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Mon May 27, 2013, 03:34 PM

Women and the Language of Peace Protest

In January 1968, young feminist antiwar activists in the U.S temporarily broke with a long tradition of protesting war as mothers. At an all-women’s protest against the Vietnam War, they symbolically buried “Traditional Womanhood” and claimed the right to protest as independent citizens. Does it matter what language women use to protest war ?

Throughout history, women have often leveraged their legitimacy and status as mothers—or even as grandmothers—to protest war and violence. In the United States, for example, Carrie Chapman Catt and Jane Addams founded the Woman’s Peace Party in 1915, which eventually became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Like so many other women of their generation, they argued that women’s special life-giving and preserving role as mothers gave them a unique right to seek universal disarmament in the 1920s.
That tradition was dramatically challenged on January 15, 1968 by American young feminists. On that day, about 5,000 women peace activists from two generations gathered in Washington D.C. to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. They called themselves the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, in honor of the first woman elected to the U.S.Congress, a pacifist, who had voted against both world wars.

Interspersed among the crowd were approximately 500 young feminists, who, in a controversial act of defiance, decided to symbolically bury “Traditional Womanhood” at the protest. The ritual was hardly spontaneous. After months of consciousness raising, they had decided that “the Brigade was playing upon the traditional female role in the classic manner. They came as wives, mothers and mourners; that is, tearful and passive reactors to the actions of men rather than organizing as women to change that definition of femininity to something other than a synonym for weakness, political impotence, and tears.” They demanded to be heard as citizens, not as mothers.


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