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Cities: Macon

NOW Calls for Women's Strike

In this WSB clip filmed on October 22, 1975, reporter Monica Kaufman interviews a representative of the National Organization for Women (NOW). The NOW spokesperson describes a national labor strike scheduled for October 29, from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. in protest of women's marginalization and continued discrimination. The women in Macon involved in the strike seek to force business men, husbands, and other men to take seriously their demands for equal rights. As a testament of these women's refusal to continue to ignore sexism in American society, they adorn their shirts with buttons marked “Alice Doesn’t...Anywhere, Anymore!”

The national organization designated October 29, 1975, as “Alice Doesn’t Day.” The phrase alludes to director Martin Scorsese's film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), in which the main character Alice Hyatt, played by actor Ellen Burstyn, tries to break away from her mundane and limited life as a housewife to pursue a singing career more aligned with her personal ambitions. The film expresses the idea of female independence and agency.

Despite NOW’s public assertion of the success of the national strike,
Time Magazine described the futility of the strike. Lower-class women could not afford to participate; thus critics accused NOW of catering specifically to middle-class women in a movement that should involved all classes. By the time of NOW’s initial instatement in 1966, society had consigned black women to the bottom of the economic bracket. This resulted from the historic relegation of black women to jobs deemed unsuitable for white women. Because the organization, like many feminist minded groups of the 1970s, initially focused primarily on middle-class American women, they excluded most African American women.

The indirect exclusion of black women from NOW’s labor strike contrasted with the initial goals of the organization’s national governing body. NOW’s first plans included gaining equal rights for professional women, and forcing actions on the behalf of black women through major organizations such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The organization intended to infiltrate the predominately white male "Establishment" through revolutionary and radical actions, while remaining independent of any political affiliation. The original founders of NOW, including Betty Friedan (1921-2006) and Pauli Murray (1910-1985), worked to keep the focus and power within the national organization. Thus local branches, like the one in Macon represented by this clip, often possessed limited autonomy.

Throughout the civil rights era, African American women worked to address social issues beyond segregation such as the debate about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the eradication of poverty, the improvement of health care among lower-class Americans, and the fight for women's equal pay and equal treatment in the workplace. This strategy of tackling multiple problems at once sometimes created tensions within civil rights organizations, where some women felt forced to prioritize issues focused on race. Yet African American women became more outspoken about unequal or patronizing treatment within all-black or majority black organizations. 

Their demands in the late 1960s and 1970s for more visibility, leadership opportunities, and equality both in civil rights organizations and in the larger American society helped lay the foundation for what scholars call third-wave feminism of the 1980s and 1990s, which, among other themes, emphasizes understanding and acknowledgement of the differences among women based on race, class, sexual preference, political or religious affiliation, and nationality. Third-wave feminists share the civil rights activists' position that although differences among people are important, they yet need not act as barriers to tolerance and mutual respect. By recognizing common goals and needs, disparate groups can build coalitions and work together to solve long-standing problems or conflicts for the greater good.    

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Discussion Questions

1. How does the labor strike organized by members of NOW compare to the strategies used by activist of the Civil Rights Movement?

2. Like the Civil Rights Movement, the women's movement coined images and slogans like "Alice Doesn't" in order to recruit supporters and publicize goals. What other images and slogans did Women's Movement activist use? What made them effective and memorable?

3. In her essay entitled "The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought" (1990), sociologist Patricia Hill Collins discussed the interlocking oppressions of race, class, and gender faced simultaneously by African American women. To acknowledge the indivisibility of these issues, some African American women activists, such as Pauli Murray, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Alice Walker, involved themselves in multiple social justice movements at the same time: for example, both the feminist and Civil Rights Movements, or both the anti-war and Civil Rights Movements.  Read the essay Fannie Lou Hamer and  Student Anti-War Activism in the Freedom on Film Atlanta pages. In your opinion, was this strategy of tackling several social problems simultaneously an effective one for African American women, or did they spread themselves too thin and diminish their ability to be effective in one or more areas?

4. In the early 1920s, first-wave feminists in the women's movement unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Congress to pass an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution, which would guarantee men and women equal rights under the law. In 1972, second-wave feminists took up the attempt to pass the ERA again, yet it fell a few states shy of the thirty-eight states needed for ratification. Do you think that activists should attempt to pass the ERA again? Why or why not?

5. Visit the Georgia Women's Oral History Project in the Digital Library of Georgia, and listen to or read the transcripts of Georgia resident Jean Davis's discussion about growing up in Georgia during segregation, and the relationship between women's rights and the Civil Rights Movement. What do you think Davis means when she describes the ERA and women's rights as a human rights issue? Are there other social problems you think might be resolved effectively if understood as human rights issues?

Take it to the Streets!

Read the biography of editorial cartoonist Clifford H. Baldowski at the Digital Library of Georgia, and/or the New Georgia Encyclopedia's biography of Baldowski, who earned the Pulitzer Prize as a cartoonist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Study his cartoons in the Digital Library of Georgia's collection that respond to the Civil Rights Movement and the Equal Rights Amendment.  Choose one of the topics from the list below, and create your own political cartoon that clearly shows your position on a controversy of your choosing related to the topic. Like Baldowski, try to use humor, simplicity, and originality to present your position on this topic:

Global Warming    Professional Sports    War on Terrorism   Poverty

War in Iraq         Women's Rights         The Internet         The South         

Writer: Delila Wilburn
Researchers: Delila Wilburn and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Editors: Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems

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