In 1969, the gay liberation movement began, and it made analogous claims to that of the Civil Rights movement and the feminists. Homosexuals claimed to be members of minority as well, and complained of being discriminated against in employment. They said they were a despised minority, and there needed to be legal recognition of their status, too.
Homosexuality and Homophobia
The famous incident precipitating the gay liberation movement was the Stonewall Riot of 1969, when the patrons of a gay bar in New York, instead of fleeing when a police raid came up, as happened periodically, stayed to fight against the police. It was an act of assertion, and for them this act of violence was almost as important as the nonviolence that the African American community had shown in the early days of the Civil Rights movement.
From then on, the question of ‘coming out’ became a central issue among homosexuals. That is, should you declare publicly that you are homosexual, and ethically, more controversial, should you out other people? That is, if you know that someone influential and important who could help your cause is homosexual, but won’t admit it publicly, should you announce that they are in fact homosexual, and kind of force them into the open on your side? That has remained a controversial question right up to the present.
Until 1973, American psychiatrists and psychologists regarded homosexuality as a kind of mental illness. In 1973, though, they struck that off their list of recognizable mental afflictions. In fact, by the end of the 20th century, homophobia had become the affliction; the idea of identifying homosexuals as deplorable. It was a very rapid shift in the popular perception of homosexuals.
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The very rapid changes in society between the early 1960s and 1980 led to a sharp anti-feminist backlash. Phyllis Schlafly is the great figure here. She was the leader of the campaign called ‘StopERA’, a campaign opposing ERA, Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
She’s a woman whose own life is full of paradoxes. When she was a college student during the Second World War, she paid her way through college by working in a machine gun factory, test-firing the guns. She was the mother of six, the wife of a lawyer, herself a highly qualified and well-educated person, a lobbyist, and so on. In many ways, she seemed to fit the profile of the woman who could do it all: the feminist career woman. In fact, though, she thought it was horrifying that feminists should be pressuring for the transformation of the society, and she did what she could to stop it.
Restricting the Ratification of ERA
The Equal Rights Amendment, which would have abolished gender distinction, passed through Congress in 1972 and seemed likely to become part of the Constitution. An amendment needs the ratification of three-quarters of the state governments, which by then meant 38 states. Very quickly, it got 35 of them, but then Schlafly did everything she could to prevent the last states from ratifying. She created a very effective grassroots lobbying organization, particularly of women who didn’t work. She said, “If we’re not careful, women are going to have to act in America like they do in the Soviet Union. They’re going to have to go into combat, just like the Russian women did in the Second World War. We’re going to have unisex bathrooms, and the idea that all this is going to be enforced by the federal government is going to vastly expand federal power, which is already too great.”
Schlafy was a right-wing Republican who didn’t like the increasing reach of the government, ever since the New Deal period. Gradually, her lobbyists were able to restrict the ratification of the ERA, with the result that it never was incorporated into the American Constitution, because several of the states that had ratified it under intense pressure de-ratified. It remained controversial as to whether a state could, in fact, do that.
Schlafy was also passionately opposed to abortion, and more and more religious groups became involved in the ‘pro-life’ or ‘anti-abortion’ movement as well. Through the 1980s, organizations like Operation Rescue worked very hard to try to put intense pressure on abortion providers, and also to get a rolling-back of the legal situation.
Working becomes Economic Necessity
During the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, women’s participation in the workforce became more widespread than ever, if, in an unforeseen side effect, it also became more necessary than ever before. After all, if we’ve suddenly got a far greater workforce, that tends to mean an oversupply of labor, which in turn tends to mean a decline in pay. Consequently, what’s happened in the last 40 years is that family incomes have continued to rise in America, but very often only because both partners are now working, whereas in the 1950s, it was very common for a working man, even a working-class man to make an income sufficient for his whole family.
By the close of the 20th century, it was necessary for both partners to be working in order for the continued rise in standards of living to be maintained, so that it’s something of a mixed blessing. By the year 2000, even the religious conservatives, the pro-life advocates, the anti-feminists, were also having to go to work, not because they’d wanted to, but because now it was a matter of economic necessity.
Common Questions about Feminists and Anti-feminists
During the Stonewall Riot of 1969, the patrons of a gay bar in New York, instead of fleeing when a police raid came up, as happened periodically, stayed to fight against the police.
Phyllis Schlafly was the leader of the campaign called ‘StopERA’, a campaign opposing ERA, Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
Between the 1960s and 1990s, women’s participation in the workforce became more widespread than ever. By the close of the 20th century, it became necessary for both partners to be working to maintain standards of living.