What is consciousness-raising?

This is an introduction to the concept of consciousness-raising for young feminists.

From the Routledge Critical Dictionary of Feminism and Post-Feminism

“Consciousness-raising (or CR) was a primary tactic of second wave feminism, which regarded it as a way of developing a shared consciousness of oppression among women. Consciousness-raising groups were founded on the credo that ‘the personal is political,’ encouraging participants to share their personal life experiences, such as childhood, motherhood and marriage. The belief was that, far from each story being individual, common patterns would emerge, thus demonstrating that female experience, rather than being exclusive to the individual, was in fact rooted in a wider system of sex inequality. Consciousness-raising groups did not aim for total introspection, but advocated moving on from personal narratives to evolving strategies to deal with oppression.”p208

Carol Hanisch wrote the essay, The Personal is Political, in 1969, and she explains some key points about consciousness-raising. First, consciousness-raising can be thought of as the opposite of therapy. To elaborate, therapy is often the act of finding individual solutions to a problem where the individual must find ways to adjust to her oppression. However, consciousness-raising is the act of looking at how the structure of society has an effect on all of us as a group. Hanisch says, “We need to change the objective conditions, not adjust to them.”

Second, consciousness-raising is a form of political action. You are not there to solve your immediate personal problems. There usually is no immediate solution. CR gives you the knowledge you need to create long-term changes in your community. For example, one of the things that happened in CR sessions is that women realized that most of us have been sexually assaulted by men at some point in our lives. This led to women organizing sexual assault crisis centres in our communities.

I asked the question, “What is consciousness-raising” in a women-only Facebook group that has both older and younger feminists. We had an interesting discussion of what CR is and I would like to share a few things.

A consciousness-raising group has the following characteristics:

  • Is women-only
  • Is a safe space for discussing feminist issues
  • There is a level of trust among the participants
  • Focuses on structured discussion of the things we have in common as women
  • Develops class consciousness based on collective experience
  • A CR group has an element of education in it and can teach new members about feminism, but it isn’t limited to just sharing information.
  • It’s more than just a therapy group where people tell their stories and others comfort them, although this can happen in groups when it’s needed.

Some results of consciousness-raising are:

  • Ending self-blame for structural problems
  • Looking at each other and the world in a different way
  • Bonding, friendship and love between women
  • Inspires collective organizing
  • The building of a female worldview and female culture

There are some aspects of 1970s consciousness-raising that have stayed with us today. Many young women are aware that sexual assault and rape are common, for example, and that they are not the victim’s fault. (Although, unfortunately, there are still women who do blame victims.) Groups of young women today would benefit from discussing their shared experience of porn culture and over-sexualization, in addition to all the traditional discussion points.

There is another type of group that is similar to a CR group. Some women organize feminist books clubs where members read articles or books by feminists and then come to meetings ready for discussion. Some elements of CR can happen in these groups as well, although the focus is slightly different.

It is difficult to get women’s groups together in the climate we are in. There is a powerful backlash against feminism being led by the sex industry and the transgenderist cult. I have a group of women who get together regularly in my area and we do not advertise at all, we organize through private Facebook messages. Women should be allowed to publicly advertise their women-only groups to allow new members to join, but if you find this too dangerous, then use safer methods. The benefits of having in-person women’s groups are worth the work it takes to organize them. Women are able to talk much more freely when there is no risk of someone taking a screenshot or leaking information, and there is a lot we women have to discuss and share with each other.

6 thoughts on “What is consciousness-raising?

  1. I would love to be part of a feminist book club! I agree with your views on CR groups and how they are needed now more than ever.


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