Whatever Happened to Women’s Liberation?

She’s Beautiful when She’s Angry

Directed by Mary Dore (2014)

Film Review

This documentary examines the 1960s women’s liberation movement. I found it quite sad in a way, given our total failure to reduce violence against women. Most countries are witnessing an increase, rather than decrease, in rape and domestic violence.

The film traces the beginning of so-called “second wave” feminism to the publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminist Mystique in 1964. The book was highly critical of society’s insistence on defining women via their sexual relationships with men and refusal to recognize them as individuals. In 1966, seeking to end job discrimination against women, Friedan and Pauli Murray founded National Organization for Women.

The formation of local consciousness raising groups in the US and Europe were an early feature of 1960s feminism. In sharing their feelings and experiences with like minded women, tens of thousands experienced immediate empowerment in discovering they weren’t alone in feeling depressed and angry about their relationships with men.

After NOW leaders refused to allow the organization to take on the distinct problems of African American, lesbian and working class women, many broke away to form their own groups.

In 1968, New York Radical Women (which was more militant than NOW ) first brought the women’s movement to mainstream media attention through a mass protest (against women’s sexual objectification) at the 1968 Miss America pageant.

The Chicago Women’s Liberation Network went on to organize 24-hour free child care for all Chicago women, as well as classes on auto repair, women’s history and sexuality (after Kinsey and others revealed how few American women experienced orgasm) and contraception. In addition, volunteers with medical training offered a free clandestine service providing safe abortions.*

One of the enduring legacies of 1960s feminism is the Our Bodies Ourselves series. The first edition of Our Bodies Ourselves was  published in 1970 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. It came out of a health seminar designed to educate women about their anatomy, sexuality and women’s health issues. The latest edition was published in 2011, and it has been translated into 33 languages.

The end of the film offers a brief fast forward to the efforts by millenial feminists to campaign for free childcare and an end to the current rape culture (see Rape Culture: The UK Failure to Prosecute Rape) and global epidemic of domestic violence.

*Abortion didn’t become legal in the US until 1973.