LIBERATION AND ITS IMPACT ON THE CAMPUS
article was first given as a paper at the 1970 annual meeting of the American
Political Science Association and the March 1971 meeting of the Midcontinent
American Studies Association. It was published in Liberal Education,
Vol. 57, No. 4, December 1971, pp. 468-478.
women's liberation movement did not begin on campus, but many of its roots
lie deep within the academic setting, student movements, and movements
in which students have participated in the last ten years. Likewise, academia
is among the first of our social institutions to feel its presence. The
university has begun to be and will continue to be a testing ground for
its ideas, an arena for some of its battles, a contributor to the conditions
which make it necessary, and eventually a channel for furthering its goals.
It will be these things, and more, regardless of the desires or intentions,
good or bad, of the diverse members of the university community.
understand the different ways the movement has and will affect academia,
one must realize that the movement actually has two origins; in many ways
there have been two separate movements that are only now beginning to merge.
Many of the founders of the older movement come from the network of people
built up by the President's Commission on the Status of Women appointed
by President Kennedy in 1961 and the subsequent fifty State Commissions.
Dissatisfied with the lack of progress being made on the recommendations
coming out of those commissions, they met with Betty Friedan and others
to form the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. Since its formation
Title VII has been joined by other specific women's rights organizations
such as WEAL (Women's Equity Action League), FEW (Federally Employed Women),
PWC (Professional Women's Caucus) and several smaller organizations. Their
programs span a wide spectrum of issues, but their activities tend to be
concentrated on the legal and economic difficulties women face. These groups
are primarily made up of women who work and primarily concerned with the
problems of working women.
In 1967 and 1968, unaware of and unknown to NOW or the state commissions, another women's movement began to take shape. Like the members of the older movements, its members are primarily white, middle-class and college educated, but more homogeneously so. They are less career-oriented, though most work, and their concerns are much more diffuse than the problems of employment. In the beginning few of these women were students, but virtually all were "under-30" and had reached their political coming of age as participants, or strongly interested observers, of the social movements of the last decade. They are, to be trite, on the other side of the generation gap.
At least five groups in five different cities (Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle and Gainesville, Fla.) formed spontaneously, independently of each other. This number soon expanded; after the first and so far only national convention, in November 1968, they did so exponentially. Many women in the groups came from New Left and civil rights organizations, where they had been shunted into traditional roles and faced with the self- evident contradiction of working in a "freedom movement" but not being very free. Others had attended various courses on women in the multitude of free universities springing up around the country during those years. In these experimental classes they not only learned the situation of a half of the population about which their regular courses told them little or nothing, but began to see that very absence as a graphic example of the institutional irrelevance of women in our society.
Higher education in its own right has been a much more direct cause of the movement than just a spawning ground for free universities. Although the percentage of women going to college has risen only slightly in the last twenty years and not yet reached its peak of thirty years ago, the absolute number of women students, as of men, has gone up astronomically in this period. Today more than half of all college age youth are in college. There is often a strong correlation between revolt and education. In the case of women, it is proving impossible to keep them "barefoot and pregnant" when they have B.A.s and Ph.D.s. Like their male counterparts, women want to use what they have learned, and very little of their higher education has to do with housekeeping and child care.
is it a prerequisite for the jobs that are available to them. During the
same years that the number of college- educated women has been increasing,
their participation in the professional and technical occupations which
require that training has been going down. This has been largely due to
the segregated nature of the job market and the fact that it has been the
traditional women's occupations -- not men's -- which have been integrated
by members of the opposite sex (e.g. teaching and social work) or have declined
in availability (e.g. home economics). The fields for which women are recruited
that have expanded are in the clerical and service spheres, and these are
not occupations which tend to pay well for, or even want, people with degrees.
The result is that twenty per cent of all college-educated working women are secretaries, and the median income of full-time working women with degrees is lower than that of men with only eighth-grade education. To put it bluntly, college has made women overqualified for the jobs offered them; and, contrary to popular mythology, the occupational structure has become more closed to them in the last seventy years. These are some of the reasons why women feel themselves deceived when they compare their postgraduate opportunities with those of their male classmates.
