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To Fight or Not to Fight Against the Social Norms by Marguerite Digiorgio

Social norms of history have placed women within the box of a wife and home giver. In the historical mindset that is her place. These norms are an interesting issue for those women who desire to make some form of social change. Even if their interests are not simply the expansion of these norms they still face the repercussions of them. Strong People and Strong Leaders and Rethinking Betty Friedan tackle the role that some women choose to portray, while others are forced into. Strong People and Strong Leaders comments on the inability of African Americans to be taken seriously in the civil rights movement. Rethinking Betty Friedan makes a similar statement. This article breaks down that while Betty Friedan had a strong background in civic leadership she portrays herself as a housewife to appeal to a greater audience. She felt that being a housewife would make her more accessible to the women audience she desired.

Related imageThe description, “Men lead, and women organized” would sum up the leadership hierarchy of the civil rights movement. Women found themselves corned with the fact that the SCLC was strongly minister driven. They claimed that the autocratic leadership style did not empower people but actually limited their ability to act. The strict hierarchical system limited the power of the ordinary man. Women were unable to speak during event marches and were generally snubbed from direct leadership positions. Many leaders of the civil rights movement felt that if women were given such positions then the organization would not be viewed with the gravity they desired. This puts black women in a difficult position. They are not allowed to participate in women’s rights organizations like the National Women’s party or their events because of their race. While civil rights organizations like the SCLC wouldn’t allow women to take direct leadership positions because of their gender. Black women are but at this particularly disadvantageous position within society.

While some woman struggled against the norms forced upon them, women like Betty Friedan used society’s view to reach their audience. Betty Friedan was labor activist who organized the building and grounds team into

a union. She worked for the Federated Press a left-wing news periodical that wrote mostly to labor unions. But in her own narrative, she claims that it was pressure by her first serious boyfriend to turn down a substantial fellowship at Berkeley. She also claims that she ended up as an old maid teacher. These stories she portrayed are at least partially fictitious. We know today that Friedan was much more than what she portrays herself to be. She plays up the domestic nature of her life while living out the political passion for labor writing. She used the ideas of what society viewed she should be, as a way to appeal to a larger audience. Readers like people who they feel can relate to them. Betty Friedan used this to her advantage and created a life narrative accordingly.

 

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Friedan, Radical Roots, and Homophobia by Eleanor Kerr

In, “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America”, Daniel Horowitz looks at how Betty Friedan’s portrayal of herself as someone who was trapped by the feminine mystique was part of a reinvention that she constructed and promoted as part of her book The Feminine Mystique (1963). In reality, this portrait hid her active participation in union activity in the 1940s and early 1950s; thus whilst Friedan gave the impression of herself in the late 1940s as a woman who embraced domesticity, motherhood, and housework, and only became interested in feminism when she discovered what she called “The Problem That Has No Name,” conversely the written record of Friedan’s life presents a different story.

                                                                   

At college, Horowitz argues that Friedan first developed as a radical, becoming editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper in 1941, a paper which supported American workers and their labor unions in their struggles to organize and improve their conditions. Following college with a career as a labour journalist, Friedan was exposed to a variety of issues, such as sexual discrimination, which subsequently shaped her emergence as a feminist. As a labor journalist she supported working-class women, even African Americans, and whilst we can’t assume that these issues which she wrote about were necessarily most important to Friedan, it is nevertheless a good indicator or suggestion as to what she generally believed in. Furthermore, when she then moved onto free-lance writing, her articles contradicted her claim that she had contributed to what she later attacked in The Feminine Mystique.

Compared to her more radical ideas and activities in the years before she wrote The Feminine Mystique, it is therefore surprising that she would later come to exclude more radical agendas from entering the women’s movement. Horowitz briefly illuminates this idea, stating that “Friedan’s experiences in the 1940s and early 1950s help explain but do not excuse her attack in 1973 on “disrupters of the women’s movement”” [1] The tensions which Horowitz describes is the conflict between straight feminists such as Friedan and the “man-hating” lesbians, who Friedan believed would hinder their cause. It is well recorded that Friedan severed ties with known lesbians and even spoke out about them in the New York Times, however her homophobia culminated when Friedan referred to the lesbian contingent as a “lavender menace” during a 1969 NOW meeting.

As someone who has an interest in gay and lesbian histories, the image of Friedan as a woman who rejected or excluded minorities is the one I have come into most contact with, hence my surprise at this article, which suggests that Friedan, and by extension liberal feminism, actually had quite radical origins. I am therefore questioning what other historical figures do we think of in a way which hides the true realities of their story. I don’t doubt that there are probably tons, a fact which is equally fascinating as it is frustrating.

