Second-Wave Feminism and Intersectionality

Second Wave Feminism was a movement that emerged in the 1960s and prevailed through to the early 1980s. Unlike First Wave Feminism, which was predominantly implemented in the UK, Second Wave Feminism was mainly based in the USA as the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) promoted the Feminist ideology throughout America. First and Second-Wave Feminism often receives criticism for being exclusive to white and working-class women. Women of colour were just as instrumental in achieving equal rights for women, however, they are often the unsung heroes of the movement. This is apparent in the formation of many women’s organisations that were co-run by black women, with a focus on Shirley Chisholm and Aileen Hernandez, two black Feminists who made a major impact on Feminist history and the ratification of the ERA in America.

The ERA was written in 1921 by suffragist, Alice Paul and presented to the US government in 1923 advocating for equal rights for women and men, promoting equal pay, and equal job opportunities and it sought to end the differences between the sexes when discussing matters such as divorce and property. However, this amendment only gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s as women wanted more than an amendment simply allowing them to have suffrage which is the only amendment that mentioned equality of the sexes at the time.

Black Feminists became increasingly prevalent during the Civil Rights Movement as the CRM was dominated by male leaders. This provoked many black women to start female organisations that targeted women’s issues as they felt that their voices were inadequately represented in the CRM. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded by Ella Baker, after experiencing sexism in the CRM. Baker wanted to be a part of a movement that advocated for racial equality, yet also catered to women’s rights. The need for black women’s voices to be heard prompted many black women to join the Second Wave of Feminism as they could confide in other women of different races about their struggle as women, as well amongst other Women of Colour (WOC) about racial struggles. This solidarity amongst women allowed for strength in numbers within the Feminist movement to grow. The impact and success of Feminism in the 1960s and 70s would not have been as monumental as it was without the intersectionality of the movement.

It is important that Second Wave Feminism is to be told from the perspective of women of colour and antiracist white women as this promotes intersectionality. A suitable voice, whom promotes intersectionality, is that of Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm is a black feminist and politician. She was the first black woman to be elected for Congress and to run for president. She advocated for women’s reproductive rights, becoming the president of the NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) which achieved multiple Feminist accomplishments, such as organising the world’s first conference on women’s rights. This was held by the UN and internationally recognised, which allowed Feminists to have an international platform. This was all completed under the presidency of Shirley Chisolm, a black woman. Chisholm expanded the Minimum Wage Bill to include Domestic Workers, which benefitted many women as domestic work is a female-dominated industry. Shirley Chisolm was and is a strong supporter of the ERA as she voted in favour of it when she had a seat in parliament. She was also involved in the presentation of it towards the government and helped the feminists of the time to gain political attention. This proves the critical role women of colour played in Second Wave Feminism in the USA as Chisholm played a crucial part in achieving rights for many other women since many domestic workers would face exploitation and there wouldn’t have been so much attention to reproductive rights and the ratification of the ERA if Chisholm hadn’t advocated for Feminism and pushed the ERA into the view of the male-dominated government.

Another important black woman who played a role in the ratification of the ERA was Aileen Hernandez. She helped Betty Friedman, a white Feminist whom Hernandez had succeeded as president of the National Organisation for Women (NOW), co-organise the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970, one of the biggest Feminist protests seen until that date. Another remarkable achievement of Hernandez was during her NOW presidency in 1970, when she sat before US Congress to testify for the ratification of the ERA, and two years later Congress passed the ERA which was then ratified by 38 USA states. Hernandez, along with Shirley Chisholm are two strong black women in Feminist history who aimed for and achieved the ratification of the ERA. This proves that WOC played a large role in second-wave Feminism in the USA during the 1960s and 70s.

There is still concern that second-wave Feminism was not intersectional and only focused on the affairs of white women, however, the problem lies in the fact that women of colour are not adequately represented and credited for their accomplishments in historical media.

The above information presents adequate evidence as to the unsung role that women of colour played throughout Second Wave Feminism. They had strong actions and quiet voices as they were often dismissed. However, when analysing why WOC supported Second Wave Feminism and the important roles of Shirley Chisolm and Aileen Hernandez, black feminists, whom without, women would not have been protected under the Equal Rights Amendment in 38 American states. Thus proving that women of colour played a vital part in organising protests, achieving ratification of the ERA in many states of the USA, as well as other rights for women during Second Wave Feminism. They had important, distinguished Feminist roles and this investigation has highlighted the relevance of those roles, despite the lack of portrayal in media.

The role of WOC in second-wave Feminism is relevant today since fourth-wave Feminism (the Feminist movement we are currently living through) is fully intersectional as it includes all races, religions, cultures, physical abilities as well as sexual orientations and gender expression. It also includes women of all classes and is pro-sex work. It is important to discover and explore where and how intersectionality developed and originated to see how much the movement has changed and achieved. The ERA is still not ratified in all fifty states so it is topical and relevant to know that women in the USA are still fighting for equal rights under the protection of the American Constitution.


I conducted this research through ours of reading and learning about different women that impacted the history of Feminism to reach the point we, as women, are at now in certain parts of the world. I used credible websites and journals from universities as sources to develop my critical analysis. I was inspired to explore the topic of Second Wave Feminism by the FX on Hulu TV Historical series, Mrs America. It was a detailed miniseries following the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the USA, as well as other Feminist causes in the 1960s through to the early 80s. When given the opportunity to investigate a moment in history, it was only natural for me to choose the topic I did since I, myself, am a Feminist and fully support intersectionality.

07 July 2022
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