The Second Wave of Feminism in the United States

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feminism
03.08.2022
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This paper investigates the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement, including its causes, events, feminist formers’ thoughts, and specifics. The research area is the United States. Only the Second Movement’s Wave which had its roots in the First Wave at the beginning of the 20th century is considered.

The feminist movement is regarded as one of the biggest civil rights movements but it is also full of contradictions and inaccuracies inside. Different issues such as violence against women, pornography and reproductive rights resulted in the self-identified feminist being divided into several subgroups due to major differences in their ideas.

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Women of color decided to unite issues related to sexism with those related to racism. Nonetheless, the history of feminism is written from the perspective of educated white women or white historians, and it causes some problems in defining what the Black Feminist Movement was. This paper tries to figure out what is unrevealed about the Second Wave of feminism and Black Feminist Movement.

The Second Wave of Feminism in the United States and Its Attitudes towards Black Liberation Movement’s Issues, Religion, and Homosexuality

Feminism as a one of the most widespread social movements in history gained a major following since the beginning of the 20th century in both Europe and the United Stated, and its impact continues today. Women’s Studies courses at university and colleges are popular, and a lot of new books dealing with issues of gender are published. The gender debates still receive significant attention from historians, politicians and scientists, and they are discussed mass media and everyday life. The movement is generally divided into three waves. Each wave of the movement had its own aims and values as well as answers to questions (Whelehan, 1995, p.1). This research paper is to describe the specifics of the whole process of feminist thought’s development, and especially second wave of the movement in the U.S., while taking into account the movement’s intersectional basis and some racist issues.

The second wave in feminism arose from the first wave, the movement’s very first manifestations from the beginning of the 20th century. It was a protest reaction to the idea of women’s domestic work as well their perceived inferiority. As a result, the need for women to struggle for equal rights began. After the World War I, the U.S. experienced a period of global and political changes, changes in attitudes, as well as big social reforms, as proclaimed by reformists and politicians. At that time, the first wave of women’s social and political activism started to develop, and belief in the equality of genders was increasing. The second wave feminism appeared in 1960s and demonstrated itself as a reaction to the post-war mindset. The last consisted of the popular thoughts that women are created to serve men by cooking, cleaning, handling the domestic chores and to give birth to children. Many scientists claim the birth of the second wave of the movement was in 1963 when the book The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published and shared with a wide audience. The book properly explained why a person’s biological features does not determine their personality or ability to a certain kind of work as well as it does not determine their role in society.

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The second wave of feminism in U.S. was a movement of young women who showed dissatisfaction and revolved against the norms of the society they lived in. They started showing their impatience through their behavior, in the way they dressed and put on make-up, in films and music that formed a certain group distinct from all the other movements, according to the researchers Baxandall and Gordon (2002, p.416).

The White Feminist Movement Had the Most Important Organizational and Theoretical Contributions

The achievements of the feminist movements are among the most controversial in the research discourse. Some claim that the movement from its very start was destructive and affected the way women perceived the world round greatly. According to their argument, since the middle of the 20th century, women have claimed they do not want any children and they have wanted to only focus on building a successful career at the expense of starting a family. That influenced badly the demographic situation in the Europe and America as the two main regions of the movement. Other researchers argue there is nothing unusual and destructive in the movement that has been built upon morality, fair struggle, honesty and equality.

The most important contribution of the movement was the raise of consciousness among women, and among men as well. The big women’s discussion about the gender issues along with the public sharing of their personal stories and experiences started. This way, the understanding of personal problems (connected with family life mainly or with women’s appearance) was developed, along more important and global ones (connected with employment, sexual abuse, reproductive rights and so on) let women express their thoughts and ideas for a great change, according to Hall (2011), a professor at the University of Pennsylvania (p.34). Women of all ages and social positions listened to the speeches of the younger activists all over the United States and have started sharing their experiences as well.

Traditional thoughts have been transformed rather slowly, and mass media has started to spread the new thoughts around the country. The other method of agitation used was agitprop which included leaflets with the feminist movement information, written pamphlets and letters with the critique of patriarchal society and its informal rules. Then, community schools were opened in order to advertise the liberation movement and teach less competent women who participated in the movement. Those schools also offered various courses for women not involved in the movement yet, such as driving, writing and public speaking courses to train the vital skills for self-representation and the movement itself, according to Mann and Huffman (2005, p. 69). The movement in medicine also had its unique achievements. The most important were the new childbirth procedures including giving birth with a partner, and anesthesia-free delivery.

The analysis and critique of housework was the crucial issue feminist scholarships investigated, and their books became bestsellers. For example, all original copies of the book Our Bodies, Ourselves by Judy Norsigian sold out in its first month of publication in 1973. Soon after, women started putting a pressure on politicians, employers and institutions to provide daycare centers and college courses for women. The scientific work helped them in developing a strategy, forming movement’s ideas and aims, and in building a network of scholars, attorneys, professors which could help women when there was a need for help.

Nonetheless, the movement remained white, despite of all the claims that it touches black civil rights issues as well. Women of color did not have an opportunity to join the main movement of white women because they did not feel any support from them.

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The Homosexuality and the Religiosity Existed Inside the Feminist Movement

Although the feminist movement was highly criticized within the LGBT community and by the Catholic Church, feminism itself was build up by very different people, with different status, sexual orientation, mental abilities and religious outlook. As the researcher of the feminism Hooks (2000) posits, the Catholic Church’s negative attitudes can be explained because feminism, in the view of the Church, was trying to destroy the norms on which the religious community was build: hierarchy, obedience and determinism of the social and gender roles. In the first two decades of the second wave of the movement, the Church along with the support of political parties produced frightening caricatures depicting feminists and all people connected with the movement as egotistical, cruel and strictly anti-male. They claimed there is no solidarity in the movement which is a destruction of the traditional society with its established norms and views. One of the biggest problems the Church could not accept was homosexuality which threatened the demography of a state. The Church’s propaganda could be regarded as effective because it prevented the spread of the feminist thought around the globe. For example, the movement has not taken place in Latin America to any significant degree (p.84).

