The women’s movement is a diverse social movement, largely based in the United States, seeking equal rights and opportunities for women in their economic activities, their personal lives, and politics. It is recognized as the “second wave” of the larger feminist movement. While first-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on women’s legal rights, such as the right to vote, the second-wave feminism of the “women’s movement” peaked in the 1960s and ’70s and touched on every area of women’s experience—including family, sexuality, and work.
Prologue to a social movement In the aftermath of World War II, the lives of women in developed countries changed dramatically. Household technology eased the burdens of homemaking; life expectancies increased dramatically; and the growth of the service sector opened up thousands of jobs not dependent on physical strength. Despite these socioeconomic transformations, cultural attitudes (especially concerning women’swork) and legal precedents still reinforced sexual inequalities.
A hint of the desire for change appeared in Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxieme Sexe (1949; The Second Sex ). It became a worldwide best-seller and raised feminist consciousness by stressing that liberation for women was liberation for men too. The first public indication that change was imminent came with women’s reaction to the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique . Friedan spoke of the problem that “lay buried, unspoken” in the minds of the suburban housewife: utter boredom and lack of fulfillment.
Women who had been told that they had it all—nice houses, lovely children, responsible husbands—were deadened by domesticity, she said, and they were too socially conditioned to recognize their own desperation. The Feminine Mystiquewas an immediate best-seller. Friedan had struck a chord. Domestic Violence against women This refers to a social and legal concept that, in the broadest sense, refers to any abuse that takes place among people living in the same household, although the term is often used specifically to refer to assaults upon women by their male partners.
Estimated annual figures for the number of women in the United States who are subjected to psychological, verbal, emotional, or physical abuse by a male partner range from two to four million. Additional statistics indicate that domestic violence ranks as the leading cause of injury to women from age 15 to 44 and that one-third of the American women murdered in any given year are killed by current or former boyfriends or husbands. Perpetrators of domestic violence come from all socioeconomic, cultural, and educational backgrounds.
The stresses of poverty contribute to violence and seem to make the problem more common among those at the bottom of the class structure, but nonetheless most poor people are not violent. Being reared in abusive circumstances makes men more likely to be abusers and women more likely to be victims, but most children reared under these conditions are neither abusers nor victims. In a few cases men are beaten by women, although rarely do men suffer serious physical injury.
Frequently there is no workable solution for female victims of domestic violence. For some victims the unrelenting cycle of violence produces diminished self-esteem, helplessness, depression, and exaggerated feelings of imprisonment, even the belief that they deserve abuse. More material obstacles stand in the way of most victims. Many are financially dependent on their abusers, and, since many abuse victims are mothers, they particularly fear being unable to support their children if they leave a violent partner.
Many fear reporting the crime because the police can offer no reliable protection against men’s retaliation. One of the worst problems is that typical abusers often become most violent and vengeful precisely when women try to leave; numbers of women have been murdered by husbands literally inside courthouses as they try to press charges or to win orders of protection. In the early 1800s most legal systems implicitly accepted wife-beating as a husband’s right, part of his entitlement to control over the resources and services of his wife.
Feminist agitation in the 1800s produced a sea change in public opinion, and by the end of the 19thcentury most courts denied that husbands had any right to “chastise” their wives. But few women had realistic sources of help, and most police forces did nothing to protect women. The 1967 training manual for the International Association of Chiefs of Police stated that arrests in instances of domestic violence were to be made only as a “last resort. ” The revived women’s movement of the 1970s brought the issue of domestic violence into the open.
Feminists encouraged battered women to speak up and to refuse to accept blame for their victimization. Women’s organizations pressured police to treat domestic violence as they would treat any other assault, established battered women’s shelters where victims and their children could find safety, help, counseling, and legal advice. The increased visibility of these campaigns raised public awareness of the issue and sympathy for victims. This sympathy has been reflected in courts’ increased willingness to convict abusers and to allow women who have killed their abusers to use a self-defense plea when applicable.
The antiviolence against women movement won some public funding for shelters and led to the formation of national advocacy groups such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In1994 U. S. Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, and in 1995 President Bill Clinton established the Violence Against Women Office in the Department of Justice; this office attempts to aid and coordinate the work of federal, state, and local agencies on the issue of domestic violence. Reformers and revolutionaries
Initially, women energized by Friedan’s book joined with government leaders and union representatives who had been lobbying the federal government for equal pay and for protection against employment discrimination. By June 1966, they had concluded that polite requests were insufficient. They would need their own national pressure group—a women’s equivalent of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. With this, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was born. The organization was not an instant success.
By the end of its second year, NOW had just 1,035 members and was racked by ideological divisions. When the group tried to write a Bill of Rights for Women, it found consensus on six measures essential to ensuring women’s equality: enforcement of laws banning employment discrimination; maternity leave rights; child-care centres that could enable mothers to work; tax deductions for child-care expenses; equal and unsegregated education; and equal job-training opportunities for poor women. Two other measures stirred enormous controversy: one demanded immediate passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.
S. Constitution (to ensure equality of rights, regardless of sex); the other demanded the liberalization of contraception and abortion. When NOW threw its support behind passage of the ERA, the United Auto Workers union—which had been providing NOW with office space—withdrew its support because the ERA would effectively prohibit protective labour legislation for women. When some NOW members called for repeal of all abortion laws, other members left the fledgling organization, convinced that this latest action would undermine their struggles against economic and legal discrimination.
