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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The situation of women in Western society has always
been fraught with ambiguity. The writings of innu-
merable authors in a variety of fields attest to the
existence of the problem, although there is by no means
agreement concerning the nature of the problem.
Adherents of the “eternal feminine” mystique accept
as normative the feminine stereotypes of our culture,
according to which a “true woman” does not achieve
self-actualization through intellectual creativity and
participation in political, economic, and social life on
a level equal to that of men. Rather, according to this
view, her destiny lies in generic fulfillment through
motherhood, physical or spiritual, and in being a help-
mate to her husband. Opposition to this position is
strong. Radically opposed to the idea that the feminine
stereotype is “natural” are the findings of anthropol-
ogy, which suggest that “many, if not all, of the per-
sonality traits that we have called masculine or femi-
nine are as lightly linked to sex, as are the clothing,
the manners, and the form of head-dress that a society
at a given period assigns to sex” (Mead [1935], p. 279).
Recent research in experimental psychology also tends
to refute the idea that the cluster of qualities expressed
by the “eternal feminine” stereotype are innate and
peculiar to women (Maccoby, 1963 and 1966). A
growing number of authors argue that the charac-
teristics of the “eternal feminine” are opposed to those
of a developing, authentic person, who must be unique,
self-critical, active, and searching (De Beauvoir, 1949;
Jeannière, 1964; Daly, 1968). Modern feminists argue
that the biological burdens associated with maternity
and the restrictions imposed by cultural conditioning
have held women back from the attainment of full
human stature. They note with irony that the com-
pensation offered by society to women for acceptance
of the restrictions which it has imposed upon them in
the political, economic, social, educational, and moral
spheres has been imprisonment upon a pedestal.

The oppressive situation of women in ancient times
is reflected in the Bible. The authors of both the Old
and the New Testaments were men of their times, and
it would be naive to think that they were free of the
prejudices of their epochs. Indeed, the Bible contains
much to jolt the modern woman, who is accustomed
to think of herself, at least to some extent, as an auton-
omous person. In the writings of the Old Testament,
women emerge as subjugated and inferior beings. Al-
though the wife of an Israelite was not on the level
of a slave, and however much better off she was than
wives in other Near-Eastern nations, it is indicative
of her inferior condition that the wife addressed her
husband as a slave addressed his master, or a subject
his king. In the Decalogue a man's wife is listed among
his possessions, along with such items as his ox and
his ass (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). While her
husband could repudiate her, she could not claim a
divorce. Misconduct on the part of the wife was se-
verely punished among the ancient Hebrews, whereas
infidelity on the part of the man was punished only
if he violated the rights of another man by taking a
married woman as his accomplice. A man could sell
his daughter as well as his slaves. If a couple did not
have children, it was assumed to be the fault of the
wife. In summary, although Hebrew women were
honored as parents and often treated with kindness,


their social and legal status was that of subordinate
beings. Hebrew males prayed: “I thank thee, Lord, that
thou has not created me a woman.”

Throughout the centuries, Christian authors have
placed great importance upon the account of the crea-
tion of Eve in the second chapter of Genesis. Combined
with the story of the Fall, this seemed to present irref-
utable evidence of woman's essentially inferior intel-
lectual and moral stature. Indeed, through the ages the
anti-feminine tradition in Christian culture has justified
itself to a large extent on the story of the origin and
activities of the “first mother,” which until recently
was not understood to be androcentric myth but rather
was taken as straight historical fact. A psychoanalyst
who is also a student of biblical literature has sum-
marized the situation succinctly: “The biblical story
of Eve's birth is the hoax of the millennia” (Reik [1960],
p. 124).

