Gender and Popular Protest

views updated


Anna Clark

Eighteenth-century observers of popular protests often characterized food riots as female. As popular protest evolved into more organized forms, such as strikes and political demonstrations, did the female presence fade? Indeed, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century crowds were depicted as a masculine sea of sober dark suits and hats. But a closer look reveals women's persistent presence. Food riots reerupted in the years around World War I, a time of crisis. As historian Temma Kaplan argues, women expressed "female consciousness," drawing on neighborhood bonds to defend their families and communities. Does this mean that personal, local, and familial ties motivated women, rather than the impersonal, formal, organizational bonds that attracted men? The historical record shows that domestic obligations kept many women from joining trade unions or other political organizations, but male hostility also deterred women. Even without formal organizations, however, women did not riot only as mothers of families; they went on strike as workers, joined radical processions, and even triggered revolutions.


Eighteenth-century observers often dismissed riots as the work of disorderly "women and boys." It is important therefore, when analyzing popular protest, to consider masculinity as well as femininity in a gender analysis. The association of women and boys with disorderliness derived, in part, from the fact that both groups were excluded from the formal power structures of towns and villages. Indeed, young men could threaten a community's order by rioting and carousing simply for entertainment. But young men also played an important role in the informal means by which small communities regulated themselves, such as "rough music" and other moral rituals. In "rough music," villagers would rebuke those who violated community norms—for instance, by inflicting domestic violence—through congregating at their house at night, banging pots and pans. Popular protests often adopted rough music's repertoire.

Women also played an important symbolic role in popular protests when they drew upon the carnivalesque tradition. In carnival, the world could be turned upside down for a day: women could rule men, the young the old, and servants the master. Protests also borrowed the ritual and display of carnivals, such as processions bearing effigies of hated authorities or celebrated heroes. In more organized community protests, such as mass processions, young girls dressed in white and carrying flowers often served as symbols of family, purity, and unity. But women were also emblematic of defiance, female nature being seen as more disorderly and irrational than the male: sometimes men who rioted or engaged in nocturnal terrorism would take on a female persona, such as "Queen Sive," the mythical queen of the fairies in eighteenth-century Ireland, or "Lady Lud" in the Luddite riots against machinery in Nottingham in 1811–1813.

Popular protests were not, of course, simply irrational, carnivalesque outbursts of disorder. Rather, popular protests occurred when authority failed to live up to its obligations, or even disintegrated. Women defended their communities alongside men when outside forces threatened them. For instance, during the sixteenth-century Peasant Wars, women went on mass deputations to plead for the freedom of husbands who had been conscripted or captured; in 1522, fifty women invaded Basel's city hall demanding recognition for a Lutheran preacher. During wartime, villages might send out women to confront soldiers, hoping that the military men would hesitate at shooting females.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, contemporaries often identified food riots with women. In food riots, inhabitants of a community would protest the high prices or scarcity of food. Rather than just rampaging and seizing food, however, they often appealed to authorities to enforce old laws against hoarding or profiteering. If such protests went unheeded, crowds would appropriate grain or bread; the ringleaders would then sell the food at what they considered to be a "just price." E. P. Thompson identified this practice as the defense of a "moral economy," in which prices were based on need, against an encroaching market economy. Women played an essential role in the moral economy because they were chiefly responsible for feeding their families, and because they daily went to market to purchase provisions, thus easily assembling for protests. But as the historian John Bohstedt has pointed out, most food rioters were not women; in eighteenth-century England, for instance, it is estimated that they composed between 14 and 33 percent of food rioters. And women did not only participate in riots as consumers but also as workers and as members of communities, alongside men. For instance, women were more likely to participate in food riots in industrial towns, where they were often employed in new industries.


