On 26th August 1970, fifty thousand feminists took to the street across America. On a full fifty years after the passage of the 19th amendments granted women the right to vote, 50,000 feminists paraded down New York city’s fifth avenue with linked arms blocking major thoroughfare during rush hour.
A one-day strike for equality. After those early years, feminism has brought about huge changes in society. In the United States and Europe, more female graduates than male. The female college graduate stands to about 56%. Nearly half of doctors in developed countries are women, and by the beginning of 2019, more than seventy nations have had female leaders. But the goal of winning full equality remains cagey. Throughout the world, women hold merely less than a quarter of the national legislatures, i.e 24.3%, and women and men have the same guaranteed legal rights in just eight countries viz, Belgium, Canada, France, Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg, Latvia. It’s been more than a century since Newzealand granted women the right to vote. And still to this day the movement is fighting for the right of women around the world.
Pic via Netflix.
Feminism in literal meaning can be defined as “ the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men”. Why is it still an issue, and how much further do they have to go?
During 1943, world war two at its height this was the war in which women held responsibilities in military positions with an equal footing with men submitting to the same discipline, earning the same pay. World war two dramatically changes women’s role in society. Instead of cutting dresses, women stamps out the patterns of airplane parts. Instead of just baking cakes, women would go cooking gears for making airplanes.
With the men away fighting on the frontlines, women took the traditionally male jobs at home. They work as engineers and mechanics… Building weapons..ships..and planes..drove buses, trains, and fire engines… And serve in the land army..bringing in the harvest. And as loggers knew as lumberjills. But when women are encouraged to focus on their domestic duties. By the 1950s as popular TV program “leave it to Beaver ” make clear, a woman’s place is once again in the home, taking care of their family. With world war two firmly in the past, in 1960 average American is married by the age of 20. Banks could deny issuing credit cards to them without their husbands’ signature. Professionally fewer than four percent of lawyers and only seven percent of doctors were women. If any woman employee gets pregnant, it is perfectly legal to fire them. and the pay gap in the United States of America, a woman doing equal work is paid only 60 cents compared to a man 1$. At the beginning of the 1960s when the modern feminist movement begins trying to change all that, especially after the introduction of a revolutionary little tablet, “the birth control pill”. For the first time in human history, women have an easy, discreet, and reliable method of contraception. The pill rapidly takes off in the U.S, Australia, and the U.K. By 1962, 1.2 million American women were using it.
Now women could choose to put off having children and instead focus on getting an education and essentially their own careers. But when they do, they quickly discover that traditional expectations are hard to shake. The then President of the United States reportedly said “ we want to be sure that women are used as effectively as they can to provide a better life for our people, in addition to meeting their primary responsibility which is in the home”.
Contrary to this some women beg to differ. According to the writer & activist Betty Friedan, “there is a terrible contempt for women implicit in this glorified insistence that women’s fulfillment is motherhood and only motherhood. Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963, it reveals the silent unhappiness of many American housewives and reassures women who desire more than marriage and motherhood that they are not alone, a spark that ignites a new wave of feminism, not just in America, but across the western world.
THE TIME IS RIPE FOR A REVOLUTION
As America grapples with the civil rights movement, women begin speaking out for their rights as well. THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 is signed at the White House by President Jhonson.
“..It shall be an unlawful employment practice… to discriminate against any individual… because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Feminists lobby to add the word “Sex” to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and at the last minute, they succeed. “This Civil rights Act is a challenge to all of us… to go to work in our communities and our states, in our homes and hearts… to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice.”
The Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for a woman to be passed over for a job or fired simply because she is a woman.
So, equality at last? Not so fast. For some men change isn’t so easy.
Companies have to produce training videos to help them adjust to women in the workplace.
It soon becomes clear that, if women are to change the culture, they’ll have to organize. Feminism for women’s liberation is launched to support their demands for total freedom, economically, politically, socially. In 1966 NOW the national organization for women was born.
