With some 500,000 contributing members and 550 chapters in all 50 states, the National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest group of feminist activists in America. Established in 1966 in Washington, D.C., NOW's principal objectives are: to secure women’s access to unrestricted, taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand; to end what it views as the widespread "discrimination and harassment" against women in the workplace and in schools; to win "economic equality" for women; to “end all forms of violence against women,” which it depicts as a societal epidemic; and to "eradicate" the allegedly pervasive evils of "racism, sexism and homophobia" from American life.
NOW states that it works to achieve these goals "through direct mass actions (including marches, rallies, pickets, counter-demonstrations, non-violent civil disobedience), intensive lobbying, and grassroots political organizing and litigation (including class-action lawsuits)." Though it defines itself as a "non-partisan organization" that "hold[s] itself independent of any political party," NOW consistently exhorts voters to support Democratic candidates at the polls. In 2000, NOW condemned Ralph Nader's presidential candidacy, fearing that Nader would siphon votes away from Democrat Al Gore. The Capital Research Center, which evaluates the political and ideological leanings of nonprofit organizations, places the NOW Foundation -- a 501(c)(3) organization that is intimately linked to NOW -- near the extreme left of the ideological spectrum.
NOW was co-founded by author and activist Betty Friedan, who penned the book The Feminine Mystique, and Reverend Pauli Murray, the first African-American female Episcopal priest. In 1966 NOW introduced its "Statement of Purpose," co-authored by Friedan and Murray, detailing the group's agendas and depicting women as oppressed victims of American sexism. This Statement read, in part, as follows:
"[T]he actual position of women in the United States has declined, and is declining, to an alarming degree throughout the 1950s and 60s. … [F]ull-time women workers today earn on the average only 60% of what men earn, and that wage gap has been increasing … in every major industry group. … Further, … too few women are entering and finishing college or going on to graduate or professional school. … In all the professions considered of importance to society, and in the executive ranks of industry and government, women are losing ground. … There is no civil rights movement to speak for women, as there has been for Negroes and other victims of discrimination. The National Organization for Women must therefore begin to speak."
In 1981, Now offered its congratulations to the New American Movement, a national socialist organization that grew out of the New Left in the early 1970s and later (in 1982) merged with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee to form the Democratic Socialists of America.
NOW is consistently hostile to, and critical of, Christianity and traditional religious values, conservative ideas, and men (whom it largely regards as exploiters of women). Even groups whose chief objective is to protect women are condemned by NOW, if those organizations base their ideals on conservative or religious tenets. For instance, NOW has disparaged the Promise Keepers, a Christian men's movement that encourages its adherents to take greater responsibility for the care and support of their families.
Prominently displayed at all NOW-sponsored rallies are placards bearing the slogan "Fight the Right." Launched in 1996, this NOW campaign drew the support of hundreds of leftist organizations intent on derailing California's ballot initiative to end racial and gender preferences in business and academia statewide. Today "Fight the Right" focuses its efforts on helping the Democratic Party retain control of Congress and derail the judicial nominations of President Bush.
NOW has developed a "Progressive Feminist Agenda for Peace," whose trifold mission is to: "expose the Bush administration's exploitation of the tragedies of September 11, 2001 to advance a right-wing political agenda"; "expose the stifling of political dissent by the Bush administration through policies such as the USA Patriot Act"; and "call for an end to the U.S. campaign of militarism and corporate profit that has contributed to anti-American sentiment around the world."
In June 2002 NOW, a member organization of the Win Without War coalition, drafted a "Resolution to Oppose the War on Terror." This document stressed "the urgent need to re-examine the worldwide impact of U.S. foreign policy and global economic policy." Impugning the Bush administration's "enormous increases in defense spending that displace funds from domestic social services and the nation's health-care safety net," NOW characterized the "so-called 'war on terror' … [as] a war without end that extends U.S. military aggression into Iraq and throughout the Middle East." NOW's resolution warned that "further U.S. military aggression in the Middle East will only exacerbate the plight of women and children in these countries, where U.S. foreign policy has already contributed to their oppression and destitution." The NOW resolution concluded that the war on terror constitutes a "disregard for international law, as well as [for] internationally accepted standards for human rights."
