The consciousness of contemporary women. The work, with the

The term “feminism”
as a synonym for female emancipation was frequently used in the struggle
for the female rights since XIX century. In the
1920s, in Europe and the United States, the feminist movement of the first
wave, having achieved laws providing the voting rights, allowing women to study
in universities and work outside the home, found their tasks fulfilled, and the
activity of female organizations was gradually stopped, and was restored only
after the World War II. The peak of Western feminism as a social and political
movement falls on the 1960-1970th. In these “revolutionary” years,
student and anti-war demonstrations, the struggle of racial and ethnic groups
for civil rights, and other protests determined the political climate (Rhodes). In the
public mind, gender relations seemed to be equally harmonious. However, women, who previously were forced to take male positions during the war, to work in hazardous conditions at factories, could now
return to the usual “natural” work and were forced to find the satisfaction in the traditional domestic environment. In this
case, they had to no longer care about their ambitions and rights in the public
sphere. Thus, the return of the feminist movement became one of the most
unexpected events in 1960th.

Western Feminism in
1960-1980th

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The publication in 1949 of the
book by the French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir “The Second
Sex” caused a radical change in the consciousness of contemporary women.

The work, with the volume of a thousand pages, was immediately sold in a huge
quantity in Europe (the book was translated into 30 languages). Allowing many
generations of women to see their destiny and place in the world from a
different point of view, for many decades de Beauvoir became the source of
inspiration for intellectual Europe. In this book, based on philosophical,
psychological, anthropological, historical, literary and vital material, de
Beauvoir for the first time tries to comprehend the problem of female existence
in the modern world. These ideological searches are undoubtedly connected with
the philosophical position of the writer, the theory of existentialism of
Jean-Paul Sartre, placing in the center of human existence the problem of
freedom of choice and responsibility of the individual for his own life.

Unlike previous feminist
theories, Simone de Beauvoir sees the causes of the dependent position of women
not in biological differences, or legal and socio-economic inequalities, but in
the historically formed notion of femininity in culture and society. Exploring
mythology, literature, different national traditions and values, the system of
education of girls, family models, the author showed that the main obstacle to
freedom of women is the idea of a female being known in the society as
“secondary”. The author states that the main reason for the situation
is the adoption by women themselves of the role of the “second sex”
that is significant only in relation to a man. This phenomenon of dependence in
the female identity does not allow a woman to be responsible for her own life
and to claim the realization of personal ambitions outside the family sphere.

The book did not only reject the myth of “the special nature of
women”, but also gave an impulse to a new understanding of women
emancipation. Simone de Beauvoir asked women not to be afraid to start the path
of self-realization, independence and the free acquisition of “true
existence”. In fifteen years after the publication of the book, these
ideas became the slogans and caused a new wave of mass feminist movement.

Since its appearance, the
“Women Revolution” was heterogeneous in its ideological concepts,
methods of struggle and forms of collective activity. Among the variety of
ideas, theories and organizations, there can be distinguished two most
influential and well-known trends in feminism: the liberal and the radical.

The Liberal Feminism

In 1963, the book “The
Feminine Mystique” was published in the United States, and influenced the moods
and self-awareness of millions of American women. “The Feminine Mystique” by
journalist Betty Friedan became a world bestseller and a classic text of
liberal feminism. It showed the atmosphere of the “consumer paradise”
of educated American women from the middle class. In the late 1950s, numerous
female magazines, advertising, and the television stated that middle-class
women could achieve a “female American dream”: a prosperous and
caring husband, healthy children, a suburban house, a car, beautiful clothes
that can be worn at parties and charitable meetings (Thompson). Betty
Friedan, a graduate psychologist, and mother of three children carried out
hundreds of interviews with the housewives and found that their lives were
characterized by the inner dissatisfaction and a sense of their personal
insignificance. The reasons for such feelings could be provided neither for the
popular psychoanalysts, nor for the husbands, nor for the women themselves.

Having written a book on the
basis of these confessions, Friedan tried to determine the causes of
disappointments and discontent, visualizing the problem that did not have a
name before. Trying to follow the patterns of “true” femininity and
fulfill the “natural destiny” of mother and wife prescribed by the
society, the middle-class Americans refused professional career and any
participation in public life. As a result, they gradually turned into
infantile, dependent individuals, unable to understand their capabilities and
desires. The traditional beliefs were supported by Freud’s theory with his idea
of natural female passivity, magazines, advertisements, and television. “The
Feminine Mystique” actually showed the drama of a female personality, the drama
of suppression of intellect, professional and social interests (Thompson). When
voluntarily following the established gender stereotypes, women found
themselves, according to the definition of Friedan, in a “cozy
concentration camp” of family life, discovering that consumer goods, husband,
and children are not able to free themselves of the feeling of emptiness. The
book touched the feelings of a large group of housewives. In the 1960s, these
ideas seemed revolutionary to them. Women realized that they had to ask
themselves without a false sense of guilt; who they were and what they wanted
from life. They did not have to feel selfish or neurotic if they had any
personal tasks not related to husband and children.

During the Second World War,
millions of women in the United States and Europe came to work in various
industries, taking the positions of men, who had left for the front. Posters of
the war years urged them to believe in their strength, that they could do
everything. Girls from the middle class, seeing for themselves new perspectives,
wanted to obtain higher education. But the post-war situation of the
“national harmony” in the Western world required the restoration of
the traditional system of sharing the roles of “breadwinners” and
“keeper of the hearth.” In the 1950th, the military slogans asking
women to help the country were replaced by public assurances that
“feminine” women do not need a professional career, higher education,
creativity, and, even participation in politics (Thompson). Just like a
hundred years ago, the same arguments about the natural incapacity and
unpreparedness of women for professional employment sounded in the society
trying to return women to the “natural destiny” of mother and wife.

