Episode 5: A Slut from East Toledo

About this Episode

Guests
Dr. Lilia Fernandez, Dr. Susan Hartmann

The fading of former suffragist activism during the interwar period did not spell the end of the fight for women's rights, especially as so many women remained unable to exercise their citizenship.

In this episode, we turn to the next era of women's activism, the Women's Movement of the 1960s and 70s. In the wake of World War II, the revived women's rights movement followed a similar path to their suffragist predecessors: born from the Civil Rights Movement, these new activists boasted a more expansive vision of women's rights, including advocating for workplace justice and pushing for reproductive freedom.

Today, we discuss the era that saw the emergence of activists like Betty Friedan, Frances Beal, Gloria Steinem, and Shirley Chisholm, but also the deep divisions among women's rights activists based on strategy, ideology, and the limitations of white feminism.

Cite this Site

Sarah Paxton , "Episode 5: A Slut from East Toledo" , Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective
September, 2020
https://origins.osu.edu/listen/prologued/episode-slut-east-toledo?language_content_entity=en.
September, 2020

Citations

Episode 5: A Slut from East Toledo Citations:

Theme Music: Hot Shoby Scott Holmes

"Betty Friedan Interview" The First Measured Century. Public Broadcasting Service. https://www.pbs.org/fmc/interviews/friedan.htm.

Shirley Chisholm "For the Equal Rights Amendment - Aug. 10, 1970" Iowa State University: Archives of Women's Political Commentary. https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2017/03/21/for-the-equal-rights-amendment-aug-10-1970/.

Dierdre Comody, "FEMINISTS SCORED BY BETTY FRIEDAN" The New York Times. July 19, 1872. https://www.nytimes.com/1972/07/19/archives/feminists-scored-by-betty-friedan-says-women-too-can-be-guilty-of.html

"Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975," edited by Barbara J. Love and Nancy F. Cott (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

Jo Freeman, "How "Sex" Got Into Title VII: Persistent Opportunism as a Maker of Public Policy," JoFreeman.com, https://www.jofreeman.com/lawandpolicy/titlevii.htm.

Cynthia Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women's Issues, 1945-1968 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.)

Susan M. Hartmann, "Closing Gaps in Civil Rights and Womenʹs Rights: Black Women and Feminism." In The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment, 176-206. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.)

Georgia Jones "Twinkle, Twinkle... the Great Superstar Fiasco." Off Our Backs 3, no. 1 (1972).

Andrew E. Kersten "African Americans and World War II." OAH Magazine of History 16, no. 3 (2002).

"The Long Road to Equality: What Women Won from the ERA Ratification Effort" American Women: Topical Essays. The Library of Congress, https://guides.loc.gov/american-women-essays/era-ratification-effort.

Mark Newman "The Emergence of the Movement, 1941—59." in The Civil Rights Movement, 33-68. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004).

Loretta J. Ross "African American Women and Abortion" in Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000, edited by Rickie Solinger (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998)

Gloria Steinem, "After Black Power, Women’s Liberation" New York Magazine. May 7, 2008. https://nymag.com/news/politics/46802/.

Geoffrey R. Stone, "The Road to Roe." Litigation 43, no. 1 (2016).

"Women's Rights and the Civil Rights Act of 1964." The National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/women/1964-civil-rights-act.

Amanda Whiting "Gloria Steinem & Betty Friedan's Friendship Was As Messy As It Looks On 'Mrs. America'" Bustle. April 21, 2020. https://www.bustle.com/p/gloria-steinem-betty-friedans-complex-relationship-takes-center-stage-in-mrs-america-22834996.

Transcript

Episode 5: A Slut from East Toledo Transcript:

Sarah Paxton

Last time, we discussed the aftermath of the 19th Amendment and the limitations of the suffragists’ success. So while women's rights activism certainly continued, it did not compare to the widespread organization of the suffrage movement, and when not again until the 1960s.

Today, we turned to that next era of organized women's rights movement in the aftermath of World War Two. The revived feminist movement was influenced by the civil rights and antiwar movements that came before it, and experienced similar conflicts among the movement’s members. At the heart of these conflicts was the expansive list of goals the feminist movement addressed. These created divisions over strategy, ideology, and the limitations of white feminism.

For Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, I'm Sarah Paxton, and this is Prologued.

