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Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left

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The women most crucial to the feminist movement that emerged in the 1960's arrived at their commitment and consciousness in response to the unexpected and often shattering experience of having their work minimized, even disregarded, by the men they considered to be their colleagues and fellow crusaders in the civil rights and radical New Left movements. On the basis of yea The women most crucial to the feminist movement that emerged in the 1960's arrived at their commitment and consciousness in response to the unexpected and often shattering experience of having their work minimized, even disregarded, by the men they considered to be their colleagues and fellow crusaders in the civil rights and radical New Left movements. On the basis of years of research, interviews with dozens of the central figures, and her own personal experience, Evans explores how the political stance of these women was catalyzed and shaped by their sharp disillusionment at a time when their skills as political activists were newly and highly developed, enabling them to join forces to support their own cause.


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The women most crucial to the feminist movement that emerged in the 1960's arrived at their commitment and consciousness in response to the unexpected and often shattering experience of having their work minimized, even disregarded, by the men they considered to be their colleagues and fellow crusaders in the civil rights and radical New Left movements. On the basis of yea The women most crucial to the feminist movement that emerged in the 1960's arrived at their commitment and consciousness in response to the unexpected and often shattering experience of having their work minimized, even disregarded, by the men they considered to be their colleagues and fellow crusaders in the civil rights and radical New Left movements. On the basis of years of research, interviews with dozens of the central figures, and her own personal experience, Evans explores how the political stance of these women was catalyzed and shaped by their sharp disillusionment at a time when their skills as political activists were newly and highly developed, enabling them to join forces to support their own cause.

30 review for Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left

  1. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Interesting re-reading this book more than 30 years after its original publication in 1979. At the time it was published, Evans' argument that the women's movement--then at something like its high point of public support--had its roots in the movements of the 1960s made a huge impression. Now, much of what she argued is simply the standard wisdom. What struck me on re-reading was the emphasis she puts on the role of southern women with deep religious convictions in the interracial civil rights m Interesting re-reading this book more than 30 years after its original publication in 1979. At the time it was published, Evans' argument that the women's movement--then at something like its high point of public support--had its roots in the movements of the 1960s made a huge impression. Now, much of what she argued is simply the standard wisdom. What struck me on re-reading was the emphasis she puts on the role of southern women with deep religious convictions in the interracial civil rights movement of the early 60s. When I first read it, that pretty much washed over me; now it seems crucial, especially in light of Evans' recounting of the loss of focus that riddled both the New Left and the mid-late 60s movement for racial justice. It seems clear that the ideologies that fueled Black Power and the anti-war movement failed to provide an existential grounding equivalent to that of the early 60s. Evans doesn't really pursue the questions surrounding that, and it's not in the purview of her book to do so, but it does have me thinking about the foundations of the women's movement as it developed past the end of the period covered by the book. Beyond that, Personal Politics maintains its value. Evans emphasizes the frustrations of women who had internalized the vision of the Beloved Community from the Souther movement and the ways that their experience led them to question the depth of their male colleagues commitment. She does an excellent job introducing some of the major figures who have yet to receive adequate historical recognition outside women's history--Casey Hayden, Mary King, Pam Parker; and her picture of a white left that was blissfully ignorant of its own contradictions remains a crucial piece of sixties history.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    A borderline racist narrative about white women fixing the lives of African Americans in the South and then moving on to improving their own lives. Don't read this. A borderline racist narrative about white women fixing the lives of African Americans in the South and then moving on to improving their own lives. Don't read this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Della D

