The History of Women’s Liberation

womens estate

Women’s Estate

by Juliet Mitchell

Pantheon Books (1972)

Book Review

Women’s Estate is about the history of the modern women’s liberation movement. Women’s liberation began in the US in the late 60s and quickly spread to Britain and the rest of the industrialized world. Mitchell compares and contrasts women’s liberation with the earlier feminist movement of 1880-1920, as well as tracing contemporary political influences that shaped it.

Mitchell traces the modern feminist movement to the publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan in 1963. In 1966, Friedan would co-found National Organization for Women (NOW) with Gloria Steinem (see Did the CIA Use Gloria Steinem to Subvert the Feminist Movement?). Mitchell classifies NOW as a “reformist” group that limited itself to winning isolated reforms (affirmative action laws, legalized abortion and access to birth control, etc), as opposed to women’s liberation groups which sought to overthrow patriarchy and male-dominated society.

Owing to the immense media attention it received, women’s liberation was the most public revolutionary movement in history. According to Mitchell, its main influences were the mid-sixties black liberation movement, the student movement and the youth (aka “hippy”*) movement.

She traces the official origin of women’s liberation to a protest at Nixon’s 1969 inauguration in which female speakers were taunted with sexually explicit insults. This was the last straw in a long frustrating period in which male antiwar activists edged women out of decision-making and relegated them to typing and tea making.

By 1970, there were women’s liberation groups in all of the developed world, except for Ireland, Austria and Switzerland.

Although women typically experience the most extreme levels of poverty and oppression, the women’s liberation movement, like the earlier suffrage movement, was mainly led by middle class women. According to Mitchell, it’s common for the oppression of underprivileged women to be passed off as natural and unchangeable.

Mitchell devotes most of the book to an analysis of the politics of oppression and the cultural factors (especially so-called “family values) that cause women’s oppression to appear invisible.

In her view, this is why consciousness raising groups were so essential to women’s liberation. By openly sharing their negative treatment by men, women were astonished to learn other women had similar, often identical, experiences. This helped them to acknowledge their individual frustration and suffering was, in actuality, a political problem.

As Mitchell puts it:

The first symptom of oppression is the repression of words: the state of suffering is so total and assumed, it’s not known to be there.

*According to Mitchell, the hippies rebelled against social manipulation and emotional repression by the political establishment without seeking specific political change.

7 thoughts on “The History of Women’s Liberation

  1. “*According to Mitchell, the hippies rebelled against social manipulation and emotional repression by the political establishment without seeking specific political change.”

    According to some others, the hippies were a product of the CIA/MK Ultra; not the anti-war movement, but the hippies. For instance,


    • I think the evidence in this article is a little weak, to be honest. To be true, the rock stars identified had parents connected with the military. According to John Judge, Mae Brussell and others, they rebelled against their upbringing and this is what made them radical.

      This is a serious article about the real activities of the scientists involved in MK Ultra:

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I am aware of this, and have even posted similar articles before.

        This is not the only article I have read on this issue. And being in the music industry for years, I have heard this before from insiders as well.

        What you express here, is what the system claims, by the way. Personally, I can’t buy into it.

        And it’s a well known fact that many of these famous rockers didn’t, nor couldn’t, write their own music.

        In my estimation, the recording industry, for years, has been a vital part of the mind control machinery.


  2. Golly gosh, this takes me back to my women’s liberation days and this book which was in my library. And no, I’ve never abandoned women’s liberation. “Feminism” is, to me, the Establishment’s subtle subversion of a movement intended to shake up society and honour women as equal in all ways, while recognising differences which can exist between men and women.


    • Well put, CC. I’m glad you made the point about important differences – the responsibility for children being one of the most important. Society totally abdicates the responsibility for children to individual women and then condemns both to a life of relative or absolute poverty. This is the primary reason that a quarter of children in the US (and New Zealand) are living in poverty.


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