From Consciousness to Action

The motivations behind women’s rights activism on college campuses were numerous. Sexism and the seizure of opportunities by male leadership in New Left movements factored into the rise of feminism in that they contained discrimination within themselves. Another factor was the realization of legitimacy and solidarity. Consciousness raising groups, or “CR” groups allowed women to speak freely with one another. In her book Personal Politics, Sara M. Evans described the concept of social change through “a process of talking together, discovering common problems, and thereby understanding the need for collective action” (Evans 134). Young women could meet together to discuss issues within their personal lives where they faced discrimination based on their gender. These groups allowed for women to not only have a safe space to open up, but to also understand that each woman was not alone in her silence and mistreatment.

The CR groups gave rise to a number to issues feminists tackled. The students’ experiences on their college campuses molded their priorities as they focused on issues such as women’s reproductive rights, sexualized violence, and educational opportunities. Heather Booth, social activist and founder of Jane, described in her memoir how her college experiences helped her confront sexism. She recalled how women received different treatment in their dorms and curfews than their male counterparts. If she returned after eleven p.m., she “was searched for contraceptives” that led to humiliation and outrage (Booth 27). Later, she recounted when her friend “was raped at knife point, at home, in her bed” (27). Rather than achieve justice for the violence, her friend received a lecture on promiscuity. Because of these experiences, Booth worked to change rules within the administration that were discriminatory based on sex. Booth, among many others on other campuses, strove to take both reactive and preventive actions to ensure the safety and opportunities for women.

Heather Booth with Fannie Lou Hamer during Freedom Summer, 1964. (JWA.org)
Heather Booth with Fannie Lou Hamer during Freedom Summer, 1964. (JWA.org)

These experiences were just the beginning. The consciousness raising groups gave a voice to the women who faced sexism to the point of bodily and mental harm. The young women who understood their capacity for learning and leadership in their classrooms, in other movements, and in these groups motivated each other to demand change on their campuses.

See “Works Cited” in drop down menu for full citations.
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