University of Sussex
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What state are we in? Activism, professional feminists and local government

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posted on 2023-06-08, 22:35 authored by Freya Johnson Ross
This thesis examines the particular sphere of gender equality working in UK local government in relation to feminist ideas and activism. In doing so it addresses questions about the nature and legacy of the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM), as well as how we should understand those engaged with feminist issues but organised in apparently non-traditional ways and locations. It also considers the significance of national legislation in shaping how this area of work has developed, with reference to the most recent Equality Acts. Taking as my starting point classic debates about organising for social change within the WLM, I undertook a qualitative comparative analysis of local government gender equality working. This examined three councils during the period in which they first created municipal feminist women’s initiatives, and the present day. To do this I undertook interviews with those working during both time periods, and gathered contemporary and archival texts relating to the councils’ work on gender equality. I suggest that the council gender equality initiatives, and those working within them, present an interesting way to complicate several boundaries; those usually defining the feminist movement and its organising; social movements in relation to the state; and feminist activity in relation to professionalism. I argue for the significance of the municipal feminist initiatives for present day work on gender equality, particularly in terms of their organisational position and form. I explore the utility of, and problems with, recent legislative developments in relation to gender equality, suggesting they have played an important role in standardising the work that takes place. I also examine the processes through which the concepts and practices of local government gender equality working have developed. In doing so I argue for the non-linear way this takes place and the importance of individual workers in shaping this arena. Finally, I present the idea of the ‘professional feminist’ as a way to understand the workers who identify as feminists. This challenges the terms of the early WLM but does so through drawing out and reconciling professionalism with feminist ideas.


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  • Sociology and Criminology Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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