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The issues facing American women in the 1960's
1st wave feminism, which ended in 1920 addressed women's political rights
2nd wave, or liberal, feminism addressed economic issues
3rd wave or radical feminism addressed more fundamental issues e.g. female identity
and domestic and sexual relationships.
Women's Problems and Feminist Solutions
Women had very limited opportunities in the workplace. 1960, there were 23M
women in the workforce compared to just 18M in 1940. This meant more than 3/5
women over 16 were not at work.
The figure was much lower among other women e.g. only 30% of married mothers
had any kind of paid employment in 1960.
The average annual income for men during 1961 was $27,000, women's was $15,000.
Feminists then identified the issue of unpaid work such as childcare. Notably, women
with a job were also unpaid family workers. Feminists argued that many women were
expected to do a `double shift'.
Feminists were also troubled by the notion of female identity just like the Black
Power groups. Radical feminists argued their identity was defined by men.
Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) argued that women's lives and
identities had become focused on their husbands and their children.
Freidan's solution was to further education and greater involvement in work,
in order to create a new identity independent of their family.
Some radical feminists advocated more far-reaching solutions. The `Super militant
Amazon' Ti-Grace Atkinson argued that female inequality is rooted in heterosexual
Atkinson's essay `The Institution of Sexual Intercourse' argued that all male-female
relationships are patriarchal and force women to be submissive.
Atkinson was critical of romantic love saying love is a psychological trap set by men
to force women into submission. With reference to the Vietnam War, she suggested
love was a `Psychological draft' forcing women to enlist in a male dominate society.
Atkinson's solution was lesbianism or female separatism and envisioned the abolition
of intercourse and love.
Atkinson's radical message was highly influential in the sense that it promoted the
campaign for gay rights in the 1970's.
Government action under Kennedy and Johnson
In response to the Kennedy's election and feminists beginning to lobby the
government again, Kennedy set up the Presidential Commission on the Status of
Women/the Kennedy Commission.
In addition, the Democratic Congressman Howard W. Smith proposed an amendment
to the 1964 Civil Rights Act to outlaw sexual and racial discrimination. The Civil Rights
Act under Johnson was a hollow victory.
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The government refused to enforce Title VII, the part of the act which protected
women. Government inaction spurred women to more radical action and in 1966,
some of the original members of the Kennedy Commission formed a new
campaigning group: The National Organisation for Women (NOW)
The growth of Feminism in the 1960's
Feminist movements grew in the USA in the late 1960's for 3 main reasons:
SNCC and CORE began to exclude white members; the excluded campaigners
turned their attention to other issues.…read more
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NOW showed that this Act violated Title VII and the Muncy Act was struck down by
Pennsylvania's highest court.
Radical Feminists: Campaigning for women's liberation
Many radical feminists were originally members of NOW and split away due to their
belief that now was not radical enough. E.g. Kate Millet left NOW due to its
unwillingness to campaign for lesbian rights.
Atkinson also left NOW to form a New-York based group called The Feminists which
excluded men and married women.…read more