Feminism, Anti-Feminism, and The Rise of a New Southern Strategy in the 1970s

  • Marjorie J. Spruill


In this chapter, Marjorie J. Spruill argues that Second-Wave Feminism cannot be fully understood without examining the counter-movements that also gained strength in the 1970s. While the Second-Wave feminists achieved substantial success in changing cultural expectations, laws, and policies in favor of equality for women, their success was also the reason why many conservative women mobilized in opposition. These conservative opposition groups rarely called themselves anti-feminists. Instead, they often called themselves “pro-family” and saw traditional family values under attack by feminists. They advocated for political leaders to restore “values” rather than promote “liberty” or “equality.” Conservative women became angered at the bipartisan support they saw the women’s movement receiving and began developing political strategies to oppose “women’s libbers,” eventually condemning feminist efforts as both anti-God and anti-American. Specifically, Spruill examines carefully the battles leading up to the International Women’s Year (IWY) conferences. She notes that the state-level conferences preceding the national meeting allowed anti-feminist groups the opportunity to learn how to mobilize, become politically active, and to see clearly how working across denominational boundaries allowed conservative groups—Baptists, Mormons, evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Pentecostals—an opportunity to defeat feminist objectives. Spruill argues that the beginning of the religious right was the formation of these interdenominational coalitions designed to oppose the efforts of feminists leading up to the IWY. Moreover, while the new GOP support was nationwide, there was a particular concentration of new support in the South, where religious and social conservatives were opposed to many of the issues espoused by feminists including abortion, homosexuality, minority rights, and government-supported programs such as health care. Thus, Spruill contends, as it became increasingly unacceptable to use overtly racist appeals to gain southern conservative Democratic votes, opposition to the women’s movement, and portraying the women’s movement as an extension of the Civil Rights Movement, became for Republicans a new “southern strategy.”

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marjorie J. Spruill
    • 1
  1. 1.University of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

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