One of the major social changes of recent decades has been the emergence of feminism. Feminism can be defined as a social movement and an ideology in support of the idea that a larger share of scarce resources (wealth, income, power, status) should go to women. Essentially, the governing principles of feminism are that women should enjoy the same rights in society as men and that they should share equally in society’s opportunities and in its scarce resources.
Although feminism as an issue faded for a time, it resurfaces in the 1960s and 1970s in a form that amounted to a much wider and more fundamental challenge to traditional sex roles. The vital mainsprings of the `rebirth of feminism` William H. Chafe has evidenced the vital mainsprings of the ‘rebirth of feminism’. According to Chafe, it all started with a curious phenomenon in 1962 when women activists started to challenge the housewife role in a way the earlier movement never did, and they had some real successes.
For example, women have moved out of the home and into the paid labor force in unprecedented numbers over the past decades. The notion that woman’s place is in the home, once taken for granted, is now rejected by most Americans – overwhelmingly so among younger and more educated Americans. During this time, majority of married women are in the paid labor force. Even among women with young children, more than half work outside the home for pay.
With less success, feminists also have united around the notion of equal pay for equal (or comparable) work A number of feminist writers of sex inequality such as Betty Friedan, Ellen and Kenneth Keniston, and Alice Rossi, have made feminism a popular topic once again through their pens and thus captured the attention of many other women activists around the world. Moreover, the civil-rights movements have also grown such as the Southern activists who took part in the direct-action civil-rights struggle of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, or Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, National Organization for Women (NOW), and the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL).
Even though these movements did not cause the revival of feminism, but it did help to create a set of favorable circumstances. Another evidence suggested that many working mothers already provided a positive model for their children. The repeated surveys of elementary and high-school students have shown that children of mothers who held jobs approved of maternal employment and that the daughters intended to work after they married and had children as well.
But Chafe concluded that “although the shifts in women’s economic roles in no way caused the revival of feminism, they did help to create the foundation for that revival”. The evidence further suggested that in the home, husbands have been challenged to take on a bigger share of household work as wives have moved into the labor force. In short, women in the past decades have challenged sexism in more dramatic ways than at any previous time in our history. Similar changes have occurred in many other countries, including virtually all of Europe and, in a somewhat different form, in China and the Soviet Union.
If not worldwide, the trend toward feminist thinking and toward new roles for women is at the least pervasive throughout all industrialized capitalist and socialist countries. For all these reasons, the time was right in the mid- 1960s for feminism to make a profound impact, with substantial support from both younger and older women. Thus by the end of the 1960s, it became clear that the new feminism was going to be one of the most vigorous, dynamic, and far-reaching social movements to come out of a decade of already unparalleled activism. Chafe has concluded the “rebirth of feminism “like this:
In the end, the story of feminism in the 1960s and early 1970s provided a fitting conclusion to a decade of protest and struggle. Inequality between the sexes was as long lasting and as basic as inequality between the races or between rich and poor; precisely because it was so basic, the crusade to overcome it inevitably confronted the most fundamental issues of how to define equality and determine the path to achieve freedom. During the 1970s and 1980s, Americans—for the first time in half a century—experienced the challenge of a new ideological vision of relations between the sexes.
The success of that vision—or more accurately those “visions”—would be determined, at least in part, by what happened to American women and men in the aftermath of the revival of feminism. ‘The best of times and worst of times’ decades These decades have been considered by Chafe as being both ‘the best and the worst of times’ due to the success of liberal feminism. Liberal feminists have endorse the Equal Rights Amendment and oppose prejudice and discrimination that have historically limited women’s achievements. But this liberal feminism is also “responsible for the emergence of such a two-tiered system”.
Chafe cited the example that, an economically comfortable woman could take advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision giving individual women the freedom to terminate a pregnancy during the first two trimesters. But a poor woman living in a state that offered no medical aid for abortions might well find herself forced either to bear a child she did not wish to have or to seek illegal and dangerous help from others.
In neither case did the poor woman have the freedom that was available to the economically secure woman; nor had feminism and its achievements ade a significant improvement in her life. Indeed, most liberal-feminist organizations strove mightily to pass legislation that would help the poor as well as the affluent. It would also not be fair to assume that any of the more transformative goals of radical feminists or socialist-feminists could have won sufficient support to be implemented. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the political dynamics whereby some change does occur while other change does not and why that is so.
It then becomes easier to understand the contradiction of why some women benefit enormously from change in a particular era while others find their circumstances becoming only more oppressive. Thus according to William Henry Chafe, “Ultimately, the paradox of these years being both the best and the worst of times is no paradox at all. It is rather the key to how American society has functioned in this era and a vantage point from which to better understand the persistent power of race and class—together with sex—to determine women’s experience”.