HOW DO LIBERAL FEMINISM AND THIRD WAVE FEMINISM
INFLUENCE THE WORK OF WOMENS ORGANIZATIONS?
Magister Artium, Ludwig Maximilians Universitat Miinchen, 2008
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
has been approved by
Och, Malliga (M.A., Political Science, University of Colorado Denver)
How Do Liberal Feminism and Third Wave Feminism Influence the Work of Womens Organizations?
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Anna C. Sampaio
The assumption underlying this thesis is that womens organizations do not operate in an
empty space but rather come into being as a response to social concerns. Further, womens
organizations reflect and integrate societal values as constructed and inscribed in feminist theories. In
this thesis, I will pay special attention to the extent to which the work of womens organizations reflect
the values as prescribed within liberal and third wave feminism. In order to do this, I will analyze the
theoretical concepts and ideas of both theories along three categories: political advancement, civic
participation, and self-empowerment.
As a second step, 1 will employ a comparative case study of two womens organization in
Colorado, the White House Project and the Latina Initiative, to examine the extent to which these two
organizations reflect the values and ideas of both liberal and third wave feminisms. The White House
Project is a bipartisan non-profit organization that aims to increase the number of women running for
office. The Latina Initiative is non-profit organization that works towards increased civic engagement
of Latinas. To develop this paper, my main point of reference for liberal feminism will be the works of
John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor Mill, and the writings of later feminist activists such as Betty Friedan
and Eleanor Smeal. For third wave feminism, I will utilize several anthologies, including but not
limited to the work of Rebecca Walker, Daisy Hernandez, Bushra Rehman, Barbara Findlen, and
Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake. I will consider the different personal narratives in these
anthologies insofar their work is related to the three categories. The aim of this thesis is not to declare
one theory superior to the other but rather to understand how theory and practice interconnect and
inform each other.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesisnl recommend ks publication
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Feminist Thought and the Role of Womens Organizations.............................2
2 LIBERAL AND THIRD WAVE FEMINISM.....................................................11
Female Involvement in Public Decision-Making Structures......................11
Involvement in Politics......................................................12
Legal Status of Women........................................................13
Women and Education..........................................................14
Women and the Economy........................................................14
Popular Culture and Feminism.................................................15
3 THE WHITE HOUSE PROJECT ADD WOMEN CHANGE EVERYTHING.................................23
The Mission of the White House Project..............................................24
Activities and Strategies of the White House Project................................26
The Interrelationship Between Feminist Theories and the White House Project.........30
4 THE LATINA INITIATIVE: IM LATINA AND I VOTE..........................................39
The Mission of the Latina Initiative................................................39
Activities and Strategies of the Latina Initiative..................................40
Raising Political Awareness....................................................41
Increasing Electoral Engagement................................................41
Building Up Leadership Potential...............................................43
The Interrelationship Between Feminist Theories and the Latina Initiative...........44
5 THE INTERRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FEMINIST THEORIES AND WOMENS
Summary: the White House Project....................................................50
Summary: the Latina Initiative......................................................53
Comparing the White House Project to the Latina Initiative..........................56
Integrating Feminist Theories into the Workings of the Latina Initiative and the White House
The Interrelationship between Feminist Theory and Womens Organizations.............60
Women have fought for emancipation for hundreds of years and they have won many battles in
the past. Women are now able to vote and run for office, they run corporations, and the majority of
professions are now open to them. However, women still have a long way to go before they achieve
full equality in all facets of life and in particular, society has yet to witness a woman be elected to the
U.S. presidency. In the 2008 U.S. election, women gained only one seat in the Senate, increasing the
number to merely 17 female senators out of 100 (Center for American Women and Politics, 2008). In
the 111th Congress, 73 women (16.8%) will serve in the House of Representatives (Center for
American Women and Politics). Women of color are even less represented than white women: they
constitute only 23.1% of all female legislators, none of them serve in the Senate. Even though women
have made gains over time, they are still far away from achieving political parity with men. In 2009,
the United States ranks 71st in the world for its percentage of female legislators (IPU, 2009).
In other areas as well, inequalities continue to exist. In 2002, women were responsible for
70.6% of the housework compared to 37.3% for men (Jayson, 2007). Further, a white woman earns
only 77 cents to every dollar a white man makes for the same work (National Committee on Pay
Equity, 2007). To illustrate this, consider the median annual income: white men earn $45,000 whereas
white women earn only $32,000 (Who is Affected by the Wage Gap? 2004). For women of color
this discrepancy is even greater: Black women have an annual median income of $27,000, Latinas earn
on average $23,000, and Asian women earn the most with $35,000.
Looking at the executive level Fortune 500 companies, women were still a minority in 2005:
2.9% of companys Presidents were women, 1.6% were C.E.O.s, and 13.7% were Executive Vice
Presidents (Creswell, 2006). These economic disadvantages continue in other areas. Approximately
90% of all people receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF)
program are women (Parvez 2002). Again, African American women are over-represented in this
program as compared to white, Latina, or Asian women. In a similar vain, over 50% of people living
under the poverty line are women (Cawthome 2008, 1). The situation for women of color is worse:
Black and Latina women are twice as likely to be poor than white women: 26% of Black women,
23.6% of Latinas, 11.6% of white women, and 10.7% of Asian women live in poverty (Cawthome
Thus, it is still important to further womens advancement in society to improve the quality of
life for all women. Feminist thought and womens organization play a vital role in voicing their
concern about the situation of women and in proposing ways to address this inequality. In this chapter,
I will first illustrate how the thinking of Michel Foucault can be applied to the interrelationship
between feminist theories and womens organizations. Then, I will present a brief literature review
about the works of liberal and third wave feminism that were utilized for this thesis. Finally, this
chapter contains an illustration of the methodology used for the purpose of this thesis.
Feminist Thought and the Role of Womens Organizations
To understand the interrelations between feminist thought and womens organizations, it is
particular useful to look at the ideas of Michel Foucault. His work on power and discourse offers
important insights into this connection and how other authors have utilized his insights in a wide
variety of literature.
According to Foucault, power manifests itself as actions within relationships and as such,
power is better understood as power relations that are omnipresent in every part of society (Oksala
2008, 66; Caputo and Yount 1993, 5). But where power exists, there is always resistance (Oksala 2008,
67; Brown 2000, 31). Resistance is supposed to challenge the assumptions on which power relations
are based, and resistance prompts the governing institutions to explain the purpose for their use of
power (Oksala 2008, 86). Any resistance to or criticism of power relations has to start with an analysis
of the power relation under attack. It is by exposing how these power relations work and what effects
they have on people that opens up the possibility of resistance (Caputo and Yount 1993, 7-8). Yount
(1993, 219) argues that to exercise resistance means to identify the different positions, ideas, and
arguments in the discourse and to engage with all of them.
Thus, resistance means to challenge power relations at least in part by the means of theory
which produces knowledge and truth through discourse (Brown 2000, 33). Rothenberg (1990, 50)
understands theory as reflecting a struggle over how [something] is to be constructed in the present
period and over who is to have the power to define [it]. In Foucaults writings, discourse comprises
everything that is written and spoken and all that invites a conversations or dialogue (Rosenau 1992,
xi). As such, discourse is an ever-changing concept to which new ideas are constantly added.
Discourses are supposed to create knowledge and certain truths which, when accepted as truth by
society, will act as a norm (Oksala 2008, 59). Discourse in this sense informs and validates power
relations because knowledge that is accepted as truth by society shapes the way people think about
certain issues (Oksala 2008, 49). However, it is important to note that for Foucault, no universal truth
The ideas in Foucaults work about discourse, power, and resistance can be applied to
feminist discourse and its link to womens organizations. Feminist writing can be understood as a form
of resistance to the power relations that keep women subordinated in society. Patriarchy, as the social
arrangement in which men possess structural power by virtue of monopolizing high status positions in
important social, economic, legal, and religious institutions (Glick and Fiske 1998, 373) is a common
theme in feminist thinking. As such, patriarchy can be understood as one of the power relations that
enshrine womens inequality in society and against which feminist thought is directed.
Feminist theory consists in part of an analysis of existing power relations for purposes of
resistance. In this manner, feminist thought enters the discourse in order to produce its own knowledge
and truths about the situation of women that eventually shape the attitudes and behaviors of people in
society as well as the law, politics, the institutions governing politics vis-a-vis women.
But what is the role of womens organizations within this feminist discourse? Organizations,
in general, are formed as a response to a discourse and the knowledge that is produced within this
discourse. As such, organizations not only reflect the power relations in society but are also informed
by them (Caputo and Yount 1993, 4). The existence of womens organizations can in this manner be
understood as a response to certain knowledge that was produced by feminist thought. Once
organizations exist, they themselves enter the discourse and start to produce information and
knowledge (Cooper and Burrell 1988, 105). According to McKinlay and Starkey (1998, 2), the
existence of organizations is seen as a sign of normalization; that is, certain knowledge is accepted and
will act as a norm, thus institutionalizing certain values. This is an important point: the existence of
organizations is seen as a sign of normalization, and organizations are formed as a reaction to certain
knowledge produced by a specific discourse. Therefore, it is vital to understand what type of
knowledge prompted the creation of an organization, and what norms are created from that knowledge
and through the organization because this knowledge and these norms will validate and inform existing
power relations in society.
This is exactly what this thesis will do. For the sake of brevity and due to the limited scope
and time allotted for completion of the thesis, this thesis will examine the degree to which
contemporary womens organizations are influenced and shaped by two important trajectories in
feminist thought: liberal feminism and third wave feminism. In addition, I will examine the degree to
which these feminist trajectories are normalized and institutionalized within these organizations. A
theoretical approach such as the approach taken by this thesis is necessary because theories make it
easier to understand a complicated reality. Of course, the reader should be aware that more exhaustive
research covering all other feminist theories is necessary to provide a complete explanation of this
reality such broad research is not within the scope of this thesis.
In this section, I will briefly present the literature relevant for both liberal and third wave
feminism as they pertain to this thesis. I derive my insight on liberal feminism from various works that
span different points of time in liberal thought and thus are adequate to gain a balanced understanding
of the tenets of liberal feminist theory. The first book of reference is Harriet Taylor Mills (1851)
Enfranchisement of Women in which she argues for the right of women to suffrage and equality in
public and private life. The second source is The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill (1869) that
builds upon and expands the work of Harriet Taylor Mill. Mills work centers around three main
issues: (1) the access to suffrage, political office and education for women; (2) equality between the
sexes in the institution of marriage; and (3) the benefits for society and women when they are granted
full equality with men. In this way, both John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill aim to expand the
tenets of liberal thought to include women. Betty Friedan (1963) picks up on these issues in The
Feminine Mystique. In this book, Friedan attempts to identify the reasons for the high level of
frustrations experienced by American housewives. She concludes that women cannot be happy and
develop their full human potential if their identity is exclusively formed through service to others, as
mothers and housewives. Thus, women must gain equality and full access to public life in order to
find challenges that satisfy their capabilities and in order to develop their own identities.
Betty Friedan, together with others, founded the National Organization for Women (hereinafter
referred to as NOW) in 1966 (NOW, 2008), and the original mission statement of NOW picks up and
expands on some of her insights from the Feminine Mystique. NOW argues that women must be
integrated into society and must have access to education, to all professions and at all levels in each
profession, and to political offices. Inequalities between the sexes, such as the wage gap, must be
addressed and discrimination needs to be outlawed, and existing laws must be enforced to end sex
All in all, NOW emphasizes equality of opportunity for women in American society. Eleanor
Smeal, the founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a feminist activist, also represents the
liberal feminist tradition (FMF 2008). Her organization dedicates its efforts to fighting against sex
discrimination and for political, social, and economic equality through grassroots organizing,
legislative efforts, and legal means. The most recent author in this summary of works, Susan Wendel
(1987), defends liberal feminism against criticism in her article A (Qualified) Defense of Liberal
Feminism. She defines the political tenets of liberal feminism as being equality of opportunity,
increasing womens self-awareness and value, equal education for women and men, fighting de-facto
and de-jure sex discrimination, and finally, equality of legal rights (66).
In the last decades, new feminist thinkers and writers have emerged whose work is labeled as
third wave feminism. Some argue that it does not represent a distinctive new feminism (Gills and
Munford, 2005; Schrof, 1993; Ellis, 2001). This is mainly because third wave feminism is still
emerging and mostly takes place outside of academia. Nevertheless, various authors have identified, in
their writings and their activities, ideas that differentiate third wave feminists from other feminist
schools of thought. To Be Real is an anthology edited by Rebecca Walker (1995) that includes short
essays by women and men dealing with the question of what feminism means to each individual. In
Colonize This! Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman (2002) published short essays by feminists of
color. These essays deal with different aspects of life and the intersection of life with feminism. Topics
include the family and the community, the influence of mothers on their daughters feminism, the
experience of foreign women of color in the U.S. and their struggle to combine feminism with their
cultural upbringing, and ambiguities between cultural/ethnic upbringing and ones own understanding
of feminism. Finally, Listen Up! edited by Barbara Findlen (1995) deals with how feminism and its
ideas influence and impact the life of young feminists from diverse backgrounds today.
The literature discussed in this thesis also includes scholarly articles on third wave feminism
such as Natalie Fixmer and Julia T. Woods (2005) article The Personal is still Political: Embodied
Politics in Third Wave Feminism which compares Foucaults political theory with third wave
activism. Third Wave Agenda is a collection of academic journal articles edited by Leslie Heywood
and Jennifer Drake (1997) that deals with third wave feminism in regards to culture, representation,
and other feminist theories. In her article Charting the Currents of the Third Wave, Catherine M. Orr
(1997) aims to characterize third wave feminism and its place in academia. Natasha Pinterics (2001)
analyze the theories and goals of third wave feminists in Riding the Feminist Waves: In with the
Third?. Rita Alfonso and Jo Trigilio (1997) published their email conversation about third wave
feminism and its implication for feminism in general in Surfing the Third Wave: A Dialogue between
Two Third Wavers.
An examination of liberal and third wave feminist writings reveals three main points of
controversy between these two kinds of feminist thought. First, liberal feminists favor a unified mass-
based movement to bring about change in society with a clear agenda (Ellis 2001). Third wave
feminists, in contrast, advocate that social change is more de-centered and that the personal
transformation of individuals addresses social injustices without the need of a unified womens
movement (Anderson and Stewart 2005; Fixmer and Wood 2005; Smith 1997; Lamm 2001). Second,
liberal feminists have mainly concentrated on de-jure equality1 2 to achieve equality goals. These goals
include political, economic, and social equality including equal access to education, public institutions,
and professions, and the removal of formal barriers to these institutions (Wendel 1987). Contrary to
this, third wave feminism draws attention to the importance of de-facto equality" (Senna, 1995; Smith,
2002; Sayeed, 2002). This means that third wave feminists are concerned how legal requirements are
put into practice, for example, whether outlawing sex discrimination at the workplace really eliminated
sex discrimination against female employees. Or whether sex discrimination has taken on a new and
subtler form. Third, whereas liberal feminists try to emphasize the commonalities between women,
third wave feminists allow and encourage women to explore and express their differences (Dicker
2008). These differing positions and attitudes will influence and inform not only the work but also the
perspectives of womens organizations, as this thesis will discuss in later chapters in more detail.
