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The history of women activism in America was at its peak in the 1950s. This period was considered as the response to lowest point of the modern American feminism. At this period, the women came out strongly to express their concerns regarding the sexuality inequality at workplaces and in workers unions.
The proof of these activisms is still evident in the current persistent voice and influence of women at workplaces. The main fights of the female activism at the workplace was to remove unequal salary rates, discrimination of the seniority based on gender, classifying occupation based on sexual orientation.
During the period between 1950 and 1960, American female activism changed the American society. The American feminist movement was able to raise public awareness concerning the problem of women discrimination and consequently improve the position of women in terms of career opportunities and employment terms.
Changing the Reality: Education and Work
In the 1950s, the US experienced a great change in the role of women from the traditional notion that women were not as predictable and reliable as men (Kessler-Harris, 2003, p. 76). This caused a social tension with domestic ideals for the women were conflicting with the inalienable rights principle.
The changing trend of the working women after the Second World War and naïve notion that women would go back to the traditional role of taking care of the home while men go to work evoked an atmosphere of unsettled and repeatedly unnamed discord. This social tension concerning the place of the female gender became a very crucial phenomenon in the US history as it resulted in greater social reform of the 1960s and 1970s.
The most crucial argument concerns education and work experience for women and men. In the Modern Woman: The Lost Sex article written by Farnham and Lundburg, a number of factors are identified which lead to the rise of masculine dominance in the society.
In the same line, Marynia Farnham and Ferdinand Lundburg noted that the level of a woman’s education and her work experience resulted in conflict of the mutually exclusive spheres and this interaction of the gender roles undermines the women’s commitment to the home as they struggle unsuccessful to pursue roles dominated by men (Kessler-Harris, 2003, p. 76).
Farnham and Lundburg purport that the women’s inability to belong to either of the spheres of work and homemaker resulted in dissatisfaction for themselves as well as their husbands (Friedan, 2001, p. 63). This means that women have to slice the glorious roles home making and children caring and then suppress their aspiration and endeavor of becoming a wage earner or professionals (Kessler-Harris, 2003, p. 79).
This argument put blameworthiness on the women’s’ dissatisfaction and their defiance of the traditionally prescribed feminine role. This is however incongruous with the modern world. Notion of happiness though it was dominant in the 1940s.
The women’s liberation movement emerged as a reaction to these prevailing conditions in 1950 and 1960 that pushed women to the limits of having to aggressively struggle for a position in the society. Women did not want to be looked at as just belonging in the home to function as fulltime housewives, to rear children and maintain the house for their husbands and children (Jacquelyn, 2005, p. 1235).
However, the society looked at a working and married woman as having put her personal selfish interest ahead of those of the family. Women were supposed to be subordinate to the men and constantly being reminded that their role was to obey (Akkerman & Stuurman, 2008, p. 101). Besides, divorce was a social misdeed and many were ashamed of getting a divorce and struggled to avoid it as much as possible. Moreover, these ideas were taught all over, ranging from media to churches and schools.
The word war II took a lot of men away to fight and the industry at home required workers and more women begun to get jobs to fill these gaps. The greatest challenge was to get women out of these workplaces as the number of men increased after the World War II. Having to work for pay in the growing industries created new problems for the women and they had to deal with them fast.
There was some kind of discrimination at work that was not initially found at home. Women endured domination by husband and children looking up to them but at work, they were supposed to deal with a boss who was not a relative and a bunch of male colleges who could have looked at women mainly as sex objects (Akkerman & Stuurman, 2008, p. 101).
Getting an education and work experience became a problem and a growing concern emerged of separating womanhood and work role. The lifestyle of the US had however grown to a point that it needed two sources of income to sustain a family. The concept of women having an income became crucial in sustain a family and also a driving force in the attainment of the female autonomy and definitely became a factor of cognitive dissonance concerning the position of a woman.
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Issues that emerged include the question that if a woman’s income helped sustain the family was she to remain a homemaker? Or if she has a college education why should she be a stay home mum? If she can do a professional job why should she fail to be promoted like her male counterparts?
