The Women's Movements of the United States and Western Europe: Consciousness, Political Opportunity, and Public Policy

By Mary Fainsod Katzenstein; Carol McClurg Mueller | Go to book overview

12
Social Movement "Success": A Comparative Analysis of Feminism in the United States and the United Kingdom

JOYCE GELB

The focus of this chapter is a comparative analysis of the contemporary feminist movements in Britain and the United States. The analysis demonstrates that the "political opportunity structure" (the particular context of institutions, alignments, and ideology) is crucial to an understanding of movement structure, goals, and impact. While the feminist movements in the United States and United Kingdom share many joint objectives, they differ significantly with regard to styles of political activism, leadership orientation, and organizational values ( Jenson 1983). These differences interact with contrasting political opportunities to shape the success of feminist claims.

Based on the comparative research undertaken, the major conclusion of this study is that the structure and values of British politics have served to isolate feminists from the formal political system, from other feminists, and from potential allies. 1 This chapter examines feminist political activism in the U.K. in two contexts. The first is the women's liberation movement -- decentralized, localized, and antielitist -- sometimes described as anarcho-libertarian ( Stacey and Price 1980, 180). Movement groups occasionally come together in national structures such as the National Abortion Campaign (NAC) for abortion rights or the National Women's Aid Federation (NWAF) against domestic violence. In the main, however, they engage local authorities in efforts to obtain funding and other assistance. British feminism is more "nondirected" than its "sister" movement in the United States in its emphasis on personal interaction, expression, and articulation of feminist values and the importance of internal democracy. A second set of feminist groups operates within key political and economic institutions, primarily unions and parties, which play a far more influential political role than their counterparts in the U.S. The chapter suggests the ways in which both aspects of British feminism, the locally and the institutionally based, have affected British politics as well as contrasting the British movement with its American counterpart.

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