Second Wave Feminism: Collections
The second wave feminism movement took place in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on issues of equality and discrimination. Starting initially in the United States with American women, the feminist liberation movement soon spread to other Western countries. The historical primary sources available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive provide scholars with unique primary sources and documents through which to explore this era of feminism and understand how it fits with other liberation movements, from suffrage to modern feminism. Researchers can search the available materials to uncover details of the feminist movement across the years, from the early years of suffrage through the second wave and other twentieth century political movements.
Unfolding in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movement, the catalyst for second wave feminism was Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, which criticized the postwar belief that a woman’s role was to marry and bear children. Though her feminist thinking wasn’t revolutionary—indeed, there were many similar feminist thinkers before Friedan, including Simone de Beauvoir—The Feminine Mystique had a far greater reach, bringing feminism to the attention of everyday women, mothers, and housewives. The feminist movement took off, focusing on public and private injustices, such as rape, reproductive rights, domestic violence, and workplace harassment. Second wave feminists cared deeply about exposing and overcoming the casual, systemic racism present in society—unlike the suffragists and suffragettes of the nineteenth century, who focused largely on political equality through suffrage. Second wave feminists realized that women’s cultural and political inequalities were inextricably linked. They worked under a unifying goal of social equality, with sexuality and reproductive rights being central concerns to the liberation movement, and with much of the movement’s energy being focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment.
Although the Equal Rights Amendment still hasn’t been ratified, second wave feminism had many successes. The approval of the contraceptive pill by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960 gave women more control over their reproductive rights—within five years, around 6 million women were using it. Feminists also worked and gained women the right to hold credit cards and apply for mortgages in their own name and outlawed marital rape. Awareness around domestic violence was raised, and gender and women’s studies departments were founded at universities and colleges. The passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, Title IX in 1972, and Roe v. Wade in 1973 were legislative victories for feminists.