The campus is also providing a testing area for new interpersonal relationships which are causing women to question their roles within the traditional family structure. Women no longer go from the house of their father to that of their husband. They go to college first. There the experience of college roommates, particularly outside the dormitories, provides a model of living with someone else in an egalitarian relationship which is transferred by both men and women into marriage. The growing practice of living with someone of the opposite sex as a test of compatibility before marriage is still another transitional stage. This new "gradualism" of family formation, which incorporates at least some egalitarian experiences, is providing the time necessary to work out new living arrangements which was not possible under the rigid, traditional system.
In these and other ways, higher education has been a significant contributor to the formation of the women's liberation movement. But there were few students among its first adherents. College is still the most egalitarian environment most women will ever experience. It was those who were out of school, living the lives of erudite housekeepers, militant mimeographers and glorified clerks who felt the full impact of society's attitude toward women. Lacking the European bluestocking tradition, which accords a special status to educated women, our social system has made no attempt to create loopholes through which to co-opt them. Instead it left them to stagnate -- or ferment into revolt.
In the last year and a half the movement has been spreading back on to the campus with ever increasing intensity. Graduate students and faculty have always been concerned with their professional problems but have not always been willing to admit how much their sex affected their status. Now they no longer believe that the so-called top schools can give women 20 to 25 per cent of their Ph.D.s but only find enough "qualified" ones to make up 5 per cent of their faculty. They are no longer so sure that the slow rise in the percentage of women with graduate and professional degrees in the last twenty years is just due to low interest and ability rather than informal quotas set by anonymous committees. And they have began to question whether the "study of man" is the study of people or the study of males.
One result of this new awareness has been the formation of women's caucuses ill the professional organizations. At last count there were nine, and one had split away to form a separate organization (The Association of Women Psychologists). Needless to say, a major demand of these caucuses is equal job opportunity and equal pay for women academics. This means that the traditional grapevine method of recruitment and promotion has got to go through a complete metamorphosis. Women are not only generally excluded from the informal communication networks of the disciplines but are rarely perceived by the male participants as being legitimate bearers of their particular intellectual tradition. The result is that those faculty in charge of academic placement almost unconsciously segregate their job-hunting students automatically along lines of sex as well as interest and ability when determining to which schools they should recommend them. In general, men are sent to those universities believed to best further their careers, and women to those with the heaviest teaching responsibilities.
attack on this traditional practice is currently being made through some
very traditional channels. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which
prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, specifically
excludes the instructional personnel of educational institutions. But Executive
Order 11246 as amended by 11375 does not. It requires not only cessation
of discrimination but affirmative action on the part of all holders of government
contracts. A lot of colleges and universities hold such contracts and a
single contract held by any division of a school is enough to bring the
whole institution within the scope of the Order. The Women's Equity Action
League has already filed complaints with the Office of Federal Contract
Compliance against 200 schools, and both it and NOW are planning further
Both the professional caucuses and the ubiquitous campus women's liberation groups are making several other demands in addition to those of equal opportunity. They include: (1) child care centers as a sine qua non, (2) increased admissions and hiring of women, (3) better pay, working conditions and promotions for female staff, (4) no discrimination against married or pregnant students or employees, (5) abolition of nepotism rules, (6) curricular changes.
These and the groups' other concerns are rather diverse in scope, but they all have a common core. They all attack the ideological failure of our society to take women, as a group, seriously; the failure to see them as half of our culture, half of our history, half of our human resources and half of our people; the failure to see them as significant contributors, not the butt of backhanded jokes; and with this the failure to provide for the needs of women equally with those of men.
