In this episode of High Theory, Katherine Turk tells us about Sisterhood, a familial metaphor used to evoke gendered solidarity in women’s movement of the mid-sixties and seventies, and a utopian ideal of equality within the human family. It’s a universalizing but aspirational concept that helped feminists build a political coalition.
Our conversation is based upon Katherine’s new book about the National Organization of Women: The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America (MacMillan, 2023). This mainstream feminist organization is often neglected in histories of the period, dismissed as a liberal organization dedicated to incremental change. But NOW was an expansive organization that changed over time, shifted the conversation and legal structures in the US, and left an important historical record that we can learn from in social justice work today.
Katherine Turk is an associate professor of History and an adjunct associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Her research and teaching focus on women, sex, gender, law, labor, and modern social movements. Her first book Equality on Trial: Gender and Rights in the Modern American Workplace (Politics and Culture in Modern America Series, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) studies the history of Title VII of the 1964 US Civil Rights Act, which outlawed workplace discrimination on the basis of such personal attributes as sex, race, and religion.
The image for this week was made by Saronik Bosu. It shows Aileen Hernandez, Mary Jean Collins, and Patricia Hill Burnett, leaders of NOW who are the primary subjects of Katherine’s book.