Second-wave feminism  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Second-wave feminism is a period of feminist activity and thought that began in the United States in the early 1960s and lasted roughly two decades. It quickly spread across the Western world, with an aim to increase equality for women by gaining more than just enfranchisement.

Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (e.g., voting rights and property rights), second-wave feminism broadened the debate to include a wider range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. Second-wave feminism also drew attention to the issues of domestic violence and marital rape, engendered rape-crisis centers and women's shelters, and brought about changes in custody laws and divorce law. Feminist-owned bookstores, credit unions, and restaurants were among the key meeting spaces and economic engines of the movement.

Many historians view the second-wave feminist era in America as ending in the early 1980s with the intra-feminism disputes of the feminist sex wars over issues such as sexuality and pornography, which ushered in the era of third-wave feminism in the early 1990s.

Major moments in Second-wave feminism in the United States

Among the major events that marked the time known as second wave feminism were

  • That same year, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique appeared on bookshelves. The book was composed of interview materials with women that buttressed the facts reported by the Commission report. It became an immediate bestseller.
  • Due to a combined effort from many different sorts of activist, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 of the USA was passed. Title VII illegalized employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. Historians note that the category "sex" was actually included in an eleventh hour attempt to kill the bill.
  • Frustrated by what they saw as a blatant disregard for spirit of the law, The National Organization for Women (NOW) was formed in the USA in 1966. Its mission was to function as a legal "watchdog" for women of all races, along the lines of the NAACP for Black Americans. This was soon followed by other organizations addressing the needs of specific groups of women, including Blacks, Latinas, Asian-Americans, lesbians, welfare recipients, business owners, aspiring politicians, and professional women of every sort.
  • Eight years after Title VII, Title IX in the Education Amendments of 1972 (United States) was passed, which forbade discrimination in the field of education. Many people see Title IX is extremely important to young women today, contributing to equal provisions for women's sports in school and feminist campus activism, among other things. However, it became clear early that many existing anti-discrimination laws were not enforced. For instance, within the commission's first five years, it received 50,000 sex discrimination complaints, but did little to investigate them.
  • Inspired in part by the legal victories of the 1960s and 1970s, but still worried about de facto discrimination, many feminists supported and worked to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into the United States Constitution. The Amendment, proposed in 1972, said:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Opponents, such as Phyllis Schlafly, charged that passage of the ERA of the USA would lead to men abandoning their families, unisex toilets, gay marriages, and women being drafted. Despite polls consistently showing a large majority of the population supporting an Equal Rights Amendment, when the deadline for ratification came in 1982, the ERA was still three states short of the 38 needed to write it into the U.S. constitution.

  • The Second Wave also saw the beginning of streams of feminist thought which were critical or hostile to transgender and transsexual women. Feminists such as Mary Daly, Janice Raymond, and Gloria Steinem penned writings which asserted that trasnsexualism was inherently conservative and that sex reassignment was a way to preserve rigid, oppressive gender roles. It was not until 1991 (the beginning of the Third Wave) that Sandy Stone, a transsexual woman, published a rebuttal to these anti-trans writings in her landmark essay "The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto."


See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Second-wave feminism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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