Women's Liberation Movement

Feminism Glossary Definition

Marchers with Women's Liberation banner
Women's Liberation group marches in protest in support of Black Panther Party, New Haven, November, 1969. David Fenton/Getty Images

Definition: The women's liberation movement was the collective struggle for equality, most active during the late 1960s and 1970s, that sought to free women from oppression and male supremacy. The women's liberation movement consisted of women's liberation groups, advocacy, protests, consciousness-raising, feminist theory and a variety of diverse individual and group actions on behalf of women and freedom.

The term women's liberation movement is often used synonymously with either "women's movement" or "second wave feminism," although there were actually many different types of feminist groups. Even within women's liberation, women's groups held differing beliefs about organizing tactics and whether working within the patriarchal establishment could effectively bring about desired change.

Women's liberation movement is also sometimes seen as synonymous with radical feminism, as both were concerned with freeing members of society from oppressive social structure. Both have sometimes been characterized as a threat to men, particularly when the movements use rhetoric about "struggle" and "revolution." However, feminist theorists overall are actually concerned with how society can eliminate unfair sex roles. There is more to women's liberation than the anti-feminist fantasy that feminists are women who want to eliminate men.

Many feminists and historians trace the roots of the women's liberation movement to the New Left and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. Women who worked in those movements often found that they were not treated equally, even within liberal or radical groups that claimed to fight for freedom and equality.

In this way, feminists of the 1960s had something in common with feminists of the 19th century: early women's rights activists such as Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were inspired to organize for women's rights after being excluded from men's anti-slavery societies and abolitionist meetings.

Women wrote fiction, non-fiction and poetry about ideas of the 1960s and 1970s women's liberation movement. A few of these feminist writers were: Frances M. Beal, Simone de Beauvoir, Shulamith Firestone, Carol Hanisch, Audre Lorde, Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich and Gloria Steinem.