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The Politics of Women's Rights

The Politics of Women's Rights: Parties, Positions, and Change

Christina Wolbrecht
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Women's Rights
    Book Description:

    Here Christina Wolbrecht boldly demonstrates how the Republican and Democratic parties have helped transform, and have been transformed by, American public debate and policy on women's rights. She begins by showing the evolution of the positions of both parties on women's rights over the past five decades. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Republicans were slightly more favorable than Democrats, but by the early 1980s, the parties had polarized sharply, with Democrats supporting, and Republicans opposing, such policies as the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights. Wolbrecht not only traces the development of this shift in the parties' relative positions--focusing on party platforms, the words and actions of presidents and presidential candidates, and the behavior of the parties' delegations in Congress--but also seeks to explain the realignment.

    The author considers the politically charged developments that have contributed to a redefinition and expansion of the women's rights agenda since the 1960s--including legal changes, the emergence of the modern women's movement, and changes in patterns of employment, fertility, and marriage. Wolbrecht explores how party leaders reacted to these developments and adopted positions in ways that would help expand their party's coalition. Combined with changes in those coalitions--particularly the rise of social conservatism within the GOP and the affiliation of social movement groups with the Democratic party--the result was the polarization characterizing the parties' stances on women's rights today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3124-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  7. CHAPTER ONE Women’s Rights and the American Parties
    (pp. 3-22)

    At its 1980 convention, the Republican party refused to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in its platform, reversing a pattern of nearly forty years of official party support. In convention that same year, the Democratic party not only retained a pro-ERA plank but also pledged to provide financial support only to those candidates who backed the amendment. Just as the Republicans’ move signaled a historic break, the Democratic party’s action represented the culmination of an important shift; Democrats had traditionally been ambivalent, if not hostile, to the ERA. Four years later, feminists wielded enough power within the Democratic party...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Of Presidents and Platforms
    (pp. 23-72)

    An examination of party positioning on women’s rights from 1952 to 1992 suggests that both parties have shifted their positions over time. Republicans sided with the equality feminists in the 1950s and early 1960s, while Democrats generally opposed the equality position in favor of the status quo, protective policy for women. The parties’ positions converged to a considerable degree in the late 1960s and early 1970s with both parties contributing to an unprecedented level of political activity and accomplishment on women’s rights. Yet Democratic and Republican elites soon diverged again. In the resulting alignment, Democrats stood on the side of...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Women’s Rights in the House and Senate
    (pp. 73-107)

    Thus far, my discussion of the transformation and polarization of the parties on women’s rights has focused on the political parties as represented by their national organizations, presidents, and presidential candidates. Examination of the parties as organizations and executives has indeed suggested a change in relative positioning vis-à-vis women’s rights. Before the late 1960s, Republicans were perceived as more supportive of most women’s rights issues, particularly the ERA, but differences in terms of platforms were not particularly great. The parties were quite similar on women’s rights in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but as the decade of the 1970s...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Explaining Party Issue Realignment
    (pp. 108-133)

    The previous two chapters discussed the realignment of the Democratic and Republican parties’ relative positions on women’s rights from 1952 to 1992. This transformation has characterized the parties in their various elite institutional forms—as formal organizations, presidents and presidential candidates, and Congressional delegations. How can we explain the positions adopted by the parties? Why have the parties’ relative positions changed across the period? In this chapter, I develop a general explanation of party issue adoption and change and briefly relate that model to the case of women’s rights. The application of the model to women’s rights from the early...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Equilibrium Disruption and Issue Redefinition
    (pp. 134-180)

    Chapters 2 and 3 detailed the evolution of the parties’ relative positions on women’s rights from the early 1950s to the early 1990s. While there is some variation in the behavior of each party in their various elite-level incarnations—organizations, presidents, House and Senate delegations—the predominant pattern is remarkably consistent. In the 1950s and early 1960s, few elites or citizens recognized women’s rights as a legitimate public policy issue, but on the small agenda with which activists and interested elites were concerned, Republicans were slightly more supportive of women’s rights compared to their Democratic counterparts. Differences between the parties...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Shifting Coalitions and Changing Elites
    (pp. 181-225)

    Chapter 5 reviewed the evidence of substantial disruption of the women’s rights issue equilibrium and the redefinition of women’s rights. Both contributed to the realignment of the parties’ relative positions on women’s rights. In this chapter, I examine two additional factors proposed as possible contributors to the transformation and polarization of the parties’ positions on women’s rights: changes in each party’s coalition of interests and in the composition of the elites themselves. Much of what I consider here is related to, or meaningful because of, the issue-specific developments described in chapter 5. Other aspects are independent of those developments, but...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN The Politics of Women’s Rights
    (pp. 226-238)

    Fundamentally, this research concerns change. Moreover, it examines change in an issue area—women’s rights—that has involved some of the most momentous social transformations of the twentieth century. Not long ago it was commonly held that women’s place was in the home, that women who did work outside the home should earn less than men, and that women lacked the emotional fortitude to serve as political leaders (see McGlen and O’Connor 1998). That these beliefs have generally, if not entirely, been dismissed stands as “one of the biggest social changes of our times” (The Economist 1997, 87). This transformed...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 239-242)
  15. References
    (pp. 243-258)
  16. Index
    (pp. 259-266)