[1] Daniel Horowitz. “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America.” American Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 1, 1996. pp. 1-42. P.27

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Internment in America by Frank Sandefur

Life is hard enough during a child’s high school years under normal circumstances. For Mrs. Uno, her high school years were anything but normal. In February of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9006, which sent Japanese people on the west coast into internment camps in remote areas of the country. [i] Mrs. Uno was just 13 when this order was put into place. Since she was living in California at the time, she and her family were forced to leave their home and go to an internment camp. This was obviously life-changing for Mrs, Uno.

Mrs. Uno had lived 12 years of her life before internment. This raises the questions about how her life was before the internment camps. When thinking of Japanese families living on the west coast in the early 20th century, one probably thinks that they all lived within one community. Mrs. Uno did not live in one of these communities. She actually mentions how she was neighbors with a lovely African American couple and a Jewish couple[ii]. She was very friendly with her neighbors and on several occasions, the Jewish woman would take her into town. The older women made sure to get Mrs. Uno home before curfew. A curfew that was issued for Japanese people on the west coast before the order to intern them were made. [iii]

Once that ordered was made, then off to the camp her and her family went. Mrs. Uno tells the story of her life in the camp a little bit more pleasant than expected. She mentions how some women had an “easier” life in the camps. By easier, she means less work exhaustive than being back home. Back home, women would have to work hard and long days farming. At the camps, they were able to take classes like sewing and painting. Mrs. Uno also mentions that this was her first real experience with Japanese culture. [iv]Since she did not really live in a Japanese community her exposure to her culture was limited. She did go to Japanese school once a week, but this was nothing compared to the exposure when she was in the camp. One thing that really changed Mrs. Uno life that she mentioned was when she went to a sunrise service. While at this service, she felt called by God. Another event that had a major impact on her while in the camp was her father getting sick and dying. Mrs. Uno would go visit her father very often and seeing the nurses care for me made her went to become a nurse.[v]

After she got out of the camp, Mrs. Uno moved to Des Moines, Iowa to finish out high school at Roosevelt High. After high school, she went on to a three-year diploma program and became a nurse. Even until this day almost 80 years later, Mrs. Uno is still very active in her church and started a volunteer program that has reached the federal level.[vi] These two things that happened in camp shaped the rest of Mrs. Uno’s life. In a way, even though getting interned was a terrible thing and should not have happened, getting interned may have set Mrs. Uno up for the life that she lives and loves until this day. How did Mrs. Uno stay so positive to change her life?

From a young child, Mrs. Uno was very optimistic about life. She mentioned how her brother was embarrassed because her family did not a lot of money and fancy things. She responded by saying she had clothes on her back and a roof over her head. She did the best with what she had and did not complain. This pride she said is why the internment camps are not as talked about as much as they should be. Mrs. Uno feels that Japanese people are so prideful and did not want to talk about their painful past. Luckily, the younger generations have made an effort for this period of time not to be forgotten. She mentioned how February is remembrance month and how she went to a big event in Sacramento for it.

Mrs. Uno was a teenager when she went to the internment camps. She did not let this experience affect her in a negative way. She actually had this experience shaped her life in a positive way. This experience could have easily broken someone and made them resent life and everyone. Fortunately, Mrs. Uno did not let this break her down.

[i] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women During World War II.” Women and War, 2016, 530-36. doi:10.1515/9783110971125.444.

[ii] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018.

[iii] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018

[iv] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018

[v] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018

[vi] Mrs. Uno, March 26,2018

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Advertising as sources on Women by Emily Kiehn

In one of this week’s reading, “Making Faces: The Cosmetics Industry and the Cultural Construction of Gender,” author Kathy Peiss discusses the dynamics of the makeup industry in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Peiss chose to use sources like makeup and commercial advertisements to support her argument. This was an important part of her paper because like in figure 20.2, the advertisement shows African American women powdering their faces which supports her claim that the makeup industry has a decent amount of bias (Peiss, 349).  She reinforces this assertion throughout the writing by discussing the market and commercialization of the cosmetics company. This idea of a biased market really intrigued me because it is essentially the same thing a century later. The cosmetics industry is for the most part still really unequal between the representation of white women and anyone else of a different complexion.  Peiss says that black women had even more monetary constraints than any other poor white woman, yet the market for makeup for colored women still emerged (351). This launched a niche for black women to work in the black cosmetics industry. Though this was important and a huge stride for black women to enter into the marketplace, there was still a disparity between white and black consumers with representation.  Peiss claims that most advertisements targeting black women were to make kinky hair straighter or smoother and to lighten dark complexions (353).

