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(1) In sociology, linear evolutionary models of change distort the contradictory complexity of underlying social proceesses. We may be captivated by the simplicity of models that project a unilinear and homogeneous progression from rural to urban societies, from gemeinshaft to gesellshaft, from mechanical to organic solidarity, or from pre-industrial to industrial to post-industrial societies. The materialist thesis and antithesis of the contradictory dialectic in the revolutionary change from primitive to slave to feudal to capitalist to socialist and to communist society should appeal more to us as grounded sociologists. Yet even this model has collapsed under the weight of contradictory modes of production in any given society as well as the possibility of reversals (such as the current dismantling of the welfare state in advanced capitalist societies) and ‘stage- skipping’ (such as the technologically sophisticated post-industrial revolution now occurring in some previously underdeveloped areas of the world).

(2) The resistance to simplistic ‘stagism’ becomes all the greater when we add other dimensions, such as gender, to what was previously thought to be THE fundamental variable — social class. In periods of rapid social change, such as our own, patriarchal ideas and practices survive longer in some parts of an organization, while feminist ideas and practices take hold elsewhere. Across an organization, rates of change vary: patriarchy may deteriorate, or re-emerge, at different speeds in each part; feminism may also advance, or be reversed, at different rates in each part. Particular areas of organizations are thus in different stages of transition between patriarchy and feminism, though one may not want to resort to a stage model as the backlash from patriarchy asserts itself in several areas. Regardless of one’s model, the gender profile of organizations today resembles more a multi-coloured quilt than the dualism of the Indonesian flag.

(3) These comments apply to almost all organizations, among which are trade unions. The women’s movement and feminists have castigated trade unions for their historical patriarchal structures, ideologies, and practices, though evidence of feminist struggles in early trade unions has also been noted. FN_1 Evolutionary models of a gradual transition among unions from a patriarchal past to a feminist present have usually been rejected in favour of conflict models highlighting the struggles of women in general, and feminists in particular, in the labour movement against the patriarchal residues of the past which continue to influence present practices, structures and ideas. FN_2 This means that any depiction of the movement from trade union patriarchy to feminism will be a multi-coloured quilt of strong patriarchy in some areas, significant inroads by feminism in others, and a ‘garden variety’ of patriarchy and feminism in still other areas.

(4) ‘Feminism ‘ and ‘patriarchy’, like many terms bridging political and scientific discourses, are heavily laden with multiple ideological meanings. Many groups have staked out prescribed (and proscribed) definitions, meanings, and usages for these terms. Scientific analysis can benefit from this, but can also be corrupted by it. The theoretical/political distinctions among marxist, socialist, radical, liberal, and cultural currents of feminism may initially sensitize one to particular ways of viewing sex and gender relations, but can also erect roadblocks to more nuanced analyses. Although socialist feminists have critiqued some radical feminists for emphasizing biological aspects of sex/gender relations, and while radical feminists have castigated some socialist feminists for a monocausal fixation on class, what are we to do with the incorporation of biological constraints in some socialist feminist theories, and the use of (sex or gender) classes among some radical feminists. Additionally, the political praxis of many feminists is built on coalitions and alliances (as in the day care and pro-choice movements) that cross theoretical /political categories of liberal, radical and socialist. Liberal feminists have often been accused of seeking solutions for gender inequality only in socialization, education and the law. But what are we to make of the campaign by socialist feminists inside the labour movement to hold workshops and seminars to teach women the niceties of labour law and the skills of collective bargaining and leadership? Education and law are central ingredients in such campaigns.

(5) Likewise the term ‘patriarchy’ comes laden with ideological baggage and political stakeholding. While socialist feminists used to ridicule radical feminists for investing ‘the enemy’ (all men) with a term (‘patriarchy’) that was trans- historical, timeless and universal and therefore useless for political organizing and scientific analyses, many radical feminists have employed ‘patriarchy’ to analyze specific historical societies and culture- bound phenomena, and some socialist feminists have hyphenated capitalism with ‘patriarchal’ (‘patriarchal capitalism’). The preference by some socialist feminists for a term like ‘masculine dominance’ masks common underlying dimensions, such as male power, which it shares with ‘patriarchy.’ None of this discussion denies the fundamental orientational differences among feminist currents and practices. It is merely to note the considerable complexity that lies beneath the surface of simple categorizations.

(6) Data depicting such complexity in the labour movement come in many forms — quantitative surveys of unions, qualitative analysis of open-ended interviews with union activists, or analysis of archival documents over a period of time. Still another data source comes under the rubric of ‘visual sociology’. The historical mix of patriarchy and feminism can be expressed through pictures, photographs, graphics, and cartoons. These visual expressions can be taken as a barometer of transitions and reversals between patriarchy and feminism in different areas of trade union practices, structures, and ideologies. In the present paper, the textual thematic analysis of such material is carried out utilizing two capabilities of the electronic medium: hypertext, linking one text to another; and, hypermedia, linking text, graphics, and sound.

(7) Erving Goffman’s ‘GENDER ADVERTISEMENTS’ FN_3 is also an example of ‘visual sociology’, but was published before the advent of electronic journals. So his work, unlike the present paper, could not benefit from hypertext and hypermedia. More importantly, there are two substantive and sociological differences between his work and the present. First, he analyzes his photographs at a microscopic level such as body position, hand movements, nuzzling, and eyes drifting, despite some initial statements professing an interest in ‘social structure’. I analyze mine linking the microscopic to the macroscopic. Themes in photographs and cartoons are symptomatic of structures of patriarchy and feminism in trade union organizations. Thus, I pay less attention to body position as an interest itself than what it may tell us about larger social structures. Second, Goffman’s photographs in ‘GENDER ADVERTISEMENTS’ are timeless, though they are taken from a particular period of history. But time is not a factor in his analysis. Mine places time at the centre of the analysis; it is the ‘transitions’ from patriarchy to feminism between 1954 and 1986 that provide the link between the two gender structures in the paper.

