Half the People

Full Program Description

Half the People
At home and at work, women fight for equal rights
Original broadcast: Thursday, June 17, 1999 at 10pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)


"It was a feeling of power, that if there's a sisterhood -- that we all want to change society -- we can do it."
-- Jacqui Michot Ceballos, NOW Activist (1967-1975), United States


In the United States, the status of women had advanced little since winning the vote in 1920, but suddenly, in 1942, all that changed. With the country at war, eighteen million women were thrust into roles traditionally reserved for men, and their view of what they were capable of changed dramatically. But despite their competence in a variety of jobs, women were constantly reminded of the temporary nature of it all. When the men returned home, so did the traditional view that a woman's place was in the home. Still, by mid-century, while television and advertisers often portrayed women as fulfilled, full-time homemakers, one-third of all American women worked outside the home. Most were relegated to low-paying jobs with virtually no opportunity to advance.

Inspired by the successes of the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, women began to challenge discrimination on the basis of gender. The National Organization for Women was founded in 1966 by author Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique), its first president, to support full equality for women in America. In the boardroom and other bastions of male power, women pressed their demands with growing success.

In the West, work experience raised women's expectations, and new methods of birth control gave them independence and power over their own bodies. In 1973, the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in the US. It would remain a divisive issue, but for the women's movement, the Court's ruling was seen as a crucial victory.

As the principles of equal opportunity and equal rights were gradually accepted, the movement's international headlines inspired women worldwide to struggle against age-old prejudices, whether social, political, economic, or religious.

The people remember: Discrimination, Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963), civil rights, equality, the Pill, National Organization for Women, Equal Rights Amendment (1972), Roe vs. Wade, women and Islam, UN Women's Conference in Beijing (1995).

Half the People is produced and directed by Anne Moir. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

Alfre Woodard narrates.



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