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The Fight For Justice Continues
Consciousness raising continues to be a form of feminist activism used by women to bring awareness to social issues and personal struggles. Although there have been great strides in equality over the years, women, particularly women of color and queer women of color, are still undermined in many areas such as the workplace, home, and sometimes even amongst each other.
It is crucial to encourage discussion of these topics between women to come to an understanding of why they happen, and to persuade more people to advocate for change.
Domestic violence continues to be the single leading cause of injury to women in the United States today.
Alabama and Massachusetts were the first states to criminalize physical violence against women by their husbands; by the time the 19th Amendment passed, all states had similar laws on the books. The consciousness raising of the 1960s and 1970s brought to light, however, the prevalence of violence that continued to take place behind closed doors. Often considered an “open secret,” domestic violence was (and in many ways still is) considered a family matter that should be dealt with privately. Under the mantra of “the personal is political,” feminists in the 1970s began to organize around this issue and the legal system’s lack of appropriate response. Known at the time as the “Battered Women’s Movement,” activists argued that violence against women is a symptom of larger systemic sexism and began to work on reform, including the creation of domestic violence shelters, hotlines, and changes in laws that allow married victims of domestic violence to file criminal charges against a spouse.
In 1994 the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed, becoming the first federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes, as well as providing federal resources to train law and court officials and provide services to survivors of domestic and sexual assault.
Since it was introduced in 1994, VAWA has been renewed by Congress in 2000, 2005, and 2012. These reauthorizations have expanded services to protect those facing violence in same-sex relationships, and transgender, gender non-conforming, and gender nonbinary individuals are all protected under VAWA’s non-discrimination conditions. The most recent reauthorization of VAWA was stalled due to the U.S. government shutdown in 2018. A short-term extension expired on February 15, 2019, and in April 4, 2019 reauthorization was passed in the House of Representatives. As of July 2020, the Violence Against Women Act still is awaiting a vote for reauthorization by the Senate.
To be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive, as well as to acknowledge that violence takes place in relationships outside of marriage, domestic violence is now often referred to as “intimate partner violence.” Some activists worry, though, that this title lacks the political force and visceral reality of the “Battered Women’s Movement.”
The Gay Rights Movement
The Gay Rights movement is a political and social movement that advocates for the full acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in society. The movement began in the 1940s with a growth in the urban subculture of gay men and lesbians. At this time, there was a great deal of government surveillance and police harassment, investigation, and persecution of LGBTQ+ people.
By the end of the 1960s, the Gay Rights movement grew and began its rise of activism. At this time, the movement's goals were to decriminalize homosexual acts, receive equal social treatment, and obtain equal rights under the law. In 1969, the Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst to launch the movement into a new era of resistance and revolution. In the 1970s, the movement primarily emphasized coming out and equal public participation. Members of the community expected and demanded acceptance for who they were, as well as ending job, religious, and military discrimination. Due to gay men's lack of understanding of sexism, lesbians fought for political agendas that recognized their needs. As a result, they formed their own autonomous lesbian-feminist groups that focused on developing ideologies of lesbianism that challenged mainstream feminism, lesbian invisibility, and heterosexuality.
The 21st century has seen many gains in the fight for gay rights. In 2011 President Obama repealed the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing gay individuals to openly serve in the U.S. military. In 2015 gay marriage became legal in all 50 states when the Supreme Court declared that states could not legally ban same-sex marriage.
Most recently, on June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace, extends to sexual orientation and gender identity, providing gay and transgender employees protection from workplace discrimination.
Even with these gains, there have still been setbacks, particularly in the trans community. In March 2018, transgender individuals were banned from the military, reversing the 2016 decision that allowed them to serve. More urgently, conservative estimates state that one in four transgender individuals has experienced assault, with the rates even higher for trans women and trans people of color.
Consciousness raising advocates for an awareness of issues affecting women’s personal and public lives. Related to this awareness was a growing need in the 1960s for women to have a greater understanding of their bodies and control over their health, including their reproductive health. The FDA approved the first oral contraceptive birth control pill in 1960, but it wasn’t until 1965 that married women in all 50 states had access to it, and not until the court case of Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972 were unmarried people granted the right to possess oral contraceptives on the same basis as their married counterparts.
Autonomy over one’s body – “my body, my choice” – was a key mandate of second wave feminism. Feminists and advocates for women’s health began to raise awareness in the 1960s of the number of women that died each year as a result of complications from unsafe abortion. Advocates for reproductive justice not only pushed to make abortion safe and legal in the United States, but also to increase access to comprehensive sex education and access to contraception.
Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in all 50 states in 1973. Restrictions and limits on reproductive freedoms, however, were placed on women almost immediately afterward. The Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976, barring the use of federal funds for abortions, effectively ending access to abortion for low-income women who obtain healthcare through Medicaid. In the 21st century, there has been an increasing number of targeted regulations of abortion providers, also known as “TRAP Laws,” which place unnecessary regulations and restrictions on clinics and individuals providing abortion care.
Abortion rights continue to be threatened today. Despite this, abortion remains a medically safe and common procedure, with 1 in 4 women in the U.S. having an abortion by the age of 40. These women come from all racial, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, with over 50% already having at least one child. Feminists and women’s health advocates work hard to destigmatize abortion and clear up inaccuracies and misconceptions that often cloud the debate over women’s health. Advocates for reproductive justice know that the most effective way to lower abortion rates is through comprehensive sex education in schools, making contraceptives widely and easily available, and giving women access to safe and affordable health care.