    This is a path-breaking book that put the origin of second-wave feminism in the context of the radical 1960s. It discussed how women liberation emerged from the New Left and the Civil Right Movement- the two most influential movements in the radicalism 60s. Stimulatingly, the readers of this book could reconsider the legacy of the 60s and the 'declension' narrative of the late 1960s in both the mass media and the scholarship. The problem of this book, however, is also obvious. It is a highly SNCC This is a path-breaking book that put the origin of second-wave feminism in the context of the radical 1960s. It discussed how women liberation emerged from the New Left and the Civil Right Movement- the two most influential movements in the radicalism 60s. Stimulatingly, the readers of this book could reconsider the legacy of the 60s and the 'declension' narrative of the late 1960s in both the mass media and the scholarship. The problem of this book, however, is also obvious. It is a highly SNCC-SDS-centered and white-women-centred book narrowing the influential grassroots movement to the most high-profile groups of that age, yet generalising the conclusion. This is an understandable mistake - considering that the most influential scholarships of the 1960s in 1980s also only focused on the SDS (i.e. Todd Gitlin Yeas of Hope, Days of Age, this book published in 1987 and represented the 'declensionism the late 60s' in the scholarship, Todd Gitlin himself was a former leader of SDS). Besides, Sara Evans did not give a basic introduction to the methodology of her work. It is noticeable that many discussions of her work were based on the interviews (oral history?) with the veterans of the movements. Yet, she did not even briefly mention how she did the interviews and how she made use of the sources, which made her argument less convincing and more confusing. All the above limitation could not deny that this book is significant and also readable and engaging. 3.5 stars for itself, 0.5 more for it meaning in the historiography.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    The case is well made for the masculinist climate of the white wing of the movement being responsible for the emergence of Women's Lib. However the book seems haphazardly put together with several anachronies that are not justified by thematic or theoretical concerns. Diachronic or synchronic? Can't have it both ways. The case is well made for the masculinist climate of the white wing of the movement being responsible for the emergence of Women's Lib. However the book seems haphazardly put together with several anachronies that are not justified by thematic or theoretical concerns. Diachronic or synchronic? Can't have it both ways.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    As far as I can tell, this is the first draft of a story that has since spread from history to the sort of apocrypha that politically-engaged people could be expected to know, and it’s more or less right there in the subtitle. The thing about the movements from the sixties is that they are extremely well-documented, or anyway, enough of them were to fill a whole literature with the comings and goings of people in SNCC, SDS, the Black Panther Party, etc. I wonder what sort of movements from that As far as I can tell, this is the first draft of a story that has since spread from history to the sort of apocrypha that politically-engaged people could be expected to know, and it’s more or less right there in the subtitle. The thing about the movements from the sixties is that they are extremely well-documented, or anyway, enough of them were to fill a whole literature with the comings and goings of people in SNCC, SDS, the Black Panther Party, etc. I wonder what sort of movements from that period we miss out on, because their members and epigones didn’t write as much down? Neither here nor there, I guess. At this point, I think it’s a reasonably familiar tale: men in these movements, especially the insecure upper-middle-class white boys in SDS, routinely marginalized and often belittled the women who played key organizational roles in the sixties movements. These experiences — both taking part in the movements and facing sexism within them — formed the seedbed for the women’s liberation movement that burst onto the scene in the late 1960s and which reached its greatest prominence in the 1970s. Evans tells it as a pretty neatly dialectical story- if these women hadn’t experienced the massive let-down of movements that promised justice, equality, a real community but delivered patronizing attitudes (at best) towards them, then they would never have brought their grievances together and formed a movement. “Personal Politics” has the strengths of the best early movement histories, especially its finely trained analytical descriptions. It also has its weaknesses- especially once the story leaves the south, it is overwhelmingly white and middle class. There were women of color and working class women pursuing women’s liberation and which engaged in a complicated dialogue with the other movements, but you don’t get much of that here. That’s largely a reflection of the blind spots within the movements Evans writes about, but it’s still a missing part of the story. For the most part, “Personal Politics” is a fairly concise record of discrete stages leading up to the formation of the various dedicated women’s liberation movements, replete with copious drawings from the letters, diaries, and interviews of women who had gone through the various movements. Evans has some keen insight into the inner dynamics of these groups. Most interesting to me were the politics of the concept of community. Not unlike Occupy — another movement dominated by kids who had just barely started critiquing the system they lived under — the student movement fixated on its internal culture, which was meant to prefigure the transformation into the “beloved community” (like Arnold’s “sweetness and light,” it’s impossible for me to imagine how people would use such a saccharine-sounding phrase sincerely). There’s a couple of tragic elements to this. The first is how clearly their prefigurative politics were a gesture of powerlessness (and so was their eventual turn to violence). SDS ran up very quickly against the real limits to the outside-community-organizing model. Without a base in a class that take power (like, say, the working class), you aren’t going to get real transformative change, no matter how hard you work or how sincere you are to get playgrounds for the kids in Newark or whatever. The other tragic dynamic, more directly relevant to Evans’s book, is dealing with power dynamics within “the community.” The student movement stumbled on pretty much all of them, but none more than gender. As it turns out, goodwill isn’t enough to create good outcomes, and curdled goodwill can positively prevent them. Among the most important contributions of second-wave feminism (that’s the right one, right? I get the idea that the wave stuff can be a point of contention) is the rediscovery of the power structures undergirding institutions we all too often take for granted, especially gender, sexuality, and the family. As Evans relates near the conclusion, the movement never quite got to grips with the quandaries of organizing for redefining and taking power. But, there’s something to be said for refining the questions. ****’ https://toomuchberard.wordpress.com/2...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Grace Moore

