Awareness groups and the women’s movement

Outreach groups were the foundation of second wave feminism, awakening women to their struggles and the sexism of the social structures in which they lived. An article from 1979 gives a fascinating insight into their purpose and structure. Bonnie Moore Randolph and Clydene Ross-Valliere, both nurses in the field of psychology, felt that raising awareness could be a way to bridge the divide between the nursing profession and the women’s movement, some of whom rejected “the female stereotype. that the profession portrays. “So they got down to explain awareness to their nursing colleagues.

The groups aimed to “enhance awareness of the components of female identity”, exploring personal experiences with other women. By examining stereotypes about women’s roles and analyzing their own behavior, participants felt free to make different decisions about their lives.

Personal experiences were at the heart of the groups and their acceptance of women’s stories allowed participants to open up to each other. While some groups helped members document their intention to change based on their new understanding of their lives and roles, judgment and interpersonal conflict were taboo. Loosely structured, the groups were traditionally leaderless, although Randolph and Ross-Valliere argued that a leader with a background in psychology could help set ground rules and help women overcome their anger.

There was a lot to be done: by the late 1970s outreach had helped thousands of women identify the causes of the emotions they once experienced as personal failures instead of the effects of a deeply patriarchal system . “Anger is an important, necessary and productive aspect of a CR group,” the authors wrote.

They suggested that nurses themselves try to educate themselves, examining how their gender affects their role as nurses, their relationship to the authority of male physicians, and their widespread alienation from other nurses in different sub-areas. specialties.

But while the advocacy groups helped women tap into their emotions to drive social change, the sense of self that the groups fostered might sound a lot like self-involvement. The movement fueled by newly conscious feminists has largely neglected historically marginalized groups of women, particularly poor women and women of color. Just a year before Randolph and Ross-Valliere’s article, the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist group that had been meeting in Boston since 1974, wrote a declaration it showed how race and class overlapped and were largely ignored by the women’s liberation movement. “In our outreach sessions… we have in many ways gone beyond the revelations of white women because we are dealing with the implications of race and class as well as gender…” they wrote. “No one before has ever examined the multi-layered texture of black women’s lives.”

Awareness groups would eventually fall out of fashion as women shifted to other forms of organization and activism. But Randolph and Ross-Valliere left behind a clear vision of their importance to the women who braved them. “Feeling the support, acceptance and permission of other women is a powerful tool for growth,” they wrote, “and for many, a first experience of the celebration and joy of being a woman.”

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By: Bonnie Moore Randolph and Clydene Ross-Valliere

The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 79, n ° 5 (May 1979), pp. 922-924

Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

By: The Combahee River collective

Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 42, n ° 3/4, SOLIDARITÉ (AUTUMN / WINTER 2014), pp. 271-280

The feminist press at the City University of New York