ORGANIZATION IN THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT
Presented as a paper at the 1974 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, and published in Acta Sociologica, Vol. 18, No. 2-3, 1975, pp. 222-244.
The two branches which resulted are structured in distinctly different
ways. What I call the older branch of the movement (because it began first)
possesses several prominent and numerous minor core organizations. The
structure of such groups as NOW, the Women's Equity Action League, (WEAL),
Federally Employed Women (FEW), and some 50 different organizations and
caucuses of professional women, has tended to be traditionally formal,
usually containing local chapters and national governing bodies with elected
officers, boards of directors, bylaws and the other trappings of democratic
procedure. All started as top-down national organizations lacking a mass
base. Some have subsequently developed a mass base, some have not yet
done so, and others don't want to.
National Organization for Women
The statement also emphasized that "women's problems are linked
to many broader questions of social justice; their solution will require
concerted action by many groups". To research the need for specific
actions, seven task forces were set up on: discrimination against
women in employment; education; religion; the family; women's image
in the mass media; women's political rights and responsibilities;
and the problems of poor women. To handle NOW's administrative needs
the office was moved from its temporary location in the Center for
Continuing Education at the University of Wisconsin to Detroit, where
it was run by Caroline Davis out of the office of the United Auto
Worker's Women's Committee.
Additional difficulties were created by a lack of organizers to develop
new chapters and the lack of a program into which they could fit local activities.
For the first three years the New York chapter held over half the national
membership. It was the most active and best known. To many women, the New
York chapter was NOW. Chapters in other cities went through many false starts,
forming then collapsing in confusion and inactivity. Unlike the New York
chapter which bad easy access to the national media and many people skilled
at using it, the other chapters had difficulty developing programs not dependent
on the media. Since the national program was almost exclusively engaged
in support of legal cases or Federal lobbying, the regional chapters could
not easily fit into that program either. Although NOW's founders had much
media experience, they knew little about organizing. They could create an
appearance of activity but did not know how to organize the substance of
it. Thus NOW often appeared bigger than it was. Chapter development had
to wait for the national media to attract women to the organization or the
considerable physical mobility of contemporary women to bring proponents
into new territory.
Towards the end of 1969, NOW began attempts to form liaisons with the younger branch of the movement. In November 1969, the first Congress to Unite Women was held in New York and several others were held elsewhere during the next year. They were largely unsuccessful. Fraught with dissention, backbiting, and name-calling, they did not result in any umbrella organization to speak for the interests of all feminists. But this very failure portended some success as feminists from both branches -- particularly NOW -- began to realize that a diverse movement might be more valuable than a united one. The multitude of different groups reached out to different kinds of women, served different functions within the movement, and presented a wide variety of feminist ideas. Although they made co-ordinated action difficult, they allowed an individual woman to relate to the movement in the way most appropriate to her life. Fission began to seem creative as it broadened the scope of the movement without weakening its impact. The groups agreed to disagree and to work together where possible.
As the various feminist groups became more tolerant of each other they also became more co-operative and today most of the bitter enmity of the early years has long since been forgotten. Ties between the groups have increased and strengthened and those women who are members of both NOW and younger branch groups are no longer viewed with suspicion by either.
The "take-off" point for the women's liberation movement was the August 26 strike in 1970 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. It was the first time that the potential power of the movement became publicly apparent; the sheer numbers of people who turned out shocked everyone -- including the organizers. The strike swelled the ranks of NOW and other groups tremendously. Chapters often expanded as much as 50 to 70 percent. The new members tended to be younger than the original ones and less likely to be professionals or even employed. Many were housewives, concerned with the emptiness in their own lives and worried lest the same fate befall their daughters. Such women preferred joining NOW to a women's liberation group partially because NOW was easier to find than the amorphous small groups and partially because it seemed more respectable.
These new members brought with them different interests and different problems for the organization. They were less interested in working on job discrimination and more on such projects as the media image of women and the portrayal of sex role stereotypes in children's books. Several local groups eventually engaged in major analyses of stereotyping -- though they have been less successful in pressuring for changes in sexist images than in pointing out their existence. They also brought a need to explore the meaning of feminism to their personal lives and personal relationships. Much to the disdain of the older members, who viewed personal discussion as an unnecessary diversion, they wanted to start rap groups. Thus it was with great reluctance that many NOW chapters set them up to "cater" to the needs of their newest members. The idea of "consciousness-raising" as a significant activity was contrary to NOW's image of itself as an action organization. However, eventually NOW became convinced of its value and today many chapters have institutionalized consciousness-raising into ten and fifteen week courses with specific discussion topics.
