How Feminism Works

Second-wave Feminism

Some black feminists felt marginalized by the Women's Liberation Movement.
Some black feminists felt marginalized by the Women's Liberation Movement.
David Felton/­Getty Images

­By the late 1960s, a new age of activism was ushered in by student activity surrounding the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement as well as older women's dissatisfaction with domestic restrictions and workplace discrimination. In contrast to first-wave feminism, the movement during the 1970s benefitted from the involvement of far more organizations, encompassing a broad spectrum of political beliefs and ideologies.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 represented one of largest coalitions that sprang from the second wave. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had failed to root out sexism in the workplace, instead focusing on racial discrimination. When the EEOC refused to ban gender-specific job advertisements, Betty Friedan and other leading feminist formed NOW. The organization, comprised of mostly older, white, middle-class women, focused on issues including reproductive freedom, gender equality in the workplace and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. More than any feminist group before, NOW looked to the law to institute gender reforms.

Groups such as the New York Radical Women (NYRW), Redstockings and Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH), aimed to eradicate sexism by revolutionizing the relationships between men and women in the boardroom and the bedroom. They practiced zap actions, or dramatic public demonstrations that attracted media attention [source: Keetley and Pettegrew]. One such zap action, the 1968 Miss America pageant protest by NYRW, propelled the feminist movement into mainstream media. Within communities across the United States, women started organizing on a smaller scale. The Redstockings first encouraged groups of women to gather for consciousness-raising discussions, which involved sharing their personal experiences in the feminist struggle [source: Buechler].

Issues of rape, domestic violence, abortion and access to childcare came to the forefront of the feminist platforms. Through consciousness-raising, women could identify common struggles and receive support while feminism grew into a mass movement. From this form of engagement, the slogan "the personal is political" aptly summed up the goals of second-wave feminism. What were once private issues were now in the public realm.

­In 1968, the first national women's liberation conference took place in Chicago, and in the 1970s, feminist activists began to witness the fruits of their labors in earnest. In 1972, Washington, D.C., established the first rape crisis hotline, and the Supreme Court legalized abortion via Roe v. Wade in 1973. Two years later, the United States facilitated the first global forum on women's issues. But as the movement spread, it also exposed fractures within feminist ideologies.