Communities, Resistance, and Women's Activism: Some Implications for a Democratic Polity
Martha A. Ackelsberg
Women have been, and continue to be, centrally involved in resistance movements in many workplaces and neighborhoods. Studies reported in this volume and elsewhere document the active role of women in social movements and challenge the conventional view of women as passive members of the polity who live their lives in a private sphere protected (in the case of middle- or upper-class women) or isolated (in the case of working-class women) from the mainstream of "public" life and politics. Not only have women been active in what have been presumed to be the male preserves of work and political life; a closer look at women's lives belies the notion of distinct public and private spheres altogether. Although an ideological split between "public" and "private," community and workplace may be alive and well in American political ideology -- even among feminists -- women's activities challenge the existence of the distinction in practice.
In this article I examine the patterns of women's activities and the relationship of activist women to their communities. In the first sections I explore the limits of both American pluralist ideology and of many of the Marxist and neoMarxist critiques of pluralism. I then examine the implications of women's activism for a more comprehensive conception of democratic politics.
Democratic theory (particularly in the "pluralist" form dominant in the contemporary United States) rests on certain assumptions about people, their interests, their relationships with others, and their relationship to the larger polity, each of