Where They Belong: An Examination of Woman's Role Development in the U.S. Using Social Constructionist Theory

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Spector, Jessica A.
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Looking at the revolutionaries of the past, they had awesome tasks to make such alterations to the world around them. They did not single-handedly cause the changes that transpired, but their names are synonymous with their movements. For example; Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson for the American Revolution, Bayard Rustin of the Black Civil Rights Movement and Susan B. Anthony with the Woman's Rights Movement. Each of these people was dissatisfied with an aspect, or aspects, of the institution in which they lived, and they proceeded to instigate transformations of immense, seemingly resolute worlds. What kind of influence could any of us make, if we set our minds to do it? Sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann contend that humans have more control over their institutions than they may realize, because the institutions are precisely that, theirs. They authored a book in 1966 called The Social Construction of Reality in which they declare that reality is created by social forces that people control. We "construct" our own "reality" to bring a sense of order to our lives. The other realities in the universe pose a threat to our faith in our own. We view our interpretation of the world as correct, but the existence of a reality that another person considers correct poses a problem. How can our reality be correct if theirs is as well? The presence of our reality brings order to the potential chaos that would result from an entirely subjective world, therefore we must find ways to prove its existence and its truth while disproving the validity of any other reality. We begin to "legitimate" our institutional orders, using various procedures of confirming their genuineness. We proceed to produce additional institutions as well as theories to confirm the validity pf our initial institution. Every process in a reality serves to promote that reality and demonstrate the futility of disagreeing with the institutional. The emergence of a reform movement in a society demonstrates that the reality has altered enough such that some of its aspects are in conflict. Somewhere in the society there are people whose realities do not correspond well to that of the dominant institution, and the realities contrast enough that the legitimations the society has relied on to advocate its institutions are now useless. In these cases the deviant group wants the dominant reality to adjust to fit its own. In their lifetimes, their experiences differed from those of the majority of members of the institution and promoted an aberrant ideology. I am curious as to what those experiences were. Why did Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson feel that they needed to lead the colonies against Great Britain? What was it about their situations that caused a distaste for the reality of that time? How did Bayard Rustin know that the oppression of blacks was not the way reality was supposed to be? What in his experiences taught him that it might be worthwhile to fight against what he saw as injustices? My experience working at The Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, New York led me to have similar questions about Susan B. Anthony. Why was she such a catalyst for change? What in her life differed from that of most women in the United States, to compel her to commit her life to change the American reality for women? Using Berger and Luckmann's theory, I will chronicle the evolution of the circumstances surrounding the development of a reality promoting woman's subordination. Then I will use the theory to describe the emergence of the strong backlash in the mid-19th Century against female discrimination. Finally, I will describe Miss Anthony's life, noting the various influences that contributed to her own desire for a reality in which woman's equality exists. These will include more regional examples of the rise of a deviant reality from that of woman's subordination.
iii, 42 p.
Kalamazoo, Mich. : Kalamazoo College.
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