Second-wave feminism

Second-wave feminism

"Second-wave feminism" refers to a period of feminist activity which began during the 1960s and lasted through the late 1970s. Where first-wave feminism focused on overturning legal ("de jure") obstacles to equality, second-wave feminism addressed unofficial ("de facto") inequalities as well .


The second wave feminism came in as a response to the late 1940s post-war boom, an era not only characterised by an unprecedented economic growth, baby boom, suburbia expansion and the triumph of capitalism, being set as the standard socio-economic model that favours middle-class development, but also an era marked by a consistent effort to re-establish the pre-war patriarchal society trends. This fact was clearly illustrated by the media of time, television shows such as "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver" idealised domesticity, placing women in a closed sphere where they only had to fulfil the roles of housewives and mothers. [Knuttila, Murray, 4th ed. 2008. "Introducing Sociology: A Critical Approach". Oxford University Press.] Although not popularised until 20 years later, in her work "The Second Sex", Simone de Beauvoir examined, as early as 1949, the notion of women being perceived as "other" in the patriarchal society. She went on to conclude that male-centered ideology was being further accepted as a norm and enforced simply by the ongoing development of myths, and that the fact that women are capable of getting pregnant, lactating, and menstruating is in no way a valid cause or explanation to place them as the "second sex". [Simone de Beauvoir, "The Second Sex", 1949.] Furthermore, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein notes that in 1963 Betty Friedan explicitly objected to the mainstream media image of women, stating that placing women at home limited their possibilities, horizons, and was a mere waste of talent and potential. The perfect nuclear family image depicted and strongly marketed at the time in reality did not reflect happiness and was rather degrading for women. [Epstein, Cynthia Fuchs. 1988. "Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order". New Haven: Yale University Press]


One debate which developed in the United States during this time period revolved around the question of coeducation. Most men's colleges in the United States adopted coeducation, often by merging with women's colleges. In addition, some women's colleges adopted coeducation, while others maintained a single-sex student body.

even Sisters Colleges

Two of the Seven Sister colleges made transitions during and after the 1960s. The first, Radcliffe College, merged with Harvard University. Beginning in 1963, students at Radcliffe received Harvard diplomas signed by the presidents of Radcliffe and Harvard and joint commencement exercises began in 1970. The same year, several Harvard and Radcliffe dormitories began swapping students experimentally and in 1972 full co-residence was instituted. The departments of athletics of both schools merged shortly thereafter. In 1977, Harvard and Radcliffe signed an agreement which put undergraduate women entirely in Harvard College. In 1999 Radcliffe College was dissolved and Harvard University assumed full responsibility over the affairs of female undergraduates. Radcliffe is now the "Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study" in Women's Studies at Harvard University. The second, Vassar College, declined an offer to merge with Yale University and instead became coeducational in 1969.

The remaining Seven Sisters decided against coeducation. Mount Holyoke College engaged in a lengthy debate under the presidency of David Truman over the issue of coeducation. On 6 November 1971, "after reviewing an exhaustive study on coeducation, the board of trustees decided unanimously that Mount Holyoke should remain a women's college, and a group of faculty was charged with recommending curricular changes that would support the decision." [cite news |url=|title=Mount Holyoke:A Detailed History||date= |accessdate=] Smith College also made a similar decision in 1971. [cite news |url=|title=Smith Tradition||date= |accessdate=] In 1969, Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College (then all male) developed a system of sharing residential colleges. When Haverford became coeducational in 1980, Bryn Mawr discussed the possibly of coeducation as well, but decided against it. [cite news |url=|title=A Brief history of Bryn Mawr College||date= |accessdate=] In 1983, Columbia University began admitting women after a decade of failed negotiations with Barnard College for a merger along the lines of Harvard and Radcliffe (Barnard has been affiliated with Columbia since 1900, but it continues to be independently governed). Wellesley College also decided against coeducation during this time.