Most of these new members had no previous experience in either political or voluntary organizations. Thus as NOW's expansion swelled its ranks, it proportionately decreased its share of trained personnel -- in particular people who had any knowledge of the problems of running large organizations. As a general rule, the core of activists in a NOW chapter never gets much beyond 50, regardless of the size of the membership; and this point is usually reached when chapter membership reaches 200 to 300. Subsequently, the bigger a chapter gets, the greater proportion of its time, energy and finances goes into administration, and the less is left for action.
Between 1967 and 1974 NOW went from 14 chapters to over 300; from 1,000
to over 40,000 members. As it grew larger, the individual chapters began
to feel more and more isolated. Problems of communication, finance and cohesion
were evident on both the local and national level, and neither felt the
other was acutely sensitive to its needs. The problems are only partially
due to size, as testified to by the more smooth functioning of many larger
organizations. Lack of experience, impatience to engage in action, shortage
of funds, duplication of effort, inadequate intra-organizational communication,
and lack of an administrative staff all add their shares of difficulties.
NOW began as a national structure and in many ways remains as one. It has three national offices -- administrative in Chicago, public relations in New York, and legislative in Washington -- which usually function quite independently of the local chapters. The locals in turn function autonomously from each other. What has not yet been adequately developed is a set of middle-level structures to connect national efforts with local ones. Such efforts have been made, however, with the creation of regional directors and close to thirty national Task Forces which attempt to coordinate local efforts so that individual projects can combine a national thrust with instrumentation on the local level.
Despite these problems, NOW continues to function quite well because its members make up for its organizational deficiencies. Individuals have created extensive "kits" on how to form chapters, file discrimination complaints, pressure the media and advertisers to change their sexist images of women, to lobby, and even write effective letters. Local newsletters report on national activities by setting up exchanges with similar publications. And many local and national officials put a great deal of their own time and money into NOW activities. Individual enthusiasm substitutes for organizational efficiency.
NOW and the other older branch organizations are thriving at this point because they have learned to use effectively the institutional tools which our society provides for social and political change. Yet these groups are also limited by these tools to the rather narrow arenas within which they are designed to operate. The nature of these arenas and the particular skills they require for participation already limit both the kind of women who can effectively work in older branch groups and the activities they can undertake.
However, the women within NOW have not limited the development of their ideas, as seen by NOW's gradual expansion of its concerns from strictly legal and economic issues to social ones as well. This expansion was fore-ordained in the broad Statement of Principles with which NOW began, but it was strongly stimulated by NOW's association with the rest of the movement. Because the NOW membership has always had a liberal orientation it has been very susceptible to the influence of the younger branch of the movement. In the last two years many feminists from the younger branch have overcome their initial prejudice against NOW and have themselves become members. This is in part due to problems within that branch of the movement, discussed below, which made political action within it very difficult. NOW was often the only feminist action organization available even if its image was somewhat conservative. Too, as is often the case in other situations, greater contact between the two branches increased familiarity, and in turn decreased prejudice. Radical feminists began to view NOW as "pragmatic" rather than "reformist" and thus acceptable as a concomitant arena of activity along with their other, "radical" activities. NOW was OK in its place. Consequently, NOW has moved over time from being the main older branch organization to being the main feminist organization. It has become very much an umbrella group for all kinds of feminists, even those whose primary loyalty lies elsewhere. The resultant overlapping membership has brought into NOW new ideas and new conflicts.
Local chapters have always been fairly autonomous despite the central control implied by the National by-laws. Thus they have been free to initiate organizational experiments and very free to develop local projects. This kind of flexibility has been felt necessary because NOW is purely a voluntary organization and finds it can encourage more participation if members can work in the ways they find most comfortable. For several reasons later recruits to NOW have objected to its hierarchical organization and the authoritarian sound of the by-laws which dictated officers, elections, etc. Many new chapters just disregarded the national-proposed structure and created their own. The Berkeley chapter, for example, has three conveners, which divide up among themselves the usual duties of chapter officers. Even those chapters which have not restructured themselves have absorbed the basic ethic of participatory democracy from the younger branch and in turn have made demands on chapter leadership that are not always compatible with greatest organizational efficiency.
The creation of rap groups was one such demand - though it is not yet apparent whether their formation did siphon off energy from action as feared by older NOW members or saved time by separating those who were ready for actions from those who were not. Another such demand, though rarely explicitly stated, is that leaders spend a lot of energy on maintaining good personal relations, and that members' behavior in meetings have a wider range of tolerance than that common to formal business meetings. "Loose" chairing of meetings, unstructured, occasionally irrelevant, discussion, expression of personal feelings and enthusiasm, avoidance of authoritarian or domineering styles, and decision making by consensus as much as possible, have over time become more and more characteristic of NOW.
