The Women's Liberation Movement, whose roots in this country stretch back to Abigail Adams' letters to her husband "to remember the women" as he helped draft the U.S. Constitution, has long been nurtured by California history, its thinkers, and activists. Like other western states with strong memories of its female pioneers and early settlers, California granted women the right to vote in 1911, well before the nation granted women universal suffrage in 1920. The wartime experience of "Rosie the Riveter"-the millions of women who provided essential labor in California's shipyards and aircraft factories during World War II-transformed the state for decades to come. Sociologists have documented the resultant increase in self-esteem, more egalitarian family and marital relations in the postwar years, and a sense of possibility passed down to their children. Or as women repeatedly said in oral histories, "I never realized what I could do."
During the 1980s, the Women's Movement entered a new phase, characterized by both advancement and backlash. The decade opened with a complete change in political leadership on both the national and state levels. Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, a determined foe of abortion and reproduction rights, affirmative action, government regulation, and many liberal social services programs assumed the presidency in 1980. On the state level, California's liberal governor Jerry Brown was defeated in his run for the U.S. Senate by the republican mayor of San Diego, Pete Wilson (who would become California's governor in 1988). The liberal, African-American mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, was defeated in the race for governor by republican assemblyman George Dukmejian.
For women to consolidate the gains made in the 1960s and 1970s, they would have to continue fighting. The concerns of a new generation of women of color, many of them living and working in Northern California, were added to the voices of the predominantly white women's movement. Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, two Latina lesbians residing in the Bay Area published This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Persephone Press, 1981). Angela Davis, professor of philosophy at UC Santa Cruz, published Women, Race, and Class (Random House, 1983).
Their work was embraced on a national level, along with writers such as New York-based Audre Lorde, author of The Cancer Journals (Spinsters Ink in 1980), Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Persephone Press, 1982), and Sister-Outsider (The Crossing Press, 1984). Other works with significant academic and grass roots impact included bell hooks' Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism (South End Press, 1981), Barbara Smith's Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (Kitchen Table Press, 1983), and Paula Giddings' When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (William Morrow, 1984). African American authors Alice Walker (a resident of Northern California) and Toni Morrison gained international recognition after winning Pulitzer Prizes for their novels, in 1983 and 1986, respectively.
In 1984, at the democratic convention held in San Francisco's Moscone Center, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman nominated as vice president by a major political party. But women also experienced social obstacles and legal setbacks, which Susan Faludi, a Bay Area-based writer for the Wall Street Journal, critically examined in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. Her work, which was originally as a series of investigative reports for the San Jose Mercury News, detailed the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment; the rise of the antiabortion movement, (a medical procedure legalized in a historic 1973 Supreme Court ruling); increased incidences of on-the-job sexual harassment and discrimination; increasing disparity between men and women's income for comparable work; and the sense of exhaustion by working mothers who were expected to "do it all."
- Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights. (11.10.7)
- Students analyze the major social problems and domestic policy issues in contemporary American society. (11.11.3)