Social Movements And Gender Research Paper

Custom Writing Services

View sample Social Movements And Gender Research Paper. Browse other social sciences research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a religion research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our research paper writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

Social movements can be defined as collectivities acting outside institutionalized channels to promote or resist change in an institution, society, or the world order. Although there are a diversity of theoretical approaches to the study of social movements, until recently mainstream theory and research in the fields of social movements and political sociology have ignored the influence of gender on social protest. Beginning in the 1990s, scholars trained in the gender tradition that flourished in the social sciences during the 1980s turned their attention to questions pertaining to the gender dynamics of a variety of historical and contemporary movements. As a result, a thriving body of research demonstrates that gender hierarchy is so persistent that, even in movements that do not evoke the language of gender conflict or explicitly embrace gender change, the mobilization, leadership patterns, strategies, ideologies, and outcomes of social movements are influenced by gender and gender differences. This research paper delineates the way gender relations and hierarchy influence various social movements, including feminist, antifeminist, men’s, labor, civil rights, gay and lesbian, nationalist, rightwing, and fascist movements. It ends by discussing the broader implications of integrating gender to mainstream theories of social movements.



1. Linking Gender And Social Movement Theories

Notions of femininity and masculinity, the gender division of labor in private and public spheres, and the numerous institutions, practices, and structures that reinforce male dominance are not expressions of natural differences between women and men. Rather, the gender order is constructed socially and gender is a pervasive feature of social life. Although gender scholars fairly universally adopt social constructionist perspectives to understand gender relations, there is considerable variation in the epistemologies, contexts, and levels of analyses of the various theories that have developed to explain gender hierarchy. The most sophisticated conceptualizations treat gender as an element of social relationships that, like race and class, operates at multiple levels. Gender categorizes and distinguishes the sexes and ranks men above women of the same race and class (Lorber 1994). Multilevel frameworks seek to avoid universal generalizations that are impervious to the historicity and contextualized nature of perceived differences between the sexes by conceptualizing gender as operating at three levels. Multilevel approaches, first, view gender as organizing social life at the interactional level through the processes of socialization and sex categorization that encourage gender-appropriate identities and behavior in everyday interactions. Second, multilevel theories emphasize the complex ways gender operates at the structural level, so that gender distinctions and hierarchy serve as a basis for socioeconomic arrangements, the division of labor in families, the organization of sexual expression and emotions, work and organizational hierarchies, and state policies. Finally, multilevel theories attend to the cultural level, specifically to the way gender distinctions and hierarchy are expressed in ideology and cultural practices, such as sexuality and language, as well as in the symbolic codes and practices of institutions such as art, religion, medicine, law, and the mass media.

Recent writings on social movements treat the social construction of gender as taking place at these three respective levels. The significance of gender is more apparent for some movements than for others. Its relevance is obvious in the case of women’s movements targeting discriminatory policies and practices pertaining to employment, family, reproduction, and sexuality. Nevertheless, gender is also constructed in movements that do not explicitly evoke the language of gender conflict. One example is McAdam’s (1992) landmark study of the US 1964 Freedom Summer campaign, when white college students spent the summer in the South participating in the US civil rights movement. The traditional sexual double standard meant that women were less likely to be recruited to the Mississippi project than men because of the taboos associated with interracial sexual relationships, especially those between Black men and white women. Those women who managed to make it to Mississippi were more likely to be slotted into traditional female roles—specifically, clerical work and teaching rather than canvassing and voter registration. Furthermore, the biographical consequences of participation differed for men and women. Men were more likely to remain activists over the course of their lives than women, and women who participated in Freedom Summer were less likely to marry than men. To provide another example, masculinity is integral to nationalist politics in the contemporary world (Nagel 1998). Gender hierarchy is expressed in forms such as the construction of patriotic manhood and exalted motherhood as icons of nationalist ideology. The relevance of gender can also be seen in the domination of masculine interests in the ideology of nationalist movements and sexualized militarism that simultaneously constructs the male enemy as over-sexed and under-sexed (as rapists and wimps) and the female enemy as promiscuous (sluts and whores).