The women liberation was a very important factor at this moment in time growing from these questions. This increased the women’s experiences with sexual stereotyping at work, low salaries and unequal nature of work. This increased awareness was morally and biologically relevant and the women were inspired to seek equality at work (Friedan, 2001, p. 68).
This saw the Equal Right Amendments to emphasize the equal roles and right of the male and female sexes. The women liberation provided inherent zeal to all social classes, as the society shifted towards the paid work transformed the social position of American women in different circumstances. This trend opened up new opportunities and possibilities. Traditionally, women of bourgeois and pretty bourgeoisie would assist their husbands on the farm or in small businesses (Friedan, 2001, p. 68).
Currently, many women have attained a college education because the movement helped to empower them (Jacquelyn, 2005, p. 1235). With college education, women are currently striving to pursue independent careers as professionals. Many women are now in working class as part time employees or full time employee therefore earning additional income to complement that earned by their husbands (Friedan, 2001, p. 69).
The traces of civil right movement could have even evident in the changes of the laws around working issues Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 67). The connection between discrimination with sexual orientation and social class is all-encompassing in the modern world as it addresses a wider range of issues highlighted in the social reform insured by the activism in the 1950s (Akkerman & Stuurman, 2008, p. 101).
Women are now being included in the work system as professional to managers, leaders and professionals together with the male workers and then be paid equal salaries as the male workers (Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 67).
The women liberation movement bore this equality concept and a type of incremental change engraved in legislation. The equal rights act has helped to make discrimination based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and race illegal and intolerable in the US (The United States Congress, 1963, para. 3). The movement was considered a form of liberal feminism and therefore less radical form of female activism (Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 67).
Following the period after 1950s brought great change in women in the American workforce. More women have gotten into the workforce. In the past, it was not very easy to convince women to pursue professional jobs, but the media slathered the idea of women working temporary anywhere Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 67). The women’s guilt to go to work and be seen and overlooking the role of taking care of the family is now a thing of the past.
During the years the Second World War was taking place, many women took jobs even in the federal bureaucracy. The government has supported the idea that women doing the same job as men should get the same or equal payment (Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 67). The government has also supported the creation of a number of childcare centers to help take care of the idea that women should assume the role of child rearing.
In the past, women were discriminated and segregated to certain jobs so that they could be given lesser pay and were barred from taking certain jobs as they were considered to be men types of jobs (Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 67). The women were considered not fit to take on such roles because they were too demanding, used a lot of energy or for the fact that women lacked the temperament for to handle stressful jobs (Akkerman & Stuurman, 2008, p. 106).
Generally, since the 1950s women liberation campaign to create awareness for equality of men and women, the role of both sexes in the 21st century has changed and the government has also been pushed to help to attain these goals (Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 71).
There are a number of anti-discrimination law provisions put in place for these reasons. The employment sector is govern by equal pay provision provided in the industrial law and right to equal chance of employment and participation in any form of employment (The United States Congress, 1963, para. 3).
The law states that both men and women are legitimate worker and as such they should not be treated to any form of discrimination when accessing opportunities to work, the alternative they need to use, the remuneration and the work benefits provided by the government and employers (De Beauvoir, et al, 2010, p. 44).
Women have more employment option than the time before 1950s when they were restricted to certain kinds of work and blocked form venturing into others. Legislation provides that they be exposed to equal chance of employment even though this took a lot of years to achieve (Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 73).
Even thought women became embraced as equal workmates to men at the workplace, their position as home makers was less affected. They still handled it as their second shift after work (Norton & Ruth, 2007, p. 67). As a result, the women’s movement continued to struggle for more convenient laws against discrimination at the larger society level. The period around 1950s saw the congress pass a number of bills that had been introduced previously but no action had been taken on them (De Beauvoir, et al, 2010, p. 46).
The civil right act of 1964 had a clause protecting women but this was being used by conservatives to stop the bill from passing but women used Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to fight discrimination (The United States Congress, 1963, para. 5). Many companies could not just handle their businesses in the same old manner as the pressure from women demonstrations and campaigns pushed the government to intervene (De Beauvoir, et al, 2010, p. 46).
