Before discussing the activities of the different people and organizations that played a major role in the feminist movement. I must explain what led to the need for such drastic changes. World War II gave women a taste of life in the "man's" world. They left the kitchen and filled jobs vacated by men fighting in the war. After the war women were encouraged to return to their traditional role as the homemaker. Society tried to glorify the role of women in the home, they were portrayed in magazines and on TV as happy and carefree, content with their role. On the outside they appeared to be happy but on the inside they were harboring feelings of dissatisfaction.
Betty Friedan voiced the feelings of many women in her book "The Feminine Mystique" published in 1963. In her book she stated that "woman had been told that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity to seek fulfillment as wives and mothers." (LaFeber p. 438) Women around the country were now conscious of the feelings that others were experiencing. The feminist movement was not revived by her book but instead by the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement showed women the great power of protest. Unintentionally the women's movement had an early victory with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In an attempt to stifle the bill, a representative from Virginia proposed an amendment that would make discrimination based on sex illegal. When the bill was finally passed it included the sex discrimination clause. Complaints of sexual discrimination were being sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Their complaints were receiving little if any attention at all. Twenty-Eight women's rights activists created the National Organization of Woman "to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of America Now." (Lafeber p. 439) Local chapters started to spring up all over the United States working to end sexual discrimination through legislation and court decisions.
First on NOW's agenda was an effort to wedge a relationship between the sexes. They rejected the woman's traditional role in the home and pushed to have women play a larger role in the family by sharing in the man's responsibilities as wage earner, they also wanted men to share in their burden at home. NOW was affected by the younger and more radical feminists that emerged during the Civil Rights Movement. They developed their own agenda that they are "an oppressed class. Our oppression is totally affecting every facet of our lives...we identify the enemy as man." (LaFeber p. 440) To them marriage was a legalized form of oppression keeping them under the control of men. Their goal was to achieve a woman's liberation and the end to sexism thorough a major change in the attitudes and behavior of society on a whole. Their was much tension between NOW and the new younger feminists. NOW viewed them as too radical and they viewed NOW as to conservative.
D'emilio and Freedman attributed these new radical feminists to the climate in the 60's that was slowly viewing sex as a pleasure that did not require marriage. Playboy magazine promoted for men the single lifestyle, self-indulgences and luxurious living. In Helen Gurley Brown's book, Sex and the Single Girl, she advocated for women to use men to fulfill their sexual desires and that marriage us only insurance for the later years in life. In the 60's a new singles culture was beginning to form. Many single young men and women filled their social vacuum with parties and trips to single bars. As the economic market expanded married and single women were drawn into the retail and service labor force.
Although the sexual revolution helped free women from the traditional roles it also provided an engine for further exploitation and abuse. They were relegated to minor positions in many of the New Left's organizations and were under constant sexual harassment. Sex was used by some male radicals to build solidarity with the working class youth. Woman were starting to voice their dissatisfaction with the gender caste system that was so prevalent. Women were often ignored and humiliated while trying to address the issue. Faced with this increased hostility many women were leaving these organizations to join women's groups.
Throughout America women were being seen as sexual objects. Women were beginning to harbor an inferiority complex because most of them did not look like the beautiful women portrayed television programs and ads. In Anne Koedt's, The Myth of Vaginal Orgasm" she dispelled the belief that women had orgasms through vaginal stimulation and instead stated that women had orgasm's thought clitoral stimulation. The pleasure that they received through vaginal sex was seen as false, it was a subconscious effort to please their male companion.
Radical feminist used sexual issues early in their fight for equality. At the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City they protested, in San Francisco they disrupted the Bridal Fair sponsored by apparel manufactures, to protest the presence of Playboy representative on the campus of Grinnell College, in Iowa, they staged a nude-in, they conducted a whistle-in on Wall Street in New York. A group of feminists wrote the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, that advocated the point that control over their own bodies was a key to their fight for liberation. To them they were being oppressed by the lack of control they had over their own bodies. In many states women had to undergo intensive questioning about their sexual history in rape cases, a women being raped was seen as her fault. They worked to rewrite the rape laws and many colleges included in their curicullem instruction on date rape.
The biggest victory for the women's rights movement was the Supreme Courts decision in Roe vs. Wade. Before the decision women were forced to undergo dangerous back alley abortions. Feminist viewed the existing laws part of their oppression, it did not give them control over their bodies. The Supreme Court's decision made it illegal to prohibit a women seeking an abortion in the first trimester and made second trimester abortions more readily available.
Like many other movements a rift arose between the lesbian and the straight members in the feminist movement. Opponents to the movement often used lesbianism to discredit the movement and heterosexual feminists shied away from them. A split between gays and heterosexual was slowly taking hold in these organizations. After much debate between the different organizations they eventually allowed gay issues to their list of objectives.
In 1970 Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment by a wide majority. The law stated that "equality of rights under the law shaw not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." LeFaber p. 478 During the 70's Washington advanced women's right's through court decisions, executive orders, and legislation. Women were now taking jobs in prevesily all male professions and gaining parity in others. An anti-feminist movement arose led by females who resented losing their femininity, but this did not stop the progress of the movement.
Even though the Equal Right's Amendment failed to be ratified by only two votes. The women's movement had a great impact on how women were perceived by Americans. They won a victory over the control of their bodies, an end to sexual discrimination and other forms of discrimination at the workplace.