While the first-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on women’s legal rights, especially the right to vote, the second-wave feminism of the Women’s Liberation movement which became popular in the 1960s and 1970s focused on equality and anti-discrimination and touched on every area of women’s experience.
This included politics, sexuality, the family, and work – in Britain in 1967, a man working in a factory was paid about £21 a week, while a woman was paid only £10 a week for doing exactly the same job.
Women’s Liberation became a burning issue in the 1960s, under the leadership of dedicated campaigners such as Betty Friedan. Women took to the streets demanding equality and burning their bra’s along the way.
In 1970, a new book by a controversial new author hit the shops. The book was The Female Eunuch and the author was Germaine Greer.
The book examined female stereotyping and women’s sexuality – the press at the time said it was “guaranteed to offend nearly everyone”.
According to Greer, an Australian lecturer at the University of Warwick in England, the book was designed to be an inspiration to women, maintaining that if women realised their true potential as independent people, the world would be a far better place. She argued that traditional marriage was just a legalised form of slavery for women.
In 1971, Gloria Steinem joined Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug in founding the National Women’s Political Caucus. Steinem’s Ms. Magazine became the first magazine to feature feminism as a subject on its cover in 1976.
The United Nations designated 1975 as “International Women’s Year”, and organised a world conference in Mexico City on the status of women.
The conference established a set of goals for countries to attain over the next ten years in order to advance women’s rights around the world.
In 1980 the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women gathered in Copenhagen to review the progress of the goals set in 1975, and in 1985 the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the UN Decade for Women convened in Nairobi.
Organised activism by and on behalf of women continued through the third and fourth waves of feminism from the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, respectively.
The “grrls” of the third wave stepped onto the stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization and defining feminine beauty for themselves as subjects, not as objects of a sexist patriarchy.