Sisterhood

Historically, women have been relegated to a limited role in society. In our male
dominated culture, a considerable number of people view the natural role of women to be that of
mothers and wives. Thus, for many, women are assumed to be more suited for childbearing and
homemaking than for involvement in public life. Despite these widespread and governing beliefs,
women, frustrated and tired of their inferiority and subordination, began seeking personal and
political equality, including equal pay, reproductive choice, and freedom from conventional
Massive opposition to a demand for women’s equality with men prompted the
organization of women to fight collectively for their rights. The birthplace of American feminism
was Seneca Falls, New York. Here in 1948, at a landmark convention, the first wave of women’s
rights activists gathered. Their primary goal was to obtain voting rights for women (Moore 1992,
21). In the mid 1960’s, the seeds of oppression (which spread from earlier civil movements) were
scattered and sown among other dissatisfied women. These seeds began to take root, and grow
dramatically, initially within the context of the growth of more general and widespread left
radicalism in Western societies. As a result, beginning about 1965, the second wave of women’s
rights activists began to emerge with an autonomous agenda for female liberation. The
movement’s objective was to secure equal economic, political, and social rights for women.
The women’s liberation movement was composed of an association of women working
together in a common cause. Young radical women who had been active in the Civil Rights
Movement gathered in small groups and began to focus on organizing in order to change
attitudes, social constructs, the perception of society toward women, and, generally, to raise the
The women adopted the phase “Sisterhood is Powerful,” in an effort to express succinctly
the aim of the movement. This slogan was also an attempt to unify women by asserting a shared
connection and circumstance, and thereby to build fundamental and lasting cohesion. “Sisterhood
is powerful” was embraced by the women in order to convey a common identity of sisterhood,
one firmly grounded in family-based concepts of interdependence. Biological sisterhood is an
easily understood relationship within the nuclear family.
According to social identity theory, one way to define an “in-group” is to define an
“out-group” (Hinkle and Brown 1990, 48). The liberation movement attempted to define females
as the “in-group” and males as the “out-group,” with the two groups distinctively and sharply
separated.The rallying cry “Sisterhood is Powerful” was primarily designed to solidify the
identity of the “in-group.” However, in reality, it is easier to define racial groups than it is to
define gender groups as separate divisions, since black people and white people are generally
geographically and socially separated from each other, white men and women are not.

In order to incorporate women successfully into the movement, it was essential to broaden
and expand the meaning of sisterhood to that of a common bond between women. Consolidated
by sisterhood, by a common connection of gender, heterogeneous women were expected to
develop an allegiance and common purpose. Although the women working within the movement
were mostly white and middle class (Tax, 319), the slogan “Sisterhood is Powerful” was directed
at all women – married and single, young, middle aged, and old, mothers and daughters, of every
race and religion, rich, poor, employed, unemployed, women on welfare, and those with different
cultures and sexual orientations (DuPlessis and Snitow, 15). The objective of the slogan was to
foster a common identity for the multifaceted group of women who were committed to (or might
be committed to) women’s liberation. Empowerment for women was considered both possible
and attainable only within the context of this type of common identity. Therefore, by organizing
collectively these women would acquire capacity to become a force with which to be reckoned.
Equally important, as a cohesive group, the women would be difficult to divide and suppress.
According to the ideology of women’s liberation, the solidarity of those joined in sisterhood
guaranteed not only the ability, but also the means required to obtain their goal of equal
economic, political, and social rights for women.
In the United States, where a patriarchal society dominates, an isolated woman lacks
personal and political power and carries little, if any, influence. Indeed, the majority of females in
the women’s liberation movement clearly understood from earlier experiences that the solitary
voice of a woman would be treated by men as inconsequential, and would therefore have

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