Food riots could also have a wider impact when they occurred in the context of a breakdown in state authority, as in the French Revolution. Food riots were endemic during subsistence crises in eighteenth-century France; in fact, women's right to protest food shortages and high prices was implicitly recognized, although authorities would arrest women who attacked persons or destroyed property, as in the Flour War in Paris of 1775. Such riots acquired a political dimension in 1789. Women were excluded from the Estates General, the formal assemblage of representatives of the clergy, the nobility, and the people, which was called in 1789, but as the third estate (the people) transformed itself into the National Assembly, the common people of Paris became more and more interested in political affairs. Orators denounced the king in Paris streets and cafés, and blamed his foreign mercenaries and aristocratic hoarders for the food crisis that plagued the city. While women played only a minor role in the fall of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789, they helped to transform the position of the monarchy in October. On 5 October, the fishwives, market women, and female consumers of Paris, accustomed to spreading the news of the day as they bought and sold provisions, decided they needed to take action to ensure that the people of Paris were fed. A huge crowd of five to six thousand women marched from Paris to Versailles, sweeping up passersby in their wake. Once the weary and footsore women arrived in Versailles, they crowded into the palace and sent a delegation to the king. Fearing for their lives, the next day the king and queen and their children returned to Paris, their coach led by a crowd of women who chanted that they were bringing back the baker, the baker's wife, and the baker's children.

The women of the sansculottes played a pivotal role when crowds erupted and changed the direction of the Revolution. They spread rumors, incited hostility to aristocrats, and attended not only club meetings but executions with enthusiasm. In 1793 women of the popular classes joined male sansculottes in calling for an insurrection against the moderate Girondins. They also protested and even rioted to enforce a maximum on the price of bread, sugar, soap, and candles; by conceding to their demands, the Jacobins gained sansculotte support in their struggle to attain power. Female revolutionaries organized women's groups in thirty cities around the country, most notably the first feminist organization: the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, founded by Pauline Léon and Claire Lacombe, a chocolate maker and actress respectively, in 1793. This society discussed women's rights, but their public political protests mainly stemmed from their militant Jacobinism. They vehemently supported the war effort, and even patrolled the streets of Paris, allegedly in trousers, urging women to sacrifice for the war, forcing passersby to don the tricolor, denouncing aristocrats, and demanding a maximum on prices. However, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women clashed with other, less militant women, especially the market women, who did not support the price maximum. And their fierce feminism clashed with the Jacobins' domestic ideology, derived from Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Jacobins denounced the revolutionary women as harridans who had no place in politics; women, they proclaimed, should remain in the home and raise good republican citizens. Some prominent feminists, such as Olympe de Gouges, were executed in the Terror, and Léon and Lacombe were imprisoned. After the Terror, poor women increasingly turned against the Revolution, instead rioting in support of the Catholic Church, which they saw as consoling them for the hardships that the Revolution had failed to ameliorate.


By the early nineteenth century, popular protest focused on labor issues. Women sometimes participated in labor protests as workers and as members of working-class communities, but trade unionism tended to be dominated by a tradition of male bonding and a concomitant hostility to female workers. Trade unions descended originally from the artisanal associations of the early modern period. As guilds disintegrated and the interests of masters, apprentices, and journeymen diverged, male workers formed their own associations. Journeymen, especially, formed groups known in France as compagnonnage and in Germany as Wandervogels; in Britain they were often called friendly societies. As members of such groups, men could find work in any city. As they traveled, they also transmitted a heritage of song, legend, and resistance to masters' work discipline through drinking customs and labor organization. They based their identity as workers on fraternal bonding and often on a hostility to women, which had roots in both personal and labor relations. Journeymen could no longer expect to attain the status of mastership in their late twenties, acquiring a wife and a workshop at once; instead, they were condemned to a perpetual adolescence, marrying or cohabiting without earning enough to support a wife. Their ties to their fellow workmen competed with the claims of home. In addition, journeymen traditionally kept up their wages by insisting that all craftsmen go through a strict apprenticeship, but they faced increasing competition from unapprenticed labor, especially from women. During the late eighteenth century, journeymen often struck against the competition of female labor, especially when women ran machines, which undercut male skill.

Textile workers, however, followed a different pattern of popular protest, since their labor process was based on the family rather than the masculine workshop. The father might weave and the wife and children card and spin. As the handloom weaving industry expanded once mechanization increased the supply of yarn, women increasingly wove as well. Textile workers, such as weavers, sometimes attempted to follow artisan traditions in keeping out unapprenticed workers, such as women, but the artisan tradition was not particularly suited to an industry in which over half the workers were women and children. Weavers therefore had to organize on the basis of community as well as workplace bonds.

As textile processes became mechanized, first in spinning, then weaving, this gender division of labor translated into factories. Skilled men, such as cotton spinners or power loom mechanics, would oversee the work of women and children, who usually composed over half of the workforce. To strike effectively, therefore, male workers also had to draw upon kinship and neighborhood ties, and gain the support of female and child piecers and power loom weavers. When they did so, their strikes could be quite formidable. For instance, in 1818 a strike wave broke out in Lancashire, England, as male and female factory workers violently protested against the introduction of lower-paid female workers who were used to undercut the wages of skilled men. Male and female workers viciously attacked the rival female workers, threatened to burn down factories, and also rioted against high food prices.