Such activities take up a great deal of time, emotional energy, and individual
forbearance. Thus, boards of officers, committees and task forces must all
accept as necessary long, tiring decision-making sessions ... More than
in other organizations, the NOW leader is seen as someone who facilitates
decision making and who can legitimately be sanctioned if she tries to force
her ideas on the group. Similarly, while NOW may make as many decisions
by vote as does any normal committee or board of directors, in principle
it rejects the assumption that "one side must win" for the assumption
that, with sufficient effort invested, a compromise acceptable to all can
These changes mean that an increasing proportion of the organization's energy goes to maintaining the organization -- to creating a comfortable environment for its members to work, to grow personally, to develop individual skills and talents; often to the sacrifice of at least short-run efficiency. This sacrifice is justified on the grounds that as much as possible NOW should practice the humanistic principles that it preaches. Feeling that women have too long been "kept down" by domineering men and oppressive structures, they do not want to repeat this characteristic in their own organization. This viewpoint is adopted directly from the younger branch of the movement, but it found ready acceptance among the new recruits to NOW as they were unfamiliar and uncomfortable with organization and power. A more personal and more personable environment made them feel more at home. This style is not entirely uncontested10 but a debate over organizational approach has not yet become a major one.
In terms of issues, NOW has also moved in a more radical direction. The August 26 Strike compelled the movement narrowly to define its goals for the first time. Until then, the whole history of the movement had been one of broadening its scope and narrowing its immediate goals -- a very necessary process for any social movement. The Strike was centered upon three central demands -- abortion on demand, 24-hour child-care centers, and equal opportunity in employment and education. These were not viewed as the sole ends of the movement, merely the first steps that must be taken on the road to liberation. At the same time, as NOW Task Forces and members explored the ramifications of women's situation, they gained a broader conception of just how integrated are all social phenomena. As its convention in the Fall of 1971, numerous resolutions were passed giving a feminist position on a multitude of subjects -- such as the Vietnam War -- not directly related to women. This move was anticipated by the original Statement of Purpose, NOW's early support of the guaranteed annual income, and its concern with women in poverty. Nonetheless, it was a major break with the past. Task Force activities similarly increased their scope. In its 1973 convention, NOW was even following the lead of the younger branch of the movement in taking positions favoring freedom of sexual orientation, the decriminalization of prostitution, the investigation of "fundamental questions concerning the structure of society premised on profit and competition," and setting up further Task Forces on such topics as older women, women in sports, and rape, It also resolved "that a major organizational effort be mounted immediately within NOW on behalf of the needs of all minority persons, and that ... actions be undertaken toward elimination of structures, policies and practices that contribute to racism within NOW."
The increasing broadening and "radicalization" of NOW's objectives has not met with serious dissent within the organization since the splits over abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment that marked its first two years. There are several reasons for this:
1) There is an inherent logic to feminism. Once one adopts the feminist perspective on the world, it is easy to apply it to an ever widening circle of issues; one can analyze all aspects of society, and easily come to the conclusion that all of society must be changed. The relevant questions then become where to begin arid what to do first and these are strategic, not ideological ones.
2) NOW has always been a liberal organization. Its members, and especially its leaders, have thought of themselves as being in the forefront of social change. Many of the older women in it have thought of themselves as "radicals" even if they did not actually use the word, They often complained bitterly about being called "reformists" by the younger feminists because such an appellation was contrary to their self-identity. NOW was very open to moving "left" because it represented an extension of its basic liberal humanitarian values. As old issues, like the ERA and abortion, became socially acceptable, it deliberately looked for new ground to break.
Although there is no sharp ideological distinction between the older
and younger branches of the movement, the latter does operate as an
ideological vanguard. Here, new issues and new interpretations are first
raised and legitimated. With the domination of the feminist media by
the younger branch, and the increasing overlap of membership between
the small groups and NOW, these newer concerns are easily transferred;
what began as a debate within the radical underground feminist media
eventually emerges as a NOW resolution. This transference is facilitated
in part because of the common middle-class composition of both branches
of the movement, and the many personal and friendship relationships
that link participants on both sides. Like it or not, their members
share a common culture, a common background, a common education, and
consequently, a common interpretation of the meaning of feminism.
did not happen because NOW had been taken over by lesbians, or even
because there was any overwhelming interest within the organization
in lesbianism. The convention workshop on marriage, family and divorce,
presumably of greater interest to heterosexuals, had had the largest
attendance of any with 600. The NOW resolution was the aftermath of
a three-year discussion of the relation between feminism and lesbianism
in the feminist media, the small groups, and many NOW chapters. Although
many NOW members still felt that lesbianism was not a feminist issue
and that NOW's support would only tarnish its image, the resolution
was adopted because lesbianism had been defined as a civil rights
issue and a women's issue, and because support was the liberal, humanistic
thing to do.
A social movement's primary resource is the commitment of its members.
