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Wed Jan 30, 2013, 09:05 PM

Who Should (And Shouldn't) Be Leaders/Members of Social Movements

In reference to the numerous threads about feminism, and who can and cannot be a feminist, or be a leader in the feminist movement, I thought it would be interesting to address this idea that membership and leadership in a social movement can or even should be limited.

Social movements deal with society as a whole. They may, in practical terms, be advocating for the end of discrimination against one group in that society by advocating for equality for all of society, but their movement impacts all of society, as do the consequences of their particular goal. To be successful, ultimately, society must embrace their goals.

To say that the leadership or membership of a social movement can be limited or should be limited to only the group or groups being discriminated against is to miss the larger point in an unfortunate way. Limiting members and leaders to only members of one group is what you do when you want identity politics. Since the group is only advocating for itself, it wants its members and especially its leaders to be part of that defined group identity so that only they will make decisions regarding what direction to go. The members may have voting rights for example on where to go, whereas everyone else outside the group can help out if they want, but get no say on where the group goes. Groups based on identity politics can and do often advocate for their group at the expense of others, and this is because the goal of identity politics is their own groups well-being, not being worried with other groups, which can indeed be seen as competition.

The goal of social movements is an idea or ideology, and not the well-being of just one group. Some social movements end up overwhelmingly helping one group incidentally to achieving their goal, but their motivation is still quite different. I think identity politics and social movements overlap quite often enough and can be hard to tell apart in some cases.

If a social movement aims for gender equality, for example, then members and leaders should be from all parts of society, since this is not an advocacy group for one particular identity, it is for an idea that effects everyone and will take everyone to achieve. However, advocacy groups for only women would consider such a social movement, especially back in the day, as a great ally and as having somewhat overlapping goals as a discriminated group, while advocacy groups for men would see it as a threat. Indeed, the women's advocacy groups would be part of the social movement and leaders in it as well.

I would like to say that identity politics is not necessarily a bad thing (though there are many obvious cases where it is and quite a lot of downsides, but that's another thread), and for many minority groups out there, it is one of the few effective ways to influence wider society in some cases, but social movements are not identity politics. They are about whole societies, and to be the most effective, they need members and leaders from all backgrounds to achieve their goals.

I understand that leaders need legitimacy, and legitimacy can come from shared experiences that only come from your identity, but social movements include everyone. If there is a leader in the gender equality movement who is a male, that person will have more legitimacy for other males, etc. etc. And society as a whole is who the social movement must address. Certain identity political groups within the social movement will compete and even want to control the direction of the social movement in their favor, but this isn't what the social movement is about.

I have begun seeing quite a few conservatives equate social movements with identity politics, or to conflate them, and I really don't think we, as progressives, should do the same. The Tea Party is one example, of a "social movement" that is hijacked by identity politics, indeed, by several competing groups. The "social movement" turns out to be anything but, and the membership and leadership of the "movement' only confirmed the identity politics it was. The Tea Party is now cynically viewed by your average American as not a social movement but a lobbying group, a piece of identity politics. Occupy Wall Street was a great point of contrast, even though even it, like any other social movement, had to compete with identity political groups wanting to dominate the movement, it was much more successful at maintaining its role as a social movement rather than identity politics.

If you want your group to be seen as identity politics, then you should indeed have all members and leaders be of that defined group identity, but if you want a social movement to be effective, you'll want members and leaders from every group out there.

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Arrow 10 replies Author Time Post
Reply Who Should (And Shouldn't) Be Leaders/Members of Social Movements (Original post)
MellowDem Jan 2013 OP
gollygee Jan 2013 #1
MotherPetrie Jan 2013 #2
MellowDem Jan 2013 #3
gollygee Jan 2013 #4
MellowDem Jan 2013 #6
gollygee Jan 2013 #7
MellowDem Jan 2013 #9
JustAnotherGen Jan 2013 #5
MellowDem Jan 2013 #8
redqueen Jan 2013 #10

Response to MellowDem (Original post)

Wed Jan 30, 2013, 09:11 PM

1. And here you are, wanting to define the women's movement

and not only that, explaining why. If men don't have some control, you're worried that women will make our movement all about us, and you're afraid it will be done at the expense of men.