In 2003 it was reported that NOW, in conjunction with the Institute for Policy Studies, made some of its Washington DC office space available (at no charge) to the feminist antiwar organization Code Pink, headed by the longtime communists Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans.
A major NOW initiative during the 2004 elections was its defense of same-sex marriages, coupled with its criticism of the Bush administration's Federal Marriage Amendment, which defined marriage in the United States as a union of one man and one woman, and which barred the judicial extension of marriage-like rights to multiple spouses or same-sex couples. "The right wing immediately seized upon this issue to rally its ultra-conservative supporters," said NOW. "… The Federal Marriage Amendment ... is an attempt to write discrimination and bigotry into our Constitution, and to overrule any state action on behalf of equal marriage rights."
NOW has not been hesitant to support radical feminists who view traditional, male-female marriage as an oppressive institution that debases women. One such individual was NOW’s longtime member Andrea Dworkin, who believed that marriage is “a legal license to rape,” and that “[o]ne of the differences between marriage and prostitution is that in marriage you only have to make a deal with one man.” When Dworkin died on April 9, 2005, the NOW website eulogized her as follows: "Andrea Dworkin … was one of feminism's most rigorous minds and fiercest crusaders. In her determination to articulate the experiences of poor, lower-class, marginal, and prostituted women, Dworkin deepened public awareness of rape, battery, pornography, and prostitution. … [Her] impassioned words always informed, provoked and inspired."
NOW supports Title IX, a 1972 law which stipulates that in all federally funded schools, the funding given to female sports teams must proportionately match that given to male teams – even in cases where female squads attract far fewer spectators and generate far less revenue than the male teams.
On the issue it calls "family planning," NOW's position is that women should be granted unfettered access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand. A member of the National Council of Women's Organizations, NOW was an Organizer of the April 25, 2004 "March for Women's Lives" held in Washington, D.C. -- a rally that drew more than a million demonstrators agitating for the acceptance of NOW's position. NOW also supports the widespread distribution of Mifepristone (the "abortion pill" also known as RU-486). "Concerns over safety about Mifepristone are nonsense," says NOW, which describes the drug as a "safe and private abortion option."
In 2002, NOW launched a website called "The Truth About George.com," which, according to NOW, documents "the misdeeds of [President] Bush and his cronies since 2002, revealing the cold hard facts about an administration bent on rewarding big corporations and the rich, turning back the clock on women's rights and civil rights, and promoting a U.S. empire abroad." "Bush's second term," said NOW in 2004, "promises to be even worse — with an escalation of attacks on reproductive rights, the Constitution, the courts, civil rights, the economy, Social Security and global relations."
Kim Gandy has served as NOW’s President since 2001, prior to which she had spent a decade as the organization's Executive Vice President. She has also held prominent positions with the Association of Democratic Women; the Association of Women Attorneys; the Business and Professional Women; the Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus; and WomenFocus. Moreover, she chairs the NOW Political Action Committees, which in 1997 launched a campaign titled "Victory 2000 - The Feminization of Politics," whose objective was to elect “2,000 feminist candidates at all levels of political office by the year 2000.”
Viewing the United States as a nation rife with discrimination against minorities and women, in 2000 NOW co-sponsored a “Pay Equity Now!” petition that sought to "expose and oppose U.S. opposition to pay equity" for women. The petition charged that "in the U.S. … women's average pay has dropped from 76% in 1992 to 73% of men's wages”; that "women are often segregated in caring and service work for low pay, much like the housework they are expected to do for no pay at home"; and that "underpaying women is a massive subsidy to employers that is both sexist and racist." NOW is a member organization of the National Committee on Pay Equity.
Among NOW’s most notable former presidents are Patricia Ireland, and Eleanor Smeal (currently President of the Feminist Majority Foundation).
NOW has received funding from the American Express Foundation, the Baker Street Foundation, the California Endowment, the ChevronTexaco Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Hilton Foundation, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation, the New World Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the New York Times Company Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Shefa Fund, the Target Foundation, and the Vanguard Public Foundation.