Second wave feminists

Did Second-Wave Feminism Neglect the Single Woman

In 2004, a law review article by Rachel Moran was published under the title "How second-wave feminism forgot the single woman." It is a lengthy and important paper, well worth the time of anyone seriously interested in singles and their place in American history. In this post, I'll highlight some of the main points.

Do you know the terms "bachelor girls" or "single blessedness"? How about the name Susan B. Anthony? They were among the faces of single womanhood from the mid-1800s through the beginning of the next century. "Bachelor girls" were the young adults who were not marrying so young; instead they were enjoying life in the city first. The phrase "single blessedness" was not used ironically. Single women who pursued spiritual growth and moral action were seen as serving a higher calling than marriage. (See, for example, Lee Virginia Chambers-Schiller's book, Liberty, A Better Husband.) Susan B. Anthony was one of the most famous single women who worked for women's right to vote, but the suffrage movement was powered by many other single women as well.

The late 1800s through the early 1900s was a time when the age at which Americans first married was rising, and the number of men and women who stayed single was growing, too. Women formed intense friendships with each other. Those bonds helped to sustain the activism of the first-wave feminists. Their goals were primarily political. When they succeeded in getting the vote in 1920, women of all marital statuses were empowered.

It was a different world, interpersonally and ideologically, when second-wave feminism started making its mark in the early 1960s. The age at which Americans first married was near an all-time low, as was the percentage of people who stayed single. The most revered relationship was the conjugal one. Freud seemed to have a dirty hand in persuading Americans that singlehood was not blessed but pathological.

Single women did not contribute to the ideological vision that would motivate second-wave feminism the way they did during the first wave. There were relatively few of them in the nation, and they were not well-represented among the liberal feminists of the 60s.

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