Introduction to Second Wave Feminism

Many movements have enabled women to gain more rights and resources, but America’s second wave feminism played a particularly powerful role in raising consciousness and making social change a reality. Learn more about this movement and what makes it so unique!

What Is Second Wave Feminism?

Second wave feminism was a progressive movement to identify and eliminate patriarchal societal structures that disempowered women. This disempowerment could transpire in several sectors of society, including education, law, the workplace, and the home environment.

What Caused The Second Wave Movement?

As many feminist scholars know, feminism has been described in terms of waves. The first wave began in the mid-19th century and concluded with the women’s suffrage movement. Then, in the late 1950s, second wave feminism gained traction. The second wave movement arose out of women’s resistance to being forced out of the workplace after WWII. This failure to acknowledge women’s need for economic independence and personal autonomy led feminists to take action.

Different Aspects Of The Second Wave Movement

Consciousness-Raising Groups

Activism during the second wave era included the formation of consciousness-raising groups. During these group meetings, women discussed the various forms of oppression they were subjected to. The meetings functioned as a source of solace and solidarity where women were free to speak openly about their experiences of rape, domestic violence, objectification, and general dissatisfaction with the male-centered nature of society. In addition to exploring issues of sexism, consciousness-raising groups openly discussed the role that racism and class elitism played in adversely impacting women and other minorities.

The Feminine Mystique

Second wave feminist activists emphasized the importance of reading literature that acknowledges and analyzes the unique problems women face in patriarchal societies. One of the key texts of the era was Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Friedan was deeply influenced by feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex. This work explored society’s perception of women as inferior others whose marginalized position was natural and acceptable. Friedan built on these themes in her own book. For example, she discussed the role that confining women to the home played in wasting female potential and limiting possibilities. This female dissatisfaction with what many feminists have referred to as the cult of domesticity was called “the problem that has no name.”

Reproductive Rights

Taking Friedan’s book as a point of departure, many women began challenging patriarchal institutions within society. Reproductive rights became an increasingly integral component of the movement as more women recognized the importance of access to birth control, access to legal and safe abortion, freedom from coerced sterilization, the right to  education about sexually transmitted infections, and ending the harmful practice of female genital mutilation.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

Another important element of the second wave era was the push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA was a proposed amendment designed to guarantee equal rights for women under the law. The original document was written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. While many middle-class women supported the amendment, many members of the working class opposed it, arguing that the ERA would work against women by ignoring or downplaying their specific needs within the work sector. The ERA was also opposed by constitutional lawyer and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who feared the ERA would send women into combat and prevent them from attaining support from their husbands. Although Schlafly and her supporters defeated the ERA, the controversy surrounding it was still effective in raising consciousness regarding gender inequality and the need for women to organize against their own oppression.

How Did The Second Wave Movement Change Society?

The second wave era of feminism was a powerful period of time during which women worked hard to break down barriers that precluded them from attaining economic independence and social justice. The outcome of these efforts included the establishment of rape crisis and battered women’s shelters, changes in divorce law, the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and the establishment of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

You Can Change Society Too!

If you find the work of second wave feminists inspiring, you can get involved in the liberation of women and girls, too. If you’re ready to begin, partner with LiveYourDream.org now so we can work together to build a more just and equitable world!

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jocelyncrawley-picJocelyn Crawley is a 32-year-old freelance writer who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Feminism is her deepest passion and she is excited about partnering with other women’s rights advocates in the years to come. When she is not reading and writing on feminist topics, Jocelyn enjoys sipping coffee and improving her yoga practice.

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