Why did women's issues suddenly become so prominent in American culture?
I am not at all sure that it is accurate to say that women’s issues “suddenly” became prominent in our society. Women’s issues have been important in our society for a long time. To the extent that they have become more prominent lately, it is because women have gained a more important part in our society and are in a better position to get “their” issues on the American social/political agenda.
Women’s issues have been part of America’s society for a long time. A century ago, women were pushing for the vote and for Prohibition. In the 1920s, the issue of the “new woman” and proper female behavior were prominent. During the 1930s, economic issues overshadowed everything else. During WWII, women worked in many previously all-male jobs and expanded their role in society. During the 1950s, women’s issues disappeared to some degree, but they were present under the surface and they came into view in the early 1960s with the publication of The Feminine Mystique. For the last 50 years, women’s issues have gradually become more important. There has been the Women’s Lib movement and the push for the Equal Rights Amendment. There has been Roe v. Wade and the abortion issue. There has been discussion of whether working moms can “have it all,” whether women should “lean in,” and there have been people pushing for equal pay, more maternal leave, and many other issues. Because of all these things, I do not agree that women’s issues have cropped up “suddenly” in our social consciousness.
If women’s issues have become more prominent in the past few decades, it is because women have come to play a more nearly equal role in our society. In 1984, it seemed like a gimmick when the Democrats had a woman as their vice presidential candidate, but today a woman is a good bet to be elected as the next president. 1984 was also the first year in which there was a women’s marathon in the Olympics, but today women have passed Ranger training in the US Army. There are women’s professional sports leagues in the United States today, showing that women have become more nearly equal in that area. Women can be found (though they are still not represented in proportion to their presence in the general population, at the highest levels of most areas of American life.
As women expand their role in our society, it is natural that women’s issues would become more prominent. When society thinks that a group of people is unimportant, their issues do not become prominent. The presence of more women’s issues on the American agenda is evidence that women are coming to play a bigger role in our society.