Why did the women's movement emerge in the USA in the 1960s?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The women’s rights movement in the United States emerged (or perhaps reemerged) in the 1960s for a variety of reasons.  To boil these down, it emerged because women felt that they were not being treated as well as they should have been.

Much of the reason for the women’s movement came out of World War II.  During the war, many women had taken jobs that had not previously been available to women.  Because the men were off in the military, many women also experienced more freedom and more responsibilities than women had previously had.  After the war, women did not necessarily want to keep all of these things, but they also did not want to go back to being as constricted as they once had been. 

Another reason for the women’s movement was the coming of the Civil Rights Movement.  In the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans pushed to be granted equal rights.  Many women looked at this movement and wondered why they should not have equal rights as well.  In a sense, they were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement to launch a movement of their own.

All of this happened at a time when women were being restricted to a greater degree than had been true in a while.  With the end of WWII, the US economy boomed.  Men were generally able to earn enough that their wives did not have to get jobs.  This made people go back to thinking that the place of a woman was in the house, not out in the workforce.  This was also the time of the Baby Boom and women were expected to spend their lives raising their children and supporting their husbands.  These things created a situation where society expected women to limit themselves to domestic life.

In the 1960s, then, things were ripe for a women’s movement.  Women had had more rights and responsibilities in WWII and were unhappy at having those things taken away.  Women were also seeing African Americans fighting for equality and they were inspired to do the same.  Thus, the 1960s were a time when women expected more from their lives even as society was trying to restrict them to the domestic sphere.  This is why the women's movement emerged at that particular time.

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