In 1970s America, women faced restrictions across the board, from the home to the job. It was assumed that a woman’s life would consist solely of getting married in her early twenties, having children rapidly, and staying home to raise them. When asked how she felt, one woman of the era said, “The female has low expectations for her future. Whether it be her spouse or her children, she is here in the role of caretaker for them”(Jelin, Pg. 184). Wives were responsible for all aspects of housework and child care and spent an average of 55 hours per week doing it. All this became short-lived as the working women took a stand, campaigned against women’s discrimination in the United States, and championed better treatment.
The feminist movement of the 1970s initially targeted harassment in the workforce, such as unequal pay and lack of advancement opportunities. A fortunate convergence of economic and societal circumstances drove the growth of the feminist movement (Jelin, Pg. 178-180). Women filled over two-thirds of the newly created positions in the United States immediately following World War II since the booming economy had outrun the available labor force. Therefore, society had to come to terms with the idea of women working. As a result, women’s economic employment became even more socially acceptable as the desire for a middle-class status grew and two-income households became a necessity.
Many of the pioneers in the feminist movement got their start as community organizers during the Civil Rights era. While black women were instrumental in the Civil Rights struggle, notably through grassroots groups, they were mostly excluded from positions of power. Conversely, a younger, more revolutionary generation of women embraced the anti-war campaign to condemn not only the Vietnamese Warfare but also “the manner in which the conventional women’s peace movement accepted and even encouraged the male dominance in which men made war and women grieved.” Women participated in the leftist student protest on college campuses. Still, their initiatives to integrate women’s rights into the New Left were either overlooked or met with dismissiveness by the male student activists. The chairman of a New Politics conference once told a feminist activist, “I don’t think you’re smart enough to be a member of the New Left.” “You need to calm down, kid. There are more pressing matters at hand than to discuss issues facing women” (Jelin, Pg. 187). That is why women started their separate movements, rejecting the ones that excluded them.
In pursuing gender parity, the women’s organizations employed various strategies, including legislative advocacy, media outreach, and grassroots organizing. Activists in the early stages of the women’s movement, which had strong ties to the New Left, were more aggressive in their tactics. Stickers reading “Sexist” was placed on obnoxious commercials, and sit-ins were held at local news studios as part of the movement to combat sexism in the mainstream (Mezey and Susan Gluck, Pg. 265-270). As a result, “consciousness-raising organizations” flourished as a means by which women could share their experiences and viewpoints on issues like marriage, schooling, sexuality at their workplace, and other relevant themes in their localities. They learned from one another and found common ground as they discussed their experiences growing up in a patriarchal society.
From redefining spousal abuse from being a conventional practice but a violation, lobbying for a constitutional amendment, and establishing domestic violence homes, activists helped shape and advocate against sexual misconduct, which was constitutionally declared as an infringement of women’s rights in 1980 (Stamatopoulou, Pg 42-44). Women’s health activists read up on the female body, taught lectures in living rooms, daycare centers, and congregations, opened health centers, and wrote the seminal book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to advance the cause of developing a wellness system tailored to women’s specific needs. The women’s movement was publishing an abundance of periodicals in cities and towns across the country. Compared to Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine (1971), which reached a wider national audience, these periodicals catered primarily to activists inside the movement (Stamatopoulou, Pg 38-41). It brought attention to the struggles of everyday women, shared the tales of accomplished women, and reported on the work of activists at the local and national levels.
Civil lawsuits, official complaints, demonstrations, and tribunals were all tools utilized by the campaign to achieve legal reform. By the late 1970s, women had achieved significant, far-reaching benefits, such as the elimination of gender discrimination in schools, on athletic teams, and when applying for loans and credit, the elimination of discrimination against expectant mothers in the workplace, the decriminalization of abortion and contraception, and the recognition of “differences in opinion” as a valid reason for divorce and the harmonization of the division of assets in the event of a separation (Mezey and Susan Gluck, Pg. 257-264).
This era will always remain a defining period for women. They took up the fight to fight for their equality. Despite some women activists receiving criticism from men, they never backed down but continued to fight for the less privileged women. This resulted in them being accorded the respect they desired. Indeed this was an era of change, and women will forever be grateful for the women activists who took up the challenge to champion discrimination against women.
Jelin, Elizabeth. “Women, gender, and human rights.” Constructing Democracy. Routledge, 2019. 177-196.
Mezey, Susan Gluck. “Increasing the Number of Women in Office: Does It Matter?.” The year of the woman. Routledge, 2019. 255-270.
Stamatopoulou, Elissavet. “Women’s rights and the United Nations.” Women’s Rights Human Rights. Routledge, 2018. 36-48.