NOW’s membership was also siphoned off from the left. Impatient with a top-heavy, traditional organization, activists in New York City, where half of NOW’s membership was located, walked out. Over the next two years, as NOW struggled to establish itself as a national organization, more radical women’s groups were formed by female antiwar, civil rights, and leftist activists who had grown disgusted by the New Left’s refusal to address women’s concerns. Ironically, sexist attitudes had pervaded 1960s radical politics, with some women being exploited or treated unequally within those movements.
In 1964, for example, when a woman’s resolution was brought up at a Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) conference, Stokely Carmichael flippantly cut off all debate: “The only position for women in SNCC is prone. ” While NOW focused on issues of women’s rights, the more radical groups pursued the broader themes of women’s liberation. Although they lacked the kind of coherent, national structure NOW had formed the more radical women’s liberation groups—as opposed to women’s rights groups—sprang up in Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, Detroit, and elsewhere. Suddenly, the women’s liberation movement was everywhere—and nowhere.
It had no officers, no mailing address, no printed agenda. What it did have was attitude. In September 1968, activists converged on Atlantic City, New Jersey, to protest the image of womanhood conveyed by the Miss America Pageant. In February 1969, one of the most radical feminist groups, the Redstockings, published its principles as “The Bitch Manifesto. ” Based in New York City, the Redstockings penned the movement’s first analysis of the politics of housework, held the first public speak-out on abortion, and helped to develop the concept of “consciousness-raising” groups—rap sessions to unravel how sexism might have coloured their lives.
The Redstockings also held speak-outs on rape to focus national attention on the problem of violence against women. Responding to these diverse interests, NOW called the Congress to Unite Women, which drew more than 500 feminists to New York City in November 1969. The meeting was meant to establish common ground between the radical and moderate wings of the women’s movement, but it was an impossible task. Well-dressed professionals convinced that women needed to reason with men could not unite with wild-haired radicals whose New Left experience had soured them on polite discourse with “the enemy.
” NOW’s leadership seemed more comfortable lobbying politicians in Washington or corresponding with NASA about the exclusion of women from the astronaut program, while the young upstarts preferred disrupting legislative committee hearings. NOW leaders were looking for reform; the more radical women were plotting a revolution. Successes and failures Despite such dissension in its leadership and ranks, the women’s movement achieved much in a short period of time.
With the eventual backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (1965), women gained access to jobs in every corner of the U. S. economy, and employers with long histories of discrimination were required to provide timetables for increasing the number of women in their workforces. Divorce laws were liberalized; employers were barred from firing pregnant women; and women’s studies programs were created in colleges and universities. Record numbers of women ran for—and started winning—political office.
In 1972, Congress passed Title IX of the Higher Education Act, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program receiving federal funds and thereby forced all-male schools to open their doors to women and athletic programs to sponsor and finance female sports teams. And in 1973, in its controversial ruling on Roe v. Wade , the United States Supreme Court legalized abortion. Political movements, however, rarely last more than a decade, and the dwindling of the women’s movement was hastened by NOW’s singular focus on the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Led by women such as Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem, the ERA passed Congress in 1972. But its ratification by the states became a rallying point for the backlash against feminism. Antifeminists such as Phyllis Schlafly organized a crusade against the amendment, warning—correctly or not—that it would, among other things, invalidate state sodomy laws, outlaw single sex bathrooms in public places, legalize same-sex marriage, and make taxpayer-funded abortion a constitutional right. Needing 38 states to ratify within 10 years of its passage by Congress, the amendment fell three states short.
The failure of the ERA was followed by the gradual demise of organized, often bellicose activity by masses of women in the United States. Moreover, there was a growing national sense that the core goals of the women’s movement had been achieved. NOW continued to work for women’s rights into the new millennium—to defend abortion rights (a cause made more prominent by the National Abortion Rights Action League) and sexual harassment laws, to promote full equality in the military (including combat duty), and to secure greater federal funding for child care and for programs to prevent violence against women.
But despite NOW’s growth, both in budget and in membership, its activism became fragmented and fraught with dissension. On college campuses, feminists argued among themselves and against their colleagues over such questions as whether male professors involved in consensual relationships with female students were guilty of “sexual harassment. ” They debated the validity of women’s studies as an academic major. The role of women in the armed forces became a point of contention as some hoisted the standard of equality while others protested that mothers should not be sent off to war.
By the 1990s, a movement that was once defined by its radical pitch had taken on new tones—some of them conservative. The divide over abortion continued to alienate many women, such as the Feminists for Life, who believed fervently in women’s rights but disagreed with the mainstream movement’s position on abortion. That divide deepened when, in 1998, Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, declared her opposition to abortion on demand. Eventually, a backlash cast doubt on many of the social and economic achievements fostered by the women’s movement.
Faced with increasing numbers of single mothers and older divorced women living in poverty, many Americans began to wonder whether no-fault divorce and the end of most alimony had, in fact, served women’s best interests. With a growing number of young children spending their early years in institutional day care, debates erupted over whether women were abdicating their maternal responsibilities and whether federal policies that gave tax breaks to working mothers were encouraging a further deterioration of the family unit.
Feminists were further targeted as the primary culprits behind the many by-products of the sexual revolution, from the increased rate of teen pregnancy to the spread of AIDS. Ironically, however, many of the purveyors of those opinions were women who had achieved prominent status—thanks to the gains of the women’s movement. References Bell Hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, 2nd ed. (2000) Shulamith Firestone, Carol Gilligan, and Simone de Beauvoir. Alison M. Jaggar and Paula S. Rothenberg (eds. ), Feminist Frameworks: Alternative Theoretical Accounts of the Relations Between Women and Men, 3rd ed. (1993)