Advancement of Feminists
Women’s movements for equality were an international phenomenon, but scope, character, forms of the movements, and rhetoric of feminists were determined by the specific socio-political conditions, cultural and historical traditions of the society. This paper aims to give an overview of the history and role of feministic movements in the USA.
Initially, the women’s movements in the Northern America appeared in the period of the War of Independence. In consequence of the War of Independence and the political crisis in America, not only women’s consciousness, but also their private life was politicized. Women, who had no interest in politics, were quickly engaged into political life and joined political debates. Representatives of feminism demanded gender equality through the socio-economic and legal reforms. They raised a question not only about natural rights of a woman, but also about social rights, such as rights to freedom, education, and work. At that time, many women of New England began to leave their houses. Some of them started their political activity, taking part in female anti-slavery meetings, thousands of women landed a job on textile mills, and moreover, some educational establishments for women appeared at that time, which gave them an opportunity to get an education.
By the beginning of the 20th century a great number of feministic movements had appeared. They were suffragettes, who asserted political and legal equality of women; socialists, who defended ideas of the equal payment for women’s work and women’s participation in trade unions; radical feminists, who propagandized ideas of the conscious maternity and birth control. They changed social stereotypes and standards allowing a woman to go out of her house in order to get an education or a job.
In 1903 Women’s Trade Union League was formed with the help of which the representatives of the middle class fought for the improvement of the working conditions. The League supported strikes in which women took part; it provided a substantial support for the strikers in protection of rights of the arrested, in the organization of pickets, free meals, and social allowances. As a result, the US Congress authorized a detailed study of the status of working women and children. After this study a report called “Women and children employed in the USA” was released, which was being studied from 1908 to 1911 and consisted of 19 volumes. This resulted in the foundation of The Women’s Bureau in the US Department of Labor.
Women slowly but surely asserted their rights. In the period of the World War I (1914-1918) feminists all over the world stopped their activity, but started it again after the War.
In 1918 in the USA, a law on amendment to the act on women’s suffrage was passed in the House of Representatives, but the Senate rejected it. Due to the efforts of feministic movement activists, on the 26th of August in 1920, the 19th amendment became a part of the US Constitution (Evans, 1997) The growth of the employment among American and European women and the fact that they had acquired a right to vote, led to a decline of the feministic movement, which began again after the end of the World War II.
Despite all the achievements of feminism, men still played the leading role in all spheres of life. The main problem was that passing laws on equality was not enough, the society had to change its attitude to women in its mind. The awakening of feministic movements began in 1960s. The typical feature of this period was the rise of democratic processes, directed to elimination of various forms of discrimination (especially racism). Women’s movements acquired new radical forms, and were called “the women’s liberation movement”.
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In 1961 the President of the USA John Kennedy established the world’s first special agency called President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a widow of the President Franklin Roosevelt and the author of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, became a head of this organization. The Commission supervised keeping the women’s rights at work. Besides, in 1963 the United States Congress obliged employers to pay women and men the same salary for the same work.
In 1964 the United States government forbade the discrimination based on race and gender. In order to investigate the facts of such discriminations Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was founded (“Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” n.d.)
In 70s and 80s, the international community adopted the documents that called for the elimination of all forms of women discrimination. They recognized women as the same full-fledged subjects as men, and their personality had to be rated higher than their “natural significance”, it was also stressed, that giving birth to children is not an obligation, but it is a right of women.
Statistics shows, that in 1969 women occupied only 3,5% of positions in the USA, in 1986 this number grew to 13%. In 1975 they occupied only 4% of positions in the local authorities, but in 1981 this number grew to 10%. By the mid-90s a part of women in the Parliament of the United States was 11,2 % (Evans, 1997). This number has been growing, but slowly. Thus, “women’s revolution” have changed the understanding of the role of women in the modern society.
To sum up all the above said, it is necessary to mention that feministic ideas are still valid. Despite of the fact that women have already achieved a lot, there is still no true equality in the society. Men dominate in the politics and economics, and successful and perspective women are not taken seriously. The laws have proclaimed the equality, but in reality the old patriarchal principles in families prevail. Men consider themselves to be a head of a family and of the society.