August 26, 1970: Betty Friedan Led the Women’s Strike for Equality

Betty Friedan
Photo: Tim Boxer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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    August 26, 1970: Betty Friedan Led the Women’s Strike for Equality

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      Sari Rosenberg

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      August 26, 1970: Betty Friedan Led the Women’s Strike for Equality

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      August 07, 2020

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      A+E Networks

On August 26, 1970, Betty Friedan organized the Women’s Strike for Equality, where 50,000 feminists paraded down Fifth Avenue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 19th amendment and demanding more rights. At the time, Friedan was most known for her seminal 1963 feminist tract about the subjugation of married women, “The Feminine Mystique.”

Sponsored by NOW (The National Organization for Women), the march was organized to send a message that the feminist movement was back, and protesters were ready to stop rush hour traffic to get their demands met. Linking arms as they marched while holding provocative signs like “Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot” and “Don’t Cook Dinner – Starve a Rat Today,” Friedan’s original plan was for women to go on strike to demonstrate against the unequal distribution of domestic chores. The strike evolved past this original goal, reflecting the emboldened spirit of the second-wave feminist movement. (In the 1960’s these same women had doggedly fought for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War. Now they were ready for their equality close-up.) This new wave of feminists wanted free abortion on demand, equal opportunity in employment and education and 24/7 childcare centers. The Equal Rights Amendment, that would eventually not get passed, was being discussed in Congress and this march was also a way for women to pressure politicians to pass it through Congress.

Aside from the main march in Manhattan, sister marches were conducted in solidarity in 90 cities and 42 states. Some cities set up “Freedom Trash Cans” for women to toss “objects of oppression” (aprons, hair curlers, etc…). It was even reported that women smashed up coffee cups in Miami to symbolize that they were no longer going to be relegated to secretary-status in the office anymore.

The outcome? They were especially successful in gaining more gender equality in the workplace and education. Today women are still fighting for more political power and full equal rights. But, from the recent Women’s March and the now ever-present feminist t-shirt as fashion statement to the growing number of women breaking glass ceilings, the fight for women’s equality is alive and well in America.

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