We so often take for granted the rights we do have as women today: the vote, being able to work, being able to get an abortion, and more. We have to thanks the brave women who came before who struggled and fought for the equality we enjoy today. Although that’s not to say the struggle is over, as women around the world grapple with issues such as gender based violence, #metoo and unequal pay.
We must never take the equality so hard fought for, for granted.
The Suffragettes made a massive impact on women’s rights and especially the right for women to vote. Members used civil disobedience to fight for their rights and were imprisoned, went on hunger strikes and force fed. Although other countries had the vote for women, earlier the Suffragettes activism in Britain had far reaching effects world wide.
“Women’s suffrage happened at mostly the same time in European countries, the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia,” Karen Offen, an expert in comparative and women’s history at Stanford, tells Time.com. In 1893, New Zealand became the first sovereign state to give women the vote, Australia in 1902 and Finland in 1906. In the United Kingdom gave the vote to women over 30 in 1918. In the US it was in 1920. Some standout women were Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Stone Blackwell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Emmeline Pankhurst and Sojourner Truth.
Some of the reasons given for women not being allowed to vote were: ‘A woman’s brain involves emotion rather than intellect’, ‘the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men“; “her sensitiveness and her modesty will often be offended’ and it would ‘distract this loving potentate from her sacred, God-imposed duties” of raising a family’.
After WII and the battle for those rights were won, feminists continued to fight for more participation in the workplace and equal pay (for which the struggle continues today). There was a massive upsurge in feminism in the 60s and 70s, and the struggle has never ended.
Simone de Beauvoir: ‘No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility’
An author, activist and social theorist she wrote The Second Sex in 1949, which was massively influential, paving the way for modern feminism and controversial for its time. In it she critiqued the patriarchy and restrictions placed on women by society. The book was banned by the Vatican.
Gloria Jean Watkin known as ‘bell hooks’: ‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression‘
As a writer, she chose the pseudonym bell hooks in tribute to her mother and great-grandmother and does not capitalise it, as she wants to be known for her writing, not her name. The social activist wrote works such as Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism and The Feminist Theory. The subject of her writing is about the compounded impact of race, capitalism, and gender, and how these constructs continue to enforce oppression.
An academic, and author and major activist for the rights of black women and played a major role in the Civil Rights movement and important leader in the Black Power movement. She has dedicated her life to fighting for women’s rights for the last 60 years and continues to do so. Davis is a professor emerita at the University of California.
An author and activist who wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963. The famous book is often referred to as having inspired the feminism which grew massively in the ’60s and ’70s. Friedan helping to found the National Women’s Political Caucus as and helped to organizing the Women’s Strike For Equality in 1970. She contributed majorly to the popularisation of feminism in the US.
Often referred to as the ‘Mother of Feminism’,” Gloria Steinem was a leader of many women’s liberation movements in the 60s and 70s. She founded the famous Ms Magazine and groups such as Women’s Action Alliance, National Women’s Political Caucus, Women’s Media Center and more. She was National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and in 2013 she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She continues to be active on behalf of women and girls today still fighting for equality.
Coretta Scott King: ‘Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation’
Author, activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr Coretta Scott King dedicated her life to being a leader in the Civil Rights Movement as well as fighting for women’s equality. She helped establish NOW (National Organization for Women) in 1966.
Angelou was a poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She remains a major inspiration to women around the world through her writing and public speaking in addressing gender issues and racial oppression. Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. This was for works over five decades including 36 books, seven autobiographies and over 50 honorary degrees.
Bader Ginsburg is a lawyer and jurist who is an Associate Justice of the US. Supreme Court. She was appointed by former President Bill Clinton and took the oath of office in 1993. She ‘co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter in 1970, ‘the first US law journal to focus exclusively on women’s rights’. Two years later, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union ensuring ‘women’s voices were heard again in law’.
Some of the inequalities women faced back in the day:
- Until the 1920s, married couples were issue one passport in the husband’s name with the words: ‘and wife’. Although many countries did not yet require passports so there was not the need there is now, it was also because the notion that a married woman would travel alone was unheard of.
- While you could get a divorce as a woman in the years before 1970, a spouse had to show evidence adultery, abuse, or abandonment all of which was not easy to do and often resulted in the blame falling on the woman. In 1970 then-governor of California Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce bill which allowed couples to file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.
- Marital rape was recognized in the mid-1970s, and in 1993, it was finally criminalised in the US.
- While the first oral contraceptive, Enovid was FDA approved in 1960, it was not automatically available to the public. It was only in 1965 that married couples were given the right to use birth control. In 1972 birth control for all citizens was legalised regardless of their marital status.
- In 1973 the US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade ruling guaranteed a woman’s right to choose an abortion.
- Until Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, women could be fired for being pregnant.