Reanalyzing the movements of the 1970s provides a new perspective on feminism today.
Judy Wu, associate professor of women’s studies and history at Ohio State University, explored the ’70s feminist movements in Vietnam protesting the war. In a lecture Tuesday, Wu noted that the movements, which originated in Vietnam and then spread to the United States, gave rise not only to feminist movements in Southeast Asia but also collaboration between feminists from Asia and the Western world.
“These feminist movements changed everything,” Wu said. “It used to be that women and men couldn’t apply for the same jobs or even attend the same universities.”
The central principle of the ’70s movement was that women were as capable of achievement and influence as men, Wu noted. The idea remains relevant 40 years later in modern society.
“Duke women truly are reaping the benefits of the feminist movement,” Wu said.
Several audience members expressed gratitude and support for Wu’s research. Victoria Hesford, a postdoctoral associate in women’s studies, said Wu’s message resonated with her own perceptions of the importance of the feminist movement.
“Professor Wu is doing very important work,” Hesford said. “She truly is making us rethink the movements of the ’70s and how they influenced modern feminist movements.”
Miles Grier, a provost’s postdoctoral associate at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, said he was interested in the dynamics and collaboration that the ’70s movements initiated between the Vietnamese women in the East and women in Europe and the U.S. Such cooperation contrasted with the imperialist activities of Western governments in the Vietnam War era, Grier said.
“What Professor Wu’s work gets at is that feminism was not necessarily a gift from the West to the East,” he said. “In fact, in this case, the feminist movement originated from the east.”
The movements of the ’70s featured the rise of international collaboration between women encouraged by the Vietnamese Women’s Union. Women in the East and West shared political understanding because of the racial, class and gender inequities both groups faced. This new interconnectivity—termed global sisterhood—sought to deconstruct and erase boundaries between women in the Eastern and Western hemispheres by promoting dialogue and discussion about the destructiveness of war and the improvements that could be made.
“The VMU were interested in face-to-face interactions and how that affected global sisterhood and internationalism,” Wu said.
In Vietnam, the rise of women’s involvement in efforts to stop the war by joining the fight and participating in guerilla warfare gave way to female empowerment in the country. Such progress inspired Asian-American women to catalyze their own social movements.
“Asian-American women were effectively invisible before the war,” Wu said. “They had to move ahead without the help from any institutions or organizations.”
Wu encourages Duke students to learn from the strategies used by the VMU and feminists in Europe and the U.S. to continue to redefine feminism today.
“We should use the strategies of the ’70s feminist movements to get people to think,” Wu said. “We need to change people’s perceptions and ultimately get them to act on these changes.”