Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

How to Become a Feminist Activist after the Institutionalization of the Women's Movements: The Generational Development of Feminist Identity and Politics in Mexico City

Academic journal article Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies

How to Become a Feminist Activist after the Institutionalization of the Women's Movements: The Generational Development of Feminist Identity and Politics in Mexico City

Article excerpt


The differences between political generations is one of the more interesting issues in scholarship on women's movements. (1) Many empirical studies indicate that the ideological difference between generations is less divisive than popular rhetoric or discursive debates suppose it to be. Even though they have egalitarian gender attitudes, many of today's young women, unlike those of previous generations, tend to be unwilling to identify as feminists. (2) In general young women don't consider the collective action that has been the traditional hallmark of the women's movements necessary in the way their predecessors did. (3)

Yet, despite the antipolitical attitude of the younger generation, young feminists' contributions to women's movements are present in many parts of the world today. (4) Young women are growing up in a context different from previous generations, a context characterized by individualism, neoliberalism, less gender inequality, and more educational and professional opportunities. One of the new characteristics of today's sociopolitical context that affects these young women is the institutionalization of women's movements. (5) While the feminists of the 1970s collectively constructed the women's movements without the support of preexisting organizations or an institutional background, young feminists have grown up with established women's movement institutions, such as gender studies programs, governmental and nongovernmental organizations responsible for gender policy, and feminist organizations. Is this institutionalization encouraging young women toward feminist activism, or does it lead young women into complacency? How is the process of becoming a feminist activist in the wake of the institutionalization of women's movements itself a new context of feminist struggle? This paper focuses on the development of feminist identity and political participation in the younger generation in Mexico City, aiming, first, to analyze the impact of feminist institutions--especially gender studies programs in universities and feminist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)--on the consciousness-building and political struggle of young feminists and, second, to discuss the generational paradoxes that make up the background of these processes.

In contrast with the popular assumption that the institutionalization of women's movements leads to the demobilization of young girls, this study shows the crucial and controversial role of feminist institutions in both the consciousness-raising and the political mobilization of young Mexican girls. (6) The results reveal that established feminist institutions in the academy and in civil society are important reference points for the development of young feminist activists: they provide a fertile field for feminist consciousness-building. However, the bureaucratic nature of feminist institutions also prompts young feminists to create their own spaces of action outside of the institutional field.


The rise of critical consciousness and the motivation to participate in political action has not been a central issue in earlier social movement research. (7) Taking things from a different angle, with the cultural turn in social movement research, scholars began to consider activists' subjective viewpoints on collective action. From a participant's view a social movement is a cognitive praxis that combines knowledge, interests, and interpretations. (8) Researchers started to analyze discourses, rhetoric, representations, ideologies, and also individual participants. The study of identity building is another important element in this paradigmatic change. (9) Such study analyzes subjectivity at different levels, including social movement, organizational, tactical, and activist identities. This last term is defined by Jasper as individual constellations of cultural meanings, personalities, and senses of self, derived from biographical experiences. …

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