Second-wave feminism

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Second-wave feminism is a period of feminist activity and thought that first began in the early 1960s in the United States, and eventually spread throughout the Western world and beyond.

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 a wide range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities.[1] Second-wave feminism also drew attention to domestic violence and marital rape issues, establishment of rape crisis and battered women's shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law. Feminist-owned business such as bookstores, credit unions, and restaurants were among the key meeting spaces and economic engines of the movement.[2]

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.[3]


The second wave of feminism in North America came as a delayed reaction against the renewed domesticity of women after World War II: the late 1940s post-war boom, which was an era characterized by an unprecedented economic growth, a baby boom, a move to family-oriented suburbs, and the ideal of companionate marriages. This life was clearly illustrated by the media of the time; for example television shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver idealized domesticity.[4]

Some important events laid the groundwork for the second wave. French writer Simone de Beauvoir had in the 1940s examined the notion of women being perceived as "other" in the patriarchal society. She went on to conclude in her 1949 treatise The Second Sex that male-centered ideology was being accepted as a norm and enforced by the ongoing development of myths, and that the fact that women are capable of getting pregnant, lactating, and menstruating is in no way a valid cause or explanation to place them as the "second sex".[5] This book was translated from French to English (with some of its text excised) and published in America in 1953.[6]

In 1960 the Food and Drug Administration approved the combined oral contraceptive pill, which was made available in 1961.[7] This made it easier for women to have careers without having to leave due to unexpectedly becoming pregnant.

External video
Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy (President's Commission on the Status of Women) - NARA cropped.jpg
Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt; What Status For Women?, 59:07, 1962.
Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, interviews President John F. Kennedy, Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg and others, Open Vault from WGBH[8]

The administration of President Kennedy made women's rights a key issue of the New Frontier, and named women (such as Esther Peterson) to many high-ranking posts in his administration.[9] Kennedy also established a Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt and comprising cabinet officials (including Peterson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy), senators, representatives, businesspeople, psychologists, sociologists, professors, activists, and public servants.[10] There were other actions by women in wider society, presaging their wider engagement in politics which would come with the second wave. In 1961, 50,000 women in 60 cities, mobilized by Women Strike for Peace, protested above ground testing of nuclear bombs and tainted milk.[11][12]

In 1963 Betty Friedan, influenced by The Second Sex, wrote the bestselling book The Feminine Mystique. Discussing primarily white women, she explicitly objected to how women were depicted in the mainstream media, and how placing them at home limited their possibilities and wasted potential. She had helped conduct a very important survey using her old classmates from Smith College. This survey revealed that the women who played a role at home and the work force were more satisfied with their life compared to the women who stayed home. The women who stayed home showed feelings of agitation and sadness. She concluded that many of these unhappy women had emerged themselves in the idea that they should not have any ambitions outside their home.[13] Friedan described this as "The Problem That Has No Name".[14] The perfect nuclear family image depicted and strongly marketed at the time, she wrote, did not reflect happiness and was rather degrading for women.[15] This book is widely credited with having begun second-wave feminism.[16]

Though it is widely accepted that the movement lasted from the 1960s into the early 1980s, the exact years of the movement are more difficult to pinpoint and are often disputed. The movement is usually believed to have begun in 1963, when "Mother of the Movement" Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and President John F. Kennedy's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women released its report on gender inequality. The report revealed, that there was gender inequality, but also recommended changing it by giving paid maternity leave, greater access to education, and help with child care,[13] along with Friedan's book, which spoke to the discontent of many women (especially housewives), led to the formation of many local, state, and federal government women's groups as well as many independent feminist organizations. Friedan was referencing a "movement" as early as 1964.[17]

The movement grew with legal victories such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court ruling of 1965. In 1966 Friedan joined other women and men to found the National Organization for Women (NOW); Friedan would be named as the organization's first president.[18]

Despite the early successes NOW achieved under Friedan's leadership, her decision to pressure the Equal Employment Opportunity to use Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to enforce more job opportunities among American women met with fierce opposition within the organization.[18] Siding with arguments among several of the group's African-American members,[18] many of NOW's leaders were convinced that the vast number of male African-Americans who lived below the poverty line were in need of more job opportunities than women within the middle and upper class.[19] Friedan stepped down as president in 1969.[20]

In 1963, freelance journalist Gloria Steinem gained widespread popularity among feminists after a diary she authored while working undercover as a Playboy Bunny waitress at the Playboy Club was published as a two-part feature in the May and June issues of Show.[21] In her diary, Steinem alleged the club was mistreating its waitresses in order to gain male customers and exploited the Playboy Bunnies as symbols of male chauvinism, noting that the club's manual instructed the Bunnies that "there are many pleasing ways they can employ to stimulate the club's liquor volume".[21] By 1968, Steinem had become arguably the most influential figure in the movement and support for legalized abortion and federally funded day-cares had become the two leading objectives for feminists.[22]