Androcentric tendencies in Western culture, rooted
also in the profound misogynism of the Greeks, are
reflected in the New Testament as well, which in turn
has served as a basis for their perpetuation throughout
Christendom. The most strikingly anti-feminine pas-
sages are in the Pauline texts. Paul was greatly con-
cerned with order in society and in Christian assemblies
in particular. It seemed important to him that women
should not have a predominant place in Christian
assemblies, that they should not “speak” in public or
unveil their heads. This could have caused scandal and
ridicule of the new sect, which already had to face
charges of immorality and effeminacy. Thus he repeat-
edly insisted upon “correct” sexual behavior, including
the subjection of wives at meetings. Paul went further
and looked for theological justification for the prevail-
ing customs. Thus, for example: “For a man ought not
to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of
God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was
not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither
was man created for woman, but woman for man” (I
Corinthians 11:7ff.). Paul was basing his theological
assertion here upon the then commonly held inter-
pretation of Genesis. The extent of the effect is in-
estimable. For nearly two thousand years sermons and
pious literature have been based upon the “glory of
man” theme, and this has been accepted as God's
inspired word.

Another frequently quoted Pauline text (probably
not written by Paul but traditionally attributed to him)
based on the then current interpretation of Genesis and
used ever since as authority for the subordination of
women is the following:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I
permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men;
she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve;
and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived
and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through
bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and
holiness, with modesty

(I Timothy 2:11-15).

As for women's place in domestic society, the Pauline
teaching was most explicit: “As the Church is subject
to Christ, so let wives be subject in everything to their
husbands” (Ephesians 5:24).

Such texts, understood as divinely inspired and with-
out reference to the cultural context in which they
were written, have served as powerful instruments for
the reinforcement of the subjection of women in West-
ern society. They have been used by religious authori-
ties down through the centuries as a guarantee of
divine approval for the transformation of woman's
subordinate status from a contingent fact into an im-
mutable norm of the feminine condition. They have
been instrumental in withholding from women equal
education, legal and economic equality, and access to
the professions.

The low esteem for women in Western society dur-
ing the early centuries of Christianity is reflected in
the writings of the Church Fathers. The characteristics
they considered to be typically feminine include fickle-
ness and shallowness, garrulousness and weakness,
slowness of understanding, and instability of mind.
There were some violent tirades, such as that of Ter-
tullian: “Do you not know that you are Eve?... You
are the devil's gateway.... How easily you destroyed
man, the image of God. Because of the death which
you brought upon us, even the Son of God had to die”
(De cultu feminarum, libri duo I, 1). On the whole,
the attitude was one of puzzlement over the seemingly
incongruous fact of woman's existence. Augustine
summed up the general idea in saying that he did not
see in what way it could be said that woman was made
to be a help for man, if the work of child-bearing be

The Fathers found in Genesis an “explanation” of
woman's inferiority which served as a guarantee of
divine approval for perpetuating the situation which
made her inferior. There was uncritical acceptance of
the androcentric myth of Eve's creation and refusal,
in varying degrees of inflexibility, to grant that woman
is the image of God—an attitude in large measure
inspired by Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. Thus
Augustine wrote that only man is the image and glory
of God. According to him, since the believing woman
cannot lay aside her sex, she is restored to the image
of God only where there is no sex, that is, in the spirit
(De Trinitate, XII, 7).

Together with the biblical account and the teachings
of Church Fathers, those living in the early centuries


of the Christian era were confronted with an image
of women produced by oppressive conditions which
were universal. A girlhood of strict seclusion and of
minimal education prepared them for the life of mind-
less subordinates. This was followed by an early mar-
riage which effectively cut them off from the possibility
of autonomous action for the rest of their lives. Their
inferiority was a fact; it appeared to be “natural.” Thus
experience apparently supported the rib story just as
the myth itself helped “explain” the common experi-
ence of women as incomplete and lesser humans. The
vicious circle was complete.

In the Middle Ages the general opinion of women
was hardly much higher, although some of the fierce-
ness of tone was mitigated. In the twelfth century Peter
the Lombard wrote that woman is sensuality itself,
which is well signified by woman, since in woman this
naturally prevails (Collectanea in epist. D. Pauli in
epist. ad Cor.,
cap. XI, 8-10).