NOW’s the goal? Quote “to break through the silken curtain of prejudice and discrimination.”
But many critics insist that women are already equal to men, so what’s all the fuss about?
In 1968, Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister Of one of the largest population in the Pacific. A woman can now control the destinies of over 500 million people or influence the fashion that million wear.
Record-breaking solo pilot. But nowadays, not even the sky is limit.
The first girl in space Valentina Tereshkova. A woman in charge of millions, bank manager Margaret Reid of Edinburgh.
The truth is the above examples are exceptions that prove the rule, and even they are not necessarily allowed on the same stage as men. That female bank manager is running a ladies branch.
Throughout the ‘60s the feminist movement continues to gain momentum and the miss America pageant proves a ripe target for protest. In 1968, demonstrators unfurled a banner inside the pageant.
Outside, they crown their own Miss America… “ a sheep.”
And they set up a Freedom Trash Can for “instruments of female torture”: wigs, makeup, curlers, Playboy magazines, and bras. Nothing is set on fire but the media outlets later dismiss the protest as feminists burning their bras. The myth sticks to this day.
Pic Credit- Netflix
Meanwhile across the Atlantic British women take up the fight. It was in 1968 that Ford’s machinists first went on strike. In Dagenham, England, female machinists bring the Ford factory to a standstill, striking for equal pay. They said that a company grading scheme, introduced in 1967, discriminated against them. They won both their cases and the promise of legislation, which will become the UK’s Equal Pay Act.
THE PAY GAP 1970, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Pic credit- Netflix.
In the United States, equal pay has been enshrined in law since 1963, but women working full-time are still making 40% Less than men. 59.4Cents for every $1 earned by men for the same duration, By the 1970s, American feminists realized that they’ll have to do more than protest in the streets. They need to run for office.
“We are going to be running ourselves and electing ourselves so that it will not take 50 years to get 50 women in the US Senate.” Betty Friedan Founding member National Women’s Political Caucus.
In 1972, there were only two women in the US Senate and 13 in the House… making up just three percent of Congress. That same year, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm became the second woman and the first African American to run for a major party’s presidential nomination. “It is time that other peoples in America, besides white males, run for the highest office in this land.” Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm is one of the biggest supporters of a controversial proposal, one that will enshrine women’s rights in the US Constitution, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Feminists have been pushing for the law since 1923, but now they finally momentum and the organization to put it to a vote in congress. The debate is fierce. “The hysteria created by bra-burning and the other freak antics is not a justification for the action taken by the House of Representatives.”- Myra Wolfgang, LABOR LEADER.
But in a huge victory for feminists, the proposal passes. Now, if two-thirds of the states ratify it within ten years, the Equal rights Amendment will be added to the U.S Constitution. But despite their political progress, American feminists are lagging behind their counterparts in other nations when it comes to electing a woman to the top job.
Sri Lanka is the first nation to elect a female leader… Sirimavo Bandaranaike, in 1960.
In 1966, Indira Gandhi begins the first of four terms as prime minister of India.
Golda Meir took charge of Israel in 1969.
Margaret Thatcher became the first prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1979.
In America, the 1970s does see progress in the form of a raft of new laws guaranteeing women equal access to education, to bank credit lines, as well as the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
1973 ROE V. WADE (MAKES ABORTION LEGAL)
By the end of the 1970s, more women enrolled in higher education than men. On TV, Mary Tyler Moore’s independent career woman reflects feminism’s gains in the workplace. But as women begin to infiltrate male-dominated. Careers, it’s clear sexist ideas are not just held by men. The boys-club culture in the executive boardroom isn’t much better.
THE PAY GAP 1979, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Pic via -Netflix
As for the paycheck of regular women, they’re actually less than they were 20 years earlier 59.7Cents for every 1$ as compared to men. Still, for two decades, the modern feminist movement has been on a roll.. Until perhaps inevitably, a backlash sets in. The 1980s see Ronald Regan sweep to power on a promise to bring back traditional family values.
