Of course participation in social activism by men can be life changing but such

Of course participation in social activism by men can

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sometimes at great personal cost. Of course, participation in social activism by men can be life-changing-- but such participation is a qualitatively different enterprise for women, who trangress not just the rules of politics as usual but the rules of gender as usual. And in many ways, it is women’s movements, women in autonomous organizations, who constitute the greatest threat to order, as they disrupt the political field, and societal expectations of how women should act in that field through men. In mixed-gender settings, social movement participation is different for women precisely because of gender role expectations, specifically the responsibilities that women have in reproducing daily life. Women have tended to be the ones running movement offices, typing reports, making flyers, walking neighborhoods with the flyers, staffing phone trees, taking minutes at late-night strategy sessions. Movement “housewifery”--cleaning up after meetings, cooking for the meetings, attending to whatever 3
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domestic needs the social movement community had--was part of what led women activists in left movements to organize as feminists in the 1960s and 1970s. Even this kind of “domestic” participation in movement settings can be liberating if one believes in the cause, and movements also have clearly given women the opportunity to do other things. They have been leaders, though often their greatest contributions have been as leaders behind the scenes (see McNair Barnett 1993, Payne 1990, and Robnett 1997 on this point regarding women in the Black Civil Rights movement). But in a manner analogous to the way that a working woman comes home to do a “second shift” (Hochschild, with Machung 1989) of domestic duties at home, women activists have been expected to be the ones making the coffee for the sake of the struggle. In short, the economy of social movement activism rests on women’s energies in a way that replicates gendered divisions of labor in the larger society. Moreover, although social movement communities make boundaries between themselves and the rest of society, structural social inequality finds its way into oppositional communities (Roth 1998). Gender inequality does not go away just because women mobilize with men on behalf of interests they have in common, and this endemic inequality becomes all the more problematic when women, in the course of social movement activism with men, discover the interests they might have as women . Inadvertently or on purpose, women often find themselves working toward their own liberation as women as they extend meaningful categories of liberation to cover liberation from gender oppression. But they do not always bring their male comrades with them on the journey, and when women activists make noise about women’s issues, they are most often asked to “backburner” their demands--to put their concerns aside in the name of the greater cause, whether it be the strike, the revolution, ending the war, fighting AIDS, or overturning racial/ethnic discrimination. Issues constructed as common to men and women tend to be
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  • Fall '13
  • English

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