Lesbians were presented in the feminist movement, indeed, as a reaction to queer theory’s appearance. They had the opportunity to be more open with their identities and fight for acceptance even though their theories were not very popular inside the movement, some feminists have even claimed lesbians are not real activists. Lesbian feminists were an isolated group of activists that came out of the second wave of the movement having been dissatisfied with what it had been done, along with the dissatisfaction with the results of the gay movement as well. Feminist claimed that everyone has the choice to be who he or she wants to, and that there is nothing wrong when somebody feels uncomfortable with his or her body as modern medicine can help with making one’s life easier by changing their gender. Nevertheless, they were discriminated against by sexism of gay movement that claimed about the absurdity of feminism dominance. Lesbians were among the most active movement’s participants that made the most important contributions to women’s wellbeing and history. They also supported campaigns such us reproductive rights campaign to heterosexual women, and lesbians hardly ever were misunderstood by those women. Rejecting social hierarchy, racist theories and men’s supremacy, the women of color also had the possibility to participate in this particular group of feminists. Nonetheless, their actions were less visible compared to the actions of white women.

There were different forms existing within the lesbian feminism, one of which was the lesbian separatism. The women tried to develop that strategy to avoid contact with men and dedicate their lives to one another. In this way, they created new space for discussion about family and personal relations. The movement gained prosperity in 1970s, while waiting for the response of the LGBT community whether it would support them or not.

Despite the Church’s struggle against the lesbian feminist movement, many feminists were religious. In the United States, Catholics and Protestants mainly acted towards the productive dialogue between the Church and feminists, and the changes in the gender roles in the discourse of the Church. They wanted to constitute a women’s theology without any hierarchies, where God is androgynous, and the language of the liturgy is neutral concerning gender issues. They also touched the religious ceremonies with the explicit sexism in them. Religious feminists supported the view that it is normal for women to become priests or rabbis if they want to.

The Critique of the Second Wave Feminism Proves that the Movement Did Not Take into Consideration the Black Women’s Rights

It is quite common among the feminist to claim their movement was and is still polyfunctional and multiracial. But many researchers and historians believe that this is not true. For example, Thompson (2002) argues that multiracial feminism does not exist, and that was the main problem of the movement and its concentration in Europe and the United States mainly (p.337). Although some white feminists also show a contradictory opinion assuming that racism and sexism were entirely different types of discrimination, and they could not gather completely different people in one movement. This contradiction led the historians and scholars to critique the feminism as incomplete and haphazard.

Treating white people and women especially as superior, more educated and skilled to start the movement-marginalized women of color greatly. The absence of black women at conferences, public discussions, not allowing them to participate in the research helped in propagating the hierarchy of race within feminism, as the scientist Hall (2011) claims (p.58). Women of color and their activism were threats to the unity of feminists, challenging their noble aims. It shaped the criteria for who is educated enough to participate, and who is not allowed to be a member of the wave by default. As a result, there were no opportunity for the big and invisible community of women of color around the world to address racism. Even Bell Hooks (2000), an investigator of women’s history, commented that during the 1960s, black men tried to inflame the situation by claiming white male dominance on black womanhood showed their distorted interracial relationships, and the white women were just observing it (p.29). But, of course, the proper and uncomfortable critique of white feminism was always silent not to destroy the small achievements of the second wave.

Therefore, there is still the need for further investigations about feminist women as a group. It should be clear that they did not advocate anti-racist thought and cared only about the movement of white women. Furthermore, men and women of color should be educated about the history of both gender equality and race equality movements. Those who have not direct access to colleges with Women Studies programs should be supported by some organizations and taught by competent scientists on volunteer basis. That is how the conflict of women of both races can be solved.

Conclusion

The feminist movement was split into three distinct stages, the second of which took place from the 1960s up to the beginning of 1990s. It was a reaction to promises of politicians and the unsuccessful first wave that fought for vote rights for women. It is hard to distinguish the only aim of the movement because there were a few of them: creating a new discourse of women’s history which is worth investigating, battling the gender injustices and policies, developing a new women’s sexuality with no objectifying women’s bodies, new marriage, family and child-rearing traditions, and women’s free choice for career building and leisure. The feminists were one of those who continued the discussion of power and governance structures (religion, education, culture etc.), and they analyzed and criticized those destructive structures. Feminist though gave the world the first female leaders and raised the consciousness of both white men and women.

In terms of homosexuality and religiosity inside the movement, it is important to note that there were a lot of lesbians among feminists as well as religious people. That has caused a lot of contradictions and inconveniences within the feminist discourse and has made its ideas less credible.

The same happened with regards to the divided feminists’ thoughts about anti-racist movement. Some activists claimed that sexism and racism were battled simultaneously while others (women of color mainly) supposed the notion that there was a lack of cooperation between white women and women of color, as well as with the lesbians and gay males.

All of the above indicates there is a certain urgency to give men and women of color some knowledge about the feminist movement. That would help them in defending their rights in contemporary world where the discrimination is still present, unfortunately. The education about the true nature of the feminism and its strategies should let women of color to struggle for their dignity and fair judgment of their abilities and skills. The responsibility of developing relationships between black and white women activists and scholars lies on the politicians and charitable organizations. The black women’s struggle which continues today should become a large movement borrowing the most important concepts from the previous waves of feminism. The community of color needs to acquire its own style as well as further dialogue about the peace, equality and cooperation in today’s world.

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