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Women in the 1960s

In: Historical Events

Submitted By bmjeano
Words 2613
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Betsy Jeanotte
HIST 425

Final Research Paper: Woman’s Movement of the 1960’s

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, cultural changes were altering the role of woman in American society. More and more woman were joining the workforce, leaving their traditional roles of stay at home wife and mother. Women coming into the workforce also led to the dissatisfaction amongst them when it came to equality in the workplace, pay differences, and even sexual harassment. One of the biggest changes came woman of age were using birth control after it was approved by the federal government in the late sixties. This freed countless women from unwanted pregnancies and gave them more freedom in their personal lives. Gradually, women were able to get some of their basic goals in the time: equal pay, limits on women in positions of power, end of domestic violence, and equal responsibility when it came to housework and raising children. To best understand this, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of a women during the 1960’s. Her life, was difficult and unsatisfactory. She was denied basic rights, even those to her own body. She was born to be trapped in a home and discriminated against in her own workplace. But, a beacon of hope came during the 1960’s. With that hope, came new ideas, laws, and protests. The idea that a woman was not “the second sex” but equal to her fellow human beings. They wanted to be treated the same, earn the same wages, not feel guilty for not wanting a husband and children and what was expected of them. To make their own choices, and the actions of these woman helped push us as a society forward.
The 1960’s was a time of change and transition. At the start of the decade, the lives of American women were limited in almost every way. Women were expected to have one goal in life: marry in her early 20’s, start a family, then dedicate her whole life to taking care of home and children. A woman wasn’t expected to have her own life, her life was to revolve around her husband and her children. Since their husbands were the main source of income and the “breadwinners” so to speak, woman bore the full load of housekeeping and taking care of the children, which some could argue woman worked just as hard as the men did, putting in equal hours minus a paycheck. Women’s subjugation to their husbands took even a step further due to “head and master laws” which meant they had to legal right to anything that their husband owned such as property and other earnings. However, husbands could control their wives property and earnings. If a marriage was to end in divorce, a “no fault” divorce was not an option. A blame game had to be played between in order for women to divorce their husbands, and had to prove him of wrongdoing. In the beginning of the movement, woman were somewhat divided into two groups: women’s rights advocates and women’s liberationist. As the movement moved forward their causes meshed together, however “women’s rights advocates were likely to have been older, to have had professional training or work experience, to have been more inclined to form or join organized feminist groups.
The women’s liberation movement of the 1960s helped all these changes to come about in various policies and different ways of thinking. In fact, to represent this new way of thinking some women made a “Freedom Trashcan” and filled it with representations of women trapped in the home. They threw objects like heels, bras, girdles, and magazines like Playboy and Ladies’ Home Journal in it. The women who put the Trashcan together planned to set it on fire, but decided not to do this to due to legal issues. Thus lead to the urban legend of “bra burning” associated with feminists.
Women who did decide to join the workforce were very limited to jobs such as a teacher, nurse, assistant, or secretary. Women were generally not welcomed in more professional programs when they pursued their education, as they were seen as not competent enough to carry these positions. Due to this, during the early 1960’s women made up less than 5% of doctors, 3% of lawyers, and even less than made up the number of engineers during this time. Even when women were able to obtain these jobs, they were paid substantially less than their male counterparts. They were also denied the opportunity to advance in their careers, as it was assumed they would soon begin to start families and quit their jobs. Another fascinating thing about this era was the advertising seen. One of the best tools of the historian is advertisements, as you can see the values and ideals a particular time and place had. Advertisements often had slogans such as “So easy a woman can do it!” and featured women in the home and in particular, the kitchen. Also according to these, the most a woman could ever want in their lives was that new stove or iron, never a life outside of the home. These advertisements often showed the American ideal: Dad goes off to work while mother stayed home with the children, and had a nice home cooked meal for her husband when he returned from work. The idea that spouses could co-parent so to speak began to arise during this time. With the husband picking up chores around the house as well. However, “although husbands and fathers perform more housework and childcare than in the past, men still average farless time in these activities than women, leaving the gendered nature of family life and child rearing essentially intact.”
In 1962, a book was published that would help give women the extra push they needed to begin a movement. Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique expressed the frustration of educated woman who were stuck taking care of the home while their husbands got to join the workforce and have a meaning in their lives outside of the home. Friedan helped open up the idea that women were not content being housewives, and called upon woman to work outside the home. While her work was mostly aimed at middle class white women, her book had such an impacted that it is often credited with sparking a new way of the feminist movement. A new generation of women were rising to fight against inequality.
Women used different ways to strive for equality. They lobbied Congress to make and change laws, spoke out against issues like rape and domestic violence, and reached out to more women in order to expand the movement and raise awareness on how they had more options in life than being a housewife and mother. Early on the movement, activist had taken somewhere of a more aggressive approach, including tearing down advertisements they felt were sexist. The presence of the media also displayed that woman could only achieve happiness through beauty, and because of the media this idea became very widespread. Once women realized they were worth more than just looks, they took action to destroy this idea. This mindset helped woman garner national attention on the idea that they were more than just bodies to be ogled at. The movement even went all the way protesting the Miss American pageant in Atlantic City, where they felt women were being used to stimulate the male gaze and were displaying themselves like meat. The protest gained large media attention, and while this protest was successful in the way it appealed to a multitude of women, “women’s liberation groups, black women, high school and college women, women’s peace groups, women’s welfare and social work groups, women’s job equality groups, pro birth control and pro-abortion groups, women of every political persuasion are all invited to join us in a day long boardwalk theater event” was just one of the statements made by the protesters to garner numbers. While this particular event did attract plenty of media coverage, the approach was seen as somewhat bombarding to the everyday American woman.
