When this country was founded, women had no rights. They were not educated and considered property to men. They were not allowed to vote or take part in poliPoststics. If they worked, they had little control over the money they earned. Women were completely dependent on men and confined by double standards. Since then, women have taken great steps in order to gain equal rights as women. Today, women are allowed to vote and run for office, earn a college degree, take on a career and are recognized as individuals. This is mostly due to the efforts of feminists who fought and demanded equal rights and continue the struggle for women’s equality.
According to Webster dictionary, feminism is “the movement aimed at equal rights for women.” There have been several movements in the U.S. supporting women’s rights throughout history. The women’s suffrage movement, a struggle that lasted 100 years, gave women the right to vote when the Nineteenth Amendment was finally passed in 1920. The movement started in the 1820s, before the Civil War but officially began in the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha C, Wright, and Mary Ann McClintock. At the convention, women declared they should be able to pursue an education and earn a living, but most importantly they passed a resolution which stated that “it is the sacred duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”
Suffrage Movement – Getting the Right to Vote
The most influential women suffrage movement leaders, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, continued advocating for women’s right to vote during and after the Civil War that freed black slaves and gave all male citizens the right to vote when the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were passed. Although, the women’s suffrage movement died down during the Civil War, the campaign continued and gained strength. The National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed in order to seek an amendment in the U.S. Constitution and convince state legislatures to amend state constitutions. In 1910, the states in the west like Idaho and Utah began granting women the right to vote in the state and eventually on August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. On Election Day, November 2, 1920, women voted for the first time in U.S. history. After the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920, NAWSA turned into the present League of Women Voters. These women paved the way for women to have a political voice. In 1917, Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, became the first woman elected to Congress.
The struggle continued for women after gaining the right to vote since sexual discrimination continued. Women had unequal pay at work, were excluded from powerful positions and were still restricted to double standards imposed by society. During World War II, when men took off to fight in Europe and the Pacific, women took on the jobs that the men had left behind. They began working industrial and manufacturing jobs to supply arms and weapons during the war. Rosie the Riveter, a powerful propaganda icon, represented the women that worked in factories with its written message, “We can do it!” After the war was over and the men returned, women were forced to go back to their housewife duties. Women continued to be discontent about the inequality that continued and eventually the Women’s Liberation Movement gained strength.
Feminist Movement – Women’s Liberation
The Women’s Liberation Movement, also known as the Feminist movement occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963, Betty Friedman wrote “The Feminine Mystique,” a book about women’s unhappiness with their lifestyle, and suggested that women were still unequal. The book became a bestseller and began the “second-wave” feminist movement (the women’s suffrage movement being the first.) During this period, the civil rights movement was also going strong and served as a model for the Women’s Liberation Movement as women organized in order to fight for equality. In 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded by Friedman in an effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would mean gender equality. The movement also supported welfare programs for pregnant women, infant care and birth control.
The ERA was passed by legislature and needed to be passed in 38 states within a seven year period in order for the amendment to become part of the U.S. Constitution. It was passed or ratified in 25 states during the first 9 months. The movement was strong and had many supporters as well as opponents. The opponents thought that the amendment would disadvantage women because it would threaten the traditional American family. Many of these anti-ERA supporters thought that feminists were angry, man-hating and hairy legged women which are common stereotype that still remain. The opponents also started a movement against the ERA and stopped the amendment from becoming a law. The ERA was 3 states away from becoming part of the U.S. Constitution. The feminist movement was still successful in raising awareness to gender inequality and empowering women to continue the struggle for equal rights.
In 2011, the struggle for equality continues. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make 75.5 cents to every dollar a man earns. Women are not equally represented in the U.S. government since most elected officials are men. Today, women only make up 17 percent of the U.S. Congress. Our society still emphasizes certain gender roles and behavioral norms that place limits on the expectations of women. NOW still continues to convince legislation to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Following the steps of great feminists that have made great strides for women’s rights, women must continue the struggle to live in a fair and just society.