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Hear Me Roar:

Social Justice Issues of the Second Wave

Violence Against Women

 

Twentieth-century feminists tackled the issue of violence against women and deemed it a national crisis. Concern for “battered wives” grew in the 1970s as the feminist movement called for the criminalization of violence against women. It was considered a “family problem” that required no police intervention. They demanded the police force take action against abusers, and encouraged battered women to take their cases to court.

Twentieth-century feminists tackled the issue of violence against women and deemed it a national crisis. Concern for “battered wives” grew in the 1970s as the feminist movement called for the criminalization of violence against women. It was considered a “family problem” that required no police intervention. They demanded the police force take action against abusers, and encouraged battered women to take their cases to court.

Del Martin, notable feminist and LGBT activist, published a book titled “Battered Wives” where she talked about the prevalence of wife beating, reasons why women had difficulty leaving their abusers and how the violence affected children, the family, and eventually society.

 

Martin’s book also highlighted the importance of having functioning shelters for women. These were secret locations for women to escape their abusive partners and receive food, water, shelter, and support. Martin believed that these safe havens for women were the only direct and adequate solutions for domestic violence at the time, because law enforcement wasn’t taking the issue seriously enough.

The women’s liberation movement did its part to identify rape as an abuse of power and oppression against women. Women’s rights activists challenged the notion that rape could only be committed by a stranger, and they targeted sexual abuse inside of the family dynamic. During the 1980’s, activists were able to have the notion of marital rape recognized legally. They were also able to remove the requirement that women had to physically prove they had been raped.

 

Women returning to the workforce faced sexual harassment. Unfortunately, they all discovered that formal complaints did not help the situation. Sexual harassers were often given a warning, if given punishment at all. Women were told to quit their jobs if they did not like the way they were treated.

 

The Women’s Liberation Movement picked up on the issue in the mid-1970 and made headway  in gaining legal attention. It was not until the 1980s that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defined sexual harassment as its own issue instead of lumping it together with employment discrimination.

Marital Rape

 

Violence against women is an ongoing feminist issue, and marital rape is one form of domestic violence that wives face at the hands of their husbands. Diana Russell’s groundbreaking 1982 book, Rape in Marriage, brought attention to the history of legal marital rape and how it permanently affects the women who experience it. Although nineteenth-century feminists actively tried to criminalize marital rape, the law allowed a husband to force his wife to have sex without facing any sort of punishment.

As late as July 1980, only three states had made marital rape illegal. The legal loophole also allowed men to repeatedly rape live-in partners or separated spouses without repercussions. Diana Russell called for eliminating the conditions that underpinned marital rape, i.e., women’s subordinate position in the family and society. While pushing for the criminalization of marital rape as an important course of action, Russell argued that it would be impossible to eradicate marital rape without significant shifts in gender roles and the way that society viewed women.

LGBT+ and Feminist Intersections

 

Despite the countless efforts of the feminist movement to fight for women’s rights as a whole, the feminist movement was still largely exclusionary during the Second Wave. Although the Second Wave pushed for sexual freedom among circles of women, it failed to integrate lesbians into the movement. After the Stonewall riots, lesbians played a huge role in the feminist movement. Lesbians brought new perspectives, art, music, publications, feminist literature and theory to the conversation around women’s rights.

Many feminist leaders expressed their disinterest for lesbians early on in the women’s rights movement. Anti-lesbian comments surfaced at feminist conventions and lesbians reported feeling excluded during consciousness raising groups. Even NOW struggled to find ways to incorporate lesbians into feminist discourse. It wasn’t until 1973 that a National Sexuality and Lesbianism Task Force emerged.

 

Lesbians became frustrated about the chauvinism in gay groups and the hostility they experienced from feminist groups. They eventually decided to form their own groups that would allow for inclusive discourse. Caucuses and conferences for lesbians, starting in 1973, served as a way for them to participate in the feminist movement without feeling excluded. Trying to promote intersectionality, lesbians contributed greatly to the women’s liberation movement despite the backlash and discrimination they faced because of their sexuality.

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