Women's liberation and other social movements

While the feminist radicalisation has an independent dynamic of its own, determined by the specific character of women's oppression and the objective changes that have been described, it is not isolated from the more general upsurge of struggles and the emergence of other social movements. It is not directly dependent on other social forces, subordinate to their leadership, or beholden to their initiative. At the same time, the women's liberation movement has been and remains deeply interconnected with the rise of other social struggles, all of which have likewise affected the consciousness of the entire working class. 

From the beginning, the new upsurge of women's struggles was strongly affected by the international youth radicalisation of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the increased challenge to bourgeois values and institutions that accompanied it. Young people-both male and female-began to question religion, to reject patriotism, to challenge authoritarian hierarchies from family, to school, to factory, to army, and to reject the inevitability of a lifetime of alienated labor. 

The sexual revolution

Radicalised youth began to rebel against sexual repression and to challenge the traditional morality equating sex with reproduction. The sexual revolution opened up massive challenges to sexual relations and sexual identity. For women, this involved a challenge to the time-honored education of females to be sexually passive, sentimental, fearful, and timid. Masses of youth, including young women, became more conscious of their sexual misery and tried to search for more fulfilling types of personal relationships. 

Women's awareness of their reproductive functions and their physical and health needs flowed on into struggles for women to control their reproductive choices as well as special women's health and abortion clinics. Women's support and counseling services grew to provide alternative information and services to mainstream medicine where research and general practice reinforced women's traditional role in the family. 

The sexual revolution opened up a climate in which female sexuality and sexuality in general came under intense scrutiny and debate. This led to splits in the women's movement as a growing number of feminists made sexuality the focal issue of their concerns. But the sexual revolution also enabled a massive rethinking and questioning about the extremely restricting gender roles of masculinity and femininity and the human misery suffered by the majority of individuals who are forced to try to fit these idealised norms under class society. 

Lesbian-feminist radicalisation

The lesbian-feminist movement emerged as an inter-related but distinct aspect of the radicalisation of women. Lesbians have organised as a component of the major upsurge of the gay and lesbian rights movement which has arisen as a consequence of the challenges of the sexual revolution. The lesbian movement has generally found it necessary to fight for the specific demands of lesbians to be recognised within that movement. 

Although lesbian sexuality has rarely been legislated against, lesbians face a number of specific denials of their democratic rights. There is no social or legal recognition of the validity of a relationship between two women. There are numerous cases of women being denied access to their partner by the partner's family against the express wishes of the partner following injury or disability; of women being denied access to accommodation and personal belongings such as photos and joint possessions, following the death of one partner. Lesbians who are mothers are often not viewed as ``fit and proper'' guardians of their children by the courts and even their own families. 

But lesbians are not just discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality, they are also oppressed as women. Many radicalised as women first and felt the discrimination they suffered because of their sexual orientation was only one element of the social and economic limitations women face in trying to determine the course of their lives. Thus many lesbians were in the forefront of the feminist movement from the very beginning. They have been part of every political current within the women's liberation movement, from lesbian separatists to revolutionary Marxists, and they have helped to make the entire movement more conscious of the specific ways in which lesbians are oppressed. 

Because of the lesbian movement's insistence on the right of women to live independent of men, they often become the special target of attacks by reaction. From hate propaganda to violent physical assaults, the attacks on lesbians and the lesbian movement are really aimed against the women's movement as a whole. 

Anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles

One of the factors that contributed to the international youth radicalisation was the role played by the liberation struggles of oppressed nations and racial groups, both in the colonial world and in the advanced capitalist countries. These struggles have had a powerful impact on the consciousness concerning women's oppression in general. For example, the civil rights struggle by blacks in the United States played a crucial role in bringing about a widespread awareness and rejection of racist stereotypes. Similar awareness has been generated by Aboriginal struggles in Australia. The obvious similarities between racist attitudes and sexist stereotypes of women as inferior, emotional, dependent, dumb-but-happy creatures produced an increasing sensitivity to and rejection of such caricatures. 

As the feminist movement has developed in the advanced capitalist countries, women of the oppressed nationalities and racial groups have begun to play an increasingly prominent role. As members of oppressed nationalities or racial groups, as women, and frequently as superexploited workers, these women suffer a double and often triple oppression. 

