The Youth Movement, Counterculture, and Anti-War Protests

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What were the main tenets of the National Organization for Women's statement of purpose and why in 1966? What were the cultural and political impetuses for this happening at this time?

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The main tenets of the statement of purpose issued by the National Organization for Women in 1966 revolved around the assertion that women had to claim their rightful place in society. This meant full equality, in the workplace and the home. The main impetus for the movement NOW represented was the Civil Rights Movement, but NOW acknowledged deeper structural causes as well.

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The National Organization for Women (NOW) is often seen as the representative of "second wave feminism." Where the "first wave" pushed for political equality for women, NOW, in its 1966 statement of purpose, announced that its aim was to

bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.

This included a number of pressing issues: equal access to education, employment opportunities in professional occupations, and "new social institutions" like accessible and affordable childcare to make it possible for women to participate freely and equally in society as mothers and as professionals.

NOW's statement of purpose was clear in acknowledging that the impetus for the movement was the "world-wide revolution of human rights now taking place within and beyond our national borders." In other words, the movement for civil rights in the United States in particular was a major impetus. This was true for several reasons. One of the most important reasons was that many women had been at the vanguard of the civil rights movement, a fact that only underscored the discrimination they faced as women. The civil rights movement also represented a period of social, political, and intellectual ferment, one in which the basic institutions and assumptions of American society were coming into question. It is clear from NOW's statement of purpose that its leaders acknowledged the 1960s as a transformative historical moment, one in which women could assert their rightful place in society.

There were also structural causes for "second wave" feminism. For one thing, women increasingly had access to colleges and universities, where they would often complete their degrees only to be expected to serve as housewives and mothers. This was a problem articulated in Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique. Another more basic reason for this movement was the advent of new technologies that made it possible for women to serve in the workforce. The statement of purpose expressly mentions this development, pointing out that technology has "reduced the productive chores" that women had to do in the home and "eliminated the quality of muscular strength" as a condition for industrial employment. NOW concluded that this moment of structural change was one in which

women can and must participate in old and new fields of society in full equality—or become permanent outsiders.

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