the rack and the screw

In defense of the second wave

Posted in blogwars, feminism, sexual violence by bellareve on April 5, 2009

Second wave (1970s) feminism is probably the most vilified, misunderstood, bad-mouthed, trashed and bashed social movement in American history. It is dismissed as ineffective, obsolete, and irrelevant, and at the same time blamed for doing irreparable damage to men, women, and society.

Now, it is absolutely reasonable and productive to be critical of certain aspects of the second wave, including the leaders, the strategies, and the ideologies. Among other things, I find tremendous fault with the focus on middle-class professional women, with the hostility towards sex workers and butch/femme lesbian relationships, and particularly with some of Betty Friedan’s assertions. (Like when she said Phyllis Schlafly should be “burned at the stake,” or her insistence that being a housewife is equivalent to being a child)

However. I am still fucking grateful for the accomplishments of second wave feminists. My life, and the lives of other women, would be qualitatively worse without them. And the perceived “failures” of the second wave are as much the result of anti-feminist stereotypes, mischaracterizations and distortions as they are the result of poor organizing within the movement. 

Here are, IMO, the most significant contributions of the second wave, obviously not an exhaustive list:

1. Awareness of domestic violence and rape, specifically support for survivors (hotlines, shelters, counseling, trauma centers) and prevention campaigns and legislation. These things have literally saved women’s lives. Personally I might have committed suicide after my rape and abuse if it weren’t for such programs and the social recognition of violence against women.

2. Speaking of saving lives: reproductive rights, primarily access to abortion and contraception, but also the knowledge and demystification of female anatomy and sexuality.

3. Recognition of/laws against sexual harassment – both physical and verbal -in the workplace. I’m pretty happy I don’t work in an office like the one in “Mad Men,” thanks. 

(Not to say that the above problems are solved. They aren’t, but we sure got a good start and things are mighty different now compared to forty years ago)


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  1. […] at the rack and the screw wrote In defense of the second wave. No pull quote as the title says it […]

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