Three years after the
publication of the book “The Feminine Mystique”, in 1966, in the United States,
there was established the National Organization for Women, the president of
which was Betty Friedan. In the year of its foundation, the organization had
300 participants, but in ten years there were 250 thousand members (Thompson). The
organization became one of the influential political forces of America. The
liberal-feminist movement for rights of women, with its centralized formal
structures, clearly established rules, and a successful program of actions had
a significant impact on the legislative and executive powers in the country.

Focusing on reforming of the existing system of power, feminists implemented the traditional methods for political culture of the United States. They
were filing lawsuits and lobbying bills. The courts were
filled with dozens of thousands of applications for setting up
the lawsuits against employers on the basis of a
violation of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of
sex. By the early 1970s, hundreds of higher education institutions were involved in the trials concerning
violations of the labor rights of women. The interests of women were protected by female organizations,
that caused the success in implementing new
laws. The companies were forced to pay significant monetary penalties for
compensation of material and moral damage and take women to work by the court decision. Publishers were subjected to penalties when
indicating “men are required” for a specific position.

The new organization
considered its main task to be the adoption of a legislative prohibition of
discrimination based on sex in all spheres of economic activity. Following the
concept of classical liberalism, the gender equality was treated as providing
equal rights to men and women. Accordingly to the point of view of the
organization, any reference in legal documents to the “difference between
men and women,” as the representatives of liberal feminism believed,
ensured the established civil, public inferiority of women, leaving the
equality only in the private sphere. The term “difference”  was excluded from the political rhetoric of
liberal feminists for a whole decade.

In addition to the prohibition
of direct discrimination, feminists demanded the reform of nearly all spheres of professional activity: obtaining loans from the bank, renting accommodations, opening their own
businesses, accessing the education in prestigious
professional university schools and faculties, etc.  The decade of female political activism led
to a significant increase in the number of women among high-paid employees such
as lawyers, doctors, managers. Thus, it is possible to state that the liberal
feminism had a positive impact on the protection of the rights of women.

The Radical Feminism

In the middle of 1960th, along
with the liberal feminist movement, there appeared groups of young
intellectuals, talking about women’s emancipation from more radical positions.

A new influential trend of feminism was formed in the context of powerful youth
protest. The criticism of the new radicals was exposed to
totalitarian features of the industrial civilization. Instead of the
“elite democracy”, students demanded a fair democracy for all members
of the society.

Since the early 1960s, the
American female students were actively participating in mass university
speeches, sit-ins, protest marches against segregation in the South, and the
Vietnam War. But they were not satisfied with the role assigned to them in the
youth movement. Young women realized their complete detachment from decision-making
in the organizations. Very quickly young female activists
figured out that if they wanted to put the problem
of female rights and freedoms on the agenda of youth meetings faced
misunderstanding and mockery on the part of the male participants of the protest
movement. The female students started creating their own groups, which had
neither a strict formal structure (Mackay). In the informal discussions, women received the opportunity to talk about their
problems, experiences, desires, and ambitions, which formerly hidden or even
not realized. The main thing that happened inside these groups was the
liberation from the slavish inner complex of inferiority, lack of
self-confidence, the transformation of the sense of a life of young women.

The male power, in the
understanding of the supporters of female liberation, extended not only to
politics and the economy but also affected the private life of women. Men could
not reform the system, which gives them privileges by themselves, so the
liberal compromise program on legislative reform could not solve the
fundamental task of liberation from dependence and oppression. Only the
revolutionary struggle of women could abolish the patriarchal system.

The feminist issue became one of the primary topics in the media. The audience, intrigued or enraged by the activity of young
feminists, was involved in a nationwide discussion on topics that were
previously untouched. The previous stage of the movement for equal rights of
women did not cause such a discussion in the country. The reforms proposed by
female liberal organizations of the 1960th fit into the democratic framework of
the United States, while the radicalism of the “liberation” groups
threatened to destroy the entire system of traditional cultural values, social
institutions, and policies. In 1971, 
Gloria Steinem started to publish a
feminist magazine “Ms”. Instead
of the accepted language norms “miss” or “Mrs”, indicating
a family status, the new neutral rule “ms” was used to support the
emancipation of the female consciousness (Mackay). The
enormous popularity of this magazine demonstrated the significance and success
of the “revolution” that began. The magazine showed solidarity with
the popular concepts of the sexual revolution and considered the forced marriage
and the pressure of the society towards the creation of a traditional family to
be the main instrument of suppression of personality. The new term
“sexism” used by the magazine denoted any discriminatory acts based
on sex.

Conclusion

Feminism is a social and
political movement the main goal of which is to provide women with full civil
rights. In a broad sense, it reflected the desire to achieve equality of women and men in all spheres of the social life. In the narrow sense, it is a female movement aiming to eliminate the
discrimination against women and to provide their equal rights to men. The
movement appeared in the XVIII century; however, it was particularly
intensified since the late 1960s. The most famous branch of the feminist
movement was the radical feminism, the emergence of which dates back to the
1960s. Radical feminism states that patriarchy was one of
the forms of oppression
of women by men. As a result of the protest movements, in the 1980s, feminism
became an integral part of a democratic social and political system and state
policy. At the same period, the social activity of women in other regions
begins to rise. The supporters of Asian, African, Latin American, Islamic and
many other areas agree that the problems of gender inequality do not have a
simple explanation and easy solution. In a situation of dependence and
oppression, the class, ethnic, racial, and religious differences may be more
important to them. There is no universal feminist concept for all cultures and
social groups. But it necessary to state that the liberation of from all forms of discrimination all over the
globe requires the unification of efforts of all
democratic powers.