From empowerment to Women’s Liberation

The tragic rape and senseless murder of Brunswick woman Jillian Meagher  reminds us that women are still  not free from male violence.  Over the past few decades women’s progress has been considerable: we are educated and  have careers along with many reproductive choices.

However although we consider ourselves  empowered-  the male rape of women is ongoing: In the past year, just in the city of Moreland where Jill  lived and died, there were 71 rapes and 967 assaults. The rates of family violence have also increased by 40 percent with 1118 family violence incidents reported to the police over the same period.

So what has gone wrong? Why do men rape women? What happened to feminism? How can we consider ourselves empowered when we are subjected to the constant fear and the actuality of male violence against women?

Second-wave feminism, initially called the Women’s Liberation Movement began during the early 1960s and concentrated on a wide range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, and reproductive rights. Feminists established  rape crisis and battered women’s shelters, and fought for changes in custody and divorce law. But along the way the movement lost its radicalism-it’s struggle against patriarchal oppression. And in the area of domestic violence for example, the problem became ‘family violence’. Women were given counselling but the violence continued and the problem that was patriarchal oppression of women was not named. The movement had fallen for equality in the flawed system of patriarchal capitalism.

I wonder about the change of the name: In the 1960s, women’s liberation became known as feminism. Liberation became empowerment with radicalism and the dismantling of patriarchy forgotten. By not naming the problem – that of patriarchal oppression and by focussing on our equality – our freedom was waylaid. Names can be important.

Liberation means freedom from male sexual assault and rape, and freedom from the compulsion to live as a woman defined by patriarchal society; heterosexual, wife, mother, sexual object, and prostituted woman.

Feminist, academic and author Gail Dines critiques this idea of empowerment :

The buzz word in popular feminism today is empowerment. When I became a feminist many years ago, the word we used was liberation. Back in the days of women’s liberation, we felt that we could not claim success till all women were liberated from oppression.  What we wanted was the end of patriarchal capitalism.

Feminism needs to be more than women’s rights to be equal with men. It needs to challenge the patriarchal system itself, not just take equal part in it. It won’t matter how many women are on boards or in parliament if they don’t do things differently from the men and generally this is not happening.

If we are to continue to call ourselves feminists then I go for the idea of radical feminism described here by feminist and poet Robin Morgan:

What radical feminists have in common, though includes a stubborn commitment to the people of women, the courage to dare to question anything and dare redefine everything, a dedication to making the connections between issues, a sobering comprehension of the enormity of this task – freeing more than half of humanity and, by so doing, saving the other half – and perhaps most importantly of all, radical feminists share an audacious understanding of this politics’ centrality to the continuation of sentient life itself on this planet.

Perhaps it becomes clear why all issues are feminist issues – and why bandaid reforms, or equality with man in a male- defined society, or “ empowering” women to have self-esteem” whie leaving intact a status quo with a perforated ozone layer-all are pseudo-solutions that a radical feminist finds unacceptable. 

May my hives bloom bravely until my flesh is aflame and burns through the cobwebs.

May we go mad together, my sisters.

May our labor agony in bringing forth this revolution be the death of all pain.

May we comprehend that we cannot be stopped.

May I learn how to survive until my part is finished.

May I realise that I am a monster. I am a monster. I am a monster.

And I am proud.

Extract from Monster by Robin Morgan 1972


Morgan RobinRadically Speaking: Feminism Reclaimed, eds Bell & Klein, Spinifex Press, 1996, p7-8



Categories: feminism, history, local news, media, rape, Sexual abuse, womens rights

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Did you post on FB? Hope so, S

    From: Allthenewsthatmatter’s blog Reply-To: Allthenewsthatmatter’s blog Date: Monday, 1 October 2012 2:43 PM To: Susan Hawthorne Subject: [New post] From empowerment to Womens Liberation allthenewsthatmatters posted: ” The tragic rape and senseless murder of Brunswick woman Jillian Meagher reminds us that women are still not free from male violence. Over the past few decades women’s progress has been considerable: we are educated and have careers along with ma”

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