by Martha Allen
WOMEN BEGIN TO SPEAK OUT FOR EQUAL RIGHTS, PEACE & JUSTICE, 1968 THROUGH 1970
The first signs that new communication among women was about
to break the silence of the 1950's came in the latter part of
that decade. Universities and colleges witnessed an influx of
women returning to finish educations interrupted by full time
homemaking and child raising, now that their children had reached
school age. Some of these women began networking and consciousness
raising and they soon were providing the impetus for and working
with the new commissions on the status of women being formed at
the state and national level. An indication of the extent to which
these early groups of women were already actively networking,
on a person to person basis, can be seen in the statement in the
Report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, October
11, 1963, which noted, "By August 1963 a number of States
had already authorized or established State Commissions on the
Status of Women and action to this end was underway in at least
a dozen and a half others."(1) These women, committed to
removing a variety of obstacles to women's equality, were, in
large part, well educated and of middle or upper middle class
backgrounds. Some considered themselves liberals, a few radicals,
and a few were conservatives. They were among the earliest to
Almost at the same time, however, perhaps beginning with Women Strike for Peace in late 1961, other groups of women launched communication networks throughout the 1960's in pursuit not primarily of women's rights but mainly of peace, civil rights, and left political goals. They came from a variety of class backgrounds and educational levels. Distinctions between women's rights and these other primary goals were not always clear cut. For example, some women, such as Pauli Murray, were part of both the left and civil rights movements, as well as part of the early women's rights efforts. Murray worked with the President's Commission on the Status of Women in 1962 and was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women in 1966.
Two significant events broke the silence in the national media and mark the year 1963 as the beginning of vigorous growth in communication network-building among women. In that year women succeeded in making the issue of women's rights a public issue in two major ways.
First, in 1963 Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, exposing the role of the male-owned traditional women's magazines in limiting women's options. She pointed out that the last magazine article portraying women seeking an individual career identity was published in February, 1949. The editors of such magazines openly stated that women were not interested in national or international affairs and would therefore publish only information about the home and family.(2) The publication of The Feminine Mystique told women that other women shared their feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction with the limited role of women promoted by the mass media. For many years to come, this new consciousness laid the basis for collective action by women.
Second, 1963 was also the year in which the President's Commission on the Status of Women, appointed in 1961 by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, publicly released its report American Women on October 11, 1963.(3) The public now was made aware of discrimination against women in the areas of education, home and community services, employment, social insurance and taxation, and legal, civil and political rights. Not only was the public made aware of discrimination against women but those involved in the Commission found their lives affected by their involvement. "I look back on this experience as an intensive consciousness-raising process leading directly to my involvement in the new women's movement that surfaced a few years later," recounted Pauli Murray.(4) The Commission arranged several consultations of which one was on the portrayal of women by the mass media attended by 29 representatives of mass media. Its Summary stated in part:
"Discussion opened on the charge by the
chairman that the mass media are 'projecting, intentionally or
unintentionally, an image (of women) that contains old myths,
misconceptions, and even distortions, of a true image.'. . .
"Lorraine Hansberry (playwright) added that the image of women frequently portrayed is "the glorification of the courtesan, the notion of women as object and very little else." The uniform, shallow, even grotesque image in the commercials, she felt, undoubtedly plays a part in determining standards of womanhood for men of the younger generation.
"Gerri Major reported that her magazine (Ebony) attempted to give an honest picture of the Negro woman's aspirations, activities, and progress. Louis Cowan (mass media research) deplored that this story was not presented in the whole of the Nation's press."(5)
While no recommendations came out of this consultation it did
indicate that mass media was now publicly under examination for
its portrayal of women.
The Report also recommended continued network-building. President Kennedy implemented two Commission recommendations that established an Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women and a Citizens' Advisory Council on the Status of Women, comprised of twenty private citizens appointed by the President.
