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Sherwin Rassoli

HST 202
Ch. 12 "Gender, Ideology and Historical Change: Explaining the Women's Movement"
By the 1960s the Civil Rights Movement had reached its peak in. During the next two
decades a new movement occurred. This movement sought to end the discrimination of women
and promote equality between the sexes. The Womens Movement, divided between moderate
and radical philosophy, took roots in literature and picked up momentum in an increasingly
liberal America.
One of the first popular Womens Movement books was The Feminine Mystique written
by Betty Friedan in 1963. In this book Friedan argued that an educated woman could not find
happiness in a traditional domestic lifestyle. Friedan criticized the sexist nature of a traditional
family, making the wife subservient to her husband (323). Betty Friedans discourse for the
housewife role resonated with thousands of women across America. Historian Elaine Tyler May
recalled that The Feminine Mystique sparked a discussion among women, most viewing
domesticity as a trap. Friedans book also influenced vast criticism of a sexist society. In 1986 a
group of Black feminists issued The Combahee River Collective Statement. This statement
addressed the plight of Black women in America who not only faced racial discrimination, but
also gender discrimination.
After the success of the Civil Rights Movement, some people shifted their concerns to
gender equality. In 1987 Mary King, a member of a civil rights organization called the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, wrote a report expressing grief over gender discrimination
within the SNCC (325). King noticed that regardless of experience, women held less influential
positions than men. According to King, women in the organization would be tasked with clerical
work by default. Mary King made this report to serve as an example that even a civil rights
organization discriminated against women; the rest of America was no better.
The Womens Movement is a result of women taking a more active role in society that
began in World War II. Since then the employment rate of women has drastically increased.
According to the Federal Bureau of the Census, from 1940 to 1980 the employment rate of
married women rose from 15% to 50% (340). Historian Alice Echols reasons that such an
increase in employment was due to a growing consumerist society (318). Families often could
not afford to buy refrigerators, telephones, cars and washing machines off of one income. As a
result, more and more married women chose to work to cover the budget deficit. With more
women in the workforce, gender equality become more apparent creating a need for the
Womens Movement.
Among the Womens Movement two schools of thought emerged: the moderate
perspective and the radical perspective. According to historian Alice Echols moderate womens
rights activists fought for and promoted equality between the genders. By contrast radical
feminists went a step further and attempted to destroy patriarchy and capitalism (320). Some
feminists supported the idea of female communal living to end womens functions as child
bearers (309).
As women took a more active position in America, breaking away from traditional gender
roles there became a greater need for social upheaval in regards to these traditional gender roles.
Although varied in philosophy, the Womens Movement intended to influence American society
towards gender equality.