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Abstract

This article examines the role that women’s cultures and communities have played in political protest and social change. We argue that women’s cultures, which form around the reproductive roles, labor, and emotional expectations placed on women, have been used to express femininity and as cultural resources or “toolkits” to transform male-dominated spheres of society. We begin by defining women’s cultures, emphasizing that there is no universal women’s culture because the structural arrangements and cultural meanings of gender vary by race, ethnicity, class, nationality, and political context. We then review research that demonstrates the significance of women’s cultures for the collective identities and tactics deployed in social movements and protest, demonstrating how the study of women’s cultures and gender processes in social movements has contributed empirically and theoretically to understanding social movements. We examine women’s cultures and collective identities in communities as wide ranging as self-help groups, lesbian communities, feminist organizations, and anti-feminist groups. We then draw on prevailing theories of cultural change in globalization studies (cultural differentialism, cultural convergence, and cultural hybridization) to understand how women’s cultures have contributed to social change. We conclude by identifying future directions for the study of women’s cultures and social movements.