women’s culture is sort of the concept that ate women’s history.  Although it has been widely debated, a quick search of proquest reveals tons of dissertations still utlizing the concept.

as I began sifting for the beginnings of womens’ culture, it has become quite clear that the concept came first from the WLM (analagous to balck culture working class culture etc) and anthropologists (nature v culture) to the historians.

1969  WLM anthologies begin to include idea.   See Women in a Sexist Society “separate minority cultures … for women”  p 443 And  WOMEN AND CREATIVITY: The Demise of the Dancing Dog in The New Woman Cynthia Ozick  writes of “the culture of women” and “I am furious (female)” in Roles Women Play “women and blacks have been alienated from their own culture” (18)  In comparisons, historians Gerda Lerner   “women’s proper place” “women’s status” and  William O’neill writes of “self-culture” of club women

1970 women’s movement periodicals, OOB in particular, contain much discussion in a positive way 

July 31 “female culture festivals” and “a festival to celebrate women’s culture” in conjunction with Aug 26 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality  December 14 report from the Revolutionary Peoples Plenary called by the Black Panthers “women’s culture: art, music, poetry, theater”

Historians ????

January Fourth World Manifesto  Barbara Burris et al., “female culture” March 1971 letter published in  refers to “the cause of cultural feminism” positively.  In October editor Frances Chapman argues

“An Ivory tower is no substitute for a women’s culture which connects the consciousness of all women” also notes that “while women’s culture is prerequisite … it is not sufficient” … “that target of revelation and discovery of the universal, is after all what we want a women’s culture for” 

Pauline Bart in what might be the first usage in an academic journal, Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy

analytic polemical article addressed to the members of the women’s movement who debate whether or not there is a women’s culture.

1972 CWLU defends culture as not inherently counter-revolutionary

The women’s movement has brought forth a women’s culture  … This culture has provided a place for our creativity to be expressed and enabled us to have more independence and self-confidence in areas where we have been denied knowledge and opportunity for expression in the past.  …  By providing an example of our vision, women’s culture has helped develop a consciousness of how things could and should be better (which helps us understand how we are oppressed now).

but also clearly states that

We do not support the evolution of a separatist women’s culture as an ultimate goal, because we do not believe women can change society by trying to create a women’s culture within or alongside the dominant culture

earliest essays later included ed in Women, Culture, and Society published, framed largely in the public/private split of history.


feb/march  OOB still largely positive spin, equality counterposed to “autonomous women’s culture and politics”   May Brooke, who would be credited with coining the phrase cultural feminism, stated in OOB

I don’t really think art and politics can be separated.  back in 1970 … it was very clear to me that there would be a renaissance in  women’s culture … The women’s culture that is beginning will hopefully create a whole new aesthetic.  all the aesthetics we’ve had so far are male-oriented

March First Berks at Rutgers.  Papers published Feminist Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3/4, Special Double Issue: Women’s History (Winter -Spring, 1973)

Uses of “culture” include Judith R. Walkowitz and Daniel J. Walkowitz S “repressive  moral  culture imposed on women” Linda Gordon “In a system that deprived women  of  the  opportunity to  make  extra- familial  contributions  to  culture,  it  was  inevitable  that they  should  be  more strongly identified  with  sex  than  men  were”  Daniel Scott Smith “the centrality of attacks on male culture in such movements as temperance” Laura Oren “Male Working Class Culture”  Cott and Smith-Rosenberg two authors most stronlgy associated with the concept of women’s culture didn’t even use the word culture in their articles.  

Summer 1973 Jane Alpert’s open letter to the women’s movement

At this point in Herstory I define myself as a radical feminist; which means, to me, fighting for the reassertion of the Feminine Principle. I am committed to Woman’s Revolution and to building women’s culture.”

Summer 1974 Jo Freeman paper presented summer of 1974 at APA, published in acta sociologica 1975

the major feminist issues (e.g. abolition of marriage, continuation of the nuclear family, payment for house- wives, abolition of  the housewife role, child-care, abortion, access of women to predominantly male occupations, abolition of  sex roles, building of  female culture

Oct 1974 Second Berks at Radcliffe Papers include, published in Feminist Studies in two issues Autumn 1975 and Spring/Summer 1976.

Uses of culture include Lerner, in what may be the first historian’s usage of the term “women’s culture” in a history article.  update she did not use phrase “women’s culture” at Berks in Oct 1974, but did in subsequent version of paper March 1975 Sarah Lawrence College Symposium, and then in published version in FS Autumn 1975

 “what we call women’s history  may actually be the study of a separate women’s culture …the separate occupations, status, experiences,  and rituals of women but also their separate consciousness, which internalized patriarchal assumptions.  In some cases, it would include the tensions  created in that culture between the prescribed patriarchal  assumptions and  women’s efforts to  attain autonomy and emancipation” 

And Smith-Rosenberg, normally cited as the creator of the women’s culture notion, here uses the phrase “male culture,” although moving towards notion of oppositional subculture of women

If we look at women only as victims we fail to explain why so few women openly criticized their restrictive roles and we fail as well to explore the sources of strength that made it possible for women to survive in restrictive cultures. … We cannot call for a sophisticated reevaluation of women without a similar reexamination of men.  

Already though historians are becoming nervous.  In an address to the second Berks, Natalie Zemon Davis

we should now be interested in the history of both women and men. We should not be working on the subjected sex any more than a historian of class can focus exclusively on peasants. Our goal is to understand the significance of  the sexes, of  gender groups in the historical past.”  Speaking historiographically, but clearly applicable to current scholarship a well  “ calls for a focus on “power”  and dismisses concept of “culture” as “not very clear-cut in European history until the 19 century” also argues that “domestic and public are categories that slip and slide over time”