Mississippi University for Women

In 1982, in a 5–4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in "Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan" that Mississippi University for Women would be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause if it denied admission to its nursing program on the basis of gender. Mississippi University for Women, the first public or government institution for women in the United States, changed its admissions policies and became coeducational after the ruling. [ [ Redirect ] ]

In what was her first opinion written for the Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor stated, "In limited circumstances, a gender-based classification favoring one sex can be justified if it intentionally and directly assists members of the sex that is disproportionately burdened." She went on to point out that there are a disproportionate number of women who are nurses, and that denying admission to men "lends credibility to the old view that women, not men, should become nurses, and makes the assumption that nursing is a field for women a self-fulfilling prophecy." ["Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan", 458 U.S. 718 (1982)]

In the dissenting opinions, Justices Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist suggested that the result of this ruling would be the elimination of publicly supported single-sex educational opportunities. This suggestion has proven to be accurate as there are no public women's colleges in the United States today and as a result of United States v. Virginia, the last all-male public university in the United States, Virginia Military Institute, was required to admit women. The ruling did not require the university to change its name to reflect its coeducational status and it continues a tradition of academic and leadership development for women by providing liberal arts and professional education to women and men. [ [ MUW - Planning and Institutional Effectiveness ] ]

Mills College

On May 3, 1990, the Trustees of Mills College announced that they had voted to admit male students. [cite news |first= |last= |url= |title=Venerable School for Women Is Going Co-ed| |date=1990-05-04|accessdate=] This decision led to a two-week student and staff strike, accompanied by numerous displays of non-violent protests by the students. [cite news |first= |last= |url= |title=Mills Students Protesting Admission of Men| |date=1990-05-05|accessdate=] [cite news |first= |last= |url= |title=Disbelieving and Defiant, Students Vow: No Men| |date=1990-05-06|accessdate=] At one point, nearly 300 students blockaded the administrative offices and boycotted classes. [cite news |first= |last= |url=|title=Protest Continues at College Over Decision to Admit Men| |date=1990-05-08|accessdate=] On May 18, the Trustees met again to reconsider the decision, [cite news |first= |last= |url=|title=College to Reconsider Decision to Admit Men| |date=1990-05-12|accessdate=] leading finally to a reversal of the vote. [cite news |first= |last= |url=|title=Women's College Rescinds Its Decision to Admit Men| |date=1990-05-19|accessdate=]

Other colleges

Pembroke College merged with Brown University. Sarah Lawrence College declined an offer to merge with Princeton University, becoming coeducational in 1969.Fact|date=July 2007 Connecticut College also adopted coeducation during the late 1960s.


While women's education was improving, career prospects for women were also widening thanks to such organisations as ALSSA (Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association) who fought a long battle to get equal rights in employment. Airline stewardesses were fired once they were married; since the average age of a woman getting married was 20, this did not provide a very long career for air stewardesses. Dusty Roads and Nancy Collins campaigned for age restrictions on air stewardesses to be removed, and this coincidentally brought about the battle for equal rights in the work place.Fact|date=December 2007


Media representations of women have been much discussed by advocates of second-wave feminism. Some have argued that popular magazines during the 1960s represented a repressive force, imposing damaging images on vulnerable, impressionable American womenFact|date=January 2008. Many magazines defined the role of a housewife as exciting and creative and often featured articles on baking. Magazines also had positive influences on the movement, and published articles that encouraged women to live a fulfilled life. Reader's Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, Woman's Home Companion, and Life Magazine, are just some of the magazines that influenced women during the 1960’s. There were also a few African American magazines, such as Coronet, which featured articles on strong black women who balanced a career and a family.


It is argued by manyWho|date=April 2008 that second-wave feminism saw a transformation of consciousness and changed how most American women saw themselves and the world around them. Through organisations such as NOW, WEAL and PCSW, discrimination in the work place on the basis of sex was made illegal. The impact of media allowed the spread of feminist ideals through articles, newspapers, television and books, and this made it acceptable to talk about women's issuesFact|date=January 2008.

See also

*First-wave feminism
*Third-wave feminism
*Feminist Sex Wars
*History of feminism


External links

*Osgerby, Bill, Anna Gough-Yates, and Marianne Wells. "Action TV: Tough Guys, Smooth Operators and Foxy Chicks." London: Routledge, 2001.
*Press, Andrea L. "Women Watching Television: Gender, Class, and Generation in the American Television Experience". Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
*——— and Tery Strathman. "Work, Family, and Social Class in Television Images of Women: Prime-Time Television and the Construction of Postfeminism." "Women and Language", 1993 Fall, 16:2, 7–15.
*Roth, Benita. "Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana, and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave." Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
*William, Chafe, "The American Woman: Her Changing Social Economic, and Political Roles", 1920–1970, Oxford University 1972
*M. Carden, "The New Feminist Movement", New York 1974
*F. Davis, "Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960"

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