As cultures change with the times, different approaches must be used to combat injustices in society. The women’s movement was no exception to this. Elizabeth Cady Stanton of the 1800’s fought for the general rights of all women across the country. By the 1960’s those rights Stanton fought for had been granted. Women were allowed to vote, hold positions of power, and attend college. Betty Friedan, from the National Organization for Women, wanted more for individual women, and pushed them to fight for truly equal opportunity. Freidan was much more concentrated on the individualistic culture that overcame America than was Stanton, helping the women’s movement progress faster toward true equality.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a pioneer for the movement of rights for women. She, along with Frederick Douglass and countless others, fought long and hard to counter the discrimination against women, beginning in the 1800’s. Stanton urged women to fight for rights equal to those of men. She writes in her “Declaration of Sentiments” that “because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States”(1). She is focused on women as a group attaining the same rights and opportunities as men as a group. She then relates this back to the idea that a person can be a citizen of the United States whether they are a man or a woman. Stanton relates everything back to the group.
Stanton constantly generalizes the issues she finds with the treatment of women in history thus far. In this declaration, she makes a list of grievances, of wrongs committed by men against women. She emphasizes that men did this to women, not one man did this to one woman. She says of men, “He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her”(1). At the time, women did not receive higher education. There was never the opportunity for them. College was always only something men were fortunate enough to attend. Stanton urges that women be given the same rights and be allowed to attend universities. She also says that “he has endeavored, in every way he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life”(1). Men have, up until this point, degraded women so much so that they are completely dependent on men. They have taken hostage every right, freedom, and luxury women could possibly have so that they have no reason to believe they can be self sufficient or a respectable human being. This, according to Stanton, needed to be changed immediately. Women should be treated with more respect and allowed to believe in themselves and depend upon themselves for the basic necessities in life. Men have also “made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns”(1). In the 1800’s, when a woman married, her husband became responsible for everything, including her actions. Should a woman be fortunate enough to earn money, she was not allowed to keep it and must surrender it to her husband. She would be a piece of property owned by her husband.
This approach of generalizing the injustices against women worked for her in this time period. Stanton negotiated within her given gender and social class. She was born into a family that was well off financially with a father who was a lawyer. She had more access to education than most women of her time. However, when fighting for the rights of women, she included herself in the group that was beaten and battered by men. She gave the impression that she was one of them, uniting women of all social classes across the country.
Eventually women did gain the rights Stanton and so many others fought long and hard for. Women were able to attend college and they eventually gained the right to vote. They became independent beings, no longer reliant on their husbands for every aspect of life. They were allowed, even encouraged at times, to secure jobs and keep their wages or use them to help support their families.
However, just because the rights are granted and the law is put in place, does not mean the opportunity is equal. President Lyndon B. Johnson in a commencement address at Howard University in 1965 stated, “Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates”(1). He was speaking of the recently gained equality of African Americans and how they cannot be expected to excel against or even become equal to whites when they have been held back and degraded for so long. He profoundly adds, “But freedom is not enough… You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair”(1). Although he is commenting about inequality in race, the same goes for gender inequality. It cannot be expected of women to succeed on the same level as men as soon as they gain rights. They have been degraded and been forced to be dependent for so long that the opportunity is not equal among men and women. They do not have the resources or even experience to be on the same level as men. That has as much to do with equality as the actual policies.
This idea of opportunity is stressed in the 1960’s more so than ever. A new culture began to arise in this decade that was focused more on individualistic opportunity and success than any time in history. For better or worse, and individual’s success, usually measured by status or wealth, began to be far more important than the success of a larger group. Betty Friedan took advantage of this culture change when writing the purpose statement for the National Organization for Women in 1966. Friedan refers to this ongoing movement as an “unfinished revolution”(1) and urges women to fight for “true equality”(1). She writes, “The time has come to confront, with concrete action, the conditions that now prevent women from enjoying the equality of opportunity and freedom of choice which is their right, as individual Americans, and as human beings”(1). At the simplest most basic level, women do have the same rights as men, but individual women in the sixties do not have equal opportunity. This is what Friedan urges individual women need to fight for.
The issue of women in education remains at the forefront of this movement. Without education women would be expected to sit at home, take care of the house, and raise children. Having an education gives women the opportunity to strive for greater, possibly more meaningful, goals in life. Up until this point, only men were encouraged to work towards this. Of all Bachelor’s degrees and Master’s degrees earned, women earn only one in three and only one in ten Ph.D.’s are earned by women (Friedan 1). Friedan and the NOW:
Consider the decline in the proportion of women receiving higher and professional education to be evidence of discrimination. This discrimination may take the form of quotas against the admission of women to colleges, and professional schools; lack of encouragement by parents, counselors and educators; denial of loans or fellowships; or the traditional or arbitrary procedures in graduate and professional training geared in terms of men, which inadvertently discriminate against women(1).
The policies and practices in place by universities are geared towards men because men have always been the ones attending them, therefore, hindering the opportunity for women to receive truly equal opportunity in education. Furthermore, the basic structure and support system in society for women attending college is hindered due to its lack of example and standards. It is not enough that all women have the right to go to college. Every individual woman must have an equal opportunity to attend college.
Friedan stressed more so than ever that women must not be degraded any longer but should be respected and treated as equals to men. This is an idea that, due to the long history of poor treatment by men, was hard to change. This is something some women in America still struggle with to this day. The NOW believe that “women will do most to create a new image of women by acting now, and by speaking out in behalf of their own equality, freedom, and human dignity - - not in pleas for special privilege, nor in enmity toward men, who are also victims of the current, half-equality between the sexes - - but in an active, self-respecting partnership with men”(1). Women are not asking to be put on a pedestal but merely begging and fighting for equality. They want and need to be treated as equals or partners.
Friedan makes it a point to illustrate how the status of women in the United States is declining rather than increasing. Women hold fractions of percents of the jobs in distinguished fields like doctors, lawyers, and judges, although they make up fifty one percent of the population (Friedan 1). Due to this inequality in status “full-time women workers today earn on the average only 60% of what men earn”(1). This shows discrimination at its most pure and basic level. If women cannot be equal to men in pay rate how will they ever be truly equal in freedom and opportunity?
Despite using different methods and fighting almost one hundred years apart, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Betty Friedan both actively helped progress the movement for women’s rights in America. Stanton pushed for equality in the basic rights of all women while Friedan urged individual women to fight for their own opportunity and success in the face of opposition of men. Friedan encourages that “By so doing, women will develop confidence in their own ability to determine actively, in partnership with men, the conditions of their life, their choice, their future and their society”(1), ultimately securing true equality for women across the country.