This thesis will use a qualitative comparative case study approach. A qualitative study is
particularly appropriate when little is known about a particular issue and when a small number of cases
are explored (Creswell 1998, 17; 4; Johnson and Reynolds 2006). For this reason, the case study
approach I adopt is intended to be exploratory rather than predictive.
A qualitative case study also makes a detailed analysis of each case possible in order to
effectively illustrate the complexities and interrelations within each case (Salkin 2003, 213; Creswell
1998, 17; Denscombe 1998, 31; Johnson and Reynolds 2006, 148). By analyzing a case in its entirety,
I am able to better understand how the different factors are interrelated. Thus, such a case study allows
for an in-depth analysis of both feminist theory and womens organizations. In a similar manner, a case
study approach helps to reveal relationships and processes within social settings (Denscombe 1998,
31). By drawing the attention to relationships and social processes instead of focusing on outcomes,
the value of a case study is to explain what might occur instead of predicting a specific outcome. As a
consequence, a case study is best suited for answering how questions (Creswell 1998, 17; Johnson
and Reynolds 2006, 150): For this thesis, the purpose of this comparative case study is to understand
how feminist theories inform the activities and mission of womens organizations.
1 De-jure equality means equality that is founded on the rule of law
2 De-facto equality means equality that exists in practical reality but not necessarily based on the rule
I chose to employ a comparative case study because findings in a single case study are not
always applicable to all cases. By conducting a comparative case study of two or more units, one can
more easily determine the significance of a finding (Johnson and Reynolds 2006, 152). This method,
however, is limited by the fact that it is never certain whether such a finding is solely due to, in the
case of my thesis, the influence of a certain feminist theory or other factors such as the personal beliefs
of the acting board members, staff members, or the founder whose beliefs might be informed by
personal experiences or other feminist theories.
The two units of analysis for this comparative case study are these two womens organizations:
The White House Project (http://www.thewhitehouseproject.org) and The Latina Initiative
(http://www.latinainitiative.org). The White House Project is a national non-profit organization based
in New York City with local chapters in Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota. This
organizations aim is to advance womens leadership in politics, business, and culture with the ultimate
goal to see a women elected to the presidency. The Latina Initiative is a Denver-based non-profit
organization that aims to promote civic engagement in the Latina/o community in Colorado.
The selected organizations were chosen for two reasons. First, this selection ensures that a broad
cross-section of women are included, particularly women from different racial and ethnic groups, from
different class backgrounds, and with different educational levels. Second, both organizations have
offices in Denver which facilitates access to data, documents, and staff. Further, these organizations
have a significant impact on Colorado. For example, the Latina Initiative increased the number of
Latinas participating in the electoral process in 2008 and the White House Project trains women to run
for political office, with much success. The 2008 election brought 40% women into the State
legislature, making Colorado number one in the nation for female legislatures on the state level
In order to collect the necessary data to fully answer how liberal and third wave feminist
theories influence the activities of womens organizations, I will first review and analyze liberal
feminist and third wave feminist literature in the form of journal articles, books, and anthologies. I will
code the writings according to three dimensions. Then, I will conduct interviews with staff members of
the respective organizations. These interviews are intended to shed light on the strategies and missions
of the organizations. Also, the interviews will be voluntary and conducted only after informed consent.
The names of the interviewees or any personal characteristics will not be disclosed within this research
to maintain their confidentiality. Further, I will evaluate the web site, strategy papers, or other written
documents by the respective organizations and also code these documents according to the three
Although the collected data will be extensive, there are certain limitations to this research. First,
this research is case specific. This research will look at two specific cases, thus the findings cannot be
generalized to all womens organization but must be interpreted in relation to these two organizations.
Second, this research is limited to Colorado. The womens organizations were chosen specifically
because they were either based in Denver or had a regional office in Denver. This offered easy access
to staff and documents but consequently means that the findings tend to be limited in their ability to be
generalized. However, because the White House Project is a national organization, the thesis findings
can to a certain extent be applicable to other local offices of The White House Project as well as to the
states where The White House Project is active. Similar, even though the Latina Initiative is a local
organization, the findings will be a good point of departure to analyze the impact of comparable Latina
organizations in other states. The assessment of whether the two womens organizations are successful
in advancing women in society refers primary to women in Colorado, but, as pointed out above, can
have application elsewhere, depending on the context. Third, the results pertain to a specific point in
time. As with all theories, liberal and third wave feminism will evolve and change over time. The same
is true for womens organizations. Accordingly, the findings represent a snapshot in time and cannot
claim validity for the future. Fourth, when conducting interviews, the findings are limited by the
questions asked and the perceptions of the respective interview partner. Thus, the findings will reflect
this persons opinion and may not be shared equally by all staff members. By analyzing not only
interviews but also other materials, 1 will be able to compare and contrast the opinions of the staff
members with written documents in order to bring the information together into a meaningful whole.
In order to judge the degree to which liberal feminism and third wave feminism are reflected
within the White House Project and the Latina Initiative, I will code the respective literature as well as
the information about the two womens organizations according to certain characteristics that keep
reoccurring in the feminist literature. These characteristics can be grouped according to the following
three dimensions: (a) political advancement, (b) civic participation, and (c) self-empowerment of
women. These categories will help me to identify specific characteristics of liberal and third wave
feminism. In turn, this will make it easier to discern whether the same characteristics appear in the
workings of the respective womens organization. Ultimately, the categories will enable me to make an
inform judgment about the extent to which each feminist theory influences and shapes the workings of
the respective womens organizations. Both womens organizations and feminist theories address all
three of these dimensions, but particular organizations or theories may emphasize one dimension over
(1) Political advancement is understood as electoral involvement with public institutions. It is
any activity that is used to challenge and advance the legal or formal status of women in public
life. Public life is defined as the sphere outside of the home, specifically dealing with the
political system. It includes all efforts to encourage women to assume leadership in government
and, in a narrower sense, to encourage women to run for elected office or take administrative
positions; This definition is based on Evelyn Nakano Glenns chapter in Revisioning Gender
where she argues that the public realm is constructed in opposition to womanhood (dominant in
the private sphere) and that this distinction between public and private realm is used as a mean
to create and maintain gender hierarchies. As a consequence, many feminist thinkers and
womens organizations argue that women need to increase their presence in the public realm,
particularly in elected or appointed positions, in order to break down the existing gender
hierarchies. (Betty Friedan 1963; Feminist Majority Foundation; NOW; Harriet Taylor Mill
1851, John Stuart Mill 1869; Wendel 1987; Smeal 2008; Senna 1995; Curry-Johnson 2001, W.
Walker 2001 etc.)
(2) Civic participation is defined as non-electoral involvement with public institutions and
includes any activities in the community that women may undertake to change the perception of
gender or improve the quality of life for women. This can take the form of volunteer work in
advocacy organizations trying, for example, to help women in need, community organizing
such as attending rallies or collecting signatures for a petition, among other things; This
category was formed in order to include activities mentioned in the literature that were
concerned with various forms of social and civic engagement where women were active in their
communities trying to change social arrangement for the better. These activities, although
influencing the public sphere as well, were mainly concerned with non-electoral work in the
public realm such as improving education systems, access to health care for women, public
awareness of domestic violence, staging protests against various issues of social injustices.
Even though these activities may result in increasing the number of women in the public
decision-making processes, they are mainly directed towards improving the life of women on a
more general level. Many authors in the literature stressed the importance of civic and social
involvement of women. (Gillis and Munford 2004; Rebecca Walker; Schroef 1993; Darrai
2002; Friedan 1963; Ellis 2001; Pinterics 2001; Webb 1995; Taylor 1995; Rangel 2001 etc.)
(3) Self-empowerment is understood as any means that encourage women to fulfill their
dreams, become self-reliant, and gain self-confidence. More specifically, self-empowerment
represents the means for women to break out of traditional perceptions of womanhood or
traditional female roles such as wife and mother and create a life on their own while resisting
the restrictions of society. This dimension was created to reflect the themes in the literature
concerned with building the self-esteem of women. Many authors were concerned with the strict
beauty standards society imposes on women and its negative effects on the self-esteem of
women and particularly of girls. Also, authors picked up the concern that women were not
allowed or not able to develop their full potential in a society that devalues womens
experiences and tries to confine women to specific roles such as the role of wives and mothers.
All in all, these various concerns raised by authors could be best summed up with the goal to
self-empower women to recognize their abilities and dreams and encourage them to pursue
them. (DeLombard 1995; Martinez 2002; Davis 1995; Edut et al. 1997; Reed 1997; Klein 1997;
W.Walker 2001; Friedan 1997; Wendel 1987; NOW 1966; etc.)
To sum up, the purpose of this thesis is to determine whether an interrelationship between
feminist theory and the workings of womens organization exists. In addition, I will analyze whether
womens organizations construct feminist ideas on their own and whether these organizations
normalize certain ideas through their activities. In order to achieve this, 1 will utilize a qualitative
comparative case study approach that includes a coding process which will enable me to determine to
what extent specific characteristics within liberal and third wave feminism are integrated in the White
House Project as well as the Latina Initiative.
The thesis will be organized into five chapters. The first chapter will provide an introduction to
the research question and methodology of this thesis. The second chapter will illustrate how both
theories approach the three dimensions of political advancement, civic participation, and self-
empowerment. Further, chapter two will also contain the results of the coding process illustrating how
these two theories address the three dimensions including an analysis of the importance the two
theories place on each aspect. In the third chapter, the same analysis as in the second chapter is
repeated for the documents of the White House Project and for the Latina Initiative in the fourth
chapter. The last chapter will compare the two organizations to outline the extent to which these
organizations are influenced by either liberal or third wave feminism. It will also include a summary of
the major findings and discuss the implications and possibilities for further research.
LIBERAL AND THIRD WAVE FEMINISM
In this chapter, I will review the relevant literature in more detail and also present the results
of the coding process for both liberal and third wave feminism. During the coding process, the
literature listed in chapter one was coded according to the three dimensions of political advancement,
civic participation, and self-empowerment. This chapter illustrates the commonalities between liberal
feminism and third wave feminism as well as how the two feminist theories differ in their approach to
each dimension. In the end, I will provide a summary of the most important aspects in each dimension
for both liberal and third wave feminism. This will help me to answer to which degree the White
House Project and the Latina Initiative are influenced and shaped by these two feminist theories and to
which degree these theories are normalized and institutionalized within the two organizations.
Political advancement includes all the activities that take place through the electoral
involvement with public institutions and issues that allow women to fully participate in the electoral
process. Thus, common themes within the category of political advancement are the educational
system, women and the economy, the legal status of women, and female involvement in public
decision-making structures. However, third wave and liberal feminism place different emphases on
each aspect as well as regard each aspect from different angles.
Female Involvement in Public Decision-Making Structures
One of liberal feminists main goals is the economic, social, and political empowerment of
women to achieve legal, social, and political equality (About the FMF 2007). Liberal feminists put
the greatest emphasis on achieving parity within political office where women should represent at least
50% of the public officials. This claim is not only voiced for the legislature but also for elected or
appointed offices in the executive branch, the judiciary, and for offices in political parties (Taylor Mill
1851; Friedan 1963; Wendel 1987; Mission and Principles 2007; The National Organization for
Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose). That being so, Wendel (1987, 70) argues that liberal feminists
demand political equality for women which is understood as legal equality and equal rights to political
participation. Education and economic participation in the public sphere are considered prerequisites
for political equality and this is why liberal feminists promote equal participation in education, culture,
and the economy. More specifically, liberal feminists encourage women to run for elected office (The
National Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose; FMF President Eleanor Smeal
2007). Further, in order to achieve political equality, liberal feminists identify barriers to womens
participation in public processes and try to dismantle them. Taylor Mill (1851) and Mill (1869) argue
that womens subordination has its roots in traditional cultures, customs, and roles that see women as
mothers and wives and thus unfit for the public sphere. Based on this claim, Friedan (1963, 519)
maintains that the aim should be a reform of social institutions to alter existing sex roles.
Consequently, NOW fights sex discrimination in government, politics, industries, professions,
education, religion, and institutions (The National Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of
In contrast to this, third wave feminism is not greatly concerned with achieving parity in
political office. Not one essay within the reviewed literature was directly concerned with political
equality understood as parity in elected office. This can be attributed to the belief of third wave
feminists that institutions are not the means with which social change can be accomplished (Fixmer
and Wood 2005).
Involvement in Politics
Because significant decisions are made in the public sphere, liberal feminists aim to increase
the number of women that participate in politics (Friedan 1963; The National Organization for
Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose). Particularly important for liberal feminists is the participation
of women as voters. By creating a large pool of female voters, politicians are more inclined to protect
womens rights and interests (Mill 1869) and it gives women the chance to shape society (Friedan
1963). Another form of involvement is the mobilization of female voters in order to oppose any public
official that disapproves womens equality in order to elect favorable officials (The National
Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose). But voting is only one form of political
involvement. Liberal feminists also target political parties and lobby them to include womens rights in
their party platforms such as a commitment to childcare, pre-school, or after school programs (Friedan
1963, 527-529). Liberal feminists also encourage the use of womens organization in order to fight
institutional barriers and to initiate and support specific actions to address womens inequality (The
National Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose).
In a similar manner, third wave feminists acknowledge the importance of women voters.
However, voter mobilization was only mentioned when authors named examples for activities of third
wave organizations, as did Anderson and Munford (2004) and Schroef (1993). This illustrates that
while third wave feminists encourage women to participate in electoral process, electoral participation
is not their main concern.
Legal Status of Women
As mentioned above, liberal feminists are concerned with dismantling barriers to female
participation in the public decision-making process. One crucial element in this battle is to fight sex
discrimination. To do so, liberal feminists mainly address de-jure discrimination (Friedan 1963;
Wendel 1987). Further, liberal feminism prefers legal means to address sex discrimination (Burk and
Smeal 2007). This is why liberal feminists promote, for example, affirmative action programs (Friedan
1963, 518). Another important element in fighting de-jure discrimination is the passing of womens
rights legislations at the local, state, and federal level (Wendel 1987; FMF Presiden Eleanor Smeal
2007) or fighting discrimination in the court system (Friedan 1963). In doing so, liberal feminists focus
on both statutory and constitutional means such as the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment
(Mission and Principles 2007). Wendel (1987, 88/89) argues that liberal feminists emphasize legal
means because legal battles are seen to influence firmly held beliefs in society about women and
because law defines publicly acceptable standards for behavior. In addition, liberal feminists argue that
obtaining legal rights reveals others sources of discrimination.