They are further attacking the way our society automatically assumes that all people have, or ought to have, particular abilities or interests determined by their sex and treats them accordingly. At the core of these attitudes is unconscious acceptance of a society in which the basic values are male, whose basic structures are set up to benefit men and in which women don't really count. A good example of this is the accommodative attitude of the university toward men with draft problems and its lack of one toward pregnant women or mothers. Another is the energetic attempt by placement officers to provide jobs for student wives -- a need most commonly felt by men students -- while the university provides almost no day care facilities -- a need most often felt by women.
Nonetheless, the university community is no worse than the rest of society in its failure to take women, as a group, seriously. Neither is it any better. In the classroom, the textbook and the office, it perpetrates the image of women as decorative appendages in a male world as surely as the grossest of advertising billboards and TV soap operas. Toward those women who deviate from this stereotype it takes the attitude of Samuel Johnson when he commented that "A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." Such women soon learn that to succeed they must work harder and be better than their male colleagues in order to receive less pay, very little prestige and no thanks. Then they are put into the double bind of being told that "if you succeed, it's because you're aggressive, competitive, unfeminine and unnatural; if you don't succeed, you're obviously not good enough."
Changing these attitudes is one of the major tasks of the women's caucuses; but their extreme intangibility make it a very difficult one. Men, and women, need to restructure their entire way of thinking about women, and there is no easy way to do this. Commented an editor of College end University Business, a magazine not noted for its feminist perspective, "Men are so accustomed to dealing with females on the basis of sex that real sensitivity will be difficult to achieve. No man ever asks another man how he combines marriage and career (though many men make a botch of the combination); men are rarely told to remember their biological function; few are complimented on maintaining their masculinity in a difficult job or told, 'You're far too handsome to worry about political problems.' As a result, even with women who are willing to speak honestly, men too often ask the wrong questions."
These attitudes are amply represented in the university structure. Any fool can see that the professors, administrators and maintenance workers are male, while the administrative assistants, secretaries and domestics are female, As social scientists we cannot forget that all students observe this fact and learn the lesson it teaches, regardless of how much we may preach about equal opportunity. Thus, equality for women academics is meaningless until there is equality for women as a group. Female Ph.D.s will never be the equal of male Ph.D.s. in a university of male administrators and female secretaries.
The same attitudes are reflected in the curriculum, and it is here that the frequently different concerns of undergraduate, graduate and faculty women come together in unison. To take only the social sciences, we find a time-honored tradition of either ignoring women or putting them down. At least since Aristotle defined women as defective men, what study there has been of women has been predominantly interpreted to justify their inferior position. Even this discussion showed a decline for many years. If one were to go through a large library's card catalogue on the subject "woman," or go through the indexes of the major journals, and tabulate the number of publications by years, there would be seen a striking decrease in their number after the mid-twenties --following the end of the suffrage movement -- with an upward curve again only in the sixties. Thus our professors, and many of ourselves, come out of a scholarly tradition in which the existence of women has been barely acknowledged.
are too many examples of this "nonexistence" to list them all
here. One has only to look at the index of a typical sociology textbook
to see that there is little if anything listed under the category "woman."
This would not matter if material on women were fully integrated into the
book, but one soon realizes that when the author talks about "man,"
he means male. Major research has been done -- such as that on achievement
motivation --from which women were systematically excluded because their
inclusion "messed up the model," and there was no curiosity as
to why this was so. Major books have been written, on such relevant topics
as the occupational structure, in which whole sections are devoted to "minority
groups" but only a footnote to women (one third of the labor force).
At best one can find a reference to 51 per cent of the population under
the categories of "marriage" or "the family." This tells
us no more than what society considers women's rightful place.
This lack of adequate knowledge about women is tragic, particularly in light of the voluminous research done during the last women's movement and the excellent tradition begun by some of the pioneer female academics at the turn of the century. The fact that this fruitful beginning was ignored and forgotten as soon as the agitators laid down their picket signs does not speak highly for the intellectual community. But the problem now is not to lament but to rectify this disparity -- hopefully in a manner that will be more enduring. Specifically, how do we get opportunities to do and publish good research on women? And how do we integrate the subsequent material into what we already know about society from a male perspective -- changing that knowledge as we inevitably will?
