In the context of 1970s feminism, consciousness-raising (CR) refers to the practice of discussing the varied and everyday effects of sexism, racism, and classism in groups of similarly identified individuals. The practice was a key political strategy for second wave feminists, as well as an opportunity for personal transformation. The goal was to uncover the ways patriarchy distorted all levels of reality, including the psyche, to better resist subordination and to ultimately create a new social world.
Women would gather in small groups and share experiences of discrimination from their intimate relationships on up. Uncovering the experience of inequality within personal relationships was of central importance for second wave feminists since much of women’s subordination occurred in the intimate spheres of their lives. Some of the CR groups focused on women’s understanding and control of their own anatomy. Michelle Murphy describes CR groups on the west coast that taught women how to examine their own cervixes and understand their reproductive cycles.
Together, the CR groups would connect the ways gender discrimination supported larger social systems. The idea guiding CR was that women’s knowledge and personal experiences trumped ideas from outsiders, academics, experts, or political leaders on how to liberate women. The phrase, coined by Carol Hanisch, “the personal is political” was popularized and served as way for women to connect oppression based on gender, sexuality and race to political systems of discrimination. Through CR, feminists built a movement from the bottom up that sought to end discrimination and create a just society.
However emancipatory 1970s feminists believed CR to be, inequalities stemming from race and class were built into the CR process. As scholars and activists have argued, white, middle class, heterosexual women’s “personal” experiences too often stood as the experience of all women. Women of color, working class women, and lesbians used CR to politicize their experiences in patriarchical societies as well as their experiences in the feminist movements.
Carolyn Dever, Skeptical Feminism (2004)
Hesford, Victoria Hesford, Feeling Women’s Liberation (2013)
Michelle Murphy, 2012. Seizing the Means of Reproduction (2012)
Kimberly Springer,Living for the Revolution (2005)