FEMINISTS TRANSFORMING THEIR WORLDS: A COLLECTIVE ORAL-HISTORY OF SALVADORAN PROTAGONISTS
Stromquist, Nelly P.
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Working from the premise that we cannot understand how feminism can transform societies without examining it as a multi-leveled project, this dissertation explores how a group of Salvadoran feminists were introduced to feminist ideas, became feminists, and are transforming themselves, communities, and nation. The object of study is how feminists in organizations became protagonists transforming their worlds. Using a collective oral-history approach, the dissertation examines 40 oral-histories with a two-pronged theoretical framework. The first prong is a theory of empowering feminism—which draws from Stromquist’s theory of empowerment (2014, 2015), definition of feminism (2015), and description of Latin America feminist organizations (2007). The second prong is Bourdieu’s theory of capital (1977). With that framework, the study examines the factors, dynamics, and actions of Salvadoran feminists transforming their worlds. The study found the following in the feminists’ trajectories to becoming protagonists: (1) being introduced to feminist ideas by other feminists, who had experienced patriarchal oppression; (2) becoming a feminist often involved either learning gender theory or a collective gender consciousness-raising process; (3) transforming their homes and workplaces by participating in groups where they read their lives with a feminist lens; (4) developing their own capital—knowledge, skills, networks, and collective feminist experiences; (5) increasing their levels of formal education, from high-school to graduate; (6) learning and teaching feminist topics—such as, gender as a social construction, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive rights, and symbolic violence against women; (7) intervening to change culture with tools—like murals, stencils, festivals, popular theatre, street demonstrations, cyber-feminism, and media; and (8) lobbying governments and pressuring corporations. A key finding is that these oral-histories suggest an association between the feminists who had leftist social movement capital and those who were most successful in their feminist work. Thus, this dissertation found that the Salvadoran feminists in this study transforming themselves into protagonists changing their worlds through feminist praxis exercised in feminist organizations that involves individual and collective empowerment, and entails producing knowledge. Finally, the study highlights the contention that there is exponential potential for feminist social change in communities with a culture of leftist social movement capital.