“In 1920, and after a long fight that started with the Seneca Falls convention in 1848” (Millett, 1977) American women were granted the right to vote, but “to women born after 1920, feminism was dead history” (Friedan, 1963). This is also Millett’s view, who believes the main weakness in the fight for the vote is that it only focused on legal reform, rather than on challenging the patriarchal ideology to bring about “changes in social attitudes and social structure, in personality and institutions”.
It is true that women in the final years of the 1930′s and during the 1940′s were getting educated and working in higher numbers than before (35% of married women worked in 1940 compared with just 23% in 1920), but it is also true that those that worked did not get equal pay, and still didn’t see work as a social contribution (Millett, 1977) .
Regarding education, “the result was not the creation of an instant race of superwomen” (Greer, 1971) but the fact that they didn’t progress to become physicists, philosophers, poets, doctors because they either wanted to marry, or feared that too much education was a marriage bar (Friedan, 1963).
It is for all these reasons that Millett believes that the next generation in the late 1930’s and 1940’s found it easy to exploit women as a reserve labour force, bringing them out to work when it suited the economy and sending them back home when it didn’t. Working women needed unions more than votes (Millett, 1977), but women themselves were not interested in the problem (Greer, 1971).
In spite of this, the last three decades of the nineteenth as well as the first three decades of the twentieth century were a time of greatly increasing sexual freedom for both sexes (Millett, 1977). “It was hardly an accident that this increase in woman’s sexual fulfillment accompanied her progress to equal participation in the rights, education, work, and decisions of American society. The coincidental sexual emancipation of American men was surely related to the American male’s new regard for the American woman as an equal, a person like himself, and not just a sexual object” (Friedan, 1963).
This new sexual freedom was extended to places like the United Kingdom in spite of the ruling Victorians, who helped the cause by trying to solve “the issue of the double standard and the inhumanities of prostitution” (Millett, 1977). Together with the vote and this newly found freedom came a New Woman that sported shorter dresses, shorter hair, smoked and danced. Betty Friedan talks about the concept of New Women in her book “The Feminine Mystique”. These New Women “were career women who had spirit, courage, independence, determination…that were marching towards some goal or vision of their own and were less aggressive in pursuit of a man”.