While most advertisements and marketing for white women appealed to the desire to look like celebrities, marketing towards black women appealed to the societal push to look like white women.  This type of marketing of cosmetics can be seen even today as well with celebrity endorsements and cosmetic brands. Influencers like Kylie Jenner and Rihanna have made cosmetic lines and push for the desire to be like and look like them.  Even though some brands have a various shade range for different complexions, they still require a certain economic status in order to purchase them. Much like in the early 20th century, this excludes black women and women of color because they had very limited excess money to spend on cosmetics.  Many of the points that Peiss makes in her piece about race, class, and gender within the cosmetics industry still holds true today. For example, the disparity between white women and black women’s access to purchasing makeup is still accurate. Statistically white women have more money and, in turn, more excess money to spend on cosmetics while black women do not have equal representation in the colors and shade range offered as well as less money on average to spend on makeup.  Additionally, makeup in the 19th and 20th century showed status, which still holds true today with designer and upscale makeup brands which require a decent amount of money and has a fanbase surrounding it. While the makeup industry has made huge strides like integrating more women into the business realm, being more inclusive with shade ranges for more skin tones, and having a variety of prices from drugstore to upscale, there is still a long way for it to go in order for there to be equal access and opportunities.

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Erasure and Historical Narratives by Chuck Sylvester

The phrase “history is written by the victor” is often repeated to reflect the bias nature of history, but this concept is left relatively unexplored when it comes to the ways marginalized voices are regulated to the periphery of society. Those who lack a platform are often overlooked and subsequently forgotten. More perplexing is the notion of someone rewriting their own history to benefit some agenda. These issues plague the stories of the black women leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and Betty Friedan’s role as a leftist feminist leader.

“Strong People and Strong Leaders” calls into question the role women played in the Civil Rights Movement and how their leadership contradicts the traditional narrative surrounding the events. From the beginning, Curtin almost rejects the traditional history of this time period in favor of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach, opting to look beyond the “restricted chronology and geography of the classical civil rights movement” to better understand how women fit into the struggle. [1] Through the article, Curtin examines the ways in which black women contributed to the movement, from their involvement in community organizations to their presence in the protests that defined the struggle in the 60s. Their involvement, however, was mostly pushed down to the local level, a suppression effort by male leaders, even ones as prominent as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. [2] Digging up the past through memoirs and interviews was what it took to dispel the notion of the male-led movement and reconstruct a more complete picture.


[3]

In contrast to the outside suppression in the Civil Rights Movement, Daniel Horowitz posits in “Rethinking Betty Friedan” that this feminist figure’s own personal history has been suppressed in a way in favor of a more acceptable history. Friedan has downplayed the radical leftism she displayed in her years as a college student, opting instead for a picture of domestic life leading her to feminism, even weaving this into her story when she eventually began to talk about her Marxist tendencies in college. [4] What is left out and can be found in the written record, according to Horowitz, is a strong legacy of leftist radicalism involving being editor-in-chief of a college newspaper that took on a strong pro-union, pro-social justice quality, among other activities. [5] Friedan downplays this in her own retellings of her life, a form of historical erasure that is both informative and not.

[6]

Through both articles we see a legacy of rewriting history to fit certain narratives, whether that be personally downplaying the influence of radical socialist and communist ideals for someone’s burgeoning career as a feminist or erasing the role black women played in the overall civil rights movement. “History is written by the victor,” then, both refer to those physically in a position of power and the ideals most prominent in ourselves that tell us how to tell our own story.

[1]  Mary Ellen Curtin, “Strong People and Strong Leaders: African American Women and the Modern Black Freedom Struggle,” in The Practice of U.S. Women’s History: Narratives, Intersections, and Dialogues, eds. S. Jay Kleinberg, Eileen Boris, Vicki L. Ruiz (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 308.

[2]  Curtin, 314 – 315.

[3]  Angela Davis Addressing Rally, Getty Images.

[4]  Daniel Horowitz, “Rethinking Betty Friedan and the Feminine Mystique: Labor Union Radicalism and Feminism in Cold War America,” American Quarterly 48, no. 1 (March 1996): 3 – 8.

[5]  Horowitz, 8 – 10.

[6]  Betty Friedan in March, Getty Images.