It must rely on their own enthusiasm and dedication to its goals to
get work done. Participants in a social movement don't do things because
they have to, they do them because they want to. This is why NOW can
function quite well despite its rampant insufficiencies. The dependency
on membership commitment means that maintaining morale and motivation
is a prime need of any social movement organization. It takes a lot
of its energy and determines a lot of its activities. Hammond17
draws the distinction between "instrumental" action and "consummatory"
action; the former is strictly goal oriented, the latter is determined
by group maintenance needs. Social movements must necessarily use both;
in fact, the more it relies on solidary incentives the more consummatory
its activities will be as the pleasure of participation is all it has
to offer. A corollary to this is that the more remote are its goals,
the greater the role of solidary incentives and the more consummatory
its actions. Thus consummatory activities, though superficially unrelated
to a movement's goals, may be indirectly instrumental. The major problem
a movement organization faces is to keep from degenerating into solely
consummatory activities on the one hand, or rationalizing itself into
too rigid a structure on the other and in so doing alienating its membership.
Its major task is manipulating the incentive structure to recruit and
mobilize its members for instrumental action. It is the tension between
the needs of goal achievement and those of group maintenance which are
at the root of the conflict between the oligarchic and democratic tendencies
discussed by Michels.
The younger branch of the movement has had a different set of experiences
which led to different activities and problems. It was able to expand
rapidly in the beginning because it could capitalize on the infrastructure
of organizations and media of the New Left and because its initiators
were skilled in local community organizing. Since the prime unit was the
small group and no need for national cooperation was perceived, multitudinous
splits increased its strength rather than drained its resources. Such
fission was often "friendly" in nature, and even when not, served
to bring ever increasing numbers of women under the movement's umbrella.
The adherence to these values was premised on the assumption that all
women were equally capable of making decisions, carrying out actions,
performing tasks, and forming polic..21
These assumptions could be made because the women involved had little
experience in democratic organizations other than those of the New Left
where they saw dominance for its own sake, competition for positions
in their leadership hierarchy, and "male egotripping" rule
the day.22 They had felt similar
domination and control for its own sake in the social structures --
primarily school and family -- that they had been part of. The idea
that there was some relationship between authority and responsibility,
between organization and equal participation and between leadership
and self-government, was not within their realm of experience. New women
coming into the movement lacked even the organizing skills of the initiators,
and, because the idea of "leadership" and organization"
were in disrepute, made no attempt to acquire them. They did not want
to deal with traditional political institutions and abjured all traditional
political skills. The small group was more to their liking, and personal
change as a prerequisite to political change was more familiar.
This laissez-faire philosophy of organizing has allowed the talents
of many women to develop spontaneously and others to learn skills they
didn't know. It has also created some major problems for the movement.
Most women came into the movement via the rap groups; and most go out
from there. There is no easy way to move from a rap group to a project;
women either stumble onto one or start their own. Most don't do either.
Once in a project, participation often consumes enormous amounts of
time.26 The problem is that most
groups are unwilling to change their structure when they change their
tasks. They have accepted the ideology of "structurelessness"
without realizing the limitations of its uses. The rap group's style
encourages participation in discussion and its supportive atmosphere
elicits personal insight; but neither is very efficient in handling
specific tasks. This means that the movement is essentially run, locally,
by women who can work at it full time.
1) Because the movement didn't put them in the role of spokesperson,
the movement cannot remove them. The press put them there and only the
press can choose not to listen.27
As long as the movement believes it should have no representation, the
press rather than the movement has control over the selection of national
2) From 1969 to roughly 1971 (and still somewhat today) women who acquired
any public notoriety for any reason were denounced as "elitists."
This name-calling and other forms of personal attacks were the only
means of control available to the movement because it had consciously
rejected overt structure. As in any group or movement there were certainly
power and fame hungry individuals who found the movement an excellent
opportunity for personal advancement, but in their fear of manipulation,
feminists often failed to make a distinction between those who were
"using" the movement and those who were "strong"
women or had valuable talents. Although the attacks were initially aimed
at "media stars" their scope widened to the point that some
felt that any individual who had "painfully managed any degree
of achievement" was victimized.28
eventually became used as frequently and for much the same purpose as
"pinko" was used by anti-Communists in the fifties. As a result
some of the most talented women in the movement withdrew from it entirely,
bitterly alienated. Others remained in, but isolated. Removed from the
reaches of group pressure, they were no longer responsible for what
they publicly said to anyone but themselves. In June of 1970, women
from several cities who had had this experience found themselves coincidentally
in New York, and upon comparing notes, sardonically called themselves
the "feminist refugees."29
Thus the movement's greatest fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The ideology of "structurelessness" created the "star
system" and the backlash to it encouraged the very kind of individualistic
nonresponsibility that it most condemned.
