisely because people ”were upset about their own oppression.” Students, in particular, became the vanguard of the revolution around the corner. Kelly, rejecting the notion that the counterculture would lead to “Leary’s apolitical syndrome of drugs and withdrawal,” argues instead that the position “if one lived the revolution, the revolution would come” represented “a very political and revolutionary step for the left” because she equates the “life style revolution” (a normally contempt-filled synonym for the counterculture) with “cultural revolution.” The hallmark of the cultural revolution is, for Kelly, that recognition of individual oppression, rather than the distanced analysis of the “system” of capitalism, or the military industrial complex, or whatever.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Much like the earliest analogies between race and caste make by Roxanne Dunbar, also a graduate student in history, Kelly notes also the precedence of “the militant black movement” as justification for the autonomous women’s liberation movement: “if it was necessary for blacks to deal with their problems separately, then it was not only legitimate but mandatory for women to do the same.” However, Kelly cautions against believing an “individual can be free in the midst of oppression” and instead insists that “radical women in women’s liberation do have a problem translating our changes in lifestyles into changes in institutions and in capitalism.”
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Kelly fears that radical women will “get caught up in our own sub-culture and, as a result, delude ourselves into thinking that change in the way we live is going to drastically affect anyone else.” She insists that “the problems of others more oppressed in reality than ourselves” must be met by moving “beyond our subculture to organizing and speaking.” Women’s liberation, as part of the cultural revolution to come “can serve as a means for revolution only if we go beyond developing a consciousness of individual oppression.” This notion of women’s liberation as a subculture leads to some strikingly familiar fears. Kelly views with ambivalence, women’s liberation a subculture from which revolution will be made, and as a potential trap in which revolution will be stymied.