High School Women Ask: What is Women's Liberation?

from Womankind (1971) Chicago high school women confront sexism in their daily lives. from Womankind (December 1971)

(Editors Note: The CWLU did a lot of organizing among working class high school and community college students. Here are some reflections by high school women.)  

Women's Liberation is a movement of people coming together out of a need to learn what it means to be human, to understand what it means for forces around us to keep us from that humanity, and to act together creatively out of a sense of what it means to be free. Let's begin by sharing how we can be ourselves, let's move ahead with ideas of what we want to be:

...some stories and questions about our lives...

Kathy Evans, age 16, gets up at 6:15 to get to school by 7:45. Why does she need so much time?

Among the many things she does, is to smear on foundation to cover up those nasty pimples, when actually exposure to the air would speed up their departure. Then eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow, etc. to disguise her own natural beauty, but making her look like those gorgeous covergirls and ad-models. Blush over her own roses, a touch-up on her nails, and she's ready to take down her hair.

As she begins to brush she glances through the pictures in Seventeen magazine with all those perfect-looking girls and beautiful clothes. The advertisements cry out to her, "Buy our product and you'll be beautiful ... The boys will love you and you'll be happy." She sighs thinking of her small allowance.

Kathy struggles into a constricting girdle to flatten her tummy, no matter it pinches and feels hot all day -- she's used to that by now. On with the nylons, $2.50 stockings that can be ruined the first time by a little snag and run. She slips on her skirt, not quite mini, but short enough to be dangerous when sitting or bending over.

By now it is 7:15 so Kathy grabs a piece of toast; not too much because she's on a diet (so what else is new?). No matter she'll be droopy through her morning classes for lack of food.

Finally, our young lady is all dressed and ready to go. She grabs her purse, loaded with extra make-up, nail polish, etc., etc., picks up her books and is out the door, ready to sell her polished surface self to the world.

Why do girls wear makeup?

Why can't we just dig our bodies?

Do we worry about who we are or what we look like?

What is an honest relationship with a guy?

How are friendships between girls and between a girl and a guy different?

You come into school in the morning. After the bell rings the PA comes on and a familiar voice calmly screams at you: "Don't sit at the open windows in the John, because ladies don't do such a thing."

Following announcements you stroll through the hall to your first class. Here you are greeted “good morning" with a warning to shut up and keep your voice down in the hall or else. “After all you are ladies and well-bred ladies don't scream, but are softspoken and gentle."

The day continues and so do the warnings "Speak softly" - "sit like a lady" - "don't wear tight pants to or from school. We don't want people to get the wrong idea about what we teach here"...Sound familiar???????????????????

What exactly is a "lady"?

Sally, age 15, came home exuberant. She had helped her team win at the swim meet with Southwest High, by coming in first in the butterfly competition. But it wasn't just that her team had won, because she loved to swim. It was her way of expressing herself, giving her such a feeling of freedom as her body moved swiftly through the water. Her mind and body were together, smooth and coordinated.

But her world was soon to shatter, because she returned home to over hear a conversation that her mother was having with a neighbor:

"Madge, I don't understand why you let your daughter swim so much. It just isn't good for her. She is becoming a young woman now. All that swimming will develop her muscles and soon she will be unattractive to men.”

Sally was shocked and hurt. She didn't understand but she began to change. She started losing races, swimming wasn't as much fun as it used to be, and gradually she learned to be satisfied with sun bathing alongside the pool.

Why do girls wear makeup?

How do we know what we want to do with our lives?

How many alternatives do we really consider?

What if we tried to follow our dreams?

(this article was written by high school women as they viewed their lives)