Even though liberal feminists emphasize de-jure discrimination, they acknowledges that, in
order to achieve full equality, it is necessary to address de-facto discrimination as well (Wendel 1987,
85). This is precisely what third wave feminism does. Third wave feminism argues that some de-jure
equality was achieved by the second feminist wave, particularly the removal of the most explicit
gender based barriers to womens participation in public life. Neubome (2001) reports how she was
faced with sex discrimination at the workplace and how she had to learn to deal with it. As a
consequence, she argues that nowadays it is necessary to fight de-facto discrimination because
regardless of the structural reform, sex discrimination persists in daily life (Fixmer and Wood 2005,
252). For example, even though women make up 50% of law graduates, only 17% of them are partners
in major law firms (OBrien 2006). Because discrimination on the basis of sex was made illegal, this
discrimination is a de-facto one, for example existing workplace structures that benefit men.
Civic participation is understood as non-electoral involvement with pubic institutions. As
such, civic participation is something that is much more prevalent in third wave feminist thought than
in liberal feminism. That being so, third wave feminism encompasses more forms of civic participation
than does liberal feminism. Civic participation includes, among others, writing or publishing articles in
magazines or online, blogging, or confronting media outlets for sexist images.
Women and Education
Liberal feminism places a greater emphasis on access to education for all women and equal
education for both sexes. In contrast, third wave feminism is mainly concerned with social injustices
present in the educational system (Rangel 2001; Taylor Mill 1851; Friedan 1963). Friedan (1963) and
Mill (1869) consider an education as a prerequisite for women to enter the public sphere because
education is seen as a means to achieving high status jobs in society, access to professions and public
office. Further, Wendel (1987) argues that liberal feminism sees education as a catalyst for social
change and as a means for women to break down the sexual roles for women confining them to be only
a mother or wife.
In contrast, third wave feminists stress the importance of addressing social injustices in the
higher educational system. Rangel (2001) describes her struggle as a mother and a low-income student
to complete her education and thus, advocates for expanding access for low-income and non-traditional
students to higher education. Education is seen as empowering and a source of knowledge that enables
women to fight social and economic injustices in society. Both liberal and third wave feminists are
concerned with social change and their ultimate goal is to address the inequality between the sexes and
alter oppressive gender structures (Sayeed 2002).
Women and the Economy
Both liberal feminists and third wave feminists promote womens economic equality (Smith
2002; Friedan 1963; Senna 1995). However, liberal feminists stress equal opportunities for
employment because economic independence is seen as necessary for a public life (Friedan 1963;
Wendel 1987; The National Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose). Third wave
feminists are greatly concerned with women as second-class citizens in the workforce as illustrated by
Valdes (2001) who describes her struggle to combine her job as a fitness instructor with feminist ideals
and Sidler (1997) who claims that under- and unemployment are the most pressing feminist concerns.
Both authors argue that the economic system perpetuates female oppressions because the economy
depends on low-income and uneducated women to work in low-paying and unstable jobs. Yet,
economic equality is the prerequisite for progress and thus it is necessary to fight the current economic
order in order to fight patriarchy. Thus, third wave feminists advocate particularly for low-income
women and women of color.
Liberal feminists also recognize economic injustices and women as second-class citizens.
However, the main focus is on closing the wage gap between men and women as well as increasing
minimum wage in general rather than specifically addressing the needs of low-income women (Friedan
1963; FMF President Eleanor Smeal 2007; Smeal 2008). The issue of womens participation in the
workforce plays a crucial part in liberal feminist thought. NOW, for example, was founded as a
reaction to the governments failure and opposition to implement the provision of Title VII to fight sex
discrimination in the workplace (Dicker 2008, 70/71). The demand for equality in the economy
resonated as an overall theme in the Bill of Rights for Women issued by NOW (Tong 2009, 25/26).
For liberal feminists, access to the economy is seen as the prerequisite for equality in other areas such
as public office.
Popular Culture and Feminism
Third wave feminism is closely linked to popular culture, something that is rarely found in
liberal feminism. Gillis and Munford (2004) argue that third wave feminism and its link to popular
culture are best demonstrated by the grrrl movement and punk feminism (or riot grrrl) which centers
around music and zines3. Klein (1997) illustrates riot grrrl activities and provides a short history of the
movement. She argues that punk feminism appropriates and redefines sexuality, power, and violence
(207) and in doing so, the punk scene provides independent and strong examples for girls that
challenge gender stereotypes. Klein and Gillis and Munford identify the alternative music community,
of which the grrrl movement is a part of, as a place for creating new feminist forms, feminist activism,
community building, and social justice work. Thus, the grrrl movement can be seen as a broadly based
activist community as Smith (1997) also argues. Gray (2002) claims that the grrrl movement
successfully challenges traditional definition of girls and where performances act as political
statements. Music plays an integral part in this form of third wave feminism. Hip-hop, for example, is
a mean to communicate a political message, to address the lack of equality in society, and to build
connections between classes, sexes, and races in order to mix those voices in one call for political
activism (Davis 1995; Niesel 1997). Similar, girl bands in the hip-hop and punk scene challenge the
patriarchal structure of the underground music community (Gillis and Munford 2004). But the grrrl
movement is not the only cultural place where third wave feminism takes place: creating art is seen as
enabling women to share their personal experiences and ideas; by doing so, women are able to connect
with each other and with each others ideas. Through art, women are able to construct their own
3 Zines are handwritten or printed magazines that are infrequently distributed in informal networks to a
limited number of people and serve as a medium to exchange political views and feminist information
identities and by connecting with other women, they build their own communities. It is the connection
between women that in turn can challenge traditional understandings of power and dominance (Smith
Both liberal and third wave feminism are concerned with non-electoral activism which
includes political activism in the public sphere. However, liberal feminists emphasize collective action
strategies whereas third wave feminism prefers de-centered strategies which allow for a greater
participation of the individual. Liberal feminists see a womens movement as the first step to
restructure the patriarchal system (Friedan 1963). This is why the Feminist Majority Foundation, a
liberal womens organization, encourages the training of you women to assume leadership roles in the
womens movement (About the FMF 2007) and organizes college campuses (FMF Presiden
Eleanor Smeal 2007). Liberal feminists also prefer collective actions as forms of political
participations such as the Womens Strike for Equality March (Friedan 1963, 527/528).
Although third wave feminism does not oppose the use of collective action, it voices certain
concerns about the nature of collective action. Intersectionality, difference, and inclusiveness play an
integral part within collective activism for third wave feminists. Third wave feminists acknowledge the
intersectionality between different forms of oppression as Reed (1997) illustrates in her discussion of
transgressive performances as a mean for empowerment and social change. Because these different
forms of oppressions, such as sexism, racism or homophobia, are linked and interrelated, collective
action needs to be based on a broad approach to fight the underlying oppressive power structures
(Herrup 1995, 247). This broad approach encompasses the inclusion of all women, particularly women
from different class backgrounds (Rangel 2001) as well as minorities (Brooks 2002; Edut et al. 1997).
Third wave feminists are particularly concerned with integrating multiculturalism in order to preserve
individual identities without loosing a common bond. To preserve the individual identities, they argue
that womens movements need to engage in a negotiation of differences rather than a singularly
defined struggle for equality (Klein 1997, 208). This means in part acknowledging that the liberation
can be fought for in various ways and accepting this difference as a prerequisite for enduring
liberation. For Schriefer (2001), accepting differences comes down to working together without
sacrifying our identities. Thus, coalition-building takes up an important role in third wave feminism
because it allows for inputs by various individuals and prevent a specific identity or cause being
imposed on someone (Fixmer and Wood, 2005, 241).
Third wave feminists thus prefer a more de-centered approach to reach their goals. This
includes different movements and groups of people that deal with various causes at the same time
instead of creating a unified womens movement with a hierarchical list of priorities. Third wave
feminists argue that sexism is subtle and appears in new forms, thus it is necessary to create new
strategies because old strategies are no longer adequate (Neubome 2001, 184) This is why third wave
feminists aim to redefine the meaning of activism and to broaden the definition of social change
(Herrup 1995, 249) which results in multifarious forms of political activism which can be summarized
in seven different categories: (1) Zines; these amateur magazines are an expression of the variety of
female images (Reed 1997, 217); (2) Hybrid magazines; these are a medium between feminist
magazines and zines, for example BUST (Pinterics, 2001); (3) Cyberspace; it is used to build
communities (Pinterics 2001), to interact with other activists, and to obtain information about feminist
actions (Orr, 1997, 39). Orr argues that cyberspace is the preferred forum for activism within third
wave feminism; (4) Anthologies; these are both a form of political action and written narrative that
inform third wave feminist theory (Pinterics, 2001); (5) Grass-root organizing; It that takes place on
college campus and in high schools (Pinterics, 2001; Schroef, 1993) and addresses issues such as date
rape and biased curricula on the college level and improvement of sex education or female
stereotyping at the high school level; (6) Conventional womens organization; when it comes to
conventional womens organizations, third wave feminists prefer specific causes over a unified
movement defined by a singular feminist framework (Fixmer and Wood 2005, 241). Thus, womens
organization deal with specific causes, for example violence, racism, homophobia, sexism, health care,
sex education, or eating disorders in order to improve the quality of life for all women (Schroef, 1993;
Pinterics, 2001). (7) Body images; within third wave feminism ones own body becomes a political
tool that conveys a political message as argued by Shoemaker (1997). Higginbotham (2001) claims
that fashion choices act as a statement against patriarchy and Klein (1997) sees tattoos as challenges to
traditional notions of femininity. Chemik (2001) maintains that she commits a political act when she
started to fight her eating disorder because she is refusing to support traditional beauty standards. Edut
et al. (1997) supports this notion when she calls for new body images that are natural.
Self-empowerment includes all activities that help women to fulfill their potential,
become self-reliant, find their own identity, and gain self-confidence and/or self-worth. Third wave
feminism as well as liberal feminism acknowledge that society commonly sees women only in their
biological roles as mothers and wives. As a consequence, social structures teach women that they will
find their fulfillment only by being a mother and a wife (Shoemaker 1997, 112) which makes it
complicated to expand female roles beyond this traditional understanding (Edut et al. 1997, 88).
Friedan (1963) argues that society instills in women that they can only find fulfillment through other
people such as children or a husband. Both theories arrive at the conclusion that, in order to change
this, women need to exist in their own right as put forward by Wendel (1987) or Martinez (2002). Both
theories have common themes when they address womens empowerment, self-confidence, and self-
worth. Two major themes appear in the literature that deal with self-empowerment for women: (1) the
need for women to exist in their own right, hereinafter referred to as identity; and (2)
independence from other people.
Despite this commonality, third wave feminism and liberal feminism derive different
strategies from this: Liberal feminists favor external achievements and rationalistic approaches to
empowerment such as educational or economic success. One such rational approach to self-
empowerment is that liberal feminism deals in great detail with self-fulfillment which means
womens ability to develop their full potential. In contrast, third wave feminists prefer an approach
based in embodied politics which means achieving empowerment by applying feminists beliefs to
their own life. Further, third wave feminism emphasizes the need for women to develop self-
confidence, hereinafter referred to as self-esteem.
Liberal feminism stresses the importance of education which is seen to help the development
of an individual (Wendel 1987, 77). Mill (1869) argues that an education brings not only happiness but
also empowers the individual. Wendel emphasizes that self-development is based on the exercise of
agency which includes free choice and activities that fulfill ones goals and needs. Friedan (1963)
argues in a similar way when she writes that women can only discover their identity through work that
demands the use of all their capabilities rather than to live through other people.
Third wave feminism, in contrast, focuses on individual empowerment by emphasizing the
need for the individual to express oneself and find her individual voice (Orr 1997, 33). Martinez (2002,
153), for examples, argues that women cannot base their only identity on caretaking but need to find
their own voice in order to create emotional and economic independence for themselves.
Third wave feminism emphasizes the need for women to be independent from men. What
third wave feminist authors mean by this is that women should not make their self-worth or self-
confidence dependent on the approval of a man. Senna (1995) for example, describes how she
struggled to combine her desire to be sexy and feminine with her wish to be independent. She now
understands empowerment as being attractive to but also independent from men. She encourages
women to live their femininity without sacrifying their independence. Austin (2002) recalls what her
mother taught her about womens power and authority, teaching her about feminism without being
aware of it. The author sees education as a mean to become independent from men (163) and Klein
(1997, 218) wants women to be empowered without seeing men as their saviors. Webb (1995, 210)
argues that women need to claim their sovereignty understood as the freedom to be self-governed.
Liberal feminism, on the other hand, emphasizes economic means to become independent.
Both Taylor Mill (1851) and Mill (1969) argue that economic independence from a husband will
empower women. Friedan (1997, 520) picks up the same argument, when she claims that earning
power gives women equality and human dignity. In Feminine Mystique she illustrates in great detail
how participating in the paid workforce increases womens self-worth because they are doing
something for themselves instead for others. She goes one step further by saying that volunteer work is
not enough to find ones own identity. Women need to work in a profession that is valued by society. In
her opinion, self-esteem is based on real capacity, competence, and achievement (345) which cannot
be realized by being a housewife because this work is neither valued nor paid by society.
This is an issue that is emphasized in liberal feminist literature. Liberal feminism maintains
that in order to find fulfillment, women need to develop their full potential (The National
Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose). Mill (1869) argues that sex should not
determine opportunities in life and Friedan (1963, 496) emphasizes the need for culture to change in
order for women to develop their full potential. Friedan sees politics, professions, the sciences, and the
arts as catalysts for women to find self-fulfillment and volunteering for social institutions, such as the
PTA, as one possibility to make life more fulfilling.
Third wave feminists, in contrast, do not address self-fulfillment in detail but rather focus on
creating self-esteem for women. Third wave feminism emphasizes culture and body images as means
to find empowerment and self-esteem. Pough (2002) writes about the power of music performances
claiming that performing on a microphone gives strength. Reed (1997, 217) sees zines with their
expression of various female images as empowering. In general, Grrrl culture enables girls to express
themselves by providing a safe and supportive space (Orr 1997, 38). Reed argues that by making the
shortcomings of ones body visible, women feel less shameful about their own bodies, thus boosting
their self-esteem. Edut et al. (1997) criticizes the female obsession with outer appearance because this
keeps women from looking after their souls and mind and hinders their self-development. Webb (1995,
212) calls attention to the importance of ones upbringing when she argues that ones upbringing
determines ones self-confidence and self-esteem to a great extent. And Leong (2002, 344) emphasizes
the importance of differences when she argues that one category is never adequate to represent one
individual. By ignoring differences and the varying experiences that difference causes, the ability for
women to become empowered is impeded.
By emphasizing the need to address sex discrimination in daily life, third wave feminism is a
proponent of embodied politics, a topic that is not prominent in liberal feminism. Fixmer and Wood
(2005) define embodied politics as the use of individual forms of actions to change society by
exercising resistance in everyday life (237). Consequently, third wave feminists believe that social and
political change will be achieved through individual life choices (Ellis 2001; Fixmer and Wood 2005;
Smith 1997). Allyn and Allyn (1995), for example, describe their struggle to come up with a common
family name because they reject the custom for women to take their husbands name. Through this
experience they come to believe that individuals themselves can transform ancient traditions. In a
similar manner, McCarry (2001) argues that social change starts at home with little acts that recognize
feminism as something good, through activities one undertakes with friends and family, and through
ones own actions. By stressing individual life choices as a mean to social change, it comes as no
surprise that Herrup (1995) stresses that social change is not exclusively attainable with collective
action because politics are interpersonal in the way one talks in private life and how people treat each
other. With this in mind, Pinterics (2001) discusses the popularity of zines in third wave feminism.