Employers now provide work rights to their workers like maternity leaves, childcare and sick days to allow women to attend their private lives and the role of child bearing.
Considering the role of women as child bearers to continue human posterity their increased shift into paid work seemed to have greatly affected fertility rates. However, there are new organization policies that emerged to provide a conducive working atmosphere for women. This allows them to take care of their work and family responsibilities (De Beauvoir, et al, 2010, p. 48).
These provisions are addressed by the government, trade unions and other humanitarian organization. They all assert that better employers are those who recognize that employees have families and they need also to take care of their family responsibilities. These provisions enable women to benefit from paternal leaves, personal, and carer’s leave.
Other important provision that have been achieve include job sharing and assistance together with childcare services at work but this is scare and only found in few organization (The United States Congress, 1963, para. 3). But with the trend set to continue increasing, many organizations will soon offer this. There is also the home based employment and part-time option.
Women into Leadership Positions
Member of women in trade unions increased during this period of liberation to levels of up 45% in some organization. These women were hopeful that the union would address their plight and provide equal not comparable opportunities for men and women (The United States Senate, 1964, p. 4).
Just the women tight movement inspired college women to be aggressive in fighting for their position in the society; the unions here provided the means, the experience, the training and the discourse to attain their goals. Women had very few top union positions but they still owned power and gained experience from the secondary positions of leadership.
From such actions, there came very protective legislation that blocked women form progressing into the corporate leadership. The men at the top if the corporations demanded that managers and employees doing professional works should do so without overtime compensation but just the normal salary The United States Senate, 1964, p. 4).
This work condition for women violated the protective laws and women were effectively blocked from pursuing top management positions. In a number of organizations, this cause more aggressive campaigns to repeal the laws. The protective laws had kept female works away from heavy work.
They did not understand why proletarian women would be required to lift heavy weights instead of offering mechanical assistance to the persons required to do that particular job. Definitely, these laws were providing inequality The United States Senate, 1964, p. 4). Complete equality for both men and women are simple consistent with realization of the pledge for bourgeois democratic rights but left inequality in the society (Moss, 2010, p. 45).
However since the struggle for equal opportunities, women are now being included as managers, leaders and professions at top managerial positions (The United States Senate, 1964, p. 4). Even though the percentages are still smaller in many organizations, the rate of improvement in the modern world is promising.
Full equality is set to come from increased change of legislation like the Equal Pay Act Of 1963 and The Equal Rights Act Of 1964; the word sex is included alongside ethnicity, religion and race as the grounds or cause for which discrimination is made illegal (The United States Congress, 1963, para. 3).
The recent activities of the women liberation greatly changed the woman’s position in the society and this opened up the society leading to questioning of the subordination of women. The idea of women liberation has been evidence in working environment which still insist that there has to be complete societal change to attain full emancipation of women.
This movement since of about 60 years has changed what it means to be a woman. Some people claim the paradox of economic relevant to socially subverted notion that women have surpassed men in the professional field. Second wave of feminism and the opposing anti-feminism are shaping the way a modern woman would behave in a unique manner.
Akkerman, T., & Stuurman, S. (2008) Perspectives on Feminist Political Thought In European History: From The Middle Ages To The Present. London/New York: Routledge.
De Beauvoir, S., Borde C. & Chevailler S. (2010). The Second Sex, New York: Alfred A. Knopf
Friedan B. (2001). The Feminine Mystique. New York: Norton.
Jacquelyn, H. (2005), ‘The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,’ Journal of American History 91, pp. 1233-1263
Kessler-Harris, A., (2003). Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
Moss, G. (2010), Moving On: The American People since 1945 (4th Ed.). Englewood Cliff: Prentice Hall
Norton, M.B., & Ruth, M.A., (2007). Major Problems in American Women’s History, 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company
The United States Congress. (1963) Equal Pay Act of 1963. Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm
The United States Senate. (1964) “Civil Rights Act of 1964”. Retrieved from https://finduslaw.com/civil-rights-act-1964-cra-title-vii-equal-employment-opportunities-42-us-code-chapter-21