Feminism in the United States of America

Feminism is a movement of revindication of civil, economical and political rights of women. More generally it’s the collection of theories criticising the traditional condition of women and proposing new relations between genders in private life and a different social collocation in the public sphere.

In this publication, we’ll deal with feminism in the United States of America.

The first female revindications started in the 17th century, as a reaction to a misogynist culture deeply influenced by Aristotle’s theories about the female biological inferiority. In the second half of the 1800s, both in the USA and in Europe, feminism developed as an emancipation movement to obtain legal equity.

After World War II, the movement gained more value because women started to conquer the right to vote. For the development of feminist ideas, the contribution of a group of American theorists was fundamental: Betty Friedan who in her essay The Feminine Mystique (1963) analysed the new characters of women’s oppression in the industrial society, the contrast between their abilities and the tasks they had to carry out. The author proved the average American woman wasn’t a happy and emancipated housewife at all, contrary to what the collective could’ve imagined. Actually, the woman, trying to be a perfect mother, untiring consumer, great hostess and sexual object at the same time, with the aim of being socially acceptable found herself closed in a golden cage, which obliged her to never express as a human being in her wholeness and asked her to adequate to the “mystique femininity” model. Other important American authors were Kate Millet, who discovered in matriarchy the base of every power (Sexual Politics, 1970) and Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex, 1970) who hoped for a feminist revolution able to not only question the whole western culture, but also to modify the organization of nature itself.

There are three fundamental components of U.S. feminism: the institutional struggle, the path of "counter-institutions" and the overall analysis of Marxist society. This third way was less followed, since in the American working class the Marxist conception of class struggle was a minority one. The first forms of organizations and fight for women, founded on the analysis of gender role, date back to 1966-1968 with the creation of the National Organization for Women. The organization followed the institutional way, writing a Charter of Women’s Right in 1967, where there were identified some serious gender discriminations. By organizing various campaigns aimed at exerting pressure for legislative changes to make these distinctions even, the NOW achieved good results within a few years. This kind of fight involved especially white women of the middle class and was part of the traditional viewpoint of the American middle class, reformist and individualistic. The NOW, the first modern movement against oppression and exploitation on women by men was organised nationally with precise and hierarchised structures destined to use legal and political institutions for the improvement of women’s condition on work and civil rights. Despite their struggles, the improvements achieved through institutional channels were not considered sufficient. Women soon realized that their overall situation in society had deteriorated: in fact, the average salary of a woman, which in 1955 represented 63,9% of that of a man, fell to 58,2% in 1972.

The movement became radicalized and spontaneous collective movements were born without hierarchies and these movements focused on issues such as the struggle against leadership, sisterhood, self-consciousness, but above all, the creation of counter-institutions all feminine. To distinguish it from the NOW activism this new way of organization was called “new feminism”. The constitution of counter-institutions meant once again accepting the social system in which the organizations were moving as a battleground. The institutions were challenged because they were seen as dysfunctional for a part of society, which, therefore, set as its objective not the destruction of the institution itself but the occupation of the few interstices that the system left open to challenge and change.

The third path taken by the feminist groups was the socialist one, with which they used the instruments of Marxism to move a global critique of society. Socialist feminists argued that liberation could only be achieved through work, thus putting an end to the economic and cultural foundations of female oppression. In these movements, Sexual Politics by Kate Millet (1970) had great influence, it is one of the first and most complete attempts of an analysis of female oppression by the patriarchal system, which brought to the foundation of two opposite position: the “sexists” who blamed every responsibility to men and the “politicals” which identified in capitalism their main enemy.

Despite the variety and the difference among the feminist groups, various moments of unity occurred during the year, as happened on 26th august 1970 with the proclamation of a national “domestic” strike in 80 Northern-American cities. Another occasion was the foundation of the Ms., in July 1972, the first feminist American daily newspaper that still today sells hundred of thousands of copies.

In recent years a great pro-choice campaign on abortion rights has developed and feminist clinics, such as the Summit Medical Center in Washington D.C., have been created to practice self-help. This is a form of medicine dedicated to women get to know their body, take care of themselves and, if necessary, to abort without resorting to official medicine. The technique and theory of self-help, like the issue of abortion, are still under discussion.

Although ancient difficulties haven’t disappeared, over the centuries American women could get a role in the society and their presence in professions and functions, which previously were reserved to men only, indicates that the condition of women has certainly improved.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Valeriana Savino

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  • L'Autore

    Valeriana Savino


    Valeriana Savino è una giovane studentessa di 24 anni. Nata e cresciuta in Puglia. È laureata in Scienze Politiche, Relazioni Internazionali e Studi Europei presso l’Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”.

    Attualmente frequenta il corso di laurea magistrale in Scienze delle Amministrazioni. Ritiene fortemente che il primo cambiamento necessario per il prossimo futuro sia dare un contributo attivo alla gestione dei servizi pubblici e privati.

    Ha collaborato per tre anni con l’associazione “Giovani nel Mondo” alla promozione del festival delle carriere internazionali. La promozione consisteva nell’organizzare incontri sia in italiano sia in inglese con gli studenti, conferenze con ospiti nazionali e internazionali e fornire informazioni sul festival.

    Da agosto 2019 collabora con l’associazione “Mondo Internazionale”. È autrice nell’area tematica “Diritti Umani” ed “Europa” nell’ambito di Mondo Internazionale Academy. Da novembre 2020 collabora come Policy Analist nell’analisi, ricerca e redazione di politiche pubbliche portate avanti da Mondo Internazionale Hub all’interno di MIPP, l’Incubatore di Politiche Pubbliche.

    È appassionata di diritti umani e di questioni relative all’Europa e non solo. Ascolta podcast per essere sempre aggiornata sul mondo attuale e nel tempo libero leggo libri e guardo serie TV.

    Ama viaggiare, scoprire nuove realtà e mettersi sempre alla prova.


    Valeriana Savino is a young 24 years old. She is born and raised in Puglia. She has a BA in Political Science, International Relations and European Studies at the University of Bari "Aldo Moro".

    She is currently attending the master's degree in Administration Sciences. She strongly believes that the first necessary change for the near future is to make an active contribution to the management of public and private services.

    She collaborated for three years with the "Giovani nel Mondo" association to promote the internationale career festival. The promotion consisted of organizing meetings both in Italian and in English with students, conferences with national and international guests and providing information on the festival.

    Since August 2019 she has been collaborating with the "Mondo Internazionale" association. She is an author in the thematic area "Human Rights" and "Europe" within the Mondo Internazionale Academy. Since November 2020 she has been collaborating as a Policy Analist in the analysis, research and drafting of public policies carried out by Mondo Internazionale Hub within MIPP, the Public Policy Incubator.

    She is passionate about human rights and issues relating to Europe and beyond. She listens to podcasts to keep up to date on the current world and in free time she reads books and watch TV series.

    She loves to travel, discover new realities and always test herself.

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