Feminism has changed a lot over the past 60 years, but in many ways, it has also stayed the same. That's why many feminist quotes from the 1950s and previous eras are still relevant today. In some cases, we're fighting some of the same battles we were decades ago; in others, the battles might be new. Either way, though, it's important not to lose sight of the things that have always characterized the best elements of the movement: Forward thinking, independence, and an unshakeable belief in equality.
The 1950s were an interesting time for feminism; they occurred between the movement's first and second wave, so there wasn't much structure or any central organization at the time. But that doesn't mean women weren't advocating for equality. In fact, it was one of the most important times for women in the United States. Men were home from World War II, which pressured women who had joined the workforce to leave their jobs. But many refused, and women's right to work with equal treatment and pay became a visible national issue. The 1950s also saw the research and publication of several seminal feminist texts: In the late 1950s, Betty Friedan began laying the groundwork for what would become The Feminine Mystique (ultimately published in 1963), and Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, published in the original French in 1949, was translated into English in 1953.
Here are a few quotes from important women from the 1950s that we can still learn from.
1. “In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination — tell them not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should she 'adjust' to prejudice and discrimination.”
—Betty Friedan, Author
2. “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”
— Simone de Beauvoir, Author and Philosopher
3. "Women’s inferiority is the product of a social system which has produced and fostered innumerable other inequalities, inferiorities, discriminations and degradations. But this social history has been concealed behind the myth that women are naturally inferior to man."
— Evelyn Reed, Political Activist
4. "Intelligent adults, they must know what they want. They must manage their lives themselves."
—Margaret Sanger, Birth Control Activist
5. "Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism: the right to criticize; the right to hold unpopular beliefs; the right to protest; the right of independent thought."
— Margaret Chase Smith, Senator
Images: United States Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons