Women were a large part of the antiwar movement, even though they were sometimes relegated to second-class status within the organizations or faced sexism within opposition groups. Some leaders of anti-war groups viewed women as sex objects or secretaries, not actual thinkers who could contribute positively and tangibly to the group’s goals, or believed that women could not truly understand and join the antiwar movement because they were unaffected by the draft. Women involved in opposition groups disliked the romanticism of the violence of both the war and the antiwar movement that was common amongst male war protestors. Despite the inequalities, participation in various antiwar groups allowed women to gain experience with organizing protests and crafting effective antiwar rhetoric. These newfound skills combined with their dislike of sexism within the opposition movement caused many women to break away from the mainstream antiwar movement and create or join women’s antiwar groups, such as Another Mother for Peace, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and Women Strike for Peace (WSP), also known as Women For Peace. Female soldiers serving in Vietnam joined the movement to battle the war and sexism, racism, and the established military bureaucracy by writing articles for antiwar and antimilitary newspapers.
Mothers and older generations of women joined the opposition movement, as advocates for peace and people opposed to the effects of the war and the draft on the generation of young men. These women saw the draft as one of the most disliked parts of the war machine and sought to undermine the war itself through undermining the draft. Another Mother for Peace and WSP often held free draft counseling centers to give young men legal and illegal methods to oppose the draft. Members of Women For Peace showed up at the White House every Sunday for 8 years from 11 to 1 for a peace vigil. Such female antiwar groups often relied on maternalism, the image of women as peaceful caretakers of the world, to express and accomplish their goals. The government often saw middle-aged women involved in such organizations as the most dangerous members of the opposition movement because they were ordinary citizens who quickly and efficiently mobilized.
Many women in America sympathized with the Vietnamese civilians affected by the war and joined the opposition movement. They protested the use of napalm, a highly flammable jelly weapon created by Dow Chemical Company and used as a weapon during the war, by boycotting Saran Wrap, another product made by the company.
Faced with the sexism sometimes found in the antiwar movement, New Left, and Civil Rights Movement, some women created their own organizations to establish true equality of the sexes. Some of frustrations of younger women became apparent during the antiwar movement: they desired more radical change and decreased acceptance of societal gender roles than older women activists. Female activists’ disillusion with the antiwar movement led to the formation of the Women’s Liberation Movement to establish true equality for American women in all facets of life.
One thought on “Opposition to the Vietnam War Part VI”
Thank you for showing the other side of the U.S.’s involvement in the Vietnamese Civil War. As a draftee and later a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, I always felt we were looked upon as 2nd rate Veterans by both “Enlistees” and the U.S. general populous. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that I could prove the REAL reason why we got involved in Vietnam. Having been in a “Recon. Airplane Co.”, I was privy to many “secrets” about the war. First, we were not there to further democracy, just look at the period between “President” Diem and “President” Thieu, with the many military coups. But it was for the Oil in the South China Sea (i.e. Brunei and Indonesia, with their rich Oil holdings), which we knew was there, back as far as 1950. But I digress.
Why there is little opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today is there is no draft and the 18 to 26 year olds need not worry about the possibility of having to serve in the military. So there is an apathy about our involvement in Iraq (while I believe that our involvement in Afghanistan is a righteous position). Anyway, thanks for this series of articles, as you surprised me.
Steve Schlah, UCSB grad in Asian History and retired History teacher