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Mills and the Women’s Movement in the 60s/70s

April 11, 2011

“The personal is political.[1]” Carol Hanisch, a civil rights worker in Mississippi in the mid 60s coined this slogan, saying that politics not only represented government, but actions within the private life to. She was referencing the struggle for equality within the family life, the dimensions of equality or lack thereof in a marriage, as well as the gender roles within the household.  But the idea that the personal is political grew from just the intimacy of household life. Nationwide the women’s movement was taking the country by a storm.

One particular outlet that arose from this in the 70s was Ms. Created by Gloria Steinem[2]. The first of its kind, this magazine for women talked about issues that many women could relate to, including the balancing act of work and family. Women began to use the magazine as an outlet of expression; hundreds of thousands of letters poured in to the magazine headquarters every week. These women wrote about everything from the mistakes they had made, to the dreams they had, to the ways they had begun to view themselves. As more and more women began to enter the work force, letter topics circled around the changes many women were making in their lives[3]. Letters also circled around the personal expression some women began to put into practice. Some of these letters resulted in a “click.”[4] One woman wrote in saying:


“After talking with my man friend and housemate of six months about my doing most of the housework, I finally presented him with a bill today for “domestic services,” approximately four hours a week at three dollars and fifty cents an hour. This so-called liberated male (he talks a good line) thought about this for two minutes, then drew up his own bill. ‘Sexual services’: approximately four hours a week at five dollars an hour. He even thinks his sexual services are worth more than mine! Click.[5]

I think Mill would have supported the establishment of Ms. Magazine, because it challenged the idea of a woman’s place in society, and allowed women to write in and speak freely about their beliefs, regardless of what those sentiments revolved around. As Mills said,


“…human beings are no longer born in their place in life, and chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to, but are free to employ their faculties, and such favorable changes as offer, to achieve the lot which may appear to them the most desirable.”


The women’s movement in the 60s and 70s brought about this idea, that confinement to the typical gender norms was no more. Despite what some like Burke maybe believe, the change towards women’s equality was a revolution that was a long time coming. The idea that the “personal is political” helped transform the way women viewed themselves and their place in society.

But what do you think? Would Mill have supported the women’s movement 100%? What aspects (that I may or may not have mentioned) would he have agreed with or disagreed with during the time period? Do you think the idea that the “personal is political” aided to this revolution? Would Burke’s philosophy hold up in that time period, or would Mill’s idea of freedom to pursue change prevailed regardless? The following video reflects the feelings of women nationwide on this idea of political change  in the government, but amongst the personal lives of women, which involved the private as well as the public . Only watch the first few minutes or so (once it goes past that, it gets into other issues I didn’t bring up in this post).

[1] Rosen, Ruth. “The World Split Open,” page 196.

[2] Rosen, Ruth. “The World Split Open,” page 209.

[3] Rosen, Ruth. “The World Split Open,” page 212.

[4] Rosen, Ruth. “The World Split Open,” page 214.

[5] Rosen, Ruth. “The World Split Open,” page 213.



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