Americans: Putting Each Other Into Binaries Since Forever

Various movements of the civil rights era were united in that they faced heavy criticism from their opposition. The fight for social progress was transformed into a team battle where each side was turned into ‘the other’. In many cases, such as with Democrats and Republicans, discussion is based on which side you fall, and compromise is often impossible. What the readings delved into was disparities that also exist within each side. Critiques of civil rights protesters homogenized each movement and the demographics within them. Each movement, from feminist to racial and beyond, had problems being inclusive to the entire community they represent.  Both the social movements and those opposed to social change stuck within binaries to further their cause.

Opposition to the “Sexual Revolution” was plentiful. In fact, all forms of civil rights protest in the 60s were subject to heavy criticism. “Even though by 1969 a majority believed involvement in Vietnam was a “mistake”… 69 percent of the American public also believed that anti war protesters were “harmful to American life”” (Bailey 139). Americans were inherently uncomfortable with protests, in part rightfully due to violence and property destruction they can lead to. However, I would argue that most who opposed anti-War protesters but agreed with their message would have been the least affected by Vietnam’s consequences. In a way, they parallel the women who were uncomfortable with Suffragettes but appreciate what they accomplished in the early 20th century.

Critiques of the social movements capitalized on their ability to blame certain demographics for protests and dissent. The civil rights era was, and in some ways still is, painted as a movement young student and hippies rebelling against their elders. This narrative ignores the role religious groups, professionals, and even war veterans in organizing social movements. In particular to the LGBT movement, “the first efforts to organize homosexuals were undertaken… by war veterans and by members, acting privately, of the Communist Party” (Escoffier 192). Ignoring the diversity in background of protesters helped oppositions create a one dimensional image of who they were and what they wanted. If people could either be young and fight for civil rights or a war veteran and be against change, false assumptions about either side would be prevalent.

Supporters of sexual liberation held their own limitations set for human behavior. Even within the movement, “they were often at odds with one another, rarely well thought out, and frequently without a clear agenda” (Bailey 137). Some straight men were notably against both the gay rights movement as well as the feminist movement. These individuals wanted sex itself to be more visible, but they were against the blurring of gendered and heteronormative boundaries. The emerging gay culture also fell short of inclusivity of all sexual orientations. In particular, a critique lamented that “our society denies the inherent bi-sexuality of all humans…” (Escoffier 193). Gay and lesbian communities, through celebrating a unique aspect of themselves, could not help but alienate those who fell somewhere in between. The spectrum of sexuality was probably not a well known concept during the 60s, leaving many to feel disenfranchised with either side.

Katarina’s blog post from last week argues that sexuality is an issue of control. Could the binary nature of the gay community at the time been so rigid because they were exercising control over the movement? I believe it’s possible. However, American people are rarely are comfortable with the idea that they do not exist solely in definable boxes. The complexities of what LGBT has grown into meaning were not presented in the same way in the 60s. On the other hand, opposition to social change tends to use the same strategies of alienating protesters. On either side, binaries restrict our understanding of each other .

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