Friday, April 26, 2013

The National Organization for Women: A Brief History

After World War II the feminist movement that won suffrage was killed by the media – which denounced feminism.  Women were told they were supposed to stay at home to be mothers and happy housewives.  

Note the psychotic look in her eyes...
Thankfully with the rise of the civil rights movement in the 60’s came a new feminist movement. Feminist lobbyists pushed for prohibition of employee discrimination in The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it passed; however it did not include sex and and it was announced by the EEOC (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) in 1965 that sexual discrimination in the workplace was legal. 

In 1966 Betty Friedan (Author of the book, The Feminine Mystique) and Dr. Pauli Murray, a law professor at Yale attended a conference in Washington to get the EEOC to enforce the prohibition of sexual discrimination in the work place.  They were told they had no authority.  Frustrated and with the desire to form an organization that helped women the way other civil rights groups had helped black people they met with Aileen Hernandez (who had left the EEOC) and Richard Graham and about 20 other women to discuss their anger over what was happening.  Betty Friedan wrote the acronym: 
N O W 
on a napkin and right then and there the organization was born.

Thanks, ladies!
NOW’s mission was to start a revolution for “true equality for all women in America.”  NOW believes that women are human beings and should be free from all forms of prejudice and discrimination - that they should be able to experience the same opportunities and freedom of choice that men do.  NOW doesn't believe that women are entitled to the lifelong support of men nor should they be forced into a submissive marital role.  They believe in a true partnership in marriage and total equity in the workplace. 

From their humble beginnings, NOW has worked tirelessly at pushing for sexual equality by filing sexual discrimination lawsuits, organizing strikes, and eventually in 1972 getting the House to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), which was originally written by suffragist leader, Alice Paul in 1923.  Unfortunately the amendment did not get enough approval by the deadline and by 1982 the ERA was dismissed. 

We should all be this angry.

Discouraged, but not defeated, NOW did not give up.  By the time the Supreme Court had thrown out the case for the ERA, NOW had drawn attention to women and the unnoticed services they provided.  They established the NOW Task Force on Battered Women and The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which ended employment discrimination against pregnant women.  They organized conferences on racism and sexism, establishing both as “a shared struggle for equal rights.”

In 1983 NOW defeated anti-abortion bills and the Supreme Court ruled that government couldn’t interfere with women's abortion rights unless it was clearly justified by "accepted medical practice." By the 90s they had organized several conferences and marches to support gay and lesbian rights.  They lobbied for and got the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) signed in 1994.  A $1.6 billion dollar budget was set up for violence prevention and services.  Thankfully it was reauthorized this year, although not without a lot of resistance.

NOW has gone from 20 women in the 60s fighting for equal rights to a massive organization in the 21st century with chapters all over the country fighting for civil rights for everyone.  In 2006 NOW celebrated "Forty Fearless Years" at the national conference in Albany, NY, which included a Young Feminist Summit and a tribute to the founders and past presidents.  They are very proud of the fact that they are the largest feminist organization in the United States.  They have 500,000 members with 550 chapters in every single state. 

Fight the power!
If you are interested in joining the National Organization for Women and fighting for equality and justice please visit their website,  You can donate without joining, or you can join with several options for membership dues.  You can pay annual dues or for $1000 you can receive a lifetime membership.  You can even gift a membership to someone else!  You don’t have to be a member to volunteer; however, just visit the website for details!

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