Amongst the most significant legal victories of the movement after the formation of NOW were a 1967 Executive Order extending full affirmative action rights to women, a 1968 EEOC decision ruling illegal sex-segregated help wanted ads, Title IX and the Women's Educational Equity Act (1972 and 1974, respectively, educational equality), Title X (1970, health and family planning), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the outlawing of marital rape (although not outlawed in all states until 1993[23]), and the legalization of no-fault divorce (although not legalized in all states until 2010[24]), a 1975 law requiring the U.S. Military Academies to admit women, and many Supreme Court cases such as Reed v. Reed of 1971 and Roe v. Wade of 1973. However, the changing of social attitudes towards women is usually considered the greatest success of the women's movement. In January 2013, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the longtime ban on women serving in US military combat roles had been lifted.[25] The US Department of Defense plans to integrate women into all combat positions by 2016.[25]

Second-wave feminism also affected other movements, such as the civil rights movement and the student's rights movement, as women sought equality within them. In 1965 Casey Hayden and Mary King published "Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo"[26] detailing women's inequality within the civil rights organization SNCC.[27]

In June 1967 Jo Freeman attended a "free school" course on women at the University of Chicago led by Heather Booth[28] and Naomi Weisstein. She invited them to organize a woman's workshop at the then-forthcoming National Conference of New Politics (NCNP), to be held over Labor Day weekend 1967 in Chicago. At that conference a woman's caucus was formed, and it (led by Freeman and Shulamith Firestone) tried to present its own demands to the plenary session.[29] However, the women were told their resolution was not important enough for a floor discussion, and when through threatening to tie up the convention with procedural motions they succeeded in having their statement tacked to the end of the agenda, it was never discussed.[30] When the National Conference for New Politics Director Willam F. Pepper refused to recognize any of the women waiting to speak and instead called on someone to speak about the American Indian, five women, including Firestone, rushed the podium to demand to know why.[30] But Willam F. Pepper patted Firestone on the head and said, "Move on little girl; we have more important issues to talk about here than women's liberation", or possibly, "Cool down, little girl. We have more important things to talk about than women's problems."[29][30] Freeman and Firestone called a meeting of the women who had been at the "free school" course and the women's workshop at the conference; this became the first Chicago women's liberation group. It was known as the Westside group because it met weekly in Freeman's apartment on Chicago's west side. After a few months Freeman started a newsletter which she called Voice of the women's liberation movement. It circulated all over the country (and in a few foreign countries), giving the new movement of women's liberation its name. Many of the women in the Westside group went on to start other feminist organizations, including the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.

In 1968, an SDS organizer at the University of Washington told a meeting about white college men working with poor white men, and "[h]e noted that sometimes after analyzing societal ills, the men shared leisure time by 'balling a chick together.' He pointed out that such activities did much to enhance the political consciousness of poor white youth. A woman in the audience asked, 'And what did it do for the consciousness of the chick?'" (Hole, Judith, and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, 1971, pg. 120).[30] After the meeting, a handful of women formed Seattle's first women's liberation group.[30]

By the early 1980s, it was largely perceived that women had met their goals and succeeded in changing social attitudes towards gender roles, repealing oppressive laws that were based on sex, integrating the "boys' clubs" such as military academies, the United States armed forces, NASA, single-sex colleges, men's clubs, and the Supreme Court, and illegalizing gender discrimination. However, in 1982 adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution failed, having been ratified by only 35 states, leaving it three states short of ratification.

Second-wave feminism was largely successful, with the failure of the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and Nixon's veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Bill of 1972 (which would have provided a multibillion-dollar national day care system) the only major legislative defeats. Efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment have continued. Ten states have adopted constitutions or constitutional amendments providing that equal rights under the law shall not be denied because of sex, and most of these provisions mirror the broad language of the Equal Rights Amendment. Furthermore, many women's groups are still active and are major political forces. As of 2011, more women earn bachelor's degrees than men,[31] half of the Ivy League presidents are women, the numbers of women in government and traditionally male-dominated fields have dramatically increased, and in 2009 the percentage of women in the American workforce temporarily surpassed that of men.[32] The salary of the average American woman has also increased over time, although as of 2008 it is only 77% of the average man's salary, a phenomenon often referred to as the gender pay gap.[33] Whether this is due to discrimination is very hotly disputed, however economists and sociologists have provided evidence to that effect.[34][35][36]