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World War Two was a critical turning point for gender and race relations in the U.S.. Women and People of Color played vital roles in the war effort. Men of Color, including African Americans, Latinos, Chicanos, and Japanese men, served in the armed forces in large numbers. Meanwhile, women and those who didn't enlist were called on to fill the soldiers’ place in the industrial world, working jobs that have been previously viewed as unsuitable for women, like munitions plants or airplane factories.

And this was seen as a good thing. A patriotic thing. You've seen the pictures of Rosie the Riveter, the tough yet feminine image of a woman and industrial jumpsuit and a red bandana flexing her bicep to show that women were indeed strong enough to perform industrial tasks. And American women did—these female workers not only served the Homefront, they also constituted a crucial piece of the American war effort.

When the war ended, and all the men came back home, it was expected that everything would return to normal: that women would return to their homes vacating their positions as the men came back to take their jobs, and that minority communities would again settle on the fringes of American society.

The integral role women and minority communities played in World War Tw—and the message that involvement in the war effort made them patriotic citizens—radically affected the gendered and racial image of an American deserved equal rights and protection under the law.

Lilia Fernandez

Because so many Latina and Chicana women participated in the war effort during World War Two, either here on the Homefront going into the defense industries, or even offering their service in uniform and the American military, many Latinos have Chicanos did, in fact, I think become much more politically aware and conscious of a number of issues affecting our communities, especially women who had moved into the workforce.

Sarah Paxton

That is Dr. Lilia Fernandez, who you first met back in Episode One. Dr. Fernandez is a professor of 20th century Latino and Chicano history at Rutgers University. He told me that not only were the women in the Latino and Chicano and African American communities less willing to return to the prewar status quo, they organized.

Lilia Fernandez

So, one of the effects of World War Two on those veterans who were coming home, not only in the African American community but among Chicanos and Latinos as well, was to give people a greater consciousness of their rights and what their citizenship meant here in the United States since they had gone abroad and fought against fascism and against Hitler and in defense of the freedoms that Americans enjoyed. So women became involved along with men in different kinds of civil rights organizations, I guess we could call them, and also veterans rights groups.

The American GI Forum, which was founded in Texas right after World War Two, for example, was an organization that started to advocate for and defend the rights of Mexican American Veterans primarily, initially, and this affected women as much as it did man because in many cases, they were fighting for the benefits that veterans were entitled to GI benefits, for example. And so that began to mobilize women at this time. There were also women involved in educational campaigns, trying to fight against the segregation of public schooling working on dismantling segregated public accommodations and other kinds of practices and public spaces.

Sarah Paxton

These efforts of the Latino and Chicano communities mirror those of African Americans in the postwar years. In the immediate aftermath of the war, minority communities lost much of the social and political progress that they had gained during the war, frustrating the African American community who fought to achieve the “Double V”—victory over fascism overseas, and victory over racism at home. The Civil Rights Movement developed through the 1940s, escalated during the 1950s, with victories such as Brown v Board of Education declaring school segregation unconstitutional and exploded during the 1960s.

And Black women were at the heart of it.

Black women have always been a driving force behind African American activism. In earlier episodes, we've talked about important Black female activists like Nellie Griswold Francis and Ida B. Wells. Black woman's role in activism goes back further to women such as anti-slavery advocate Harriet Jacobs, a former slave whose memoir is still used to educate Americans about the horrors of the American slavery institution. After the 19th Amendment, Black women developed organizations like the National Council of Negro women. The NCNW was formed in 1935 as an umbrella organization for the scattered Black sororities and professional Black women organizations and, during the 1940s and early 50s, the NCNW was marginally involved in the Civil Rights Movement by supporting efforts to end lynching and school segregation, and they became significantly more involved in the 1960s.

The Civil Rights Movement also served as both an inspiration and a training ground for feminists. Up until the 1960s, equal rights for women and People of Color were considered separate issues, a belief that by then was accepted as fact by both activists and legislators. But women's discomfort with a post war return to feminine domesticity was already brewing. Many women were disillusioned that their employment opportunities were once again low paying “women's work” after they had experienced more opportunities during the war. And for these women, they struggled with the housewife experience that was the new middle-class definition of success.

Betty Friedan was one of these dissatisfied women. Friedan was well educated and, after turning down an opportunity to pursue her PhD, she worked as a journalist before being fired in 1947 when she was pregnant. After that, she was a housewife. In 1963, Friedan wrote about feeling unfulfilled as a housewife, a blockbuster book, the feminine mistakes discussion of the “problem that has no name” resonated with American housewives and galvanized the second widespread, organized women's movement. And many of these new activists started by participating in the Civil Rights Movement.

