The Role of Student Activism in Pushing Forward the Feminist Movement in the 1960s

Did student activism help push forward the feminist movement in the 1960s or did it create selective and radical feminism?

When it comes to the second-wave feminist movement in the 1960s, student activism isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, this activism is one of the main reasons the wave became popular and iconic. From interrupting a U.S. Senate to protest about equal rights to lighting their underwear and beauty products on fire outside of a beauty pageant to protest against ludicrous standards of beauty; these ladies created an unforgettable movement that gave the women in America a new set of principles, ideologies and most of all, justice.

However, this movement is often seen as the reason why feminism is socially interpreted as radicalness ad racial selectivity. So what we wonder is: did student activism help push forward the feminist movement in the 1960s or did it create selective and radical feminism?

While this act generated a new era for the regular American woman, it too created a certain selectiveness and radicalness to the topic of feminism.

According to a poll from Washington Post, the n present day, 30% of women and 50% of men are considered nofeministsst and say that they view feminism as extremists, angry, and ‘man-haters’ (Clement, & Cai, 2016, January 27).

This is due to the misuse of wording and aggressiveness throughout the campaign. There is also noticeable disunion between races in the topic of feminism today. White women and women of color formed this revolution to claim the right to speak with authority about their own lives.

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When activists tried to work their differences in race, class, religion, and sexuality, they found that their differences in experiences, struggles, and perceptions created borderline insuperable barriers to cooperation. because most of the notorious protests and speeches were held by white women, and most references only speak about their perspective, this resulted in women of color thinking that this created unconscious discrimination in the revolution against the inequality towards women when it comes to race. So even though the movement believed in a color-blind democracy and universal sisterhood, people of color still think there is a prominent divide between white and feminists of color.

Student activism has proved to push forward this movement as well as other movements in the past. The importance of student activism was previously acknowledged before the women’s liberation revolution with thousands of students promoting peace as they marched for several reasons like the end of the Vietnam War, the privatization of education, the fight against campus racism, and the fight against conservatism, eThe the second-wave feminism movement, it sky-rocketed in 1963, when the publication of Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, became a best-seller. This book has been credited to start the second wave. Jacqui Ceballos, a student activist, commented: “I just knew, it wasn’t him, it wasn’t me, it was society”, in the documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (Dore, 2014). Marilyn Webb, a student, interrupted a protest against Nixon to announce that women too were having a movement. From the second, she started to talk, men catcalled her, booed, and according to, her screamed, “Take her off the stage and f*** her!” (Dore, 2014). This was one of the crucial moments where the anger began. To be treated like that from movement and left men meant something. The undergraduates were mainly focused on income inequality and job equality. Claiming that their degrees and education were close to being futile as they had little to no chance of climbing up the ladderttAt. In this time, several ads promoted women to work as secretaries for “good looking executives, for the chance of becoming his wife” (Picture in Local Newspaper, 1961).

This propaganda completely infuriated students, as they doubted if their education was worth nothing but a piece of paper. Women demanded to be heard and were willing to achieve that in any way that would capture the attention of other women and men. Students began to engage in meetings on campus territory and discussed beauty standards, housewife expectations, reproductive rights, sexuality, race, etc. Women were beginning to get inspired by other women.

On the other hand, the student movement was mostly white women. This created many radical white women, unable to see beyond their own experiences and idealism, to behave in unconsciously racist ways, despite their passionately anti-racist stance and hard work to develop a multiracial movement. Women of color do not take away any accomplishments the [mostly white) women achieved; on the contrary, they celebrate it. However, they do want to make their point across when they say that because of it being mainly held by a certain race, they and their different experiences as women of a minority race, were ignored. (Breines, W. 2007). As once said by Malcolm X, “the most disrespected person in America is the black woman, the most unprotected one, the most neglected…” (Malcom X. 1962) Black women were once again overlooked. For black women, the problem was not only being a woman but on top of that being African American and the discrimination and exclusion that came with that. Some well-paying, educated, important jobs allowed women, but close to none allowed black women. They were not only oppressed more in the work aspect but also socially. Propaganda for beauty products directed at black women included creams to make their skin lighter to look more like a real woman. They were often compared to monkeys and laughed at for their ethnic noses and mouths. Though, white feminists’ racism is not the only reason for the absence of an interracial feminist movement. “Segregation, black women’s interest in the Black Power movement, class differences, and the development of identity politics were all powerful factors that divided white and black women.” (Breines, W. 2007). Some argue that if the black woman cared at that time, they would have been more involved. However, during this period, they were still focused on the civil rights movement. In conclusion, the student activism while it certainly pushed forwards the second wave of feminism, it neglected certain parts of what being a woman of color in America in the 1960s was like and the differences between the struggles of a black woman and a white woman. While white women tried hard for their movement to be all-inclusive no matter the race or sexuality, it was sadly not. Many radicals only focused on their experiences so much that they excluded others. However, I believe that although this is correct, the beauty and the initial pureness, compelling and empowering the movement represented is the important thing.


  1. Dore, M. (Director). (2014, November 13). [Video file). Retrieved November 10, 2017, from
  2. X, M. (n.d.). Malcolm X – Who Taught You to Hate Yourself? ( 1962, May 5) Retrieved November 20, 2017, from Picture. (1961). Retrieved November 20, 2017, from DR253XAhXL8CYKHZPQAWYQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2
  4. Clement, S., & Cai, W. (2016, January 27). Poll: Feminism in the U.S. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from
  5. Project/poll/ Breines, W. (2007). The trouble between us: an uneasy history of white and Black women in the feminist movement. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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The Role of Student Activism in Pushing Forward the Feminist Movement in the 1960s. (2022, Aug 15). Retrieved from

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