Although this ideology damned the idea of leadership, the movement was
and is not without leaders in the sense that some people influence group
decision making and activities more than others. Any group of people
inevitably structures itself on the basis of the friendship networks
within it. If such a network within a larger group is composed of people
particularly interested in that group, who share common ideas and information,
they become the power structure of the group. And like the "media
stars," because the group did not select them as leaders, it cannot
remove them. The inevitable exclusive nature of informal communications
networks of friends is neither a new phenomenon characteristic of the
women's movement, nor a phenomenon new to women. Such informal relationships
have excluded women for centuries from participating in integrated groups
of which they were a part. In any profession or organization these networks
have created the "locker room" mentality and the "old
school" ties which have effectively prevented women as a group,
as well as many men individually, from having access to the sources
of power or social reward. Much of the energy of past women's movements
has been directed to having the structures of decision-making and the
selection processes formalized so that the exclusion of women could
be confronted directly. It is particularly ironic that the women's movement
should inflict upon itself a problem which it had been fighting for
centuries. Given the movement's ideals, the problem of covert power
structures was often exacerbated. When informal elites are combined
with a myth of "structurelessness" there can be no attempt
to put limits on the use of power because the means of doing so have
been eliminated. The groups thus have no means of compelling responsibility
from the elites which dominate them. They cannot even admit they exist.
These and other criteria all have common themes. The characteristics prerequisite
for participating in the informal elites of the movement, and thus for exercising
power within it, concern one's background, personality or allocation of
time. They do not include one's competence, dedication to feminism, talents,
or potential contributions to the movement. The former are the criteria
one usually uses in determining one's friends. The latter are what any movement
or organization has to use if it is going to be politically effective.
This is not to say that such groups are never effective; merely that effectiveness is often incidental to the functioning of the group. Occasionally, the developed informal structure of the group coincides with an available need that the group can fill. There are almost inevitably four conditions common to such groups:
1) It is task oriented. Its function is very narrow and very specific, like putting on a conference or putting out a newspaper. It is the task that basically structures the group. By determining what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, it provides a guide by which people can judge their actions and make plans for future activity.
2) It is relatively small and homogenous. Homogeneity is necessary to insure that participants have a "common language" of interaction. People from widely different backgrounds may provide richness to a consciousness raising group where each can learn from the others' experience, but too great a diversity among members of a task oriented group means only that they continually misunderstand each other. Such diverse people interpret words and actions differently. They have different expectations about each others' behavior and judge the results according to different criteria. If everyone in the group knows each other well enough to understand these nuances, they can be accommodated. Usually, they only lead to confusion and endless hours spent straightening out conflicts no one ever thought would arise.
3) There is a high degree of communication. Information must be passed on to everyone, opinions checked, work divided up and participation assured in the relevant decisions. This is only possible if the group is small and people practically live together for the most crucial phases of the task. Needless to say, the number of interactions necessary to involve everybody increases geometrically with the number of participants. This inevitably limits group participants to around five, or excludes some from some of the decisions. Successful groups can be as large as ten or fifteen, but only when they are in fact composed of several smaller sub-groups which perform specific parts of the task, and whose members overlap with each other so knowledge of what the different sub-groups are doing can be passed around easily.
4) There is a low degree of skill specialization. Not everyone has to be able to do everything; but everything must be able to be done by more than one person in order for no one to be indispensable. To a certain extent, people must become interchangeable parts.
These ideal circumstances do not occur often, and when they do they too tend to coincide with friendship networks. This coincidence is not an accidental one as the principles upon which participatory groups operate are largely the norms of friendship31 yet when friendship becomes the primary basis of organization, it carries with it several consequences.
A) Rap groups are very easy for individuals to form. One can put up a notice on a bulletin board, advertise in the newspaper, or merely pass the word among one's friends. Task groups are not created so easily; especially when one must do so from scratch. It is much more difficult to find and put together the necessary people and to find the necessary resources for one's purposes. A movement which requires every group to start anew does not make it possible for people to build off of other's experiences. Thus the end of consciousness raising leaves women with no place to go and the lack of structure leaves them with no way of getting there. Some just "do their own thing." But the direction into which individual women and/or groups go is determined more by the accident of what's available than by design. This can lead to a great deal of individual creativity, much of which is useful for the movement, but it is not a viable alternative for most women. Many just drift out of the movement entirely because they don't want to develop an individual project and they have found no way of discovering, joining, or starting group projects than interest them.
B) Participatory groups frequently must become closed to new members because of the time and emotional investment required to build up the trust, acceptance and mutual understanding necessary for their successful functioning. But a closed group controlling a project, service, or publication of value to the movement is in effect an oligarchic enclave within the movement. While it can be fairly said that a segmentary, reticulate social structure does not create movement-wide oligarchies, it creates many local ones. Decentralized oligarchies are still oligarchies, and still have all the problems of exclusiveness and emphasis on group maintenance that centralized oligarchies have.32 Rotation of leadership is minimized and accountability reduced.