A systematic incorporation of gender into an understanding of social movements requires that we examine the way gender processes are embedded in the factors that trigger and sustain social movements. The most influential theoretical perspectives on social movements combine the insights of classical collective behavior theory, resource mobilization theory, and new social movements theory (McAdam et al. 1996). They emphasize three factors that explain the emergence and development of any movement: shifting political and social opportunities and constraints; the forms of organization used by groups seeking to mobilize; and variations in the ways challenging groups frame and interpret their grievances and identities. Let us examine the way gender comes into play in each of these three broad sets of conditions that are relevant to the emergence and operation of social movements.

1.1 Political And Cultural Opportunities And The Gender Regime Of Institutions

One of the major premises of social movement theory is that changes in the larger political and cultural context can stimulate or discourage people from participating in collective action. Shifts in gender differentiation and gender stratification in the particular sociohistorical context have been important facilitating conditions for the emergence and operation of feminist movements. In modern welfare states, public policy with respect to pregnancy and mother-hood historically has been formulated either by treating women and men the same with gender-neutral policies or by recognizing women’s special needs as child bearers and mothers and providing femalespecific benefits. In the US, during the early twentieth century, government support of maternity often took the form of ‘protective legislation’ that regulated women’s hours, working conditions, and prohibited women from working in occupations thought to be dangerous. While nineteenth century feminists, by and large, supported special female legislation and other policies consistent with women’s primary identity as mothers, by the late 1960s the feminist campaign to formulate public policy switched to the sameness side of the sameness difference divide, reflected in campaigns for policies such as the Equal Rights Amendment and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Feminist movements in the US historically have targeted gender inequality in a wide range of institutions, including medicine, religion, education, politics and the law, the military, and the media. For instance, feminists criticized the medical system’s bias against women in medical research, the labeling and classification of medical conditions, and doctor/patient relationships. The entry of larger numbers of women into the medical field beginning in the 1970s and 1980s facilitated the growth and expansion of feminist women’s health centers and women’s self-help movements focused on conditions unique to women, such as rape, battering, breast cancer, childbirth and pregnancy, and postpartum illness.

1.2 Gendered Mobilizing Structures

Expanding political and cultural opportunities create possibilities for collective action, but the emergence of a movement depends upon whether aggrieved groups are able to develop the organization and solidarity necessary to get a challenge underway. Gender differences and relations figure heavily into the pre-existing mobilizing structures or nonmovement ties that exist among individuals prior to mobilization and the organizational form a movement takes once it is underway. Gender, racial, class, ethnic, and other inequalities are often embedded in the informal networks, clubs, and formal organizations that provide the incentives for people to take the risks associated with participating in protest groups. In her study of African American women’s participation in the US civil rights movement, Robnett (1996) identifies a distinct form of grassroots behind-the-scenes leadership carried out by women who were prevented from occupying formal leadership positions by the exclusionary practices of the Black church. Gender divisions can also facilitate mobilization. For example, sex-segregated women’s colleges, clubs, associations, and informal networks historically have been fertile grounds for the growth of feminism. Blee’s (1991) research on women in the 1920s Ku Klux Klan provides further evidence of the importance of sex-segregated networks. She reveals how women drew upon family ties and traditions of church suppers and family reunions to mobilize. She describes the way Klan women deployed women’s gossip in the form of ‘poison squads’ to spread a message of racial and religious hatred.

