The faces of second-wave feminism

Heidi Kucera

Information on this piece was gathered fromThe Feminine Mystique”, by Betty Friedan.  Feb 19 1963.  pg. 10, “How do you spell Ms.”, by Abigail Pogrebin.  Oct 30 2011.  NY magazine online, “John Mack Carter, 86, Is Dead; Led ‘Big 3’ Women’s Magazines”, by Leslie Kaufman.  Sep 26 2014.  NY Times online, The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Library of Congress.


Important Women:

The 1960s was an important era for feminism and women’s rights. Women such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem are associated with this era, and are even credited for sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism; the first wave having been the long journey of women’s suffrage in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique”, studied American women in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and focused on her findings in this controversial book.  Friedan theorized that housewives and women in general were unhappy during this time, and she questioned the idea of whether marriage and children are what constitute happiness, or if perhaps there was something more to life than the domestic duties of homemaking and childcare.

Chapter One of “The Feminine Mystique” includes her observations:  “The problem lay buried, unspoken for many years in the eyes of American women.  It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States.  Each suburban wife struggled with it alone.  As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—“Is this all?” Friedan showed a curiosity in which she felt that there was more to life than being a wife or mother, and she continued to question what people expected of women in this era.


Library of Congress

Betty Friedan advocates the National Organization for Women’s intention to “put sex into section I of the New York constitution”


Another feminist, Gloria Steinem, is known for her involvement in the women’s liberation movement, also known as second-wave feminism. Steinem began working at New York magazine when it debuted in 1968.  “Radicalized by an abortion speak-out, which she covered for New York in 1969, Steinem started spending more time thinking, writing, and giving talks about feminism.”  After this, Steinem went on to fight for equal rights and then helped launch Ms. magazine.


Library of Congress. Photo by Warren K. Leffler

Gloria Steinem at news conference, Women’s Action Alliance.


Important Men:

John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which geared toward abolishing wage inequality based on sex. The law states that “No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex.”  President Lyndon B. Johnson then went on to sign the Title VII prohibition of discrimination based on sex in 1964, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

John Mack Carter was also a huge contributor to the transformation of the feminist era. He was the editor for three of the largest women’s magazines, including:  McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.  When Carter became editor in chief of McCall’s in 1961, he decided it was time to make some changes and start publishing articles that discussed issues that affected women.

“Women’s magazines were badly behind the times,” he told The New York Times in an interview in 1963. “They were using baby talk to communicate with their readers. They were failing to keep up with the rising educational levels in this country.”


john mack carter

AP Images

A group of feminists invaded John Mack Carter’s office to insist that he resign his title of editor in chief in order for a woman to replace him.  Carter understood their point, but made it clear that he wasn’t going to resign.

Women of the 1960s and their impact on today’s women

The 1960s was a pivotal moment for women. Not only did they begin to learn the importance of individualism and independency; they also finally gained many freedoms and rights that they weren’t “entitled to” in the past. The women of this era who rebelled against the norm and fought for equality are the reason that the women of today have the rights that they do.  Women such as Friedan and Steinem helped pave the way for the American women of today.

Heidi Kucera is a mother of one, and a journalism minor at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. She will graduate in May and pursue a career in teaching high-school English.  She resides in Kyle, Texas with her two-year-old son Slade.



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