The assimilation of Aristotelianism into theology
provided new conceptual tools for fixing woman's place
in the universe. The most influential medieval theo-
logian, Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century re-
asserted Aristotle's teaching that women are mis-
begotten males, whose existence is due to some defect
in the active force (that of the father) or to some
material indisposition, or to some external influence
such as the south wind, which is moist (Summa Theo-
I, 92, 1, ad 1). For Thomas, following Aristotle,
the role of the woman in reproduction is purely pas-
sive; she supplies the “matter” whereas the father
disposes this for the “form.” From this he drew some
rather startling implications; for example, that one
should love one's father more than one's mother. Yet,
of course, woman is needed for generation. Indeed, this
seemed to Aquinas to be the only reason for the exist-
ence of women as such, “since a man can be more
efficiently helped by another man in other works”
(Summa Theologica, I, 92, 1c). He taught that although
there is proportional equality between man and wife,
there is not strict equality; neither in regard to the
conjugal act, in which that which is nobler is due to
the man, nor in regard to the order of the home, in
which the woman is ruled and the man rules (Summa
Suppl., 64, 3c). Women must be excluded
from Holy Orders, since “in the female sex no eminence
of degree can be signified” (Summa Theologica, Suppl.,
39 1c). Thomas revealed the same puzzlement over
woman's existence as did the Fathers. Since he was
a more systematic thinker, he had to face the difficulty
of assimilating the anomaly of woman into an otherwise
orderly universe. At points the strain is evident.
Thomas had to admit, for example, that woman is
somehow the image of God, since this was the teaching
of Genesis. Yet Paul and the Fathers had seemed to
deny this. Thomas resolved the puzzle with a distinc-
tion, affirming that “in a secondary sense the image
of God is found in man and not in woman: for man
is the beginning and end of woman; as God is the
beginning and end of every creature” (Summa Theo-
I, 93, 4 ad 1). Since Thomas taught that the
intellectual soul is natural and essential to both men
and women and yet shared with the Fathers the feeling
that women are not quite human, there is a basic
disharmony in his thought on this subject. The deep
roots of his philosophical anthropology—his concep-
tions concerning body-soul relationship and the per-
son—would have supported a conception of genuine
equality, but the combined influence of commonly
accepted biblical exegesis, Aristotelian biology, and the
prevailing image and status of women resulted in a
discordant androcentrism.

It would be difficult to overestimate the influence
of Thomism, in which Aristotelian theory was wedded
to the standard biblical interpretations, so that the
seeming weight of “science” was added to that of
authority. Thomism came to have a place of unique
pre-eminence in the church, a pre-eminence which,
at least in Roman Catholicism, has lasted into modern

Despite medieval theories, there were some cases
of powerful women in the Middle Ages. There were
abbesses who exercised great power. The abbesses of
Saint Cecilia in Cologne, for example, had the power
of jurisdiction and of suspension over clerics. In some
areas there were double monasteries in which both
monks and nuns were ruled by an abbess. Although
restrictive in some ways, nunneries did open for some
women the road to learning and administrative posts.

There were of course some great individual women
in the secular world. There were outstanding rulers
such as Clotilde and Blanche of Castille, and learned
women like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Blanche of
Navarre. There were great saints: Catherine of Siena
had enormous influence and the story of Joan of Arc
has no parallel. However, it would be absurd to judge
the general situation of women or the general attitude
toward them by such examples. The prevailing low
status of women was fixed by law and custom. By canon
law a husband was entitled to beat his wife. Only the
dowry system was allowed for matrimony, and under
this system women were legally defenseless. In general
they were considered as man's property. Since for
feudal lords marriages were a means of accumulating
property, women were pawns in the game of acquiring
wealth. Complex marriage laws offered ample oppor-
tunity for trickery and abuse. Thus, although there
were glorious feminine personalities in the Middle


Ages, there were multitudes of anonymous victims of
hypocrisy and oppression.

