Second wave feminism UK

Theory and Practice

Last week I talked about womens rights activity from the 1840s to the 1920s as First Wave feminism and to the womens movements that developed from the late 1960s as Second Wave feminism. The concept of 'waves' is not meant to imply that organised feminism disappeared in the intervening years, but to emphasize periods when women's movements are most visible in terms of their activities and degree of support.

Drude Dahlerup wrote in the introduction to The New Womens Movement (1986)

Second-wave feminism simply indicates a new impetus to this movement which has experienced periods of bloom, strength, and visibility, alternating with periods of more quiet, dogged, struggle to better women's position in a male-dominated society.

It is interesting to look for similarities and differences between First and Second Wave feminism. In Europe, both waves developed in periods of agitation for social and political change. The same is true of the USA, with the nineteenth century women's movement emerging out of the Anti-Slavery movement and the Women's Liberation Movement of the late 1960s following closely after the Black Civil Rights movement.

Tasks for Students
Can you give any explanation for the points made above?

J. Lovenduski makes the following parallel between the 2 waves in Women and European Politics (1986)

The two waves of feminism were instrumental in achieving agenda status for the suffrage and emancipation acts of the early part of the twentieth century, followed by the equality and anti-discrimination initiatives of the 1970s and the 1980s'. p.246

The early activists of the Second Wave knew relatively little about the feminist activism of previous generations. They tended to assume that the pre-WW1 movement was concerned only with legal and political rights and used only moderate campaigning methods about respectable issues. Research to rediscover women's history has been an important activity within the contemporary women's movement and we now know that, for example, women's rights within the so-called 'private' sphere of marriage, family and sexuality were addressed by First Wave feminists and that all First Wave feminist movements in Europe contained both moderates and radicals.

Tasks for Students
Have you got an image in your mind of First Wave feminists? What image do you have of feminists of the late 1960s / early 1970s?

The Emergence of Second Wave Feminism

The first autonomous women's groups of the Second Wave emerged in France, Britain, Germany and Italy in the late 1960s, in Spain in the mid-1970s and in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. France, Britain, Germany and Italy were all parliamentary democracies, Spain was an authoritarian regime until after the death of Franco in 1975 and the Soviet Union was a single party state where it was extremely difficult for opposition groups to operate publicly.

We have seen an enormous growth in autonomous women's organisations across Eastern Europe since the collapse of communist regimes in 1989 and in the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union after its break-up in 1992.

Economic, Social and Cultural Change

Across Europe, the 1960s were characterized by rising living standards for many people and improved educational chances for significant numbers. There had been economic growth, technological change and the expansion of the service sector and it seemed as if Europe was now recovered from the Second World War.

The increased demand for labour in the economy was met in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe by greater participation in the labour market by married women and mothers of young children. Most of the governments of Western Europe were not prepared then to invest in daycare or maternity rights for working women so women with small children were generally excluded from the new jobs in the expanding service sector or in the manufacture of consumer goods that many women who had previously been 'housewives' took up.

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