Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

11
Working-Class Women, Social Protest, and Changing Ideologies

Ida Susser

This article focuses on the community activities in which women were involved in Greenpoint-Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, between 1975 and 1978. The instability of employment opportunities for both men and women, and the increasing role of the state in providing life-supporting services for the poor have stimulated a new challenge, a new adversary, and a new set of activities and responsibilities for working-class women. In what follows I first review some of the literature on U.S. working-class women with respect to this type of grassroots activity. I then trace the community activities of poor women in one particular locality, linking the growing instability of the household economy to the development of particular forms of neighborhood organization.

Since the early nineteenth century, working-class women have played a significant role in the labor force and have been involved in community organizations and protest movements. 1 Despite women's long involvement in labor and community action, sociological research concerned with "blue-collar" women and "working men's wives" (from the 1950s through the 1970s) presents a different picture. 2 It almost entirely fails to note these women's direct relationship to the "neighborhood" or "community" and their clear presence in the public sphere. Thus, although recent works on and biographies of working women do document their involvement in neighborhood organizations and protest, 3 most earlier research contains little hint of such a dimension to their activities.

There are at least two explanations for these omissions. First, the problem may be methodological. Studies relying on structured interviews rather than participant observation will not yield data concerning women's involvement in com

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