What are the differences between first wave feminism and the second wave? The women's movement continued to address different rights and issues during this period that changed and are still being discussed in some countries today.

The women's movement kept on going after the first wave of feminism and took place from the early 1960s to the 1990s. This second wave began by showing how political and cultural inequalities are inseparably linked with one another. The wave unfolded in the context of the anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movement and the growing but not always enough self-growing consciousness of minority groups around the world.

Although suffrage for women was achieved in most of the Western countries, being the start of historical change for women, other rights were still not part of their lives. This new wave of feminism encouraged women to reflect on the sexist power structure, also called patriarchy. The main goal of the second wave in the United States was on passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing social equality regardless of sex.

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After the political rights, another consciousness-raising

The beginning of the second wave formed two branches of the feminist movement:

  • Liberal feminist: this group focused on advocating and achieving gender equality through legal and political reforms within the societies that worked with liberal democracy. This branch is also called mainstream feminism and has its roots in first wave feminism and classical liberalism, also associated with social liberalism. The pioneers of this movement are Mary Wollstonecraft and Frances Wright.

 

  • Radical feminist: this current of feminism appeared in the 1960s and calls for a drastic re-ordering of society, where patriarchy is abolished from all social and economic contexts, such as institutions and social norms. While still being aware of the challenges of other intersectional social divisions such as race, class and sexual orientation. The difference of with radical feminism and liberal feminism also relies on the root of the problem, whereas for radical feminism is rooted in women's oppression in patriarchal gender relations as opposed to liberal feminism which relies on the legal systems.
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The second wave was characterized by liberal feminism and radical feminism. Both fighting for rights and the abolition of gender roles and norms. Source Unsplash

Challenging gender norms

Because this period is characterized by the awareness of women in fighting to increase equality and equal right in all aspects of society, particularly in their sexuality, family, domestic roles, workplace and professional opportunities, and reproductive rights. This was distinguished by a critic of the patriarchal or male-dominated institutions and cultural practices.

Patriarchy is defined as the institutionalized social system in which men dominate over others, but this can also refer to the specific dominance over women. It has also been pointed out how the different manifestations of men that have social privileges have used them to cause exploitation and oppression. These arguments and ideology relies on and justify this dominance through the attributes and inherent natural differences between sexes.

Access to education allowed women to explore these concepts, analyse how the patriarchal dominance was present in every aspect of their life, and therefore be able to build a critic and argument to end the discrimination they were facing. The higher enrolments of women in higher education influenced academic establishment in including women's studies courses and departments, such as feminist ideology applied to fields such as politics, sociology, history, and literature.

In the United States, some colleges adopted education while others remained only women universities such as the Seven Sisters College, Mississippi University for Women, Mills College, or the Sarah Lawrence College.

Feminist writers

Feminists writers played a major role in writing about sexism and their discontent in their positions in society. Among the influential writers, Betty Friedan's exposé The Feminine Mystique became the voice of women's discontent in the United States. Betty Friedan is even considered as the woman who started the movement in 1963, the same time that President John F. Kennedy's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women released its report on gender inequality. And Simone de Beauvoir's book The Second Sex made the expression 'Women's Liberation' popular to refer to feminism throughout history and used by several Women's Liberation movements.

Empowered by these female authors, feminist activists of the 1970s and 1980s addressed more political and sexual issues in their writings.

Cultural and Business

To counteract the dominant sexist culture, women created their own pop culture as a way to create positive and empowered images of women. This manifestation happened through music, films, and fashion.

Among them, the song 'I Am Woman' by Helen Reddy became a feminist anthem. While in Germany, women were producing feminist feature films and documentaries, such as A Reward for Irene from Helke Sander or Cristina Perincioli, who produced  For Women – 1st Chapter.

Business-wise, women were not falling behind and were establishing their businesses such as bookshops, credit unions, feminist press, restaurants and record labels. Being independent and being able to work and have labour rights was an element of second wave feminism to achieve equal rights in the labour market as well.

Social changes

The further education of women and their cultural presence allowed further debate and discussion to achieve social changes, in regard to reproductive rights, sexual harassment and domestic violence.

In post-war America, worried women were still considered to be a legal possession of their husbands. Which allowed for rampant battery and rape within the household and was still seen as socially acceptable. This was a strong topic during the second wave of feminism, and thanks to the feminist movement and activists, by 1982 shelters and state coalitions had been established to provide protection and services for women that had suffered from abuse by a male figure in their lives.

In the United States, liberal feminists created panels and workshops to promoted consciousness for sexually active women. The different workshops would bring attention to issues such as venereal disease, safe abortion and the use of birth control, which was approved in 1960 by the Food and Drug Administration.

Beyond the United States

Outside the United States, feminist movements were also having their momentum around the world but mostly the Wester countries. In London, the International Alliance of Women was held in 1967, where delegates would initiate the UN Commission on the Status of Women. This is in order to study and evaluate the situation of women in different countries.

For countries such as Germany, Spain and Sweden, the second wave of feminism started in the 1960s, but for other countries such as Turkey or Israel the movement was taking much longer and the second wave started around the 1980s.

Exclusion and criticism

Angela Davis
Angela Davis was a woman that pointed out the exclusion of Afro-American women of second wave feminism. Source Unsplash

Despite the progress made for white women, the progress still did not translate for black, indigenous or working-class and poor women. These groups were still being alienated on several fronts that were fought for in the second wave of feminism.

Among the most alarming ones, reproductive justice and rights for black women were not respected. In the U.S. black, Afro-American women and poor women had to still clandestinely abort, putting their lives in danger. Other minority groups like Afro-Americans, Latinas and Native Americans suffered from sterilization abuses in their communities, meaning that several sterilization campaigns had been going on where they had been sterilised without their consent.

The second wave feminism has further silenced the voices of women of colour, LGBT women and other minority groups and their contribution to the feminist movement, reducing feminism into a homogenized and whitewashed chronology.

This dominant narrative of white and middle to upper-class women was called out by Chela Sandoval as hegemonic feminism, which means that the privileged group of women were reducing the experiences of other women belonging to other groups. Also, creating an assumption that all women's experiences are the same, which ignored the oppression that different groups and minorities of women were facing in terms of race, class, sexuality.

This gave rise to a different group of women that separated themselves from the women's liberation movement and gave birth to Black feminism, Africana womanism and the Hijas de Cuauhtémoc in California State University.
This intersectionality in response to the white, middle-class views of feminism became a core tenet of third-wave feminism.

 

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Daniel

A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.