The early modern period did not bring any startling
changes in the general attitude toward women. It is
significant that Theresa of Avila, one of the most re-
markable women of all times, complained repeatedly
of the ignorance and other obstacles imposed upon her
sex: “The very thought that I am a woman is enough
to make my wings droop” (Life, Ch. X). Yet in the
Renaissance some upper-class women did study Greek
and Roman classics. In the fifteenth century Christine
de Pisan wrote in defense of her sex, thus acting as
one of the first harbingers of the modern feminist
movement, In the sixteenth century Erasmus of Rot-
terdam was sympathetic toward the education of
women, as were some other Renaissance authors such
as Sir Thomas Elyot and Sir Thomas More. However,
general practice did not keep pace with theory. The
vision of the early humanists was not fulfilled until
centuries later.

Within the Church a number of courageous women
struggled to break the old patterns. Among the most
daring of the religious innovators was Mary Ward
(1585-1645), who founded the “English Ladies.” Her
basic insight was that it was time for new possibilities
for dedicated religious women beyond the confines of
the cloister. She intended that her group would work
“in the world,” conducting schools for girls. They were
to be like the Jesuits, but would not be subject to them.
Rather, they were to be governed directly by women
responsible solely to the pope, independently of bish-
ops and of men's orders. A strong advocate of the
emancipation of women, she planned to teach girls
Latin and other secular subjects which heretofore had
been reserved largely for men. For her pains, she was
rewarded with persecution by clerical enemies and was
arrested as a heretic and a schismatic. Mary Ward and
other courageous contemporaries did not live to see
the fulfillment of their aspirations, but they broke
ground for the future.

Throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nine-
teenth centuries consciousness of women's potential
and of their plight continued to grow. In France,
writers such as Molière, Poulain de la Barre, Voltaire,
and Mercier wrote in favor of the emancipation of
women. Diderot and Helvétius both recognized that
woman's inferiority was created by society and by the
absurdity of their education. Condorcet strongly advo-
cated their political emancipation. Unfortunately for
the feminist movement, however, the Napoleonic Code
blocked the emancipation of Frenchwomen and kept
them legally and politically powerless throughout the
nineteenth century. In England, Mary Wollstonecraft's
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was
effective in sparking the struggle for equal rights. So
also was John Stuart Mill's famous work, On the Sub-
jection of Women
(1869). In the United States the great
leaders in the fight for women's rights—Lucy Stone,
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie
Chapman Catt, and others—carried on the struggle
through every available means, writing, lecturing,
organizing political support and public demonstrations.

Resistance to the liberation of women came from
all sides. Philosophers as diverse as Comte and Hegel
failed to get the message that a new age was dawning
and that the movement could not be stopped. Queen
Victoria expressed her fury over the “mad wicked folly
of 'Women's Rights' with all its attendant horrors.”
Grover Cleveland, writing in Ladies Home Journal
(October 1905), opposed the franchise on the grounds
that “woman suffrage would give to the wives and
daughters of the poor a new opportunity to gratify
their envy and mistrust of the rich.” In support of this
he invoked a familiar stereotype: “We all know how
much further women go than men in their social rival-
ries and jealousies.”

Institutional religion was not generally disposed to
welcome or encourage feminine emancipation. The
official Catholic reaction in the nineteenth and twen-
tieth centuries manifested the persistence of the con-
flict between the Christian concept of women as per-
sons, made to the image of God, and the notion of
them as inferior, derivative beings. Since this is the
most dramatic and powerful example of institu-
tionalized religion's resistence to feminism in West-
ern culture, and since it reflects and reinforces
idea patterns in other cultural institutions, it merits

The first pope to confront the emancipation move-
ment was Leo XIII. Against the socialists, whom he
saw as threatening the stability of marriage, he de-
fended “paternal authority.” As for the husband-wife
relationship, he reaffirmed the subjection of the female,
supporting this position by an interpretation of Genesis
no longer acceptable to modern biblical scholarship
(Encyclical Arcanum Divinae, 1880). Leo XIII viewed
divorce as an unqualified evil, claiming that by divorce
“the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought
low, and women run the risk of being deserted after
having ministered to the pleasures of men” (Encyclical
Arcanum Divinae, 1880). The other side of the picture,
the fact that many wives desired to be freed from
partners who exploited their wives' inability to obtain
a divorce under existing laws was tacitly passed over.