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Japanese Internment by Eleanor Kerr

In the article ‘Japanese American Women During World War II’, Valerie Matsumoto makes the statement that “the war altered Japanese American women’s lives in complicated ways”[1]. The rest of the article is a testament to that very fact, as Matsumoto simultaneously evokes the difficult hardships and the surprising advancements in the lives of Japanese women both during and after life in the internment camps.

Having been completely uprooted from their homes and swept into the camps, despite the fact that the vast majority of the Japanese Americans were citizens with the same rights as any other American, life in internment camps was undeniably traumatic. Such notions are reflected in Miné Okubo’s graphic novel Citizen 13660, one of the few visual representations from the period created by an actual evacuee, which depicts the mixture of both anger, sadness and despair at the prospect of entering the camps, as seen in the image below.[2]                                                     

Life in the camps subsequently had a significant impact on family relations and affected all women in the camps. Poor communal facilities coupled with overcrowded barracks meant that, as Matsumoto contends, “the sense of injustice and frustration took their toll on a people uprooted, far from home”[3]. Again, these ideas are similarly evoked in Miné Okubo’s graphic novel, in which she draws out the complete lack of privacy and the cramped living conditions that the Japanese women had to face on a daily basis.                                                      

Despite these awful living conditions, Matsumoto also notes a sense of growing independence for Japanese women in the camps, fostered by the fact that both men and women received the same wages for work. This equity in pay, Matsumoto contends, subsequently gave women the opportunity to explore the variety of jobs available for them in the camps. However, what I found most surprising was that the camps had newspapers, such as The Mercedian, The Daily Tulean Dispatch and the Poston Chronicle, which subsequently gave women the opportunity to create columns specifically for women, particularly aimed at Nisei women. The content of these columns mirrored the mainstream periodicals of the time, varying from how to impress boys, take care of their skin, to what the latest fashions were and subsequently reflected a desire to keep morale high despite the depressing environment. Such notions can also be seen in Citizen 13660, in which the resourceful way people create furniture to gardens from next to nothing is inspiring. Okubo therefore shed’s light on how although the camps were unjust, the Japanese women and men were able to overcome the hardships they endured.                                                          

Ultimately, I think that this period of American history is widely understudied, and being from the UK, I have never even studied Japanese internment until now. Therefore, I think personal accounts, such as Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 and the talk we were supposed to have with Lorna Uno, are vital for constructing an important narrative to a relatively ignored historical past.

 

[1] Valerie Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II” in Women’s America, ed. Linda Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 535.

[2] Miné Okubo, Citizen 13660  (New York: University of Washington Press, 1983)

[3] Valerie Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II” in Women’s America, ed. Linda Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York: Oxford University Press,  2016), 531.

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World War II and Women by Chuck Sylvester

World War II, among many other things, brought untold misery and suffering onto millions of people across the world, including in the relatively untouched United States. Japanese-Americans, no matter their country of birth and with intense prejudice, were rounded up and taken into camps near the beginning of the war for America. The conditions in the camps were brutal. In a piece titled “Japanese American Women During World War II”, author Valerie Matsumoto writes, “The unceasing battle with the elements, the poor food, the shortages of toilet tissue and milk, coupled with wartime profiteering and mismanagement, and the sense of injustice and frustration took their toll on a people uprooted, far from home.” [1] The changes felt in the camps were more complex than a decrease in living conditions, however. They also involved changes in societal roles, as the women and children were expected to work similar, if not the same, jobs as the men and bring home the same amount of money. [2] Forced to shift their understanding of what women could and should do for jobs, the Japanese American women took a more active role in their daily life, albeit a forced one. Once released, however, they did not encounter a shift back to the traditional gender structures, at least not at first.

Internment : News Photo [3]

The shortage of labor seen after millions of young American men shipped out to the European and Pacific Theaters gave women the opportunity to transcend any sexist notions of what jobs and professions they could do. These jobs ranged not only in places like the industrial or business sectors but also in entertainment areas, like big band jazz. Sherrie Tucker explores this last point in her “When Subjects Don’t Come Out.” Although largely a piece regarding the quandaries surrounding the question of sexuality in these outfits, especially in the 40s, the article dives a bit into the fact that this void was being filled by these women, who came up out of the niche and into more mainstream demand. She states, “In the 1940s, however, they helped to fill the wartime demand for dance music and the band shortage caused by the draft vulnerability of male musicians.” [4] Tucker shows how widespread and prolific the issue of “wartime shortage” was, and how much women could fill these gaps.

