Alexandria Digital Research Library

The 51% : Gender, Feminism, and Culture in the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Hurwitz, Heather McKee
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Sociology
Degree Supervisor:
Verta Taylor
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Gender studies, Sociology, and Womens studies
Feminist Studies
Occupy Wall Street
Social Movements
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2015

Social movements researchers have explained that gender inequality and hierarchies shape social movements, feminist movements are taking new forms within a variety of institutions and contexts, and contemporary social movements are shaped by second wave feminism, contemporary feminism, and antifeminist backlash. Scholars of gender and organizations have identified changes in cultural beliefs toward gender equality and the greater inclusion of women in the workplace but also the persistence of traditional gender stereotypes and continued reliance on men's leadership in contemporary workplace contexts and the family. Yet, we know little about how these patterns of gender inequality, gender egalitarianism, and new forms of feminism shape contemporary mixed-gender social movements. Emerging as a mass mobilization in September 2011, the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Occupy) is an ideal case to examine gender, feminism and culture. "We are the 99%" became the key slogan of the movement, symbolizing class-based solidarity in opposition to the most wealthy 1%, the government, corporations, and banks. To build an inclusive and multi-issue movement, participants attempted to develop a non-hierarchical and egalitarian organizational structure and the 99% identity. The study draws on qualitative and quantitative data including participant observation, an archive of paper and electronic documents about the movement, semi-structured in-depth interviews with 73 participants, and the Occupy Research Demographic and Political Participation Survey (n=~5000). The analysis employs an intersectional and feminist approach.

I argue that during the first year of the movement's emergence and development, gender conflict was central to the movement's organizational structure, collective identity, tactics, and strategies, and the emergence of feminist spin-off mobilizations. The organizational structure of Occupy was not inherently "bad," but like many organizations, even egalitarian ones, attempts to change patterns of gender inequality often failed because the practices that created and recreated inequality were so deeply and often invisibly embedded in everyday habits, or as I refer to them, "gendered toolkits." Occupy grew to be disproportionately male-dominated due to leaderlessness, structurelessness, and the threat of aggressive policing.

Furthermore, "the 99%" obscured the diversity among participants and marginalized women and people of color by failing to recognize their distinct grievances and disproportionate economic hardships leading to a variety of oppositional collective identities and spin-off mobilizations. Many of the protest performances replicated male-dominated gendered toolkits from other contexts and social movements. The study reveals that gender conflict within the movement led participants to develop two different kinds of gendered tactics: sexist tactics that conveyed male-dominance and marginalized women and other minority groups, and liberatory tactics that challenged gender inequality and borrowed from the tactical repertoires of third wave and contemporary feminist movements and lesbian, gay, and transgender movements.

Finally, while gender conflict was pervasive and weakened Occupy, gender conflict was also productive and contributed to the development of feminist collective identity, feminist free spaces, and feminist bridge leaders in Occupy. New feminist mobilizations drew on the resources of and, at the same time, reinvigorated existing feminist organizations and networks. In Occupy, gender conflict along with gender egalitarianism and expressions of sexism alongside feminism, point to the successes of, as well as the backlash against feminist movements, and the profound resilience of gender inequality. Occupy's gender regime demonstrated striking similarity to a variety of organizations and contexts affected by limited and uneven gender equality, or what I argue has been one of the most recent and vibrant examples of the "stalled gender revolution" manifesting within the context of social movements.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (209 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Heather Hurwitz
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