In 1919 Benedict XV pronounced in favor of votes
for women, but this did not represent any sweeping
change in the official outlook. It would be naive to
suppose that official attitudes were not affected by the


consideration that women's votes would probably sup-
port conservative and religious parties.

Resistance to the striving for equal education for
women was strongly put forth by Pius XI, who wrote:

False also and harmful to Christian education is the so-
called method of “coeducation”... There is not in nature
itself, which fashions the two quite different in organism,
in temperament, in abilities, anything to suggest that there
can be or ought to be promiscuity, and much less equality,
in the training of the two sexes”

(Encyclical Divini Illius

It is noteworthy that Pius XI linked coeducation with
equality and therefore opposed it. In the same encycli-
cal he taught that the differences between the sexes
should be “maintained and encouraged,” thus un-
wittingly conceding that these differences may not be
as natural in origin as he insists they are. It is striking
that Pius XI's language more than once displays this
characteristic of unwitting self-refutation. He attacked
“false teachers” for proclaiming that the married
woman should, to the neglect of her family, “be able
to follow her own bent and devote herself to business
and even public affairs” (Encyclical Casti Connubii,
1930). It is the admission of such an ambitious “bent”
in women that reveals the shakiness of his views about
“the natural disposition and temperament of the female
sex.” Closely allied to this phenomenon of self-
contradictory expressions is the occurrence of ambiv-
alent language. Thus, Piux XI could write: “True
emancipation will not involve false liberty and un-
natural equality with the husband” (Casti Connubii).
Anyone interested in the analysis of language would
be fascinated with the problem of what the adjectives
in that sentence do to the nouns. Again, in the same
letter, Pius XI refers to equality in dignity between
husband and wife and then effectively negates this by
affirming the necessity of “a certain inequality.” It is
obvious that he favored the traditional androcentric
situation; yet the pressure of social evolution forced
him to use expressions which have just enough am-
biguity to leave the door open a crack for unavoidable
social change. Thus: “This subjection of wife to hus-
band in its degree and manner may vary according
to the different conditions of persons, place, and time.”

Pius XII in his copious utterances manifested the
same resistance to change, the same ambivalence char-
acteristic of an ideology in a state of transition. He
saw the gainful employment of married women solely
as an obligation taken on for the family, and not at
all as a means of self-actualization or as a contribution
to society. There is indecision between a supposedly
ideal situation, that of a bygone agricultural society,
and the facts of modern life. A key concept in the
whole adjustment to modern society was “spiritual
motherhood,” an easily manipulated concept which
permitted some degree of expansion of the traditional
role but with serious limitations. Thus he wrote that
“a true woman cannot see and fully understand all the
problems of human life otherwise than under the family
aspect” (Address to Women of Catholic Action, October
21, 1945). The expression “true woman” is charac-
teristic of this kind of ideology, implying that anyone
who does not fit the stereotype is not what she should
be. The ideology that shaped Pius XII's utterances on
women was one in which they are seen as totally
“other.” It is not surprising, then, that there is little
sign of sensitivity to their problems and personal aspi-
rations. The following statement reveals this lack of
compassion and imagination:

A cradle consecrates the mother of the family; and more
cradles sanctify and glorify her before her husband and
children, before church and homeland. The mother who
complains because a new child presses against her bosom
seeking nourishment at her breast is foolish, ignorant of
herself, and unhappy.

(Address to Women of Catholic Action,
October 26, 1941).

Moreover, he affirmed that a mother “loves it [her
child] the more, the more pain it has cost her” (Address
to Obstetricians,
October 29, 1951).

