Many of the people involved in these commissions became the nucleus of women who, dissatisfied with the lack of progress made on commission recommendations, joined with Betty Friedan in 1966 to found the National Organization for Women.
NOW was the first new feminist organization in almost fifty years, but it was not the sole beginning of the organized expression of the movement. The movement actually has two origins, from two different stratas of society, with two different styles, orientations, values, and forms of organization. In many ways there were two separate movements which only in the last year have merged sufficiently for the rubric "women's liberation" to be truly an umbrella term for the multiplicity of organizations and groups.
One of the most pivotal moments in the history of Second Wave Feminism (and indeed one of its founding moments,) was the publication of Betty Friedan's landmark book The Feminine Mystique in 1963. This book explored the dissatisfaction that many upper and middle class women felt at their limited options in life. Many reported feeling restless and unhappy, although they could not exactly identify the source of these feelings.
In the early sixties feminism was still an unmentionable, but its ghost was slowly awakening from the dead. The first sign of new life came with the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women by President Kennedy in 1961. Created at the urging of Esther Petersen of the Women's Bureau, in its short life the Commission came out with several often radical reports thoroughly documenting women's second class status. It was followed by the formation of a citizen's advisory council and fifty state commissions.
Although Betty Friedan was one of the most influential of the early activists in Second Wave Feminism, a number of other women also emerged. Of these, Gloria Steinem was probably the most influential (at least in the United States.) She was an instrumental member of the movement and, since then, has continued to advocate for the rights of women and their equality.
The first country in which this radicalisation of women appeared as a mass phenomenon was the United States. Thousands of women's liberation groups blossomed and tens of thousands of women mobilised on the August 26, 1970 demonstrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the victorious conclusion of the US women's suffrage struggle.
During the 1960s and 1970s organizations were formed that changed the way women viewed themselves and each other but the major victories of the Second Wave came in the form of legislation designed to give women more equal opportunities on par with men, and gave women (at least on paper) autonomy over their own bodies.
women’s movement, Betty Friedan, 1999. [Credit: Stacy Walsh Rosenstock/Getty Images]Gloria Steinem. [Credit: Cynthia Macadams—Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]diverse social movement, largely based in the United States, seeking equal rights and opportunities for women in their economic activities, their personal lives, and politics. It is recognized as the “second wave” of the larger feminist movement. While first-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on women’s legal rights, such as the right to vote, the second-wave feminism of the “women’s movement” peaked in the 1960s and ’70s and touched on every area of women’s experience—including family, sexuality, and work.
JFK’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, Title IX, the passage of WIC in 1972, Roe v. Wade, the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the 1974 election of Elaine Noble in Massachusetts as the first openly gay person to serve on a state legislature; Taylor v. Louisiana, Nebraska passing in 1976 the first law against marital rape, and the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act are just some of the important legal battles won for women’s equality during the Second Wave.
In the aftermath of World War II, the lives of women in developed countries changed dramatically. Household technology eased the burdens of homemaking; life expectancies increased dramatically; and the growth of the service sector opened up thousands of jobs not dependent on physical strength. Despite these socioeconomic transformations, cultural attitudes (especially concerning women’s work) and legal precedents still reinforced sexual inequalities. A hint of the desire for change appeared in Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe (1949; The Second Sex). It became a worldwide best-seller and raised feminist consciousness by stressing that liberation for women was liberation for men too.
Sadly the consumerism of the 1980s lead many to believe that feminism was “dead” and no longer necessary. This, combined with the loss of hope after the failure of the US to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, caused the Second Wave to slowly trickled away.