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National Organization for Women

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is an American feminist organization, founded in 1966 and dedicated to equality among the sexes. Get help writing about important movements in history, women's history or any particular civil rights movement that you need research written on. The National Organization for Women holds an important place in the history of the United States and in civil rights.

Among its founders were Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, and Pauli Murray, who wrote the group’s Statement of Purpose. National Organization for WomenOne of the first issues that NOW supported was the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1970s.

The National Organization for Women emerged out of President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women, founded in 1961. Kennedy originally appointed former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to head the Commission. Despite federal action in the 1960s, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, many feminist leaders were frustrated by continuing discrimination against women in America. NOW came together in 1966 in an October Organizing Conference from the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women, which had met the previous June.

One of the first concrete actions undertaken by the National Organization for Women was to sue on behalf of airline flight attendants, claiming sexual discrimination. Today NOW has branch offices in all 50 states. However, the group is not without controversy. Many claim that NOW supports only liberal causes, and not causes that are general to all women. Others claim that NOW is filled with “male bashing.”

The late 1960s saw a dramatic surge in the number of political organizations dedicated to aspects of women’s rights. Many germinal groups were founded during this era, including the following:

  • National Organization for Women
  • Chicago Women’s Liberation Group
  • New York Radical Women
  • The National Abortion Rights Action League

During this era, feminism (more frequently referred to as “women’s liberation”) was strongly rooted in political action and consciousness raising.

Under the charismatic leadership of feminist icons like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, the political movement of feminism flourished throughout the 1970s. In the midst of that decade, the Supreme Court Decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade, was won, fulfilling a long-time objective of the feminist movement. As with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, there was a decrease in the fervency of the women’s liberation movement in the aftermath of legalized abortion. However, unlike the abatement that signaled the end of first-wave feminism, the post-Roe v. Wade decline was only a momentary lull, as the presence of broad-based feminist organizations reminded women that there were still a number of political battles to be fought, most notably the passage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, over which debate persisted throughout the 1980s. However, throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the word “feminism” came to be associated with a degree of stridency and fanaticism which many women, even those espousing feminist beliefs, wished to distance themselves from. It was from this ambivalence that so-called “third wave” feminism began to emerge. The defining difference between third-wave feminism and the previous two waves is the emphasis on diversity that characterizes third wave feminism.

In past eras, there was a more marked tendency towards essentializing, in which feminists found it possible to discuss the problems of all women drawing from one’s own experience. The way this was achieved was often at the expense of nonwhite, non-middle-class women, who did not often find validation and legitimization in first- and second-wave feminism. Although the younger generation of third-wave feminists have often been accused of having conveniently dismissed the hard-won successes of their predecessors, they profess an increased emphasis on inclusion of many female voices from all walks of life and every point on the ideological spectrum, and it is in this diversity that many third-wave feminists identify the hope for future forms of feminism.

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