(8) Data for this paper are taken primarily from the ‘RWDSU RECORD’, the major labour paper of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which operated in the United States and Canada from 1937 until 1994 when it merged with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in the United States and the United Steelworkers of America in Canada. It represented workers primarily in wholesale and retail food, health care (in the United States only), department stores, and some manufacturing plants. It was a comparatively small union, increasing its international membership from 40,000 in 1937, when it was founded through a split with the Retail Clerks International Association, to a high of about 250,000 in 1984. But the influence of its labour press far exceeded its membership: the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ received numerous newspaper awards, and its articles and graphics were reprinted by other labour papers, increasing the scope of its ideological influence.

(9) This paper is organized textually and graphically. Readers/viewers thus have the option to gain rapid access to all parts of the paper by using either a text-based table of contents displayed in the top half of the TOC file, or by a graph-based menu or time-organized table of contents displayed in the bottom half of the TOC file. The graphical table of contents consists of two branches: a conceptual branch that allows the reader to visually grasp the logical relations among the major concepts and simultaneouly access all parts of the paper from this visual display of conceptual logic; and, a time branch (described more fully in the next paragraph) that focuses on the time sequence of the major concepts and simultaneously providing the reader with a different access to all parts of the paper). The first branch, containing the logical conceptual apparatus of the paper, locates sexism at the centre of the intersection of three spheres — domestic, wage labour, and trade unions. This is depicted in the hypergraph called the THEORY MAP. It branches off into three main graphical menus — the ‘DOMESTIC MENU’, the ‘WAGE LABOUR MENU’, and the ‘TRADE UNION MENU’. There are also secondary links (leading to the main text or other graphical menus) between wage labour and trade unions (‘WOMEN’S UNION ORGANIZING’), the domestic and wage labour spheres (‘DOUBLE DAY OF LABOUR’), and the domestic and trade union spheres (‘UNION WIVES’). Clicking on any of the concepts (hotspots) in the graphical menus will take you to the relevant sub-menus and from thence to the text of the paper. This is merely one means by which hypermedia can help to explicate the theoretical structure of a paper. Another means is by clicking through the other main graphical branch based on the concept of time and transitions (outlined in the next paragraph). You can, of course, jump back and forth between the two branches, and from there to the text table of contents. .

(10) In this paper, a homogeneous linear evolution from a patriarchal past to a feminist present/future is rejected in favour of the notion of uneven ‘transitions’. These are depicted in the second graphical branch, a series of time-based hypergraphs called ‘TIMELINE’, ‘SEXTIME’, ‘DOMESTIC TIME’, ‘WAGE LABOUR TIME’, and ‘TRADE UNION TIME’. The uneveness of the transitions from patriarchy (in blue) to emergent feminism (in pink) between 1954 and the present is set in bold relief by the varying starting and ending points of the horizonal bars. As a time-based graphical table of contents, they provide the reader immediate access to all parts of the article. They possess the following characteristics.

  1. Up to the latter 1960s and early 1970s, the RWDSU was predominantly patriarchal, with emergent feminist practices and ideas, especially in the area of wage labour.
  2. The various currents of feminism do not dominate the recent past and present in the way patriarchy dominated the distant past; in other words, feminism is far from institutionalized. In this restricted sense, feminist currents have had some influence since the latter 1970s. This is primarily a combination of trade union feminism (focus on the rights of union women) and liberal feminism (focusing on legal and equality rights). Socialist and radical feminism play minor roles in the RWDSU. Rather than pushing for a socialist or feminist revolution, RWDSU women activists have focused on leadership training for women union members, the removal of sex discrimination (pay equity and Equal Rights Amendments Act), and legal changes (lobbying for publicly- supported universal day care).
  3. The transitions from patriarchal to feminist practices and ideologies occur at different rates across various issues within the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union. Patriarchal sexist practices in pinups and beauty contests had essentially ended by the early 1960s, but patriarchal ideologies and practices in the domestic sphere persisted well into the 1980s. Liberal feminist emphases on gender equality made their influence felt as early as the 1950s and 1960s in the sphere of wage labour, especially in pay equity and non- traditional work.
  4. The 1970s was the period of the most intense hiatus — perhaps a ‘patriarchal feminist’ or ‘feminist patriarchal’ time. Patriarchal practices were still strong, yet emergent feminist ideas made themselves felt. This is THE prototypical transition period.

(11) Transitions do not occur without struggles and resistance. RWDSU women activists did struggle to tear down the patriarchal barriers to their greater participation in union affairs. Part of this was persuading the ‘RWDSU RECORD’ to portray a more positive image of women. There was certainly resistance to ‘feminist incursions’ by male union officials and the male editors at the RECORD. In the end, the union’s patriarchal past was not replaced by an equally strong feminist presence. Instead, patriarchal practices, ideologies and structures withered on a hybrid vine combining an absence or vacuum with a dose of liberal and trade union feminism. While the more blatant sexist practices, like pinups and beauty contests, vanished, ‘milder’ expressions of patriarchy – like the stereotypical association between women and household labour – continued, and coexisted with campaigns for legal gender equality in wage work. More assertive forms of feminism of the socialist and radical variety failed to become predominant.

Theory Map Graphic | Time Line Graphic

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