The term”feminism” as a synonym for female emancipation was frequently used in the struggle for women’srights since the 19th century. During the 1920s, Europe and the United Statessaw the rise of the first wave of feminism. After the passage of the 19thAmendment, giving women the right to vote, more women were given theopportunity to study in universities and work outside the home. Leading up toWWI, this activity from women gradually stopped and was restored only afterWWII.
The peak of Western feminism as the social and political movement knowntoday arose in the late 60s, on to the early 70s. In these revolutionary years,student and anti-war demonstrations, the struggle of racial and ethnic groupsfor civil rights, and other protests determined the political climate (Rhodes). In the public mind, gender relations seemed to be equally harmonious. However, women, who previously were forced to take male positions during the war, working in hazardous conditions at factories, could nowreturn to “natural” work,finding their satisfaction in the traditional domestic home environment. In this case, they no longer had to care about their ambitionsand rights in society. Thus, the return of the feminist movement became one ofthe most unexpected events in the 60s.The 1949 publication of”The Second Sex” by the French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoircaused a radical change in the consciousness of contemporary women. The work,with the volume of a thousand pages, was immediately sold in huge quantities inEurope (the book was translated into 30 languages).
For many decades, deBeauvoir became the source of inspiration for intellectual Europe, allowingmany generations of women to see their destiny and place in the world from adifferent point of view. In this book, based on philosophical, psychological,anthropological, historical, and literary material, de Beauvoir for the firsttime tries to comprehend the problem of female existence in the modern world.These ideological searches are undoubtedly connected with the theory ofexistentialism by Jean-Paul Sartre, placing in the center of human existencethe problem of freedom of choice and responsibility of the individual for his(and now, her) own life.Unlike previousfeminist theories, Simone de Beauvoir sees the causes of the dependent positionof women not in biological differences, or socio-economic inequalities, but inthe historically formed notion of femininity in culture and society. Exploringmythology, literature, different national traditions and values, the system ofeducation of girls, and family models, she showed that the main obstacle tofreedom of women is the idea of a female being known in society as”secondary.
” De Beauvoir states that the main reason for the situation iswomen adopting themselves the role of the “second sex,” that issignificant only in relation to a man. This phenomenon of dependence in thefemale identity does not allow a woman to be responsible for her own life, andto claim the realization of personal ambitions outside the family sphere. Thebook did not only reject the myth of “the special nature of women,” butalso gave an impulse to a new understanding of women’s emancipation. Simone deBeauvoir asked women not to be afraid to start the path of self-realization,independence, and the free acquisition of a “true existence.” In fifteenyears after the publication of the book, these ideas became the slogans of anew wave of mass feminist movement.Since its appearance,the Feminist Movement was heterogeneous in its ideological concepts, methods ofstruggle, and forms of collective activity. Among the variety of ideas,theories and organizations, there can be distinguished two most influential andwell-known trends in feminism, both which still exist today: liberal andradical.In 1963, the book “TheFeminine Mystique” was published in the United States, and influenced the moodsand self-awareness of millions of American women.
“The Feminine Mystique” byjournalist Betty Friedan became a world bestseller and a classic text ofliberal feminism. It showed the atmosphere of the “consumer paradise”of educated American women from the middle class. In the late 1950s, numerousfemale magazines, advertising, and TV stated that middle-class women couldachieve a “female American dream”: a prosperous and caring husband,healthy children, a suburban house, a car, and beautiful clothes that can beworn at parties and charitable meetings (Thompson). Betty Friedan, agraduate psychologist, and mother of three children, carried out hundreds ofinterviews with the housewives, and found that their lives were characterizedby inner dissatisfaction and a sense of their personal insignificance.
Thereasons for such feelings could not be provided by psychoanalysts, theirhusbands, or the women themselves.Having written a bookon the basis of these confessions, Friedan tried to determine the causes ofdisappointments and discontent, visualizing the problem that did not have aname before. Trying to follow the patterns of “true” femininity andfulfill the “natural destiny” of mother and wife prescribed bysociety, the middle-class women refused professional careers and anyparticipation in public life. As a result, they gradually turned intoinfantile, dependent individuals, unable to understand their capabilities anddesires. These traditional beliefs were supported by Freud’s theory with hisidea of natural female passivity. “The Feminine Mystique” actually showedfemale personality, and the drama of suppression of intellect, professional andsocial interests (Thompson).
When voluntarily following the establishedgender stereotypes, women found themselves, according to the definition ofFriedan, in a “cozy concentration camp” of family life, discoveringthat consumer goods, husband, and children are not able to free themselves ofthe feeling of emptiness. The book touched the feelings of a large group ofhousewives. In the 1960s, these ideas seemed revolutionary to them. Womenrealized that they had to ask themselves without a false sense of guilt; whothey were and what they wanted from life.
They did not have to feel selfish orneurotic if they had any personal tasks not related to husband and children.During WWII, millionsof women in the United States and Europe came to work in various industries,taking the positions of men, who had left for the front. Posters of the waryears urged them to believe in their strength, that they could do everything.Girls from the middle class, seeing for themselves new perspectives, wanted toobtain higher education. But the post-war situation of the “nationalharmony” in the Western world required the restoration of the traditionalsystem of sharing the roles of “breadwinners” and “keepers ofthe hearth.” In the 50s, military slogans asking women to help the countrywere replaced by public assurances that “feminine” women do not needa professional career, higher education, creativity, and even participation inpolitics (Thompson). 100 years ago, the same arguments were madeabout the natural incapacity and unpreparedness of women for professionalemployment, trying to return women to the “natural destiny” of motherand wife.