Susan Hartmann

The Civil Rights Movement had a tremendous impact in terms of women's mobilizing and women's activism.

Sarah Paxton

That's Dr. Susan Hartmann, who you may remember from the last episode, a historian of 20th century women's history at The Ohio State University,

Susan Hartmann

Some women who became feminists got their start actually in working for women's rights for Black civil rights, but even I think more important, the Black freedom struggle gave women a model—an opportunity to think about how their own rights were limited a model of protests, the different kinds of tactics that you can use to protest. And sometimes they even tried to piggyback women on to Black civil rights legislation. And they did that they did that with what we call Title VII, which is the part of the law that bans discrimination in employment that was actually written to cover African Americans. And it was expanded, being pushed in part by women to include sex discrimination as well as racial discrimination.

Sarah Paxton

Title VII was a section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a key piece of legislation that aimed to eliminate discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, or sex. Title VII specifically barred employment discrimination.

Except sex was not initially included in the bill.

Virginia congressman Howard Smith opposed civil rights legislation and added sex as a poison pill, hoping the addition would be a deal breaker for those who supported the bill and ultimately keep it from passing.

But it didn't work. Instead, civil rights activists and women inspired by The Feminine Mystique and rallied by Betty Friedan pushed for Title VII to pass.

And it did. But Friedan supporters weren't finished yet. When the Lyndon B Johnson administration and the newly formed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began to enforce Title VII, they ignored the clause barring sex discrimination. In reaction Eileen Hernandez, a member of the EEOC, quit in protest and Betty Friedan founded the National Organization of Women. NOW applied pressure to the Johnson administration until finally in 1967, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11357, officially ordering the enforcement of the sex clause.

NOW was the first formal organization of the feminist movement, but others quickly followed. With the rise of the Black Power and antiwar movements, college age women were involved in the Civil Rights Movement in greater numbers. By the late 1960s, some of these women were growing frustrated, but the role of women in civil rights organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, a civil rights group that organized student activists and protests.

In 1968, Mary King and Casey Hayden, two white members of SNCC, wrote what has become known as the “sex and caste” memo, in which they argue that while the organization fought for equal rights, they relegated their female members to secondary positions. Then, in 1969, famed feminist Gloria Steinem wrote an article in New York Magazine where she stated that women “have marched on Senate Committees, Pentagon hawks, their own college presidents and the Chase Manhattan Bank” but once they were working within their organizations “they found themselves typing and making coffee” It was during this era that a more nuanced feminist movement developed.

Susan Hartmann

The 1960s witness the beginning of women, or at least more and more women, with a concern about their rights and opportunities in the larger world. This was a result of a lot of large-scale developments. One important one being that there were more and more women in the labor force, more and more women had gone to work, even mothers, there were more and more mothers who actually had jobs outside the home, women had greater education. And these experiences contributed to a renewed interest in women's rights. So by the end of the 1960s, you have a burgeoning movement of women ranging from, you know, liberal radical to moderate. It was a very diverse group of women who believed that laws and policies needed to be changed so that they had the same opportunities that men did. So they were no longer discriminated against in jobs in professions in religion in all kinds of areas of public life.

Sarah Paxton

Like the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the National Women's Party, the feminist movement was fractured into multiple organizations with different ideologies.

Betty Friedan’s NOW represented the early, moderate feminists but the younger women of the late 1960s, like those in SNCC, veered in more radical directions. It was from this era that organizations like the New York Radical Women developed, championing the earliest versions of women's liberation, which called for not only the legal equality of women, but women's freedom from the patriarchal expectations of feminine womanhood. The New York Radical Women famously protested the 1968 Miss America Pageant. Later groups were even more radical, such as the Redstockings, founded in 1969, who objected to what they saw as moderate feminists like now turning a blind eye to men's social power. It was organizations like these that inspired Gloria Steinem who became the face of the feminist movement by the end of the 1960s.

Like Friedan Steinem was a Smith College educated journalist, but she lived a very different life. While Friedan was married, had children, and experienced “ the problem that has no name” in the wake of World War Two, Steinem was younger and single. While Steinem published articles in the early 1960s that touched on issues of women's rights like sexual harassment and divorce settlements. She wasn't a part of organized feminist activism until the end of the 1960s, nearly a decade after Friedan began her work.

