Imagine what the life of a woman was before the 1960’s. The life that she had called her own was beyond far from perfect, and this was just behind closed doors. These ladies were denied of what basic rights they had, they were then trapped in a home that they created not just for themselves, but also for their family, and not to even mention the discrimination that they faced in the workplace. Then, here come the 1960’s in full swing, these women could then have a say in their government, and with all these new changes for the women of this time, they could now receive equal employment opportunities as men, meaning the same wages. This then created brand new routines and they would not have to feel guilty about leaving their children at home. The women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s helped all of these changes to come about through its phases of policies and radical ways of thinking. In fact, just to show some of these radical ways of thinking, there were some extremist women who made a “Freedom Trash Can” and filled it with representations of the woman who was trapped in the home life.
They would throw objects such as these; heels, bras, a girdle, hair curlers, and even magazines such as Cosmo, Playboy, and Ladies’ Home Journal in it. The women who put the Trash Can together planned to set it on fire, but decided not to do so because burning of the contents prohibited by a city law (Echols 150)1. Needless to say, given the numerous obstacles that were put in place to stop the women from changing their status in society, the women’s movement of the 1960’s made significant changes for women in regards to their basic rights, in the home, and in the workplace for the better. Denied their basic rights in most aspects of society, all the way from political rights to reproductive rights, women in the U.S. have fought vigorously for equality. For example, women fought for their rights not to symbolize “beauty objects” or “sex objects.” In 1968, 100 women protested the Miss America Beauty Pageant because it promoted “physical attractiveness and charm as the primary measures of a woman’s worth,” especially the swimsuit portion of the contest (Echols 149)2.
Since the presence of the media displayed beauty as the only way for happiness, the idea that women’s only importance was for their bodies became more widespread. Later, once women recognized that they were worth more than just looks, they took the measures to overcome the media’s hype about women’s bodies. The largest protests staged, the Miss America protest and the Freedom Trash Can protest, helped women claim national attention towards their struggles. Because of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement that was also going on at the time, the climate seemed just right for women to speak out as well, therefore they received attention too (Echols 153)3. Women also fought for the right to abortion or reproductive rights, as most people called it. In response to the 1960’s abortion effort, women established an underground hospital that was just for abortions, called Jane in Chicago.
Following this example, other secret clinics launched up everywhere. In big cities, women’s health clinics, rape-crisis centers and women’s bookstores developed. As a result of the New York Radical Women, a group founded in 1967, a “women’s community” developed throughout cities and neighborhoods around the nation (Echols 160)4. In these communities women got together to talk about their problems, usually dealing with male chauvinism, and they discussed how to overcome their problems. Probably the largest achievement for women regarding abortion rights came in 1960 when the Food and Drug Administration approved birth control pills and approved them for marketing a year later (National Women’s History Project)5. This proved to be a major step for women in regards to their reproductive rights. Now that women had an abortion option, they were not as tied to the home as they had been. They had the ability to work and go out without having to always feel the burden childbearing or childcare until they were ready.
If perhaps a woman made a mistake and became pregnant before she was ready, the opportunity of abortion was always available to her. To conclude, women during the 1960’s fought hard to earn rights that society denied them. Many noteworthy domestic changes for women were accomplished during the 1960’s. For example, childcare became a 1960’s issue. Gwen Diab, an activist and supporter of the women’s struggle during the 1960’s declares, “Women were hesitant to leave the home before the 1960’s because they felt guilty leaving their children all alone. By the 1960’s, women started to get over the feeling of guilt and left their house more frequently heading off to women’s clubs or meetings”. Society believed that “a woman could either be a career woman or she could stay at home and have children. There was no way she could do both” (Sanger 517)6. Society also believed that if a woman were to become pregnant, she would stay in the home, caring for her children, because that is where she belonged.
