The Halves Are Not Equal in a Divorce

In 1854, the godmother of American feminists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, told the New York State assembly: "We ask for no better laws than those you have made for yourselves. We need no other protection than that which your present laws secure for you."

More than one hundred and fifty years later, Mrs. Stanton probably would not recognize the advances toward equality American woman have made. At least three waves of feminism have changed American life for women, and although many would say much remains to do, no one can doubt that more women today enjoy a level of equality their grandmothers, who got the right to vote in 1920, could not imagine.

In the Western world, the first wave of modern feminism began in the nineteenth century when woman battled for the right to vote and early efforts at reproductive rights. Without a doubt, the introduction of the birth control pill in 1960 and the Roe v Wade in 1973, which legalized abortion, enhanced what has been termed "the emancipation of women," and changes in the structure of society, particularly the influx of large numbers working women with small children at home, have forced a redefinition of the role of women.

Indeed, the idealized picture of American life - the working Dad and the stay-at-home Mom with children in hand - applies to less than a quarter of American households today.

Since the 1970s, when the states began following the lead of California in liberalizing divorce laws, discussion of women’s and mothers’ rights in a divorce must take place in the larger context of the women’s movement known as women’s liberation and feminism. This second wave of women’s liberation and feminism, like the men’s and fathers’ rights movements, took shape during the cultural upheaval that began in the 1960s and continues today.



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