Friedan and Steinem clashed immediately, with their personal and ideological conflicts often being conducted through the media, for Friedan maintained a column in McCall's magazine and Steinem would regularly give interviews as she developed an increasingly high profile and glamorous image. Friedan took issue with Steinem's quick ascent to leadership and her evolution into a celebrity figure, especially since she viewed Steinem as arriving late to the movement.

While Steinem maintained that much of their conflict was due to personality differences, Friedan herself acknowledged she was abrasive, there were also major strategic and ideological differences between the two feminist leaders. Freidan may have been brusque, but she didn't want to be too polarizing. Not wanting to discourage men from assisting in the feminist movement, nor wanting to alienate conservative women. Meanwhile, Steinem called for supporting female candidates over male candidates in all political races—Regardless of whether the male candidate was friendly to the feminist cause, a strategy Friedan condemned as female chauvinism. They also clashed over the inclusion of lesbians and lesbian rights in the movement platform, with Steinem supporting their inclusion and Friedan concerned that would potentially derail the feminist movement.

These ideological splits are not surprising.

Unlike the first women's movement, which had a targeted goal of suffrage, it is difficult to pin down the feminist movements specific list of goals. They tackled sex discrimination, violence against women divorce, childcare, and many other facets of the American woman's experience. These myriad issues and ideologies were further exacerbated by the domination of white feminism during the feminist movement—meaning they defined women's issues and oppression by white women's experience and overlooked the oppression experienced by Women of Color. Women of Color struggled to find their place in the feminist movement, and some of them chose to remain under the umbrella of civil rights organizations, like SNCC.

After the Sex and Caste memo, white women split from SNCC; but. Women of Color created their own subcommittee called the Black Women's Liberation Committee, which would eventually become the intersectional Third World women Alliance. Many other Women of Color—including civil rights icons like Florynce Kennedy, Shirley Chisholm, and Pauli Murray—joined organizations like NOW or worked directly with white feminist towards shared goals while simultaneously pushing for a more expansive view of women's rights—one that took into account the nuances in priorities between white feminists and Black feminists.

One such issue was reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights, especially those pertaining to abortion and birth control have been subjects of increasing political debate through the 20th century. Abortion and birth control were criminalized on a state by state basis during the 19th century. But this usually allowed for abortions to be performed if the woman's life was at risk. At a time when childbirth was extremely dangerous for women, middle class and elite women could seek out a sympathetic doctor and obtain a legal abortion. Working Class women and Women of Color often couldn't afford medical care, let alone a sympathetic doctor. This left them to endure an unwanted pregnancy or risk a “back alley” abortion, which was often just as deadly as it was illegal. During the mid-20th century, abortion and birth control rights became a controversial debate point between religious organizations who published articles and pamphlets on the sanctity of human life and feminist activists who saw reproductive freedom as essential to the liberation of women from male domination.

For both white women and Women of Color, reproductive freedom was important. Gloria Steinem herself had an abortion when she was 22, an experience she, and 52 other women, openly declared in Steinem's feminist magazine Ms. In 1972. Francis Beale, the head of SNCCs Black Women's Liberation Committee supported abortion rights by saying it was the right and responsibility of Black women to determine when, or if, having children would benefit the Civil Rights Movement. Further, according to Dr. Fernandez, for Women of Color, reproductive rights meant full control of their own body, a right that had been denied to them for centuries,

Lilia Fernandez

Women were involved in campaigns for women's rights, advocating for reproductive justice, fighting for equal pay, fighting for an end to employment discrimination. There were a lot of Chicanas and Latina women active in these kinds of issues on these kinds of struggles.

One of the probably big differences between Chicana and Latina women's participation and that of white women's participation in reproductive issues, for example, would have been that Chicana/Latina women, probably alongside Native American and African American women, to a certain extent also would have been fighting campaigns also at this time against forced sterilization practices which were happening in some public hospitals, and not only here and in the United States, but in Puerto Rico as well, that had been a long standing practice, I think dating back to the 1940s and 50s. So when it came to reproductive rights and reproductive justice, their activism was not only animated by access to abortion, but also by access to birth control and having the freedom to choose when to have children and having them in a safe environment and being able to make the choice of when women might want to restrict to their own fertility or, you know, have some kind of control over it.

