The of a thousand pages, was immediately sold in

The term
“feminism” as a synonym for female emancipation was frequently used in the struggle for women’s
rights since the 19th century. During the 1920s, Europe and the United States
saw the rise of the first wave of feminism. After the passage of the 19th
Amendment, giving women the right to vote, more women were given the
opportunity to study in universities and work outside the home. Leading up to
WWI, this activity from women gradually stopped and was restored only after
WWII. The peak of Western feminism as the social and political movement known
today arose in the late 60s, on to the early 70s. 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, working in hazardous conditions at factories, could now
return to “natural” work,
finding their satisfaction in the traditional domestic home environment. In this case, they no longer had to care about their ambitions
and rights in society. Thus, the return of the feminist movement became one of
the most unexpected events in the 60s.

The 1949 publication of
“The Second Sex” by the French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir
caused a radical change in the consciousness of contemporary women. The work,
with the volume of a thousand pages, was immediately sold in huge quantities in
Europe (the book was translated into 30 languages). For many decades, de
Beauvoir became the source of inspiration for intellectual Europe, allowing
many generations of women to see their destiny and place in the world from a
different point of view. In this book, based on philosophical, psychological,
anthropological, historical, and literary material, de Beauvoir for the first
time tries to comprehend the problem of female existence in the modern world.

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These ideological searches are undoubtedly connected with the theory of
existentialism by Jean-Paul Sartre, placing in the center of human existence
the problem of freedom of choice and responsibility of the individual for his
(and now, her) own life.

Unlike previous
feminist theories, Simone de Beauvoir sees the causes of the dependent position
of women not in biological differences, or 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, and family models, she showed that the main obstacle to
freedom of women is the idea of a female being known in society as
“secondary.” De Beauvoir states that the main reason for the situation is
women adopting themselves 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’s emancipation. Simone de
Beauvoir asked women not to be afraid to start the path of self-realization,
independence, and the free acquisition of a “true existence.” In fifteen
years after the publication of the book, these ideas became the slogans of a
new wave of mass feminist movement.

Since its appearance,
the Feminist Movement 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, both which still exist today: liberal and

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 TV stated that middle-class women could
achieve a “female American dream”: a prosperous and caring husband,
healthy children, a suburban house, a car, and 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 inner dissatisfaction and a sense of their personal insignificance. The
reasons for such feelings could not be provided by psychoanalysts, their
husbands, or 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
society, the middle-class women refused professional careers and any
participation in public life. As a result, they gradually turned into
infantile, dependent individuals, unable to understand their capabilities and
desires. These traditional beliefs were supported by Freud’s theory with his
idea of natural female passivity. “The Feminine Mystique” actually showed
female personality, and 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 WWII, 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 “keepers of
the hearth.” In the 50s, 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). 100 years ago, the same arguments were made
about the natural incapacity and unpreparedness of women for professional
employment, trying to return women to the “natural destiny” of mother
and wife.

Three years after the
publication of “The Feminine Mystique”, the National Organization of Women was
established in the US, the president of which was Betty Friedan. In the year of
its foundation, the organization had 300 participants, but in ten years
membership increased to 250,000. (Thompson). The organization became one of the most
influential political forces of America. The liberal-feminist movement for
women’s rights, 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 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, which 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 National
Organization of Women 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. According 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 businesses,
accessing 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, and managers. Thus, it is possible to state that the liberal feminism
had a positive impact on the protection of the rights of women.

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 exposed 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 60s,
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, they 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 these informal discussions,
women received the opportunity to talk about their problems, experiences,
desires, and ambitions, which formerly were 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, and 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 women’s rights did not cause such a
discussion in the country. The reforms proposed by liberal female organizations
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 forced marriages and the pressure of 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.

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 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 most famous branch of the
feminist movement was the radical feminism, stating that the patriarchy was one of the most detrimental 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. As the decades went
on, feminism improved and adapted to include women of different ethnic
backgrounds, from different parts of the world, different socio-economic
statuses, and different intersections of life. The current feminist wave of
today, commonly known as the third wave, strives to incorporate everyone who
identifies as a woman to join in an effort that wants to achieve equality for all
genders. Without the help from revolutionary women writers of the 60s, feminism
today would be completely different, or maybe not even exist at all.


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