Gender & Society in the Classroom: Activism and Social Movements
Organized by: Jennifer L. Bronson, Howard University, Department of Sociology
Updated by: Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University
Through time and space 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 female 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.
Argentina recently underwent a period of economic crisis that shook societal foundations. People turned to collective action for social and political change, and women were at the forefront of many protests. This crisis offers an opportunity to study a moment of “quotidian disruption”—when routine practices and ingrained assumptions are threatened—as an impetus for mobilization. The authors draw on ethnographic observations and analyze 44 in-depth interviews with activist women in Argentina to explore their responses to quotidian disruption. The authors show that the Argentine crisis challenged everyday practices and expectations that were often gendered, fostering activism that drew on previous social frameworks while also creating new ones. Activism became a new quotidian for many women and transformed their identities and experiences with politics and gender relations.
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.
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.
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.
This research examines the role of race and racial discourses on the politics of white women activists. The women’s movement has been criticized for its failure to adequately include women of color or address racism. Multiracial feminism developed to address these critiques and is the framing theory used to examine whiteness and white privilege. Interviews were conducted with 46 white, female activists involved in the women’s movement between 1972 and1999. Based on the interviews, the author uncovered five discourse themes: the absence of whiteness, power reversal, symbolic multiculturalism, reification, and strategic power. The most prevalent theme, absence of whiteness, refers to discussions of race in terms of being “nonwhite” or excluding “white” from race. Of the five, strategic power represented the most progressive, antiracist repertoire. This research points to the importance of including race in an analysis, particularly the role of white identity, in feminist social movements.
Women in the U.S. and South African played a key part in the Civil Rights and anti-apartheid movements. Although ending racism was the central goal of these movements, women activists became involved due to the intersection of multiple oppressions, such as race, class and gender inequality. This research seeks to understand the role of political opportunities for males and females, gender power relations, and gendered structures on activist participation and outcomes. This gendered perspective on activism allows us to consider the different experiences and realities of male and female activists and in turn, how this shapes social movements.
This article discusses theories of identity formation and how this process contributes to collective identities. In addition, she explores the mechanisms through which women’s organizations express different definitions of feminism. A case study of two National Organization of Women (NOW) chapters is conducted to answer these questions. The chapters were located in Cleveland, Ohio and New York City. Data came from 25 interviews with NOW members and relevant archival records. The researcher discovered that the two chapters differed in organizational dynamics, such as membership diversity and consistency of leaders. These meso-level factors in turn influenced the collective identities of the members.
During the Nicaraguan Contra War, Sandinistas and Anti-Sandinistas worked to mobilize mothers in order to support their respective positions. For both groups, “mother” was synonymous with “woman” and effectively elevated maternal identity and discourse over other roles and identities. Frame analysis is used to analyze the maternal framing techniques used to support or protest war efforts. Maternal framing in wartime is not a feature of most wars; rather, it develops in the social context. The Sandinista State utilized a maternal framing discourse to drum up domestic and international support for the war. Conversely, the Anti-Sandinistas and U.S. State Department organized mothers to protest the draft and political prisoners. In both cases, the State and its opposition are attracted to the symbolism of mothers and maternalism. This research contributes to our understanding of the importance of organizing women’s support for or against war efforts.
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.
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.