|Feminism and Politics|
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Social movements raise serious questions outside normal government channels, often concerning subjects that are not being treated as topics of public concern (Costain 1982:19). Such movements may be viewed along a continuum from unconventional, almost spontaneous, sometimes illegal activity to movement groups that seek more conventional political and legal change. Social movement organizations are the acting components of the movement, which may help turn grievances into programs (Lowi 1971). It is the hypothesis of this chapter that while American women's liberation groups have moved closer to an accommodation both to the political system and to the more "reformist" wing of the movement, largely because of an emphasis on coalition politics and pragmatic achievements (goals), no such tendencies are evident in the British movement. Rather, there has been little institutional transformation since the movement's inception in Britain, although constant activity is maintained and proliferation and fragmentation
occur owing to conflicts regarding strategies and ideology (Banks 1981:227).
Feminist theory about the role of women in politics and society may be analyzed in several ways. One is to differentiate between "reformist" and "radical" feminists. Reformist feminists seek equality through freedomthey do not seek to overturn the prevailing system, although they may be in conflict with those elements of it that they see as oppressive and hostile to women's self-determination. Thus, the stated goal of NOW is "to bring women into full participation into the mainstream of American society in a truly equal partnership with men" (Bunch 1981:191; Perrigo 1985:129). In contrast, "radical" feminists perceive society as rooted in inequality, based on patriarchy, or male domination, and often on racism and capitalism as well. In this perspective, the only way to alter women's oppression is to transform the ideology and institutions of existing society (Bunch 1981:190). A somewhat different approach to the disparate views within feminism may be found in the distinction between "radical revolutionary" and "socialist" feminism. Socialist feminists, rooted more firmly within Marxist theory, insist on the primacy of the class struggle and seek to redefine those aspects of Marxism that seem inadequate to alter women's oppression to meet the needs of contemporary feminists. Socialist feminists wish to develop a strategy to jointly attack male domination and capitalism and thus restructure male-female relationships.
A second group, the "radical" (revolutionary) feminists see the source of societal inequality in the institution of male domination, or "patriarchy," usually rooted in biological differences and roles. Both the family and the state are seen to embody systematic male power and
domination. In this view, alliances with men are not possible, since men are always oppressors and society cannot be reformed. Women must form "separatist" groups, shun relations with men, and seek an end to male domination (Randall 1982:5). Revolutionary feminists have forcefully restated many traditional radical feminist positions, especially hostility to men (Spare Rib , May 1979:82). Their major points of attack are marriage, the family, control of reproduction, and violence against women.
Although in both the United States and Britain elements of these different views exist, in the United Kingdom what we have referred to as "reformist" feminism occupies a far more limited role than in the United States. And, although socialist feminism exists in the United States, it has tended to remain outside the mainstream of the feminist movement, given the historic American antipathy to leftist politics. In turn, because British feminism is linked by reasons of history and ideology to the left and socialism, it has tended to develop more theoretical perspectives on the relationship between these two ideological tendencies. As liberal feminists Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem have tended to dominate aspects of the American feminist movement, so have the socialist feminists Sheila Rowbotham and Juliet Mitchell been major forces within the British movement. However, two significant differences ought to be noted. First, the contributions of the latter two are less related to movement activism than to an interest in theoretical reinterpretation. Second, Rowbotham and Mitchell are not viewed as "spokeswomen" for or by the British movement, which does not recognize movement "stars" in any role at all. Radical feminism, sparked by such writers as Shulamith Firestone and Kate Millett,
had its origins in the United States, although it has now gained considerable support among British women's liberationists.
For some observers, "revolutionary feminism" has eclipsed other significant strands within the British movement. An article in the New Statesman (Heron 1983) deplored the tendency toward "political lesbianism" in the United Kingdom, suggesting that many feminists had entered a social and sexual stage that denigrated engagement with existing structures that could lead to change. The author decried a new prescriptive definition of feminism that limited options and rendered the British movement no longer open to all women who recognized the oppression of women as a social group and sought change. Whether a new and more exclusive era in British feminism has truly dawned is difficult to determine; but such commentary does suggest a vast chasm between socialist and some radical feminists in the United Kingdom.