In areas where women worked as wage earners, they were also much more likely to participate in collective political action. To be sure, radical republican ideology regarded men as more rational, disciplined, and suited to public life, while women, it was thought, should look after home and family. However, radical women could turn these notions to their own ends, claiming that as wives and mothers they had a right to protest, to strike, to appear on platforms, to speak in radical causes, in order to defend their families. While the middle-class notion of domesticity restricted women to their homes, working-class women could combine a domestic identity with participation in popular protest. Their bold actions belied their modest words. For instance, in 1819 in northern England, women formed Female Reform Societies to support the cause of male suffrage and radical reform. They embroidered banners and carried them in the great reform procession to Manchester on 16 August 1819. When the yeomen cavalry charged the crowd, women fell alongside men in the massacre known as Peterloo.


In general, radical organizations defined republican ideologies and worker consciousness in masculine terms. However, radicals espoused varied visions of masculinity. For instance, the British Chartist movement for the vote split into "moral force" and "physical force" wings in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Those who advocated "moral force" believed that radicals must denounce violence and organize in a peaceful, disciplined manner to prove their respectable manhood. Although the "moral force" wing also usually denounced women's wage earning as destructive to the working-class family, their moral reform efforts also opened up some space within the movement for women. Chartists often tried to create alternatives to the pub, sponsoring Chartist churches, temperance societies, and soirees that could appeal to women as well as men.

Yet frustrated by peaceful efforts for reform, radicals sometimes turned to a more insurrectionary tradition in which physical, military prowess took precedence and excluded women. Men could imagine themselves as conspiratorial heroes fomenting revolution. In the Chartist movement for the vote of the 1830s and 1840s, for instance, the "physical force" wing often marched and drilled, and mounted a few abortive insurrections. They justified their activities as defending their wives and families, proclaiming, "For child and wife, we will fight to the knife!"

The early nineteenth-century French republican tradition also celebrated revolutionary violence, seen in masculine terms as the brave citizen able to fight on the barricades. Often driven underground by monarchical repression, republicans covertly congregated in cafés, largely frequented by men. So even when repression forced radical organizations to base themselves on informal community networks rather than legal organization, this informality did not incorporate women. Instead, republican ideology celebrated fraternal bonding and ignored women.

When open insurrections broke out, however, as in 1848, a few women fought on the barricades, and more incited men to action or planted flags on cobblestones, especially in areas where women were very active in industry, such as Rouen's textile mills. And 1848 stimulated the formation of women's political clubs such as the Société de la Voix des Femmes. The 1848 revolution in France, of course, triggered radical and nationalist uprisings in Germany and elsewhere. In Germany, the insurrection had been preceded by the potato riots of 1847, in which women took a significant part. In October 1848, democratic women presented a petition demanding women's right to vote. Wearing revolutionary colors, women fought on the barricades in Dresden. The year 1848 also witnessed the formation of many women's political and charitable associations, including newspapers and schools, but the repression of the 1840s crushed the women's movement in the German states until the 1860s.

Women also played a highly visible role in the Paris Commune of 1870–1871. The Prussian army came to the brink of invading Paris in 1870; Napoleon III had capitulated to the invaders, quickly offering peace terms. But the working people of Paris, organized along anarchist and socialist lines, refused to surrender to the Prussians. Instead, they seized the cannons of the national army and took over the government of Paris themselves. The working-class women of Paris either fraternized with government soldiers to distract them or threw rocks at troops and cut the traces of horses' harnesses. Rumors spread that prostitutes urged a mob to lynch two French generals at the inception of the Commune. During the Commune's regime, hundreds of women evoked the heroic role played by women in the October Days of 1789 by marching to aid the Commune and the National Guard. As in the earlier revolution, they also assembled in a few debating societies, discussing issues such as divorce, women's rights, and peace. However, the national army attacked and overcame the Commune in May 1871. Many women perished as thousands of Communards died defending the city, or were executed as they were captured. The press denounced the women of the Commune as bloodthirsty, anarchistic harridans, depicting them as pétroleuses who set Paris alight as the Commune collapsed. Women thus symbolized the threat the Commune posed to bourgeois France.