    Unsurprisingly relevant today. Perhaps we as a society have achieved some of our feminist goals, but the lessons inherent in this book still stand true. Perhaps not so much with just feminism, but the ways in which a movement is formed that are described by Evans apply to a great many other movements. Much like feminist consciousness grew out of women's participation in the Civil Rights movement, so too did lesbian awareness and other oppressed groups awareness grow out of their experiences in t Unsurprisingly relevant today. Perhaps we as a society have achieved some of our feminist goals, but the lessons inherent in this book still stand true. Perhaps not so much with just feminism, but the ways in which a movement is formed that are described by Evans apply to a great many other movements. Much like feminist consciousness grew out of women's participation in the Civil Rights movement, so too did lesbian awareness and other oppressed groups awareness grow out of their experiences in the feminist movement. It's fascinating how similar movements are to eachother. That they often grow out of other movements, that they often get too big and fragment, that the media loves to misrepresent, and how they unfortunately usually exclude certain groups/issues to further their own agendas, which in turn spawns a new group/movement representing the excluded group's interests. Even over forty years later this book is 100% worth a read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jorge Morales

    Excellent book to understand the civil right movements and its development during the 40s-70s decades in US. Sara Evan touched the bases of this movement along with the slavery movement by bringing women that were not that important publicly, but they were key for the changes that took place in North America.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aisha Manus

    Interesting book on the roots of the Women’s Movement. Initially I really loved it but then it started feeling drawn out and just off. But a good resource none the less on women’s history. 3.5 stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Billy

    She does not use a personal account like Friedan. Instead, she makes a historical argument that the roots of 2nd wave feminism come from women’s experiences in earlier social movements. Black power and the experiences of organizing, protesting, and cross gender involvement in the Civil Rights movement shaped 2nd wave feminism. The New Left also shaped the Women’s Liberation movement both positively and negatively. Positively in that organizational skill, self-confidence, political acumen, and a She does not use a personal account like Friedan. Instead, she makes a historical argument that the roots of 2nd wave feminism come from women’s experiences in earlier social movements. Black power and the experiences of organizing, protesting, and cross gender involvement in the Civil Rights movement shaped 2nd wave feminism. The New Left also shaped the Women’s Liberation movement both positively and negatively. Positively in that organizational skill, self-confidence, political acumen, and a language by which to espouse dissatisfaction were all found in the New Left. Negatively because the Machismo of the New Left often did not treat women as equals; it relegated them to making coffee and copies. In short, they were exploited in the New Left as well as outside of it. Evans discovers that, in a telling example, one prominent SDSer could not recall the name of a single female member, while a comparison with meeting minutes reveals that many women played a number of important roles in the very same meeting. Problematically, Personal Politics has a limited scope. It is convincing in showing the effects SDS had on its members, but these experiences do not speak to the larger American population of the 1960s. Evan’s cites women’s trend of decentralization and short-lived groupings as a failure in organization. Yet as Linda Gordon points out, feminist thought and New Left thought both endorsed these approaches as critiques to bureaucratization and over-management inherent in the US society, government, and universities. The first to draw comparisons between racial and gender inequality were southerners in the 1830s-1840s. Missionizing brought whites women into black communities where they first discovered equality (soc book review). This mimics the pattern of the 1960s, when southern white women got involved with Civil Rights. White women were expelled from the center of a campaign meant to end discrimination. Male-Female relationships in Civil Rights were compounded by race; not so in the New Left. IN this white middle-class movement, “reactions to sexism could not be labeled racism.” (711 contemporary sociology, sept. 1980, 9, no. 5). The New Left pushed for personal politics—a way to motivate activists by having them self-identify with social issues. Women within the movement also began to focus on the personal as political. Their personal experiences with discrimination (sexism) were more authentic than say, that of white middle class males engaged in political actions against a war they never fought or against discrimination they never felt. Turning the personal into the political was a powerful way for women to exert agency. The New Left failed to acknowledge women’s place in their movement, and women began to break with the New Left. In 1967, women made a clean break with the New Left and began to build the radical feminist movement. BECAUSE WOMEN WERE EXCLUDED FROM CIVIL RIGHT AND THE NEW LEFT, THEY FORMED THEIR OWN MOVEMENT. STILL, IT WAS WITHIN THE NEW LEFT AND CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS THAT WOMEN ORGANIZED. So, not necessarily a response to these movements, but an offshoot of them. (According to a review in Contemporary Sociology) five factors shaped women’s consciousness. 1. Protest movements (Civil Rights, New Left) allowed for women to realize their capabilities and self-worth. 2. With success, certain women became role models for other women. The movement built upon itself. 3. Ideology that explained the sources of injustice were in place by the New Left and Civil Rights movement. Feminists need only to adopt this model, not create a new one. 4. Women involved in movements attempted to change a culture of passivity; these movements did not allow for such changes. 5. Civil Rights and New Left provided a network by which women could meet and later organize.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    A considerably easy read for a monograph which draws in the relationship between the CRM, NL, and the emergence of the WLM. What is important to note while reading this book, however, is when the book was actually written, and the reason as to why it was written. Sara Evans is a historian who had written this monograph while she was working towards her doctrine in graduate school, which was then later published in 1979. Although Evans does accredit herself to a certain degree for participating w A considerably easy read for a monograph which draws in the relationship between the CRM, NL, and the emergence of the WLM. What is important to note while reading this book, however, is when the book was actually written, and the reason as to why it was written. Sara Evans is a historian who had written this monograph while she was working towards her doctrine in graduate school, which was then later published in 1979. Although Evans does accredit herself to a certain degree for participating within events that could be considered a part of the feminist movement, she did not participate in the events which she has written about within this monograph (again, important to note that this is a monograph and not a biography). That being said, it is important to recognize that Evans most likely wrote Personal Politics in the early to mid seventies, and was making a reflection, as well as pivotal connections, on a not so distant past. There is, also, one other flaw about this monograph that rubbed me the wrong way; most of the evidence that Evans has gathered (which can be seen within her footnotes) is taken from interviews which do not come from credible sources. For example, Evans often makes profound, and sometimes questionable, statements in regards to certain topics, but once you flip to the back of the book and see where she gathered the evidence in order to create such a statement, it is usually from a sole interview. Aside from these two things (when the book was published, and where Evans had gathered her information), this is generally an easy, good, read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Martin

