As the independent women’s liberation movement struggled to emerge out from under the CRM and the New Left, women grasped for language that justified their move.
Initially that language reflected analogies between race and sex, as in sex-caste, and graduall it moved towards a more Marxist analogy of sex-class.
However ultimately the phrase that came to symbolize the unity of women in their quest for liberation was consciousness, as in consciousness raising. However, the word, which appears everywhere, is often frustratingly vague in its usages.
Consciousness reflected both prior analogies used to justify women’s liberation, drawing from understandings of race the notion of double consciousness and from the NL the idea of false consciousness. Consciousness was also suitable psychological which provided crucial to recruiting and explaining women’s liberation in an era when many people could not fathom the notion of women’s oppression. By hinging women’s oppression on pscyhology, material oppression, while still central, was not the only indicator of oppression.
1. Consciousness = awareness of self as woman who is oppressed
2. Raised consciousness perception of self and the world that counters the psychological aspects of sexism (internalized oppression, false consciousness) + Aware of self as potential revolutionary who can change that.
The answers to “why are women oppressed or how did women become oppressed” were historical and cultural in addition to material/economic. Women had to overcoming “conditioning” “roles” and “stereotypes” that resulted from transformations in reproductive and productive life as part of capitalism.
Thus history explained not only why women were oppressed, but could be used to illustrate women’s agency in the past.
History could also explain the relationship between culture and women’s oppression, whether it was through investigations of folklore, mythology, religion, literature or art, all of which were part of belief systems, or ideologies, present in every culture since women’s oppression was universal.
This is why the idea of matriarchy/women’s culture becomes so divisive. It literally pulls apart the argument used to justify the WLM for certain participants.