Controversy and Coalition: The New Feminist Movement across Three Decades of Change

By Myra Marx Ferree; Beth B. Hess | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Dilemmas of Growth: The Promise of Diversity

The rapid rate of growth of the New Feminist Movement in its first decade also brought new challenges. As with other social movements, it originated in the activities of a small nucleus of people who shared similar backgrounds and experiences. To become an effective agent of change, the movement had to expand this base, adapting its ideologies and structures to take into account the situations of others. As the movement reached out, its own publications and the mass media spread the word beyond the range of interpersonal contacts. This growth demanded new resources and new organizational forms.

As described in the previous chapter, the New Feminist Movement developed from two very different groups of activists, leading to the creation of two organizational strands: the bureaucratic and the collectivist. From the beginning, both types of organizations attempted to reach a broader audience, in order to influence public opinion and attract new members. In this chapter, we examine these outreach efforts, their successes, and the dilemmas that these successes posed for the movement. Our first focus is on how word of the movement spread from the initial networks of interpersonal influence to the public at large, and, second, on public response in the form of changing opinions on women and the feminist movement. As rising proportions of the public supported change in women’s status, a constituency was created that could be mobilized for more specific demands.

But even in a favorable climate of opinion, not all sympathizers are

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