Like the civil rights movement, the women’s movement used various means to end discrimination. Activists created pressure groups, adopted confrontation tactics like sit-ins and marches, and tried to capture media attention. By the end of the 1960s, feminists had created an energetic campaign that called both for legal equity and for the restructuring of gender roles and social institutions.
In 1961, Kennedy established the first presidential Commission on the Status of Women. In 1963 the commission issued a report citing employment discrimination, unequal pay, legal inequality, and insufficient support services for working women. The same year, a new book by journalist Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, challenged the notion that women could find fulfillment only as wives and mothers. A final catalyst of the early 1960s was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned race discrimination in employment and set up the EEOC to enforce the law. Unexpectedly, perhaps accidentally, and after heated debate, legislators amended the bill to bar sex discrimination in employment as well. When the EEOC ignored gender-based charges, women formed the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. Betty Friedan led the new civil rights group, which urged equal opportunity and an end to sex discrimination.
Meanwhile, another wing of feminism developed. Young women who had been active in the civil rights and other protest movements began to form small “consciousness-raising” groups, which rapidly expanded in number. In these groups, women met to discuss the inequity of “sexism,” a counterpart to racism; to strive for “women’s liberation”; and to start feminist projects, such as health collectives or rape crisis centers The two wings of feminism often clashed.
NOW focused on legal change, and women’s liberation urged revolutionary transformation. But the two factions served complementary functions and sometimes joined forces, as in The Women’s Strike for Equality in August 1970. With parades and marches, women celebrated the 50th anniversary of woman suffrage and pressed for new causes—equal employment opportunity, an equal rights amendment, and more liberal state abortion laws.
In the early 1970s, the women’s movement achieved extensive results. In 1972 Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to provide for equality of the sexes under the law. However, the states failed to ratify the amendment. Still, the fact that Congress passed the ERA signified feminism’s new legitimacy. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court legalized abortion. Finally, women made astounding gains in education and employment. Editors scoured elementary and high school textbooks to remove sexist elements. In 1972 Congress passed Title IX of the Higher Education Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program receiving federal funds, including athletic programs. At the college and university level, once all-male colleges and military academies began to accept women students.
In employment, state and federal courts overturned labor laws that curtailed opportunities for women, such as laws that barred women from night work or overtime. The courts supported legal actions against employers that discriminated against women in their hiring or promotion policies. Women also entered new vocations. Some went into blue-collar fields, such as construction; others found jobs in banking, finance, business, and government. The proportions of women in the professions—as lawyers, doctors, and engineers—increased as well. One of the most enduring movements to emerge in the 1960s, the women’s movement left strong institutional legacies—pressure groups, professional organizations, and women’s studies programs in colleges. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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