The connective structures that link leaders and followers and different parts of a movement, allowing them to persist, can also be gendered. Some scholars have argued that there is no particular structure essential to a feminist organization. Others, however, find that some feminists’ beliefs in fundamental differences between female and male values have led to feminist organizations with distinctive emotion cultures that dictate open displays of emotion, empathy, and attention to participants’ biographies. By contrast, the large-scale all-male meetings of the Promise Keepers, a mostly white, middle-class, and heterosexual men’s rights movement that arose in the late 1990s to reassert essentialist views of women’s and men’s roles in the family, were steeped in an aura of powerful masculinity, holding meetings in stadiums associated with organized sports events (Messner 1997). Gender can also be a subtext in the organizational logic, beliefs, and practices of movements that do not make explicit gender claims. Einwohner (1999) found that prevailing ideas about gender and gender differences are a driving force behind the largely female composition, emotion-laden strategies, and negative reactions of the public to the contemporary animal rights movement. The well known decentralized grassroots Alinsky model that influenced early social welfare activism since the early 1970s, according to Stall and Stoecker (1998), is organized along an essentially masculine logic that views community organizing as a means to power, in contrast with ‘the women-centered model,’ which treats community building as a goal of organizing. Brown (1992) implicates gendered organization in the decline of the Black Panther Party. She recounts the way the male power rituals of the Party—specifically its military structure, use of violence and aggression, and promotion of sexual rivalries—not only excluded women from the Black power struggle but planted the seeds of its destruction.

As this last example illustrates, gender inequality often persists within social movement organizations as Fonow (1998) reports in her research on women’s participation in the 1985 Wheeling–Pittsburgh steel strike. In this case, major strike activities—picket duty and meal preparation—reflected a gender division of labor. While working kitchen duty helped mobilize the support of the larger community by bringing together the wives and families of workers and nonworkers, the exclusion of women steelworkers from the picket lines—seen as an expression of ‘virile unionism’— undermined solidarity between men and women steelworkers.

1.3 Gender And Framing Processes

Social movements often appropriate gender ideology to legitimate and inspire collective action and to identify a challenging group’s commonalities. Contemporary scholars of social movements rely upon two concepts for analyzing the unique frames of understanding that people use to define their shared grievances: collective action frames and collective identities. To the extent that gender operates as a constitutive element of social interaction and relationships, it is not surprising that images of masculinity and femininity appear in the language and ideas social movement activists use to frame movement demands and injustices. Gender dualism, for example, was woven tightly into German National Socialism. Not only was masculinity glorified and male bonding considered the foundation of the Nazi state, but gender-linked oppositions served as the metaphor for the polarization of Jews as weak and emotional and Aryans as strong and rational. The language of gender difference and power is pervasive in contemporary women’s self-help movements and serves as a major framework for understanding the problems that trouble women. In the postpartum self-help movement, gender plays a pivotal role in mobilizing participants. Activists linked postpartum illness to women’s responsibilities for parenting, to ideas that mothers (not fathers) have to be self-sacrificing, and to the gender bias of the largely male medical establishment (Taylor 1999). Social movement scholars use the concept of collective identity to research the question of how challenging groups define and make sense of the question ‘who we are’ and the complex and changing process collective actors use to draw the circles that separate ‘us from them.’ Gender difference in virtually every culture is key to the way actors identify themselves as persons, organize social relations, and symbolize meaningful social events and processes. That means that the identities that social movements of all kinds create and recreate are bound to be molded, at least in part, by gender meanings and practices. For example, Taylor and Whittier (1992) argue that in the lesbian feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s, the drawing of boundaries between male and female promoted the kind of oppositional consciousness necessary for organizing one’s life around feminism. Similarly, some branches of the contemporary breast cancer movement frame women’s commonalities in gender terms by connecting the experiences of breast cancer survivors to the societal emphasis on women’s breasts as crucial to women’s attractiveness to men. At the same time, such activists point out, the medical establishment has provided less funding and attention to breast cancer than to diseases that affect men more than women (Klawiter 1999). If gender symbolism plays an important role in the socially constructed solidarities that mobilize collective action, the development of gender solidarity is never automatic, even in women’s movements. Analyzing African American women’s autobiographies written before 1970, Brush (1999) shows that the messages that came from the civil rights movement encouraged them to interpret their grievances in terms of race rather than gender, while the women’s movement made gender seem irrelevant to Black women’s experiences. The tendency to see the generic ‘Black’ as male and the generic ‘woman’ as white shows that using gendered meanings to construct a group’s commonalities can exclude some people, since deciding who ‘we’ are also entails deciding who ‘we’ are not (Collins 1990).

