Monday, March 20, 2017

“Building a New Society:” The Beginning of the Women’s Liberation Movement on Campus

Objecting to discriminatory societal trends, the late 1960s saw women across the nation form groups to expand their perspective on gender roles as well as political, economic, and social equality. UNCG female students also began to unite, establishing their own campus Women’s Liberation group, with the goal of identifying and finding solutions to “their common problems as women in this society.”  They saw women’s liberation as a problem “closely related and interlocked with the other problems in the country, the very problem of war itself…that we cannot hope to move toward a better world or even a truly democratic society at home until we begin to solve our own problems.”

"Woman Power" symbol, Carolinian March 6, 1970

On March 3 1970, at a meeting focusing on “Woman Power,” the students challenged the social pressures to “dress the right way (fashionable in clothes) and date the right boys (socially acceptable).” They also questioned the preconceived standards that forced women’s main goal to be “to catch a husband, so you can get married, have babies, cook, clean, and do house work while you stagnate intellectually and your husband wonders why you aren’t interesting to talk to anymore.” No longer were young women satisfied with limited life options. They wanted fair treatment on campus and beyond college graduation.

Feiffer Cartoon, Carolinian March 13, 1971

Several weeks after the “Woman Power” meeting, a two-day Women’s Rights Symposium was held with a full schedule of discussions on women’s liberation, movies relating to women’s rights, and workshops on topics such as male chauvinism. Featured presenters included members of the national Women’s Liberation Movement, such as Florence Kennedy, who was the legal advisor of the chapter from New York. Some speakers advocated taking a hard line, explaining that it was “morally wrong to waste the potential women have in merely being wives and mothers.” Others pointed out prevalent anti-feminist word choices, such as human and mankind. Roxanne Dunbar, a representative of the Southern Female Rights Union, suggested a mass movement against “our personal male oppressors.” Campus organizations, such as the Political Economy Club, also sponsored a speaker during the Symposium, focusing on “The Economic Discrimination Against Women.” Interestingly, many of the speeches and workshops were poorly attended. Out of almost 5,000 women students attending the college during spring 1970, only approximately fifty students attended the event. Male students were not allowed. In some cases, local newspaper coverage was cynical.

From an International Women's Day Flyer, 1971

In these early years of the campus Women’s Liberation Movement, some students felt like change might be coming too fast. An editorial in November 1970 campus newspaper took up for the “silent majority” who believed that a woman’s place [was] still in the home,” and encouraged women to find fulfillment as wives and mothers. Other editorials scoffed at the popular image of liberated women as “bra- burning” militants, and called for a broader view of the Movement.  These conflicting views are illustrated in campus publications such as the October 1971 Carolinian, which ran an ad for engagement rings (with the catchphrase, “When you know it’s for keeps”) next to an advertisement for abortions.

In 1972, students who were continuing to advocate equality for women in all sectors, were sometimes surprised at the apathy of their classmates. A January 1972 column in the Carolinian, written to promote discourse on women’s issues, called for students to join interest groups to continue to define “what women want.” The author was discouraged to find most of the responses from her articles were from men.
Carolinian, January 1972
Yet, even though some students thought the progression of women’s rights was moving too slowly, there were changes happening on campus. In the fall 1973 semester, UNCG instigated a women’s studies curriculum offering four courses -  Women in American History, Women in Literature, Women and Economic Activity and Women in Politics. The classes were open to both women and men.

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