In challenging traditional notions of womanhood in terms of citizenship, labor and sport, women prevailed in gaining suffrage and higher social status while facing opposition from the 1800’s up through today. This exploratory essay, one of the professional writing services offered by Ultius, which specifically touches on voting equality and citizenship, describes the steps taken by many female activists to improve the quality of living for American women in the early 20th century.
Challenging Notions of Womanhood: A Chronological Narrative
Leading up to 1920, notable figures like Alice Paul and Harriot Blatch led the way in many changes in America that challenged previously established notions of the role and status of women in society. Surely, the road leading up to the passing of the 19th amendment was a long struggle with a tumultuous history that required women to confront the very fabric of society that ruled it (MacBain-Stephens). However, the prominent role of both individuals and organizations made that possible.
Harriot Blatch’s contributions to women’s rights
Despite facing widespread criticism, leaders like Harriot Blatch worked towards unity through calling to the middle-class women in New York that did not know how to approach the movement (Adams, 44). She enticed them to join organizations like the NAWSA, which took a strong approach at fighting for equality. Jennifer MacBain-Stephens argued that despite opposition from society,
“NAWSA started to take on a life of its own and placed women in the political spotlight” (20).
The political opposition was widespread and included politicians and even a government that deterred domestic issues at the expense of international conflict and war.
Alice Paul defines the role of women
However, as the US sought to define its role as a defender of democracy and sovereign of equal rights, women advocated the notion that they had to be treated equally as well, gender roles must be challenged and stereotypes dismissed. Political opposition was strong, especially within regards to women meeting openly to discuss such difficult issues. For example, Alice Paul redefined the role of women by staging a crowd of 5,000 women in Washington DC in 1913 (Adams, 46). In doing so, Paul fought against Washington, society and even Woodrow Wilson, a president known for his dismissal of equal rights legislation. Nonetheless, women like Paul persevered in defining the role of women as being entitled to the same rights as men. With groups such as the League of Women Voters and others, women showed that they could organize at mass scale in order to get the attention of policymakers.
WWII shapes the female definition
The role of women was challenged and reshaped economically through WWII because they showed that they were capable of adding value to the much needed domestic workforce during war. One figure, Florence Kelley, who advocated for women’s labor, also challenged the traditional notions of women’s roles by arguing that
“35,000 voteless women…could not carry the same weight as thirty-five voting men” (Addams et al, 60).
Despite the fact that women proved to be an invaluable resource during the war, they were still nonetheless subject to the inherent criticisms and difficulties as in previous times when men returned from war. As a result, feminist labor during WWII showed that women were capable of doing men’s work and performing (Addams et al, 31). This extended further past just manual labor too. As the work of Elanor Roosevelt demonstrated, women had their place in intellectual circles as well as factories. For example, despite raising the concern:
“how could I be a delegate to help organize the United Nations when I have no background or experience…,”
Roosevelt showed that she was more than capable of doing high level, intellectual work (Glendon, 20). Again, the role of women was redefined to broaden their scope past menial work, pink collar jobs and into government work that impacted the world as a whole.
Feminism post WWII
The years following WWII also reflected women’s ability to challenge traditional notions of womanhood and discrimination in male dominated facets of society of sports:
- Nancy Spencer argued that Billie Jean King set off a third wave of feminism in winning a notable tennis match against Bobby Riggs; consequently, as she directly challenged traditional notions of male dominance in sport, she elevated the status of women to being up to par with men (Spencer).
- Legislation such as Title IX worked towards combating negative stereotypes of women in the field of sport. Mary Kane argued that:
not only did Title IX challenge social conventions of how women were regarded within sport, but media coverage post Title IX also reflected much more egalitarianism, respect and acceptance of women in sport (Kane).
The years following the 1970’s also reflected more direct evidence of women’s changing roles in American society as they emerged as being strong advocates of equal pay that challenged domesticity.
Adams, Colleen. Women’s Suffrage: A Primary Source History of the Women’s Rights Movement in America. New York: Rosen Publishing, 2003. Print.
Addams, Jane, Earl Barnes, and Mary Beard. Women in public life. Philadelphia: Google Digital Publishing, 1914. Print.
Glendon, Mary. A World Made New: Elanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Trade Paperbacks, 2001. Print.
Kane, Mary. “Media coverage of the female athlete before, during, and after Title IX: Sports Illustrated revisited.” Journal of Sport Management 2.2 (1988): 87-99. Print.
McBain-Stephens, Jennifer. Women’s Suffrage: Giving the Right to Vote to All Americans. New York: Rosen Publishing, 2006. Print.
Spencer, Nancy. “Reading Between the Lines: A Discursive Analysis of the Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs “Battle of the Sexes”.” Sociology of Sport Journal 17.4 (2000): 386-402. Print.
Cite This Post
This blog post is provided free of charge and we encourage you to use it for your research and writing. However, we do require that you cite it properly using the citation provided below (in MLA format).
Ultius, Inc. “Sample Essay on Women’s Rights.” Ultius Blog. Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services, 28 May 2013. Web.
Thank you for practicing fair use.
This citation is in MLA format, if you need help with MLA format, click here to follow our citation style guide.