All-Female Band : News Photo [5]

Women were coming to the forefront in various ways, and Japanese American women were no different. Once released from the camps and relocated from the West Coast, Japanese American found jobs for themselves in industries that were cut off from the previously twofold – for gender and race. “Prior to the war, racism had excluded the Japanese Americans from most white-collar clerical and sales positions…” but by 1950, “47 percent of employed Japanese American women were clerical and sales workers and operatives; only 10 percent were in domestic service,”  domestic service being their premiere pre-war profession. [6]

During the war, women, both of color and not, were able to assert themselves and provide in ways previously barred from them. Entertainment, business, industrial work – it was all needed, and they could do it. Japanese Americans benefited from this labor need, both in overcoming societal prejudices of their sex as well as their race, a factor that subjected them to harsh treatment in camps just months before. Although a largely destructive force for many different reasons, World War II also provided the means for women to make a chip in the wall that is societal gendered segregation.

[1] Valerie Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II.” In Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 531. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2]  Matsumoto, 532.

[3]  Dorothea Lange, “Internment,” Getty Images.

[4]  Sherrie Tucker, “When Subjects Don’t Come Out.” In Queer Episodes: In Music and Modern Identity, 294. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

[5]  Charles Harris, “All-Female Band,” Getty Images.

[6]  Matsumoto, 535.

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Miscegenation Laws: Not Just Black and White by Alecia Caballero

Peggy Pascoe offers a glimpse into the complicated legal world of miscegenation laws of the United States in the 20th century with “Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of Race in Twentieth-Century America.” These laws, created in the early 18th century, were originally written with the intent to prevent marriage between white and black but were ultimately expanded to include Native Americans and Asians. Pascoe highlights four court cases in the fight to remove these outdated laws from state statutes: Kirby v. Kirby, Estate of Monks, Perez v. Lippold, and Loving v. Virginia. With the first two, Kirby v. Kirby and Estate of Monks, the miscegenation laws of Arizona were upheld, whereas Perez v. Lippold and Loving v. Virginia helped rule them unconstitutional. In all cases, the women concerned were identified as or were African American, and their husbands were caucasian or passed as Caucasian. But race in America is not just a case of black and white, as evidenced by the amendments to the original miscegenation laws, and extended as an issue beyond just marriage to citizenship itself.

Miscegenation laws were interpreted to include Chinese, Japanese, and Indian Americans as non-white by the early twentieth century, but the first attempts at restricting marriage, and therefore reproduction, of “undesirable” immigrants from Asia, began in 1875 with the Page Act, which effectively barred single Chinese women from entering the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese and other Asian immigration completely and declared them ineligible for citizenship, leaving Chinese men without potential spouses they were legally allowed to marry. [1] With the passage of the Expatriation Act of 1907, which made a woman’s citizenship dependent upon her husband’s, all women were effectively discouraged from marrying Asian men. Chinese-American women, in particular, those born on American soil, were stuck between a rock and a hard place. They were outlawed from marriage with a white man but would be stripped of their citizenship if they married a Chinese man. One such case if that of Fung Sing, an American-born Chinese woman who married a Chinese man and was refused entry into the nation of her birth upon his death because she had been married to a man racially ineligible for citizenship. [2]

Overall, miscegenation laws served as a deterrent to keep minority groups out of majority white spaces. For the Chinese immigrant community, they also attempted to destroy the community by restricting avenues of legal marriage and therefore reproduction, as well as citizenship and citizenship opportunities. The laws were ultimately overturned, but the early 20th century sought to keep white communities white, black communities black, and Asian communities nonexistent.

[1] Lisa Marie Cacho, “Asian Women, US Immigration, and Citizenship,” http://publici.ucimc.org/asian-women-us-immigration-and-citizenship/

[2] Martha Gardner, “When Americans Are Not Citizens,” in The Qualities of a Citizen: Women, Immigration, and Citizenship, 1870-1965, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 121

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Women and Protection from Slavery by Marguerite Digiorgio

Both “Politics in a Box: Sarah Mapps Douglass and the Female Literary Association” and “Enemies in Our Household” center on the idea that women need some kind of protection because of the institution of slavery. Both sets of North and the South were stepping outside of their comfort zones to take on a role that could possibly put them in harm’s way. Those who choose to take that step and those who struggle against the change is what define the general characteristics of the regional woman.                                                                                                                      

Enemies in our Household Chronicles Southern women’s reaction to being forced into their new roles as plantation managers. The civil war meant the enlistment of all able-bodied men into the army especially as the southern army began to dwindle in numbers. The lack of men meant that the only ones left to run the plantation were the wives and daughters. While southern women were comfortable with and even passionate for the institution of slavery, the domestic sphere that they subscribed to before the war did not include punishment of slaves on a daily basis. Southern women viewed their roles as homemakers and mothers, whose job was to host and nurture. The prospect of keeping a plantation efficient and running was daunting. They feared their enslaved populations. Stories of slaves rising up and killing their masters haunted their days. Southern women begged for men (neighbors, politicians, their family) to step in and take back the control. Southern women, unlike their northern counterparts, were trying to give back the power instead of obtaining more.

