Women's Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance?

Women's Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance?

Women's Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance?

Women's Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance?


Written by leading women's movement scholars, this book is the first to systematically apply the idea of social movement abeyance to differing national and international contexts. Its starting point is the idea that the women's movement is over, an idea promoted in the media and encouraged by scholarship that regards disruptive action as a defining element of social movements. It goes on to compare the trajectories over the past 40 years of women's movements in Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Finally, it looks at the extension of feminist activism into supranational and subnational institutions--the global and the local--and into cyberspace.

Comparing these diverse sites of political and social action illuminates some of the major opportunities and constraints that have impacted upon women's movements. It advances our understanding of the lifecycles of social movements by examining the differing ways in which women's movements operate and sustain themselves over time and space, ways that often differ from those of male-led movements. The book also engages with the question of whether there is an on-going women's movement--with sufficient continuity to warrant description as such--by presenting the voices of young activists East and West.

Filling an important gap in social movement research, this book will be of interest to sociologists, political scientists and gender studies scholars and researchers.


Verta Taylor and Leila J Rupp

Reflecting on the persistence of women’s movements

Since the late 1970s, media commentators and other observers have lamented or celebrated the decline of feminism and women’s movements and the arrival of a post-feminist age. In the mid-1980s, when we were researching the US women’s rights movement in the 1950s for our book, Survival in the Doldrums, declarations of the death of feminism were so prominent that feminist activists and scholars were consumed by soul searching and debate over whether a vital women’s movement still existed and, if so, what its future might be. The death knells and obituaries of the 1980s did not make sense to us because we knew first-hand that feminists were still marching by the hundreds of thousands, fighting for reproductive rights, taking back the night, and setting up battered women’s shelters. Feminists were also mobilising inside institutions, including universities, the health care system, the military, churches, political parties, and corporations. And a vibrant feminist oppositional culture was thriving in lesbian feminist communities in most regions of the United States. It is in this context that we, as newly minted assistant professors and feminists ourselves, set out to recover the history of an earlier generation of feminists whose activism, like our own, had been erased by the media and other public commentators after the decline of the suffrage movement.

We searched for a metaphor that would capture what we saw happening in the 1950s, when a small group of elite and aging activists from the suffrage movement of the first decades of the century maintained their commitment in an inhospitable environment and made connections with the resurgent movement of the 1960s and 1970s. We considered ‘hibernation’, but the women we studied were not asleep. We thought of ‘chrysalis’, but they were not protected by a cocoon. We sought a word that would describe the process by which bulbs store life and send new shoots through the earth in the spring, but never found one. If we had known it, we might have gone with ‘rhizome’, a kind of plant that sends its roots in all directions so that new shoots emerge far from the original growth. Barbara Tomlinson, who uses the metaphor to describe feminist arguments, points out that the new plants that grow from the runners alter in response to the environment, and, like crabgrass, are hard to eliminate. It is certainly a metaphor . . .

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