A final element within feminism is "cultural" feminism. It may be animated by either socialist or radical feminism, but its major concern is less political than it is personal: that is, it seeks to change life-styles and modes of behavior.
It is only a partial exaggeration to suggest that the American civil rights movement played a role in the creation of second-wave American feminism comparable to that of the socialist left in Britain.
The recent history of British and American feminist development reveals disparate organizational tendencies and styles. In the United States the New Left and the
civil rights movement, each stressing different aspects of political equality, gave rise to the younger, or more "radical," branch of the feminist movement. As women activists in these protest movements became aware of their secondary status, based on gender, they began to develop new, female-based groupings. Early on, these groups stressed consciousness-raising as a technique to develop greater self-and group awareness and, like their British counterparts, created localized, participatory projects, including day care, rape crisis centers, shelters for battered women, bookstores, and self-help health clinics. A second group of feminist activists formed around the national and state commissions on the status of women. These commissions created a focus and forum for a different set of women, older and of a more professional and media-oriented bent, to begin to contemplate the need for a feminist pressure group. Their efforts were given additional impetus after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which (almost by accident and certainly in the absence of any feminist pressure) was passed with the inclusion of Title VII, prohibiting sex discrimination in employment (Freeman 1975). The climate of expectations created by these two governmentally based actions, and the subsequent failure of the agency created by the Civil Rights Act, the EEOC, to enforce Title VII, led to the creation of NOW. Additional groups finally joined the Washington feminist lobby, including the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL), which initially rejected NOW's seemingly "radical" position on abortion rights; the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), focusing on recruiting and electing more women to political office and on legislative pressure; numerous groups concerned with single issues (abortion, health, education rights); and litigation groups.
The British suffrage movement early demonstrated tendencies that persist in British feminism today. One was an early link between the Labour Party and constitutional feminists (Evans 1977:126). Another was militancyperhaps related to the example of Irish nationalism, perhaps born of rage and disappointment when apparently close-at-hand victory failed. Antisuffrage leaders and the Liberal Party served to isolate the movement and make it more sectarian and rigid (Evans 1977:19798). However, although suffragists were interested in engaging public power in order to gain the vote, contemporary feminist advocates in Britain are not so sure.
As in the United States, the contemporary British feminist movement received its impetus from radical and New Left politics, especially the CND and anti-Vietnam campaigns (Randall 1982:152; Wilson 1980:184). In addition, working-class women in the 1960s organized as well: at Hull in 1968 for better conditions for their fishermen husbands and at Ford's auto machine works in Dagenham, where the demands for equal pay and equal work resulted in the creation of the short-lived Joint Action Committee for Women's Rights. This early effort at feminist militancy among working-class women seemed promising, but it has not proved as yet to be a significant element in British feminism, although in 198485 a new working-class women's movement, Women Against Pit Closures, emerged during the yearlong strike by the National Union of Miners (NUM) (Wandor 1972:9697; Coote and Campbell 1987:17981).
The revived movement in the United States provided the immediate spark for much women's liberation activity, which early on developed strength among socialist and university women. A London-based women's liberation
workshop coordinated over 70-odd local groups and published a journal, Shrew (Randall 1982:152; Wandor 1972:9697). A national women's liberation movement held its first conference at Oxford in 1970. The demands that emerged from the conference24-hour child care, equal pay and education, free contraception, and abortion on demandreflected a practical orientation, new to some movement activists.
Like the "younger," more radical branch of the American movement, the British movement lacked a coordinating structure other than national, regional, or issue-oriented conferences. The British movement developed numerous factions; one chart listed at least 14 different "tendencies" within the movement (Sebestyen 1979:16). Conflicts within the movementlargely between radical and socialist feministshave since 1978 prevented the holding of a national conference. The conflicts have centered largely on the scrapping of the six demands listed in Chapter 1 in favor of the seventh demand against male violence (Randall 1982:5). Spare Rib , a monthly journalistic publication produced by a feminist collective, and the London-based Women's Research and Resources Center (WRRC) today provide the only comprehensive foci relating to different elements within the movement. (A Women's Place, also in London, is similarly run by a collective of women and operates a bookshop and reference facility, as well as publishing a weekly newsletter.) The once significant Women's Information, Reference and Enquiry Service (WIRES) has been severely circumscribed.