Immigrant women too face many similar aspects of oppression. In Australia, they are exploited as workers in the lowest paid jobs with the worst conditions, excluded from an understanding of unionisation and their rights by their lack of English and the disregard of unions for their conditions, and they also suffer racist and sexist oppression. 

But there has generally been a lag in the pace with which women of oppressed racial groups and immigrant women have become conscious of their specific oppression as women. There are several reasons for this: 

*For many, the depth of their racial oppression initially overshadows their oppression as women. Many radical anti-racist movements have refused to take up the demands of women, calling them divisive to the struggle against racism. 

*The organised women's movement has often failed to address itself to the needs of the most oppressed and exploited layers of women and understand the special difficulties they face. 

*The hold of the family is often particularly strong among non-Anglophone immigrant women and among women of oppressed racial groups since the family provides a partial buffer against the devastating pressures of racism and cultural annihilation. 

Nevertheless, experience has already shown that once the radicalisation of these women begins it takes on an explosive character, propelling them into the leadership of many social and political struggles, including struggles on the job, in the unions, on campuses and in the communities, as well as the feminist movement. They rapidly come to understand that the struggle against their oppression as women does not weaken but strengthens the struggle against their ethnic or racial oppression. 

Crisis of religion

Also contributing to the rise of the women's movement has been the crisis of the traditional organised religions, especially the Catholic church. The weakening hold of the church (accompanied by a growth in occultism and mysticism) is a dramatic manifestation of the ideological crisis of bourgeois society. All organised religion, which is part of the ideological buttressing of class society, is predicated on and reinforces the notion that women are inferior, if not the very incarnation of evil and animality. 

Christianity and Judaism, which mark the cultures of the advanced capitalist countries, have always upheld the inequality of women and denied them the right to separate sexuality from reproduction. As these have weakened, there has been a rapid growth and organisation of Christian fundamentalism in imperialist countries which has been exported to the Third World as part of imperialism's efforts to bolster right-wing forces. This effort has been aimed at countering many of the gains of the women's movement in particular, and more generally, anti-imperialist struggles in the Third World which have radicalised sections of the Catholic Church through liberation theology. 

The upsurge of anti-imperialist sentiment and struggles in many parts of the Muslim world has had a contradictory impact on the situation of women. Because of the economic backwardness of many of these countries, which has been maintained by imperialist domination, religion has a powerful influence among the poor and oppressed. Their struggles against imperialist domination have thus tended to find ideological expression in religious terms. While such anti-imperialist struggles have mobilised broad masses of women, as was the case with the 1979 revolution in Iran, the religious garb in which these struggles have been cloaked has helped the Islamic clergy to reinforce reactionary anti-women attitudes and practices. 

The anti-war movement

While the women's movement emerged alongside of the huge upsurge against the Vietnam War, women's role in the anti-war and the anti-nuclear movement has increased since then. In England, the Greenham Common women became an inspiration to millions of women for their dogged opposition to nuclear weapons. In Australia, women were increasingly involved in the anti-uranium movement. The upsurge against the imperialist war against Iraq witnessed a major increase in the female composition and leadership of the anti-war movement. It also saw an increase in the participation of immigrant Arabic women speaking out against the war and also resisting the xenophobic attacks whipped up by the war. 

Gains under attack

The exhaustion of the long postwar boom and the deepening economic, social, and political problems of imperialism on a world scale since the mid 1970s, have led to an intensification of the attacks on women's rights on all levels. This has not led to a decline in women's struggles, or relegated them to the sidelines as more powerful social forces came to the fore. Far from diminishing, feminist consciousness, whether consciously acknowledged or taken for granted, continues to spread and to become deeply intertwined with the developing social consciousness. Cuts to social and welfare services, slashes to health, hospital and education services have led to some of the most radical struggles in the past period as women have increasingly taken up the fight against such cuts. 

Women's role in the fight against erosions of democratic rights has been major and women's resistance to the economic, political, and ideological offensive of the ruling class has been stiffened by the heightened feminist awareness. Their struggles have been a powerful motor force of social protest and political radicalisation and their participation in the forefront of other progressive social struggles has increased. 

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