C) The need to maintain good interpersonal relationships characteristic of a participatory group tips the balance against instrumental action. A tremendous amount of the participants' time and energy must necessarily be spent on group process rather than group ends. Often group process becomes the group's end. While this greater personal investment in the group can heighten one's commitment to its goals, it also lessens the time and energy available to pursue them. Groups remain together purely for the purpose of remaining together.
D) The incentive structure of the movement becomes heavily weighted in favor of solidary incentives. This in turn favors consummatory activities rather than instrumental ones. In the early days of the movement a major activity was "zap actions" (e.g. witch hexes). These have ceased, to be replaced by service projects. Many of these are useful and interesting, but they are hardly a substitute for political action. "The total effect of such actions is comparable to that of the Lady Bountiful of earlier centuries. Individual women's problems will be alleviated for the time being, but no lasting change is produced."33 The emphasis on service projects does not result solely from the nature of participatory groups. It also reflects an inexperience with and alienation from the traditional forms of political activity, the "delegitimacy" of direct action-protest that accompanied the decline of the civil rights and student movements, and the inheritance from its radical roots of the goal of "revolution." The latter led many to believe that any cooperation with the "system" was reformist and therefore wrong. Service projects could be set up as "alternative institutions." The paradox of filling holes within the "system's" services as a form of radical activity was not noted by many. The fact that an emphasis on service projects is not purely a result of a decentralized, segmentary structure is illustrated by their predominance in Chicago, Seattle and the few other cities which have not adhered to the idea of "structurelessness" and have adopted city-wide organizations. Nonetheless, service projects are a logical outcome of a primarily solidary incentive system, whether the emphasis on such incentives comes from the remoteness of goals (i.e. revolution) or the greater maintenance needs of a participatory group.
A style of movement organization stressing decentralized, segmentary, participatory
groups has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it is politically
inefficacious, exclusive, and discriminatory against those who are not or
cannot be tied into the friendship networks. Those who do not fit into what
already exists because of class, race, occupation, education, parental,
or marital status, personality, etc., will inevitably be discouraged from
trying to participate. Those who do fit in will develop vested interests
in maintaining things as they are. The informal groups' vested interests
are sustained by the informal structures which exist, and come to monopolize
most of the existing "niches" of movement activity. Concomitantly,
the power that they exercise within the movement, while less than that in
a centralized organization, is also less responsible. On the other hand,
the very fact that many women are excluded from movement "niches"
compels innovation from those who want to relate to it somehow. Its segmentary
nature also encourages proliferation, adaptation, and responsiveness to
its environment.34 While expertise
is devalued and much labor is replicated, these aspects in turn create opportunities
for individuals to play organizational roles and learn skills which would
be limited in a centralized organization. It is not by accident that this
branch of the movement has developed several ideological perspectives, much
of the terminology of the movement, an amazing number of publications and
"counter-institutions", numerous new issues, and even new techniques
for social change. The emphasis of this branch has been on personal change
as a means to understand the kind of political change desired, and its contribution
has been its creativity, not its effectiveness.
As long as the major concern of this branch could be personal change, it did not have to face the problems created by its structure. Since 1971, consciousness raising as a major movement function is becoming obsolete. Due to the intense press publicity and the numerous "overground" books and articles that began circulating, women's liberation became a household word. Its issues were discussed and informal rap groups formed by people who had no explicit connection with any movement group. Ironically, this subtle, silent and subversive spread of feminist consciousness caused a situation of political unemployment. Educational work no longer was such an overwhelming need. Service projects could only be part of the answer. What the movement desperately needed was some sense of direction.
The problem was how to get it. One result of the movement's style was a very broad based, creative movement, to which individuals could relate pretty much as they desired with no concern for orthodoxy or doctrine. Another was a kind of political impotency. On a local level most groups could operate autonomously, but the only groups that could organize a national activity were the nationally organized groups. Such groups as NOW, WEAL, and some Left women's caucuses were the only organizations capable of providing national direction, and this direction was determined by the priorities of these organizations. NOW, for example, organized the August 1970 strike, and in doing so brought many groups into a temporary coalition. WEAL initiated and coordinated the complaints about sex discrimination against colleges and universities filed with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. It is upon the rock of lack of direction that the younger branch of the movement has been floundering for so long it has practically become a way of life. There is a phoenix-like quality to the movement -- different groups simultaneously dying, reforming and emerging -- so that it is hard to get an accurate reading on the, state of its health. Although the resurgence of feminism tapped a major source of female energy, the structure of the younger branch has not been able to channel it effectively. Some women are able to create their own local action projects, study groups or service centers. Most are not, and the movement provides no coordinated or structured means of fitting them into existing projects. Instead, such women either are recruited into NOW and other national organizations, or drop out of organized activity altogether. The latter rarely cease to be feminists; instead they apply their new ideas to their personal lives and individual concerns. The consequence however, is that new groups form and dissolve at an accelerating rate, creating a good deal of consciousness and very little concerted action. To a certain extent the movement is expanding but not building; forging into new areas while failing to consolidate its gains in old.