Gender as a set of cultural beliefs and practices figures heavily into many of the identity movements that have swept the political landscape in recent years. In attempting to privilege white racial identity, the contemporary white supremacist movement not only presents a range of racial enemies but deploys gender metaphors—e.g., treating the Black male body as dangerous and animal-like and the white female body as always at risk and in need of protection—to appeal to the growing number of disillusioned white males who feel threatened by what they perceive to be the successes of social movements for gender and racial equality (Ferber 1998). Finally, gender symbolism and ideas about masculinity and femininity figure heavily in the modern gay and lesbian movement, which challenges the notion that women are feminine and men masculine and, further, that erotic attraction must be between two people of different sexes and genders (Gamson 1997).

2. The Significance Of Integrating The Study Of Social Movements And Gender

Feminist scholars interested in the study of social movements recently have called attention to the gendering of social movement processes and social movement theory. The role of gender in the emergence and dynamics of social movements, even those seemingly not about gender, has been obscured through the gender-neutral discourse that characterizes prevailing theories of social movements. Treating gender as an analytic category illuminates a range of new questions pertaining to the political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and framing processes of movements. A synthesis of the theoretical literatures on gender and social movements also has the potential to advance the field of gender. Theories of gender emphasize the maintenance and reproduction of gender inequality and neglect countervailing processes of resistance, challenge, conflict, and change. The literature on social movements spotlights the role of human agency in the making and remaking of femininity, masculinity, and the existing gender system.


  1. Blee K M 1991 Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
  2. Brown E 1992 A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. Pantheon Books, New York
  3. Brush P S 1999 The influence of social movements on articulations of race and gender in Black women’s autobiographies. Gender & Society 13: 120–37
  4. Collins P H 1990 Black Feminist Thought. Unwin Hyman, Boston
  5. Einwohner R L 1999 Gender, class, and social movement outcomes: Identity and effectiveness in two animal rights campaigns. Gender & Society 13: 56–76
  6. Ferber A L 1998 White Man Falling: Race, Gender, and White Supremacy. Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, MD
  7. Fonow M M 1998 Protest engendered: The participation of women steelworkers in the Wheeling–Pittsburgh steel strike of 1985. Gender & Society 12: 710–28
  8. Gamson J 1997 Messages of exclusion: Gender, movements, and symbolic boundaries. Gender & Society 11: 178–99
  9. Klawiter M E 1999 Racing for the cure, walking women, and toxic touring: Mapping cultures of action with the bay area terrain of breast cancer. Social Problems 46: 104–26
  10. Lorber J 1994 Paradoxes of Gender. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT
  11. McAdam D 1992 Gender as a mediator of the activist experience: the case of freedom summer. American Journal of Sociology 97: 1211–40
  12. McAdam D, McCarthy J D, Mayer N Z 1996 Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings. Cambridge University Press, New York
  13. Messner M A 1997 Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA
  14. Nagel J 1998 Masculinity and nationalism: Gender and sexuality in the making of nations. Journal of Ethnic Racial Studies 21: 242–69
  15. Robnett B 1996 African–American women in the civil rights movement, 1954–1965: Gender, leadership, and micromobilization. American Journal of Sociology 101: 1661–93
  16. Stall S, Stoecker R 1998 Community organizing or organizing community? Gender and the crafts of empowerment. Gender & Society 12: 759–56
  17. Taylor V 1999 Gender and social movements: Gender processes in women’s self-help movements. Gender & Society 13: 8–33
  18. Taylor V, Whittier N 1992 Collective identity and lesbian feminist mobilization. In: Morris A D, Mueller C M (eds.) Frontiers in Social Movement Theory. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, pp. 104–29
Environmental Social Movements Research Paper
History Of Social Mobility Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655