Demands by women for equality with men have been a continual theme in Western
Society for at least the last 200 years. As early as 1777, women have been
fighting for their rights. One such activist was Abigail Adams. She wrote to
her husband john, then sitting in the Continental Congress, and warned him not
to put such unlimited powers in the hands of the husbands. She went on to
threaten that if particular care and attention was not paid to the ladies,
they would most definitely foment a rebellion (Buechler, 1990).
Origins of Feminism
This concern demonstrates one of the two main precipitants of feminist
sentiment in the Western World: the change in social values that justified an
attempt to change social relations. The development of democratic values and
the legitimisation of rebellion that resulted from the French and American
revolutions were used by the Western women as a philosophical basis for their
own rebellion (Amin et al 1990). Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the first major feminist tract,
Vindication of the Rights of Woma', in 1792 in reaction to the revolutionary
French Declaration of The Rights of Man. The American Declaration of
Independence was the model for the Declaration of Sentiments drawn up by the
first feminist convention, in Senea Falls, N.Y., in 1848 (Amin et al 1990).
The other major cause was industrialisation, which disrupted the entire
economic structure of society and with it the family as the basic unit of
production. Women and children until the 20th century have always worked. But
until the development of the free labor market in which individuals were hired
and paid cash for their labor, women worked as subsidiaries to the male head,
who received the remuneration for family labor. Women produced goods primarily
within the home until technology displaced the major female functions outside
it. Concomitantly, the increasing monetization of economy meant that displaced
female production had to be paid for in cash. A large part of the rise in the
national product was accomplished by the monetisation of activities that were
never before counted in its computation because money did not change hands for
their performance (Buechler, 1990). This cash had to be obtained by
employment. If the social values prevented women from working outside the home
then men had to supply, indirectly, what women had once produced directly.
This monopolistic access to the necessary resources for survival logically
gave men more power over women, made women more dependant, and contributed to
the feeling of many women that they were useless dependants. In effect, women
had to enter the labor market in order to get the wherewithal to buy what they
had once produced in their own homes (Frechet, 1993).
Economic necessity quickly brought women of the new masses into the labor
market to work for substance wages. But the values of the emerging middle
class, especially the'cult of the lad' and the emphasis on female leisure
and consumption as signs of their husband’s success, prohibited paid
employment for middle class women (Amin et al 1990). Thus they were kept in what might be termed
as a feudalistic relationship to their husbands.
Given this different effect of Industrialisation, it should not be surprising
that feminism has always been largely a middle class movement, with working
class women fighting their battles primarily in the labor movement and often
envying the leisure of the middle class female without seeing the devastating
effects of economic dependence. However, the women’s movement did not reach
its zenith until middle class and working class women were able to ally in the
struggle for suffrage (Buechler, 1990).
The first national suffrage bill of any kind was submitted to the British
Parliament by John Stuart Mill in 1867. It did not pass, but two years later,
Wyoming Territory became the first modern political entity to give women the
vote. However, suffrage did not become a primary issue until many decades
later. Throughout the 19th century the major thrust of the feminist movement
was for educational opportunities, entry into the profession and the abolition
of laws that denied married women legal rights, leaving them unable to act in
any capacity without the permission of their husbands.
In the United States, the impetus for feminism came when women began to work
in the abolitionist movement and found that their effectiveness was hampered
by their exclusion from many abolitionist societies and by the social stigma
against women speaking in public. American women attending a World
Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 were prohibited from participating and made to
sit in the balcony behind a curtain. Among them were Lucretia Mott and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who organized the first Women’s Rights Convention
eight years earlier. Susan B. Anthony did not join the movement until 1851,
but she became its most tireless and persistent organizer. Such famed
abolitionists as Fredrick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were also active
The Struggle for Voting Rights
Women in Great Britain became the
forerunner of the international suffrage movement, but not until they changed
their tactics. For four decades women’s suffrage societies, which were led
first by Lydia Becker and them by Millicent Fawcett, had held meetings,
circulated petitions, lobbied Parliament, and disseminated literature,
especially John Stuart Mill’s 'On the subjection of women'. In 1903, Emmeline
Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Manchester
with the support of her two daughters. They pursued an unostentatious course
until 1905, when uproar was created over the arrest of Christabel Pankhurst
and a mill girl, Annie Kenney, for disrupting a political meeting. The
resulting publicity convinced the WSPU that this was the way to arouse public
opinion over suffrage.
