American Women and Political Participation: The Impacts of Work, Generation, and Feminism

American Women and Political Participation: The Impacts of Work, Generation, and Feminism

American Women and Political Participation: The Impacts of Work, Generation, and Feminism

American Women and Political Participation: The Impacts of Work, Generation, and Feminism

Synopsis

Karen Beckwith examines the patterns of mass-level political participation among American women from 1952 to 1976. Four distinct forms of political participation are focused upon: voting, electoral activism, conventional nonelectoral participation, and political protest. She then tests three explanations considered unique to the political participation of women in these areas: the nature of women's work; women's experience in political generations; and adherence to or support of feminism. Surprisingly, Beckwith's study indicates that such traditional explanations reveal more about men than about women, and that there is very little difference in participation between the sexes. However, Beckwith found that reported feelings of political efficacy among women were less than among men, even where actual participation differences were nonexistent.

Excerpt

This study was prompted by two interests dominant in my academic and political lives: a concern about mass-level political participation and a commitment to feminism. These interests drove me to read, as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, probably every published work on women and political participation (of which there were few), as well as those on feminist theory. I was struck at the time by the paucity of research in all subfields of women's studies scholarship--a new, or at least newly rediscovered, academic discipline,--but especially by the lack of study of women's mass-level political participation, which at the time even included voting behavior. Most of the scholarship on women and politics in the last decade focused upon the political behavior of female elites. This is not terribly surprising--nor was it surprising then, given that it is still within the scope of scholars to study the universe of female national legislators in the United States. What research had been published on women's mass-level participation was limited in the following ways. First, it focused on electoral behavior (voting, discussing the campaign with others, and interest and involvement in presidential campaigns).

Second, it pointed to large and significant differences between men and women in turnout. Even much of the more recent research is concerned with these differences in mass-level participation between women and men. Berenice Carroll pointed out in 1979 that the major fact of women's political participation is how little it differs from that of men at the mass level. She writes:

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