The average life of movement activists is about two years, after which they
retire in exhaustion to be replaced by new converts who try to make up in
enthusiasm what they lack in experience. While this high rate of turn over
continuously adds new blood to the movement, it also means old issues have
to be continuously refought. Thus internal education consumes a good deal
of the movement's energy, and only some organizations -- primarily in the
older branch -- have been able to avoid becoming bogged down by that task.
Gerlach and Hine argue that a decentralized, segmented movement is the most viable way of developing new means of social change as its flexibility permits greater use of the time-honored method of social innovation -- trial and error. A bureaucratic, centrally directed organization is obviously ill adapted to this type of approach. It is within the context of a decentralized, segmented structure that such innovation can most easily take place. In a polycephalous movement, the errors of one group or one leader have little, if any, effect on the others. Group members can disband, reform under new leadership, or simply be absorbed into other groups, and the movement goes on. An attempt at innovation which fails affects only those most closely associated with it; in fact, such failure may aid others by its demonstrations of what will not work.35
As applied to the women's liberation movement, their judgements about the increase in innovations are correct. There have certainly been a lot of new ideas. However, one could dispute whether the development of these new ideas represent progress or merely fashion. That is, whether they are founded upon past experience in an attempt to improve it, or are pursued upon the assumption that anything new is automatically better. It is perhaps too soon to make that kind of assessment. But what is clear is that new ideas without organizational direction often go nowhere. This does not mean that the ideas do not spread. Given a certain amount of interest by the media and the appropriateness of social conditions, the ideas will still be diffused widely. But diffusion of ideas does not mean they are implemented; it only means that they are talked about. Insofar as they can be applied individually they may be acted on; insofar as they require coordinated political power to be implemented, they will not be.
This is why the younger branch of the movement can at one and the same time be so innovative ideologically, and so conservative in practice. Its debates, disputes and ideas provide new food for feminist thought. Its segmented oligarchies and service projects restrict its activities to politically innocuous ones. Gerlach and Hine obviously failed to appreciate the political implications, or lack of them, in this kind of structure, however appealing its other aspects may be. It is good for personal change; it is bad for institutional change.
Fortunately, the younger branch is not the sum total of the women's liberation movement. There exist some national, somewhat centralized organizations capable of political action. It is these organizations that usually develop the ideas fermented by the small groups. While it is likely true that NOW and other national organizations would not be as innovative without the ideological pressure these groups provide, it is also true that their new ideas would have few avenues for implementation if it were not for NOW. This symbiotic relationship between varying, even differing, movement groups is typical of other movements, and is perhaps a condition of movement succeed.36
The irony is that it is not the centralized social movement organization, NOW, that is moving toward conformity with the Weber/Michels model of oligarchization, conservation, and goal transformation. It is the nonbureaucratic, noncentralized, small groups. They are the ones run largely by oligarchies, who have sufficiently accommodated themselves to their environments to have transformed their goals, in practice if not in theory, from radical social change to ameliorative service projects. It would seem that here the inherent tension between goal achievement needs and group maintenance needs comes full circle. A group that has too little structure devotes itself as disproportionately to the latter just as does a group that has too much. One can conclude that what is necessary for movement survival is to opt for neither the apotheosis of efficiency nor the apotheosis of participation, but to maintain a balance between them both.
Part of the problem is due to a lack of consensus about what a social
movement really is. One whole book has been written describing the various
ways in which a social movement has been defined. None of the many authors
writing on social movements at this time really agree with each other.
See Paul Wilkenson, Social Movement (New York: Praeger, 1971)
Rudolph Herberle, Social Movements. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts,
1951), p. 269.
"The defining criterion of a formal organization ... is the
existence of procedures for mobilizing and coordinating the efforts of
various, usually specialized, subgroups in the pursuit of joint objectives."
Peter Blau, "Theories of Organization" in International Encyclopedia
of the Social Sciences, 11 (1968) p. 298.
For an analysis of the effect of the political environment on political
parties see Maurice Duverger, Political Parties: Their Organization
and Activity in the Modern State, translated by Barbara and Robert
North, 3rd. rev. ed. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1959). For a more thorough
examination of the role of the dual environment on a social movement see:
Mayer N. Zald and Roberta Ash, "Social Movement Organizations: Growth,
Decay, and Change," Social Forces 44 (March 1966): 327-341.
See also John Hammond, "The Organization of Political Movements,"
Chicago, 1969. (Typewritten).
