Ginny Hatfield, AAUW-CA Public Policy Committee
Perhaps many of you will recall the Virginia Slims advertising slogan from the late 60s, “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” This slogan aptly fits the rise of the feminist movement in America, which most of us agree dates back to the Seneca Falls, NY convention in July 1848.
August 26, 2020, will mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the culmination of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. It took over seven decades for a woman’s right to vote to be guaranteed as the law of the land.
Since then, we have seen successive waves of the Women’s Rights movement. Activists in the 1960’s and ‘70’s sought equal rights and opportunities along with greater personal freedom for women, similar to the goals of the suffragists, the first wave of feminism. But this second wave of feminism also encompassed every area of women’s experience — including politics, work, the family and sexuality. Major legislative victories were accomplished during this period: the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, legalization of birth control for married and unmarried couples, Title X Family Planning Program, Title IX, the Roe v Wade decision and passage of the ERA.
Third-wave feminists sought to question, reclaim, and redefine the ideas, words, and media that have transmitted ideas about gender, gender roles, womanhood, beauty, and sexuality, among other things; while fourth-wave feminism refers to a “resurgence of interest in feminism that began around 2012 and is associated with the use of social media.” The focus has been on justice for women and opposition to sexual harassment and violence against women. The movement is “defined by technology,” according to a British feminist, and “is characterized by [social media tools] that challenge misogyny and further gender equality.” Issues in the forefront include street and workplace harassment, campus sexual assault and rape culture. Scandals involving the harassment, abuse, and murder of women and girls have kickstarted movements such as the “Me Too” movement.
Where will feminism go from here? We’ve still got our work cut out for us as well as some unfinished business: namely the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which has now obtained approval by the requisite 38 states, and faces court challenges or perhaps a legislative solution; and the ratification by the U.S. Senate of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the international bill of rights adopted by the United Nations in 1979. AAUW has played a notable role in all these waves of feminism and I am sure will continue to do so as we strive for social and economic justice– because we’re not there yet.