One proposal, broached only in the last couple of years, yet already being institutionalized in a surprising show of speed for the academic community, is that of women's studies programs. This idea, though a new one, is taken directly from that of black studies programs that have been so widely discussed in the last few years. Both have ample precedent in the many area studies and cultural studies programs long available at some of our most noted educational institutions. They have an even greater tradition in the "special interest" departments which have frequently made their appearance in university catalogues, only to fade and be forgotten years later when their need was less urgent or less urged. Despite this history, both black studies and women's studies programs have been treated with controversy and skepticism as illegitimate ways of structuring knowledge; which leads one to the feeling that perhaps it is the illegitimacy of the groups proposing them -- rather than the programs -- which generates the hostility.
idea of women's studies is a very attractive one to the movement for several
reasons. First of all, departments are dominated by men and male interests
and have not shown themselves overly eager to institute courses on women.
Men have shown themselves no more eager to do the necessary research to
integrate such material into their regular courses or even to admit that
it needs to be done. They do not accept this as a worthwhile thing to do,
and yet do not provide the facilities through which its worth can be demonstrated.
A program of courses devoted entirely to this topic would provide these
facilities, even if in a segregated manner.
Such courses would also provide new perspectives on society and open up whole new realms of experiences for social science to examine. Most people do not realize quite how limited what we know is. Lacking contrasting interpretations of reality, we think we are seeing all of reality. As Simone de Beauvoir long ago pointed out, "Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth." While I would deny that there is an essential female viewpoint, or essential female nature, the fact remains that women, as a group, have a different relationship to society than men, as a group, and thus have a different set of experiences and a different perspective. As with the black experience, the accurate examination and articulation of this perspective usually requires that one be a member of the group that possesses it. For most men, trying to understand women's experience is like the deaf learning to speak. It's not impossible; but it does require a considerable effort and some dedicated teachers.
Another effect of women's studies would be the addition of a new style of research; or perhaps I should say the legitimation of an old one which is rarely confessed. The women's liberation movement has always stressed the importance of personal experience as a vehicle for understanding society. While most good researchers do get many of their inspirations and insights from their own experiences, few are willing to admit it. To do so would violate the accepted image of the objective, impersonal scholar. I would think that legitimation of personal feelings as a form of inquiry, as long as the limitations and biases were made clear, would add considerably to the intellectual tools now at hand.
Special programs in women's studies, as distinct from courses in the standard departments, would have the added advantage of being an institutional base for getting research grants and starting publications for the results of such research. Most current institutions and most holders of research grants fiercely guard their prerogatives. They will not lightly give up their resources to that new interloper, women's studies, without a struggle. Independent programs which are not beholden to male departments will have a better chance of thriving. Similarly, most professional journals are rather specialized and will accept little more than token material on women. Since women are already regarded as a category unto themselves, despite their diversity, one might as well capitalize on this by creating feminist journals until such time as the study of women is fully integrated with the study of men.
Specialized programs, institutes and publications would also create the opportunity to do specialized research of particular interest to women -- in or out of academia. Women have concerns that go far beyond those of marriage, family and child-rearing, yet are largely ignored. Their economic, political and social needs which might differ from those of the bulk of men are rarely acknowledged to exist. Researchers research what interests them -- or what they are paid to research -- and men have not indicated much interest in researching women.
Having sketched this rosy picture of the value of women's studies, I must add a note of warning. The future is not as bright as feminists would like to believe. Women's studies are not the answer to the gap in our knowledge that we would like them to be. They are not the answer for one simple reason. They have been tried before, and the last time they failed.
Once before there was a women's movement, even more vigorous than ours is as yet. Once before there was a cry for research on women, by women, for women, to meet the needs of women. Once before there were women scholars demanding a place to demonstrate their value and their insights. Once before there were departments of women's studies created to meet these demands. They were created during the early part of this century and were called, for the most part, Departments of Home Economics.