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The ‘70s: Women Who Fought for Our Rights

By: Delanee Ensley

The ‘70s were loud and boisterous with multi-colored prints and platform shoes, but on the side, something else was brewing. Second-wave feminism took the ‘70s by storm, working hard to fight for equality and against discrimination. Here are five women who were key players in making things happen for women and people of color in the United States.

Betty Friedan

“Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to be themselves.”

Betty Friedan is best known for her book “The Feminine Mystique” and her progress in founding the National Organization for Women (NOW). The synopsis of her book from Britannica says, “She coined the term feminine mystique to describe the societal assumption that women could find fulfillment through housework, marriage, sexual passivity, and child-rearing alone. Further, prevailing attitudes held that ‘truly feminine women had no desire for higher education, careers, or a political voice; rather, they found complete fulfillment in the domestic sphere.” Her book has been said to have sparked second-wave feminism, and she has been dubbed the “Mother” of the modern women’s movement. Though Friedan died in 2006 of congestive heart failure, her legacy still lives on through NOW, which is still fighting for the issues of women, racial justice, and LGBT rights. Her book is still read by many today.

Gloria Steinem

"The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving."

Gloria Steinem started her career as a journalist but was only given writing assignments like fashion or lifestyle pieces. When she would suggest more political-type pieces, she was shut down. In the early ‘60s, she was hired by a magazine to go undercover in the Playboy Mansion. Throughout her undercover work, she learned about the hardships and sexism that the Bunnies went through, including things like being underpaid and sexual harassment. The movie “A Bunny’s Tale” was made about her findings. Almost ten years after she staged life as a Playboy Bunny, she created the magazine Ms. which started as an insert in New York magazine. It became so wildly popular, that Ms. became a quarterly magazine, which is still in circulation today. Today, Steinem is still working on her writing and has gained many awards, one was even given to her by former President Barack Obama.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or RBG, has become an icon in this country for many reasons. She was the second female justice and the first Jewish woman on the United States Supreme Court. From early on in her life, she had to make tough life decisions to push her family and career forward. Ginsburg studied law at two Ivy League schools, Cornell and then Colombia University. In 1993, she was appointed to the Supreme Court. She fought for gender equality and women’s rights her entire career. One of the cases she fought for, only three years in as a court justice, was the case of United States v. Virginia. According to Britannica, “Early in her tenure on the Court, Ginsburg wrote the majority’s opinion in United States v. Virginia (1996), which held that the men-only admission policy of a state-run university, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), violated the equal protection clause.” Ginsberg wrote, “‘[G]eneralizations about ‘the way women are,’ estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.’” Sadly, in September of 2020, RBG passed away from pancreatic cancer. She will forever live on as a symbol of gender equality and women’s rights.

Audre Lorde

“Revolution is not a one-time event.”

Audre Lorde fought for women’s rights, LGBT rights, and civil rights, as a lesbian woman of color. She fought hard for the second wave of feminism to include people of color in their movement instead of just middle-class white women. She was not afraid to call people out and stood up for what she believed in. Her life tragically ended in 1992 from breast cancer. This excerpt from Audre Lorde’s Poem “A Woman Speaks,” found on the Poetry Foundation says all she believed.

“I have been woman

for a long time

beware my smile

I am treacherous with old magic

and the noon's new fury

with all your wide futures


I am


and not white.”

Kate Millett

“The image of the woman as we know it is an image created by men and fashioned to suit their needs.”

Millet’s work is similar to Betty Friedan. Millet was the first co-chair of the Education Committee, and she wrote “Sexual Politics” in 1970, which largely contributed to helping the second-wave feminism movement along and sold over 10,000 copies in two weeks. Her written work, like Audre Lorde, was how she used her voice to join the fight for women’s rights. The books she wrote were shocking and honest. For example, one of the books she wrote titled “The Basement” talked about the brutal abuse of a young woman, based on a true story about Sylvia Likens. In an interview with the New York Times, Millett said, “To be feminine, then, is to die.” She was accomplished with many awards, including being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Kate Millett died in 2017 of cardiac arrest, only eight days shy of her 83rd birthday.

It’s important to remember these women. They are part of the history that defines us as women. With the bravery of these women, equality and women’s rights started moving in the right direction. As we honor these women, we must be ready to continue the fight until all people are equal and have the same rights, until all people are free.


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