What Is 'The Second Feminist Wave?'

Close up of a woman wearing a T shirt with an empowering feminist message.
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Martha Weinman Lear's article "The Second Feminist Wave" appeared in New York Times Magazine on March 10, 1968. Across the top of the page ran a subtitle question: "What do these women want?" Martha Weinman Lear's article offered some answers to that question, a question that would still be asked decades later by a public that persists in misunderstanding feminism.

Explaining Feminism in 1968

In "The Second Feminist Wave," Martha Weinman Lear reported on the activities of the "new" feminists of the 1960s women's movement, including the National Organization for Women. NOW was not quite two years old in March 1968, but the organization was making its women's voices heard across the U.S. The article offered explanation and analysis from Betty Friedan, then-president of NOW. Martha Weinman Lear reported such NOW activities as:

  • Picketing newspapers (including the New York Times) in protest of sex-segregated help wanted ads.
  • Arguing on behalf of airline stewardesses at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Pushing for the repeal of all state abortion laws.
  • Lobbying for the Equal Rights Amendment (also known as ERA) in Congress.

What Women Want

"The Second Feminist Wave" also examined the often-ridiculed history of feminism and the fact that some women distanced themselves from the movement. Anti-feminist voices said U.S. women were comfortable in their "role" and lucky to be the most privileged women on Earth. "In the anti-feminist view," Martha Weinman Lear wrote, "the status quo is plenty good enough. In the feminist view, it is a sellout: American women have traded their rights for their comfort, and now are too comfortable to care."

In answering the question of what women want, Martha Weinman Lear listed some of NOW's early goals:

  • Total enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Nationwide network of community child care centers.
  • Tax deductions for housekeeping and child care expenses for working parents.
  • Maternity benefits, including paid leave and a guaranteed right to return to a job.
  • Revision of divorce and alimony laws (unsuccessful marriages should be "terminated without hypocrisy, and new ones contracted without undue financial hardship to man or woman").
  • A Constitutional amendment withholding federal funds from any agency or organization that discriminated against women.

Supporting Details

Martha Weinman Lear wrote a sidebar distinguishing feminism from "Woman Power," a peaceful protest of women's groups against the Vietnam War. Feminists wanted women to organize for women's rights, but sometimes criticized the organization of women as women for other causes, such as women against the war. Many radical feminists felt that organizing as ladies' auxiliaries, or as "the women's voice" on a particular issue, helped men subjugate or dismiss women as a footnote in politics and society. It was crucial for feminists to organize politically for the cause of women's equality. Ti-Grace Atkinson was extensively quoted in the article as a representative voice of the emerging radical feminism.

"The Second Feminist Wave" included photographs of what it labeled "old school" feminists fighting for women suffrage in 1914, as well as men sitting in a 1960s NOW meeting next to women. The caption of the latter photo cleverly called the men "fellow travelers."

Martha Weinman Lear's article "The Second Feminist Wave" is remembered as an important early article about the 1960s women's movement that reached a national audience and analyzed the importance of the resurgence of feminism.

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Napikoski, Linda. "What Is 'The Second Feminist Wave?'." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-second-feminist-wave-3528923. Napikoski, Linda. (2020, August 29). What Is 'The Second Feminist Wave?'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-second-feminist-wave-3528923 Napikoski, Linda. "What Is 'The Second Feminist Wave?'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-second-feminist-wave-3528923 (accessed June 4, 2023).