Similar, Lamm (2001) argues that feminist activism is based on each individuals voice or words.
Thus, to bringing about social change, it is necessary to point out sexism where and when it
occurs by speaking out in one's community, by writing and distributing zines, and by speaking with
relatives and friends (Neubome 2001; Fixmer and Wood 2005; Smith 1997; Bowleg 2001). Shah
(2001) and Bowleg (2001) deal with the same issue: how do you integrate feminist ideas in your own
culture and traditional framework that is either not familiar or opposed to feminist ideas? They argue
that, when talking with friends and family, it is important to realize that embodied politics can only
work if one re-interprets feminism in a way that resonates with individual life experiences. It is
important to use words that are familiar to the individual so he/her can understand feminism on his/her
own term. All the above-described individual choices of words and different feminisms have a
common goal: to confront demeaning discursive frameworks with the help of language.
Even though liberal and third wave feminism share common assumptions, such as the need to
alter patriarchal structures in society and the need to break down the gendered roles for women, they
put a different emphasis on each of the three dimensions. Liberal feminists place their focus on
political advancement whereas third wave feminists emphasize civic participation. Nonetheless, liberal
feminists also address civic participation but in a different manner: they see civic participation in terms
of conventional political strategies and issues whereas third wave feminists understand civic
participation in terms of culture and daily life.
Liberal feminists are highly concerned with political, social, and economic equality for
women in society. As a consequence, they focus on the role and situation of women particularly in the
public sphere. Liberal feminists stress the importance to achieve parity in elected and appointed office.
They encourage women to run for office, to participate in the electoral process as voters, and to fill
high-level professions. Thus, liberal feminists aim to abolish any barriers that might hinder women
from entering into the public sphere of society. One such barrier is de-jure discrimination for women
which liberal feminists work against. Thus, to achieve equality, liberal feminists prefer legal means
such as lawsuits and legislation. Further, liberal feminists advocate for collective action strategies that
are based on a broad agenda: namely to achieve equality for women in society. Even the means in
which women become empowered, demonstrate liberal feminisms focus on the public sphere: women,
liberal feminists argue, can only develop their full potential if they participate in the paid workforce
and become full members in (public) society. Independence for women, for example, is understood as
economic independence from men as a mean for empowerment.
Third wave feminism emphasizes a de-centered approach which means that strategies, beliefs,
and empowerment make room for the individual. Collective strategies are not entirely opposed but
framed through a conversation and awareness about the different experiences of women, how women
are subject to multiple forms of oppressions, and the importance of multiculturalism. The use of
embodied politics is an attempt to reconcile these differences and intersectionalities by encouraging
women to fight sexist structure on their own terms and in their own communities. At the same time,
embodied politics serve as means of empowerment for women. Addressing de-facto discrimination is
key in this struggle. Thus, third wave feminists stress civic participation over all the other dimensions
because social change is believed to come through a de-centered approach that values individual life
choices and human interaction.
De-centering is again emphasized when third wave feminism addresses self-empowerment.
Self-empowerment is understood as the ability to express oneself; and being independent means to
create a feeling of self-worth based on who you are rather than depending on the approval of others.
Applying these beliefs to the missions and strategies of the two womens organizations, it
should be obvious that none of the organizations will represent an ideal case for any theory. Rather,
these organizations will be informed by both liberal and third wave feminist theory but will employ the
ideas to varying degrees. Thus, one can only reach the conclusion that one organization utilizes one
theory to a greater extent than the other.
THE WHITE HOUSE PROJECT
ADD WOMEN CHANGE EVERYTHING
In this chapter, I will analyze to what degree the White House Project is influenced and
shaped by liberal and third wave feminism. In this framework, 1 will determine how these two feminist
trajectories are normalized and institutionalized within the White House Project and whether the
organization constructs and defines its own feminist ideas. These questions are important for several
reasons. First, as the work of Foucault illustrates, organizations are formed as a response to a certain
discourse that takes place in society (Caputo and Yount 1993). Discourse not only shapes how people
construct certain ideas but also determines who is allowed to define these ideas (Rothenberg 1990).
Second, organizations produce their own knowledge that informs a certain discourse (Cooper
and Burrell 1988). Thus, the presence of an organization is usually seen as a sign of normalization and
institutionalization of the ideas the respective organization advocates (McKinley and Starkey 1998;
Oksala 2008). As a consequence, the knowledge that the White House Project produces will potentially
become normalized as well as institutionalized in society. That being so, this chapter will also analyze
not only to what degree the White House Project construct and defines certain feminist ideas but also
to what degree the organization normalizes and institutionalizes these ideas. Based on Foucaults ideas
about discourse, this thesis is designed to examine the interrelationship between liberal and third wave
feminism and two specific womens organizations4. To do this, I will first give a brief overview of the
two feminist trajectories. Then, I will describe the mission and activities of the White House Project
before 1 begin my analyses I have laid out above.
Liberal feminism centers around the ideas of political, economic, social, and legal equality
between men and women (About the FMF 2007; Mission and Principles 2007). Creating economic
and educational opportunities for women are seen as prerequisites to achieve full equality for women
(Mill 1869; Taylor Mill 1851). Thus, liberal feminists encourage women to pursue a higher education
and a career because this enables them to participate in public life as voters, politicians, or activists
(Wendel 1987; Friedan 1963). This public involvement is important because only when women
actively participate in politics, womens interests and rights are protected (Mill 1869) and only then
women are able to change society (Friedan 1963). Likewise, an education, a career and political
4 The White House Project and the Latina Initiative
engagement are means for empowerment because they allow women to develop their full potential
(Friedan 1963; Wendel 1987; Mill 1869). Aiding this process is a womens movement that pushes for
changes in law and practice that will bring full equality to women (Friedan 1963; About the FMF
In contrast, third wave feminism focuses on intersectionality, differences among women, and
inclusiveness5 (Tong 2009, 284-289). The third wave feminist approach to achieving equality is
characterized by a de-centered strategy where multifarious issues are pursued at the same time through
various forms of action (Pinterics 2001; Neubome 2001). For third wave feminists, a de-centered
approach is more likely to induce societal change than collective action strategies (Herrup 1995).
Further, third wave feminists emphasizes de-facto discrimination, i.e. sex discrimination as it occurs in
daily life (Fixmer and Wood 2005). Accordingly, they encourage women to point out sexism where
and when it occurs in order to bring about societal change. In addition, pop culture plays a great role in
third wave feminism because it enables women to express themselves and raise their concerns (Gillis
and Munford 2001). Likewise, empowerment is based in finding their own voice and identity, which is
often facilitate by cultural means or the discussion of body images (Orr 1997; Poug 2002; Edut et al.
1997). Another form of empowerment derives from confronting sex discrimination in daily life6 (Smith
1997; Bowleg 2001).
To better analyze the ideas in liberal and third wave feminism, 1 organized the various
feminist ideas into three categories7: (1) Political Advancement includes all ideas that further the role
of women in the public sphere such as increasing the number of women in politics; (2) Civic
Participation which comprises ideas that aim to change gender perceptions in society through non-
electoral means, for example portraying men as stay-at-home parents on TV; and (3) Self-
Empowerment which encompasses all ideas that aim to boost the self-esteem and confidence among
women like teaching women to love their body regardless of societys beauty standards.
The Mission of the White House Project
Marie Wilson founded the White House Project in 1998 with the objective of creating an
organization that would increase the number of women in leadership positions (personal
5 For a thorough discussion about these concepts, please refer to chapter 2
6 The concept by which empowerment comes from confronting sexism is called embodied politics and
is discussed in more detail in chapter 2
7 For a more detailed discussion of the three categories, please refer to the methodology section in
communication, April 22, 2009). At that time, Wilson worked at the Ms. Foundation funding activities
across the country that helped women and girls. In this capacity, she experienced first hand that
legislative achievements on the behalf of women would only be secure until new leaders were elected.
Wilson soon realized that legislative achievements for women were not permanently secure as long as
women were not the ones sitting in the legislature and voting. With that in mind, she set out to create
an organization that put women into leadership positions so they could deliver social change for
women: To trust in women is to trust in a different future awash with ideas and lit by the energy of all
people (Wilson 2004, xvi).
This insight became the mission of the White House Project: to increase female leadership in
business, politics, and the media (Annual Report 2007). The main objective of this organization is thus
to call more women into top positions because, as the organization asserts, numbers matter (Wilson
2004, xii). As a consequence, the White House Project is built on the idea that a critical mass of
women is needed in the legislatures and corporate world so that there are enough women available to
fill the top positions in both areas (Mission Statement 2009). The documents of the organization
refer to this critical mass as the need to fill the political and corporate pipeline with women.
According to the White House Project, if more women are present in politics and business, this will not
only make other women more comfortable to pursue leadership positions but will also make the
political and corporate atmosphere more hospitable to women. This in turn, will encourage more
women to run for office or enter the corporate world (Wilson 2004, 21, 64). As a staff member of the
White House Project put it,
[What] makes the White House Project fairly unique is we focus on numbers. We train ten
times more women than other organizations. And that is because we know it is not about just
one woman, it is not about one woman in the White House. It's about the day that is normal to
see a woman in leadership. So that when women are elected, they are not asked how did you do
this, they are not an anomaly anymore (personal communication with Faith Winter, April 22,
The White House staff maintain that women are needed in lower level politics because it is at the state
level where people are recruited for the highest political offices in the country: the lack of women in
the political pipeline is a serious issue for electing women to the highest office [the presidency]
(Wilson 2004, 5).
The overall goal is to build a truly representative democracy where women join men equally
in leadership (Marie Wilson. President and Founder 2009), thus creating gender parity in business,
politics, and culture (New Case Statement 2009, 3). Equal leadership is hereby understood as both
numerical and substantive representation. The activities of the White House Project emphasize
numerical representation, which sees equal representation in quantitative terms (personal
communication May 23, 2009; Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2005, 42). Ideally, the White House Project
works towards 50% female leaders in all appointed and elected office as well as among corporate
executives (personal communication with Faith Winter, May 23, 2009). Currently, however, the first
step is to achieve a critical mass of 30% in all leadership circles. Thus, the goal is to make those
institutions and businesses more numerically representative by adding more women (Mission
Statement 2009). As Wilson puts it in her book Closing the Leadership Gap Women populate half
the democracy; we should occupy half the positions of leadership both for gender equity and because
women, a natural resources, should be minded for energy(2004, v).
In contrast, substantive representation is concerned with the qualitative changes women bring
to politics, for example their ability to change public policy or political culture (Dahlerup and
Freidenvall 2005, 42). From the position of the White House Project, the need for more women in
leadership is based on two arguments that are rooted in the concept of substantive representation. First,
gender inequality means the loss of female talents to the political and corporate world: women
represent an untapped source of energy that should be harvested (Wilson 2004, v). Wilson argues that
women have valuable, and multifarious insights that are not reflected in important decisions as long as
women are not part of the leadership. Also, including women makes policies more inclusive and
sustainable (Mission Statement 2009). Second, women possess different qualities than men that
make them better suited for leadership and problem solving (Wilson 2004; Web site of the White
House Project). For example, Wilson maintains that female leadership is characterized by greater
inclusiveness, empathy, communication up and down hierarchies, focus on broader issues which will
result in stronger governments and richer business (Wilson 2004, 6).
Activities and Strategies of the White House Project
Wilson argues that there is an urgent need to reshape social institutions in a way that makes
them more welcoming to female power and thus will create more room for women at the top because
When it comes to womens leadership, we live in a land of deep resistance, with structural and
emotional impediments burned into the culture of our organizations, into our society, and into
the psyche and expectations of both sexes. (Wilson 2004, xii)
According to Wilson, one way to reshape social institutions is to transform culture. Culture is
important to increase female leadership for various reasons: first, Wilson argues that culture provides
role models for the power structure in society (2004, xv). Second, culture and the stories present in
culture, for example fairy tales or movies, have a great influence on societal perception about the
world. By altering stories and cultural patterns, it is possible to change these perceptions. And finally,
culture has an influence on the way people see leaders (Wilson 2004; New Case Statement 2009, 2).
Culture can change social perceptions of what a leader should look like and it can normalize the
presence of female leaders. In this regard, popular culture in the form of television, books, movies,
journalism, and advertisements represents an important tool to change the self-perception and the
expected roles for both sexes (Change Culture 2009). Showing women as leaders repeatedly in
popular culture, even as fictional characters, can lead to reconstructed truths and a shift in the
normalization of women in leadership, according to Wilson (Wilson 2004, 27, 129, 125, 127).
Popular culture is not simply entertainment (...); it stays with us long after we digest it, and it
provides the young with opportunities to see themselves in life roles. It tells them what a CEO
looks like and what a cop looks like (...) and what a president looks like. (Wilson 2004, 132)
For example, Wilson cooperated with Mattel Inc. to create President Barbie. The objective of
President Barbie was to connect popular culture with politics, media, and business and to allow little
girls to dream about the presidency (Wilson 2004, 117/118).
Due to the influence media has on culture, it is seen as an essential tool for change within the
White House Projects activities (Wilson 2004, 144). In particular, the White House Project criticizes
that the media rarely invite women as experts on shows, thus devaluing the opinion of women in public
discourse. As a response to the lack of female experts on TV, the White House Project, in cooperation
with The Womens Funding Network and Fenton Communications, founded shesource.org, a project
that aims to make female leaders visible in the media. Shesource is a database listing over 450 women
with expertise in international and domestic issues. Further, the project regularly contacts over 500
journalists, bookers, and producers three times a week to introduce them to female experts they might
not know (Annual Report 2007,1, 7; New Case Statement 2009, 8; Shesource.org 2009). By
increasing the number of female experts in the media, women and men equally get accustomed to
women as experts in the public sphere.
Regarding the treatment of female politicians, the White House Project addresses the way the
media portray and cover female candidates. According to Wilson, the press does not cover female
candidates to the same extent that it does male candidates and the coverage tends to undermine female
authority, so the organization offers media trainings to female candidates (Wilson 2004, 38/39) during
which women leam how to get their message across (Annual Report 2007, 7).
The political participation of women is another important element in order to advance female
leadership because, according to Wilson, it is political involvement plus a critical mass of women that
will induce societal change (Wilson 2004, xiv). Women helping Women Win (hereinafter referred to
as WHWW) is a program designed to encourage women to lead a political and civic life to eventually
become leaders themselves:
WHWW equips women with the experience, relationships, and support required to excel in the
political landscape through legislative internships, campaign volunteer opportunities and
mentorships. WHWW is building the base of support to make sure more and more women are
successful when they decide to run for office and is inspiring more women to step into
leadership roles in the political arena. (Women helping women win 2009)
In order to lead a political life, the White House Project encourages women to try a plethora
of activities: volunteer for a political party or for a campaign; get involved in an issue campaign; or
intern at media outlets (Lead a Political Life Resources 2009). To encourage womens leadership,
the White House Project published a detailed list of suggestions including: becoming an expert about
issues you are passionate about; gaining experience with organizations and campaigns; becoming a
problem-solver; and finally, inviting other women to run for elected office (Take the Lead 2009).