In Britain during the same era, workingmen's protests became much more disciplined and controlled, as skilled men organized themselves into legal associations and trade unions. They would assemble in large, peaceful demonstrations with elaborate trade union banners, demanding their political rights as manly workers. However, when moderate action failed, occasionally the hint of disorder could impel the government to act. In 1867, when Parliament delayed passing the Second Reform Bill, enfranchising urban working men, working men illegally assembled in Hyde Park, breaking down iron railings and trampling on flower beds. Parliament quickly passed the bill.


Women agitating for female suffrage in Britain emulated the workingmen's campaign for the vote. After decades of lobbying, pamphleteering, and organizing, to no avail, feminists were told by politicians that they must prove that large numbers of women wished for the vote. To do so, by 1905 the suffragettes (militant advocates for the vote) began more public, mass demonstrations of women and their supporters. As had male trade unionists, they marched with banners and adopted their own iconography of colors (purple, green, and white), as emblematic of the purity and righteousness of their cause. Workingwomen, especially in Lancashire, also began organizing for suffrage. But when peaceful protest failed by 1912, suffragettes turned to more violent means of popular protest, blowing up postboxes, smashing windows, hectoring politicians, and chaining themselves to railings. They intended to gain attention for their cause, to force politicians to act, and to court martyrdom. In prison they went on hunger strikes to demand the status of political prisoners, only to be force-fed. Released when dreadfully ill, their gaunt faces declared their determination to gain the vote.

On the Continent, the women's movement for the vote faced much more formidable obstacles. In France, the Radical Party believed female suffrage would lead to clerical dominance, but a few feminists nonetheless engaged in spectacular activities, such as burning the discriminatory Civil Code in public, overturning ballot boxes, and breaking the windows of polling booths, although the feminist movement never engaged in widespread property destruction as in England. In Belgium, sections of the socialist movement had supported women's rights, but when socialists abandoned protest politics and entered the government with the Liberals in 1902, they gave up their support for women's suffrage. In Germany, women were prohibited from joining political parties or indeed from attending political meetings altogether until 1908 under the Prussian Law of Association.


During the late nineteenth century, socialist and trade union movements were quite hostile to middle-class feminism. Although some socialists wished to organize and support women as workers or mothers, labor movements generally refused to acknowledge women as workers. Male trade unionists often assumed that women were unorganizable as workers because work did not provide the center of their identities, being only an interval before marriage and child rearing. Especially in areas such as Russia, they often depicted women as ignorant, illiterate, and in thrall to priests.

In the mid to late nineteenth century, trade unionists all over Europe increasingly adopted the ideal of the breadwinner wage, the notion that a man should be able to feed his family; concomitantly, they often demanded that girls and women be excluded from the workforce, or at least from factories and mines, to preserve the working-class family and keep up male wages. Did this notion of the breadwinner wage lead to women's exclusion from popular protest? Male workers feared that employers would use cheap female labor to undercut their wages. For instance, after Milanese ribbon weavers successfully struck against wage cuts in the 1860s and 1870s, employers substituted female for male ribbon weavers. But the male ribbon weavers did not try to incorporate the women into their trade union organization or to impel them to go on strike. As a result, the trade became low-waged and feminized.

Some historians, however, have argued that working-class women went along with demands for the exclusion of women workers and for the breadwinner wage for men because they wanted their husbands to earn enough so that they could stay at home instead of working long days in a noisy factory. Even if wives and mothers did not work for wages, they joined in protests for their husbands, brothers, and fathers because their family survival depended on it. For instance, in 1869, the women of La Ricamarie, France, rallied around their husbands, brothers, and sons, who were coal miners striking against wage cuts. Crowds of frenzied women insulted and even threw rocks at the soldiers who defended the mines, stirring the men to further militance. As they shared in the community mobilization, the women also shared in its vulnerability, as soldiers shot two women and a baby as well as ten men.

