Intersectionality and Family Values: Different Criticism of the Women’s Movement from the Left and Right

This week’s readings stood out to me for a few reasons. First, they all seem to criticize the women’s movement and the social movements of the era, albeit in different ways. The documents in Takin’ it to the Streets all highlight the role of the intersectionality of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender. The conservative and religious authors of the documents in The Rise of Conservatism in America readings also criticized the women’s movement, but for them the issue was the movement’s attack on family values. Finally, these many of these documents stood out to me in that they describe issues that are still prevalent today.

As some of the documents highlighted, race, economic status, sexual orientation, and gender impacted a person’s specific experience; moreover, these aspects of identity influenced the focus of activists and their views of the women’s movement. For example, working-class women had struggles specific to them. In “The Mexican-American Woman,” Enriqueta Longauex y Vasquez highlights thins, noting that wives with husbands unable to support the family had to find some sort of work, as, “in order to find a way to feed and clothe her family, she must find a job… probably be sought only for survival… [and] she must find housing that she will be able to afford” (B&B, 461). The documents also highlighted the struggles specific to race, and the important differences in struggles that minority races faced within these movements. Frances Beal calls out white women in “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female,” saying “if the white groups do not realize that they are in fact fighting capitalism and racism… then we cannot unite with them around common grievances or even discuss these groups in a serious manner because they’re completely irrelevant to the black struggle” (B&B, 456). The authors of these documents also highlighted the role men must play to support women’s liberation. Vasquez notes that “the Mexican-American movement is not that of just adults fighting the social system, but it is a total commitment of a family unit living what it believes to be a better way of life in demanding social change for the benefit of humankind” (B&B, 462). Denise Oliver adds to this, saying in “The Young Lords Party,” that, “I don’t believe in the concept of just a liberated woman; I believe that there has to be a liberated man too” (B&B, 469). In “Lesbians and the Ultimate Liberation of Women,” the authors add the role of sexual orientation in this intersectionality. They say that “we are part of the revolution of all oppressed people, but we cannot allow the lesbian issue to be an afterthought” (B&B, 513).

Race, class, and sexual orientation influenced the loyalty and focus of women’s liberation activists during these years. Some of the authors took these different struggles to These documents highlight the role of intersectionality. In “What We Want, What We Believe,” for example, the authors note that, “we each organize our people about different issues, but our struggles are the same against oppression, and we will defeat it together” (509).

Unlike the documents cited above, the conservative authors of the documents in The Rise of Conservatism in America had issues with the women’s movement for what they interpreted as anti-family, religion, and tradition. The influence of the women’s movement and identity politics on the rise of the religious Right is interesting, as the authors note that the role of religion was “relatively minor… on the Right until the 1970s [brought] new challenges to their faith and families in the form of women’s rights, secular education, legalized abortion, and homosexuality” (Story and Laurie, 114). Perhaps the clearest example of this is Phyllis Schlafly’s interview with the Washington Star in which she explicitly denounces the women’s movement as “destructive and antifamilty” (Story and Laurie, 105). She argues that women had a God-given biological role as the housewife and child-raiser, saying “I think our laws are entitled to reflect the natural differences and the role assigned by God, in that women have babies and men don’t have babies” (Story and Laurie, 104). In this, she reinforces traditional gender roles and tries to portray women’s liberation activists as anti-family. Paul Weyrich adds to this in “Building the Moral Majority,” attacking pro-choice activists, “homosexual rights advocates, genetic engineers and militant secular humanists” and claiming they were out to destroy the American family (Story and Laurie, 116).

The documents this week also surprised me with how much the echoed issues today. Female stereotypes, for example, that the documents discuss still exist today. I was taken aback by the words in the “Asian Women as Leaders” document, which explains that “women who speak out loudly and strongly; who are authoritarian, who boss people around, and command some form of respect” were called Bitches, as this is still a commons stereotype (and double standard) today (B&B, 471). Moreover, issues outlined in the Third World Gay Liberation’s “What We Want, What We Believe,” still ring true today. Specifically, women today still “want the right of self-determination over the use of our bodies… free and safe birth control… truthful teaching of women’s history…” (B&B, 510). Gay people also face similar issues that the document “Lesbians and the Ultimate Liberation of Women” identifies when it says: “Sexuality is basic to all human beings, and homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality” and that we should “teach children from the earliest years about homosexuality without bias” (B&B, 515). The conservative documents we read also share similarities with conservatives today. The notion of “fake media,” for example, is present in the document.s The NRA’s “Act Before It Is Too Late,” for example, makes a note of the “misled news media” and the “untruths spread by anti-gun spokesmen” (Story and Laurie, 94-95). Additionally, Paul Weyrich argues that “the media often portrays the right-to-life movement as a tool of the Catholic bishops” which he says is a false notion (116).