Starting with one seemingly simple activity often opens the door for women to continue being
involved and to pursue a life with more political involvement.
This last suggestion, inviting other women to run for elected office, points again to the main
goal of the White House Project: to recruit as many women as possible for political office. The
cornerstone of the activities of the White House Project is the Go Vote/Run/Lead training series. The
motto of these trainings is inspire, inform, and equip (personal communication with Faith Winter,
April 22, 2009). For The White House Project, Go Vote is the first step to filling the pipeline with
women. It gives women the tools they need to lead a civic life, providing them information on voter
education and mobilization, electoral law, phone banking, canvassing and even hosting house parties
(New Case Statement 2009, 8);
The first step is we have to get them voting. We have to get them involved in the community
which is why we train women on how to testify at the legislature or how to lobby because you
are more likely to run for office if you have lobbied on a bill before, because then you are going
to know that you can write your own bill. You're not going to run for office until you vote. So at
the same time we're getting as many women as possible to vote and then we want to see them
continue this leadership pipeline and see themselves in the process, (personal communication
with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009)
The next step is Go Run during which prospective candidates are trained on how to
competitively and effectively run for office. Topics include campaign strategy, fundraising, and
communications (New Case Statement 2009, 8). The goal of Go Run is to make the political process
accessible and comprehensible to women (Go Run 2009) and to inspire diverse women to run for
office. Go Lead equips women that are active in public life with the skills they need to be successful
such as speech writing or message development (New Case Statement 2009, 8). An essential part of
these trainings is not only to inform about and train women in the technical skills they need to run for
office but to inspire, and empower them to do so.
The inspiration piece is really helping women making this decision to run for office. You never
feel ready to run for office so the inspire piece is meant to introduce them to women that look
like them, hearing their stories, hearing how you can be single and run for office or have a kid
and run for office or be a lesbian and run for office, (personal communication with Faith
Winter, April 22, 2009)
These trainings are organized by the regional offices in cooperation with local organizations
and community leaders in order to adequately address locally important issues (Annual Report 2007,
3). The national office focuses on researching the barriers to female leadership and ways to increase
the number of female leaders, while the regional offices apply these insights and put women into
office. The organization works through regional offices because trainings are more successful when
they are based in the community. For example, the Colorado chapter organized a Latina Debate Boot
Camp together with the Latina Initiative when immigration was a prominent issue in state politics. The
Colorado chapter also offers trainings on the Colorado budget because in Colorado, knowledge about
the budget process is vital in order to get elected and be successful in office (personal communication
with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009). Thus, through the use of trainings at the local/regional level, the
organization is able to specialize and highlight specific skills women will need to effectively run in
The White House Project aims to recruit women who are traditionally untapped within other
political circles. These are women who run non-profits, blue-collar workers, small business owners, or
stay-at-home moms; women that have never seen themselves in the political process. This is another
reason why the White House Project operates through its regional offices. According to a staff member
in the White House Project,
If you actually want to bring them into the training, and get them make the decision [to run for
office], and really get the untapped, you have to be part of the community. That is why we do
our work through our regional offices instead of doing national trainings (personal
communication with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009).
In order to recruit these women, the organization has a diversity standard regarding ethnicity, class,
and age: the training should consist of at least 30% women of color, 30% low-income women, and
30% of women under age 35. The goal is to put diverse women into office who represent the whole
spectrum of social groups and not just middle class white females (personal communication with Faith
Winter, April 22, 2009). In Colorado, of all women trained during Go Run trainings, 51% were under
the age of 35, 36% were women of color, and 42% had an income of $30,000 or less. Because of the
demographics in Colorado, most of the women of color are Latina (personal communication April 22,
Apart from trainings, the White House Project activities aim to build a network among
women. The organization emphasizes the importance of women supporting other women, arguing that
it will create upward mobility among them (Wilson 2004, 48-50). The Invite a Woman to Run event
is not only meant to empower women to make the decision to run but also to create networks among
the women attending (Invite a women to run 2009). Again, the White House Project focuses on
numbers: the more women participate in this network and step forward to lead, the safer women feel to
run for office (Wilson 2004, 50). The creation of networks among women is important because these
networks equip women with the resources (volunteers as well as financial and emotional support)
necessary to run for office (personal communication with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009).
However, Wilson recognizes that networks alone are not enough to create societal change.
Networks need to be complemented by individual efforts in daily life (2004, 67). For example, in one
of their electronic newsletter in February 2009, the White House Project called on the public to voice
their anger about a radio host who referred to a female politician as a vagina. Individual efforts include
challenging values and stereotypes in ones own life to accommodate women in leadership roles. This
can include a father who decides to stay at home or a woman who pursues her political ambitions.
Further, women should talk about their ambitions and educate friends and family about female
leadership. In this manner, every small step will bring societal transformation closer. All of the above
mentioned activities work together to provide a strong framework in which women gain the
confidence, knowledge, and tools needed to change the face of leadership.
The Interrelationship Between Feminist Theories and the White House Project
Considering the mission and objectives of the White House Project, and comparing these to
the liberal and third wave feminist theories, strong parallels can be drawn between the work of this
organization and issues and ideas central to liberal feminism. Liberal feminist authors have long
argued for the inclusion of women in the public sphere. Harriett Taylor Mill (1851) and John Stuart
Mill (1869) espoused access to suffrage for women. Other authors such as Betty Friedan (1963) or
Susan Wendel (1987) picked up a similar yet more expansive demand: achieving political equality
understood as parity in elected and appointed office. On a broader scale, liberal feminists argue for
legal, social, economic, and political equality (About the FMF 2007). These goals are a recurring
theme in both the NOW Statemenent of Purpose (1966) and the publications by Eleanor Smeal,
founder and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The close connection to liberal feminism is demonstrated by Wilsons argument in the first
few pages of her book where she promotes political, economic, and social equality:
All of my adult life I have preached the virtues of power sharing between men and women. The
arrangement seemed not only fair, but also obvious: Women populate half the democracy; we
should occupy half the positions of leadership (2004, v).
Later, she addresses the lack of parity in political office and economic leadership among women and
men and the need to amend this inequality:
Right now, for all its strides, our country is tremendously imbalanced in leadership. Of 435
seats in the House of Representatives, only 59 are occupied by women; of 100 senators, only 14
are women. Only 24 women have ever been governors in the United States. Women are nearly
half the workforce, yet we make up only 12 percent of top executives and 15.7% of corporate
officers; we hold a mere 12.4% of board seats in five hundred of the countrys largest
companies (2004, xii).
From this, Wilson concludes:
It would seem, then, that we still have a long way to go. Few women in top leadership
positions, and a pipeline barely wet with them, translates directly into unilateral male choices
for how we live, and thats not good (2004, 5).
These quotations clearly illustrate the liberal feminist ideas of political and economic equality that
Wilson advocates. Achieving gender parity is a consistent and recurring theme within the scope of
liberal feminisms as it has been articulated in the US for much of the 20lh century by liberal feminist
authors. Taylor Mill (1851), for example, addresses the enfranchisement of women their admission, in
law and in fact, to equality in all rights, political, civil, and social with the male citizens of the
community (93). Later she writes
Even those who do not look upon a voice in the government as a matter of personal right (...)
have usually traditional maxims of political justice with which it is impossible to reconcile the
exclusion of all women from the common rights of citizenship (97).
Mill (1869) asserts that
The principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes the legal
subordination of one sex to the other is wrong in itself (...) and that it ought to be replaced by
a principle of perfect equality (125).
In their comment on the Equal Rights Amendment, Smeal and Burk (2007) argue that
We need women's constitutional equality in this country. Women are not, and cannot be, legally
equal to men without it. The United States must declare that women are equal under the law, no
matter which state we live in, without reservation.
In the National Organization for Women's 1966 Statement of Purpose, Friedan and other founders of
the organizations stressed that
NOW is dedicated to the proposition that women, first and foremost, are human beings, who,
like all other people in our society, must have the chance to develop their fullest human
potential. We believe that women can achieve such equality only by accepting to the full the
challenges and responsibilities they share with all other people in our society, as part of the
decision-making mainstream of American political, economic and social life.
This voice is picked up in the mission of the White House Project, which is to achieve gender parity in
business, politics, and culture, or more broadly in the public sphere. The overall goal is to build a
representative democracy where women and men are equally present in leadership:
The White House Project (...) aims to advance womens leadership in all communities and
sectors, up to the U.S. presidency. By filling the leadership pipeline with a richly diverse,
critical mass of women, we make American institutions, businesses and government truly
representative (About Us 2009).
Another idea that the White House Project shares with liberal feminism is advocating parity
specifically for elected and appointed office. The White House Project understands equal leadership as
both numerical and substantive representation. However, the White House Project emphasizes
numerical representation in its efforts because one of the main organizational goals is to make public
institutions numerically representative by increasing the number of women.
In particular, liberal feminist urge women to run for office (The National Organization for
Womens 1966 Statement of Pupropse; FMF President Eleanor Smeal 2007). This idea is central
to the White House Project: it is the essential belief of the organization that a critical mass of women in
political office is needed in order to have enough women available for the top leadership positions.
Thus, the programs of the White House Project center on the need to fill the political pipeline with
women. The training series Go Vote/Run/Lead, and in particular Go Run and Invite a Women to Run
event specifically aim to recruit as many women as possible for political office and train them to run
successfully for office.
Closely connected to the goal of achieving parity in political office, are the efforts of liberal
feminists to increase the number of women participating in politics, for example as voters (Friedan
1963; The National Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Pupropse). This idea is also
reflected in the activities of the White House Project. Women Helping Women Win is designed to
encourage women to become involved in politics. The organization suggests various activities such as
volunteering for political parties or issue campaigns. The Go Vote training is intended to bring women
into the electoral process by explaining the voting process and background to women. Its main goal is
to integrate women into the electoral process.
To achieve the liberal feminist idea of political, economic, social, and legal equality, it is
necessary to identify and dismantle the barriers that impede gender equality (Taylor Mill 1851; Mill
1869; Friedan 1963). This is exactly what the White House Project does: the national office is charged
with identifying impediments to female leadership and the regional offices try to dismantle them
through their trainings and other activities. For example, the national office saw the way media portray
female candidates as an obstacle to advancing female leadership. Media coverage is often framed in a
way that makes it hard for female candidates to get their message across or establish authority. Thus,
the White House Project offers media trainings that help women to overcome these obstacles.
A major impediment that was identified by the national office was that cultural attitudes in
society impede the advancement of women into leadership positions (personal communication with
Faith Winter, April 22, 2009). As Wilson states in her book: our business is no longer just gender
equity, but the more sweeping industry of social transformation (2004, xvii). By devoting parts of its
organizational efforts to the transformation of culture and by addressing discriminations that women
face in the cultural realm, the White House Project integrates a characteristic of third wave feminism
into the organization. Liberal feminists acknowledge that in order to achieve full equality both de-jure
and de-facto discrimination must be addressed (Wendel 1987); in contrast, third wave feminists focus
mainly on de-facto discrimination (Fixmer and Wood 2005). This is accomplished by addressing sex
discrimination as it occurs in daily life, for example in culture. Wilson (2004) recognizes the need to
address de-facto discrimination when she argues that discrimination and barriers to leadership are
nowadays more de-facto and subtler than they used to be.
The interest in popular culture within the White House Project thus clearly resonates with
third wave feminist ideas: third wave feminists utilize music and alternative art forms such as zines to
challenge the traditional understanding of power and hierarchy (Smith 1997; Gillis and Munford
2004). For example, the riot grrrl movement challenged gender stereotypes in the punk scene (Klein
1997). The White House Projects staff utilizes strategies that are common to third wave feminism in
its quest to transform culture but focuses on more traditional cultural outlets such as TV, books,
movies, and advertisement, for example it espouses the integration of female leaders in popular TV
series such as The West Wing (Wilson 2004). The objective is the same as in third wave feminism: by
invading popular culture, the White House Project tries to challenge gender stereotypes and traditional
understandings of power. One example is President Barbie that helped little girls to see themselves as
the President of the US. Overall, one of the organizational goals is to provide role models for girls and
change traditional perceptions about leadership.
Despite this commonality with third wave feminism, the White House Project aims to alter
power structures to include women rather than inducing a systematic change of the present power
structure. The White House Projects sees cultural transformation more as a prerequisite to achieve the
liberal feminist goal of political, social, and economic equality. Thus, the reasoning behind the White
House Projects efforts to transform culture remain rooted in liberal feminism: it is to increase the
number of women in leadership (personal communication with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009).
Although the issue of popular culture belongs in the category of civic participation, all the
above ideas exemplify the category of political advancement. Yet, the White House Project also
addresses civic participation and self-empowerment. Important elements of civic participation are the
forms of non-electoral activism. Liberal feminism emphasizes the use of collective action strategies for
civic participation such as large-scale demonstration (Friedan 1963). These strategies also include the
presence of a unified womens movement, the training of women for leadership positions, and the
organization of college campuses (About FMF 2007; Friedan 1963).
Regarding the strategies of The White House Project, the organization favors a specific kind
of collective action strategy. It stresses the importance of creating networks among women, the need
for female solidarity, and support of one another while climbing the leadership latter (personal
communication with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009). By trying to train as many women as possible and
equip them with the tools necessary to achieve leadership positions, the organization emphasizes
numbers. The Lead a Political Life and the Become a Leader programs attempt to build leadership
among women. These activities represent a form of large-scale demonstration because they create a
massive influx of women into leadership and political positions a strategy used by liberal feminists.
However, the organization also shares elements with third wave feminism regarding non-
electoral activism. Third wave feminism is frequently characterized by a de-centered approach (Ellis
2001). The de-centered approach rejects national hierarchical organizations and prefers different
movements and groups of people that deal with various specific issues at the same time (Neubome
2001; Herrup 1995). This means that third wave feminists, instead of being part of a national womens
movement with specific goals, are active in various issue campaigns that are not necessarily connected
to each other. In this manner, third wave feminists advocate many specific issues at the same time
without having a priority list which goal should be achieved first.
Even though the White House Project is a national organization, it operates through its
regional offices, which plan and implement the trainings. Thus, the White House Project demonstrates
a preference for regional horizontal organizational structures rather than a national hierarchical one. On
the same note, the organization does not have a strict mandate of issues that women are supposed to be
trained in but rather allows the regional office to decide which issues are important for them in their
respective community (personal communication with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009). For example, the
Colorado office offers trainings on immigration and the Colorado budget, while the Minnesota office
has a program designed for rural women. This demonstrates that the regional offices, not the national,
deal with various diverging issues at the same time.