Pius XII was completely satisfied with his own views
of women, insisting that “these peculiar characteristics
which distinguish the two sexes reveal themselves so
clearly to the eyes of all” that only obstinate blindness
or doctrinairism could disregard them (Address to
Women of Catholic Action,
October 21, 1945). The idea
that the stereotypes which he accepted as immutable
nature might be the effect of social conditioning was
not given serious consideration by this pope or his

Catholic ideology on the official level took a prom-
ising swing upward with Pope John XXIII, who
affirmed the equal rights and duties of man and woman
in marriage, without the customary nullifying adjec-
tives (Encyclical Pacem in Terris, 1963). Vatican II's
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
also reflected this upward swing, affirming that
“with respect to the fundamental rights of the person,
every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural,
whether based on sex, race, color, social condition,
language, or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated
as contrary to God's law.” Although the post-Vatican
II years have witnessed a regression in official Catholic
ideology, this official ideology has become less and less
influential on thought and practice. Theology itself is


to a great extent becoming liberated from this official
influence and turning with increasing interest to the
data of experience analyzed by the methods of scien-
tific disciplines. Although official Catholicism remains
the most powerful bastion of conservatism, pressure
continues to come both from outside its structures and
from within its active membership, e.g., from a feminist
organization of Catholic women, the Saint Joan's In-
ternational Alliance (originally the Catholic Women's
Suffrage Society, founded in England in 1911).

Although Protestantism on the whole has tended to
be somewhat more advanced, the same basic patterns
are observable both in ideology and in practice.
Women are admitted to the ministry in a number of
Protestant churches, but even in those churches dis-
crimination persists. A significant proportion of major
theologians, from Luther to Barth and Bonhoeffer, in
a manner somewhat less blatant than that of their
Catholic counterparts have perpetuated a funda-
mentally infrapersonal view of woman.

As already indicated, however, it would be a mistake
to think that the infrapersonal conceptualizations of
woman have been conserved and promulgated in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries only by institutional
religion. The majority of philosophers seem to have
suffered a suspension of their critical powers when it
came to this question, although there have been out-
standing exceptions such as Marx and John Stuart Mill.
Freud, for all his genius, was not able to get beyond
the conventional stereotype, and was convinced that
a woman who wanted to be someone, who was am-
bitious and self-actualizing, must be sick with penis
envy. Politicians who opposed woman suffrage and
educators who opposed equal education have been

Despite the opposition, the battle for women's
suffrage was won in most countries in the West. In
Great Britain and Germany it was granted in 1918,
in the USSR in 1917, in the United States in 1920,
in France in 1944. As far as education is concerned,
there is hardly any field in which women today, after
many years of denial, cannot obtain higher degrees.

Nevertheless, even basic legal equality does not yet
exist for women in the United States. The Federal
constitution was framed and adopted under the influ-
ence of the English Common Law valuation of women,
which does not regard women as legal persons or
entities. A historian of American feminism has pointed

Through the years, repeated Supreme Court decisions, as
late as 1961, have held that women do not rate the “equal
protection of the laws” because they were not regarded as
legal “persons” when the Constitution and the Fourteenth
Amendment were adopted. This means that women have
no legal protection against discrimination

(Lutz [1968], p.

In effect, this absence of guarantee by the Four-
teenth Amendment means that at any time a law can
be passed by Congress or by any state which would
discriminate against women or bar them from certain
forms of work or education. Such a law would not be
unconstitutional. In fact, laws in some states do today
seriously limit the rights of married women. The
Massachusetts Committee for the Equal Rights
Amendment has pointed out that laws in some states
limit a married woman's right to contract, to engage
in business, to separate domicile, to the guardianship
of children, to dispose of property by will, to serve
on juries, to contract for her labor on the same terms
as men. The Committee maintains that the Equal
Rights for Women Amendment would wipe out the
English Common Law valuation of women, giving
them full protection under the constitution and making
unconstitutional all laws discriminating against women
as well as making it possible to enforce Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act in cases of discrimination on the
basis of sex. It also sees this amendment as the best
hope for bringing the United States into compliance
with the United Nations Charter, which upholds the
“equal rights of men and women” and the United
Nations Declaration on the elimination of discrim-
ination against women, adopted by the General As-
sembly, November 7, 1967.