Race, class, sexual orientation, and gender created different struggles for different people, and raised issue within social movements in the late 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, conservatives increasingly raised issues with these social movements, calling their focuses anti-family. Finally, many of the issues raised by both activists in these social movements and by conservatives at the time are still present in today’s society.

An Ongoing Sexual (R)evolution: Parallels to Other 1960s Movements and Today

The readings this week pointed to significant parallels and connections between the sexual revolution and the other movements of the 1960s; moreover, they exposed parallels and ongoing struggles still present in today’s society.

Multiple documents echo rhetoric of the civil rights movement, and a few authors explicitly note the influence civil rights had on the sexual revolution. Gloria Steinem, for example, likens women’s issues to issues face by black Americans, saying in “What Would It Be Like If Women Win,” that, “men assume that women want to imitate them, which is just what white people assumed about blacks” (B&B, 419). Additionally, John D’Emilio lists the civil rights movement as having significant influence on the emergence of gay rights activism. Though both civil rights and gay rights date back to decades before the 1960s, gay liberation leaders of the 1960s became increasingly active, motivated by events like the lunch counter sit-ins in the early 1960s by civil rights leaders. D’Emilio states that “the African American students who initiated the southern sit-in movement in February 1960 launched a kind of political activism that was new to the era” and that “with the model of the civil rights movement before them, new voices emerged among gay activists (Bloom, 212-213). The oppression faced by black Americans and the response of civil rights activists motivated activists of the sexual revolution.

Activists in the sexual revolution also drew influence and had connections with the antiwar and student movements of the era. The increased political action of women, such as those who destroyed draft files to protest the war and American imperialism, makes this clear (B&B, 436). D’Emilio adds to this when he writes that “gay activists were also following the lead of other social movements of the Left in the effort to create ‘alternative institutions’ to replace what were seen as the corrupt oppressive institutions of liberal capitalism,” and the increasing popularity of antiwar and campus protests encouraged sexual activism (Bloom, 214). As with other movements of the era, the role of the college campus was relevant to activists of the sexual revolution. Beth Bailey notes that “the members of the generation that would be labeled “the sixties” were revolutionary in that they called fundamental principles of sexual morality and control into question… [and] rejected a system of sexual controls organized around concepts of difference and hierarchy” (Bailey, 245). She implies that the activists seeking out sexual progress were similar to, and largely a part of, the youths of this era that sought an honest society without such a huge gap between the reality of private life and the illusion of public expectations. Additionally, these documents suggest the similar role played by authenticity in the sexual revolution. This is perhaps most obvious in the Radicalesbians’ “The Woman-Identified Woman” document that calls for women working together to “find, reinforce and validate our authentic selves” (B&B, 448).

In addition to the parallels and connections to other movements of the “sixties” era, some of the major focuses of the sexual revolution parallel ongoing struggles faced today. The sexual double standard, for example, still exists today. Women may not be kicked out of school for getting pregnant, but they are still expected to be the primary caretaker and assumed to have maternal impulses. More people understand the sexual anatomy of women, but pornography and sexually-explicit advertisements are still aimed at men. Like Playboy, consumerism based in sexuality continues to largely exploit women and fetishize the idea of the sexual women (Bailey, 249). It is more widely accepted for women to be openly sexual, but it is still assumed that men are inherently sexual creatures. Non-heterosexual relationships and identities are stigmatized, misrepresented, or unrecognized. Sexual identities not fitting into this box, like asexuality, are rejected by many. People still mock those that identify with pronouns other than “he” or “she”. Transgender citizens continue to face violent discrimination. The perspective that feminism is anti-male or anti-stay-at-home-mom still exists. Conservative and religious institutions are still repressive to women and gay citizens. Demands of the “NOW Bill of Rights” echo demands of women today; specifically, “the right of women to control their own reproductive lives by removing from the penal code laws limiting access to contraceptive information and devices, and by repealing penal laws governing abortion” (B&B, 418). There is also still explicit and silent resistance to sexual identity progress. When D’Emilio notes that, “for political and religious conservatives the growth of the gay movement and the rise of visible gay communities are elements of moral decay… many liberals and progressives also experience varying levels of discomfort at the spread of sexual identity politics,” his words ring true to this day (Bloom, 225). When he says that the church was one of the major “pillars of cultural power, stigmatizing gay men and lesbians by rendering their sexual desires immoral or pathological,” the same can be said today (Bloom, 213).

