On the Front Lines: Women as Actors of Change in Progressive and Conservative Movements

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This thesis focuses on the role of women in contemporary grassroots populist movements in the United States. In particular, it focuses on two case studies: the New Progressive Movement and the Tea Party Movement. Grounded in social movement theory, I show that in 2016 the New Progressive Movement came into being after Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. This social movement is juxtaposed to the Tea Party Movement. In both of these populist grassroots movements, women play an important role. However, when comparing the role of women on a national level it becomes clear that women in the New Progressive Movement more often fulfill a leadership role than women in the Tea Party Movement. This thesis answers the question of how the nature of the Tea Party Movement and the New Progressive Movement explains the difference in the role of women. A comparison of the organizational structure, ideology, and populist rhetoric reveals that this is the consequence of ideological differences and the progressive/regressive dichotomy in populist rhetoric. Women in the Tea Party Movement adhere to stricter gender roles that are not compatible with national-level leadership positions, due to ideology and regressive populist rhetoric. Women in the New Progressive Movement are encouraged to take on national-level leadership positions due to ideology based on equality and progressive populist rhetoric.
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