The Equal Rights for Women Amendment was first
introduced in 1923 by the National Women's Party and
has been reintroduced in every session of Congress. It
was opposed through the years even by many who
maintained that women need protective labor legisla-
tion. However, in very recent years a new wave of
support for it has grown. Senator Eugene McCarthy
sponsored the bill in the senate and a number of prom-
inent national organizations have endorsed it.

It is increasingly recognized that women still do not
participate on an equal basis with men in politics and
the professions. In the 1960's a sense of desperation
over the decline of women's participation in the United
States since the end of World War II sparked a renewed
concern over equal rights. It was noted with alarm that
only 7% of doctors in the U.S. were women, less than
4% of lawyers, and less that 1% of federal judges, and
that there was an increasing tendency for women to
be concentrated at the bottom of the job ladder in the
more menial and routine jobs. In 1966, in Washington
D.C. a group of concerned persons formed the National
Organization for Women (NOW), whose purpose is “to
take action to bring women into full participation in
the mainstream of American society now, exercising


all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly
equal partnership with men.” Composed of men and
women, NOW works to break through the “silken
curtain” of discrimination against women in American
life. NOW has been particularly industrious in pres-
suring the Equal Employment Opportunity Commis-
sion to carry out effectively the mandate against sex
discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964. In 1968 it endorsed the Equal Rights Amend-
ment. Its members seek nothing less than complete
equality for women in government, industry, the pro-
fessions, the churches, the political parties, the judici-
ary, the labor unions, and in all fields of importance
in American life.

It is instructive to note that despite the struggles
of modern-day feminists in the United States, there is
little evidence that even those legal changes which
already have taken place have in fact been translated
into profound institutional change. The franchise and
other legal victories, as many feminist authors (e.g.,
Betty Friedan) and social critics have observed, have
to a large extent been hollow victories. They will
remain such until they work their way into the very
structures of society.

It has been pointed out that there is no sex equality
until women actually participate on an equal basis with
men in politics, occupations, and the family. That is,
women must want to participate and be able to partic-
ipate. This cannot happen “unless ways are devised
to ease the combination of home and work respon-
sibilities. This is precisely what has not occurred” (Rossi
[1964], p. 610).

This observation invites serious reflection upon the
history of the feminist movement. Historians and soci-
ologists observe that it has never been a completely
autonomous movement. It has been effective when
joined with other reform movements. Alice Rossi notes
this: “By linking the feminist cause to the antislavery
or social welfare movement, women were able to work
together with men of similar sympathies and in the
process they enlisted the support of these men for the
feminist cause” (Rossi [1964], p. 611). De Beauvoir
reflects that feminism has been in part an epiphenome-
non reflecting a deeper social drama. The problem has
been that feminism's lack of autonomy has held it back
from complete fulfillment. Thus women in the anti-
slavery movement who petitioned Congress in the
1860's to enfranchise women either before or at the
same time as Negroes were confronted with the slogan:
This is the Negro's hour. “This slogan was repeated
so constantly that people in general, and even some
women, actually believed that it was more important
to enfranchise thousands of illiterate Negroes than to
confer the inherent right of citizenship upon educated,
intelligent women, granddaughters of the founders of
the Republic” (Lutz [1968], pp. 294-95). Thus there
has been an ambivalence in feminism's history; it ob-
tains the necessary thrust toward action through union
with other revolutionary movements and at the same
time it tends to fall short of its goals by reason of its
lack of autonomy. This has been witnessed again one
hundred years later, when discrimination on the basis
of sex became banned in Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act as a sort of rider, when the basic concern was racial
discrimination. Not too surprisingly, those charged
with the implementing of Title VII have focused their
attention chiefly on cases of racial discrimination, ten-
ding to overlook sex discrimination.