None of this is meant to undermine progress that has been made politically and socially; rather, it is meant to point out the work that is left. As D’Emilio and Bailey point out, the sexual revolution was more of an evolution, with a long history of change and struggles that continue today. Though much progress has been made, issues still exist. The sexual revolution of the “sixties” was a part of an era of drastic social and political change, and its connections to other movements of the era highlights this. Beyond that, it is a part of a historic and ongoing struggle for sexual identity progress, as its parallels to issues today shows.

VT in April 1970

To assess the Virginia Tech campus in April of 1970, I looked at both the mainstream student paper, The Virginia Tech, as well as the underground newspaper, Alice. Comparing the content of both, I saw that the student population was becoming increasingly political and willing to discuss issues on the campus and in the nation. Looking at two articles from The Virginia Tech, and one article from Alice, it is clear that the underground paper is much more radical and uncensored, and it tends to focus on nationwide issues. While The Virginia Tech focuses more on campus-wide issues and is clearly less radical, the rhetoric its student writers use along with the campus issues it details makes it clear that, as a whole, students at Virginia Tech were more actively engaged in the issues that affected them.

One article in The Virginia Tech titled “Special SGA Executive Report on Honor Court” uses political rhetoric to call attention to the importance of having an honor court. It asks its readers questions like: “How can we condemn those who go to war for power or esteem when we condone the cheat who seeks the added praise a higher grade brings?” And: “How can we shout for honesty in personal and governmental relationships when we allow the thief and liar to travel in our midst?” This wording likens the campus issue of honor violations to larger issues that the nation was dealing with, suggesting the students felt that issues on their campus reflected these bigger issues.

Another noteworthy artifact from the newspaper is the article titled “Birth control clinic ok’d by Senate appropriation,” which details the “major accomplishment at Tuesday’s Senate meeting”  of the passage of a proposed budget by the SGA that appropriated $6000 to create a birth control clinic on campus. This clinic, that “would offer free service to all registered Tech students, both male and female,” suggests that students were concerned with increasingly progressive issues like access to birth control. This article also goes on to note that “the senate also lent its support to the so-called “peace strike” set for April 15… [which] is actually a teach-in concerning the war in Vietnam,” showing that the student body was actively concerned with nationwide issues like the war.

In addition to the mainstream student newspaper, I took a look at the April issue of Virginia Tech’s underground newspaper, Alice. Compared to the mainstream paper, Alice is much more political and uncensored. It is more radical, angry, and sarcastic. However, both papers talk about similar issues, such as environmental problems and proposed teach-ins. This shows that the Virginia Tech student population as a whole was becoming more political rather than just the radical Left.

I was also surprised by how uncensored articles in the underground paper are.  An interesting artifact from Alice, for example, details how to plant a garden of marijuana. Titled “Spring Planting,” this article calls on members of the Corps, writing: “Stimulate Vietnam better. Get stoned first!” Alice also seems to focus on nationwide issues more so than smaller-scale campus issues, suggesting a different motivation and target audience from The Virginia Tech.

Both the artifacts in The Virginia Tech as well as those in Alice suggest a much more political campus in 1970. The similarities the student writers make between issues on campus and issues in the country suggest students at Tech saw the campus as a miniature version of the nation. One in which they could express their opinions and frustrations, and one in which they could make real change. Calling for an honor court, appropriating funds for birth control, and participating in teach-ins happening on campus, these students were taking action. Though The Virginia Tech is obviously less radical and more censored than Alice, both still seem to suggest that students were frustrated with the country, were becoming more willing to express their opinions on campus issues, and were more inclined to support progressive issues like access to birth control.