Sociology Gender and Social Movements
Anna Chatillon, Verta Taylor
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0253


The sociological study of gender and social movements is relatively new. Until the 1970s, scholarship on social movements largely neglected questions of feminism and gender, and the fields of gender and social movements consisted of separate literatures. As a result, the major theories of social movements failed to take into account the impact of gender on the emergence, nature, and outcomes of social movements. But as mass feminist activism flourished in the United States and around the globe, so too did scholarship on gender and social movements. The earliest work in this area focused on women’s movements, both feminist and antifeminist, and applied the concepts and perspectives of social movement theory without explicitly taking into consideration the impact of gender. These studies, along with research on men’s movements, brought gender to the attention of social movement scholars by acknowledging women’s participation in political protest and men’s political experiences in gender movements, which had been ignored by mainstream social movement theory. But this body of work failed to consider systematically the effects of gender on political activism. By the 1990s, a new wave of research began to reconceptualize the relationship between gender and social movements by attending not only to how gender affects social movement structures and processes, but how social movements, in turn, affect gender. Many social movements have targeted the structures, cultural practices, and interactional norms that sustain gender inequality. Further, movements that are not oriented specifically around gender issues are also shaped by gender as a central feature of social structure, culture, and everyday life. Scholarship at the intersection of the fields of gender and social movements has had a significant impact on the cultural turn in social movement research, as well as on mainstream theories of social movements. Examining social movements through a gender lens has advanced several areas of social movement inquiry: (1) collective identity and intersectionality, (2) collective action frames, (3) movement leadership and organizations, (4) political and cultural opportunity structures and constraints, (5) movement tactics and strategies, and (6) movement outcomes. The research in this subfield and, correspondingly, this article, focuses primarily—but not exclusively—on the United States. The literature on gender and social movements has exposed many underexplored dimensions of social activism and has been foundational for the development of intersectional approaches to social movements. There is still much to learn by applying an intersectional approach that considers how power structures such as race, class, gender, and nationality intersect and the implications for social movement processes.

General Overviews

Research to understand the processes by which social movements become gendered burgeoned in the 1990s, and studies that examined social movements through a gender lens found that protest is gendered in multiple ways. Taylor 1996, a study of the postpartum depression self-help movement, integrates gender and social movement theory to propose the first framework for understanding how movements are gendered in their origins, collective identities, collective action frames, organization, tactics, and political and cultural opportunities. This analysis is summarized and extended in a frequently cited article, Taylor 1999. The first few years of the 21st century saw the publication of two important review essays, Einwohner, et al. 2000 and Zemlinskaya 2010, which draw primarily on research on women’s movements in the United States, Europe, and Latin America to offer typologies of the various ways in which social movements are gendered. Ferree and Mueller 2004 adopts a global perspective to argue that making gender salient in the study of women’s movements poses a challenge for social movement theories that take group interests for granted, and also poses challenges to state-centered approaches to power, protest, and change. Three later chapters provide overviews of the state of knowledge on gender and social movements. Whittier 2013 highlights the influence of research based on gender and social movements on the reconceptualization of social movement theory. Kretschmer and Meyer 2014 outlines the ways that gender operates in all social movements and in the political environments that affect them, differentiating feminist, nonfeminist, and antifeminist movements. Focusing on the social movement activity of women’s, feminist, and transgender activists and the gender dynamics of sex-segregated and mixed-sex movements, Hurwitz and Crossley 2019 argues that gendered and intersectional analyses of social movements explain features of mobilization that scholars would otherwise overlook. In the most recent overview of the field, Reger 2018 examines a growing body of research that views social movements through the lens of intersectionality as well as gender, and discusses the ways that masculinity, gender neutrality, and transgender experiences influence movement dynamics.

  • Einwohner, R., J. Hollander, and T. Olson. 2000. Engendering social movements: Cultural images and movement dynamics. Gender & Society 14.5: 679–699.

    The authors review the literature at the intersection of research on gender and social movements. They propose a typology of how social movements can be gendered, and advocate expanding a gendered analysis of social movements beyond research on movements that explicitly relate to gender. They theorize the gendering of movements themselves and draw out the possible implications of these arguments for social movement outcomes.

  • Ferree, M. M., and C. Mueller. 2004. Feminism and the women’s movement: A global perspective. In The Blackwell companion to social movements. Edited by D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule, and H. Kriesi, 575–608. Oxford: Blackwell.

    This chapter examines the enduring nature, macrosociological base, and success of women’s movements from a global perspective. The authors argue that taking gender into account in the study of social movements provides a more dynamic, longer-term, and less state-centered approach to power, protest, and change.

  • Hurwitz, H. M., and A. D. Crossley. 2019. Gender and social movements. In The Wiley Blackwell companion to social movements. Edited by D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule, K. Hanspeter, and H. J. McCammon, 537–552. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

    This chapter reviews the literature on activism by women, feminists, and transgender people, arguing that gender shapes every facet of movement dynamics and outcomes. The authors demonstrate that a gender lens on social movements has advanced the field by making contributions to four general areas of social movement inquiry: tactics and strategies, organizations, collective identity, and opportunities and constraints.

  • Kretschmer, K., and D. S. Meyer. 2014. Organizing around gender identities. In The Oxford handbook of gender and politics. Edited by G. Waylen, K. Celis, K. Kantola, and S. L. Weldon, 390–410. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This article analyzes how gender shapes internal social movement processes and the political and cultural environments that influence movements. The authors differentiate feminist, nonfeminist, and antifeminist movements, arguing that the gender divide shapes every aspect of political conflict.

  • Reger, J. 2018. Gender in movements. In Handbook of the sociology of gender. Edited by B. J. Risman, C. M. Froyum, and W. J. Scarborough, 537–548. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-76333-0_39

    In this chapter, the author builds on earlier work on gender and intersectionality in social movements to theorize gender as operating at three levels in such movements: the individual and interpersonal, the organizational, and the societal.

  • Taylor, V. 1996. Rock-a-by baby: Feminism, self-help, and postpartum depression. New York: Routledge.

    Drawing on an ethnography of the postpartum depression self-help movement, Taylor combines the concept of women’s culture from feminist gender studies and social movement theory to expand social movement theory and feminist theory. The last chapter synthesizes gender and social movement theory to present a framework for understanding how gender relates to social movement formation, mobilizing frames and identities, organization, tactics and strategies, and outcomes.

  • Taylor, V. 1999. Gender and social movements: Gender processes in women’s self-help movements. Gender & Society 13.1: 8–33.

    Based on data from the postpartum depression self-help movement, this article brings gender theory to bear on social movements and political sociology. It was one of the first to theorize the ways that gender influences every facet of social movement dynamics and outcomes, including movements not focused specifically on gender, and to argue that social movement analysis must attend to gender as a relevant explanatory factor.

  • Whittier, N. 2013. Gender and social movements. In Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia of social movements. Edited by D. A. Snow, D. Della Porta, B. Klandermans, and D. McAdam, 503–507. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

    This article argues that gender is a central feature of social structure, culture, and life and that all movements are gendered, even those not specifically mobilized around gender. Whittier identifies and describes several major elements of social movements (emergence and recruitment, collective identities, frames and discourses, organizational structure, opportunities and constraints, and outcomes) and argues they are all influenced by gender and its intersections with race, class, sexuality, and nationality.

  • Zemlinskaya, Y. 2010. Social movements through the gender lens. Sociology Compass 4.8: 628–641.

    Zemlinskaya draws together theories of gender and social movements, arguing that gender influences every aspect of social movements. The analysis focuses on the gendered nature of political and cultural opportunities, framing processes, and intramovement dynamics.

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