Women workers in late nineteenth-century industry, furthermore, were not necessarily passive and quiescent. Although women tended to compose a very low percentage of unions and socialist organizations, they often struck spontaneously not only over wage grievances but against sexual harassment and other issues. For instance, Dundee jute workers occasionally engaged in wildcat strikes against unfair labor practices, but male trade unionists never supported their actions. In trades where married women continued to work, such as tobacco in Spain, Russia, and France, and textiles in Germany and France, they were more likely to engage in strikes or even to join unions, since they had longtime ties to their workplaces and communities and a sense of pride in their skill. Tobacco workers were especially known for their militance. In 1895, when thirteen hundred "cigarette girls" struck the Laferme factory in St. Petersburg against new machines that took away women's jobs, the women broke windows and threw the tobacco and even furniture out of the building. But female tobacco workers' militance differed from their male counterparts. While willing to strike, they hesitated to join unions, in part because their identities were bound up in their neighborhoods and communities, not just in their work; they were just as likely to act as consumers in the marketplace, defending their families, as they were to act as workers in the factory and union. German women textile workers also built upon their identities as both women and workers to engage in collective action. They sometimes rioted against sexual harassment or engaged in wildcat strikes in solidarity when a sick woman was fired.

By the 1890s, however, some trade unions and socialist organizations did attempt to harness women's willingness to engage in collective action. Many women joined trade unions in Germany after the Prussian Law of Association was repealed in 1908. The Social Democratic Party supported women workers in 1903, when they struck at Crimmitschau demanding ten-hour days on the basis that they needed an extra hour for home life. In the 1890s Milan tailors, realizing they could not restrict access to skill in their trade, admitted women to their union, and both men and women struck in 1892. A union also organized women in a Pirelli rubber plant in 1898, a year when Italy was wracked by strikes, demonstrations, and food riots.

Male trade unionists sometimes tried to take advantage of women's energies for their strikes, but they often found them difficult to control. For instance, in 1913 men and women joined together in the Constancy textile strike in Barcelona, protesting low pay for women both in factory and sweated labor. For the first time, a leftist trade union group, the National Confederation of Labor (CNT), demanded higher wages for women, not just the breadwinner wage for men. But unlike male workers, women organized themselves by neighborhood, not by trade, and defined their demands to include cheaper food prices as well as higher wages. They battled authorities at the workplace and in the streets. Appalled, the men of the CNT asked them to stop, but the women kept on confronting the authorities.


The era of World War I witnessed an upsurge of women's strikes and food riots. During World War I, women entered the workforce, especially in munitions, to substitute for the men at the front. During the first years of the war, most trade union, socialist, and suffrage organizations, with some significant exceptions, supported the war effort, exhorting all to sacrifice. But by 1916–1917, long hours, food shortages, and the endless slaughter of their men at the front increased discontent among women workers. In 1916 women in the war industries often engaged in spontaneous strikes. They would first meet outside the factory, in halls, even movie houses, to organize themselves into committees, to write their grievances, and to raise strike funds, and only then would they contact syndicalist trade union leaders. (Syndicalists believed that a general strike would enable labor unions to take over government and society.) Once they struck, their actions would often take on a festive, carnivalesque atmosphere as they marched around cities turning out women in other factories. As Laura Lee Downs points out, these were not just parochial strikes over local concerns, but soon linked up to wider issues as the general crisis spread. Food riots broke out, and vast crowds demonstrated against the war. Similarly, in Milan in 1917, women workers in textile factories first struck over sexual harassment and piecework, but soon broadened their concerns as they rioted for food and closed down munitions factories to protest the war.

The persistence of food riots in a time of crisis belies the conventional chronology that food riots disappeared with modernization. Rather, their reappearance signified the fragility of the modern state. When Germany faced food shortages in 1915, housewives mounted peaceful demonstrations simply requesting that the government intervene to lower prices and ensure supplies, but when local governments failed to respond, housewives began to articulate more explicitly socialist goals, demanding that the state take over all food and clothing supplies and distribute them equally to all, especially the poor. Governmental responses to these demands, while inadequate, staved off revolution. In France, just after the war, women's agitation over food combined traditional and modern elements: they drew upon their traditional neighborhood networks, but they also cooperated with syndicalists and socialist organizations and set up their own committees.