This lesson of history has not been lost on young
women activists of the New Left. In many cases, the
ability to comprehend the lesson arose from the expe-
rience of participation in meetings at which young
women across the United States have shared the expe-
rience of gaining political sophistication and awareness
of revolutionary tactics. They have also shared the
discouraging experience of being cast into the tradi-
tional feminine role precisely within a movement
which presents itself as engaged in struggle for the
liberation of the oppressed classes. As a result of this
complex experience of social awakening shared by
many women university students in the late 1960's a
significant and extraordinary movement has developed.
Commonly known as the Women's Liberation Move-
ment, it surfaced to public attention in 1968 and has
been gaining momentum since then. Its most obvious
qualities are the youthfulness and the political and
social radicalness of its membership. Although they
express solidarity with the members of NOW, the
adherents of the Women's Liberation Movement pro-
fess a more revolutionary ideology. Their goal is not
equal participation in the American political and eco-
nomic system as it now is—a goal which they consider
self-contradictory and self-defeating. Rather they see
hope only in a radical transformation of that system.
Basically in agreement with Engels' thesis that “the
first class oppression coincides with that of the female
sex by the male” they conclude that female liberation
is basic to all other struggles, since it strikes at the
foundation of all other forms of oppression.

It is interesting to note that whereas in 1964 sociolo-
gist Rossi had written that the decline of political
radicalism and the general state of affluence and social
conservatism in American society since World War II
have contributed in subtle ways to the decline of femi-
nism, by the end of the same decade a profound politi-
cal polarization among the younger generation gave
rise to a new feminist movement, the effectiveness of
which cannot yet be judged.



Jane Addams, Twenty Years of Hull House (New York,
1960). D. S. Bailey, The Man-Woman Relation in Christian
(London, 1959). M. Daly, The Church and the
Second Sex
(New York, 1968). S. De Beauvoir, Le deuxième
(Paris, 1949); trans. as The Second Sex (New York, 1953);
many reprints). E. Flexner, Century of Struggle (Cambridge,
1959). B. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York, 1963).
J. Hole and E. Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (New York, 1972).
A. Jeannière, Anthropologie sexuelle (Paris, 1964); see the
Foreward by D. Sullivan to the American edition, trans.
J. Kiernan (New York, 1967). A. S. Kraditor, ed., Up from
the Pedestal. Selected Writings in the History of American
(Chicago, 1968), and idem, The Ideas of the
Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920
(New York, 1965).
A. Lutz, Crusade for Freedom: Women of the Antislavery
(Boston, 1968) and idem, Susan B. Anthony:
Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian
(Boston, 1959). E. Maccoby,
ed., The Development of Sex Differences (Stanford, 1966)
and “Woman's Intellect,” The Potential of Woman, eds.
S. M. Farber and R. H. L. Wilson (New York, 1963), pp. 24-39.
H. Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (Boston, 1955). Marx,
Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, The Woman Question (New York,
1951). M. Mead, From the South Seas (New York, 1939) and
idem, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies
(New York, 1935). Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (New York,
1970). R. Morgan, ed., Sisterhood Is Powerful (New York,
1970). William L. O'Neill, Everyone Was Brave (Chicago,
1969). T. Reik, The Creation of Woman (New York, 1960).
Robert Riegel, American Feminists (Lawrence, Kan., 1963);
idem, American Women: A Story of Social Change (Ruther-
ford, N.J., 1970). A. Rossi, “Equality between the Sexes; An
Immodest Proposal,” Daedalus (Spring, 1964), 607-52. Page
Smith, Daughters of the Promised Land (Boston, 1970). M.
Thompson, ed., Voices of the New Feminism (Boston, 1970).


[See also Church as Institution; Conservation; Equality;
Law, Equal Protection; Protest Movements.