Despite the absence of a focal point, feminist activities in the United Kingdom continue energetically. Spare Rib and other publications advertise a host of feminist activities, and numerous groups are listed under "Women's Liberation" in the London and regional phone
books. However, unlike the mass-membership equal rights focus of the visible American movement, the major locus of activity is the small group, which, eschewing formal rules and leadership, prefers to arrive at decisions by consensus. The movement's character is also defined by the proliferation of small groups, each with a single-issue orientation. Even more "traditional" women's groups, such as Women in the Media and the National Housewives Register (founded in the early 1960s by liberal-minded housewives), operate on the basis of principles of participatory democracy and minimization of hierarchy and rigid structure (Stott 1981). It is possible that British women's experience with bureaucracyin labor and leftist politics and, in the public sphere, in such areas as national healthhas contributed to dislike of centralized, hierarchical power. However, though other British promotional groups began with a similarly diffuse structure, some, including the CPAG, have moved toward traditional interest-group organization. Often allied with feminist groups, the CPAG has developed a staff-dominated structure and a small membership as well, become more interested in fund-raising, and sought to develop a parliamentary lobby. These activities are in marked contrast to the deliberately antihierarchical structure maintained by feminist groups (Seyd 1976).
Feminists have developed legal groups, such as Rights of Women, day nurseries, shelters for battered women, and pro-abortion groups. National coordinating structures have evolved to focus on specific issues such as abortion and domestic violence, but their scope is limited. Women's Aid was established in London in 1972 by Erin Pizzey to counter domestic violence and, somewhat unique in British feminist experience, was able to attract government and charitable funding (Coote and
Campbell 1987:141). Perhaps because it requires fewer resources than child care, domestic violence became a women's issue suitable for limited external support (Lovenduski 1986:79). The Women's Aid movement broke away from its founder on ideological grounds and has proliferatedwith 99 groups and 200 refugees in 1980. Member organizations operate on feminist principles, with an emphasis on autonomy and self-determination for women (ibid., 42). Local women support the National Women's Aid Federation (NWAF) through adherence to its aims and attendance at meetings (interview, NWAF, 1982). Within the national and half-dozen regional offices, jobs rotate every two to three years to provide varied experiences for all and prevent domination by one person. Activists share in all work and there is no status distinction among the new staff members. Fund-raising is virtually nonexistent because of fear of creating strong central power, although resources from the national Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) help pay staff salaries. While in the mid 1980s the London office of the NWAF was forced to close because of lack of funding, a newly modified collective structure has resumed national leadership in Bristol, England, as of 1988.
The NWAF's past activities helped create legislative reforms that gave increased protection to women against violent mates and imposed obligations on local authorities to rehouse victimized women. The NWAF also campaigned for more serious intervention by local police authorities (Perrigo 1985:135). (Women Against Rape, formed in 1976, has had some comparable success in raising consciousness and was in part responsible for the passage of the Sexual Offenses Act of 1976 making the rape victim's past sexual history irrelevant.)
A second organization that has developed a national structure is the National Abortion Campaign (NAC), launched in the spring of 1975 to defend the 1967 Abortion Act. It has a loosely organized mass base and operates from a socialist feminist perspective and on principles of participatory democracy (Marsh and Chambers 1981:1). The nonhierarchical, decentralized structure linking local groups claims a coalition of 400 organizations, with membership open to all who support its aims (interview, NAC, July 1982). In contrast to the operation of abortion rights groups in the United States, half the groups involved in NAC are trade union-related and receive some funding from the unions. Local groups are completely autonomous, deciding their own policy and method of campaigning. They have no elected officials or delegated structure. National policy is decided at the NAC annual conference and meetings are open to all members. An annual general meeting provides a forum for discussion of issues, although there is no mechanism for the resolution of conflicts on issues such as the role of racism and the broadening of the group's agenda to include types of reproductive freedom other than abortion. (In 1983, an organizational split between those who sought to focus on abortion as a single issue and advocates of broader reproductive rights divided NAC.) A national office provides backup resources and coordinates; a steering committee handles daily work. The staff is limited in policy-making authority, leaving most decision-making to annual and regional meetings. Volunteers are heavily relied on, particularly in the absence of funds to pay workers.
