American History

Feminism and Immigration


*The counterculture of the 1960s challenged women’s role in society, whereas the birth control pill allowed women to avoid or delay pregnancy making it easier for those who wished to delay marriage or those who wished to stay at work to do so longer.

*The social role of women also changed because the feminist movement, which had lost focus for some time after the XIX Amendment gave women the right to vote, began to reorganise and become more active in the early 1960s.

*One of the most influential members of the new feminist movement was Betty Friedan, who wrote The Feminist Mystique in 1963, suggesting that a woman’s traditional role as wife and mother was unsatisfying, that as a woman ‘lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to even ask herself the silent question—“is this all?”’

*Friedan later helped found the National Organization of Women (NOW).  They wanted to end stereotypical presentations of women on TV and in movies, wanted women to have full access to birth control and even abortion (then illegal in most places), wanted equal rights in the workplace and education, and ultimately wanted to amend the Constitution with the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). 

*Some feminists thought NOW was not moving fast enough.  Gloria Steinem, a feminist reporter, got a job at a Playboy club and reported on how the Bunnies were treated badly.  She later founded Ms. magazine to promote feminist ideas--even the title of the magazine was a feminist statement, using a title that did not refer to a woman’s marital status.

*Some people were opposed to these changes, even some women.  The most famous of these was Phyllis Schlafly who mounted a nation-wide campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, which she said would take legal protections away from women, and even make women eligible for the draft--a powerful argument during the Vietnam War.

*Despite some opposition to women’s rights and the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, feminists did get much of what they wanted.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed many types of discrimination based on sex, and Title IX of the Higher Education Act of 1972 banned discrimination in education based on sex.

*In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe v. Wade that having an abortion was a private matter between a woman and her doctor and that that right to privacy was protected by the Constitution.  After that, abortion was legal across the United States.

*By 2000, over 60% of women worked outside the home (up from 30% in 1950).  In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was named to the Supreme Court, the first woman to serve in that capacity.

*Other groups began to insist on the equal rights ostensibly guaranteed by law. 

*One group who wanted better treatment were Latino, or Hispanic, Americans.  Many Hispanic people had come to America in the early and mid-1900s to find work.  Some came illegally, while others came as part of the bracero program, which allowed farm workers to come to America temporarily (although some stayed longer than their permits allowed). 

*Many Hispanics were deported in the 1950s, but in 1965, the Immigration and Nationality act made it much easier for Latin Americans to come to America legally, and the percentage of Americans of Latino background grew from 4.5% in 1970 to 16.3% in 2010, making them the largest minority group in the United States.

*Many of these people came from Mexico, looking for work in the Southwest, but Puerto Ricans came to cities on the East Coast and Cubans fleeing Community Cuba went to Florida.

*In 1962, Cesar Chavez organised a mainly Hispanic farmworkers’ union in California, which he later merged with a Filipino union to form the United Farm Workers.  They led a series of successful strikes and boycotts in California, eventually winning the right for farm workers to negotiate with farm owners for better pay and treatment.

*Other Mexican Americans, some of whom called their work the Chicano movement, began to celebrate their Mexican heritage and to focus on winning political power.  By 1980, there were six Hispanic members of Congress.

*American Indians formed the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 to demand more rights for their people.  They occupied Alcatraz Island in San Francisco (although the prison was already closed by then).  They held on to the island from late 1969 until mid-1971, despite efforts by the Coast Guard to force them off.

*In 1973, AIM took over the Indian village of Wounded Knee--the site of the last battle between American Indians and the US Army--and insisted the government investigate problems on the reservation.  When government agents arrived to force them to leave, 2 AIM members were killed.  Nonetheless, AIM controlled the village from February to May, and the government eventually agreed to re-examine the rights granted by the typically one-sided treaties that governed the relationship between the United States and American Indians. 

*Despite this, American Indians (as a group) remain poor and dependent on the government (aside from those that control casinos or natural resources on their reservations).

*Japanese-Americans also began to demand apologies and compensation for the property they lost when they were interned during World War II.  This was eventually granted, but not until the 1980s.
 



This page last updated 16 November, 2011.
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