Women in the Seventies: Problems and Possibilities, April 17, 1970, page 1
Rossi [Women's] Movement/history and early stirrings WOMEN IN THE SEVENTIES: PROBLEMS AND POSSIBILITIES by Alice S. Rossi For a sociologist to discuss the topic of Women in the Seventies is both a risky and presumptuous venture. It assumes an ability on the part of sociology to either predict the future course of events or to chart a desirable direction to take in the coming decade. Yet there is little precedence on which to build a case that sociology is particularly qualiﬁed or successful in predicting social change. Sociology predicted neither the sharp rise nor the fall of fertility rates in the past twenty-ﬁve years in the United States. It predicted neither the emergence nor the critical turning points in the civil rights movement during the 1960's. No urban sociologists warned us in the 1940’s and 1950’s of the consequences for our cities of heavy in-migration of poor southern blacks coupled with heavyout-migration of middle class whites to suburbia. We decried the political apathy of students in the 1950’s and wrote of the “end of ideology” only to ﬁnd our campuses alive with highly politicized students in the 1960’s. In much the same way, the profession was taken by surprise last fall by the scope, persistence and political sting of the analysis and demands of the women's caucus I led at the annual sociology meetings, as I am sure other ﬁelds were by equally vigorous actions by women at their professional meetings in the course of the current academic year. I am also quite sure that at the moment, many of my male sociology colleagues are convinced that by merely waiting out the storm, the current upsurge of activism among professional women will die down and they can continue to operate departments, research institutes and the universities on a “business as usual” male basis. I think they are profoundly mistaken in this expectation, at the same time I am deeply concerned by what I believe are diﬂicult times ahead for the cur- rent women’s rights movement. To say this is to admit that despite the poor record of my profession as predictors of future social and political events, I have entered the fray and shall discuss what I think the problems and possibilities are for signiﬁcant change in the status of women during the 1970's. It should be clear from the outset, however, that I shall be speaking in more than my capacity as a sociologist. I shall draw on my own personal experiences as a woman in academia and private life, upon active participation in several reform movements in recent years, and upon a political commitment to fundamental change in American society. To view personal experience, passion and politics as relevant ingredients to a sociological analysis is to take a radical departure from the scientiﬁc credo on which most sociologists of my generation have been reared. Since this is quite important to an assessment of what I have to say, let me expand on this point. To read contemporary sociological journals is to acquire a view of the ﬁeld that is consistent with the value free scientiﬁc neutrality our textbooks urge upon young sociologists. I would submit, however, that a detached scientiﬁc neutrality is actually the exception rather than the rule in sociology, however much the passion and the politics are written out when sociologists commit themselves to paper and crowd our periodicals and bookshelves with their ounces of “truth.” Politics is where research begins; it helps to select and deﬁne the problem to be studied; it is involved in procuring funds to support research; it is very much present in the way a sociologist sets up a study design and again when he or she attempts to get the results published. One of the glaring omissions in the graduate education of sociologists is a frank and open analysis of the political process within which research is conducted. Passion is a second typically neglected component in sociology. To read the works of most sociologists of any generation, with such notable exceptions as C. Wright Mills, Lee Rainwater, Irving Horowitz or Lewis Coser, is to gain an image of bloodless insensates looking down at human .behavior from some cognitive height of detachment. I am not sure in my own mind whether this is achieved by a purposeful suppression of a passionate component, or whether it derives from an absence of such passion in sociologists as an occupational specialty. Certainly our models of sociological excellence have prescribed the exclusion of passion -and politics, but whether this operates as a self-selecting device in recruitment to the ﬁeld, or as a consequence of rigorous socialization in graduate programs, is an unsettled question.