In the past, the place of women in the society was only recognized as that next to the man. Her roles and responsibilities clearly defined as that of being a home-maker, the support for her husband, a mother to her children, nothing more, nothing less. Girls that eventually became women grew up with these facts as they were taught and instilled in them from a tender age hence did not expect any more from life. However, there are those that challenged these societal expectations. Questioned these roles and responsibilities that they were expected to live by. These individuals went against the grain and as a result, were labeled radicals or outcasts, lost, as they did not understand their place in the society.
However misunderstood as they were, they fought on, challenging institutions such as the family, the workplace and even the government that formed the bedrock of society. Starting from only a small group of women, they grew to become a movement with thousands more supporting their cause. Therefore, the ‘radicals’ as they were referred to saw more women and men joining from all walks of life. This changed the perception of the movement that was previously seen as an all white, middle class women’s group to become representative of the face of society.
This brought dramatic changes as the society was forced to listen to them, becoming the most influential women’s movement of all times. This even led to the changes in legislation, for instance, the American Woman report (President Roosevelt Commission on the Status of Women). This paper will bring the movement into close focus, particularly addressing feminism, the objectives of feminists as well as differences that existed between feminists.
Second wave of feminism
In order to understand the origin and development of the second wave of feminism, it is imperative to first understand the first wave of feminism because this is what led to the second wave of feminism. Therefore, the first wave of feminism took place between the 19th century and early 20th century. During this time, the black community was fighting slavery. As a show of support, the American movement aligned themselves to support the fighting of slavery by associating with the Anti-slavery movement in its early years of existence. As a result of this, the movement was labeled radical by most political organizations. Other associations that were made by the movement included the protest movements of the pre-civil decades which were involved in the fight for the end of slavery. Therefore, the first wave of feminism virtually began from these abolitionist movements.
The support for women suffrage was from the association with the Women Suffrage Movement according to the Women Suffrage and the 19th century document. The movement was also associated with abolitionists which the American movement found themselves aligned with. This saw more individuals from the black community supporting the cause (Petition for Woman Suffrage Signed by Frederick Douglass, Jr).
The mistakes of the first wave of feminism are what ultimately led to the second wave of feminism. Firstly, after the end of the civil war era, the support of women was changed to the support of former slaves. The middle class ultimately adopted a racist approach to this and since a majority of the Movement’s women were from the middle class, they adopted the racist stance and an anti-immigrant stance in the support of women’s suffrage. This consideration did not go well with women from the black community. Secondly, the insistence of the movement to win the women’s suffrage saw the diversion of other agendas of the movement to change their focus on a single issue. This led to the abandoning of the broader agenda of the Movement. Lastly, the movement was comprised with a majority of white, middle class, college graduate women. This defeated their notion of being representative of society and their ability to speak on behalf of all women.
The women movement learnt from their mistakes and this was seen in the second wave of feminism. In this case, the composition of the movement changed. This time, women from all walks of life, more notably from the black community and those from the working class joined the movement. The second wave also saw the adoption of a broader agenda in an attempt to diversify its stance on various societal issues.
One of the goals was to change the inequality that existed in the workplace. The only jobs that women could do were being a teacher, secretary or a nurse. These limitations were in prevalent and prevented women from taking up more blue-collar jobs. Therefore, feminists were hell-bent to change this occurrence in the American Movement as exhibited by the organization, National Organization of Women (NOW) that lobbied for Congress to adopt the Pro-Equality laws (Record Group 11, Amendments to the Constitution)
Secondly, feminists also wanted women to take up leadership positions. Essentially, men in society were the ones recognized as leaders, stemming from the fact that men are the heads of the households; it was therefore expected for them to take up leadership in the society. Feminists fought this as to promote equal opportunity for all.
Thirdly, feminists wanted to voice various societal issues that were swept under the rug, such as rape and domestic violence. Their main aim was to sensitize the public on the happenings of these social evils by seeking a media audience.
Lastly, they wanted equality in legislation. In this regard, feminists proposed various amendments to be adopted in the constitution. For instance, the Equal Rights Amendment was a proposal to make an amendment to the Constitution that aimed to protect the rights of women (H.J. Res. 75, proposing the Equal Rights Amendment). Congress ratified this amendment by 30 states but failed to ratify the required 8 votes (Martha Griffiths's Discharge Petition for the Equal Rights Amendment, June 11, 1970).
Differences between feminists
One notable difference is age. The age difference brought divided opinions on issues under discussion. For instance, Betty Friedman, founder of NOW wanted an organization that could be incorporated into mainstream society (Pollitt, 2006). However, the younger feminists were of the opinion that NOW was filled with old peoples, with stuffy ideas (Medhi, 1996)
Secondly, there were differences in social classes. Feminists were divided between upper-class feminists and working class feminists. This distinction brought up differences in opinions hence resulting to varied stances on issues
Lastly, some feminists were radical while others conservative. The former took up issues that were considered radical by the society. For instance, the support for the abolitionist movement was seen to be radical by most political factions. On the other hand, the conservative feminists wanted to project the image of individuals who wanted to defend the rights of women and not come across as man-hating individuals.
Private Vs Public issues
According to Smith (2000), by framing the issues of inequality and oppression in social relationships such as the family and personal lives as a political question, issues that were considered private found themselves in the spheres of political discussions. Furthermore, Sarachild (1990) indicated that most young women activists recognized the personal is indeed political thereby using consciousness-raising discussions to address these issues as well as come up with innovative practices to address them.
Medhi, Kunja. 1996. Status of women & social change. Guwahati: Women's Studies Research Centre, Gauhati University.
Smith, Bonnie. 2000. Global feminism since 1945. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers
Record Group 11: Amendments to the Constitution General Records of the U.S. GovernmentNational Archives and Records Administration
H.J. Res. 75, Proposing the Equal Rights Amendment, December 13, 1923, RG 233, R
Martha Griffiths's Discharge Petition for the Equal Rights Amendment, June 11, 1970, RG 233
Petition for Woman Suffrage Signed by Frederick Douglass, Jr). Record Group 233Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration
Sarachild, Kathie. "Consciousness-Raising: A Radical Weapon" in Feminist Revolution. New York: Random House, c1978. Special Collections Library
The American Woman report by President Roosevelt President's Commission on the Status of Women “Speaking Out for Equal Rights, Peace and Justice, 1963 through 1970"
Katha Pollitt, "Betty Friedan, 1921-2006," The Nation, 9 February 2006, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060227/pollitt
“Tactics and Techniques of the National Woman's Party Suffrage Campaign" Library of Congress: Women of Protest http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/tactics.html.