During the two World Wars women were striking out into the career world, leaving an imprint on industries such as the automotive industry by picking up to fill in while soldiers went off to war. After peace was achieved, as we studied last week, it appears women had taken a giant step forward into achieved equal footing with men. However surprising as it was, though, women of the Cold War Era seemed more enamored with the idea of building a family rather than building cars. However, this period was populated by several changes regarding women’s rights. The first was the relative beginning of the “Women’s Liberation” movement, followed by the “Anti-feminism” ideology. Finally, the African-American community showed the rest of the nation just how much they valued the women in their culture.
The women’s liberation movement, which probably spawned the modern “Girl Power” movement, existed under the pretext that women should not be content with domesticity. A woman who felt strongly about this might say that a woman’s role can extend beyond being a good wife and mother. In fact, women might even find their highest calling in the career world. This idea was brought about by Betty Friedan, who wrote “The Feminine Mystique” based upon interviews with suburban, housewives who felt that they were lacking something in their lives (Kerber 2014). Friedan, who had previously been known for her pro-union writing, advocated openly for women to find fulfillment outside of family life.
In response, the Anti-Feminism of Phyllis Schlafly was a key piece of literature which heartily disagreed with Friedan’s. In her essay, Schlafly referred to people of her own mindset as Positive Women, claiming that femininity was the best feature about women. She prided herself in raising a well-formed family and supporting a husband who was successful. Schlafly frequently reminded her readers of the physical and mental differences between the sexes, advocating that women need to promote themselves rather than be negative by complaining about what isn’t had (Kerber 2014). She also encouraged women to celebrate the uniqueness of women and the capacity of females to nurture and think on a deeper, more critical thought level than men. The two ideologies were at opposite ends of the feminism spectrum.
Yet another voice re-emerged from the past, one that hadn’t much been considered before. The voice of African-American women, regarding the poor sexual violence they often suffered, rang out very loudly throughout our country. It brought forth the critical question: is it possible that they “felt like they were all” victims?
In Tallahassee, Florida, a rape case sent shock waves throughout America that changed the face of the African-American woman. The year was 1959, and on a May night some African Americans were driving together after enjoying a formal dance. Betty Jean Owens and her friends were parked in a car until four young white men forced them out of the car. In the end, Betty Jean was held hostage as the four white men raped her and beat her. Fortunately for Betty Jean, her friends managed to find a police officer who helped them find her and who arranged for her assailants to be arrested. That night, those four boys confessed to everything that they had done to Betty Jean. When the court trial began, the trickery started. The four boys all claimed to be innocent. Their attorney blamed what had happened on anything but the boys. The African-American community in Tallahassee and all over the nation swelled in anger over the horrible claims made by the defending attorneys. In protest, the women began to claim that the horrible crime had been perpetrated against the entire African-American population, summed up by the declaration that they were “all raped.”
Some may agree that the crime of rape, which was represented on an individual basis upon Betty Jean, was geared in an act of superiority against all African Americans. It showed that black men needed to fight back for their mothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors. Women refused to stay silent, and spoke up for themselves. They refused to stay victims and refused to be passive any longer. Betty Jean was brave to stand up for herself and take the stand, facing her attackers and fighting for her respectability. The jury found the boys guilty, but recommended showing mercy to them. Rather than the electrocution that would have been sentenced to a black man for raping a white woman, the four boys served lifetime sentences in prison. While this showed an unfairness that favored white men, the trial revealed that African-Americans would no longer remain silent, and that eventually the truth would lead to fair sentencing.
Could we truly say that the rape was perpetuated unto all the African Americans? Perhaps not, as it was only done to one girl. I think in modern society the word “rape” would be reflected upon as being too strong. Our society would recognize the severity of rape and could possibly equivocate it to the persecution of the black community. However, it seems too strong a word to tie into the racial intensity that we witness today. It is difficult to be definitive in a response to the question of appropriateness today of the phrase “We were all raped.” It would have to vary based upon personal experiences and the audience of the phrasing.
The 1950s and 1960s revealed many changes in the ideology of females throughout the country. Some of those changes effected the idea that women needed to be liberated, or freed, from the bond of being stuck serving as a housewife, while others embraced what makes being a female so unique in comparison with male characteristics. The final change that was highlighted during this Cold War Era was the vocalization and movement of African-American women to be more vociferous, pushing for action to address the sexual violence that white men frequently perpetuated against them in the past. All those changes led into the unique palette of beliefs that are held by women even now, as there is no one set mindset or theory regarding women’s roles. However, those events and radical ideas led to many changes throughout the years that would lead one to think that the same thought patterns might not apply today, but be seen in a completely different context. Could we say that “We were all being raped” would be acceptable modernly? That remains debatable based upon the speaker and their audience, but would be a very triggering emotional phrase.