Women's rights are complex and multifaceted. Gender discrimination is present in almost every area of American life due to persisting systemic and cultural factors. While much progress has been made with the feminist movements, progress has largely been exclusive to white women, ignoring the intersectional problems plaguing women of color, immigrants, and trans women. This is especially true when examining the history of feminism in the United States.
EP recognizes gender is a spectrum. However, as this issue discusses the historical background of women's rights in the U.S. and, women's issues as specific societal problems resulting from patriarchy, ‘women’ are defined as those who identify as women and who faced societal barriers as a result.
The suffragette movement is often credited as the debut of the feminist movement in the U.S. It officially began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 where prominent women convened to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women”. They believed that once women were granted suffrage all other rights would come eventually. This was the first woman's rights convention in the U.S.
In 1920, 70 years later after many protests, Congress passed the 19th Amendment granting women of all races the right to vote. However, for women of color, voting would remain out of reach due to voter suppression efforts.
They believed that once women were granted suffrage, all other rights would come eventually.
With the publishing of Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique and Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex, women’s rights begin to be thought of as a larger systemic societal problem. The books were revolutionary because their ideas were not just being discussed among academics, but also housewives.
The feminist movement was revved up again, which translated into legislative victories. Under President John F. Kennedy, the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, theoretically outlying gender pay discrimination.
A series of judicial decisions also enabled women more bodily autonomy and reproductive freedoms, such as Roe v Wade in 1973 and other judgments which allowed women to buy and use birth control.
While these freedoms applied to black women as well, black women often felt alienated by the second-wave feminist movement. Black women had different priorities and were looking for the feminist movement to advocate for their rights as well, such as stopping the forced sterilization of people of color and people of disabilities. Unfortunately, black women found little support with mainstream feminism.
Though women had now gained many political and social rights, gender discrimination remained a societal problem. In 1991, Anita Hill testified against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment. Though Thomas was confirmed anyway, her testimony led to numerous sexual harassment complaints against powerful men and a societal reckoning about how women are treated in workplaces. Her case also sparked the “Year of the Women,” in which a record-breaking number of women ran for office in 1992, and won.
The feminist movement exploded again in 2017, in part, because of President Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Despite numerous sexual assault allegations and a public tape released of the president degrading women, the Republican was elected.
The day after President Trump’s inauguration, women walked in the largest single day protest in U.S. history in Washington, to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights."
In the fall of 2017, the #metoo movement sparked a national conversation about sexual assault and its place ain America as women came forward declaring "me too" to being a victim of sexual assault.
The Twitter campaign turned social movement, disrupted numerous industries as powerful people were accused of sexual assault.
High-profile accusations included film mogul Harvey Weinstein, USA Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, and Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Though the #metoo movement generated controversy and backlash, it helped showcased the systemic problem of sexual assault and harassment in the U.S and show survivors they are not alone. The effects of #metoo are ongoing to this day as it spreads worldwide and feminists demand systemic changes to how sexual assault cases are handled.
The wage gap is due to a multitude of factors such as an overrepresentation of women in lower-paying jobs, gender discrimination, the negative view of motherhood, and not being paid equally for doing the same job as men.
The wage gap is a central gender equality issue as it disadvantages women by replicating unequal power structures between men and women. In the U.S. almost every facet of life is determined by income, thus women earning less affects their societal power and day-to-day lives.
The wage gap is most significant for women of color and trans women, as biases compound. The US Department of Labor Statistics estimated that the wage gap causes women to earn an estimated $545.7 billion dollars less than men.
Reproductive freedoms give women agency over their bodies and have been long fought for. Many states have recently rolled back these freedoms through abortion bans and reduced access to sexual health services such as Planned Parenthood.
Restricting reproductive services makes it more dangerous for women, who may resort to harmful practices. While higher-income women may be able to work around these setbacks as they can travel out-of-state, many who are lower-income are at risk. Politics has complicated women's sexual health and reproductive rights, making it less about the issue at hand: women's health.
In Alabama, for example, Snickers bars are tax-free, while tampons are not. Thus, many women cannot afford to menstruate safely and hygienically because they cannot afford pads or tampons.
Period Poverty affects many women across the U.S., causing some women to miss work or school because they can’t afford the proper products. It can also lead to physical health risks.
Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to reproductive and urinary tract infections. Menstrual stigma makes it difficult to discuss period-related issues, which is why it is necessary to normalize period-talk. If enough people are advocating for an issue, such as reducing the cost of sanitation items, then it is likely a change will happen in the future, if the right state representatives are concerned. Access to period products is a human rights problem.
"Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health.”
Sanjay Wijesekera, former UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
Nearly 1/5 of women in the U.S. have experienced completed or attempted rape.
Sexual violence is physically, emotionally, and psychologically harmful. Out of all women, women of color and trans women are highly at risk for sexual violence and assault. According to the National Violence Research Centre, rape is the least reported and convicted crime.
This is a result of societal prejudices against victims of sexual assault and sexual assault in general. Sexual violence and assault are preventable, yet high rates of both occur, showcasing that sexual violence and assault are coded as “normal” in society - despite being physically, emotionally, and psychologically harmful for the victim.