    crucial. succeeds at everything you would imagine from the subtitle, but also just a really nice summary of the linkages that brought the left from SNCC to SDS and the anti-war movement. curiously quiet on LGBTQ questions, which is more than a touch ironic when you consider that a big part of the thesis here is about the invisibility of female actors in the histories of 60's political movements... crucial. succeeds at everything you would imagine from the subtitle, but also just a really nice summary of the linkages that brought the left from SNCC to SDS and the anti-war movement. curiously quiet on LGBTQ questions, which is more than a touch ironic when you consider that a big part of the thesis here is about the invisibility of female actors in the histories of 60's political movements...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mattie

    I enjoyed this book, it was good to hear about the how the women of the 60's stood out from the crowd in an attempt to liberate themselves from the constraints of American society. This book was great because it had a lot of quotes from different members of various groups, it makes for a great primary source! I enjoyed this book, it was good to hear about the how the women of the 60's stood out from the crowd in an attempt to liberate themselves from the constraints of American society. This book was great because it had a lot of quotes from different members of various groups, it makes for a great primary source!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    A lot about this book really bothers me, but that's probably because it's based on oral history interviews. Really interesting look at how the women's rights movement got started and why its demographics (upper/middle class white) ended up the way they did. Edit: what I implied way back when I wrote this review was that they were racists, all of them, and it came out through the interviews. A lot about this book really bothers me, but that's probably because it's based on oral history interviews. Really interesting look at how the women's rights movement got started and why its demographics (upper/middle class white) ended up the way they did. Edit: what I implied way back when I wrote this review was that they were racists, all of them, and it came out through the interviews.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Interesting, if dated, look at the relationship between the Civil Rights Movement and the beginnings of second wave feminism.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An interesting read about the Womens' Movement in the great movement for civil rights. An interesting read about the Womens' Movement in the great movement for civil rights.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Just as relevant today as I read it in the '90s in college and as when she wrote it in the '80s. Just as relevant today as I read it in the '90s in college and as when she wrote it in the '80s.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Erika Forth

    Boring, but has some good info. Read just a few chapters, enough to write a response paper on.

  18. 5 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    Evans looks at the origins of the Women's movement in the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Evans looks at the origins of the Women's movement in the civil rights protests of the 1960s.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    Good. Book. I. Cant. Wait. To. Read. It

  20. 5 out of 5

    James Tracy

    Pretty ambitious undertaking...the roots of feminism from other movements. Alternately suceeds and fails chapter by chapter. Good starting point to understand this part of history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan Sharber

    men in sds were real jackasses.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Krista

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jules Wolfers

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chris Levesque

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Frank

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sally

  28. 5 out of 5

    Amber Elaine

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

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