Essay — Unity and Division within Social Movements — Feminism or Feminisms?
1-2 pages, double-spaced, with reasonable fonts and margins
Many historians refer to women’s “movements” (plural) instead of a single women’s movement, just as many historians refer to civil rights “movements” in the 1960’s instead of a single civil rights movement. Although many parts of the women’s movement shared goals, methods, and perspectives, there were many differences within the movement. Some activists hoped to create a national and international organization that would represent all women, but they never fully succeeded in that goal. In some circles, scholars even refer to “feminisms” instead of feminism, in order to illustrate some of the different ideological developments in the late 20th century, or to highlight different time periods (like the “waves” metaphor, for example).
Your task as a historian for this assignment is to briefly describe a few of the factors that prevented the formation of a single, unified movement on behalf of American women — for example, the formation of a single national political party or umbrella organization that could speak on behalf of all women. Why were there so many separate women’s rights organizations over the course of the 1945-2000 period? One way to approach this question: how did some groups of women feel excluded from the movement that claimed to represent them?
Note: “divisions,” “tensions,” or “disagreements” do not necessarily mean irreconcilable differences or opposition to each other. Differences can be minor or practical; for example, two groups could work well together toward a particular goal, but disagree on a host of other issues. Two groups may agree on most things but disagree over the appropriate timeline — gradual change versus immediate change. Tensions or disagreements could be over methods or goals or language.
This question is far too big to answer fully in such a short paper. Choose 2-3 factors and give a brief example for each illustrating how it created differences within the postwar women’s movement. Your job is to make a brief historical case with a little bit of evidence.