Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Women, Activism and Social Movements

Women have been important advocates for social justice; however, much of the research on social movements focuses on male experiences or does not use a gendered approach in its analysis. The experiences of women activists, their motivations, and reasons for becoming involved in political action often differ from men and these differences are important to understand for future movement building. This collection of articles discusses women activists and women’s social movements from around the world. Together, they illustrate the wide variety of injustices women are working to rectify as well as the challenges and successes. Many of these research articles discuss the importance of understanding the role played by individual and collective identity in motivating political action. This is particularly vital when an individual holds multiple minority statuses (e.g. the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality). Students will be inspired not only by the contributions of women to social change, but to also explore how their own social identity shapes their involvement in social justice work.

Coe, Anna-Britt. 2015. I am not just a feminist eight hours a day”: Youth gender justice activism in Ecuador and Peru. Gender & Society 29 (6): 888-913.

This article focuses on youth feminist political action in Ecuador and Peru and its relationship to contemporary gender hierarchies. I examine how and why youth gender justice activists understand their political action differently from the professionalized adult feminists who mobilize them. Grounded theory was used to collect and analyze interviews with 21 young women and men activists on gender justice. Youth activists seek cultural changes using social advocacy to target the family, household, and intimate partnerships, what I describe as politicizing the sociocultural. They develop new ways of perceiving political action in response to challenges produced by emergent gender hierarchies, which they understand as blurred gender inequalities or processes that simultaneously enable and constrain gender equality.

Bell, Shannon Elizabeth and Yvonne Braun. 2010. Coal, identity, and the gendering of environmental justice activism in Central Appalachia. Gender & Society 24 (6): 794-813.

Environmental justice movements differ from environment activism in that the focus is on justice for the people who live, work and play near polluted or toxic areas.  Women are typically at the forefront of environmental justice movements, often spurred by their identities as mothers. Bell and Braun explore this trend by analyzing how women and men’s identities shape environmental justice activism in Central Appalachia coalfields. They conducted 20 interviews with men and women involved in environmental justice movements. They found that in Central Appalachia, masculinity is closely linked with employment in coal mining as well as a “code of silence” that prevents many men from speaking out about injustices. However, some men in the study feel that these issues can be overcome. Other findings support the literature that suggests that it is women’s identities as mothers which prompts their environmental justice activism.

Gordon, Hava Rachel. 2008. Gendered paths to teenage political participation: Parental power, civic mobility, and youth activism. Gender & Society 22 (1): 31-55.

This article proposes that gender shapes “the development, involvement, and visibility” of teenagers as activists. The focus is on understanding the forces that contribute to a teenage girl’s involvement in activism and social movement. A key factor in a youth’s likelihood of engaging in political activity is the role of the parent. While a parent’s ideologies can motivate a young person to become involved in activism, parental concern for the safety of their child may present a barrier.  Findings suggest that girls are more likely than boys to exhibit a disconnect between their political consciousness and degree of action due to parental power. This can have ramifications for future political participation.

Culley, Marci R., and Holly L. Angelique. 2003. Women’s gendered experiences as long-term Three Mile Island activists. Gender & Society 17 (3): 445-461.

This article examines women who have been antinuclear activists at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant for two decades. Qualitative interviews focus on their perceived transformations over time that are based on gender and everyday experiences. They perceive gender as both a barrier and a facilitator to activism, even after 20 years. Women describe their technological education as one strategy to overcome the barrier of gender. On the other hand, they consider the gendered role of motherhood as a primary catalyst for action. In addition, they discuss individual everyday experiences focused on the health concerns for family members that influenced their political activity. Over time, women linked personal transformations with increased political understanding and involvement.

Einwohner, Rachel L., Jocelyn A. Hollander, Toska Olson. 2000. Engendering social movements: Cultural images and movement dynamics. Gender & Society 14 (5): 679-699.

This article discusses the role of gender in social movements. First, the authors create a typology of the ways in which social movements are gendered – gendered composition, gendered goals, gendered tactics, gendered identities, and gendered attributions. Second, they explore the processes by which movements are or become gendered. Finally, the implications for social movement outcomes are discussed with a focus on the “double bind” faced by movements attached to femininity. The authors write that gender in a social movement may be beneficial or detrimental to its goals and legitimacy. Social movements from the United States, Europe and Latin America are used for illustration. They conclude by calling for more gendered analyses of social movements.

Also see: Verta Taylor and Nancy Whittier edited two special issues on Gender and Social Movements. Part 1: Vol. 12, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 622-625. Part 2: Vol. 13, No. 1 (February 1999).

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by Jennifer L. Bronson, Howard University, Department of Sociology. Updated by Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University. Comments and suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu.

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