Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Remembering Karen DeCrow

I was not involved in NOW in the mid-1970's and never had the opportunity to meet Karen DeCrow,but I learned a great deal about her when doing research for my book Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982. The obituaries in the NYT in the Huffington Post did not convey her radical vision. She was a pioneer in bringing what we now call an intersectional approach to the feminist movement. From the section on the 1975 national NOW conference in Philadelphia described in Feminism in Philadelphia:

In her keynote address Karen DeCrow declared:

“This is not a woman’s movement; this is a people’s movement.” She made a public apology to lesbians and gays noting that “our failure has been in not seeing the unbreakable connection between sexual stereotyping and fear of gay people.” She also made an apology to women and men of color, pledging that NOW must use its resources to fight against racism in America, and affirming “this is not a white organization." (p.205)

The “Majority Caucus” which DeCrow led adopted a new slogan reflecting its vision for NOW:

The Majority Caucus adopted the slogan, “Out of theMainstream, into the Revolution.” This was quite a departure from the Statement of Purpose adopted at the first NOW conference in 1966: “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” In sharp contrast, national NOW President Karen DeCrow stated in 1975: “Most feminists have concluded that it is time for our aspirations and our actions to go out of the mainstream and into the revolution. To emerge from trying to get a piece of the pie which is tasteless and unfulfilling at best—to changing the very fabric of life for women and men and children alike." (p.200)

The new slogan disappeared at some point after the end of Karen DeCrow’s presidency. From Feminism in Philadelphia:
Interestingly, NOW went from its 1966 founding statement, “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society” to its 1975 slogan “out of the mainstream into the revolution” to the1979 assertion thatwomen are part of a “new mainstream.” With the backlash against feminismgrowing stronger, framing feminism as a “revolution” was probably not the best rhetorical move.(p.295)

Karen DeCrow was ahead of her time; I think her radical vision would resonate with many young feminists today.

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