These two groups co-sponsored four national conferences of state commissions on the status of women, in effect giving official sanction for women to begin communicating with each other. As Pauli Murray explained, "An important by-product of the Commission's existence was that like-minded women found one another, bonds developed through working together, and an informal feminist network emerged to act as a leaven in the broader movement that followed."(6)
At the third National Conference of State Commissions, women discussed the formation of an independent women's organization to combat sex discrimination; and in 1966, a group of them announced the incorporation of the National Organization for Women (NOW). From the outset, the women of this new organization were well aware of the crucial role of mass media in women's lives. Many of them had worked on the Kennedy Commission media recommendations against stereotyping. The statement of purpose of NOW emphasized the distortion of women's image in the mass media, stating: "We will protest, and endeavor to change, the false image of women now prevalent in the mass media. . ."(7) NOW held its first national conference in Washington, D.C. in 1967, beginning several decades of communication through conferences and demonstrations, and through print and other forms of media, as they began to speak out on more and more issues.(8)
Women Try Communicating Through Male-run Civil Rights, Peace and New Left Organizations
From the outset of the 1960's the women in the civil rights
movement began communicating a new activist role for women in
society, but they soon found a need for communication networks
controlled by themselves. By 1963, the civil rights movement had
reached high tide, affecting and changing the lives of thousands
of women who participated in it, as well as women who were sympathetic
to their activities.
However, in many ways women did not participate equally in the movement, a fact which ultimately increased women's awareness of the discrimination they faced and spurred on their own communication efforts. The Atlanta office of SNCC assigned the typing and clerical work to women; very few women assumed public roles of national leadership. In the field there was a tendency for housework in the "Freedom House" to be performed by women. Following a "half-serious, half-joking" sit-in by black women in the SNCC office,(9) in the summer of 1964 a group of women led by Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and including Mary King, Casey Hayden, and Mary Varela, sought to stimulate a communication network by writing a SNCC Position Paper on women in these movements. Contradictory images of women, both as autonomous actors and as less than equal partners with men in official leadership positions, also surfaced in the white student movement and they too expressed dissatisfaction with their role in the organization.
Casey Hayden and Mary King initiated discussion among women in November of 1965 when they distributed their paper entitled "Sex and Caste" on the position of women in the peace and freedom movements. They discussed the fact that there was no organizing around issues of concern to women and described some of the problems resulting from defensive male responses to any discussions about women.(10)
Raising communication met the greatest resistance when they tried to raise the "women's issue" in new left organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), dominated by young white radical males. SDS was the epitome of male-dominated radicalism: no woman held a major national office until 1966 when Helen Garvey was elected assistant national secretary. And it wasn't until two years later that women broke into the top ranks when Jane Adams became national secretary. Yet the general membership of the organization reflected the ratio of women to men in the student population. Although women constituted five out of nine chapter delegates in 1964, only one out of seventeen were National Council members.(11) Women received ridicule, catcalls and verbal abuse when they tried to raise women's issues for discussion at a conference of SDS in December, 1965.(12) In 1966 women demanded that a plank on women's liberation be inserted in the SDS resolution.(13)
As women continued to raise their issues, they discovered that they had to have their own independent means of communication. In the September, 1967 founding meeting of the National Conference for New Politics in Chicago, women formed a radical women's caucus and formulated a resolution. The male leadership made it clear, however, that they did not want to discuss the women's plank in the general meeting, calling it "trivial." Jo Freeman and Shulamith Firestone, members of the women's caucus, demanded a hearing but were told that the conference had important world issues to discuss. One man reportedly told one of the women participants in the conference, "Calm down, little girl," and literally patted her on the head. Freeman and Firestone left to found the first women's newspapers and other major women's media in Chicago and New York, respectively, and subsequently became leading journalists and writers in the women's movement.(14)
By 1968, radical women no longer accepted the paternalistic attitude manifested at the Conference for New Politics. An April 1968 paper by Heather Booth, Evie Goldfield, and Sue Munaker stated that "the movement for social change taught women activists about their own oppression" and discussed myths and realities of women's lives, proposing a program, "Towards a Radical Movement."(15)