Second-wave feminism in the U.S. coincided in the early 1980s with the feminist sex wars and was overlapped by third-wave feminism in the early 1990s. The second wave of the feminist movement also marks the emergence of women's studies as a legitimate field of study. In 1970 San Diego State University was the first university in the United States to offer a selection of women's studies courses.[37]

View on popular culture[edit]

Second-wave feminists viewed popular culture as sexist, and created pop culture of their own to counteract this. Australian artist Helen Reddy's song "I Am Woman" played a large role in popular culture and became a feminist anthem; Reddy came to be known as a "feminist poster girl" or a "feminist icon".[38] A few weeks after "I Am Woman" entered the charts, radio stations refused to play it. Helen Reddy then began performing the song on numerous television variety shows. As the song gained popularity, women began calling radio stations and requesting to hear "I Am Woman" played. The song re-entered the charts and reached number one in December 1972.[39][38][40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47] "One project of second wave feminism was to create 'positive' images of women, to act as a counterweight to the dominant images circulating in popular culture and to raise women's consciousness of their oppressions."[38]

"I Am Woman"[edit]

In 1972, Helen Reddy released the single "I Am Woman". Reddy told interviewers that the song was a "song of pride about being a woman".[48] After entering the Billboard Top 100, the song soon fell off the charts because radio stations refused to play it. Music critics and radio stations believed the song represented "all that is silly in the Women's Lib Movement".[49] Reddy began performing the song on different variety shows. As the song became more popular, women called into radio stations and demanded that they play the song. After these calls, radio stations began playing the song and "I Am Woman" quickly climbed the Billboard Top 100 to number one.[48] "I Am Woman" also became a protest song that women sang at rallies and protests where they demanded equal rights.[50]


Feminist activists have established a range of feminist businesses, including women's bookstores, feminist credit unions, feminist presses, feminist mail-order catalogs, feminist restaurants, and feminist record labels. These businesses flourished as part of the second and third waves of feminism in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.[51][52]

Olivia Records[edit]

In 1973, a group of five feminists created the first women's owned-and-operated record label, called Olivia Records.[53] They created the record label because they were frustrated that major labels were slow to add female artists to their rosters. One of Olivia's founders, Judy Dlugacz, said that, "It was a chance to create opportunities for women artists within an industry which at that time had few".[54] Initially, they had a budget of $4,000, and relied on donations to keep Olivia Records alive. With these donations, Olivia Records created their first LP, an album of feminist songs entitled I Know You Know.[55] The record label originally relied on volunteers and feminist bookstores to distribute their records, but after a few years their records began to be sold in mainstream record stores.[54]

Olivia Records was so successful that the company relocated from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles in 1975.[55] Olivia Records released several records and albums, and their popularity grew.[53] As their popularity grew, an alternative, specialized music industry grew around it. This type of music was initially referred to as "lesbian music" but came to be known as "women's music".[53] However, although Olivia Records was initially meant for women, in the 1980s it tried to move away from that stereotype and encouraged men to listen to their music as well.[54]

Women's music[edit]

Women's music consisted of female musicians combined music with politics to express feminist ideals.[56] Cities throughout the United States began to hold Women's Music Festivals, all consisting of female artists singing their own songs about personal experiences.[57] The first Women's Music Festival was held in 1974 at the University of Illinois.[57] In 1979, Michigan held a Women's Music Festival that attracted 10,000 people from across America.[57] These festivals encouraged already-famous female singers, such as Laura Nyro and Ellen McIllwaine, to begin writing and producing their own songs instead of going through a major record label.[57] Many females began performing hard rock music, a traditionally male-dominated genre. One of the most successful examples included the sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, who formed the famous hard rock band Heart.[13]

Beginning and conscious raising[edit]

The beginnings of second-wave feminism can be studied by looking at the two branches that the movement formed in: the liberal feminists and the radical feminists. The liberal feminists, led by figures such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem advocated for federal legislation to be passed that would promote and enhance the personal and professional lives of women.[58] On the other hand, radical feminists, such as Sandra "Casey" Hayden and Mary King, adopted the skills and lessons that they had learned from their work with civil rights organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and created a platform to speak on the violent and sexist issues women faced while working with the larger Civil Rights Movement.[59]

The liberal feminist movement[edit]

After being removed from the workforce, by either personal or social pressures, many women in the post-war America returned to the home or were placed into female only jobs in the service sector.[60] After the publication of Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963, many women connected to the feeling of isolation and dissatisfaction that the book detailed. The book itself, however, was not a call to action, but rather a plea for self-realization and conscious raising among middle-class women throughout America.[61] Many of these women organized to form the National Organization for Women in 1966, whose "Statement of Purpose" declared that the right women had to equality was one small part of the nationwide civil rights revolution that was happening during the 1960s.[62]

