Illustration by Sidney Howard

National Women’s Liberation revives history

If women didn’t conform to dress code, they were sentenced to 48 hours of enforced physical detention. And that was just the first strike: Strike three meant indoor confinement for an entire weekend. Curfew was set to 10 p.m. The boys, on the other hand, could watch the sun rise if they wanted.

These types of policies had been in place since the University of Florida became co-ed in 1947. The women’s liberation movement — ongoing around the country but particularly active in Gainesville — protested the sexist policies. After, UF women were free from a curfew and dress code.

The women’s activism sent a clear message: with action comes change. And for the past 30 years, National Women’s Liberation, or NWL, has kept the message alive through programs like its annual 10-week, action-organizing workshop “Where Do I Fit In?”

But this year’s workshop is slightly different. It will span four weeks instead of the usual 10. Classes begin June 1 and cost between $25 and $50 to register for all four. And women who don’t have the financial needs are covered.

“We don’t turn anyone away for inability to pay,” said Stephanie Seguin. “If someone wants to take [the class], we will find a way for them to take it.”

Seguin, who is organizing this year’s workshop, was one of the original founders of Gainesville’s NWL. She was a part of its creation in 2008, when Carol Giardina, a founder of the local Gainesville Women’s Liberation, which had been alive since the ‘60s, packed up and moved to New York. There, she connected Gainesville’s organization, the first liberation movement in the South, with Redstockings, one of the original groups of the ‘60s Women’s Liberation Movement.

The workshops–both the upcoming one in June and next spring’s–will focus on analyzing the historic struggle of women’s war and the revolutionary progress made throughout the 60s and 70s. How did women fight oppression then? What tactics could be extracted and applied to the ongoing fight today?

This isn’t a superficial educational workshop, though. Seguin comes back year after year determined to create real action in the community.

“We want to raise consciousness, not awareness,” Seguin said.

The workshops hugely emphasize consciousness-raising as a quintessential tool in liberation success. A borrowed tactic of the 60s movement, consciousness-raising invites women to bitch. Bitch it all out and dissect society.

Seguin herself doubted consciousness-raising circles before she joined her first in 1997.

“I thought it was one of those things where we all sit around and talk about our feelings,” she said.

In consciousness-raising, though, women don’t just sit around and “talk”; they analyze and dismantle. And it’s not just “feelings”; it’s the societal constructs shaping their self-critique of hair, waistlines, attitudes and aspirations.

Consciousness-raising turns women’s experiences into data itself. In a consciousness-raising session for a full-length ‘Where Do I Fit In?’ workshop, this data is further analyzed to pinpoint a problem in society. Then the women in the workshop hit the drafting board and devise a concrete plan to create change.

The 2005 workshop, Seguin recalled, made a particularly big impact. The women of the workshop organized action against strict Morning-After Pill regulation at the time. They stood at the corner of 13th Street and University Avenue and handed out the Morning-After Pill for free–no prescription necessary. Until 2006, a prescription was required to buy the treatment, and women visiting the UF clinics had to sign a waiver promising they would be good, responsible girls before receiving it.

It was this kind of direct action that helped women of the 60s and 70s make serious strides. In 1969, the women of Redstockings broke into a legislative hearing on reforming New York State’s abortion laws. The panel of “experts” consisted of a dozen men and a Catholic nun; Redstockings demanded real authorities be making these decisions instead.

These break-ins, speak-outs and consciousness-raisings pushed the movement through history, and today NWL looks back to move forward.

“We’re not teaching this history just for the sake of knowing it,” Seguin said. “We’re teaching it because we want to build a movement.”

More information on “Where Do I Fit In?” can be found at www.womensliberation.org/chapters/gwl; or call Stephanie Seguin at 352-727-8144.