Woman's Estate Essay - Critical Essays

Juliet Constance Wyatt


Mitchell’s text serves two purposes in the women’s movement: as a descriptive document of contemporaneous practices in the movement and as a prescriptive document that purports to outline the future of the movement. Mitchell’s description of the 1960’s political scene is primarily of historical interest: Her view is that of a British writer whose perspective on American politics is primarily informed by her fellow activists and from media accounts. Thus she incorrectly identifies the Black Power segment of the Civil Rights movement as the most important segment of the African American struggle for equality. Her writing on feminism, however, provides great insight into the movement, and her theoretical emphasis lays the groundwork for much of the current debate in feminist and cultural theory.

Mitchell is most persuasive when describing the causes and potentials of 1960’s politics. Her approach is usually historically oriented, with a few notable lapses, but it is always dialectical in presentation. Materialist dialectics, as proposed by Karl Marx, can be used to explain a cultural event in relation to its material base, while also accounting for the contradictory forces of history. Mitchell focuses on the contradictions of 1960’s society that caused the seemingly spontaneous growth of liberation movements, as well as the contradictions that these movements often unwittingly embraced and embodied. Her primary examples in part 1 deal with the nature of consumer culture, women’s education, and the sexual revolution.

Mitchell views the expansion of capitalism into the consumer market as a contradictory phenomenon. To create and exploit any market successfully, capital must necessarily expand the individual’s definition of needs, requiring a redirection of desire and a new definition of experience. Mitchell finds the 1960’s philosophy of “Do your own thing” to be a perfect example of this contradiction. Society can cultivate the ideology of spontaneous expression and consumption as long as the expression assumes the form of approved activity. The ideology can lead to dangerous or subversive conduct, however, if the...

(The entire section is 883 words.)