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The Paradox of Gender Equality

How American Women's Groups Gained and Lost Their Public Voice

Kristin A. Goss

Publication Year: 2012

Drawing on original research, Kristin A. Goss examines how women's civic place has changed over the span of more than 120 years, how public policy has driven these changes, and why these changes matter for women and American democracy. Suffrage, which granted women the right to vote and invited their democratic participation, provided a dual platform for the expansion of women's policy agendas. As measured by women's groups' appearances before the U.S. Congress, women's collective political engagement continued to grow between 1920 and 1960—when many conventional accounts claim it declined—and declined after 1980, when it might have been expected to grow. This waxing and waning was accompanied by major shifts in issue agendas, from broad public interests to narrow feminist interests. Goss suggests that ascriptive differences are not necessarily barriers to disadvantaged groups' capacity to be heard; that enhanced political inclusion does not necessarily lead to greater collective engagement; and that rights movements do not necessarily constitute the best way to understand the political participation of marginalized groups. She asks what women have gained — and perhaps lost — through expanded incorporation as well as whether single-sex organizations continue to matter in 21st-century America.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: CAWP Series in Gender and Politics


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The Paradox of Gender Equality: How American Women’s Groups Gained and Lost Their Public Voice

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p. i

Drawing on original research, Kristin A. Goss examines how women’s civic place has changed over the span of more than 120 years, how public policy has driven these changes, and why these changes matter for women and American democracy. The right to vote and democratic participation provided a dual platform for the expansion of women’s policy agendas. As measured by women’s groups’ appearances before the...

Title Page and Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xiii

This book started as a simple, straightforward undertaking. It ended up becoming an all-encompassing, sometimes frustrating, but always exhilarating labor of love that consumed more years than I’d care to divulge. As the project grew and morphed, I accrued incredible debts to many kind, patient, and generous people. First, I am grateful to the following institutions for providing the funds that made this book possible: the Ford Foundation; the Duke Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Voluntarism; the Duke Center for...

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1. Women’s Citizenship and American Democracy

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pp. 1-23

In 1947, the Truman administration announced an ambitious plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. The $13 billion European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan, laid the moral and strategic foundation for U.S. foreign aid in the postwar era. It was and remains one of the most important and far-reaching public policies in American history. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on the controversial plan in early 1948, American women formed one of the most...

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2. Suffrage and the Rise of Women’s Policy Advocacy

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pp. 24-47

In 1924, four years after American women had won the constitutional right to vote, the president of the newly formed National League of Women Voters reflected on what women’s political incorporation had meant. “When we worked for suffrage,” Maud Wood Park said, “I doubt that many of us believed that there was anything wonderful in being able to put some marks on a piece of paper and drop it into a box three or four times a...

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3. The Second Wave Surges—And Then?

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pp. 48-75

Just as the period from the late 1870s through the 1950s encapsulated a major women’s movement, so too did the period from 1960 to 2000. The first wave movement coalesced around suffrage and later around a maternal and child health bill. The second wave movement coalesced around a raft of policies to protect women from institutionalized discrimination and facilitate their access to nontraditional gender roles. The second wave took...

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4. From Public Interest to “Special Interests”

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pp. 76-104

After their great victory for women’s rights, suffrage leaders were poised to use their political inclusion to accomplish great things for human welfare. When feminists convened nearly a half century later to pick up the women’s rights banner, they proclaimed their desire to bring women into “full participation in the mainstream of American society” as part of a “world-wide revolution of human rights” (Carabillo, Meuli, and Csida 1993, 159). ...

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5. Sameness, Difference, and Women’s Civic Place

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pp. 105-129

In 1914, the Great War broke out in Europe. Three years later, under President Woodrow Wilson, the United States reluctantly entered the conflict. During that time, the American woman suffrage movement gained unprecedented steam; after decades of agitation, the vote appeared within reach. The intersection of these two great struggles—the war for democracy abroad and the quest for democracy at home—presented painful quandaries...

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6. What Drove the Changes? The Not-So-Easy Answers

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pp. 130-156

Women’s collective engagement in national policy affairs unfolded over the 20th century in ways that defy much of the conventional wisdom, in part because scholars of women’s history have tended to focus their attention on waves of feminism. This focus leads to the easy conflation of rights movements on one hand with women’s collective action on the other. While the outside strategies pursued by protest movements generate media attention...

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7. How Public Policy Shaped Women’s Civic Place

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pp. 157-185

Throughout American history, sex-segregated organizations have emerged both to capture and to inspire women’s yearning for fully incorporated citizenship. The pioneering feminists assembled at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention set the agenda for more than a century to come: “Because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights,” they observed in their Declaration of Sentiments...

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8. Women, Citizenship, and Public Policy in the 21st Century

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pp. 186-201

From the 1870s, when this study begins, through 2000, when it ends, the United States underwent profound changes in its economic, political, and social organization. War, the elimination of discriminatory laws, economic need, and changing beliefs facilitated the movement of married women and mothers into the full-time paid labor force. The interest group universe that women had played a central role in building was fundamentally...

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Appendix A: Congressional Hearings Data and Other Sources

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pp. 203-206

The study utilizes four original datasets of congressional hearing testimony: (1) the Women’s Group Appearances dataset; (2) the Landmark dataset; the (3) Witnesses dataset; and (4) the Transcripts dataset. I assembled and cross-checked each of these datasets by hand from book-length indexes of hearings, transcripts located on microfiche, and the online Lexis-Nexis congressional hearings database. ...

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Appendix B: How the Foreign and Health Policy Testimony Was Selected

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pp. 207-208

The policy domains of international affairs and foreign aid and health were selected for close examination because these issues drew concerted attention from women’s groups throughout the 20th century. They were also different types of issues (one international, one domestic), lending some confidence to the robustness of the conclusions. I coded 368 pieces of witness testimony, which were selected using the following process. ...


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pp. 209-214


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pp. 215-228


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pp. 229-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028733
E-ISBN-10: 0472028731
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118519
Print-ISBN-10: 047211851X

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 31 figures, 3 tables
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: CAWP Series in Gender and Politics
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OCLC Number: 822532645
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Paradox of Gender Equality

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women -- Political activity -- United States.
  • Women's rights -- United States.
  • Women -- Suffrage -- United States.
  • Political participation -- United States.
  • Democracy -- United States.
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