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.