The contrast with most American pro-abortion groups is marked: U.S. organizations, such as the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood,
tend to be professionalized, hierarchical in structure, and reliant onalthough not necessarily directly responsible toa dues-paying, mass-membership constituency. Such groups may fit the model of reliance on a "conscience constituency" in which contributors supply movement resources without direct material benefit. Effective policy-making is in the hands of the full-time staff, as in the "funded social movement organizations" described by McCarthy and Zald (1977). Abortion rights groups lobby extensively to prevent progressive weakening of abortion legislation and, in marked contrast to the British experience, where courts have virtually no role in this policy area, have been active in litigating to preserve and strengthen abortion rights. NAC's strategy is largely extraparliamentary, emphasizing proselytizing through demonstrations and picketing (Marsh and Chambers 1981:48), influencing Parliament by showing M.P.'s that grass-roots support for abortion rights exists.
In the United Kingdom, even groups with a national focus are ambivalent about campaigning (lobbying) and the legislative process, although in fact the NWAF and NAC have intervened effectively in the political system. In 1975, NAC mobilized 20,000 supporters to defeat James White's antiabortion bill. It has collaborated with other sections of the pro-abortion lobby, including the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA), and with Labour Party women. NAC supporters have been active in unions and have gained support from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) for their efforts (Perrigo 1985:134). In July 1981, they held their first meeting with representatives from the trade union movement and Labour Party constituency parties in an effort to gain commitments for positive legislation on abortion. (After this
meeting, a first attempt to enact legislation making abortion facilities mandatory under the NHS was introduced, and although it failed, it gained some media attention, perhaps setting the stage for further efforts [Spare Rib , Sept. 1981:106].) Because NAC's members are socialist feminists (drawn from the International Marxist Group), they have close ties to the Labour Party and trade union movement, particularly the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National and Local Government Officers' Association (NALGO) (Lovenduski 1986:80). The potential of this alliance was evident in 1979 when a mass demonstration (some 100,000 people showed up), with major participation by the TUC, helped stop the Corrie bill, which threatened to reduce access to legal abortions. This was the largest union demonstration ever held in Britain for a noneconomic issue, and it demonstrated the mobilization potential inherent in the feminist movement. However, at the NAC National Congress in September 1983, a split developed over the organization's need to cover other areas of women's reproductive rights, including contraception and sterilization. A new group, the Women's Reproductive Rights Group, was formed as a result of this disagreement, further contributing to the proliferation of women's liberation groups (Perrigo 1985:134).
A second effort related to women's liberation, though not strictly part of it, has been the mobilization of Greenham Common women in protest against a cruise missile installation in Britain. Organized around feminist principles, and exclusively populated by women (and children), it has numbered some 30,000 women in rotating order. Utilizing principles of nonviolence, even when arrested and subject to police harassment and eviction attempts, these women have helped mobilize national
consciousness about peace issues based on feminist ideology.
Other feminist groups, such as Rights of Women (ROW), exist in the field of law and have been active for the past decade. Their goal has been to provide legal advice to the women's movement, formulate legal policy, and campaign on issues of concern to women. They have produced informational material, discussion documents, parliamentary briefings, and responses to government publications in areas such as violence against women, rights of lesbians, and family law. Nonetheless, the movement lacks a professional campaigning body of women lawyers, partly owing to funding problems (Williscroft 1985:100). Another promotional group, the NCCL, has had a women's officer active since 1975 and has played an important role in movement politics.