The radical feminist movement[edit]

Women who favored radical feminism collectively spoke of being forced to remain silent and obedient to male leaders in New Left organizations. They spoke out about how they were not only told to do clerical work such as stuffing envelopes and typing speeches, but there was also an expectation for them to sleep with the male activists that they worked with.[63] While these acts of sexual harassment took place, the young women were neglected their right to have their own needs and desires recognized by their male cohorts.[63] Many radical feminists had learned from these organizations how to think radically about their self-worth and importance, and applied these lessons in the relationships they had with each other.[64]

Social changes[edit]

Use of birth control[edit]

Finding a need to talk about the advantage of the Food and Drug Administration passing their approval for the use of birth control in 1960, liberal feminists took action in creating panels and workshops with the goal to promote conscious raising among sexually active women. These workshops also brought attention to issues such as venereal diseases and safe abortion.[65] Radical feminists also joined this push to raise awareness among sexually active women. While supporting the "Free Love Movement" of the late 1960s and early 1970s, young women on college campuses distributed pamphlets on birth control, sexual diseases, abortion, and cohabitation.[66]

While white women were concerned with obtaining birth control for all, women of color were at risk of sterilization because of these same medical and social advances: "Native American, African American, and Latina groups documented and publicized sterilization abuses in their communities in the 1960s and 70s, showing that women had been sterilized without their knowledge or consent... In the 1970s, a group of women... founded the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA) to stop this racist population control policy begun by the federal government in the 1940s – a policy that had resulted in the sterilization of over one-third of all women of child-bearing age in Puerto Rico."[67]

Domestic violence and sexual harassment[edit]

The second-wave feminist movement also took a strong stance against physical violence and sexual assault in both the home and the workplace. In 1968, NOW successfully lobbied the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pass an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevented discrimination based on sex in the workplace.[68] This attention to women's rights in the workplace also prompted the EEOC to add sexual harassment to its "Guidelines on Discrimination", therefore giving women the right to report their bosses and coworkers for acts of sexual assault.

Domestic violence, such as battery and rape, were rampant in post-war America. Women were often abused as a result of daily frustration in their husband's lives, and as late as 1975 domestic battery and rape were both socially acceptable and legal as women were seen to be the possessions of their husbands.[69] Because of activists in the second-wave feminist movement, and the local law enforcement agencies that they worked with, by 1982 three hundred shelters and forty-eight state coalitions had been established to provide protection and services for women who had been abused by male figures in their lives.[70]




  • Twenty years after it was first proposed, the Equal Pay Act became law in the U.S., and it established equality of pay for men and women performing equal work. However, it did not originally cover executives, administrators, outside salespeople, or professionals.[73] In 1972, Congress enacted the Educational Amendments of 1972, which (among other things) amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to expand the coverage of the Equal Pay Act to these employees, by excluding the Equal Pay Act from the professional workers exemption of the Fair Labor Standards Act.[citation needed]
  • Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was published, became a best-seller, and laid the groundwork for the second-wave feminist movement in the U.S.[72][74]
  • Alice S. Rossi presented "Equality Between the Sexes: An Immodest Proposal" at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences conference.[72][75]



  • Casey Hayden and Mary King published "Sex and Caste: A Kind of Memo",[26] detailing women's inequality within the civil rights organization SNCC.[27]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut struck down the only remaining state law banning the use of contraceptives by married couples.[78]
  • The case Weeks v. Southern Bell marked a major triumph in the fight against restrictive labor laws and company regulations on the hours and conditions of women's work in the U.S., opening many previously male-only jobs to women.[79]
  • The "Woman Question" was raised for the first time at a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) conference.[80]
  • EEOC commissioners were appointed to enforce the Civil Rights Act. Among them there was only one woman, Aileen Hernandez, a future president of the National Organization for Women.[81]
  • According to Fred R. Shapiro, in American Speech (Vol. 60, No. 1, Spring 1985), the term "sexism" was most likely coined on November 18, 1965, by Pauline M. Leet during the "Student-Faculty Forum" at Franklin and Marshall College.[82] The term appears in Leet's forum contribution titled "Women and the Undergraduate", in which she defines it by comparing it to racism, saying in part, "When you argue…that since fewer women write good poetry this justifies their total exclusion, you are taking a position analogous to that of the racist—I might call you in this case a 'sexist'... Both the racist and the sexist are acting as if all that has happened had never happened, and both of them are making decisions and coming to conclusions about someone's value by referring to factors which are in both cases irrelevant."[82]