In Russia, however, women's strikes and food riots became symptomatic of a general crisis that resulted in the Bolshevik takeover of 1917. As early as 1905, women participated in the huge strike wave that swept through both peasants and workers in the context of political agitation and war. Along with their men, women workers and housewives demonstrated before the Winter Palace to petition the tsar on Bloody Sunday. As the Russian polity broke down under pressure of war, women and men began dozens of protests all over Russia against shortages of bread, soap, and other essentials. Peasant women also used their status as mothers to defend their communities, using their children as shields in demonstrations so that soldiers would not shoot. But by 1913–1915, women became more confident and assertive as workers as well; textile workers, predominantly female, actually became somewhat more apt to strike than workers in male-dominated industries such as metalworking. Women's actions on International Women's Day, 23 February 1917 (Russian calendar), are widely seen as triggering the February revolution. Defying instructions by labor unions and social democrats to remain calm, both housewives and women workers demonstrated against high prices and shortages of food, pouring into the streets to urge workers to strike. This strike wave soon erupted into a massive protest against the war, which soldiers refused to suppress.

Immediately after the Bolshevik revolution, however, the Communists remained ambivalent about the place of women. They gave women legal equality and promised to collectivize childcare and housework. But some male Communists depicted strikes and demonstrations by discontented women workers and soldiers's wives as counterrevolutionary, regarding them as babas, ignorant and conservative peasant women who hindered the revolution. But women themselves could exploit this stereotype, drawing upon the tradition of the bab'i bunty, or peasant women's riots. These were outbreaks of violent peasant opposition, which authorities viewed as irrational and hysterical. When the Communist Party introduced collective farms in the late 1920s and early 1930s, women were especially opposed to collectivization of livestock because women raised cows and hens to provide eggs and milk for their children, and to sell. Peasant communities often thrust women to the forefront of their protests against collectivization, knowing that women enjoyed a certain, if limited, immunity from punishment.


In some ways, gender tensions increased in the interwar years. Hardened by their service at the front, frustrated by the failure of abortive socialist insurrections, and embittered by wage cuts, inflation, and unemployment, German men, especially communists, tended to organize in a militaristic, confrontational style, marching in formation in uniforms through the streets and engaging in street battles with fascists. Women had misgivings about this increasingly violent form of politics, writes Karen Hagemann, and preferred organized cultural activities such as parades, festivals, International Women's Day, and agitation around reproductive rights.

In postwar France, conventional politics still marginalized voteless women. To make the French suffrage campaign even more difficult, all street demonstrations were banned in Paris in the early 1930s, a time of great political instability. So feminists carried out spectacular, symbolic actions, such as secretly entering the Senate public gallery and tossing pamphlets onto the politicians, hoisting banners on buses and taxis, silently demonstrating, and postering Paris. Although few women joined trade unions and the Socialist and Communist Parties (they were not even allowed to join the Radical Party until 1924), many women workers, such as factory workers and even clerks in department stores, participated in the strike wave following the election of the Popular Front in 1936. Contemporary pictures showed women workers knitting as they occupied factories, while men smoked and played cards. Even as women workers struck, however, Popular Front parties focused on a maternal, pronatal feminine image.

The Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939 provoked an unusual efflorescence of women's political activities. Enfranchised by the republic in 1931, anarchist, socialist, communist, and republican women leapt to its defense when the civil war began. The anarchist group Mujeres Libres (free women) combined militant support for the republic with a demand for female emancipation. In the first months of the civil war, the armed militia woman even became a potent symbol of republican resistance, even though she was more important as a symbol than as a representation of the number of women fighting at the front. In fact, after the initial outburst, those women who were fighting at the front were sent back to support the men through working in munitions, nursing, and propaganda. However, in 1937, when the National Confederation of Labor took over Barcelona factories in the name of the workers, female workers resisted labor discipline and protested food shortages. The fascist triumph pushed women back into the home, as in Germany and Italy.


Fascist regimes and occupying forces banned trade unions and socialist organizations, of course, but the abolition of formal politics made space for women's participation in the resistance in Italy and France. Women could smuggle and spy for partisan groups, but they also overtly demonstrated against food shortages and protested against the deportation of their husbands, brothers, sons, and neighbors to labor camps in Germany. During the 1950s, however, both left and right parties espoused a domestic role for women, once again marginalizing them in politics.

During the 1960s the New Left criticized traditional social movements for their emphasis on the workplace as the only locus of struggle; instead, the New Left engaged in spontaneous, theatrical, nonviolent protest suited for a media age. While the New Left appealed to women, it also romanticized the masculine rebel's defiance of authority. In response, the women's liberation movement invented its own form of spectacular protest, such as disrupting the Miss World contest. One wing of the women's movement also declared that women were more nurturing than men, and should therefore engage in their own autonomous protests against war. Most notably, between 1981 and 1991 women encamped around Greenham Common, a cruise missile base in England, surrounding the base with thousands of women linking hands and blowing whistles in a form of "rough music" against nuclear missiles.

