After women gained the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, feminism became less politically visible during the middle decades of the 20th Century (although there were still many women activists.) This began to change, however, with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and other social movements for equality, and during the 1960s and 1970s, Second Wave Feminism would arise to question the domination of patriarchy and gender inequality in all walks of life.
Second Wave Feminism in the 1960s One of the most pivotal moments in the history of Second Wave Feminism (and indeed one of its founding moments,) was the publication of Betty Friedan's landmark book The Feminine Mystique in 1963. This book explored the dissatisfaction that many upper and middle class women felt at their limited options in life. Many reported feeling restless and unhappy, although they could not exactly identify the source of these feelings.
The publication of this book forced many women to look more closely at their own lives, and it soon became a bestseller (and is now considered one of the canonical books of feminist thought.) Friedan soon embarked on her journey to becoming one of the leading lights of Second Wave Feminism, and eventually helped to found the National Organization for Women, an organization whose purpose was to pursue gender equality and to protect and advocate for the rights of women.
Second Wave Feminism in the 1970s After it coalesced in the 1970s, Second Wave Feminism became a potent political and social force during the 1970s, advocating for the equality of women in all walks of life. Although led at the national level by NOW, Second Wave Feminism was also composed of numerous smaller, grassroots organizations that carried the battle for equality into the everyday lives of women.
Perhaps one of the greatest victories of Second Wave Feminism during the 1970s was the passage of Title IX, which allowed women equal access to education, especially college and professional schools. Furthermore, the work of these feminists also opened up numerous employment opportunities that before had been completely confined to men. In an epic battle, the National Organization for Women took the battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
Leading Figures in Second Wave Feminism Although Betty Friedan was one of the most influential of the early activists in Second Wave Feminism, a number of other women also emerged. Of these, Gloria Steinem was probably the most influential (at least in the United States.) She was an instrumental member of the movement and, since then, has continued to advocate for the rights of women and their equality.
Why Second Wave Feminism Matters Today Although Second Wave Feminism has been succeeded by the movement known as Third Wave Feminism, its effects can still be seen in the lives of everyday women. As a result of the political actions Second Wave Feminists, women have begun to attain equality in all aspects of society, including education, employment, health, and many more. However, inequality still exists, and so the political power of the Second Wave of Feminism will continue to be relevant as long as women are not equal with men.
The term "Second Wave" was coined by Marsha Lear, and refers to the increase in feminist activity which occurred in America, Britain, and Europe from the late sixties onwards. In America, second wave feminism rose out of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements in which women, disillusioned with their second-class status even in the activist environment of student politics, began to band together to contend against discrimination.
The tactics employed by Second Wave Feminists varied from highly-published activism, such as the protest against the Miss America beauty contest in 1968, to the establishment of small consciousness-raising groups. However, it was obvious early on that the movement was not a unified one, with differences emerging between black feminism, lesbian feminism, liberal feminism, and social feminism.
Second Wave Feminism in Britain was similarly multiple in focus, although it was based more strongly in working-class socialism, as demonstrated by the strike of women workers at the Ford car plant for equal pay in 1968. The slogan "the personal is political" sums up the way in which Second Wave Feminism did not just strive to extend the range of social opportunities open to women, but also, through intervention within the spheres of reproduction, sexuality and cultural representation, to change their domestic and private lives. Second Wave Feminism did not just make an impact upon western societies, but has also continued to inspire the struggle for women's rights across the world.