UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Being in women’s liberation : a case study in social change Stephenson, Marylee


This is a participant observation study of two Women's Liberation groups in Vancouver. Using a symbolic interactionist perspective in the methodology and analysis, the study documents the interplay among the Movement ideology, the nature of regular participation in the two differently constituted and structured groups, and the individual biographies of the participants. This conceptualization of social interaction as a multidimensional process is traced through the founders' accounts of the formation of their respective groups, through all participants' accounts of their early awareness and "adoption" of Movement ideology, and then through the women's descriptions of the ways in which they continued to apply the liberationist and egalitarian goals of the Movement to their individual life situations. There is further analysis of change in their primary relationships, their friendship patterns, and their paid-work/career situations. There is analysis of both regularities and similarities of their applications of the ideology and of exceptions and individual peculiarities of experience. In the part on foundation of the groups and women's early awareness of the ideology, it is shown that women became interested in Women's Liberation only as she began to view some aspect of her life as a woman, as problematic. This creation'adoption of the concept that being a woman is a social artifact allowed for consideration of change in that situation. Women who felt that they were not subject to the problems most other women were heir to, were interested in changing the world to improve it for those other women. They were characterized as "altruistic" in their attitude toward the role of the Movement in their lives. The founders of both groups were of this orientation. Most, other women experienced problems in their lives revolving around their perceived inadequacy and discomfort in the performance of some aspects of their role as women. They utilized the Movement ideology to find explanations of their situation and guidelines for change. They sought, out a group with the specific goal of finding like-minded, supportive women with whom they could share their experiences. They were characterized as "pragmatic" in their expectations toward the role of the Movement in their lives. In their primary relationships not all women defined their situation as problematic. Most did, however, and proceeded along ideologically informed lines to bring about increased egalitarianism in terms of the emotional/sexual relationship, and sharing of tasks within the household. There is concomitant freedom for the woman to pursue her growing range of new political and social interests. The women most free to assert their new-found expectations of equality are either married (with or without children) or women involved with a man but living on their own. The woman living with a man. is least able to attempt significant change in the relationship. This is attributed to the high degree of social structural insecurity inherent in this kind of relationship. Friendship patterns are typically changed in that women are now the most valued source of friends, the number of friends is increased, and the friendship-forming initiative is now taken by the woman herself as she selects largely from Movement women she is meeting. Friendship was shown, too, to play a crucial role in group formation as the already existent work" based friendship networks among the founders greatly facilitated the initial organization tasks. The role of friendship in the movement of later joiners into their groups was shown in that virtually all of these women first ventured into a group in company of a friend who was already a participant in a group and with whom they had been discussing issues raised in the Movement ideology. In the paid-work world, women were shown to have moved toward a rejection of carrying out stereotypically "womanly" behaviour that called for older women to be motherly and supportive of male co-workers and for -younger women to be non-threatening and flirtatious. They refused to accept traditional definitions of the nature and importance of hierarchies and associated mystification of the "expert" role. This meant that women in relatively powerless positions openly questioned authority. Women with power over others (i.e., teachers) tried to restructure their teaching techniques and their subject matter to reflect their new beliefs in the role of women and of their refusal to embody a part of a hierarchy in their professional work. All of the women extended their concept of sisterhood to anyone who was receptive to this attitude at work. Some did so at considerable job risk. Selected perspectives on the symbolic construction of social reality (Berger, 1957; Blumer, 1962; Cicourel, 1967-70; Mead, 1934; Schutz, 1964b) and on the nature of social movement beginnings (Freeman, 1973) are substantiated as it is clear that women construct and re-construct their biographies and everyday lives in accordance with their use of the interpretations of their situation provided by the ideology, and with the example and support of others similarly engaged.

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