Undercurrents of the Second Wave: Marginalized Voices and Their Connections
Table of Contents
Like many social justice movements, the agitated surface of Second Wave Feminism roiled with visible, powerful waves: the middle-class, white feminist quickly became the stereotypical face of what we perceive to be "feminism." But all too often, it's easy to overlook the other sources of social energy which expanded the movement. It's difficult to not simplify all the faces of the movement into a homogenous caricature, and, like Susan Faludi coined in her work, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, retroactively analyze Second Wave Feminism with an implicit bias due to current feelings on feminism. Thus, it is important to analyze the lesser-known facets of the movement and see the strong currents for LGBTQ rights, ecofeminism, improved labor rights, and black empowerment that provided energy for the torrents above.
A significantly overlooked aspect of Second Wave Feminism is the contributions to social change and intersectionality brought on by queer women. While mainstream discourse of the time period focused primarily on issues experienced by straight women, lesbian activists pushed for both the inclusion of lesbian issues as well as advocating for straight women's issues. Though they may have been excluded (and even exiled) from the movement by feminists such as Betty Friedan, queer women were resilient and found other areas through which they could enact change. These women, like Audre Lorde and Rita Mae Brown, both supported the Feminist movement and challenged it to embrace intersectional issues in its agenda to create a better country for all women.
The Ecofeminist movement is one that is largely ignored when discussing the Second Wave, despite the strength of the women who carried the movement. Ecofeminism did not start until the later half of the Second Wave, but that does not mean it had any less momentum or support. Those who practiced ecofeminism demanded a world where a woman’s connection to the Earth is not torn down, but upheld—a world where all were free from gendered society. Women like Carolyn Merchant and Ynestra King put power behind these sentiments, and brought to life a movement that sought to change the hearts and minds of all those who saw the Earth—and women—as pawns in their path in life.
While potentially unexpected, Second Wave Feminism had a deep connection to the labor movement. Unions’ organization and operation was a large part of this movement. Stretching across the country, unions for both stereotypically male and female jobs battled with each other, their industry, and federal law. Who could perform what responsibility? How should each sex by compensated? What is workplace equality? Each question was complex and multifaceted; but were unions truly a positive vehicle of the Second Wave or were they simply emergent and did they cause more delay and infighting than necessary?
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, arguably the most conspicuous branch of the black-nationalist movement from the late sixties into the early eighties, was made infamous for its combative methods and hypermasculine persona, an image pushed forward by a mainstream white-catering media. In reality, the Party maintained an abundant female membership throughout its lifespan, with notable female activists and leaders furthering the movement's development in areas of unmatched importance. With the dissemination of Second-Wave ideals into an organization that increasingly encouraged female leadership, the women within the Black Panthers ultimately steered the Party in a direction of community service and peaceful public outreach that was miles from its brutish, dehumanizing depiction in the media.
With the entrance of the second wave of feminism in the early 60s, there was much to break down in regards to the different factions that existed within the movement, along with the different social, political, and economical ideologies that they held. Claudia Jones, Tillie Lerner Olsen, Esther Peterson are some of the many individual women that dedicated their lives to fight for equality and equity in all aspects of life, including reproductive rights, workplace reforms, and Civil Rights. Socialism within the second wave of feminism has inspired many women to fight with those on the front line during the Civil Rights Movement, persist and fight for reform in the workplace in regards to equal pay and opportunity, and participating in the fight for other causes such as reproduction rights, immigration, and environmental policies despite the reputation that this faction of feminism had within the media.