In order to better understand the Women’s Liberation Movement, the reason as to why it was launched must be explained. Oppression, the inability to vote or abort, unequal pay, and limited opportunities were just some of the reasons why feminists formed organizations to strive for change. According to Vicky Randall (1987), the Women’s Liberation Movement first emerged in the year 1960 due to three important factors, which were the predisposing factors, the facilitating factors and the specific triggering effects (Hawkesworth, Kogan, 1992). The predisposing factors were those, which forced women to acknowledge their oppression such as the struggle for equal pay, the fight for education, the acquirement of contraceptive pills, the high rate of divorces, and the fight against sexual discrimination. The facilitating factors were those that made attaining rights much easier due to the fact that in some countries either they already had citizen rights or they were already familiarized with human and civil rights. The specific triggering events in the 60’s and 70’s that enraged the women and compelled them to unite and form the Women’s Liberation Movement like the dismissal of the women’s liberation by the male-dominated left is just one example (Hawkesworth, Kogan, 1992).
This drove the Women’s Liberation Movement, better known as the “Feminist Movement”, to take on political activities and form political movements for reforms on women’s rights matters. In fact, the Feminist movement comprised of three waves, which spanned almost two centuries starting from the 1830s up until the present day (Dorey-Stein, 2015). According to Caroline Dorey-Stein (2015), the First Wave of Feminism witnessed women getting politically involved to strive and fight for their rights to property and equal contracts, which included their right to vote, their right to reproduction and financial issues that started around the year 1830 up until the early 1900’s. The Second Wave, which began around the 1960’s and ended around the 1980’s, was a result of many movements that had formed after World War I such as the Chicano Rights Movement, the Black Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, just to name a few (Dorey-Stein, 2015).
The women belonging to these politically engaged movements were concerned with gender equality first and foremost before they could gain the respect they needed in organizations. They worked on gender equality in order to fight for civil matters that needed attention and change. Whether it was to amend laws, cancel them or introduce new ones, the gender political issue had to be tackled first. The Third Wave that Dorey-Stein (2015) addresses, which spanned the 1990’s up until the present time, are the issues which are still important and relevant to this day. From equal pay to reproductive rights, from ending violence against women to fighting for acceptance and being heard, women of this day and age are still struggling to attain those rights and make a difference. The various feminists and feminist movements out there today all have one goal in common and that is to gain equality on all levels whether politically, economically or socially (Dorey-Stein, 2015).
These three waves touched on many issues that needed change for the sake of women’s role in society. Take for instance, the Black Civil Rights movement. This movement was initiated on the consensus that for these women, being black and female were two setbacks that were keeping them from being involved in society on all levels. Thought to be started in 1954 and ending in 1965, this movement rose from segregation and racial, social and gender injustices. The women organized political groups to protest racism in fields such as education, housing, voting and public accommodations (Collier-Thomas, Franklin, 2001). Both Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin (2001) discuss in their book the trials and tribulations faced by the African-American women and how councils such as the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) advocated for the rights of black women and fought hard to eliminate racial discrimination, lobbied for the passage of federal anti-lynching and anti-poll tax legislation and stricter laws to uphold minority rights. This movement along with many others had a fundamental impact on American Democracy and changed the politics of this nation forever.
Another movement that saw women form together and rise against prejudices was the Women’s Suffrage. The Women’s Suffrage was one of the earlier movements seen mainly in Britain and the United States that fought for a women’s right to vote, be politically active and campaign and become members of parliament. A very important figure in the Women’s Suffrage in the early 1900’s England was suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. According to Barbara Winslow (1996), Sylvia Pankhurst was an innovator and politician who tackled issues like foreign policy, gender and class, and the right to vote. Sylvia Pankhurst was not only concerned about feminism and the rights of women, but she also played a major role in socialism and fought against exploitation and social and capitalist injustices. Although the earlier movements have accomplished many of the transformations they campaigned and strived for, there are to this day many rights that women still haven’t acquired in certain nations. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan still have a long way to go when it comes to women’s basic rights such as the right to education, the right to drive and in some cases, the right to work. From Swat Valley, Pakistan came a young human rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai who fought for women’s rights to education. Malala endured the harsh Taliban’s ban of girl’s educations, their shutdown of schools and the assassination attempt made on her life (Yousafzai, 2017).
Malala Yousafzai’s efforts to strive for those rights were finally put into action when in 2015, a petition was initiated for the rights of all women and children to be educated led to the ratification of Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill. Also, the Vital Voices Global Partnership founded a fund in her name in order to support education for young girls all over the world (Yousafzai, 2017). Be that as it may, gender segregation still exists in our modern times in all parts of the world, especially in Saudi Arabia. For example, religion in Islamic countries dictates what men and women can and cannot do. The laws that ban women from driving or working in Saudi Arabia come not from religion like is often thought, but from culture. Also, the notion of arranged marriages still exists and is considered a big cultural occurrence there and in a few other countries. Over the span of 1438 years that Islam has existed, culture has molded religion into it’s own entity so as to lay restrictions on women and their role in society. While Islam has been known as a religion accused of restricting women from having any rights or efficiency, Islam is, in actuality, rendered a peaceful and fair religion by which women have as much rights as men and are held in high esteem as mothers and wives. Notably, mentioned in the Quran verses, the basic rights of a wife are the same as those that her husband has on her as well as judgment being equal upon both genders whether religiously, spiritually or humanely. Women are allowed to work, vote, drive, learn and have property rights.