A movement comparable to the liberal feminist structure in the United States (to be described in the next section) does not really exist in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, while never dominant in the British feminist movement (and likely never to be), there are groups that seek to play a centrist, coordinating role. Among these are the Fawcett Society (with roots in the suffrage movement) and Women in the Media. The Fawcett Society remains a small group of only about 375 members, its efforts to develop a membership base in northeast England having failed. Women in the Media, organized in 1970, has engaged in active campaigning for equal pay and for legislation against sex discrimination. Other groups that do not identify with women's liberation. but do support many feminist demands and efforts to achieve them, are current manifestations of more traditional women's activities. Among them are the WI, with a membership base of 400,000; the TG, with 217,000;
the British Federation of University Women, with 14,000; and the NCW, with 5,000 (Stott 1980). While these groups often support women's rights, by and large they eschew relationships with socialist and radical feminists.
Several new developments in Britain represent steps toward coalition building among different ideological groups in the women's community. In London in November 1980, a Women's Action Day involved some 67 organizations from a variety of women's perspectives and sought to discuss and develop common policies. A "women's agenda" was issued, dealing with issues of equal opportunity in law, education, work, politics, finances, the family, health, and the media. Groups represented included unions, NAC and ROW, traditional women's groups such as the NCW, and elements of the Liberal and Labour parties. With a grant from the EOC, the Women's Action Group (WAG) created a Lobby Pack with questions to be put to candidates for by-elections and parliamentary election (Pamela Robinson, Women in the Media, interview, Aug. 1982). Aided by funds from the Greater London Council (GLC), a number of feminist groups purchased a new building to share cooperatively in London. The EOC and NCCL have also provided opportunities for discussion of specific feminist issues through conferences and forums and helped link trade unionists with other feminist activities. The GLC Women's Committee and other local women's committees (to be discussed presently) have also sought to end centrifugal politics by involving a variety of women's groups as policy participants and recipients. In 1986 a campaign to defend children's benefits against restrictive cuts by the Thatcher government engendered a national effort. Included within the alliance, consisting of
over 60 organizations, were the National Federation of Women's Institutes, Women's Aid Federation, Fawcett Society, and Mother's Union. The future significance of such cooperative efforts remains unclear.
A fairly new political advocacy groupthe 300 Grouphas sought to increase the number of women in the House of Commons (as of 1986 6 percent were women, up significantly from the previous election). Like its American counterpart, the NWPC, it aims to recruit and train women candidates for political office. It has sought to build a dues-paying base, in 1982 having a membership of 3,000 and dues of £12 annually (interview, Abdela, July 1982). Now under new leadership, the 300 Group has a central staff and offices, indicating its ability to endure and grow even though it continues to encounter hostility from traditional party groups that resent external intrusion and from feminists who dislike its relatively centralized entrepreneurial style. Nonetheless, it has trained well over 1,500 women and helped them gain an interest and confidence in politics.
The focus of most British feminist groups, however, is interaction emphasizing value and life-style changes. Consciousness-raising is an important element (though perhaps to a lesser degree than in the United States), and values such as self-confidence, skill attainment, and self-esteem are promoted (Randall 1982:164). The democratic character of the movement provides flexibility and permits accommodation of all types of grass-roots activity, incorporating diverse elements. As Mansbridge (1980:27889) has pointed out, small size allows intense interaction, and continued face-to-face contact may prevent elitism. Yet, the group process, rather than attainment of group ends, may develop as a major focus (Freeman 1975:10346). Conformity to the group may
be encouraged. The absence of recordkeeping and repetition of old issues may retard group development (Adlam 1980:94). An ahistorical perspective may cause repetition of past mistakes. Decision-making may be slowed and the real administrative and political skills of some may be underutilized or ignored (Mansbridge 1980:247). Individuals may become preoccupied with their own liberation and fail to seek more universal women's goals. And local, single-issue-oriented activity may reduce possibilities for national impact and comprehensive, as opposed to ad hoc, solutions to problems.
This analysis is consistent with Freeman's (1975:145) critique of movement structurelessness in the United States, in which she argues that the movement provided no coordinated or structured means of fitting local activity into other, existing projects. As she suggests, the consequence is that new groups form and dissolve at an accelerating rate, creating a great deal of consciousness and very little concerted action, failing to consolidate old gains while moving into new areas.