  • Twenty-eight women, among them Betty Friedan, founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) to function as a civil rights organization for women. Betty Friedan became its first president. The group is now one of the largest women's groups in the U.S. and pursues its goals through extensive legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.[83]
  • Barbara Jordan was elected to the Texas Senate. She was the first African-American woman in the Texas legislature.[84]
  • Flight attendants filed Title VII complaints about being forced to quit when they married, got pregnant or reached age 35.[84]



  • Robin Morgan led members of New York Radical Women to protest the Miss America Pageant of 1968, which they decried as sexist and racist.[72]
  • The first American national gathering of women's liberation activists was held in Lake Villa, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.[98]
  • The EEOC issued revised guidelines on sex discrimination, making it clear that the widespread practice of publishing "help wanted" advertisements that use "male" and "female" column headings violates Title VII.[99]
  • New York feminists buried a dummy of "Traditional Womanhood" at the all-women's Jeannette Rankin Brigade demonstration against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C.[72]
  • For the first time, feminists used the slogan "Sisterhood is Powerful."[100]
  • The first public speakout against abortion laws was held in New York City.[72]
  • Notes from the First Year, a women's liberation theoretical journal, was published by New York Radical Women.[101]
  • NOW celebrated Mother's Day with the slogan "Rights, Not Roses".[102]
  • Mary Daly, professor of theology at Boston College, published a scathing criticism of the Catholic Church's view and treatment of women entitled "The Church and the Second Sex."[103][104]
  • 850 sewing machinists at Ford in Dagenham, which is in Britain, went on strike for equal pay and against sex discrimination. This ultimately led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970, the first legislation in the United Kingdom aimed at ending pay discrimination between men and women.[85]
  • Journalist Martha Lear coins the terms 'first-wave' and 'second-wave' feminism in a New York Times Magazine article entitled "The Second Feminist Wave: What do these women want?"
  • According to Fred R. Shapiro, the first time the term "sexism" appeared in print was in Caroline Bird's speech "On Being Born Female", which was published on November 15, 1968, in Vital Speeches of the Day (p. 6).[82] In this speech she said in part, "There is recognition abroad that we are in many ways a sexist country. Sexism is judging people by their sex when sex doesn't matter. Sexism is intended to rhyme with racism."[82]


  • The American radical organization Redstockings organized.[105]
  • Members of Redstockings disrupted a hearing on abortion laws of the New York Legislature when the panel of witnesses turned out to be 14 men and a nun. The group demanded repeal, not reform, of laws restricting abortion.[72]
  • NARAL Pro-Choice America, then called The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), was founded.[106]
  • California adopted a "no fault" divorce law, allowing couples to divorce by mutual consent. It was the first state to do so; by 2010 every state had adopted a similar law. Legislation was also passed regarding equal division of common property.[100]
A Women's Liberation march in Washington, D.C., 1970



  • Switzerland allowed women to vote in national elections. However, some cantons did not allow women to vote in local elections until 1994.[85]
  • Jane O'Reilly's article "The Housewife's Moment of Truth" was published in the first edition of Ms. Magazine, which appeared as an insert to New York Magazine. The O'Reilly article introduced the idea of "Click!," which O'Reilly described as the following: "The women in the group looked at her, looked at each other, and ... click! A moment of truth. The shock of recognition. Instant sisterhood... Those clicks are coming faster and faster. They were nearly audible last summer, which was a very angry summer for American women. Not redneck-angry from screaming because we are so frustrated and unfulfilled-angry, but clicking-things-into-place-angry, because we have suddenly and shockingly perceived the basic disorder in what has been believed to be the natural order of things."
  • Linda Nochlin's essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" was published in ARTnews. This essay is largely considered a pioneering text of the feminist art history movement.
  • The first women's liberation march in London occurred.[85]
  • In the U.S. Supreme Court Case Reed v Reed, for the first time since the Fourteenth Amendment went into effect in 1868, the Court struck down a state law on the ground that it discriminated against women in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of that amendment. The law in question—enacted in Idaho in 1864—required that when the father and mother of a deceased person both sought appointment as administrator of the estate, the man had to be preferred over the woman.[124]
  • The Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective was founded in New York. It was one of the first feminist theater groups formed to write and produce plays about women's issues and to provide work experience in theatrical professions which had been dominated by men.[125][126][127]
  • The song "I Am Woman" was published. It was a popular song performed by Australian singer Helen Reddy, which became an enduring anthem for the women's liberation movement.[38][40][41][42][43][44][45]
  • Women's Equality Day has been August 26 in America since 1971.[128] This resolution was passed in 1971 designating August 26 of each year as Women's Equality Day:
The full text of the resolution reads:

Joint Resolution of Congress, 1971 Designating August 26 of each year as Women's Equality Day

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex; and

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and

WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26 of each year is designated as "Women's Equality Day," and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women's rights took place.[129]