Three years after thepublication of “The Feminine Mystique”, the National Organization of Women wasestablished in the US, the president of which was Betty Friedan. In the year ofits foundation, the organization had 300 participants, but in ten yearsmembership increased to 250,000. (Thompson). The organization became one of the mostinfluential political forces of America. The liberal-feminist movement forwomen’s rights, with its centralized formal structures, clearly established rules,and a successful program of actions, had a significant impact on thelegislative and executive powers in the country.Focusing on reforming the existing system of power, feminists implemented the traditional methods for political culture of the United States. They were filing lawsuits andlobbying bills.
The courts werefilled with dozens of thousands of applications for setting up the lawsuits against employers on the basis of a violation of the Civil RightsAct, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. By the early 1970s,hundreds of higher education institutions wereinvolved in the trials concerning violationsof the labor rights of women. The interests of women were protected by female organizations, which causedthe successin implementing new laws. The companies were forced to pay significant monetarypenalties for compensation of material and moral damage, and take women to work by thecourt decision.
Publishers weresubjected to penalties when indicating “men are required” for a specific position.The NationalOrganization of Women considered its main task to be the adoption of alegislative prohibition of discrimination based on sex in all spheres ofeconomic activity. Following the concept of classical liberalism, the genderequality was treated as providing equal rights to men and women. According tothe point of view of the organization, any reference in legal documents to the”difference between men and women,” as the representatives of liberalfeminism believed, ensured the established civil, public inferiority of women,leaving the equality only in the private sphere. The term”difference” was excluded from the political rhetoric of liberalfeminists for a whole decade.In addition to theprohibition of direct discrimination, feminists demanded the reform of nearly all spheres of professional activity: obtainingloans from the bank, renting accommodations, opening businesses,accessing education in prestigiousprofessional university schools and faculties, etc. The decade of female political activism led to a significantincrease in the number of women among high-paid employees such as lawyers,doctors, and managers.
Thus, it is possible to state that the liberal feminismhad a positive impact on the protection of the rights of women. Along with the liberalfeminist movement, there appeared groups of young intellectuals, talking aboutwomen’s emancipation from more radical positions. A new influential trend offeminism was formed in the context of powerful youth protest. The criticism of the new radicals exposed totalitarianfeatures of the industrial civilization. Instead of the “elite democracy,”students demanded a fair democracy for all members of the society.Since the early 60s,female students were actively participating in mass university speeches,sit-ins, protest marches against segregation in the South, and the Vietnam War.
But they were not satisfied with the role assigned to them in the youthmovement. Young women realized their complete detachment from decision-makingin the organizations. Very quickly, young female activists figured out that ifthey wantedto put the problem of female rights and freedoms on the agenda of youthmeetings, they faced misunderstanding and mockery on the part of the maleparticipants of the protest movement. The female students started creatingtheir own groups, which had neither a strict formal structure (Mackay). In these informal discussions,women received the opportunity to talk about their problems, experiences,desires, and ambitions, which formerly were hidden or even not realized.
Themain thing that happened inside these groups was the liberation from theslavish inner complex of inferiority, lack of self-confidence, and thetransformation of the sense of a life of young women. The male power, in the understanding of the supporters offemale liberation, extended not only to politics and the economy, but alsoaffected the private life of women. Men could not reform the system, whichgives them privileges by themselves, so the liberal compromise program onlegislative reform could not solve the fundamental task of liberation fromdependence and oppression. Only the revolutionary struggle of women couldabolish the patriarchal system.The feminist issue became one of the primary topics in the media. Theaudience, intrigued or enraged by the activity of young feminists, was involvedin a nationwide discussion on topics that were previously untouched. Theprevious stage of the movement for women’s rights did not cause such adiscussion in the country.
The reforms proposed by liberal female organizationsfit into the democratic framework of the United States, while the radicalism ofthe “liberation” groups threatened to destroy the entire system oftraditional cultural values, social institutions, and policies. In 1971, GloriaSteinem started to publish a feministmagazine “Ms”. Instead of the acceptedlanguage norms “miss” or “Mrs,” indicating a family status, thenew neutral rule “ms” was used to support the emancipation of thefemale consciousness (Mackay). The enormous popularity of this magazinedemonstrated the significance and success of the revolution that began. Themagazine showed solidarity with the popular concepts of the sexual revolution,and considered forced marriages and the pressure of society towards thecreation of a traditional family to be the main instrument of suppression ofpersonality. The new term “sexism” used by the magazine denoted anydiscriminatory acts based on sex.
Feminism is a socialand political movement, the main goal of which is to provide women with fullcivil rights. In a broad sense, it reflected the desire to achieve equality of women andmen in all spheres of social life. In the narrow sense,it is a female movement aiming to eliminate the discrimination against womenand to provide their equal rights to men. The most famous branch of thefeminist movement was the radical feminism, stating that the patriarchy was one of the most detrimental forms of oppression of women by men. As a result of theprotest movements, in the 1980s, feminism became an integral part of ademocratic social and political system and state policy.
As the decades wenton, feminism improved and adapted to include women of different ethnicbackgrounds, from different parts of the world, different socio-economicstatuses, and different intersections of life. The current feminist wave oftoday, commonly known as the third wave, strives to incorporate everyone whoidentifies as a woman to join in an effort that wants to achieve equality for allgenders. Without the help from revolutionary women writers of the 60s, feminismtoday would be completely different, or maybe not even exist at all.