From the sixteenth century to the twentieth century, as popular protests became more organized into formal associations such as trade unions or political parties, women faded from view. But the persistence of women's strikes, food riots, and feminist actions in the twentieth century undercuts the notion that women were reluctant to engage in public political protest because of an essential feminine nature, a preference for fluid, spontaneous, personal actions. Instead, when popular protests became formalized, political actors were defined in masculine terms, which marginalized women.

See also other articles in this section.


Aminzade, Ronald. Ballots and Barricades: Class Formation and Republican Politics in France, 1830–71. Princeton, N.J., 1993. Discusses masculine nature of republicanism and women's participation in politics in areas where they worked.

Barzman, John. "Entre l'émeute, la manifestation et la concertation: la "crise de vie chère" de l'été 1919 au Havre." Mouvement Social 170 (1995): 61–84. Food riots after World War I in France.

Bohstedt, John. "The Myth of the Feminine Food Riot: Women as Proto-Citizens in English Community Politics, 1790–1810." In Women and Politics in the Age of the Democratic Revolution. Edited by Harriet B. Applewhite and Darline G. Levy. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1990.

Bouton, Cynthia. "Gendered Behavior in Subsistence Riots: The French Flour War of 1775." Journal of Social History 23 (1990): 735–754.

Canning, Kathleen. Languages of Labor and Gender: Female Factory Work in Germany, 1850–1914. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996. Discusses women's strikes in the 1890s and 1900s, as well as men's attitudes toward women's work.

Davis, Belinda. "Reconsidering Habermas, Gender, and the Public Sphere: The Case of Wilhelmine Germany." In Society, Culture, and the State in Germany, 1870–1930. Edited by Geoff Eley. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1996. Food riots during World War I. Pages 397–426.

Downs, Laura Lee. "Women's Strikes and the Politics of Popular Egalitarianism in France, 1916–1918." In Rethinking Labor History. Edited by Lenard R. Berlanstein. Urbana, Ill., and Chicago, 1993. Pages 114–148.

Engel, Barbara. "Not by Bread Alone: Subsistence Riots in Russia during World War I." Journal of Modern History 69 (1997): 696–721.

Hagemann, Karen. "Men's Demonstrations and Women's Protest: Gender in Collective Action in the Urban Working-Class Milieu during the Weimar Republic. Gender and History 5 (1993): 101–119.

Glickman, Rose. Russian Factory Women. Berkeley, Calif., 1984. Women and strikes in Russia.

Gullickson, Gay. Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996.

Gordon, Eleanor. "Women, Work, and Collective Action: Dundee Jute Workers, 1870–1906." Journal of Social History 21 (1987): 27–47.

Kaplan, Temma. "Female Consciousness and Collective Action: The Case of Barcelona, 1910–1918." Signs 7 (1982): 545–566. Important article defining female consciousness.

Radcliff, Pamela. "Elite Women Workers and Collective Action: The Cigarette Makers of Gijón, 1890–1930." Journal of Social History 27 (1993): 85–108.

Rogers, Nicholas. Crowds, Culture, and Politics in Georgian Britain. Oxford, 1998.

Taylor, Lynne. "Food Riots Revisited." Journal of Social History 30 (1996): 482–496. Revisits debate over women's role in food riots.

Tickner, Lisa. The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign, 1907–1914. Chicago, 1987.

Tilly, Louise. Politics and Class in Milan, 1881–1901. New York, 1992. Covers women, trade unions, and strikes.

Viola, Lynne. "Bab'i bunty and Peasant Women's Protest during Collectivization." Russian Review 45 (1986): 23–42.

Wiesner, Merry E. "Wandervogels and Women: Journeymen's Concepts of Masculinity in Early Modern Germany." Journal of Social History 24 (1991): 767–782.

Weitz, Eric D. "The Heroic Man and the Ever-Changing Woman: Gender and Politics in European Communism, 1917–1950." In Gender and Class in Modern Europe. Edited by Laura L. Frader and Sonya O. Rose. Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 1996. On masculinity in communist protests, especially in interwar Germany.

Wood, Elizabeth A. The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in RevolutionaryRussia. Bloomington, Ind., 1997. Covers hostility to women workers and peasants.

About this article

Gender and Popular Protest

Updated About content Print Article


Gender and Popular Protest