The literacy practices of feminist consciousness - raising: an argument for remembering and recitation

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kathleen T. Leuschen (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Myers

Abstract: Protesting the 1968 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, NJ, second-wave feminists targeted racism, militarism, excessive consumerism, and sexism. Yet nearly fifty years after this protest, popular memory recalls these activists as bra-burners—employing a widespread, derogatory image of feminist activists as trivial and laughably misguided. Contemporary academics, too, have critiqued second-wave feminism as a largely white, middle-class, and essentialist movement, dismissing second-wave practices in favor of more recent, more “progressive” waves of feminism. Following recent rhetorical scholarly investigations into public acts of remembering and forgetting, my dissertation project contests the derogatory characterizations of second-wave feminist activism. I use archival research on consciousness-raising groups to challenge the pejorative representations of these activists within academic and popular memory, and ultimately, to critique telic narratives of feminist progress. In my dissertation, I analyze a rich collection of archival documents—promotional materials, consciousness-raising guidelines, photographs, newsletters, and reflective essays—to demonstrate that consciousness-raising groups were collectives of women engaging in literacy practices—reading, writing, speaking, and listening—to make personal and political material and discursive change, between and across differences among women. As I demonstrate, consciousness-raising, the central practice of second-wave feminism across the 1960s and 1970s, developed out of a collective rhetorical theory that not only linked personal identity to political discourses, but also linked the emotional to the rational in the production of knowledge. The grassroots practice of consciousness-raising, designed to be accessible to all women, was taken up by diverse feminist organizations across the nation including the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Association (ALFA), the National Alliance of Black Feminists (NABF), the National Organization of Women (NOW), and many others. As I trace differences and conflicts among different groups of women across these archival materials, I argue that consciousness-raising was a literacy practice with flexible do-it-yourself guidelines, tailored for each group’s needs and geographic location. As such, I connect consciousness-raising groups to a history and tradition of women’s collective rhetorical practices feminist historiographers have recently established. Like clubwomen of the late 19th and early 20th century, consciousness-raising groups fit a historical pattern of women’s collective literacy practices—practices that are repeatedly erased from historical narratives. Ultimately my project addresses active efforts to forget and misremember second-wave feminism, and I argue that the strategic forgetting of these sites diminishes the political potency these practices might hold for marginalized groups in the present day.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Consciousness-raising, Feminist, Literacy, Memory, Recitation
Second-wave feminism
Group relations training
Feminist theory
Rhetoric $x Social aspects
Feminist literary criticism

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