Finally, unaccountability to a constituency may create irresponsibility and unrealistic expectations. Inability to agree on goals and pool resources weakens opportunities for creation of alliances (Bouchier 1984:123). If, as suggested here, the women's movement in Britain is a "deliberately dispersed collection of groups, campaigns and political tendencies with no single ideology," the absence of coalitional structures prevents organization around multiple issues in a continuing fashion (ibid., 12829, 21823). The politics of personal experience, inward-looking and seeking redemptive life-styles, has often eclipsed the overtly "political." Women's liberation politics is fragmented, centered on single issues, and without networks in which different views
may find expression and audience. The British emphasis on personal politics has often, though not always, resulted in reluctance to engage in the politics of the state (Barrett 1980:228, 245). Although feminist politics may serve as a model for other leftist groups in its emphasis on autonomy, flexibility, and democracy, the lack of a coordinating mechanism and national political presence presents a continuing challenge (Rowbotham 1979:90).
The structure of grass-roots, radical feminism in the United States is similar to that in Britain. However, even within this wing of feminist politics, recent developments have suggested somewhat different tendencies. For example, in shelters for battered women and in rape crisis centers, which emphasize the feminist ideology discussed earlier, professionals have often combined with feminist influences to provide services, negotiate with bureaucracies, write funding proposals, and develop more enduring organizational structures (Schechter 1982:3839). While conflicts over the importance of service, self-determination, and politics continue to exist, there can be little doubt that such elements as networking, lobbying, and emphasis on legal changes are more evident in the American movement. Activists have mobilized around state legislation and legal changeand have often been less reluctant to engage with political and bureaucratic forces and to seek legitimacy than is true for their British counterparts. Structures have been modified as specialization has created more hierarchical organizations, including staffs and boards (ibid., 9495). Schechter concludes that the need for government support has forced activists to modify practices and informal procedures. In some instances, "modified
collectives" have sought a compromise between external imperatives and feminist principles (ibid., 100). From local coalitions, statewide and then federal efforts have been generated. There has been willingness to engage political authorities at all levels in order to gain resources and reform legal procedures.
Coalitions reflect a variety of influencesincluding traditional groups (like the YWCA), professional and service providers, radical feminists, and equal rights feminists from groups such as NOWand emphasize the sharing of resources, access, and skills (ibid., 113, 148). To aid battered women, a National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV) was created, which lobbied for passage of a Domestic Violence Act, built a large network of contacts, sought to build a dues-paying membership base, and wrote proposals to raise money from the federal government and private foundations. The coalition continues to monitor relevant public policy, disseminate information to state and local groups, and seek to retain a nonhierarchical, multiracial approach (interview, Mary Morrison, NCADV, October 1982).
In contrast to the British experience, change-oriented feminists have often been able to rely on government "insiders" to put forward issues and build government support for movement concerns (Schechter 1982). Hence, leadership and structure, engagement with political forces at all levels, and the need for coalition have been treated differently in the United States than in the United Kingdom. But, as an instance of congruence, women's liberation groups in both countries have tended to focus on single issues and do not necessarily coalesce with other movement activists in multiple-issue alignments. However, while in the United States a grass-roots
women's movement still exists, it is less visible than formerly and has to a greater degree joined forces with the more "middle-class" reformist sector of the original movement.
In the United States, then, though a grass-roots movement continues to exist, having successfully helped shape a new policy agenda based on the alternative services it created at the state and local levels, the character of the movement has changed considerably. In addition to the pull toward coalitions and political engagement we have described, to some degree overlapping memberships and joint activities have altered this segment of the movement's role. These linkages have been strengthened by campaigns to save abortion rights and pass the ERA, which have tended to unite feminists of all ideologies.