“Restoring the American dream requires a return to spiritual and moral values.”- Ronald Regan
Many conservatives believe that women are already granted equal rights under the law. There’s no need to change the constitution. By the 1982 deadline, the Equal Rights Amendment has been ratified by 35 states, three short of the two-thirds required, and it fails. Defeated it falls off the political agenda for decades. In America, feminism starts to be considered passe. After elections in 1988 exit polls show that only 18% of women would call themselves strong feminists. And in 1990, that number dropped to 14%. Despite the backlash against feminism. ‘90s pop culture celebrates strong women, from Thelma & Louise to the women-only lineup of the Lilith Fair festival. And the decade does see American women elevated to high-profile positions. But it’s most often because they’re appointed by a man. By 1998, just 11% of congress was female.
THE PAY GAP 1998, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Pic credits- Netflix
And while that persistent pay gap does start to narrow, 73.2Cents for every 1$ earned by men, it’s far short of equality.
But that’s not what reignites feminism in the new millennium. What does is the internet. Just as Betty Friedan reassured ‘60s housewives that they were not alone, the internet allows women to share their stories and experiences beyond their immediate communities. And a new, more inclusive brand of feminism embracing women with diverse racial and cultural identities. Long-buried stories of minority women are highlighted in movies like Hidden figures, about the black women behind America’s race to space. “I never thought I could dream to be a rocket scientist. When I found out it was true I was like… I was angry, I was like, somebody just stole a dream from me, somebody just stole an option from me. They lied to me.”- TARAJI P. HENSON, actor Hidden figures.
Now, feminism develops a truly global outlook. “Quality education for girls is not just learning books, passing exams, and getting jobs. It is empowerment, freedom, nourishment.”- MALALA YOUSAFZAI, Activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
In Post-soviet Russia dramatic protests of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot go viral. Especially when they met with harsh reprisals.
In Europe, the activist group Femen uses the Internet to spread their naked appeal for equality.
“We’re a bunch of angry women who choose their strategy, Feminism strategy, to take their tops and to write on their body that was for so long objectified.”- INNA SHEVCHENKO, Femen.
But while the internet has given a new voice to feminists, it’s also emboldened their detractors. Social media trolling is particularly vicious against women. “I’ve used the Internet for brilliant things, but I have had rape threats, I have had huge swarms of, uh, trolls all attacking me at once, um, it’s very tiring. it’s very time-consuming. ”- JESS PHILLIPS, UK Member of Parliament.
As feminists around the world continue to fight for equality, it becomes clear how much work needs to be done in far-flung places, where women are still treated as second-class citizens.
Around a quarter of girls in the developing world do not attend school.
Each year, 15 million girls around the world are married before the age of 18. That’s 41,000 every day, or one every two seconds. And there are 18 countries, as of 2015, where husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.
Pic credit, Netflix
In 2016 Hillary Clinton came closer to winning the American Presidency than any woman has before.
“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.” – Hillary Clinton, 2016 Presidential runner-up. Her narrow defeat energizes Feminism inspiring millions to converge on the streets of Washington and around the world.
A few years later a tidal wave of new female representatives is sworn into Congress. The House becomes 24% female, the Senate 25%. And by early 2020, the Equal Rights Amendment is back in the headlines, as Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify it. If the original deadline can be overturned Congress may yet finally adopt the amendment nearly 100 years after it was first proposed.
“… and the ERA would help ensure equal pay for women.”-ALYSSA MILANO, Actor & Activist.
THE PAY GAP 2019, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
It’s getting better, but that stubborn pay gap is still there. 80.7Cents for every 1$ earned by men. And if nothing changes it will take another 40 years for women to receive equal pay for equal work.
Clearly, as a movement, Feminism is far from done… and won’t be until everyone has the same opportunity, the same freedom, and the same human rights.