Feminism and Gay Liberation
In the context of this history, the research and the theoretical work inspired by feminism and gay liberation in the 1970s was not as novel as many activists believed. A number of its concerns were already widely debated: the nature of femininity, the power relations between women and men, the socialization of children, the dynamics of desire. The domain of the argument, we may say, had been mapped out. Yet it would be equally wrong to see the new wave of theorists as simply replaying old themes, or as rediscovering an eternal feminism. The history sketched above has seen several transformations within a field of debate, and this is basically what happened around 1970. There was a reconfiguration of a wide intellectual field around the themes of power and inequality. Its impulse was a reconnection between theory, which had become largely academic, and radical politics. The existence and strategic problems of sexual liberation movements defined the central issues for a new generation of theorists. The theory of gender thus became, to a degree it rarely had before, a strategic theory, centering on how, and how far, the social relations of gender could be transformed. Even if most of the issues were long – established, they were now being questioned with an intensity and depth that made the analysis of gender the most disturbing force on the whole cultural scene.
One of the first effects of feminism on academia was simply to increase the volume of sex-role and sex-difference research. In 1969 sex-role studies accounted for 0.5 per cent of articles published in sociology journals; by 1978 they accounted for 10 per cent, around 500 titles a year. Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin’s massive compilation The Psychology of Sex Differences, which cautiously advanced social-moulding ideas, shows the volume of research being done in the United States in the early 1970s. In 1975 a specialized journal appeared, called Sex Roles. The field subdivided into specialities: socialization (Maccoby’s interest); men’s roles as distinct from women’s (Joseph Pleck’s in The Myth of Masculinity); androgyny (popularized by Sandra Bern); and therapies concerned with gender adjustment (‘assertiveness training’ for women, and for men a kind of masculinity therapy promoted by growth-movement psychologists such as Herb Goldberg in The Hazards of Being Male).
With the exception perhaps of the androgyny literature, there was not much intellectual novelty in this literature (for reasons to be explored in chapter 3). There was however a highly significant politics. The sex role approach provided the theoretical ideas that underpinned liberal feminism, the most influential form of feminism in the United States at least. Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique (1963) criticized Parsons and Mead, but her call for women’s emancipation was made from within the same framework. What is needed for reform, in Friedan’s argument, is a change of women’s identity and expectations.
In liberal feminism generally, women’s disadvantages are attributed to stereotyped customary expectations, both held by men and internalized by women. yThese stereotypes are promoted through families, schools, massrnedia and other ‘agencies of socialization’. 1 n principle the inequalities can be eliminated by breaEIng^down the stereotypes: for instance by giving girls better training and more varied role models, by introducing equal- opportunity programs and anti-discrimination legislation, or by freeing labour markets.
A large volume of literature appeared in this vein, much of it academic but a good deal of it focusing on policy. Sex role theory rapidly became the theoretical language of feminist reform within the state, such as the influential 1975 Australian Schools Commission report Girls, School and Society and the 1980 OECD report Women and Employment. It was even discovered that freeing sex-role conventions might be good for men. Such was the claim of the ‘men’s liberation’ movement in the United States in the mid 1970s, through publicists like Jack Nichols, the author of Men’s Liberation.
The more radical wing of the feminist movement soon moved beyond the concept of ‘sex roles’ and the strategy of changing expectations. These ideas were seen to be inadequate because they missed the significance of power in gender relations. Women’s Liberation groups argued that women are^oppressed because men have power over them; and^that changing_the situation of women means contesting, and eventually hbeaLm^thisjower. Analyses that started from these assurnppmis^mtialfymund much less acceptance in academia and very, little—in the bureaucracy. They became common in the social movement and drew from movement experiences of political campaigning and consciousness-raising groups.
In its simplest form the power analysis of gender pictured women and men as social blocs linked by a direct power relation. This implies as a strategy for change a direct mobilization of women emphasizing their common interest against that of men. There have been varying accounts of the relation between the two blocs. Christine Delphy’s The Main Enemy, with French farming households in mind, stressed the economic exploitation of wives by husbands. American theorists tended to bypass economics for politics. Shulamith Firestone in The Dialectic of Sex saw a collective power-play by men with the childraising family as its central institution; sexual reproduction rather than housework was the
key. Mary Daly in Gyn/Ecology pictured a global……… patriarchy
sustained by force, fear and collaboration. Radical-feminist analy-