American Second Wave Feminism is defined generally as the period of feminist activity between 1960-1979. It had social, political and cultural ramifications. During a difficult time in American history, American Second Wave Feminism was discussed, broadcast, politicized, criticized, defined and driven underground. It was also known as the women’s movement, women’s liberation and other names. It was also confused with a lot of other cultural goings on at the time, at times losing focus and being often grossly misunderstood and misused by the media and society.
The 1960s and 1970s were interesting and perhaps confusing decades for popular culture and social change in America. The civil rights movement was punctuated by events such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and King’s subsequent assassination in 1968. The Viet Nam War was the first war watched by millions on television, and spawned the anti-war or “peace” movement. Recreational drug use became popularized not only through social activity (Hippies), but also in literature (the Beats), visual art (Andy Warhol), and music (Jimi Hendrix). The sexual revolution was in full swing, and by July 1969, Time magazine devoted a cover story to “The Sex Explosion.” Another social and political undercurrent sharing the stage with these movements was American Second Wave Feminism, as it is called in contemporary academic parlance. At the time the movement was popularly discussed as “Women’s Lib”, short for Women’s Liberation, or simply feminism. To the casual viewer of mass media, some of these social (and political) and movements overlapped and were quite rightly confused with one another. One handy example is the popular polarizing slogan “Make Love, Not War.” Together the movements became known as the counterculture. The counterculture, in the aggregate, was against militancy, patriarchy, exclusive white male power, the status quo, racial bigotry, and sexism.
The Role of Media
Electronic Media, namely television, radio, phonograph records, as well as advances in color printing and film production catalyzed images of the counterculture in ways never before possible. Probably as importantly, the post-WWII economic boom had given the many Americans the time and media consumption tools to receive all of this cultural activity in their homes. Television had only been around for a decade or so, but by the early 1960s clearly challenged radio as a mass medium. Book publishers, newspapers and magazines increased use of color ink to help sell their products, while cutting back on writing and research staff. Films such as Deep Throat (1972) challenged certain social mores. As these media competed for news, culture, and entertainment dollars, images of feminism collided with those of civil rights, peace, war, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll.
Afterward: Popular Feminism Goes Underground (into Academia)
What is not apparent in the images is the element of the Second Wave which went underground after the Second Wave period. Women’s studies programs and gender studies departments began popping up at universities around the country. Feminism re-emerged as a critical theory that broadened across many disciplines. A major complication of the populist aspects of the women’s liberation movement was that it became confused (in the minds of some) with other social movements of the time. The success of American Second Wave Feminism was eventually demonstrated in its ability to define and transform itself through academia. Feminism is now one of the most influential social philosophies and critical theories of the 20th century.