  • Women are allowed on the floor of the London Stock Exchange for the first time.[85]
  • American tennis player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match in 1973. This match is remembered for its effect on society and its contribution to the women's movement.[140]
Symbol used for signs and buttons by ERA opponents
  • The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Roe v. Wade that laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional. States are constitutionally allowed to place regulations on abortion which fall short of prohibition after the first trimester.[141]
  • The U.S. Supreme Court held that sex-segregated help wanted ads are illegal in Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376.[142]
  • AT&T agreed to end discrimination in women's salaries and to pay retroactive compensation to women employees.[72]
  • The [American] National Black Feminist Organization was formed.[72]
  • The term "sexual harassment" was used in 1973 in "Saturn's Rings", a report authored by Mary Rowe to the then President and Chancellor of MIT about various forms of gender issues.[143] Rowe has stated that she believes she was not the first to use the term, since sexual harassment was being discussed in women's groups in Massachusetts in the early 1970s, but that MIT may have been the first or one of the first large organizations to discuss the topic (in the MIT Academic Council), and to develop relevant policies and procedures. MIT at the time also recognized the injuries caused by racial harassment and the harassment of women of color which may be both racial and sexual.


  • Five all-male colleges at University of Oxford opened admissions to women.[144]
  • Contraception became free for women in the United Kingdom.[85]
  • Virago Press, a British feminist press, was set up by the publisher Carmen Callil. Its first title, Life As We Have Known It, was published in 1975.[85]
  • The Women's Aid Federation was set up to unite battered women's shelters in Britain.[85]
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act became law in the U.S. It prohibits discrimination in consumer credit practices on the basis of sex, race, marital status, religion, national origin, age, or receipt of public assistance.[145]
  • In Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot justify paying women lower wages because that is what they traditionally received under the "going market rate." A wage differential occurring "simply because men would not work at the low rates paid women" is unacceptable.[146]
  • The U.S. First Lady Betty Ford was pro-choice.[147] A moderate Republican, Ford lobbied to ratify the ERA, earning the ire of conservatives, who dub her "No Lady".[147][148]
  • The Mexican-American Women's National Association was founded.[149]
  • The American Coalition of Labor Union Women was founded.[150]
  • The Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) of 1974 was enacted in 1974 to promote educational equity for American girls and women, including those who suffer multiple discrimination based on gender and on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, or age, and to provide funds to help education agencies and institutions meet the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.[151]
  • Dell Williams founded the first feminist sex toy business in the United States, Eve's Garden, in New York City in 1974.[152][153][153] Eve's Garden was also the first woman-owned and woman-operated sex toy business in America.[152]


  • The Equal Pay Act 1970 took effect in the UK.[85]
  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 became law in the UK, making it illegal to discriminate against women in education, recruitment, and advertising.[85]
  • The Employment Protection Act 1975 became law in the UK, introducing statutory maternity provision and making it illegal to fire a woman because she is pregnant.[85]
  • In Taylor v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court held that women could not be excluded from a venire, or jury pool, on the basis of having to register for jury duty, thus overturning Hoyt v. Florida, the 1961 case that had allowed such a practice.[154]
  • The U.N. sponsored the First International Conference on Women in Mexico City.[155]
  • U.S. federal employees' salaries could be garnished for child support and alimony.[156]
  • Tish Sommers, chairwoman of NOW's Older Women Task Force, coined the phrase "displaced homemaker".[157]
  • American feminist Susan Brownmiller published the landmark book Against Our Will, about rape.[158] She later became one of TIME's "Women of the Year" (see below).[158][159]
  • NOW sponsored "Alice Doesn't" Day, asking women across the country to go on strike for one day.[160]
  • Joan Little, who was raped by a guard while in jail, was acquitted of murdering her offender. The case established a precedent in America for killing as self-defense against rape.[161]
  • In New York City, the first women's bank opened.[162]
  • The United States armed forces opened its military academies to women.[154]
  • Time declared: "[F]eminism has transcended the feminist movement. In 1975 the women's drive penetrated every layer of society, matured beyond ideology to a new status of general—and sometimes unconscious—acceptance." The Time Person of the Year award goes to American Women, celebrating the successes of the feminist movement.[159]
  • The Equal Opportunities Commission came into effect in the UK (besides Northern Ireland, where it came into effect in 1976) to oversee the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts.[85]
  • The first "Take Back the Night" march was held.[163] It was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October 1975, after the murder of a microbiologist, Susan Alexander Speeth, who was stabbed to death while walking home alone.[163]



