Feminists Reshaping Gender

In Handbook of the Sociology of Gender


The gender order is incredibly durable, and persists relatively unchanged despite major cultural and structural changes. Feminists, however, have collectively mobilized to change some aspects of the gender structure. Over hundreds of years, participants in the U.S. feminist movement have advanced women’s position in the workplace, home, and economy. Feminists have challenged social institutions such as the nuclear family, interpersonal relationships privileging men, and the gender binary. Over the years, feminists helped win woman suffrage, they shaped social policy during the New Deal, they helped win the right to birth control and safe and accessible abortion, they raised awareness about the harms of sexual harassment and gendered violence, and helped draft and pass laws around equal pay and access to work, among other wins. Using a range of tactics, from community-based groups, to protest and Internet organizing, feminists have unquestionably improved women’s position in society. Scholarship about feminist movements has also pushed social movement scholarship in new directions, emphasizing a diversity of targets and tactics, focusing on movement continuity over time, and foregrounding the importance of community-building and other extra-political activities in the maintenance and growth of social movements. Areas for additional research include a deeper empirical and theoretical analysis of the intersectional nature of feminism and more attention to the heterogeneity of women’s experiences. Greater methodological diversity in the study of feminist movements would offer a more robust understanding of the movement, including a better grasp of the cultural and discursive outcomes of feminist movements and those like them.

Handbook of the Sociology of Gender
Laura K. Nelson
Laura K. Nelson
Assistant Professor of Sociology

I use computational methods to study social movements, culture, gender, institutions, and the history of feminism. I’m particularly interested in developing transparent and reproducible text analysis methods for sociology using open-source tools.