Inclusiveness is another prominent concept in third wave feminism, which is also found in the
organizational structures of the White House Project. Third wave feminism differentiates itself from
liberal feminism by stressing the importance of multiculturalism and the need to include women of all
ethnicities and classes instead of just white middle class women that dominated in the womens
liberation movement during the 1970s (Rangel 2001; Brooks 2002; Edut et al. 1997). In particular the
inclusion of women from different class backgrounds and minorities is advocated. This sentiment is
reflected in the organizational wide diversity standard for White House Projects trainings: minorities,
low-income, and young women must be adequately represented. The organizational goal is to put
diverse women into office and specifically women that are traditionally untapped by political circles
such as mothers, entrepreneurs, and young women (personal communication with Faith Winter, April
The last category that is included in the coding template is the role of self-empowerment.
Even though the White House Project addresses this category, it is clearly not as prominent as political
advancement and civic participation. As mentioned before, the White House Project emphasizes the
creation of networks among women. However, the organization acknowledges that extended networks
are not enough to bring about social change. Equally important is the role of the individual. This idea is
found in third wave feminism in the form of embodied politics. Fixmer and Wood (2005) characterize
embodied politics as the use of individual forms of actions, including the making of individual life
choices, to address and resist sex discrimination in daily life. This includes pointing out sexism when
you encounter it as well as making individual life choices that challenge gender stereotypes. These
ideas are also put forward by Marie Wilsons call (2004, 67) to challenge values and stereotypes in
ones own life in order to accommodate leadership roles for women. This includes making the decision
to be a stay at home dad or a woman to run for office. Further, the White House Project encourages
individual forms of actions in its catalog of activities in order to become a leader. Among others, the
list includes talking with your friends about issues that concern you or publish your opinions online.
Ultimately, the individual has to make the decision to run for office, i.e. making an individual life
choice, establishing that embodied politics are inherently embedded within the activities of the White
Finally, the idea of creating self-esteem for women is prominent in third wave feminist
thought. Cultural forms and body images are used to create self-esteem for women (Pough 2002; Reed
1999; Edut et al. 1997). The ability to perform songs or the rejection of traditional beauty standards are
regarded as a way to increase self-esteem for women. The creation of self-esteem is an essential part of
the Go Run Training: by introducing participants to women that have the same flaws as they do, for
example are as young, as gay, or as single, the White House Project tries to boost the self-esteem of the
participants (personal communication with Faith Winter, April 22, 2009). Through increasing their
confidence, the White House Project aims to empower the trainees to make the decision to run for
office. This strategy is similar to the concern of third wave feminism with body images. By talking
about body images and accepting their bodies as they are, rather than conforming to the beauty
standards of the industry, third wave feminism empowers women. This same strategy is applied to the
Go Run trainings: by rejecting the typical standards of what a leader looks like and by introducing
women to female leaders that are just like them, the Go Run training empowers women politically.
Most other organizations trainings focus only on technical skills, whereas the trainings of the White
House Project have an empowering element specifically geared towards women, as an alumna argues,
when I went to the progressive majority training, I knew how to calculate my 51 %8. When 1 went to
the White House Projects training, 1 knew that 1 could do it (personal communication with Faith
Winter, April 22, 2009). Having attended both the Go Run training and the Invite a women to run
event, 1 can attest to the feeling of empowerment that is created during these events. By simply being
in a room full of women that say, 1 can do this or I will support you, the sky becomes the limit.
The aim of this chapter is to answer three questions: first, to which degree is the White House
Project influenced and shaped by liberal and third wave feminism? Second, which feminist ideas are
constructed and defined by the White House Project? And third, to which degree does the White House
Project normalize and institutionalize certain feminist ideas?
Marie Wilson founded the White House Project with the goal of bringing more women in top
leadership positions particularly in politics, business, and the media. That being so, I argue that the
White House Project is greatly informed by liberal feminist values in regards to gender parity within
the public sphere and political, economic, and social equality in more general terms. As 1 will detail
below, the White House Project is also influenced by third wave feminism in regards to its activities
and strategies. However, I will hold that the White House Project is to a greater extent influenced by
liberal feminism than by third wave feminism.
8 This 51% refers to the number of votes needed in the electoral districts to win the election and how to
get these votes.
Construction and Definition of Feminist Ideas. I argue that the White House Project
constructs and defines a number of feminist ideas regarding gender parity in the public sphere. First,
the organization confronts the call for more women in leadership positions. Even though this is a
common liberal theme, Wilson defines the need for female leadership on her own terms. She argues
that women are needed because the lack of women represents a loss of talent to society. In this way,
the White House Project defines the need for leadership in liberal feminist terms.
Second, the White House Project constructs and re-defines the face of leadership. The White
House Project achieves this in three ways. On the one hand, the organization constructs and defines
female leadership through cultural transformation. By changing the perception of leadership in popular
culture and the media, the White House Project is able to form and identify a new type of leadership
that includes female traits as positive. This includes efforts such as President Barbie and lobbying
Hollywood producers to have a woman portray the president or a CEO on TV or in the movies.
On the other hand, the White House Project characterizes leadership by embracing
inclusiveness. By recruiting diverse and nontraditional candidates to run for office, the organization
broadens the societal understanding of leadership. Instead of recruiting old, white, and middle-class
women, the White House Project aims to engage women traditionally not seen as viable candidates.
This includes women from different ethnic and class backgrounds as well as young women. In
addition, the Corporate Council aims to transform leadership ideals in the corporate world. Because
challenging traditional understandings of power and the concern with inclusiveness are ideas promoted
in third wave feminism, the White House Project integrates third wave feminist ideas into the
Normalization and Institutionalization. The activities of the White House Project contribute to
the normalization of female political candidates. This in turn contributes to the normalization of the
liberal feminist goal to achieve parity in elected and appointed office. This standardization is
accomplished in multiple ways. First, by changing the perception of female leadership through cultural
means, the White House Project makes female leaders acceptable in the fictional world, and in time an
ideal that will eventually translate itself into the real world. Second, Shesource is a conscious effort to
bring more female leaders to the news in order to normalize the presence of women as experts. Third,
the Go Run training brings women into the political process and with every female candidate that runs
for office, the presence of female candidates becomes more widespread and accepted. Also, the
support of the training by other organizations and individual sponsors further helps to establish female
politicians. And finally, by presenting women with role models during the Go Run trainings, the White
House Project adds to the normalization of female politicians, even among women. All these efforts
demonstrate how liberal feminist values are integrated into the White House Projects activities.
As discussed, the White House Project is mainly influenced by liberal feminism and its ideas
vis-a-vis gender equality in the public realm. That being so, the organization helps to normalize and, to
a certain degree, institutionalize certain liberal feminist idea such as achieving gender parity in elected
and appointed office. In addition, the White House Project defines liberal feminist ideas of female
leadership through their activities. These efforts to transform the traditional understanding of
leadership are generally discussed under liberal feminist ideas but as we have seen throughout the
paper, there are also subtle messages of third wave feminism, which the White House Project
introduced to the organization. A more detailed discussion about the interrelationship between liberal
and third wave feminist theory and the White House Project will follow in the fifth chapter when I
compare the White House Project to the Latina Initiative.
In conclusion, in this chapter I have illustrated how liberal feminism and third wave feminism
influences the work and mission of the White House Project. However, one case study is not enough to
make any meaningful statements about the interrelationship between feminist theories and womens
organizations, which is the goal of this thesis. This is why the next chapter will repeat the same
analysis in regards to another womens organization, the Latina Initiative. In the end, I will be able to
make some general statement on the interrelationship between the feminist trajectories and womens
THE LATINA INITIATIVE: IM LATINA AND I VOTE
This fourth chapter is concerned with the interrelationship between the Latina Initiative and
two feminist theories: liberal feminism and third wave feminism, which I have detailed in chapter two.
I will ask the following questions: to what extent is the Latina Initiative influenced and shaped by
liberal and third wave feminism? Which feminist ideas does the Latina Initiative define? And which
feminist ideas become normalized and institutionalized through the Latina Initiative? In order to
answer these questions, I will draw from the work of Foucault on power and discourse which I have
discussed in length in chapters two and three.
I will proceed as follows; first, I will describe the mission and activities of the Latina
Initiative. Then, I will analyze which elements of third wave and liberal feminism are present in the
organization. Finally, I will briefly explore which feminist ideas are defined and normalized through
the Latina Initiative
The Mission of the Latina Initiative
The Latina Initiative is a non-profit organization in Denver, Colorado that aims to increase the
civic involvement of Latinas (Who We Are 2007). The organization was originally formed as a
response to a conversation that Katherine Archuleta, now Board Chair of the Latina Initiative, had with
former ambassador Swanee Hunt about the lack of Latinas as spokespeople in Colorado politics
(personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009). In 2002, many policy issues were at stake
that directly affected Latinas, but the spokespeople for the Latino community had largely been Latino
men. Thus, Archuleta and Hunt decided to start the Latina Initiative as a project that would increase
the electoral participation of Latinas for the 2002 election. In 2004, the Latina Initiative, which started
out as a project, was transformed into a non-profit organization and has worked consistently for five
years now (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009).
The Latina Initiative works to cultivate, support, and maintain the civic involvement of
Latinas in Colorado (Who we are 2007). Consequently, the mission of the Latina Initiative is to
increase civic involvement among Latinas in Colorado as well as building up a leadership base among
the Latina community so that Latinas are able to engage in the public decision-making process
(personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009). According to the Latina Initiative, civic
involvement includes leadership development, issue education and advocacy, citizenship work, and
electoral engagement (Message from the Staff 2007). In particular, the organization aims to give a
political voice to the Latina community in order to inform public officials about issues important to the
community and to influence policy makers on these issues (What we do 2007). In this manner, the
Latina Initiative aims to bring the voice of Latinas to the policy table (personal communication with
Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009). According to Executive Director Dusti Gurule:
The main goal is to build the capacity of Latinas and their families to become civically engaged.
And above and beyond that is to build that leadership within the Latina community so that we
have a place at the policy table (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009)
This civic involvement encompasses both electoral and non-electoral activities that 1 will
discuss later in more detail. That being so, the Latina Initiative does not stop their efforts at the ballot
box but rather tries to create a political awareness all year long with the help of issue education,
mobilization, and advocacy (Sampaio 2008, 8). As Dusti Gurule, the Executive Director of the Latina
Initiative put it:
[Building civic involvement] includes leadership development, issue education, because part of
the reasons why a lot of people don't participate electorally is lack of understanding or
information. For many reasons, historic and structural reasons, (personal communication with
Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009)
In more general terms, the Latina Initiative aims to inspire women to become involved in politics and
gives them the tools to do so (Sampaio 2008, 8; What we do 2007).
Activities and Strategies of the Latina Initiative
Most activities of the Latina Initiative aim to build civic engagement among Latinas that lasts
all year. This means that the organization sees their activities on a cyclical calendar around which the
activities of the Latina Initiative evolve (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009).
During the election, most activities center around basic electoral education as well as issue education
on different ballot initiatives. Then, after the election, the Latina Initiative moves their activities into
the legislative cycle and explains the importance of elected officials and that issues prominent during
the election do not simply disappear after Election Day. A certain educational aspect is thus inherent in
all the activities of the Latina Initiative.
Through this cyclical approach the Latina Initiative tries to illustrate how electoral politics are
connected to other parts of politics and that civic engagement does not end at the ballot box. In this
manner, the Latina Initiative emphasizes the importance of accountability beyond Election Day
(personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009). Based on this cyclical model, the
activities of the Latina Initiative can be divided into three categories: (1) raising political awareness;
(2) increasing electoral engagement; and (3) building leadership potential.
Raising Political Awareness.
ORALEE! (Opportunity to Raise Awareness for Allies and Latinas/os through Education) is
an eight week program for young people that is designed to make them realize that their voices not
only matter but are also heard (ORALEE! 2007). Participants in the program learn about the
electoral and legislative process and learn how to build their own political voice on issues that are
important to them. Other skills that are taught include how to research legislation, how to contact
representatives and community leaders, and how to engage and educate fellow students, friends, and
family about issues the students care about (ORALEE! 2007).
Another important program of the Latina Initiative is the citizenship promotion campaign Ya
Es Hora-Colorado Citizenship Campaign which was established in 2007 and is part of the national
jYa es hora Ciudadania! campaign for citizenship. The goal of the program is to increase the rates of
naturalization among lawful permanent residents in the Latina/o community by informing, educating,
and motivating them to naturalize (Ya Es Hora Colorado Citizenship Campaign 2007). To facilitate
the naturalization process, the Latina Initiative offers citizenship workshops for the application process
and classes that prepare applicants for the citizenship test. During these classes and workshops, the
Latina Initiative reaches out to the participant and encourages them to become civically engaged
because the ultimate goal of the citizenship campaign is to integrate Latinas/os into the overall
American political process for which citizenship is the necessary requirement (Ya Es Hora Colorado
Citizenship Campaign 2007). But the program does not stop at naturalization, the program also
features efforts to register and mobilize these newly naturalized voters (Ya Es Hora Colorado
Citizenship Campaign 2007).
Increasing Electoral Engagement
A part of the Latina Initiatives activities evolve around voter registration, mobilization, and
education. The Latina Initiative utilizes the Latina Voting Circle model to reach out to potential
Latina voters. This model aims to engage a small group of political inactive Latinas in informal
conversations and networks (Sampaio 2008, 8). During these conversations, an individual known by
these women explains the electoral process and creates confidence in these women that they, too, can
encourage other women to join the political process. In more detail, the Latina Voting Circles aims
first to raise political awareness among Latinas, then educate them about the political process, register
them to vote, and finally to mobilize them to become engaged in the political process. Then, the
original group is trained on how to contact and engage other people.
Voter registration is the next step to becoming formally engaged in the political process.
During the Latina Initiatives registration efforts, the organization targets particularly low-propensity9
Latina voters (Who we are 2007). The organization also offers a guide on how to register to vote and
information for first time voters (Register to Vote 2007). In 2008, the Latina Initiative registered
approximately 5,800 new voters (Electoral Engagement 2007). Concerning voter education, the
Latina Initiative publishes and distributes bilingual voting guides and is a resource for information
about early and Election Day voting sites, and local and national election news (Welcome to our
Election 2008 Page 2007; Sampaio 2008, 8). In addition, the Latina Initiative undertakes massive
outreach efforts through canvassing and phone banking. In 2008 alone, the Latina Initiative visited
11,900 households and called 6,248 individuals (Electoral Engagement 2007).
Another important element within electoral engagement is lobbying party officials and
advocating policy issues. The Latina Initiative focuses mainly on four distinct issue areas on which
they educate and for which they lobby: immigration, health care, education, and economic justice and
civil rights (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009). In these efforts, the Latina
Initiative aims to engage Latina advocates in the lobbying process (What we do 2007). For example,
the organization issues advocate guidelines in the form of legislative dos and donts including advice
on how to advocate by mail, phone, or in person (How to Advocate 2007). A prominent event to
integrate Latinas/os into the advocating and lobbying process is the Latino/a Advocacy Day at the
capitol. The event is designed to establish a Latina/o presence at the state capitol and to make their
voices heard by representatives (Latino/a Advocacy Day 2007). During the day, participants are
briefed on various public policy issues affecting the community, receive information about upcoming
legislative issues, and participate in advocacy and lobby training before meeting with their respective
representatives at the capitol (Latino/a Advocacy Day 2007).
