MDG: I do wholeheartedly agree with you that the women's liberation movement has failed, in that it only succeeded in gaining for women the worst of what the system has to offer -- rat race jobs, less leisure time, more stress, etc. -- while not leading to a rethinking of how society should run. After all, one would think that with two incomes instead of one, people (at least couples) could afford to cut their work hours in half, but we know that the workweek has only gotten longer (while this last point may serve to bolster your assertion re: the origins of women's lib, it could also be argued that the system merely reacted to the greater number of workers by tightening the vice on our lives. Either way, it stinks).
Hank: I was wondering the same thing as MDG. I thought Betty Friedan's 1963 work "Feminine Mystique"--the book credited with the birth of modern feminism in America (feminists have said Simone de Beauvoir's 1949 "The Second Sex" was "ticking like a time bomb" through the fifties)--came about in relatively stable economic times.
I've always thought about it in more abstract terms. The Liberal Democratic Capitalist system that keeps yammering about rights and freedom is bound to produce segments of its oppressed who take such rhetoric seriously. Another one of the reasons for women joining the workforce is capitalism's inherent feature of turning all labor into wage labor. Thus the women leave the house for X dollars in the workplace, and pay X-y dollars to have someone take care of the kids. Or they they just do twice as much, or they get the husband to share the household chores.
Whatever the arrangement they may make, it's clear that lots of feminists have been co-opted by the system. American Feminism's politically oppositional elements have largely evaporated into narcissism-- single-single issue campaigns, job quotas for management positions, separatism, language issues, etc.-- thus strengthening the system.
It's not that these issues are not important, they are. (!) But these issues are not important in and of themselves, rather they only draw their force from the larger context of capitalist oppression. Narcissism plays very nicely into the bourgeois strategy of divide-and-conquer, and thus any movement which succumbs to narcissism will be put into the position where it can be bought off with concessions, false promises and bromides. And after being bought off with concessions, any further complaints the movement makes will fall on deaf ears. Any political movement that separates itself from the class struggle is thus ripe for being picked off by smug ridicule (hence the rise of odious phrases "politically correct" and "conspiracy theory").
Divide-and-conquer has worked well on the feminist movement, cutting it off from the larger class struggle, but it should be noted that when I say "divide and conquer strategy" I don't mean a CONSCIOUS CONSPIRACY in a SMOKY ROOM FULL OF FAT CAPITALIST ROBBER BARONS SMOKING CIGARS, I mean a set of ideological assumptions (i.e. and e.g. "we own, they work") which, stripped bare, can accomodate easily feminist demands for equal opportunity to sell labor power.
Sometimes even capitalists need to be reminded of the logic of their own system!
(However, I don't want to PLAY DOWN the conspiracy angle--these G7, G8, G~ meetings sure look like a bunch of fat guys smoking cigars to me!)
It's been my experience that, in America, feminism has been emptied of its revolutionary potential--at least institutionally, in the media and universities. Feminism has accepted the terms of its enemy, capitalism. Feminism has come to work within the capitalist framework. Whatever revolutionary impulses remain are CHANNELED, SUBLIMATED to issues everywhere BUT the basis of capitalism itself, which is private ownership of the means of production. So, official feminists such as Gloria Steinem talk about revolution in the home and sexist pronouns, but they don't do anything to attack the root of women's oppression, which is private property. Without aligning themselves with the class struggle, Feminism is doomed to irrelevance.
Such are the perils of a movement disjoining itself with the class struggle. And may God always smile on the Greens, but it will happen to them to if they're not careful.