Margaret Sanger, a traditionalist, also concluded that if a woman took the risk of getting pregnant and if she was “a working woman, should not have more than two children” (Sanger 519)7. “Childcare was the first step towards breaking down society’s view that the sole responsibility rested with the woman” (The Women’s Movement 419)8. Since the number of workingwomen increased in the 1960’s, men felt reluctant to share housework, but however this did improve and the men have been taking more responsibility for childcare as well. However, domestic issues went far beyond childcare in the ‘60s. For instance, an anonymous woman in Iowa wrote many letters to her sister relating her dealings with her feelings on the issue of domesticity. Many times, she wrote about how she felt as though she was the only woman that said anything in the homeowner’s meetings. Because of her openness, the other women became scared of her and her seemingly radical ways. “Therefore, she felt as though she didn’t quite fit in with the other women in her community. One man even felt scared of her because he thought that she was too smart to be a woman.
She stated, ‘Nobody expects a woman to talk. It bothers them all, especially the men.” (Gornick, 150)9. This shows how America still belonged to a traditional time where women were expected to stay at home and take care of the home and 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, and not just “the second sex.” 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 called communists and man haters if they had anything to do with the liberation movements.
Because of these accusations, many housewives were scared to get involved in this movement, but the career women tried to gain their support. Because the career women didn’t really have backing or support for the movement, there were few gains in the early years. It was only when women such as Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir and Angela Davis got involved, that normal housewives felt that they could make a difference and that their rights were worth fighting for. As one can see, the 1960s made many advances for women in the area of domestic issues.
The last and major area, in which the 1960’s made significant changes for women, was in the workplace. Later, as the economy of America began to expand, women started working for a second family income, although they only made 60% of what men were earning (Echols 152)10. Denied credit by banks before the ‘60’s, women could not receive capital to start their own small businesses because a man always received first priority when it came to funds for starting up a business. Fortunately, after a long struggle, the National Credit Union Administration accepted feminism as a field and let them draw credit. Women even began to have their own professional and labor organizations to keep themselves progressing. During the early stages of the 1960’s, many changes were put in place to help women get to the top. For instance, in 1961 President Kennedy created the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Eleanor had played a key role in establishing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and she’d defended both women’s economic opportunity and women’s traditional role in the family, so she could be expected to have the respect of those on both sides of the protective legislation issue. Eleanor chaired the commission from its beginning through her death in 1962. The twenty members of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women included both male and female Congressional representatives and Senators; Senator Maurine B. Neuberger of Oregon and Representative Jessica M. Weis of New York, several cabinet-level officers which included the Attorney General, the President’s brother Robert F. Kennedy, and other women and men who were respected civic, labor, educational, and religious leaders. There was some ethnic diversity; among the members were Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women and the Young Women’s Christian Association, Viola H. Hymes of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Fifty other parallel state commissions were eventually established. Also, the Equal Pay Act, which was planned in the ‘40’s, was finally acknowledged that men and women who worked the same job should have equal pay. Another major achievement for women in regards to the work place was in 1964, when the “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act” barred employment discrimination by private employers, employment agencies and unions based on race, sex and other grounds. To investigate complaints and enforce penalties, it established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which received 50,000 complaints of gender discrimination in its first five years” (National Women’s History Project)11. By 1965, President Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 ordered “federal agencies and federal contractors to take ‘affirmative action’ in overcoming employment discrimination” (National Women’s History Project)12.
A major setback that women faced in the 1960’s was that as men realized what women were trying to do, some did as much as they could to keep fully qualified women out of their workplaces. In 1969, a Supreme Court Ruling changed all this. In the case of Bowe vs. Colgate-Palmolive, the Supreme Court ruled “women meeting the physical requirements could work in many jobs that had been for men only” (National Women’s History Project)13. As one can see, the 1960’s made many positive changes for women in regards to the workplace. To conclude the women’s liberation movement, the ‘60’s made many significant changes for women in regards to their basic rights, domestic issues, and their abilities to get fair job opportunities in the workplace. Although a woman still makes only about .70 cents for every dollar a man makes, they are still today the main caretakers at home, and they are still struggling for abortion rights. Women have come a long way from the traditional attitudes of the old, “modern” America, the radical 1960’s provided enough background and support for everything that the women had accomplished.
Echols, Alice. Nothing Distant About It. New York: Harper & Row, 1994. Gornick, Vivian. Essays In Feminism. New York: Harper & Row, 1977 “National Women’s History Project.” [Online] Available http://www.legacy98.com, Oct. 11th, 2014. Sanger, Margret. Women’s activist on birth control, a sex edu., and a nurse