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Gender and the Civil Rights Curricula  

Belinda Robnett

For decades, women in the United States have fought for civil rights. Other than the fight for women’s civil rights, women’s activism in other types of social movements has been largely ignored in textbooks and in the media. Two factors contribute to this neglect. First, historically, women have held differential access to structural and institutional power. Second, with a narrow definition of leadership, researchers focused exclusively on charismatic and formal social movement leaders. However, women served as leaders and participants not only in the Suffrage movement and the second-wave feminist movement but also in the U.S. civil rights movement, the Chican@ movement, the Asian American movement, and the Native American movement. Among the causes, women have fought on the front lines for voting rights; equal employment opportunities; equal pay; desegregated housing, schools, and public facilities; reproductive rights; tribal land rights; cultural and religious preservation; LGBTQ+ rights; criminal justice; welfare rights; universal healthcare; parental leave; environmental justice; and subsidized child care. Women served as formal leaders in women’s movement organizations, and as bridge leaders in mixed-gender groups. As bridge leaders, they fostered ties between the social movement and the community, between strategies (aimed at individual change, identity, and consciousness) and political strategies (aimed at organizational tactics designed to challenge existing relationships with the state and other societal institutions). The African American, Asian American, Native American, and Chicana women’s movements did not emerge after the second-wave feminist movement, which mainly comprised white middle-class women, but simultaneously. In the case of women of color, African American, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American women have struggled for justice and equality on behalf of their specific racial–ethnic groups. Born out of gender inequality within their respective racial–ethnic movement, the activists formulated a multicultural/womanist feminism/womanism that addressed the intersectionality, race–ethnicity, gender, and class dimensions of their lived experiences.