They began to seek a different approach in order to appeal the ordinary women in the country. They did this by having “consciousness-raising groups.” In small groups in various communities, women talked about topics including home life, sex, education, and work. This proved to be an effective way to reach women as they shared their own personal stories and began to understand and see that they deserved all the same rights as men did, and were just as capable as they were.
Due to the different motives women had for joining the movement, it branched out into various smaller movements. Some women traveled to Vietnam in order to meet the anti-war women of that area and form a bond. Women who joined the movement to fight for equality in the workplace and better working conditions continued to fight for those rights. African American women targeted issues that affected them such as healthcare, child care, and police repression.
Woman did not have the rights to say what they could not do when it had come to the controversial topic of abortion, in response to this women had established an underground abortion clinic which was called “Jane” in Chicago. Following this example, women began to set up these clinics in other cities. In major cities, there had begun development of women’s health clinics, bookstores, domestic abuse centers and rape crisis center. There were also many protests during this time, and many woman took part because “female mentions were more likely to appear when protesters supported the status quo and when protesters were treated more favorably in coverage.” Most likely the largest victory for women came in 1960 when women were allowed access to birth control. This was a major victory in the eyes of women. Another victory came in the Roe vs. Wade court decision. “The Roe v. Wade court decision, legalizing abortion, energized an antiabortion, antifeminist backlash. Nevertheless, the movement begun in the 1960s resulted in a large number of women moving into the workplace (59.8% of civilian women over age 16 were working in 1997, compared to 37.7% in 1960) and in broad changes in society.” They were able to decide if and when they wanted children and were not as tied down to the home as they once had been. These woman fought for their reproductive rights, and were successful.
There were many changes in the home at this time as well. Childcare had become an issue of concern. Women were hesitant to leave their home and children in order to pursue and help this movement move forward. However, women eventually got over this feeling of guilt and often left their homes for clubs and meetings. Society had taught woman that they could either work or stay at home with their children, there was no middle ground. That once a woman began to have children, that was her sole responsibility to care for them. Traditionalists believed that a woman’s place was in the home, and that if she had decided to pursue her own interests she should limit the amount of children she had to one or two. Women during this time changed that view, as they became more involved in the workforce and were having personal lives and pursued their own interests outside of their homes. All the while taking care of the children at home.
These views were evident that America still belonged to a traditional time of women in the home and whose sole purpose was to take care of and bear children. These feelings soon changed with the growing participation of women in their communities. It took time for men to start to think of women as equals. Unfortunately, these changes took a long time in coming because women were thought to be feminist militants if they wanted any type of change in society and were put into a radical stereotype. Because of these accusations, many housewives felt scared to get involved in the movement.
The movement was at first focused on workplace inequality, such as denial to better positions and moving up, as well as salary inequality. They planned to do this anti-discrimination laws. In 1964, a prohibition on gender discrimination was proposed to the Civil Rights Acts that was under consideration. The law eventually passed with the amendment still intact. Feminist leaders were inspired by the Civil Rights movement, some of which had experience in civic organizing because of this. Unfortunately, due to the large growing number of women in the movement the FBI saw it was a challenge against traditional American values and saw the movement as “extreme.” They paid female informants across the country to infiltrate the movement. Despite this, woman were unmoved in their march toward equality.
During the early stages of the 1960s, many changes were put in place to help women get to the top. An example of this is in 1961 President John F. Kennedy created the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Many other similar state commissions were eventually established. Also, the Equal Pay Act finally acknowledged equal pay for men and women who worked the same jobs. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson established executive orders to take action against discrimination in the workplace. In the case of Bowe vs. Colgate-Palmolive, the Supreme Court ruled that if women were as physically as capable as men to do certain jobs, then they were granted those job opportunities.
In conclusion, the 1960s really did make many significant changes for women in regards to basic rights, domestic issues and their abilities to get fair job opportunities in the workplace. Although women today are still struggling for equal pay and reproductive rights, women have come a long way from the traditional views once intact in American. These women had the courage to believe in themselves and that they were more than just care takers and housewives, led to many equal rights we have now including equal access to education, increased participation in politics, access to birth control, better jobs in the workforce, and aid to victims of violence and rape. “The women who had been in their early teens in the their early teens in 1960 worried that they might be too conservative to do anything interesting had wound up frolicking nude at Woodstock, shutting down college campuses to protest the war, and running off the Summer of Love in San Francisco with flowers in their hair.” While women today are still striving for more equality, the women who set foot outsides their comfort zones of their homes and sought what they felt was rightfully theirs pioneered the idea that yes, we are all equal.

[ 1 ]. Chafe, William H. A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America. 8th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pg 213
[ 2 ]. Opting out? Cohort Differences in Professional Women's Employment Rates from 1960 to 2005
Christine Percheski
American Sociological Review, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Jun., 2008), pp. 497-517
Published by: American Sociological Association
[ 3 ]. Chafe, William H. A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America. 8th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pg. 224
[ 4 ]. ARMSTRONG, CL; BOYLE, MP. Views from the Margins: News Coverage of Women in Abortion Protests, 1960-2006. Mass Communication & Society. 14, 2, 153-177, Mar. 2011. ISSN: 15205436.
[ 5 ]. "Feminism." List of Books and Articles about Feminism.
[ 6 ]. Collins, Gail. "Women's Liberation." In When Everything Changed. New York: Back Bay Books, 2009. Pg 182

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