During the last election cycle in 2008, the Latina Initiative partnered with the White House
Project for Delegate University which aimed to recruit Latinas as delegates to the respective national
party conventions. The program was intended to educate Latinas on how to become a delegate for the
Republican or Democratic National Conventions (Delegate University 2007).
9 Low-propensity voters describes individuals who are eligible to vote but have rarely, if ever, voted in
the past general elections and because of age, education, and income typically experience informal
barriers to voting.
Building Up Leadership Potential
One of the goals of the Latina Initiative is to further Latina leadership in the state of Colorado,
thus the organization helps to engage and inform Latinas in their communities (Sampaio 2008, 8;
Who we are 2007). The organization sees Latinas progress through different levels of leadership
starting with information and education and then continuing to voting, influencing public policies, and
finally being appointed or elected to office (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26,
The Latina Initiative offers various trainings not only to help Latinas progress through the
different levels of leadership but also to empower them and make them into informed participants in
the political process (Issue Education and Leadership Development 2007).
The Latina Initiative provides information, resources and training opportunities to develop the
strength of women and girls ready to set their own agendas about issues important to the health
and well-being in their own lives and to their families and communities (Policy & Advocacy
One such program is LIPS (Latinas Increasing Political Strength) which was created to
engage young Latinas [age 14-17] in Denver in community action, civic participation, and the political
process (LIPS 2007). It is a forum where young women can voice their political concerns (Sampaio
2008, 9) and where they get involved with other activities of the Latina Initiative (LIPS 2007). Even
though LIPS participants are still too young to vote, they are able to lobby the legislature or inform the
community on issues important to them, for example through phone banking or letter writing. Another
element within LIPS is that participants serve as educators about the electoral process for their family
and friends (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009). Yet, the most important
element within LIPS is that the program aims to raise political awareness among young Latinas and
gives them a chance to be civically minded and the ability to serve their communities, regardless if
these women will ever turn out to vote. However, if they turn out to vote, they will enter the political
process as informed voters.
Another event aimed at building leadership skills among women is the Serious Women,
Serious Issues, Serious Action Conference. This annual conference is organized together with the 9-5
National Association of Working Women that offers information, resources, and tools to poor,
minority, and young women (SSS 2007). This information is designed to help women form their
own agenda about issues that impact their daily lives.
The Interrelationship Between Feminist Theories
and the Latina Initiative
I argue that the mission of the Latina Initiative, which is to increase the civic involvement of
Latinas in Colorado, as well as the activities of the Latina Initiative reflect liberal feminist ideas,
specifically as they pertain to the category of political advancement. However, considering the
strategies employed by the Latina Initiative and considering the target audience of the organization, I
maintain that they are also influenced by third wave feminism.
Civic engagement, particularly in the form of electoral activism, plays a great role in liberal
feminism. Friedan (1963) advocates female involvement in politics and specifically the importance of
voting. Increasing the number of women in the political process will protect womens rights and
interests (Mill 1869) and gives women the chance to influence public policies (Friedan 1963). Also,
women can support the election of favorable political candidates with their vote (The National
Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose). By the same token, liberal feminist authors
call on women to lobby political parties and representatives regarding issues important to them
The liberal feminist urge to increase civic engagement among women is reflected in the
mission and the activities of the Latina Initiative. The Latina Initiatives reasons for their mission
resemble the liberal feminist arguments; that is civic involvement is seen as a means to include the
voices and opinions of Latinas in the political process and it enables Latinas to influence the policy
issues. Based on this liberal feminist approach to civic engagement, voting and lobbying are elements
that are inherent in the activities of the Latina Initiative. The Latina Initiative sees voting as central to
civic engagement and emphasizes the link between the act of voting, contacting elected officials, and
the legislative process.
One cornerstone of the activities of the Latina Initiative is voter education. This includes not
only basic voting information but also voter registration drives and voter mobilization. The emphasis
on voting is reflected in the various programs of the organization that either concentrate solely on
aspects of voting (registration and mobilization) or are found as partial elements in programs such as
LIPS, the Latina Voting Circle, or The Serious Women, Serious Issues, Serious Action Conference.
The importance that the Latina Initiative gives to voting is also reflected in the motto of the
organization: Im Latina and I Vote.
Lobbying and advocating for policy issues important to the Latina community is another
element that integrates liberal feminist ideas into the activities of the Latina Initiative. The Latina
Initiative provides issue education to Latinas to inform and enable them to form their own political
opinion. As a next step, the Latina Initiative teaches Latinas how to advocate with the Latina/o
Advocacy Day being the most prominent event to integrate Latinas/os into the political process. Other
programs that entail advocacy elements are LIPS and ORALEE!.
When it comes to non-electoral involvement liberal feminism emphasizes the importance of
building leadership among women (About the FMF 2007; Friedan 1963). This is equally true of the
Latina Initiative: one of the goals of the organization is to build leadership capacities among Latinas so
they can become leaders in their community (Sampaio 2008, 8; Issue Education and Leadership
Development 2007). To achieve this, the Latina Initiatives activities aim first to raise political
awareness among Latinas (LIPS 2007; ORALEE! 2007), then to engage Latinas in the political
process, and finally to make them into effective community organizers (Policy & Advocacy 2007).
Again, this element of leadership training is found in all activities of the Latina Initiative (personal
communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26, 2009). The Latina Initiative sees their activities as helping
women rise to different levels of leadership including but not limited to information and education,
voting, advocating, and holding elected and appointed office.
Bringing Latinas into appointed or elected office is not as central to the activities of the Latina
Initiative as increasing the civic involvement of Latinas but it is seen as one of the last and most
important levels of leadership development (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26,
2009). Liberal feminists share this sentiment. Achieving parity in political offices is a demand that is
voiced by many liberal feminist authors (Taylor Mill 1851; Friedan 1963; Wendel 1987; Mission and
Principles 2007; The National Organization for Womens 1966 Statement of Purpose). Thus, liberal
feminists encourage women to run for office (FMF President Eleanor Smeal 2007). The Latina
Initiative emphasizes this level of leadership in its activities and partners with the White House Project
which offers political trainings for women (Issue Education & Leadership Development 2007). One
example for this cooperation was the Delegate University.
As we have seen, the mission and objectives of the Latina Initiative are greatly influenced by
liberal feminist ideas. Nonetheless, I will illustrate how certain ideas of third wave feminism found
their way into the workings of the Latina Initiative. The most obvious element that reflects third wave
feminist thinking is the target audience of the organization. Third wave feminists are greatly concerned
with inclusiveness because they accuse some liberal feminists of creating feminism for old, white, and
middle-class women to the exclusion of everyone else (Schrof 1993; Orr 1997; Garrison 2000). As a
consequence, third wave feminists advocate for the integration of women of color and for women from
different class backgrounds into the feminist struggle and for the inclusion of their differing views
(Rangel 2001; Brooks 2002; Edut et al. 1997). The Latina Initiative was formed to increase the number
of Latinas in the political process and in particular of low-income and low-propensity voters (Sampaio
2008, 8-9). Later, the activities also targeted young Latinas and the Latina immigrant community. This
is important because young and immigrant Latinas might not be able to participate as voters but by
reaching out to them, the Latina Initiative enables them to become included in the political process by
giving them a political voice and allowing them to speak out on their behalf.
The Latina Initiative reaches out to young Latinas through ORALEE! a program designed
for Latino/a youth to build their political consciousness the same way as LIPS builds the leadership
capacity among young Latinas. The citizenship promotion campaign Ya Es Hora Colorado
Citizenship Campaign" targets Latina/o immigrants to integrate them into the political process. The
Serious Women, Serious Issues, Serious Action Conference brings together women of color, low-
income, and young women to empower and teach them about certain issues that are important to their
daily life (SSS 2007). Thus, the target audience reflects the third wave feminist concern about
minority and low-income women and other groups that were traditionally not part of mainstream
In addition, the Latina Initiative does not restrict its effort to Latina women only. Many
activities of the Latina Initiative are equally open to men, including, for example, the Latino/a
Advocacy Day or Citizenship Education. This acceptance of men as feminists is another form of
inclusiveness which is characteristic of third wave feminism (Schrof 1993; Walker 1995).
Inclusiveness, intersectionality, and the negotiation of differences play an integral part in third
wave feminist thinking (Tong 2009). That being so, it would go contrary to third wave feminist ideals
to promote a singularly defined struggle for identity. Rather, third wave feminists prefer a de-centered
approach to reach their goals. This means accepting that feminist struggles can be fought for in various
ways (Klein 1997). This includes different movements and strategies that deal with various causes at
the same time. The Latina Initiative employs outreach strategies that are not based on the collective
action model promoted by liberal feminism (Friedan 1963). For example, instead of rallying Latinas
around one specific issue or providing a list of public policies that Latinas should address, the activities
of the Latina Initiative leave it to the individual to decide what issue to focus on. For example,
programs such as LIPS or ORALEE! are designed to develop political awareness among Latinas and
teach them how to articulate political concerns but do not prescribe a certain political issue (LIPS
2007; ORALEE!" 2007). During the Latino/a Advocacy Day, the Latina Initiative teaches Latinas
how to lobby and informs them about current policy issues but does not dictate a certain issue that they
have to talk about (Latino/a Advocacy Day 2007). Further, the Latina Initiative reaches out to
Latinas via the Latina Voting Circle Model. This model is not based in collective action strategies but
focuses on the individual and its role in social networks (personal communication with Dusti Gurule,
May 26, 2009).
By recruiting individual Latinas and encouraging them to participate and invite other family
members to do the same, the Latina Initiative enables the individual person to become political
involved on his or her own term rather than creating a mass movement that follows a hierarchical issue
list and where only certain forms of political participation are valued. For example, the Latina
Initiative leaves it up to the Latina if she wants to participate as a voter, a community organizer, a
lobbying citizen, or if she prefers to talk with family and friends about political issues she cares about.
All these forms present a form of political engagement and the Latina Initiative does not prefer one to
the other. In this manner, various Latinas pursue different issues at the same time through different
means and without a priority list promoted by the Latina Initiative.
The activities of the Latina Initiative also aim to empower Latinas in their abilities. Both
liberal feminism and third wave feminism address the issue of empowerment and understand it as the
need for women to exist in their own right and to be independent (Wendel 1987; Martinez 2002;
Friedan 1963; Shoemaker 1997). Nonetheless, the two feminist theories differ in their understanding of
how to achieve empowerment. Third wave feminists hold that women are empowered by finding their
own voice and by being able to express themselves (Orr 1997; Martinez 2002). In contrast, liberal
feminists stress the importance of economic opportunity and higher education for empowerment
because these two together allow women to fulfill their potential which in turn empowers women
(Friedan 1963; Mill 1869; Taylor Mill 1851). The Latina Initiative understands empowerment in third
wave feminist terms. Programs such as the Serious Women, Serious Issues, Serious Action
Conference, LIPS, and ORALEE! aim to help Latinas develop their own voice and see themselves as
political actors and leaders who are able to represent their own communities (ORALEE 2007;
LIPS 2007; SSS 2007).
The last aspect that the Latina Initiative shares equally with third wave and liberal feminism is
the kind of role education plays. On one hand, third wave feminists are concerned with the social
injustices built into the educational system (Rangel 2001; Sayeed 2002). They intend to expand
education to low-income and minority groups and they see education as a source of empowerment that
enables women to fight social and economic injustices in society. Considering the target audience of
the organization, the Latina Initiative certainly reflects this third wave feminist ideal. On the other
hand, liberal feminism sees education as the prerequisite for entering the public sphere (Friedan 1963;
Mill 1869). The educational efforts by the Latina Initiative aim to enable Latinas to participate in the
political process and articulate their concerns. As one staff member of the Latina Initiative put it:
Without the training, the resources, the information, and the education, how else will you build the
individual capacity to act on their own behalf? (personal communication with Dusti Gurule, May 26,
2009). Accordingly, many activities of the Latina Initiative integrate some sort of educational piece
with issue, legislative, voter, and citizenship education being just a few examples.
In this section, I will answer the three questions about the interrelationship between feminist
theories and womens organizations, which I have raised at the beginning of this chapter. The first
question was: to what extent is the Latina Initiative informed and shaped by liberal and third wave
feminism? The second one was: what feminist ideas are constructed and defined by the Latina
Initiative? And the final question I posed was: to what degree does the Latina Initiative normalize and
institutionalize certain feminist ideas? The following presents a shortened answer to these questions
that will be discussed in greater detail in chapter five when I compare the Latina Initiative to the White
I hold that the Latina Initiative is informed and influenced by liberal feminist ideas about the
civic engagement among women. Nonetheless, the Latina Initiative constructs and defines ideas that
are inherent to third wave feminism. The target audience members of the Latina Initiative are women
belonging to a specific minority group: Latinas. in particular, the Latina Initiative focuses on Latinas
that are truly unrepresented in the political process: low-income women, young women, and immigrant
women. This demonstrates an emphasis on the third wave feminist value of inclusiveness. By
integrating these traditionally underrepresented groups of women into the political process, the Latina
Initiative helps to construct these women as valuable and worthy participants.
The leadership programs reflect the importance liberal feminists put on female leadership
capacities. Accordingly, the programs are designed to build the leadership capacity among Latinas so
that they can influence and comment upon public issues that impact their communities. That being so,
these leadership programs define Latinas as viable leaders in the political process. Both by including
women underrepresented in the political process as well as by training them to become leaders, the
Latina Initiative adds to the normalization and institutionalization of Latinas in the political process.
By engaging Latinas in the political process, for example through the Latina/o Advocacy Day, and by
exposing public officials to Latina leaders, the sight of Latinas as participants and even as
spokespersons in the political process is normalized. This changes the perception of who can and does
participate in the political process and increases the accountability of politicians to Latinas because
they now represent an important voter group.
To conclude, the Latina Initiative can be characterized as being influenced by liberal feminist
ideas about civic participation and the role of women within this area. However, even though the
Latina Initiative clearly reflects these liberal feminist values, the organization still manages to
construct and normalize ideas that reflect third wave feminist values. For example, by adding the
concept of inclusiveness to the organization, the Latina Initiative alters and expands the traditional
liberal feminist understanding about civic participation with third wave feminist ideas.
In the next chapter, 1 will first summarize the findings of the previous chapters and illustrate
how womens organizations construct and normalize ideas through their activities. Then, I will
compare and contrast the findings of the second and third chapters as they pertain to the White House
Project and the Latina Initiative. Finally, I will determine the interrelationship between feminist
theories and womens organizations.
THE INTERRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FEMINIST THEORIES
AND WOMENS ORGANIZATIONS
In this chapter, I will first argue that feminist theories influence the mission and goals of
womens organizations. Secondly, I assert that womens organizations construct and normalize certain
feminist ideas. I base this argument on the ideas of Foucault on power and discourse, as I have
discussed in the previous chapters. In order to analyze the interrelationship between feminist theories
and womens organizations, I investigated the following three questions in regards to two specific
womens organization in Colorado, the White House Project and the Latina Initiative and in regards to
two specific feminist theories: liberal and third wave feminism.10
(1) To what extent are these organizations influenced and shaped by liberal and third wave
(2) What ideas do these organizations construct and define?
