Consciousness Raising and CCLOW
BY SHAUNA BUTTERWICK
Consciousness raising groups spread rapidly during the late sixties and into the seventies throughout North America, during the second wave of the feminist movement. The first groups of this second wave emerged from the activities of the New York Radical Women (1). These women had left the New Left movement because of the repressive activities of their male colleagues (2). They found that when men were present women's problems were not taken seriously and groups became stratified. Their experiences led them to create a space where women would feel free to break their silence rather than to have it continue.
The New York Women met regularly to plan for public actions and demonstrations. A major activity at these meetings was discussion of women's oppression, often using material from books and articles. At one particular meeting the discussion began, instead, with a member of the group telling her own story. What was different and powerful was how this woman related the abstract notion of oppression to her own experiences. This link to their personal lives and the sharing of common experiences revealed a very powerful way to understand women's oppression. There was much debate about how this would take place.
Rules on how to proceed were not established because it was feared they would lead to the formation of methodological experts. There was no one method of consciousness raising; the one important principle was to go to the sources, both historic and personal-to go to the women. Some groups, however, found that just letting things happen led to avoidance of certain topics because they were difficult or painful to discuss. Study plans were therefore organized as a way to cover certain areas (such as production, socialization, sexuality, and reproduction), to give structure to group meetings, and to encourage cross-group communication at monthly "collective" meetings.