The women’s rights movement, also sometimes termed the women’s liberation movement, was a broad social movement, centrally based in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, almost concurrently with or shortly after the Civil rights movements, and sought equal rights and freedoms, and greater personal freedoms for women. It is considered part of the second wave of feminism and touches broadly on many facets of women’s experience, including sexuality, politics, the family, and work. This movement also was inspired by the rise of notable women leaders in the civil rights movements, including Fannie Lou Hamer. She had been harassed repeatedly, including being sterilized without her consent, by majority-white individuals. Her relative success in politics and the lobbying for civil rights made her a notable woman figure in leadership, therefore, setting precedence.
There is a broad consensus that the aftermath of the Second World War had indelible repercussions on the lives of women, especially in developed countries. Household technologies significantly eased the burden of housekeeping. Furthermore, the growth of the service sector, along with the improvement in medical technology and improving life expectancies, opened up new opportunities in industries that did not mainly require physical strength. However, the general cultural outlook towards women’s roles in domestic capacities and women’s work and legal conditions still reinforced sexual inequalities. This is underlined by Baldwin, who states that the archaic 18th-century “rights of man” rhetoric was the ground on which oppressed groups, including women, rose and fought for inclusion in American society. This would mark the conception of the ideology that would culminate in the Women’s Rights Movement.
The Black Panthers Party also aided in the effort somewhat with the convening of the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention (RPCC), which was signed on both structural and symbolic terms. The RPCC, despite promptly collapsing, set definite precedence and tone for later idealistic and progressive initiatives, including equal rights for men and women, bans on the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, and the contemporary prison abolition movement. The RPCC primarily generated the idea that people had rights that could not and should not be trampled upon without risking revolt and the call for a new government. This would be an unprecedented development in liberal thought and idealistic tendencies that would lead to the development of the women’s rights movement.
Popular publications would further sell the idea that the previously conventional norm of the suburban housewife, with a beautiful house, lovely children, and a responsible husband, was insufficient. Instead, this served to deaden women in domesticity and socially condition them to repress their desperation. This led to widespread dissatisfaction with the oppressive structures in society, economics, and politics against women, which ultimately led to a rise in female leaders and lobbyists who fought for the federal government to institute equal pay measures and protect women from employment discrimination. However, in the mid-60s, it was apparent that polite requests were insufficient, and political pressure ought to be implemented. Ideological differences marred any national efforts.
Despite dissension in ideologies and, at times, the leadership of the Women’s Rights movement, significant milestones were achieved. There was reduced employment discrimination through the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which allowed women access to jobs in the US Economy. Further, divorce laws were considerably liberalized, and women’s studies programs were created in many major universities and colleges. More women also began running for and winning legislative seats; following Fannie Lou Hamer’s precedence, educational programs were banned from discriminating based on gender. The Women’s Rights Movement set into motion several social ideologies that are still impactful and relevant in modern society.