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lesson 3

second wave

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To remember some key points from the last lesson

To understand the beginnings of second wave activism

To learn the key features of second wave feminism

To study the most influential Cambridge women in the second wave

To present what you learn about one of these women in a comic strip.  




activity 1

Before we begin learning about second wave feminism, and how Cambridge women contributed to it, have a go at writing some bullet points on what you remember from last time about:  


First Wave Feminism - What were the main aims?


Names of any First Wave Feminists - What did they achieve? 

Any interesting facts that stood out from the videos?  


This should take 5 minutes.

second Wave Feminism 1960s - 1970s

Just as the First World War forced some changes to traditional gender roles, which would help to ensure laws were passed that meant all women in Britain would finally getting the right to vote in 1928, the Second World War also saw changes for gender roles.
During the war, women worked in factories producing weapons and supplies. They experienced what life could be like for them in paid jobs, as opposed to the more traditional role of 'housewife' which was the previous expectation. This resulted in a new wave of feminism as some women fought to break from the social ideas of what a woman could be. 
Simone de Beauvoir was a French feminist and wrote the 'Second Sex' where she outlines how men oppress women by categorising females as 'the other' and as 'an object'. She explored representations of women throughout history and wanted women to realise that their feminine identities are not something they are born as, but rather something that they become, through what society teaches them. 
  • De Beauvoir began the next wave of feminism and inspired another greatly influential figure of second wave feminism: Betty Friedan. Her book: 'The Feminine Mystique' built on De Beauvoir's work. She wanted to teach women that they could find fulfillment through education, work and political involvement and not simply from the family and household work.
  • As women realised that they really wanted greater fulfillment in life, they began to rebel and take charge of their own future.
  • The feminists of the second wave tackled a huge range of issues including: Rights to education, equality of rights in employment, women's roles in the family, equal pay, birth control rights, representation of women in culture, and misogynistic behaviour.
  • The second wave increased the numbers of women getting involved in activism, politics and feminist ideas in order to tackle these issues. 
  • The most influential second wave feminist in the UK was the Cambridge educated Germaine Greer...

Germaine Greer


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  • Germaine is an Australian writer and feminist activist, and was hugely influential during the second wave.

  • She studied at Newnham College, Cambridge, graduating in 1964.

  • Greer wrote 'The Female Eunuch' (1970) which looked at models of womanhood and femininity, and argued that these are all male constructions of what being a women should be. [Can you see the links with Friedan and De Beauvoir?]

  • One of her most recognised quotes: 'Woman has yet to become'  highlights how women are still defined by male viewpoints and, despite previous progression, they still haven't fully defined their own potential.

  • Greer has defined a type of feminism, 'liberation feminism' which has the purpose of explaining how women could act in the world, as opposed to 'equality feminism' which encouraged women to aspire to 'be like men' rather than be like a newly defined woman.

  • One notable difference between Greer and previous feminists was that she was a well-known figure in the media, as she used TV appearances - often using humour - to spread her views to the general population.

 claire tomalin


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  • Claire graduated from Newnham College in 1954.

  • She has written the biographies of historical/literary figures including: Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and probably most significantly: Mary Wollstonecraft.

  • Tomalin shed a light on the greatly underappreciated protofeminist Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein). Tomalin's contribution allowed for the unveiling of a 'blue plaque' (a permanent sign installed in a public space to signify a historical location, or person) dedicated to Wollstonecraft.

  • In 1997, Tomalin organised an exhibition celebrating the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.

  • This is why Tomalin's work was so significant, as she re-introduced arguably one of England's most important figures back into the minds of the public.

baroness nancy seear


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  • Nancy read History at Newnham College, Cambridge.

  • She was a social scientist and politician.

  • Seear was president of the Liberal Party (1964-65) which we now know as the Liberal Democrats. Seear was also president of the Fawcett Society (1970-85).

  • Seear became a member of the House of Lords in 1971. She was also president of the Women's Liberal Federation.

  • Much of her political work involved a passion for women's rights, in particular in employment.

  • She sponsored the 1973 Sex Discrimination Bill which tried to protect men and women from discrimination on the grounds of their sex. Legally this meant equal opportunities in employment.

  • Seear preferred to identify as an activist and politician rather than purely as a woman fighting for women's rights.

juliet mitchell


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  • Juliet was a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge.

  • She quickly gained attention with her groundbreaking article: 'Women: The Longest Revolution' . This brought together a collective summary of the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Viola Klein, Friedrich Engels and other critics of women's oppression. This added evidence to the argument that there is actually a problem within the systems and institutions (the patriarchy!).

  • Mitchell's book following her article: 'Psychoanalysis and Feminism' brought together how female psychology (how they think) has always been represented by men. As a result, men have set up systems and gender roles that women learn to identify with and grow into, such as housewives and mothers. 

  • Her book allowed women to realise that they had more freedom and more choice, and that they didn't have to conform to the roles that have always been assigned to them.

  • Another accomplishment Mitchell achieved is that she set up the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies. 

comic strip


Have a go at designing your own comic strip for one of the Cambridge women from the second wave. As an extension, you may want to do some further research on the person you have chosen.

The storyboard should consist of 6 boxes, each containing a narrative sentence or two of what is happening in the image.

You could structure it by covering their whole life, just their time at the university or following the journey of a specific achievement.

Don’t worry too much about how each picture looks, the important part is that you have created a useful summary of one of the women's achievements.

This task should take you 35 minutes (or more if you want to really extend your art skills with details and colour!)

activity 2

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Next Lesson...

We will be learning about how third wave feminism moved forward from what was missing in second wave feminism. Third wave looks at international feminism, intersectionality and the dangers of the media putting pressure on females. 

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