Beverly Jones and Judith Brown, movement activists, wrote "Toward A Female Liberation Movement," which criticized the Women's Manifesto of the female caucus of the national SDS convention in 1967 as not going far enough to free women from control by men. "If the females in SDS ever really join the battle they will quickly realize that no sweet-talking list of grievances and demands, no appeal to male conscience, no behind-the-scenes or in-the-home maneuvering is going to get power for women," Jones wrote.(16) Jones advocated that women work directly on women's issues and urge in speech and print that women go their own way. She called for women to learn to defend themselves and to confront the media for its role in keeping women oppressed.(17)
Women also began to use other forms of communication. In January 1968 a coalition of women's peace groups demonstrated against the Vietnam war in Washington at the opening of Congress, with 5,000 women participating in the Jeannette Rankin Brigade in honor of the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, a peace advocate who had voted against U.S. entry into both World Wars.(18) Radical Women, a group from New York, organized "The Burial of Traditional Womanhood" with a torchlight parade at Arlington Cemetery. Some three to five hundred women from the Brigade joined them. This was the first independent public action Radical Women had taken in their effort to communicate their ideas. It reflected their belief that, though they were not successful in communicating through the male-dominated organizations, they still would be able to communicate through the mass media news coverage to reach millions of the public with their message.
Utilizing Mass Media
Young women in the civil rights and anti-war movements and
within the left and liberal movements had grown up in the TV age
and were increasingly conscious of its effects on their lives
and on the lives of others. The mass media had not reported the
ferment taking place among women and made little acknowledgment
of NOW's efforts to combat sex discrimination. Yet so great was
their need to communicate that activist women in the movement
took this silence as meaning that they had to work harder than
ever to win media coverage. They organized and developed a plan
to go where they knew the television cameras would be: the Atlantic
City "Miss America" Pageant, September 7, 1968. The
New York group Radical Women, joined by women in Washington, DC,
New Jersey, and Florida for the demonstration, issued a flier
in August announcing the upcoming demonstration. "We will
protest the image of women in every area in which it purports
to represent us," the flier stated. "There will be:
Picket Lines; Guerrilla Theater; Leafleting; Lobbying Visits to
the contestants urging our sisters to reject the Pageant Farce
and join us; a huge Freedom Trash Can (into which we will throw
bras, girdles, curlers, false eyelashes, wigs, and representative
issues of Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle,
etc.) . . . Male reporters will be refused interviews. We reject
patronizing reportage. Only newswomen will be recognized."(19)
Despite their concerns about receiving patronizing and distorted news stories, the participants recognized that dramatic methods were sometimes the only way for their issues to get any coverage at all by mass media. However, as long as the media were male-owned, the women discovered distortions of their information could be serious. Out of the "Miss America" demonstration, for example, came the most classic example of such distorted coverage in the reporting of alleged "bra burnings" at the demonstration. It was an action that did not occur, no fires being allowed on the well-policed Atlantic City Boardwalk,(20) but by frequent repetition over the years, mass media gave feminists the stereotyped name of "bra burners," and historians, relying on the mass media, recorded it as truth. William Jay Jacobs, for instance, wrote in Women in American History that women staged dramatic acts such as bra-burning at beauty contests.(21)
In addition to taking their protests to the scene of events being covered by television news cameras, as a way to communicate their concerns to the public, women also went directly to broadcasters. In San Francisco, while marchers picketed outside, nine women went into the April 15, 1970, annual stockholder's meeting of the Columbia Broadcasting System with this statement of demands: "1. Time on public airwaves to talk about Women's Liberation. 2. The airwaves belong to the people. The Board of Directors should be composed of viewers. Half of the board should be women. 3. Fifty per cent of CBS employees at every level should be women. 4. An end to humiliating and unrealistic portrayals of women in programming and advertising." Eight plainclothes police removed the women from the Insurance Securities building where the meeting was held.(22) In New York female employees of CBS defied a management memo which dictated "appropriate dress" by ruling out slacks. About thirty women showed up in pants and some formed a parade in the cafeteria during lunch.(23)
Mass media coverage of the demonstration at the "Miss America" Contest, however inaccurate, at least gave coverage to the women's movement and -- at long last -- told the American public that a women's liberation movement existed. This coverage by the end of 1968, then opened up the subject of the women's movement to coverage in all media. Women now sought less sensationalized and unsympathetic ways to speak directly to the American people through other print mass media.
