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After the Noise of Public Protest Subsides: Case Studies of Oppositional Gender Consciousness and Practices in San Francisco Bay Area Second-Wave Feminist Activists in the Autonomous Women’s Movement

  • Author(s): Johnson, Kathryn
  • Advisor(s): Reinarman, Craig
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-ND' version 4.0 license

My dissertation addresses the issue of the biographical consequences of activism and its role in social movement persistence and continuity. Apart from micromobilization studies, social movement scholars neglect individual activists’ roles as precursors of collective action. My study explores how the institutional workplace and domestic arrangements of former feminist activists affected their ability to translate their beliefs into oppositional gender practices that function as bridges between protest cycles. This project is a qualitative case study using in-depth, semi-structured interviews with respondents chosen and compared on the basis of their sexual preferences and their post-movement career choices.

Comparisons of the workplace practices of respondents in different occupational categories demonstrate the influence of institutional arrangements. Those in male-dominated fields implemented their practices during their working hours. Those in female-segregated jobs could only implement their practices after hours or in the community. Together, their practices produced feminist knowledge and pedagogy, women’s rights advocacy, hierarchal inversion, democratization, and workplace islands of community and care. For respondents working outside of bureaucratic organizations, institutional arrangements were less influential than lesbian identity, inherited wealth, a totalist mindset, and personal qualities.

In the domestic arena, cultural rather than structural factors influenced my respondents’ oppositional practices. Emotional ties created the glue sustaining communal living. Households with a core couple, relatives, and friends were the most stable, followed by households without a couple core or blood ties, but based on friendships, shared work, or political interests, and lastly, by households relying on the rental market for communards.

My respondents’ practices contributed to women’s movement persistence through their individual acts and through the impacts their practices had and continue to have on those around them. Like Whalen’s and Flacks’s new left activists (1989), my respondents found partners, had children, and added activities that met emotional and spiritual needs ignored during the movement’s heyday, but did not become apolitical, and all continued to contribute to feminism.

My respondents’ practices initiated an ever-widening two-way “bridge,” enabling individuals in their orbits of influence to adopt their beliefs, emulate their behaviors, identify like-minded others, including the social movement organizations they might join. These practices’ existence helped those organizations send a resonating message to potential recruits.

As my contribution to social movement scholarship, I introduce the concepts of “not fitting” to characterize respondents’ grievances; “ feminist dilemmas” and “oppositional gender practices” to describe respondents’ translation process; “islands of care” as a type of free space; and “institutional arrangements” as political opportunities, and “interim practices” to describe the strategic role of practices.

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