Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (i.e. voting rights, property rights), second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wider range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities. Second-wave Feminism radically changed the face of western culture, leading to marital rape laws, establishment of rape crisis and battered women's shelters, significant changes in custody and divorce law, and widespread integration of women into sports activities and the workplace. It also tried and failed to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The second wave of feminism in North America came as a response to the experiences of women after World War II. The late 1940s post-war boom was an era characterized by an unprecedented economic growth, a baby boom, and a move to the suburbs—all of which encouraged 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.
In Betty Friedan's 1963 bestselling book, The Feminine Mystique, Friedan explicitly objected to the mainstream media image of women, stating that placing women at home limited their possibilities, and wasted their talent and potential. The perfect nuclear family image depicted and strongly marketed at the time, she wrote, did not reflect happiness and was rather degrading for women. This book is widely credited with having begun second-wave feminism.
Timeline of Key Events in the Second Wave of Feminism
In 1960, the Food and Drug Administration approved the combined oral contraceptive pill. It was made available in 1961. The advent of oral contraceptives had a profound impact on women economically and socially. The pill allowed for greater female participation in higher education and careers, as unwanted pregnancies could easily be prevented.
In 1963, Kennedy's Commission released a report detailing discrimination against women in every aspect of American life, and outlined plans to achieve equality. Specific recommendations for women in the workplace included fair hiring practices, paid maternity leave, and affordable childcare. The Equal Pay Act at this time established equality of pay for men and women performing equal work. However, it did not cover domestic workers, agricultural workers, executives, administrators or professionals.
In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred employment discrimination on account of sex, race, etc. by private employers, employment agencies, and unions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was also established during this time; in its first five years, 50,000 complaints of gender discrimination were received.
In 1966, 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 was the largest women's group in the U.S. and pursued its goals through extensive legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations.
By 1969, the radical organization Redstockings organized. Redstockings popularized slogans such as "Sisterhood is Powerful", and "The Personal is Political" which became buzzwords of the feminist movement. Also in 1969, California adopted a "no fault" divorce law, which allowed couples to divorce by mutual consent.
In 1970, Schultz v. Wheaton Glass Co. in the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that jobs held by men and women must be "substantially equal" but not "identical" to fall under the protection of the Equal Pay Act. This was a success for the feminist movement, as it made it illegal for employers to change the job titles of women workers in order to pay them less than men.
On August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of woman suffrage in the U.S., 50,000 women across the nation participated in the Women's Strike for Equality, organized by Betty Friedan, to demand equal rights .
In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 in Roe v. Wade that laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional. Battered women's shelters opened in the United States in Tucson, Arizona and Saint Paul, Minnesota.
In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford moved to the front of the feminist movement as she talked candidly about her pro-choice views and feminist stances. Over 1,000 colleges began offering women's studies courses and 230 women's centers on college campuses provided support services for female students.
By 1975, the court case Taylor v. Louisiana made it illegal to exclude women from juries. For the first time, federal employees' salaries could be garnished for child support and alimony, and United States armed forces opened its military academies to women.