For the next ten years, prompted by the inflexibility and patronising attitude
of the Liberal Party cabinet and Prime Minister Henry Asquith, the WSPU
employed increasingly militant tactics. They invaded Parliament, heckling
ministers, chained themselves to the gates of government buildings and
chanted'votes for women' until dragged away by the police, marched in good weather
and bad, disrupted political meetings by shouting for the vote, broke windows,
pour acid in mail boxes, slashed museum paintings, and burned government
buildings (Amin et al 1990). When arrested by the police, they underwent long hunger strikes in
prison. Their campaign was broken by World War I, in which the militants
enlisted wholeheartedly, and afterwards, partially in gratitude for their
cooperation, suffrage was extended to some women over 30 years of age.
By comparison, the suffrage movement in the United States was almost
respectable. The National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA)
concentrated on state-by-state activity and by 1912 nine states had granted
two million women the vote. That same year, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns returned
from their suffrage work in Britain, where they had been impressed with the
WSPU’s militancy. They persuaded NAWSA to let them organise a congressional
committee to campaign for a federal amendment. This committee organised a
major suffrage parade of 8,000 in Washington on the day Woodrow Wilson arrived
for his inauguration. Met by empty seats, Wilson is reported to have asked,
“Where are the people?” and been told 'Off watching the women' (Frechet,
During the next eight years, President Wilson and the suffragists came into
conflict frequently, as Wilson expressed support for them in private but
refused to do so in public. Alice Paul’s Militants attracted increasing
attention with their tactics of mass demonstrations, picketing, and occasional
hunger strikes. Although NAWSA disowned the militants, it was stimulated by
them to renewed suffrage activity. One of NAWSA’s best organisers, Carrie
Chapman Catt resumed it presidency in 1915. Her winning plan of national
organisation and intensive lobbing helped achieve congressional passage of the
Nineteenth Amendment on June 4, 1919, and its ratification by August 26, 1920.
The war did not interrupt the activities of the American suffragists as it had
those of their British counterparts (Jenkins, 1983).
Resource mobilisation theory analyzes
social movements from the viewpoint of organisations in need of and in search
of resources. Resource Mobilisation addresses questions such as: where are the
resources available for the movement, how are they organized, how does the
state facilitate or impede mobilisation, and what are the outcomes? Jenkins
defines mobilisation as the process by which a group secures collective
control over the resources needed for collective action (Frechet, 1993). Freeman defines
resources as both tangible and intangible. Tangible resources include money,
facilities, and means of communication, while intangible resources include the
skills and labor of an organisation’s supporters.
Jenkins also pointed out that early ideas about resource appropriation were
that social movement organisations attained their resources through
non-institutionalised means. He argued that since social movement
organisations were seen as on the fringe of society, resources had to be
obtained outside institutionalised channels. Recently, as social movement
organisations become more “legitimised,” the central paradigm has begun to
shift to include more institutionalised channels such as private foundations
and corporations as sources of support for social movement organisations.
Another important part of resource mobilisation theory is the concept of
rational choice. Actors participate in collective action/social movements
because it is the most rational method of gaining resources previously denied
to them. Thus, Resource Mobilisation theory coincides with all the basic
principles and objectives of the Feminist Movements.
Frechet, Guy and Barbara Worndl 1993 "The Ecological Movements in the Light of
Social Movements' Development: The Cases of Four Contemporary Industrialized
Societies," International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 34(1-2):65-74.
Amin, Samir, G. Arrighi, A. G. Frank, I. Wallerstein 1990 Transforming the
Revolution: Social Movements in the World-System, new York: Monthly Review
Buechler, Steven M. 1990 Women's Movements in the United States: Woman
Suffrage, Equal Rights, and Beyond, new Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Jenkins, "Resource Mobilization Theory and the Study of Social Movements,"
Annual Review of Sociology 9 (1983)
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