Second-Wave Feminism (also referred to as the Women’s Liberation Movement) began in the early 1960s in the United States, and continued to take place in other countries for decades afterwards. The movement sought to explore women’s sexuality and reproductive rights, as well as to rid the world of its male-dominated ideology and grant women positions in the public sphere.
Virginia Woolf wrote a letter in 1938 called, Three Guineas, which advocates for women’s education and professional status. Her main arguments link to the ideals surrounding Second-Wave Feminism: women’s entry into the public sphere is necessary, and societies that perpetuate social and gender inequalities must be re-structured. (Woolf, 220) Woolf also touches on the fact that men and women communicate on different levels, due to the significant difference in education. Understanding between the sexes is impossible without a common, “language” (Woolf, 221).
Women were restricted financially during the 1960s; a man’s interference was necessary for any financial transaction/action. The military also closed its doors to females, save for the select few who trained to be nurses. Woolf comments on this, stating, “Thus we can use neither the pressure of force (defense), nor the pressure of money” (Woolf, 222). Even before Second-Wave Feminism gained full force, women, such as Woolf, recognized that they were stripped of power and status. “What real influence can we bring to bear upon law or business, religion or politics…we who have neither capital nor force behind us? It seems as if our influence must stop short at the surface” (Woolf, 224). The most important weapon a woman could possess was the weapon of an independent opinion and a will of her own (Woolf, 226).
Second-Wave Feminism exploited the hypocrisy of American society. America preaches freedom and equality, and yet, coercion, hierarchy and patriarchy flourished during that era (Little, 13). Judith Little wrote a book titled, Feminist Philosophy and Science Fiction, which addresses these hypocrisies and defines several sects of feminist thinking. In a perfect world (a ‘utopia’) women would be free to reach their full potential, and they would be viewed as having the same potentials as men (Little, 15).
Little’s book outlines the work of philosopher Immanuel Kant, and his deontological theory of ethics, which includes his construction of absolute moral laws, referred to as the Categorical Imperative. Kant projected the concept that humanity must treat other humans as ends and not as mere means to ends. “People deserve to be treated as beings who can reason, make choices, and determine their own plans of life” (Little, 18). Basically, Kant is stating that a person should never be manipulated to suit one’s needs because all people deserve to be treated as means to their own desires/happiness. Second-Wave Feminism members, whether they realized it or not, took part in this belief; feminist activists advocated for people to acknowledge that women deserved the right to be happy and achieve that happiness for themselves, and that they were not just simply puppets of their husband’s happiness. Women in the 1960s were expected to cater to men 24/7 because, supposedly, the weight of the world rested on the men’s shoulders.
Second-Wave Feminism grounded itself in Liberal feminist theories and Neo-Marxist feminism. Liberal feminism promotes the view that each human possesses civil rights…due to being an autonomous, free and equal, rational individual. Women should be offered the same rights and freedoms as men, and they should not be disadvantaged in realizing their full potential through institutional oppression (Little, 27). Marxist feminist theory states that females are subjugated to injustice through socioeconomic and political institutions; therefore, the society needs to rid itself of economical dependence, and grant its citizens full independence from structured institutions that are meant to categorize and suppress people (Little, 27).
Many feminists during the Second-Wave were Radicals, who sought to abolish female oppression through the elimination of male domination/competition, hierarchy, and control of women’s bodies. Women have the right to their own sexuality and reproductive functions, as well as the decision to partake/or not partake in stereotypical ideas of feminine care and nurturing (motherhood) (Little, 28). If women do not take control of their sexuality, the door is left wide-open for male domination. Females had the right to experience sexual pleasure, and they were encouraged to become more comfortable with their bodies, through visuals and self-exploration. Radicals also supported contraception, which proved a success when the birth control pill became available in 1960 (Powell-Smith).
Little, Judith. Feminist Philosophy and Science Fiction. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2007. Print.
Powell-Smith, Michelle. "When Did the Birth Control Pill Become Available?." ModernMom. N.p., 30 03 2010. Web. 15 Jan 2013. [http:// <http://www.modernmom.com/article/when-did-the-birth-control-pill-become-available>. .]
Woolf, Virginia. "Three Guineas." 1938. Print.