Date of Award
Master of Arts
AN ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS OF JESSICA LOUISE LYNN, for the Master of Arts degree in HISTORY, presented on March 25, 2013, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: COUNTRY WOMEN: BACK-TO-THE-LAND FEMINISM AND RADICAL FEMINIST PRAXIS IN THE WOMEN'S LIBERATION MOVEMENT MAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Robbie Lieberman Historians of American History, cultural movements, the 60s-era, and even the counterculture frequently categorize second-wave feminism as a monolithic movement, its complexity minimized, its successes devalued. While there are a handful of feminist historians who have offered in depth, corrective histories to the popular narrative of the 60s-era, still missing from the historiography of the second-wave is a comprehensive analysis of the feminist women, and women who became feminists, in the counterculture's back-to-the-land movement. In studying a few feminist farms and communes that developed in the late 1960s, particularly in Mendocino County, California (and some that have survived to present day), and the literature produced therein, I hope to further the historical understanding of how second-wave radical feminist theory was put into practice, and to reveal how the praxis of radical feminism through living on the land enabled women to experience empowerment on a daily basis, and consequently how that empowerment has influenced subsequent generations' feminist undertakings. Back-to-the-land feminism suggests a way to bridge the gap between radical and cultural feminists, or at least suggests radical, social, and cultural feminism was at work as an intersectional, cross-referential aspect of women's liberation and was less divisive, teleological, or chronologically static than scholars thus far have contended. By examining back-to-the-land feminism, we can locate a specific praxis of radical feminist theory. Women's experiences using back-to-basics survival techniques on back-to-the-land communes (such as challenging traditional gender roles by learning "male" oriented work), creating alternatives to capitalist consumer culture (like attempting self-sufficiency and trade networks), experimenting with sexuality and finding empowerment in lesbian partnerships, and using grassroots organizing strategies for women's coalition building and empowerment were some of the ways radical feminist theory was put into practice. In the process of this historical examination I will explore some pertinent questions: Was opting to "drop out" of society to live in experimental, socialistic communities that were usually anti-government and outside of the hegemonic social order inherently apolitical? If so, does this necessarily oust them from feminist social movement? Were the back-to-the-land feminists enacting cultural feminist values, and if so, were they doing so at an earlier time than cultural feminism is said to have come (after radical feminism)? Were back-to-the-land feminists employing strategic separatism and strategic essentialism? And, what is the value in strategic essentialism, "cultural" feminism, and separatism, and how did these "-isms" help back-to-the-land women discover feminist values and enact radical feminism? Finally, how do we measure the success of back-to-the-land feminism, especially since these women are not by current academic standards necessarily considered radical feminists? By examining women's experiences in these back-to-the-land communities, exploring their discontent and subsequent feminist enlightenment, as well as locating their activism as radical feminism, I hope to bring to light an element of the feminist movement that has previously been unexamined.
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