  • The Canadian Human Rights Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination based on characteristics including sex and sexual orientation, and requiring "equal pay for work of equal value".[170]
  • In the U.S., the first National Women's Conference in a century was held in Houston, Texas. Women from all over the country, 20,000 in all, gathered to pass a National Plan of Action.[171]
  • The National Association of Cuban-American Women was established.[172]
  • The first women pilots of the United States Air Force graduated.[173]
  • International Women's Day was formalized as an annual event by the U.N. General Assembly.[85]
  • The first Rape Crisis Centre opened in London.[85]
  • In a landmark ruling, the Washington Supreme Court, sitting en banc, declared that Yvonne Wanrow was entitled to have a jury consider her actions in the light of her "perceptions of the situation, including those perceptions which were the product of our nation's long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination".[174] The ruling was the first in America recognizing the particular legal problems of women who defend themselves or their children from male attackers, and was again affirmed by the Washington Supreme Court in denying the prosecutor's petition for rehearing in 1979.[174][175] Before the Wanrow decision, standard jury instructions asked what a "reasonably prudent man" would have done, even if the accused was a woman; the Wanrow decision set a precedent that when a woman is tried in a criminal trial the juries should ask "what a reasonably prudent woman similarly situated would have done."[176]


  • The Oregon v. Rideout decision, in which Rideout was acquitted of raping his wife, led to many American states allowing prosecution for marital and cohabitation rape.[177]
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act banned employment discrimination against pregnant women in the U.S., stating a woman cannot be fired or denied a job or a promotion because she is or may become pregnant, nor can she be forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work.[178]
  • The Equal Rights Amendment's deadline arrived with the ERA still three states short of ratification; there was a successful bill to extend the ERA's deadline to 1982, but it was still not ratified by then.[132]


  • Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.[179]
  • The feminist art piece The Dinner Party, by American feminist artist Judy Chicago, was first put on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.[85]
  • Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357 (1979), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the court ruled that the exemption on request of women from jury service under Missouri law, resulting in an average of less than 15% women on jury venires in the forum county, violated the "fair-cross-section" requirement of the Sixth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth.

The 1980s[edit]

  • In the U.S., the early 1980s were marked by the end of the second wave and the beginning of the feminist sex wars. 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.[3]
  • In the 1980s the second wave spread to Turkey[180] and to Israel.[181]
  • The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted by the Canada Act of 1982, and it declares (among other things), "15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability....28. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons."[182]
  • In 1983, the women's minister of France, Yvette Roudy, passed a law obliging all companies with more than 50 employees to carry out a comparative salary survey between men and women.[183]
  • The Japanese Equal Employment Opportunity Law of 1985, effective in April 1986, prohibits gender discrimination with respect to recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, and job assignment.[184]
  • The Guerrilla Girls formed in the early 1980s as a response to sexism and racism in the art world. Known for their protest art and their usage of gorilla masks to remain anonymous, the group actively calls out issues within the contemporary art world.


Title IX[edit]


One debate which developed in the United States during this time period revolved around the question of coeducation. Most men's colleges in the United States adopted coeducation, often by merging with women's colleges. In addition, some women's colleges adopted coeducation, while others maintained a single-sex student body.

Seven Sisters Colleges[edit]

Two of the Seven Sister colleges made transitions during and after the 1960s. The first, Radcliffe College, merged with Harvard University. Beginning in 1963, students at Radcliffe received Harvard diplomas signed by the presidents of Radcliffe and Harvard and joint commencement exercises began in 1970. The same year, several Harvard and Radcliffe dormitories began swapping students experimentally and in 1972 full co-residence was instituted. The departments of athletics of both schools merged shortly thereafter. In 1977, Harvard and Radcliffe signed an agreement which put undergraduate women entirely in Harvard College. In 1999 Radcliffe College was dissolved and Harvard University assumed full responsibility over the affairs of female undergraduates. Radcliffe is now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Women's Studies at Harvard University.

The second, Vassar College, declined an offer to merge with Yale University and instead became coeducational in 1969.

The remaining Seven Sisters decided against coeducation. Mount Holyoke College engaged in a lengthy debate under the presidency of David Truman over the issue of coeducation. On November 6, 1971, "after reviewing an exhaustive study on coeducation, the board of trustees decided unanimously that Mount Holyoke should remain a women's college, and a group of faculty was charged with recommending curricular changes that would support the decision."[185] Smith College also made a similar decision in 1971.[186]

In 1969, Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College (then all male) developed a system of sharing residential colleges. When Haverford became coeducational in 1980, Bryn Mawr discussed the possibly of coeducation as well, but decided against it.[187] In 1983, Columbia University began admitting women after a decade of failed negotiations with Barnard College for a merger along the lines of Harvard and Radcliffe (Barnard has been affiliated with Columbia since 1900, but it continues to be independently governed). Wellesley College also decided against coeducation during this time.

