Feminism in the 1960s

Public demonstrations were used to highlight feminist issues.
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An effort to encourage equal rights for women influenced the feminist movement of the 1960s. Women sought freedom from the control of men and this led to an active pursuit for better jobs, equal pay and the opportunity to be independent. Issues such as reproductive rights, abortion, sexual harassment and gender discrimination were openly discussed and activism became commonplace. Feminists paved the way for women to seek personal and political equality.

1 Equal Pay

Most women were expected to serve as mothers and homemakers in the 1960s. Author Betty Friedan described the frustrations felt by her contemporaries in her groundbreaking 1962 book "The Feminine Mystique." As women started to seek work outside the home, a movement to seek equal pay and fair employment rights emerged. In 1966, feminists led by Friedan came together and formed the National Organization for Women (NOW). NOW brought issues of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and equal pay for women to the forefront. These feminists are credited with pressuring Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 (it subsequently failed the ratification process).

2 Reproductive Rights

The 1960s marked a critical moment for women and reproductive rights. The FDA approved birth control for women and abortion became a legitimate issue that was discussed and debated. Feminists believed that reproductive freedom centered on a woman’s ability to maintain control of their bodies. In 1969, a group of feminists created a group called the Redstockings. This group led a movement to legalize abortion and secure birth control for women. As a result, women were able to break free of traditional, sexist roles.

3 Gender Oppression

Feminists of the 1960s sought to squash the objectification of women. To this end, the feminists rallied against the Miss America pageants held in 1968 and 1969. They held a beauty pageant for a sheep and threw women’s clothing, makeup and undergarments into a garbage can as a sign of disapproval. Feminists viewed beauty pageants as a product of a male-dominated society with the sole purpose of flaunting beauty over brains.

4 Bread and Roses

Raising awareness of issues affecting women was a high priority for feminists in the late 1960s. Following the lead of civil rights activists, a group of Boston feminists formed Bread and Roses, the country's first socialist women's organization. The group seized an unoccupied Harvard University building in 1971 for use in providing education on topics such as violence against women, childcare, abortion and lesbian issues. They maintained their hold on the space for 10 days before being forced out. Their effort was the first center dedicated to providing support and resources just for women.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.