Based on my previous blogs, and maybe its obvious if you have had another class with me, but I am completely enthralled by feminism. Most people ask me, how the hell did you become interested in the subject matter and women’s history? It’s simple I tell them. In 8th grade, my mom decided to go back to school and get her masters in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. I would listen to my mother read her reflection papers and thesis aloud every Sunday morning as she meticulously edited her work and reassured that her quotes were exact. She took me to classes when I had off from school, and even had the opportunity to hear her defend her thesis in front of her peers and the department. All these things combined ultimately opened my eyes to a whole new world of exploration and research. In middle school and high school, I feel as though my classes were taught from, “within the box,” meaning, everything was precisely planned and taught to prepare for state examinations. As a history junkie from even a young age, my mom encouraged me to supplement my schoolwork with outside readings, including The Yellow Wallpaperby Charlotte Perkins Gilman, If Men Had Periodsby Gloria Steinem and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan. This was the origin of my interest, and it only grew from there.
Throughout high school, I would try to integrate my ideas into my writing, analysis and class contributions, but I always faced opposition. I was constantly ridiculed, laughed at and taunted. No one understood where these “eccentric” ideas were coming from, and some even thought my mom was doing my work for me since they knew she was back in school. I was devastated and disappointed that people did not think I could have an interest in feminism and that it was so out of the ordinary. I could not wait for college (I actually wrote my common application essay on feminism), where hopefully people would share the same passion for the study and understanding of feminism and women’s history as me. I was ecstatic when I came to Bucknell and saw that the school offered classes like Women and Politics, Women Science and Technology and Introduction to Women’s Genders Studies (which I have taken all three since freshman year). These courses have even opened my eyes to individual’s and writings that actually stand as oppositions to feminism and have gain a better understanding of why feminism is such a controversial and studied theory.
So, what does this all have to do with or class and our course of study? It seems appropriate that my answer to this prompt comes during the same week when we will be discussing framing and social movements. Most people hear the word feminism and think it’s a relatively new phenomenon beginning in the 1960s. However, the roots of feminism can be traced back all the way to 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The conference has been noted to be the country’s first push for women’s suffrage and was the first time this issue gained national attention.
Fast forward to the 1920s in women’s pursuit for the ratification of the 19th amendment. Two groups emerged during this time and ultimately played a critical role in framing the era. The National American Woman Suffrage Association, which was lead by Carrie Chapman Catt (who took over for Susan B Anthony) argued that women deserved the same rights as men because they were created equally. However, in 1917, Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party argued that women deserved the right to vote because they were inherently different from men. Was is critical to note is despite the fact they preached varying approaches to achieving suffrage, the undertaking of each organization proved vital to obtaining the right to vote. (If you are really interested about the struggle between these two organizations, I highly recommend you watch Iron Jawed Angels… it’s a great movie!)
With the passage of the 19th amendment came a general belief that receiving the right to vote was not enough to bring about significant changes in the lives of women. Although suffrage was seen as a focal point for the women’s right movement, many recognized that women continued to be misrepresented and restricted within society. Alice Paul proposed an Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 to combat the inequalities and discrimination that faced women. The introduction of the ERA created an acute divide within society and especially within the movement itself. This critical rift, which is provides reasoning why the ERA has failed to be ratified to the United States Constitution. With the ERA’s proposal, a whirlwind of disagreements regarding the language of the amendment erupted throughout the country. The key questions emerged over how the ERA would affect gender roles and lines and the relationship between men and women in the private and public spheres.
Although the ERA did not pass in the 1920s, in 1970, it reappeared as a forefront issue for Congress. However, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the inclusion of Title XII (which dealt with banning prejudice in employment, which included sex discrimination), eradicated the controversial section of the original ERA. This would ultimately allow its reconsideration for ratification. Although there was a constant change in the language of the amendment, Congress would ultimately pass the bill in 1972 and send it to the states to be ratified by a three-fourths majority. As a result, individuals such as Phyllis Schlafly saw the ERA has a determent to women, for it would take away privileges including dependent wife benefits under Social Security. Schlafly began to rally against the ERA in 1972 and played a critical role in its ultimate defeat in the early 1980s. (Check out this clip below for more information about Schlafly and the ERA).
Although this is a brief overview of the first and second waves of feminism, it is clear that opposing groups trying to achieve the same goal or two groups standing in opposition to one another, helped shaped how feminism is perceived today. It has also fostered the emergence of Black Feminism, Chicana Feminism and Global Feminism in response to the lack of representation of these minorities in the general women’s rights movements. I think its imperative that in understanding this social movement, to examine feminist but also their antagonist, as well as their publications and literature. By understanding the viewpoints of all participants, one will have a better framework of the overall purpose of the movement and the significance it holds in our history