History of The Second Wave of American Feminism and What It Managed to Achieve

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The Second Wave of American Feminism (1945 to 2000) emerged in the United States as a result of the First Wave of Feminism and the conclusion of World War II. Women during World War II had jobs typically in male dominated spaces such as factories. This reversion to the old, pre-war system in 1945 led to a vacuum in which women were not allowed to participate in their wartime jobs but rather were confined to the “domestic sphere” as they had been before the war. Efforts to gain social equality for women was one of the leading causes for the Second Wave of Feminism.

Feminist women in America faced an underlying conflict to find their purpose and true meaning during a time when a woman’s role was defined as a homemaker and mother. But such beliefs caused these women to not only lose their identity within her family, but within society as well. During the Second Wave of feminism, women strived for social change, to attain autonomy over their own bodies; get access to participate in male dominated spaces such as in the workforce; and achieve equality in marital relationships. These goals would be achieved through the hard work of the feminists of this era as well as through the support of Congressional efforts.

The foundation of Second Wave Feminism was rooted in the desire for bodily autonomy. The goals of these women were to gain access to abortion and contraception, which were illegal in the United States during this time, though a market and need for it existed. Women in the 1960s struggled with abortion access. In many ways, it was a life or death situation, as was the case with Margaret Cerullo, a student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. Cerullo, in a testimony of abortion rights, writes of her experience with pregnancy in 1968 in Philadelphia. Cerullo had difficulty accessing a service that would provide her an abortion. She eventually had to travel to Towson, Maryland and pay a fee of $600 in small bills in order to get an abortion. The father of her baby had to take out a loan from a bank in order to acquire this money. This experience demonstrates the difficulty and great lengths to which women would go to in order to get abortions. Cerullo’s experience was indicative of broader women’s experiences in trying to gain access to abortion in the second half of the 20th century. She explains that experiencing this made her realize that women's lives were simply not valued.

In fact women were only seen as valuable for their sexuality and ability to give birth. Women were not valued for their brains or skills and this was demonstrated in women not being a part of the workforce or the educational system. Feminists fight to gain abortion access during this period mirrored the Civil Rights Movement where many Black Americans demanded to be treated equal to white Americans. By gaining bodily autonomy in the eyes of the law, it would show that women were not only in control of their own bodies, but rather show women as equals.

Many feminists during the Second Wave of feminism worked hard to make change for women and to legalize abortion in the United States. Another aspect of women's rights that Second Wave feminists fought for was employment equality. If women were to participate fully in society they needed to work outside of the home and be compensated at an equal rate as men. The National Organization for Women (NOW), an active feminist group formed in the 1960s, wanted it known that women were being discriminated against in the workplace. In their Statement of Purpose, NOW wrote that:

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Although 46.4 percent of all American women between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five now work outside the home, the overwhelming majority-75 percent-are in routine clerical, sales, or factory jobs, or they are household workers, cleaning women, hospital attendants...full time women workers today earn on the average only 60 percent of what men earn.

NOW took action to make sure that women were seen as equal partners to men and could enjoy the same privileges that working provided. During the 1960s, once a woman entered into a marriage she lost her power and was seen as property. Women’s liberation groups took action against this. As a means of demonstration, they handed out leaflets at the Marriage License Bureau in New York City in 1969. They wanted women to know that they were opposed to the perpetuation of the narrative that women are only being valued in society by their ability to produce children and as property to their husbands. The leaflet acknowledged the realisms of marriage during the 1960s and questioned women’s knowledge of relationships. It also illustrated the viewpoint that women should be confined to the domestic sphere as a woman’s only true job should be a homemaker and mother. The women’s movement wanted women to question what they were doing when they married. They referred to marriage as a “slavery-like practice” and stated that, “We can’t destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage.” This act of demonstration brought attention to the women’s movement, but it also resulted in some criticisms.

Second Wave feminists worked hard to make social change and strived to gain more authority and autonomy in society. While many people fought alongside these feminists, others felt that it was unfair for them to speak universally for all women. Phyllis Schlafly, a St. Louis attorney and conservative activist was one of the women who feared feminism and the movement. In a document from her STOP ERA campaign, Schlafly appealed to homemakers by saying that, “losing her husband could condemn a woman and her children to poverty.” She argued against the Equal Rights Amendment by stating American women are privileged to live in a society where the family is respected as the basic unit of society. Schlafly believed that God created women to have babies and that men must therefore provide physical protection and financial support of his family. She said that having a baby was a woman’s greatest achievement and that the only job women needed to be successful was being a housewife and a mother. The section of the Ten Commandments where it states, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” was used as part of her argument that a woman does not need any other form of financial or social security. She believed that the family gave women physical, financial, and emotional security.

Another argument against the Equal Rights Amendment and the privilege of women dated back to the Christian Age of Chivalry. With this example, she compared all women to Mary, the Mother of Christ, reinforcing her explanation of all women. The comparison to the Mother Mary reinforces the idea of a woman’s value and significance in her ability to produce children. Schlafly worked to stop the passage and believed that women do not need the Equal Rights Amendment. She felt this way because of inventors and the American free enterprise system which made “women’s work” much easier. Schlafly called the ERA a fraud since American women were considered to be in slavery by, “aggressive females on television talk shows.” Schlafly believed that the result of the Equal Rights Amendment would have women drafted into the armed forces, abolish child support and alimony. Schlafly stated that the women’s liberation movement was an assault on American women, wives, and mothers.

Another critic of the feminist movement and the Equal Rights Amendment was Jerry Falwell, an evangelical Christian and Virginia Baptist who founded the Moral Majority. He, like Schlafly, believed that America and the family were in trouble and were being brainwashed due to the radical ideas of feminism. Falwell believed that America needed to be turned around or there would be inevitable destruction. He also believed that the family was a “God-ordained institution”of marriage between one man and one woman with their biological or adopted children. He discussed the existence of a war against the family starting with the first weapon being “the cult of playboy” which told men to satisfy their lustful desires at the expense of the family. He considered the feminist revolution the second weapon against the family.

Falwell thought that the feminist revolution promoted an “immoral lifestyle” claiming that half of the women in the feminist revolution worked outside of the home and were endangering motherhood. Falwell stated that, “Our Nation is in serious danger when motherhood is considered a task that is unrewarding, unfulfilling and boring.” The role of the father, according to Falwell, is to be the “spiritual leader in the family.” He believed that their wives and children should want to follow him and be under his protection. Falwell believed that women in the women’s liberation movement had spiritual problems. and never accepted their “God given roles.”

Throughout the Second Wave of feminism, women organized to fight for equality and control. Feminists demanded to be seen as equals in the workplace and to have control over their own fertility. These women fought hard garnering both supporters, ready for change, and critics who feared it. The battle continues today.

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History of The Second Wave of American Feminism and What It Managed to Achieve. (2021, February 22). WritingBros. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/history-of-the-second-wave-of-american-feminism-and-what-it-managed-to-achieve/
“History of The Second Wave of American Feminism and What It Managed to Achieve.” WritingBros, 22 Feb. 2021, writingbros.com/essay-examples/history-of-the-second-wave-of-american-feminism-and-what-it-managed-to-achieve/
History of The Second Wave of American Feminism and What It Managed to Achieve. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/history-of-the-second-wave-of-american-feminism-and-what-it-managed-to-achieve/> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
History of The Second Wave of American Feminism and What It Managed to Achieve [Internet]. WritingBros. 2021 Feb 22 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/history-of-the-second-wave-of-american-feminism-and-what-it-managed-to-achieve/
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