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Women’s movements






In principle, there is nothing that distinguishes women’s movements from other civil rights movements. It is about arbitrary human differences being used as an excuse to get some to take on ungrateful tasks and discourage others from showing solidarity with them. It’s just that the difference between men and women has been a pretext uninterruptedly for perhaps ten thousand years (in the world’s central agricultural cultures).

What originally condemned women to subordination was that only men could take part in warfare (women must look after the children), so aristocratic mafias mostly consisted of men. When some of these established supremacy over the peasants, it seemed natural for them to banish women to non-public background work and take on the more lucrative public functions themselves.

For a long time it was difficult for women to act collectively under these circumstances and throughout history, resistance has mainly taken the form of intellectual assertion, usually in religious terms, or as participation in egalitarian opposition movements in general.

The world market system, on the other hand, forced women to mobilize more practical resistance. For the world market system made the private sphere that had been allowed for women obsolete and unprofitable. Homework was knocked out by industry, child rearing in the home was knocked out by schools, and in both of these scenes women were in principle banned, which is why they could be severely discriminated against. An organized women’s movement therefore began to emerge in the industrialized countries from the nineteenth century.

The leadership was taken by the middle-class women who were forbidden to work completely and therefore had plenty of time, and also could compare themselves with the middle-class men who at this time had received full citizenship. They mobilized mainly for legal equality, but sometimes also for favorable special laws for women. In partial opposition to them, working women mobilized their own movements in several countries, but since they had to fight on two fronts, they were much less successful.

This middle-class dominance is still troublesome for women’s movements in the industrialized countries because it forces them to emphasize issues that the majority finds trivial and irrelevant, while the big women’s movement issues, strategic and practical, namely double work and the fact that women work in generally low-pay professions, are almost depoliticized.

On the other hand, such economic issues are addressed by the women’s movements in the system periphery, which are dominated by (female) trade union activists, small farmers and artisans. Their ability to turn their questions into ”Feminism” will probably determine the movement’s success in the 21st century.

Charles Tilly: Durable inequality, University of California Press 1999
Monica Threlfall (ed): Mapping the women’s movement. Verso 1999
Bonnie Smith (ed): Global feminisms since 1945, Routledge 2000

Wilma Dunaway: The double register of history
Feminist Perspectives on Class and Work (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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