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Feminists say ‘battle goes on’ as NOW turns 50

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this May 16, 1976 file photo, an estimated 10,000 demonstrators march to the Capitol building in Springfield, Ill., to support the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Six years later, the amendment's June 30, 1982 deadline passed without ratification. Only 35 states, three short of those necessary, endorsed it. (AP Photo/File) Anonymous

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Wednesday, June 17, 1982 file photo, women's rights supporters, who earlier chained themselves to the door of the Senate and blocked the door to the governor's office, disrupt a meeting in the Illinois House in Springfield, Ill. Speaker of the House George Ryan dismissed the house after the group seated itself. Demonstrators are giving the sign for female. (AP Photo/Charles Bennett) Charles Bennett

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Sept. 7, 1968 file photo, a member of the Women's Liberation Party drops a bra in a trash barrel to protest the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/File)

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    ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Nov. 21, 1966 file photo, Betty Friedan, author of "The Feminine Mystique," speaks to a group in New York. The feminist is the founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which works for women's rights. (AP Photo/File)

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Nov. 21, 1979 file photo, Bella Abzug, left, and Patsy Mink of Women USA sit next to Gloria Steinem as she speaks in Washington where they warned presidential candidates that promises for women's rights will not be enough to get their support in the next election. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges) Harvey Georges

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Aug. 10, 1976 file photo, women opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment sit with Phyllis Schlafly, foreground, national chairman of Stop ERA, at hearing of Republican platform subcommittee on human rights in Kansas City, Mo. One of the leading opponents of the ERA during the 1970s, Schlafly, a conservative Illinois lawyer, is credited with helping mobilize public opinion against the amendment in some of the states that did not ratify it. (AP Photo/File)

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this November 1977 file photo, leaders of the women's movement pass a torch that was carried by foot from New York to Houston, Texas for the National Women's Convention. Among the marchers, from left foreground are tennis star Billie Jean King, in blue shirt and tan pants; former U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug, wearing a hat; and feminist writer Betty Friedan, in a red coat. (AP Photo/Greg Smith) Greg Smith

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this March 25, 2015 file photo, Margot Riphagen of New Orleans, La., wears a birth control pills costume during a protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, as the court heard oral arguments in the challenges of President Barack Obama's health care law requirement that businesses provide their female employees with health insurance that includes access to contraceptives. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) Charles Dharapak

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - This Monday, Oct. 28, 2013 file photo shows artist Nelson Shanks' painting “The Four Justices” portraying from left, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, during a preview at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Manuel Balce Ceneta

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - This 1984 file photo shows Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for U.S. vice president on a major party ticket. She died Saturday, March 26, 2011 at Massachusetts General Hospital. (AP Photo/File)

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 22, 1981 file photo, Equal Rights Amendment supporters display banners in front of the White House in Washington. The amendment's June 30, 1982 deadline passed without ratification. (AP Photo/Taylor) Taylor

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Monday, April 18, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, center, waves to the crowd during a Women for Hillary event in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Seth Wenig

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Saturday, May 21, 2016 file photo, cadets attend their graduation and commissioning ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll) Mike Groll

  • ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Aug. 26, 1977 file photo, Hazel Hunkines Hallinnan, one of the original suffragists, rests after marching with supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands of women participated in the march which coincided with the 57th anniversary of women's suffrage. (AP Photo/File) Anonymous

Associated Press
Published: 6/19/2016 8:47:53 PM

Fifty years ago, when a small group of activists founded the National Organization for Women, the immediate issue that motivated them was sex discrimination in employment. They were irate that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was refusing to ban “Help Wanted Male” and “Help Wanted Female” job advertising.

Typical were ads seeking a “well-groomed gal” for a job as a receptionist.

Flash forward to today: Women comprise close to 50 percent of enrollment in U.S. medical schools and law schools. One-third of federal judges are women, compared with just a handful in the 1960s. The U.S military is opening all combat jobs to women.

At NOW and elsewhere in the diverse ranks of the feminist movement, there’s deep pride in these changes, but also a consensus that the 50th anniversary – to be celebrated June 23 – is not an occ asion to declare victory.

“The battle goes on,” said Eleanor Smeal, a former president of NOW who heads the Feminist Majority Foundation. “So many of the things we fought for have been achieved, but we still do not have full equality.”

Among the issues viewed as unfinished business: a wage gap that favors men over women, the persistent scourge of sexual assault and domestic violence, and the push in many states to reduce access to legal abortion.

Once virtually alone as a national, multi-issue feminist group, NOW shares the activist stage today with a multitude of other players – ranging from youthful online organizers to groups focused on specific issues such as abortion rights, campus rape and workplace equity. NOW’s membership and revenues are down from its peak years, and some younger feminists wonder if it is losing some relevance.

The situation was very different back in 1966. NOW’s founding was a pivotal moment in the rebuilding of a vibrant feminist movement in the U.S. after a period of relative dormancy in the 1940s and ‘50s.




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