The traditional, "women's magazines," although owned by men, seemed a logical vehicle not only because of the millions of women they reached but also because of the urgent need felt to change their oppressive image of women. The Ladies Home Journal was chosen as a representative magazine. On March 18, 1970, approximately 100 feminists, including women from Media Women, NOW, Redstockings, and New York Radical Feminists, occupied the offices of editor-in-chief and publisher John Mack Carter for eleven hours. The press release of the women who "sat in" stated, "Though one out of every three adult women in America is single, divorced, or widowed, the Journal depicts no life style alternative for the American woman, aside from marriage and family." Three of the four top editors at the Journal were men, the women pointed out in their press release, and in the previous fifteen months' issues the majority of bylined articles were written by men. The women presented demands to Carter, including a challenge of his right to hold the job of editor-in-chief "for he admittedly sees women through male eyes," and a demand for a "liberated issue" to be put together by women. While Carter did not give up his job, he did grant, after much negotiating, a supplement to the regular August issue. The women who wrote the supplement, eight writing collectives who put together the 15,000 word copy, were paid $10,000 for their work and the money went to establish the first women's center in New York City, covering the rent and furniture. The women wrote "The New Feminist" supplement collectively and anonymously.(24)
Other media began to print special issues on women, sometimes giving women editorial control, as in the case with the Manhattan Tribune, an upper west side New York weekly. The Tribune allotted $1,000 to a "New York Feminist" special issue, and planned to assemble seventeen women journalists, a photographer and two editors to put together the issue, to be carried on 700 newsstands in New York City.(25) Motive, magazine of the United Methodist Church, from Nashville, likewise published a special double issue March-April, 1969 on the liberation of women with leaders of the women's movement as guest editors and contributing writers, including Joanne Cook, Charlotte Bunch [Weeks], and Robin Morgan, as editors, and Marlene Dixon, Marilyn Salzman Webb, Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon, Naomi Weisstein, and Marge Piercy, as writers.(26)
The special issues were welcome, but afterwards coverage usually returned to its customary male-oriented reporting, or lack of any coverage. Women were steadily forced into recognition that the only way to reliable communication was to originate their own media. Some had already been doing this between 1963 and 1968, when more than 36 new women's periodicals came into existence. Peace was the main focus for most of them -- more than 18 -- and the others had a variety of different focuses. Human Rights for Women Newsletter began in 1966 and continued into the late seventies. It provided information concerning sex prejudice and denial of human and civil rights to women. In Sacramento, California, the following year, 1967, Marion Ash provided legislative information for women in Skirting the Capital , which she described in her first issue as "a newsletter written and published by a woman, for women and about women designed to stimulate more effective participation by women in government affairs."(27) Cassandra, a periodical issued in Chicago in 1967, had a focus on peace but also linked women with feminist issues such as the right to abortion and the consequences of "male chauvinism" in social revolutions.(28)
Having tested and found wanting alternative ways to communicate, women had now begun the development of a communications network that was, for the first time in history, exclusively or primarily financed and controlled by women and for and about them as well. This incipient women's media network picked up momentum toward the end of the sixties, giving voice to and greatly facilitating the diversity of women's expanding concerns. As these women's media grappled with the numerous challenging issues that faced women, they built effective and inclusive communication networks to enable them to work toward solutions that advanced the goals of women. In the course of this development, distinctive characteristics appeared, each one representing a unique contribution to the growth and strengthening of an independent, complex, and extensive network.
Chapter Two Footnotes
October 11, 1963, American Women, Report of the President's
Commission on the Status of Women, Journal of Reprints of Documents
Affecting Women 1 (July 1976): 24
2 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1963), p. 31.
