1920s boom time high School Instructional Performance Task Module

The Emergence of the New Feminism

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The Emergence of the New Feminism

Feminism was part of a free-ranging spirit of rebellion at the turn of the century. It severed the woman's movement from Christianity and conventional respectability. It was part of the broader "revolt against formalism" in American culture--refusal to heed the abstraction of womanhood, the calcified definitions of female character and nature handed down to them by previous generations. These new feminists were determined to "realize personality," to achieve self-determination through life, growth, and experience. As Charlotte Perkins Gilman described her: "Here she comes, running, out of prison and off the pedestal; chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman."

Feminism sought to change human consciousness about male dominance. To do so, they had to create a community of women in struggle against patriarchy. They found such a community in the suffrage movement. But suffragism and feminism were separable, though overlapping and reciprocally influential, movements. Feminists' presence in the suffrage movement broadened the margins of the movement, bringing in working women, leftists, and pacifists, while the suffrage campaign gave feminists a platform. Yet feminists differed from suffragists in terms of style and attitude. They reacted against the emphasis in the woman movement on female nurturance, selfless service, and moral uplift. Feminists would brag that they were doing the world some good but that it was just as important that they were also having a better time than any woman in world before. (Emma Goldman was well-known for having supposedly said, when criticized by a colleague for dancing when there was still human suffering in the world, "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution.")

The Woman movement stressed woman's duties while feminists reinvigorated demands for woman's rights. It demanded the removal of social, political and economic discrimination based on sex and sought rights and duties on the basis of individual capacity alone.

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