Everyday Activism as a Dialogic Practice: Narratives of Feminist Daughters

By Stephenson-Abetz, Jenna | Women's Studies in Communication, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Everyday Activism as a Dialogic Practice: Narratives of Feminist Daughters


Stephenson-Abetz, Jenna, Women's Studies in Communication


The current study investigates the experiences of young women raised by feminist activist mothers. Given the relatively small number of women who embrace a feminist identity, investigating their stories represents a unique opportunity to understand the development of a political and social-justice consciousness as a communicative process that grows and evolves over time. Overwhelmingly daughters report that everyday activism captures both how they came to a feminist consciousness as young children and how they see their role in creating change as college students. The daughters' stories underscore the epistemic value of everyday activism, as the interactions with their mothers generated a language that allowed them to know the importance of voice, the consequences of silence, the pain of invisibility, and the political nature of personal experience.

Keywords activism, mother-daughter relationships, socialization, third wave feminism

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Social change has always been a continual process as strategies for inspiring it evolve and change, adapting to new contexts, obstacles, and political landscapes. Historically, when we think of activism, images of rallies, protests, and large-scale collective action come to mind. While the goal of social movements is to generate change or bring awareness to issues of injustice, Sowards and Renegar (2006) suggest the demands of today's feminism have created a need for other kinds of activism that may include or stray from "traditional rhetorical options of protest, confrontation, militancy, conflict, counterpublics, and social movements" (p. 59). For example, the authors assert that feminist activism may occur in private settings, such as engaging in daily talk, using the Internet, sharing stories, or using humor. They argue that "creating a meaningful private sphere through personal activism is as important as public activism to these feminist thinkers" (p. 62). Through exploring the stories of daughters raised by feminist activists, I argue that mothering, too, can be a site of this everyday activism. Given the small number of women who embrace a feminist identity, investigating the narratives of daughters of feminist activists represents a unique opportunity to understand the development of a political and social-justice consciousness as a communicative process that grows and evolves over time. These daughters came to a feminist consciousness from the everyday socialization of their mothers and grew up to embrace feminist beliefs in their everyday lives, highlighting activism as an interpersonal, invitational, and dialogic process.

Kinser (2004) asserts that one of the most important contributions of third-wave feminism is its focus on narrative for "exploring how it feels to live a feminist life, how feminism informs and complicates one's sense of identity, and how one stabilizes that identity while being knocked about by post-feminist and backlash forces" (p. 137). As storytelling is a primary avenue for constructing ourselves and communicating our values to others (McAdams, 1997), in the present study I ask about the stories of daughters raised by feminist activist mothers. How do they understand feminism? How did their mothers shape the way they think about social change? Narrative scholars have also called for research focusing on how individuals construct and understand themselves by aligning or resisting certain identities (Bamberg, 2006; Langellier & Peterson, 2004). Thus, through the retelling of their experiences, the daughters also give voice to the ways in which they embrace, complicate, and oppose popular assumptions being voiced in both feminist and antifeminist rhetoric about this generation.

Understanding the historical and contemporary importance of feminism and the social problems it addresses helps place this study within the larger and ever-evolving context of feminism. Feminism gave us a vocabulary for talking about workplace equity; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) issues; reproductive rights; and intersections of sexuality, race, class, and gender. …

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