3 "Letter of Transmittal," Esther Peterson and Richard A. Lester, October 11, 1963. American Women, Report of the Commission on the Status of Women, Journal of Reprints of Documents Affecting Women 1 (July 1976):5.
4 Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), pp. 347-348. The Formation of the PCSW in 1961 emerged partly as the result of controversy over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the issue of whether protective legislation for women actually helped women or hurt them. See Cynthia E. Harrison, "A 'New Frontier' for Women: The Public Policy of the Kennedy Administration," Journal of American History 67 (December 1980): 636,638, 644; and Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (New York: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1971), p. 18. Pauli Murray said that "one of the chief reasons for the formation of the President's Commission on the Status of Women was to find an alternative" to the ERA. (Song in a Weary Throat, p. 348). She had been assigned the task of finding such an alternative. She was personally for the ERA but thought it did not have enough support to be enacted. However, as Mary Frances Berry wrote in Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women's Rights and the Amending Process of the Constitution " [A]s polls began showing an overwhelming national consensus about the need for women's equality, many feminists believed that it would be easy to get ERA enacted." (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 63.
5 "Report of Consultation On Portrayal of Women By The Mass Media.". March 19, 1963, The President's Commission on the Status of Women, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, pp. 21-22.
6 Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat, p. 348.
7 Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, (New York: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1971)), pp. 24-25, 83, 85; Irene Tinker, ed., Women in Washington, Advocates for Public Policy (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1983), p. 58.
8 "Historical Documents. NOW (National Organization for Women) Bill of Rights." In Sisterhood is Powerful. Ed. Robin Morgan. (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 512-514. A Bill of Rights for women was adopted which included such issues as the passage of equal rights Amendment in Congress, equal employment opportunities, job protection after pregnancies, child care facilities, equal education, equal job training opportunities and the right of women to control their reproductive lives.
9 Sara Evans, Personal Politics, The Roots of Women' s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left (New York: Random House, 1980). pp. 41,76-77.
10 Sara Evans, Personal Politics, pp. 235-238 (complete text).
11 Sara Evans, Personal Politics, p. 112.
12 Marlene Dixon, "On Women's Liberation," Radical America (February,1970): 27.
13 Robin Morgan, "Introduction: The Women's Revolution", Sister hood Is Powerful, p. xxi.
14 Hole and Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, pp. 113-114.
15 Heather Booth, Evie Goldfield, and Sue Munaker, "Towards a Radical movement," April 1968. This paper is available in the archives of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press, Washington, DC.
16 Beverly Jones and Judith Brown, "Toward A Female Liberation Movement," Southern Student Organizing Committee, Nashville, TN, p. 3. Archives, Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press, Washington, D.C.
17 Beverly Jones and Judith Brown, "Toward A Female Liberation Movement," Southern Student Organizing Committee, Nashville, TN, p. 21-22.
18 Lois Decker O'Neill, ed., The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979), 67.
19 Robin Morgan, ed., Sisterhood Is Powerful (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 521-22; Original flier "No More Miss America!", August 22, 1968, available in the archives of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press, Washington, D.C.
20 Personal interview, August 19,1983, Dr. Donna Allen, founder of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press and Media Report to Women, participant and activist in the Miss America demonstration in Atlantic City; Hole and Levine, Rebirth of Freedom, p. 123; Ms. Magazine, December 1979, p. 61.
21 Jacobs, Women in American History, p. 267.
22Women, A Journal of Liberation, Summer 1970, p. 57.
23It Ain't Me Babe, 28 April 1970. p. 2.
24Women, A Journal of Liberation, Summer 1970, p. 57; off our backs, 25 April 1970, p. 10; Hole and Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, pp. 255-256.
25 off our backs, 25 April 1970, p. 10.
26 Motive, Vol. XXIX, Number 6 &7.
27 Skirting the Capital, Marion Ash, (Sacramento, CA), 24 July 1967, p. 1.
28 Anne Mather, "A History of Feminist Periodicals," unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Georgia, 1974.