However, in some areas of the Middle East, women are still prohibited from exercising their basic human rights because culture frowns upon the freedom and independence of women. It has long been a constant battle for women in these and other countries to breakout from these social norms and gender cultural differences in order to gain rights in social and political aspects. Culture has taken away women’s rights and roles in society and has ignored the existing religious texts and Hadiths about the real way women should be treated and respected. The impact of having limitations to the women still enslaved has repercussions that society must deem inevitable. The uprising of feminist movements and organizations against gender inequality has been in effect for generations and will not cease until women finally attain equality and similar rights as men.
A political statement was made during the Women’s Liberation Movement between the 1960s and 1970s. It was that of self-presentation. How women looked was considered something that hindered the way they felt. Women during that time rebelled against the norms and cut their hair and opted to dress like men because it made them feel liberated. Gone were the long tresses and skirts and gone were the limitations they felt. Not only were women wearing jeans and pants, but men were also lengthening their hair and unisex clothing became all the rage (Hillman, 2013). According to Hillman (2013), the Second Wave Feminist Movement was witness to the politicization of hairstyles, dress trends and self-presentation, which became the focus of cultural politics. The Women’s Liberation Movement protested against the expectations of women in society as sex objects and housewives and the standards set that beauty was something to be idealistically attained and displayed. During that era, gender presentation and women’s decisions to dress a certain way had challenged sex and gender roles in a visual way; gender inequality was manifested by the socialized differences between the sexes (Hillman, 2013).
Another area of politics that makes issues public is media. Media coverage that takes place all over the world has helped to raise awareness and inform the people of important issues that take place. More often than not, it initiates political debate and in some serious cases political action. From wars to crimes to international events, the media will clarify the smallest of details and sensationalize the most significant incidents. Media like newspapers, TV’s, magazines, Internet and social media are the tools by which the news becomes widespread and exploited. This has been of most importance to the Women’s Liberation Movement. The movement depended largely on the media and press to support their issues and the media in return, played a major role in defining and expanding the movement (Bradley, 2006). According to Bradley (2006), the media wanted to popularize the female postwar generation and thus the Second Wave Feminist Movement was generated. On the other hand, according to Edward P. Morgan (2010), the media failed the movements of the 1960s due to the separation between the activists and the media (Anderson, 2012). The movement generated lots of media attention but the feminists had no control over how they were portrayed in the front of the public; the divide between the feminists and the radical feminists and the way radical feminists were described as being a threat, society ultimately decided that they trusted what was written about the movement rather than understanding what it truly stood for (Anderson, 2012). This was deemed as the demise of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s. Other important factors played a role in the fall of the Women’s Liberation Movement. The lack of recognition of class struggle and the lack of a united front among all women from all walks of life were also causes of the movement’s failure.
The Women’s Liberation Movement accomplished most of the goals that it set out to do and they turned oppression into possibilities. They attained rights to education, work, abortion, birth control pills, and rights to participate in political aspects of society. The movement made huge leaps and broke down many barriers that would have been still existent today had it not been for their courage and determination. The issues they battled and fought for are imperative to today’s women and their rights. Although the Women’s Liberation Movement has made strides in accomplishing its goals and challenging the system, there is yet a long way to go. Women are still to this day objectified, underestimated and treated as inferiors. The 2017 Women’s March is proof that the struggle is far from over. In more than 75 countries and with over 600 sister marches across the world, the Women’s March came together for women’s rights, immigration and healthcare reforms, racial equality, religious freedom and many more issues (WITW, 2017). This movement was instigated by the indignation that women felt towards Donald Trump. They saw Donald Trump as a misogynist who discriminated against women in many ways. The uproar that Trump caused set a series of events into motion that fought against his political advancement both before and after his presidential election. The Women’s March was a result of women’s fury that was caused by his nomination and Hilary Clinton’s loss. In spite of this, women in our generation will always have a voice and opportunities greater than they’ve ever imagined due in part to the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement. The movement brought women hope, prospects and the ability to further their political agendas. Regardless of its demise, the movement paved the way for gender equality, labor rights, policymaking progress and political advancements. Women’s causes and initiatives will overcome the cultural, political and social injustices that restrict their freedoms and liberties and hopefully, one day, women will be recognized as valuable assets not just as mothers and wives, but also as equals and exceptional innovators.