A Sociological Look at the Feminist Movement & the Civil Rights Movement

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The Feminist Movement & The Civil Rights Movement
Lauren Greene
SYG2000 Tuesday/Thursday 5:00 pm
December 9, 2012

Social Movements Impact Western Culture
For centuries, large groups of individuals have come together to oppose prevailing ideas, challenge conformity and promote great change in beliefs, government policy and overall social reform. Whether it is an instinctual component of human existence or a way of survival as learned from previous generations, social reform is an integral part of Western culture’s growth and development into modern society. When discussing this topic, two very great movements come to mind. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Feminist Movement of the 1960s and 1970s serve as two meaningful and consequential social reform movements. When examined from the sociological perspectives of symbolic interactionism, functional analysis and conflict theory, one can stand to gain a varied ability to conceptualize social phenomenon such as the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements. This writing will serve to review these movements from the three sociological perspectives including the influential impact that society and people have had on one another.

Through the first sociological perspective of Symbolic Interactionism, the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements can be interpreted in terms of the symbols for which both represent. Symbolic interactionism examines the symbols that people attach meaning to as well as the impact that their subjective meaning has on the way in which they act (Henslin). Prior to the Civil Rights movement, there were many derogatory words associated with minorities, specifically those of the black race. These words were negative in their connotation and conveyed a sense of inferiority associated with unintelligence and animalistic characteristics. Due to the negative perception of the black race, day to day living had many other symbolic representations of the division between whites and blacks beyond just the words used to describe the segregation. Jim Crow laws, for example, ensured that public facilities maintained the segregation of blacks as it was believed for them to be inferior to the white race including public restrooms, water fountains, parks, theaters, railways, schools and hospitals. The quality of the segregated facilities was, of course, inferior. (Pillai) The many symbols associated with minorities were viewed in a positive light by those superior because they helped to maintain the stability of their beliefs, the conformity and social order for which they sought. As the Civil Rights Movement went underway, the negative symbols associated with minority groups were challenged. As great strides were made to grant equality, the symbolic representation of blacks as inferior to whites slowly shifted thus causing a reform. Symbols that once ensured the segregation of minorities were no longer such. The Supreme Court’s ruling of segregation in schools as unconstitutional granted for equal education and “freedom rides” helped to desegregate interstate travel (Pillai). Employment discrimination and segregation of public facilities were eventually outlawed (“Civil Rights Movement”). Although many symbolic representations of how minorities were once subjectively viewed still resonate with many today, the Civil Rights Movement can be said to have challenged and restructured the symbolic representations of minorities thus impacting how we as human beings interact with one another.

Prior to the Feminist Movement, many symbols represented the subjective opinions of women and therefore dictated how women were viewed and treated. Women have often been described as the weaker sex, passive, emotional, un-intellectual and dependent (Evans). They were expected to dress a certain way including little to no make-up, no pants and of course, nothing deemed overtly sexy. Women in the workforce were given positions of...
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