Politics in a Box: Sarah Mapps Douglass and the Female Literary Association displays the interworking of an anti-slavery organization that was designed to give women more public voice. Like their southern counterparts Northern women also feared for their safety but their fear stemmed from the violence on from the side of white pro-slavery men. As a group of black women, they felt the direct effect of the fugitive slave acts. Such acts threatened to have them kidnapped and sold down south into slavery with the pretext that they were escaped. The Female Literary Association’s leader Sarah Douglass was forced to take up the cross of slavery as a result of vulnerability of the black community within Philadelphia. She created to organization to speak out against the injustices and raise awareness about the issues. To do this aliases were used for their articles. With such an imposing vulnerability of the African American community such aliases were used to protect the writer from retribution.

Women from both the North and the South feared for safety due to the institution of slavery. While Southern women were forced into their position by circumstance and begged for the reinstitution of their “normal” domestic responsibilities. Northern women, particularly in the Philadelphian African American community, stepped into an active vocal role because of the risks that were thrust upon them by legislation.

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Women and Activism Through Time by Keely Shannon

Women have always been active in organizations and in activism within their communities and this can be seen in two of the readings we explored this week. Devra Anne Weber’s article ‘Mexican Women on Strike in 1933: The Structure of Memory’ discussed the Mexican women’s active involvement in protest is remembered.[1] While Franklin and Collier-Thomas’s piece ‘For the Race in General and Black Women in Particular’ discussed the history of institutions run by black women.[2] These articles highlight the key role women of colour played in activism and community involvement, and reveal that women contributed much to the social movements of the past, particularly those of minorities within America.

However, in recent years, black women have become more visible as leaders of movements. In the Twentieth Century it was black men who gained the most attention as leaders of movements, for example in the black Civil Rights Movement. Black men such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X dominate narratives of the time, while they were very significant figures, women often did not gain positions of such prominence. However, in recent years, black women have gained attention for their work in activism. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, founded the Black Lives Matter movement which has become significant in the fight against racism in America, and is known across the world. This female-led movement is different from the female-led movements of the past, and shows a shift in how activism is performed from the early and mid-Twentieth Century, to the modern day.

Unlike the movements of the past, Black Lives Matter is not an institution as such, it is more like a set of beliefs which can be adopted and promoted in protest action in relation to the rights of African-Americans. Furthermore, it does not have a centralised leadership, and though the women who founded it speak for the movement and give a set of beliefs for it, they do not direct the action that is taken under the banner of ‘Black Lives Matter’.

Perhaps the movement gained attention more for the timing of its creation than for the voices of the creators specifically, since it was created in direct response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin. However, it is not insignificant that women are at the forefront of Black Lives Matter. The core beliefs of the movement are focused on intersectionality and fighting for the rights of all African-Americans no matter their sexuality, gender identity, or any physical disability they may have.[3] This black female activism shows far greater emphasis on an inclusive movement, and while society has changed in the last fifty years which gives a movement like this greater ability to succeed, black women have been able to gain this recognition and lead a movement with a more modern perspective. This demonstrates women can lead change as men of the past have done in gaining rights for the African-American community, and more opportunities are now available for black women in order for them to pursue this activism.

[1] Devra Anne Weber, ‘Mexican Women on Strike: Memory, History and Oral Narratives’, in Between Borders: Essays on Mexicana/Chicana History, ed. by Adelaida R. Del Castillo (Encino, CA: Floricanto Press, 1990), pp. 175-200.

[2] Bettye Collier-Thomas and V. P. Franklin, ‘For Race in General and Black Women in Particular: The Civil Rights Activities of African American Women’s Organizations, 1915-50’, in Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, ed. by Bettye Collier-Thomas and V. P. Franklin (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2001), pp. 21-41.

[3] Black Lives Matter What We Believe [online]. Black Lives Matter [cited 15 March 2018]. Available from <https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/what-we-believe/>

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