Women’s Rights in America
Throughout the sixties until this very day, woman have been actively trying to take charge of their future by securing the same rights that men have. Issues commonly associated with women’s rights include the rights to: bodily integrity, to be free from sexual violence, to vote, enter legal contracts, to work, to fair wages or equal pay, to have reproductive rights, own property, obtain an education. The Womens’s Rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s has changed the course of history for women in America by paving the way for considerable changes. Through the movement, gender roles have been rearranged and has made a strong impact on American society.
Before the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement, women were merely regarded as the pawns in chess game. Women were not allowed to vote, they had no property rights, husband’s had legal power over their wives as well as child custody, women could only do certain jobs and were underpaid, women had no means to gain an education and were ultimately robbed of their respect and confidence by being made to fully depend on men. Of course, this list is just a fraction of how women were suppressed back in the day, but when we think “back in the day”, we forget that it was literally not so long ago that this behavior was implemented.
Equality is one of the original foundations of the American Dream. Jim Cullen, author of The American Dream, stated, “That’s because the American Dream depends on it. At some visceral level, virtually all of us need to believe that equality is one of the core values of everyday American life, that its promises extend to everyone. If they don’t then not everybody is eligible for the American Dream” (108). Cullen explains how important equality is to achieve the American Dream, a dream that built this nation to be one of the best in the world and he reminds us of the core values that got us here. The second-wave feminism of the Women’s Rights movement was significant in the 1960’s and 70’s because it introduced substantial changes in sexuality, family and work environment for women. A few of these changes during this period were: birth control pills were approved, congress passed the Equal Payment Act to ensure no discrimination in an employed environment, the ban of sex discrimination in schools, legal abortion and the marital rape law passes. Women were on successful streak to achieve their goal of equality, they had rallies, marches, organizations, representatives and had gathered a large supporting force consisting of both women and men.
After bagging multiple victories, their next goal was to secure their equality through the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). This Amendment was proposed to the constitution and its aim was to ensure equal rights for all American citizens regardless of one’s sex, and ultimately planned to bridge the gap between men and women. The Amendment received strong traction and was ratified by congress as well as 34 other states. However, the ERA never made it passed the constitution because it was no approved by three states and it failed to pass the 38-state majority rule. It marked a drastic setback to the movements goals and shocked many people as it was presumed to have passed because of all traction it received from millions of Americans. This notion stood in the way of a large number of Americans and their American Dream, ultimately preventing them from achieving the American Dream of equality in upward mobility. Jim Cullen’s claim about the dream was that equality is necessary for the American Dream to truly exist and that all Americans must have equal access to opportunities that would allow them to achieve their dreams.
It was hard to believe that the ERA had failed to pass and it left many wondering why would some people would not agree to stand by equality for both sexes. The truth is that not everybody felt the same way about the movement and like everything in life, there are always two sides to a story regardless if the cause is considered “right” or “wrong”. It’s no doubt that the movement has improved the livelihood of many Americans by creating a stable foundation, unity, and contributed to the overall development of America by its citizens working together to create a promising present and future of the nation.
However, the movement faced backlashes from others who did not fall for act entirely. Some were not keen on the idea biological differences between men and women could be disregarded due to socialization. Some men felt it is unfair to be “punished” for being a man regarding their physic and being more aggressive with competitiveness to life. Some also felt it contradicted their cause because it would be unfair if women and men were paid equally regardless of their profession or time, effort and ability to do the job. Because of the changing roles in sexes, the rate of divorce increased dramatically, leaving more and more children to be born without married parents. The main altercation however is the idea that some feminists themselves are considered to be the cause of their own hardships. E.g. slut-shaming. Yes, men are often guilty for it, however women are more likely to slut-shame each other more than men, resulting in many of the issues raised by women to be considered as “made-up” by themselves. Leslie Stephen, author of the journal article “Social Equality”, stated: “Make every man equal to-day and the old inequalities will reappear to-morrow. Pitch such a one over London Bridge, it was said, with nothing on but his breeches and he will turn up at Woolwich with his pockets full of gold. But surely it may be urged that this is as much a reason for declining to believe that equal conditions of life will produce mere monotony as for insisting that equality in any state is impossible”.
According to the book Social Equality by Jonathan Wolff, theorists of social equality argue that the inspiration behind egalitarianism is not the idea of the equalization of some currency of justice, but the idea of a society in which all regard and treat each other as equals. The Womens Right’s movement was not just revolved around equality for women. Yes, fighting for equality for women was maybe their main objective, but their fight was larger than that, the movement was based around social equality in general (as well as economic and political equality). They faught for equal outcomes for men and women and people of different classes, races, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, disabilities, and so on. They faught for what America had promised them, the dream of equal opportunity for all. Judith A. Baer makes a powerful point about the equality of all in general. In her book, Equality in the American Context, it reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that when any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, laying its foundations upon such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall be most likely to affect their safety and happiness”.
While some argue that social equality is an issue that can be addressed (for the most part), others argue that there will never be equality for all. Even though social inequality still exists, it is clear that the Women’s Right Movement has made an incredibly positive impact in America. The impact has not only helped women in America, but man in general. We have seen growth in social, political and economic equality throughout the struggle and will hopefully continue to see such improvement.