“After centuries of individual and preliminary political struggles, women are uniting to achieve their final liberation from male supremacy. Women are an oppressed class. Our oppression is total, affecting every facet of our lives. We are exploited as sex objects, breeders, domestic servants, and cheap labor. We are considered inferior beings, whose only purpose is to enhance men’s lives. Our humanity is denied. Our prescribed behavior is enforced by the threat of physical violence.”
These are the opening words of the famous Redstockings Manifesto, delivered by a feminist organization in 1970 when the movement was in its ascendancy, growing as the gay liberation movement did out of the potent civil rights and anti-war movements of that era. It calls on “all our sisters to unite with us in the struggle,” and “on all men to give up their male privilege and support women’s liberation in the interest of our humanity and our own.”
This last weekend’s outpouring, largely focused on the obscene behavior and attitudes of President Trump, that brought hundreds of thousands of women into the streets in cities all across America, is the tip of the iceberg of a political uprising that may have the most profound influence on the nation’s future since the North won the Civil War. This goes beyond the delineable “women’s issues,” those reduced to legislative options, which is why even sympathetic commentators like Dana Milbank, in his otherwise meritorious column in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled, “A Gender Chasm That Could Swallow Trump,” hasn’t quite gotten it.
Yesterday’s sentencing hearing for Lawrence Nassar, the former USA gymnasts physician, sentenced to an extraordinary 175 years in prison for his years of sexual abuses of young gymnasts, was carried live on CNN and the pain exhibited by his victims, echoed the by judge’s harsh sentencing, was like an indictment of Trump. This, and the rising women’s tide since Trump’s election, cuts much deeper into the American psyche, and with much greater long-term implications.
Awakened has been the spirit of what’s been called the second phase of the feminist movement in America. The first phase was the suffrage movement which began, it can be argued, with the American revolution itself, where the spirit of “all men (meaning to many at the time, “people”) are created equal” was aflame, but not realized for almost a century and a half until women got the vote in 1920.
The second phase was the late 1960s explosion of sensibility and consciousness when women broke out of the massive counteroffensive against their gains taking the form of a full-on cultural war, in film, television and literature, much less in legislation and the courts, aimed at putting women back in the kitchen.
That phase extended the comprehensive notions of women’s liberation beyond narrow issue-oriented fights, as 1970 saw the publication of three seminal works – Robin Morgan’s 600-page anthology of the most powerful writings of the movement, “Sisterhood is Powerful” (in which the Redstocking’s Manifesto was published), Kate Millet’s “Sexual Politics” and perhaps the most profound of all, Shulamith Firestone’s “Dialectic of Sex.” The impact of these works and many more rocked the “establishment” of the U.S., and the smartest among them knew its implications for society, overall, were epochal.
Another great counter-offensive was launched aimed at shattering the new feminist movement by unleashing the hounds of a so-called “sexual revolution” aimed at mobilizing the “counterculture” of that era to drown the serious civil rights, anti-war, gay liberation and feminist movements in an orgy of “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Drugs into the inner cities and hedonistic excess spilling into the general population, all promoted by the organized crime and other assets of the “establishment,” elevated prostitution, pornography and the objectification of women (of all persons, in fact) to shatter these movements.
Donald Trump grew up in the 1970s during the height of this counter-offensive in one of its core centers in New York City, mentored by the sleaziest predator of all, the infamous Roy Cohn, ally of Sen. Joe McCarthy, who sexually savaged vulnerable, displaced youths on the streets of Manhattan for decades before dying of AIDS in 1986.
Now begins Phase 3 of the American feminist revolution.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected].