Major world-historical events such as the Korean War and the Cuban Revolution are framed in Cold War historiography through masculine narratives of armed upheaval that became the source of international conflicts as part of the Cold War; or equally masculine narratives of anti-war agitation and Third Worldist militancy. When women enter the picture at all, they are usually as victims, survivors, or sometimes fighters, but rarely does this change the overall narrative itself. This panel examines how African American women, North Korean women, and Cuban women addressed the geopolitical context of the 1950s by theorizing about the perils of warfare, organizing grassroots efforts, and becoming part of a transnational movement to connect women’s struggles for self-determination to struggles against fascism, racism, capitalism, and imperialism.
These papers contribute to ongoing scholarly reassessments of the 1950s, once viewed primarily as a period of leftist and feminist retreat as Cold War dynamics raised the stakes for radical activism. A growing body of scholarship, however, emphasizes the importance of communist or left feminism in the development of the women’s movement, challenging the ‘wave’ metaphor of feminist history, as well as the ‘containment’ view of 1950s history as a period of retrenchment in radical politics. The papers in this panel session highlight the importance of 1950s efforts against racism, sexism, war, and imperialism, and as such complicates historical narratives and periodizations around “waves” of feminism, Old and “New” Lefts, and the emergence of radical racial justice movements.