In addition, NOW, although founded as a feminist pressure group from the top down, has sought to move further in the direction of feminist principles than might earlier have been expected. First, it has sought (though not always successfully) to break down traditional organizational roles, combining staff and elected positions and thus creating a more participatory structural setting. Second, it has moved to adopt more controversial issue orientations, in addition to its continued interest in equal rights. The organization first endorsed abortion on demand, at that time (1970) and still a controversial political and moral issue. It also acknowledged, in an even more controversial act, that sexual self-determinationlesbianismwas a legitimate part of the women's movement. It has continued to examine alternative life-styles and support alternate forms of sexuality, even as it ages in political terms, indicating that it has hardly become more conservative with time. Finally, galvanized
by growing evidence of the costs and consequences of the "feminization of poverty," NOW has joined with other feminist groups (who have come together in such events as the 1977 conference in Houston for the International Women's Year) and has moved to a more radical view of ways to eradicate poverty, although it clearly remains within the American (slightly left-of-center) tradition. And as the major feminist mass-membership group, NOW, though not always successful, has sometimes been able to act as an umbrella group for different interests within the feminist movement (Randall 1982:235). As the most prominent feminist organization, NOW has to some degree eclipsed the more radical elements of the movement, because, given the American political system, its actions are more visible while its demands are viewed as both newsworthy and mildly radical. Though in many ways a traditional interest group, involved in electoral politics and campaign endorsements (to be described shortly), litigation, and lobbying, NOW's major significance for the movement continues to lie in its ability to focus public attention on key movement demands. It is able to do this through demonstrations, access to the media, and other social movement techniques.
But NOW does not operate alone in the political arena. Because the structure of American feminism has become specialized along issue and functional lines, groups such as NARAL in the area of abortion, WEAL on economic reform, and other organizations play a major role as well. In the area of domestic violence, the NCADV has become a leading voice. It may be argued that through the process, noted earlier, of coalition building and group mergers the movement has lost its radical edge and become limited by a turn toward more conventional
politics. But the "legitimization" of American feminism as an interest group of political significanceat the same time as the movement has deepened its commitment to key feminist issuessuggests that considerable progress has been made from a feminist perspective.
The movement was strengthened by the creation of two types of women's groups: single-issue and multi-issue, or umbrella, groups. Single-issue groups dealing with abortion or domestic violence concentrate their resources and energy on one topic, keeping the issue before the public (Kolker 1983:212). Multi-issue organizations may have a broader range of contacts, a larger support base, and the ability to create coalitions.
NOW and other feminist-oriented groups gained additional membership and support from contributors, especially during 198082, in response to conservative threats symbolized by the Reagan election of 1980 and the defeat of the ERA in 1982. Membership in NOW increased to 250,000 in 1983 but had decreased to 156,000 by 1986 (Bomafede 1986:2178). During this period, in addition to strengthening relations with the more radical sector of the feminist movement, NOW built stronger links to traditional women's groups, including the League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women, General Federation of Women's Clubs, and National Federation of Business and Professional Women. Although some of these older, established women's groups had early on shared resources and opportunities for access with their feminist sisters, as the movement moved into its second decade, they too became constituents of feminist-sponsored, issue-based coalitions on key economic and other issues.
Finally, congressional and administrative staff members, primarily women, have played a key role in advancing
women's issues. They help build support for feminist-sponsored policy, alert lobbyists about proposed, potentially negative changes, and provide the type of information only "insiders" can have (Kolker 1983:216).
While both in the United States and Britain a variety of theoretical and practical approaches to feminism constitute movement politics, in America the pressure to build coalitions and seek reform through more or less traditional interest-group politics has been notable. As we have suggested, networking across ideological lines is still rare in the United Kingdom, although it is a concept gaining support from many feminist activists. Traditional women's groups do have a mass constituency base in the United Kingdom (at least in comparison with other groups), but they are usually reluctant to join forces with those perceived, with reinforcement by media coverage, as being lesbian and antimale. The close relationship that has developedin terms of resource sharing, political access, and even consensus on goalsbetween the so-called traditional women's groups and their reformist and radical feminist allies in the United States has no analogue in the political culture of Britain. The failure to seek advancement of women in existing political structures and the emphasis on sectarian politics have denied British feminists the mainstream voice their American sisters have been able to articulate (Weir and Wilson 1984; Coote and Campbell 1987:255). At the same time, the British movement has continued to be distinguished by its diversity and its capacity to celebrate difference and spontaneity.