This is actually a good example of why why we need to control our own movement.

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Response to gollygee (Reply #1)

Wed Jan 30, 2013, 10:06 PM

2. >>>POP!!!<<< Balloon OP meets #1 needle.


Contained hot air safely dissipates into atmosphere.

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Response to gollygee (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 01:51 PM

3. Nope

If a social movement is about gender equality, then it is not a women's movement. Simple as that.

I'm not defining the women's movement, because a women's movement is about women's equality or women alone, not about men too.

I'm all for women controlling their own advocacy groups. The movement for gender equality is not a women's advocacy group though.

It seems you want to define "gender" to mean "women only". Funny how you project that onto me.

I didn't define feminism here, there is no one definition is why. So I just laid out what the goals of a social movement are. If the goal is only women's equality, then it's a women's advocacy group, plan and simply. If it's gender equality, then it's a society-wide movement, not limited to one group.

If men don't have any leadership or members, then yes, the movement will be all about women, and end up being just another advocacy group based on identity rather than a social movement. If that's what you want, go for it. There are already men who want similar groups of all men. I guess we'll see how effective these groups are at advocating for their respective genders rather than society as a whole.

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Response to MellowDem (Reply #3)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:05 PM

4. Feminism IS a women's movement

that's when the "fem" part is in there. It is a movement by women to promote women's equality. It is not a gender neutral equality movement.

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Response to gollygee (Reply #4)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:35 PM

6. Feminism has a lot of definitions...

and if that's what you think it is about, then you are right it's not about gender equality and shouldn't include men if advocating only for women is their goal.

There are quite a few others that disagree with you on that definition though, including women, if that adds legitimacy, so I guess it's not surprising that people will claim to be feminists with the understanding it's about gender equality.

I suppose a new word for gender equality is needed, but I think feminism was thought to align with that general principle in so many ways already that few thought it was needed, or even that feminism has evolved to include both genders (despite the "fem" part). Maybe a new word is needed though to avoid confusion.

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Response to MellowDem (Reply #6)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:38 PM

7. Women do disagree about the definition

which is fine because it's a women's movement. The problem we have is when men want to define it. Which is what you're doing here.

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Response to gollygee (Reply #7)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:43 PM

9. It's not what I'm doing here...

I'm not defining it. I don't know why you are accusing me of things I'm not doing. It's like you want to be intentionally combative.

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Response to MellowDem (Reply #3)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:12 PM

5. I'm not big on gender 'neutral'

The number one top line reason I identify as a feminist is equal pay. The ability to SUE your employer 10 years later if you find out you were screwed over back in the day.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is still out there - that was part TWO of Ledbetter.

Men make more than the women - there is no need for neutrality or equity.

It's about dollars and cents, the bottom line, and it's an issue that women must stand up for themselves about. If that means laughing at the offer and telling them you want 10K more - then you gotta gotta do that. I did - and I STILL had a man working UNDER me with less education making more.

He's not looking out for me.

Only Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii am looking out for me.
And other WOMEN get that - and if we come together as feminists - maybe our daughters and nieces and grand daughters will never have to deal with that shit.

Equal Pay is a feminist issue. If men want to support us in that - then look at YOUR employees and see how YOU have been a part of the very real problem. And even it up. Because sometime in the next 5 to 10 years we are going to get a paycheck fairness act - and you don't want to be one of those that gets fined . . .

Put up - or shut up.

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Response to JustAnotherGen (Reply #5)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:40 PM

8. I'm not saying gender neutral...

or equity per se, just gender equality, which would look at issues of both genders. Equal pay may overwhelmingly be something that effects women negatively directly at this time (though men are effected negatively secondarily in many ways), but the concept itself is not about just one gender. It's a concept that should apply in all circumstances now and forever in all industries. Equal pay is not just a women's issue in other words, and in the future who it effects can and will change as the economy and society changes.

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Response to gollygee (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 02:50 PM

10. Yep.

If we were discussing any other group, hardly anyone would be debating this.

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