This description of movement structure and its ramifications is
thoroughly developed by Luther P. Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, People,
Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill
I am using ideology in the narrow sense to refer to a specifically
feminist belief system rather than a general world view on the nature
of politics and society. Participants in younger branch groups would be
more likely to call themselves socialists or use revolutionary rhetoric
than those in older branch groups. However, if one questions individuals
in each branch on their views of the major feminist issues (e.g. abolition
of marriage, continuation of the nuclear family, payment for housewives,
abolition of the housewife role, childcare, abortion, access of women
to predominantly male occupations, abolition of sex roles, building of
female culture, welfare, lesbianism, etc. etc.) the answers will not correspond
with branch membership.
Quoted in George T. Martin, The Emergence and Development of
a Social Movement Organization Among the Underclass; A Case Study of the
National Welfare Rights Organization (Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. of
Sociology, University of Chicago, 1972), p. 87.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is an independent
federal regulatory agency created to enforce Title VII of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion,
or national origin.
Maren Lockwood Carden, The New Feminist Movement, pp. 130-131.
Beverly Jones, "Toward a Strong and Effective Women's Movement
(The Chambersbrug Paper)," Hershey, Pennsylvania, January 1972 (Mimeographed).
H.J. Gerth and C.W. Mills, eds. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology,
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1946). Robert Michels, Political
Parties, (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1949)
F. Stuart Chapin and John Taouderos, "The Formalization Process
in Voluntary Organizations," social Forces 34 (May 1956),
Zald and Ash, "Social Movement Organizations," p. 330.
James Q. Wilson, Political Organizations, New York: Basic
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper & Bros,
Ada Finifter, "The Friendship Group as a Protective Environment
for Political Deviants," paper given at the convention of the American
Political Science Association Washington, D.C., September 1972.
"Organization of Political Movements," p. 3.
Daniel C. Kramer, Participatory Democracy: Developing Ideals
of the Political Left (Cambridge, Mass: Schenkman Publishing Co.,
Linda Lewis and Sally Baideme, "The Women's Liberation Movement,"
in Lyman T. Sargent, ed. New Left Thought: An Introduction, (Homewood,
III: Dorsey Press, 1972), p. 83.
Martha Shelly, "Subversion in the Women's Movement, What is
To Be Done, off our backs, 8 November 1970, p. 7.
Lewis and Baideme, "The Women's Liberation Movement",
Margo Piercy, "The Grand Coolie Damn," in Robin Morgan,
ed. Sisterhood is Powerful, (New York: Random House, 1970). Robin
Morgan, "Goodbye To All That," in Leslie Tanner, ed. Voices
from Women's Liberation (New York: New American Library, 1970).
Pam Allen, Free Space: A perspective on the small group in women's
liberation (New York: Times Change Press, 1971).
William Hinton, Fanshen (New York: Vintage Books, 1966).
Gerlach and Hine, Movements of Social Transformation, pp. 135-36.
In the Spring of 1973 Susan Rennie and Kirsten Grimsted spent two
months visiting movements projects around the country. They report that
there are roughly: 75-100 publications; 15 pamphlet publishers and/or
printing co-ops; 25 rape squads; 3 art galleries; 4 film co-ops; 50 or
more women's centers; 200 abortion referral services; 50 gynecology clinics;
10 abortion clinics; 50 self-help groups; 5 legal services clinics; 10
feminist theater groups; 10 liberation schools; 5 employment services;
12 bookstores; and 5 craft stores. (Personal communication of July 1973).
See Jane Mansbridge "Time, Emotion and Inequality; Three Problems
of Participatory Groups," pp. 5-8. (Typewritten)
A good example of both press "election" and "impeachment"
is Kate Millett. She and Shulamith Firestone both published the first
new feminist theoretical books within a month of each other (September
1970). Time magazine planned a special movement issue to coincide
with Women's Strike Day (August 26, 1970), and put her picture on it's
cover. This "established" her as the first spokeswoman after
Friedan, and subjected her to very severe criticism from the movement.
When she subsequently, at a feminist conference, publicly declared herself
to be bisexual, Time announced that she was now discredited as
a movement leader. Neither Millet nor any movement group had a role
in either her ascendancy or dismissal. (Time, 14 December 1970, p. 50).
See especially Anselma Dell'Olio, "Divisiveness and Self
Destruction in the Women's Movement," originally given as a speech
in the Congress to Unite Women, New York, Spring 1970. Subsequently
appearing in the newsletter of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union,
Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, (New
York: Quadrangle Books, 1971) p. 161.
Mansbridge, "Problems of Participatory Groups," p. 10.
Jane Mansbridge, "The Limits of Friendship," 1972. (Typewritten)
Michels, Political Parties, 1962.
Carden, The New Feminist Movement, p. 194.
Gerlach and Hine, Movements of Social Transformation, p.
Movements of Social Transformation, p. 77.
Zald and Ash, "Social Movement Organizations," p. 332-