Feminism in the 20th century

World War II and the women’s rights movement

In 1920, women gained the right to vote in the US. Although many women already participated in the industrial economy, they still lacked the same legal rights as men in many parts of society, including the workforce. The leader of the National Women’s Party, Alice Paul, wanted an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) under which women would be completely equal to men under the law. However, only some protective legislation for women was passed in terms of physical labour and working hours.

During World War II, women proved their ability to participate in the economy and achieved greater economic independence by taking men’s places in factories and other jobs. Then, with the end of the war, millions of women quit their jobs and saw themselves returning to their old domestic roles of wife and mother.

Although women had more access to higher education and employment in the 1940s and the 1950s, the new media of television presented an idealised image of women as homemakers, and the marriage and birth rates increased, while the divorce rate dropped. As a result, traditional roles for women were largely supported by post-war American society, and many were still opposed to married women holding jobs. This largely isolated women from economics, politics, and lawmaking.

Civil rights and feminism

Books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, published in the US in 1953, and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, are said to have played a major role in women beginning to challenge traditional gender roles on a larger scale.

The women's rights movement that began in the 1960s addressed issues such as women’s employment, legal and social inequalities, as well as women’s sexuality and reproductive rights. It drew attention to issues such as sexual assault and domestic violence and sought changes in divorce law ...

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