Written by Tala Mourad, she/her
Since its inception, feminism has defined political, economic, and cultural movements that have established equal rights and statutory protections for women. In the '60s, the Civil Rights Movement inspired and mobilized women of all ages to crusade for greater standing in American society.
The personal is political.
Motivating the public to recognize the patriarchal expectations stitched into their lives, this movement worked to illustrate the connection between women's political and cultural disparities became clear. Women fought for numerous rights- legal, reproductive, body integrity and sovereignty, workplace benefits (like maternity leave and equal pay), and protection against domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape. Ultimately, they desired a legal system that protected women against any oppression. Debates about the roots of gender inequality, the essence of gender, and family roles erupted throughout the country, shocking the foundation of many households.
The equal pay act of 1963
One of the first state anti-discrimination statutes that attempted to remedy gender income disparities, the act decreed paying men and women who worked in the same position different wages for the same job unconstitutional.
President Lyndon B. Johnson's Civil Rights Act of 1964 was historic.
Civil rights and labor legislation finally prohibited discrimination based on race, color, belief, sex, nationality, and later sexuality and gender identity. It was going to usher in a 'new age of equality'. At least, in theory. Women eagerly applied for work, regardless, companies refused to pay equal wages. Women continued fighting for their rights.
Ford's Dagenham strike in 1968
Female machinists realized they had been paid 20% less than their male counterparts, and this caused 87 women to leave their job, eventually resulting in a larger protest. Lasting over three weeks, it catapulted the equal pay movement into the national limelight. Commercials from the 1980s told a distinct narrative, idolizing a woman in charge. Women could now work in whatever field they like. Employment opportunities for women as pilots, construction workers, soldiers, bankers, bus drivers, and the like opened up after decades of being male-dominated professions.
The Pill, 1966
The birth control pill had done more for women than anything else. It was a completely different type of sexual freedom. By 1966, over six million American women were using this contraceptive pill. With fertility control, women were able to delay raising children and space pregnancies to earn or educate themselves in a way that had previously been impossible. Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick, the creators of the Pill, relied on feminist ownership of abortion as a precondition of women's emancipation a decade before. They argued that women bear a disproportionate amount of the responsibility for pregnancy and child birthing. The health effects of contraceptives were called to the notice of the nation during Senate hearings in 1970. Citizens were outraged. The Pill is now seen as another sign of patriarchal control over womanhood. Women's dissatisfaction with the Pill fueled modern feminist criticism of American culture.
Betty Friedan and the Feminist Mystique, 1963
A key part of second-wave feminism, Friedan was a feminist activist and writer from the United States. Her novel, 'The Feminine Mystique', contributed to igniting the second-wave feminism movement. Her work challenged the notion that women could only be fulfilled by motherhood and domesticity.
"Permanently transformed the social fabric of the United States and countries around the world is widely regarded as one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.” - New York Times obituary.
Friedan emphasized faults in the advertising industry and school system. She argued that the confinement of women to the home, and menial jobs, resulted in a lack of personality and individuality.
Race and Second-Wave Feminism
Educated middle-class white women led second-wave feminism, focusing the movement on largely their interests. As a result, they developed an adversarial dynamic with women from other social classes and races. The fight against pay and job inequality was important in bridging the divide between the revolution and white labor-union women. Black women were forced to face the intersection of racism and misogyny- dubbed Misogynoir.
Being black and female was drastically different from being Black and male.
The National Black Feminist Organization's first conference, NYC, 1973
African American and white women established a productive working dynamically on particular topics. Sit-ins and marches were organized by ad-hoc groups for several reasons. They wanted to create rape response centers and health collectives. They needed gender stereotypes in children's literature to be eliminated. They pushed for women's studies programs to be developed in universities.
National Organization for Women
The movement's legal successes after the formation of NOW were many.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.
The outlawing of marital rape in all states in 1993, as well as the legalization of no-fault divorce.
Overall, second-wave feminism accomplished a lot for women all over the world, giving women the right to vote, access to contraceptives such as birth control pills, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the Women's Educational Equity Act, legalizing of no-fault divorce, the outlawing of marital rape in all states, and much more.
Medical research, sports, education, family life, employment, law, pop culture, literature and the visual arts, social work, global development thinking, and even religion were all dramatically altered by the revolution.
The successes and failures of second-wave feminism have strongly affected our lives, aiding and abetting our uphill climb to equality.