Sarah Paxton

Since women's role in American society was his wives and mothers—going all the way back to the patriotic republican mother we talked about in Episode One—the road to reproductive freedom, especially abortion access was anything but smooth. Unlike with the 19th Amendment, lobbying states and legislatures was proving ineffective. In the late 1960s, several states moved to loosen the criminal restrictions on abortion access, but these reforms faded, and the topic was controversial and politically toxic, with feminists failing to make abortion access a plank in the 1972 Democratic Party Platform. Feminists themselves were also targets of sexual harassment and negative propaganda, with Gloria Steinem being diminished to just “a slut from East Toledo” by one male critic and activists being labeled “bitches” and “bra burners,” derogatory titles that stuck to feminists for decades.

The political failure of legislative efforts turned reproductive rights activists to a more promising venue: the courts. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut, which barred government interference in the use of birth control between married peoples, open the door to using the legally ill-defined right of privacy to support ending the criminal ban on abortion. By 1970, abortion rights cases begin to pop up all over the country but it was in Texas where the key challenge would be heard. 21-year-old Jane Roe—who would later reveal herself as Norma McCorvey—challenged the Texas ban on abortion as unconstitutional, using the same amendment invoked by Griswold.

Roe won.

Texas appealed.

And on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Roe v. Wade, declaring strict abortion bans unconstitutional.

This was a massive win for the feminist movement and one that Women of Color played a huge role in. After Roe, Women of Color continue their work for reproductive freedom, but many moved away from working with NOW. NOW verbally supported measures that challenged the socio-economic oppression that made many poor women and Women of Color unable to care for a child, such as the National Welfare Rights Organizations demand for a guaranteed annual income. However, they did not offer the financial or logistical support that would have demonstrated a true alliance or a commitment to causes that were central to Black feminism and Women of Color’s reproductive freedom. Women of Color’s disappointment with the myopic view of white feminism and feminist organizations extended to other areas of activism, including the resurgence of Alice Paul's Equal Rights Amendment.

Think back to our last episode. Remember that Paul, fresh off the ratification of the 19th Amendment, began campaigning for what became known as the Equal Rights Amendment. But it had languished for decades, reintroduced every session of Congress but never making any significant process towards being passed by both the House and Senate. In 1950, the ERA passed the Senate, but only with an amendment that stated “the provision of this article shall not be construed to impair any rights, benefits or exemptions conferred by law upon persons of the female sex.” With Arizona Senator Carl Hayden defending his amendment with the biblical differences between men and women, the so-called Hayden Amendment would have effectively nullified the intended impact of the ERA. The addition caught the ERA supporters by surprise, and they were enraged when the amendment passed the Senate with the rider attached. Without the widespread support of groups like Paul's National Women's Party, the ERA was again at a stalemate.

After the 1950 failure, the ERA was continuously introduced, but failed to make any movement. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy formed the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. This committee, staffed almost completely by anti-ERA feminists like Eleanor Roosevelt, recommended against the implementation of the ERA—calling on the courts to address any unconstitutional discrimination. Other compromises were achieved while the ERA hung in limbo in 1963. The Equal Pay Act—which would later become the Fair Labor Standards Act—was passed to confront the gender pay gap and Title VII came closely thereafter. But the EEOC's refusal to crack down on sex discrimination under Title VII suggested that these compromises were merely paying lip service to women's equality. This then spurred the creation of Friedan’s NOW, who made passing the ERA and ensuring women's constitutional equality their first priority.

NOW’s aggressive push for the ERA proved divisive. Many Women of Color saw NOW's focus on the era over a more favorable interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause as ignoring the related struggles of African Americans and, especially, Black women. Some Women of Color, such as civil rights attorney and NOW founding member Pauli Murray split from NOW due to the strategy.

Other women like Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress supported the measure. On July 20, 1970, Michigan representative Martha Griffiths moved to circumvent the committee who had been holding up congressional hearings on the ERA since Hayden's amendment in 1950. Then, on the floor of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Chisholm advocated for passing the ERA, concluding that “The Constitution they wrote was designed to protect the rights of white male citizens. As there are no black Founding Fathers, there were no founding mothers—a great pity on both accounts. It is not too late to complete the work they left undone. Today, here, we should start to do so.”

The House of Representatives approved the ERA the following year, and the Senate approved the year after in 1972. Nearly half a century after Alice Paul drafted the ERA, it was passed and sent to the states for ratification.

22 states quickly ratified the ERA, success seemed all but assured.

But then a new opposition emerged, not one made of political parties or church leaders, but a group of women staunchly opposed to the ERA and the evolving gender dynamics. And they were led by one Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly of Missouri.

We turned to Mrs. Schlafly and the fate of the ERA, next time, on Prologued.