Mississippi University for Women[edit]

In 1982, in a 5–4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan that the Mississippi University for Women would be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause if it denied admission to its nursing program on the basis of gender. Mississippi University for Women, the first public or government institution for women in the United States, changed its admissions policies and became coeducational after the ruling.[188]

In what was her first opinion written for the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stated, "In limited circumstances, a gender-based classification favoring one sex can be justified if it intentionally and directly assists members of the sex that is disproportionately burdened." She went on to point out that there are a disproportionate number of women who are nurses, and that denying admission to men "lends credibility to the old view that women, not men, should become nurses, and makes the assumption that nursing is a field for women a self-fulfilling prophecy".[189]

In the dissenting opinions, Justices Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist suggested that the result of this ruling would be the elimination of publicly supported single-sex educational opportunities. This suggestion has proven to be accurate as there are no public women's colleges in the United States today and, as a result of United States v. Virginia, the last all-male public university in the United States, Virginia Military Institute, was required to admit women. The ruling did not require the university to change its name to reflect its coeducational status and it continues a tradition of academic and leadership development for women by providing liberal arts and professional education to women and men.[190]

Mills College[edit]

On May 3, 1990, the Trustees of Mills College announced that they had voted to admit male students.[191] This decision led to a two-week student and staff strike, accompanied by numerous displays of nonviolent protests by the students.[192][193] At one point, nearly 300 students blockaded the administrative offices and boycotted classes.[194] On May 18, the Trustees met again to reconsider the decision,[195] leading finally to a reversal of the vote.[196]

Other colleges[edit]

Pembroke College merged with Brown University. Sarah Lawrence College declined an offer to merge with Princeton University, becoming coeducational in 1969.[citation needed] Connecticut College also adopted coeducation during the late 1960s. Wells College, previously with a student body of women only, became co-educational in 2005. Douglass College, part of Rutgers University, was the last publicly funded women's only college until 2007 when it became coed.


Alice Paul stands before the Woman Suffrage Amendment's ratification banner.
Alice Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, whose passage became an unachieved goal of the feminist movement in the 1970s

Beginning in the late 20th century, numerous feminist scholars[who?] have critiqued the second wave in the United States as reducing feminist activity into a homogenized and whitewashed chronology of feminist history that ignores the voices and contributions of many women of color, working-class women, and LGBT women.[197][198]

The historiography of the United States' second-wave feminism has been criticized for failing to acknowledge and analyze the multiple sites of feminist insurgencies of women of color, silencing and ignoring the diverse pre-political and political developments that occurred during this time.[clarification needed][197] It has been suggested that the dominant historical narratives of the feminist movement focuses on white, East Coast, and predominantly middle-class women and women's consciousness-raising groups, disregarding the experiences and contributions of lesbians, women of color, and working-class and lower-class women. Chela Sandoval called the dominant narratives of the women's liberation movement "hegemonic feminism" because it essentializes the feminist historiography to an exclusive population of women, which assumes that all women experience the same oppressions as the white, East Coast, and predominantly middle-class women.[199] This restricting view purportedly ignored the oppressions women face determined by their race, class, and sexuality, and gave rise to women-of-color feminisms that separated from the women's liberation movement, such as Black feminism, Africana womanism, and the Hijas de Cuauhtémoc that emerged at California State University, Long Beach, which was founded by Anna NietoGomez, due to the Chicano Movement's sexism.[citation needed]

Many feminist scholars see the generational division of the second wave as problematic.[citation needed] Second wavers are typically essentialized as the Baby Boomer generation, when in actuality many feminist leaders of the second wave were born before World War II ended. This generational essentialism homogenizes the group that belongs to the wave and asserts that every person part of a certain demographic generation shared the same ideologies, because ideological differences were considered to be generational differences.[200]

Feminist scholars, particularly those from the late 20th and early 21st centuries to the present day, have revisited diverse writings, oral histories, artwork, and artifacts of women of color, working-class women, and lesbians during the early 1960s to the early 1980s to decenter what they view as the dominant historical narratives of the second wave of the women's liberation movement, allowing the scope of the historical understanding of feminist consciousness to expand and transform. By recovering histories that they believe have been erased and overlooked, these scholars purport to establish what Maylei Blackwell termed "retrofitted memory".[201] Blackwell describes this as a form of "countermemory" that creates a transformative and fluid "alternative archive" and space for women's feminist consciousness within "hegemonic narratives".[201] For Blackwell, looking within the gaps and crevices of the second wave allows fragments of historical knowledge and memory to be discovered, and new historical feminist subjects as well as new perspectives about the past to emerge, forcing existing dominant histories that claim to represent a universal experience to be decentered and refocused.[202]

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Further reading[edit]