(3) What ideas are normalized and institutionalized by these organizations?
In this chapter, I will proceed as follows: First, I will summarize the findings for each the
White House Project and the Latina Initiative. Second, 1 will compare and contrast these findings to
each other. And finally, based on this comparison, I will answer whether an interrelationship between
feminist theories and womens organizations exist.
Summary: the White House Project
The White House Project is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to
fill the political pipeline with more women in order to bring more women into leadership positions in
politics, business, and the media. The cornerstone of the activities of the White House Project is the
political training that the organization offers to women. The Go Vote/Run/Lead training series is
designed to bring more women in the political process as voters, volunteers, community leaders, and
ultimately as political candidates. The White House Project also helps women to create and maintain
10 More specifically, in the previous two chapters, I investigated the interrelationship between liberal
and third wave feminism and the White House Project and the Latina Initiative respectively. The
analyses were based on a coding process that organized the various ideas in liberal and third wave
feminism into three categories: political advancement, civic participation, and self-empowerment
Please refer to chapter 2-4 for a more detailed discussion about the categories as well as a illustration
of the two feminist theories.
networks of women so they have access to resources needed to run for office. Additional activities the
White House Project engages in are efforts to change popular culture in order to accommodate the idea
of female leaders in society and to create a corporate atmosphere that is hospitable to women being
promoted to CEOs. The activities of the White House Project are also designed to increase the self-
esteem of each participant by introducing them to women with similar life obstacles, but who
nonetheless have successfully run for office. This empowers women to pursue their political ambitions.
In addition, the White House Project encourages women to challenge gender stereotypes in their daily
life by making individual life choices such as pursuing a political career.
The target audiences of the White House Project for these political trainings are women
typically untapped by political circles, for example, minority, young, and low-income women. The
White House Project aims to put women from diverse backgrounds into office to build a democracy to
represent all groups of society. In order to successfully recruit these women, the White House Project
operates its trainings through its regional offices demonstrating a preference for a regional
Because of the mission and activities of the White House Project, 1 argue that the organization
is greatly influenced by liberal feminist ideas regarding political, social, and economic equality for
women. Further, the White House Project also constructs and defines specific feminist ideas. On the
one hand, the White House Project constructs women as good leaders, for example, by introducing
female leaders in popular culture. In this way, the White House Project slowly changes cultural
perceptions on leadership; for example, by illustrating that leadership skills are positive characteristics
for men and women equally. The White House Project also defines female qualities as beneficial for
leadership. The organization promotes women as leaders by maintaining that female qualities are more
inductive to sustainable decision-making. In more general terms this means that the White House
Project manifests the notion that women are good leaders. Activities that support this idea are, for
example, the annual EPIC Awards. The EPIC Award is given to people who introduced positive
images of female leadership to the American society (Annual Report 2007, 15). Further, the White
House Project supports TV series that show women as independent and ambitious or in unusual roles
such as an actress portraying the US president in Commander in Chief (Wilson 2004, 125; Change
Culture 2009). Likewise, the organization cooperated with Cosmo Girls Project 2024 to release
Whats your point honey, a documentary that showed young women and their perspectives on
leadership (White House Project Newsletter 02/24/2009). Thus, the White House Project undertakes
considerable efforts to construct females as positive leaders.
On the other hand, the White House Projects activities redefine the face of leadership. This
new face of leadership means not only creating women as viable leaders in popular culture and in real
life, but also expanding leadership characteristics to include women from diverse and non-traditional
backgrounds. The White House Project constructs women from all backgrounds as leaders by setting
strict diversity standards for its Go Run Training. So far, of all women the White House Project has
trained, 43% have been women of color, 46% have been low-income women, and 70% were younger
than 35 (Annual Report 2007, 3). For Colorado, these numbers are 51% under 35 years, 36% women
of color, and 42% have earned $30,000 or less (personal communication with Faith Winter, April 22,
Finally, the White House Project also helps to normalize certain feminist ideas. For example,
The White House Project normalizes the presence of women as leaders. The organization adds to this
acceptance of political active women by bringing more and more women in the upper levels of
leadership: elected and appointed office. This means that the White House Project tries to recruit as
many women as possible to attend its Go Vote/Run/Lead training series and additional workshops
that encourage and help women to run for office. In its efforts, the White House Project starts to recruit
women for lower level politics, i.e. city, county, and state levels, because this is where people get
employed for the highest levels of leadership, for example the presidency (Wilson 2004, 5). Nation-
wide, over 6,000 women have participated in the trainings (White House Project Newsletter
02/16/2009) and over 100 women have run for office of whom half have won (New Case Statement
2009, 8; Annual Report 2007, 3). The White House Project has pledged to train 36,000 women to run
for office within the next five years (White House Project 02/16/2009) in order to fill the political
pipeline with enough women available for leadership positions (Annual Report 2007, 3).
Further, based on the mission and the activities of the White House Project, the organization
assisted in the normalization of the demand for gender parity in leadership. Through the regional
offices development of close ties with the local communities, including businesses, public institutions,
and other organization, the White House Project gains support for its mission while the demand for
gender parity in leadership becomes more accepted as a valid claim. After the 2008 election, 40% of
the representatives in the Colorado state legislature are women, bringing the White House Project very
close to achieving its mission for Colorado: gender parity in elected/appointed office.11 To some
extent, it is the work of the White House Project that contributed to this success of female politicians in
Colorado (Bartels 2009). The Colorado office was the first regional office to open five years ago and
11 Here gender parity is understood as 50% of the offices are held by women
thus has long ties with the community. For example, all women who sit in the Colorado legislature
have either participated in the trainings offered by the White House Project or are part of its network
(personal communication April 22, 2009; Bartels 2009). On more general terms, White House Project
made it acceptable and normal to demand gender parity in politics for Colorado. Because the White
House Project is part of a great network of other womens organizations, it is able to spread this
message across the state and to all sectors in society. The partnering womens organizations pick up
this demand by cooperating with the White House Project and by integrating gender parity in their
respective activities, further validating and pushing the objective of gender equality in political office.
Being part of the White House Project network in Colorado, 1 can attest to the organizations ability to
establish a coalition of diverse womens organizations and in this way institutionalizing its mission
beyond the White House Project audience.12
In light of the activities and strategies of the White House Project, I assert that even though
most activities reflect liberal feminist values, the White House Project adds third wave feminist
characteristics, such as inclusiveness and cultural means for societal transformation, to its
organizational understanding about gender equality.
Summary: the Latina Initiative
The Latina Initiative is a Denver-based non-profit organization that aspires to increase the
number of Latinas engaged in the political process so as to give Latinas a voice at the policy table in
the state of Colorado. In order to achieve this mission, the Latina Initiative offers activities that center
on three main aspects: education, voting, and advocacy. Education is both seen in liberal and third
wave feminist terms. On the one hand, in accordance with third wave feminist views, education offers
minorities access to information that enables them to fight social injustices (Rangel 2001). On the other
hand, as liberal feminists, the Latina Initiative argues that education is a prerequisite in order to be able
to participate fully in the public process (Mill 1869).
Integrating Latinas as voters in the political process is a significant goal of the Latina
Initiative and a primary concern in liberal feminism (Friedan 1963). Thus, a great share of the
organizational activities concentrate on voter education, registration, and mobilization. The Latina
Initiative also aims to integrate Latinas in the advocacy process. The liberal feminist sentiment that
12 The same can be said for the Latina Initiative who is also integrated into this coalition network
among womens organization in Colorado. This coalition network of which both the White House
Project and the Latina Initiative are part of, helps each organization considerably to spread their
feminist values beyond their original target audience. In doing so, the respective feminist values that
each organization supports become accepted not only with other womens organization but eventually
also in society at large.
increasing the number of women in the political process will enable women to protect their interest and
influence issues (Friedan 1963) is shared by the Latina Initiative. All three aspects help to further
another goal of the Latina Initiative; to build leadership capacity among Latinas, which is another
liberal feminist goal (About the FMF 2007).
The target audience of the Latina Initiative reflects third wave feminist concerns with
inclusiveness (Rangel 2001), especially the need to integrate diverse women into the political process.
The Latina Initiative focuses its efforts on the Latina community' and specifically on the members that
traditionally have been underrepresented: low-income, young, and immigrant women. However, many
activities of the Latina Initiative are also open to men. To recruit people out of the typical mainstream
politics, the Latina Initiative utilizes third wave feminist strategies by preferring de-centered approach
to collective action strategies (Neubome 2001). The Latina Initiative also empowers Latinas via the
building of their own identity by finding their own (political) voice, something that the organization
has in common with third wave feminism (Orr 1997).
Based on these findings, I hold that the Latina Initiative is informed by liberal feminist ideas
about the civic engagement among women. The activities of the Latina Initiative aim to increase the
number of women in the electoral process, particularly as voters and eventually leaders while
advocating on the behalf of women. However, the efforts of the Latina Initiative, to bring Latinas, and
in particular the most underrepresented (i.e. young, low-income, or immigrant women) into the
political process and by encouraging Latinas to find their own identity, the Latina Initiative equally
reflects third wave feminist ideas that advance the integration of previously marginalized women into
political activism. As a consequence, the Latina Initiative shapes the face of leadership, not only by
establishing women as leaders but also by integrating women from all walks of life into leadership
positions. In this way, the Latina Initiative redefine leadership, which is usually equated with white,
middle-class, elderly men to include women that represent a plethora of groups in society: the young,
the disabled, the poor, minorities, the working class, etc.
Similar, the Latina Initiative constructs Latinas as worthy and valuable political participants to
which politicians listen because they represent an important voting bloc. In 2008 alone, the Latina
Initiative has registered 5,800 Colorado citizens, contacted 11,900 households in person, and called
6,248 people (Electoral Engagement 2007). Until this day, over 1,000 Latinas/os have gone through
the organizations citizenship workshop (Ya es hora Colorado Citizenship Campaign 2007). These
figures show that the Latina Initiative undertakes substantial measures to increase voter turnout among
Latinas/os. Overall, the presented statistics prove that the Latina Initiative has had a great impact in
shaping the Colorado electorate. By increasing the number of Latinas that turn out to vote, Latinas will
expand their political and organizational power (Latina Initiative 2006, 32). This means that as
Latinas/os vote in enough numbers they can be the deciding factor in close races for the state
legislature, Congress, and even the presidency (Latina Initiative 2006, 32). It is safe to say that by
increasing the share of Latina votes, the Latina population in Colorado increases its impact on the
political process as well as the chances of Latinas being heard and taken seriously by public officials.
The same is true for the leadership efforts of the Latina Initiative that define Latinas as viable
leaders in the public realm. The Latina Initiative demonstrates how Latinas can be spokespersons for
the Latina community and participants in the political process at a more introductory level. By
integrating them in the lobbying process and by encouraging them to speak out on issues they care
about, the Latina Initiative creates an appreciation of Latinas as effective and serious leaders. The
Latina Initiative achieves this by offering not only extensive trainings on how to advocate but also by
providing a thorough issue education on four distinct areas: education, health care, immigration, and
economic justice and civil rights. In addition, the Latina Initiative shares on its web site upcoming
legislative issues as they pertain to these areas and includes the policy stance of the Latina Initiative on
each measure (Take Action 2007). Both knowing the issues and how to advocate enables Latinas to
interact with the public as spokespersons on behalf of the Latina/o community. During the Latina/o
Advocacy Day, for example, public officials get in direct contact with Latinas who act as viable
spokespeople for their communities. By encouraging Latinas to act as spokespeople for their
communities and by bringing them into direct contact with public officials, for example during the
Latina/o Advocacy Day or in committee hearings, the Latina Initiative normalizes the presence of
Latinas as leaders in the politics of the state.
In like manner, the Latina Initiative normalizes the presence of Latinas as political
participants. The Latina Initiative brings Latinas into the introductory levels of the political process by
educating them about legislative procedures and issues, offering leadership programs, and, most
importantly, by conducting voter outreach programs. In 2002, the Latina Initiative contacted more than
16,000 Latinas who were registered voters. Of these, 18% voted. In 2006, their turnout increased to
24% (Latina Initiative 2006, 22). Also in 2006, the Latina Initiative reached out to 33,569 Latina
households and 7,500 of them turned out to vote (Latina Initiative 2006, 21). Of all Latinas who voted
in the 2006 election, 3,125 voted in a non-presidential election for the first time and 825 voted for the
first time ever (Latina Initiative 2006, 23). In 2008, the Latina Initiative distributed 20,000 voting
guides (Electoral Engagement 2007) and 200 Latinas/os participated in the Latino/a Advocacy Day
(Policy and Advocacy 2007). Thus, the Latina Initiative not only successfully increased the voter
turnout for Latinas but also introduced multitudinous Latinas to the political process in general. By
doing so, the Latina Initiative normalizes and institutionalizes their presence as political participants.
Considering the activities of the Latina Initiative, the organization integrates liberal and third
wave feminist aspects into the organization. Even though the Latina Initiative reflects liberal feminist
ideas about the civic engagement, it also successfully integrates prominent third wave feminist ideas,
such as inclusiveness, de-centered approaches, and most importantly, the creation of identities, into the
workings of the Latina Initiative.
Comparing the White House Project to the Latina Initiative
Both the Latina Initiative and the White House Project are influenced by liberal feminism.
The White House Project is mostly concerned with the goal of achieving gender parity in leadership
positions; the Latina Initiative addresses ideas as they pertain to the civic engagement among women.
Thus, the White House Project and the Latina Initiative share the basic desire to bring more women
into the political process. However, they emphasize different strategies to achieve this goal. The Latina
Initiative is a grassroots organization that highlights introductory levels of civic engagement including
information and education, voting, and advocacy. In contrast, the White House Project focuses its
attention on the advanced level of civic involvement, running for office.
The Latina Initiative aims to integrate women into the political process who were historically
marginalized in traditional womens organizations. Because of that, the Latina Initiative targets
individuals that have not yet been exposed to or participated in the political process because they face
various barriers that prevented them from doing so. Impediments to political participation are lack of
education about the political process as well as the lack of citizenship or lack of experience with the
political system. Through its activities, the Latina Initiative tries to overcome these barriers. The Latina
Initiative offers issue and voter education to make the voting and advocacy process more
comprehensible to Latinas and connects them with other aspects of the political process. Because the
educational element plays an important role within the activities of the Latina Initiative, the
organization highlights education as a means to integrate more women into the political process.
Contrary to the Latina Initiative, the White House Project emphasizes an advanced level of
civic involvement (i.e. being elected or appointed to office). However, it does share with the Latina
Initiative a concern to integrate non-traditional women into the political process. Even though the
White House Project addresses leadership concerns and aims to increase the voter turnout among
women, these elements are seen as stepping-stones to elected/appointed office. Thus, the most
important activity of the White House Project is the Go Run training, which is designed to encourage
and train women to run for office. Other workshops and media trainings are intended to prepare
potential candidates for political office by providing them with the necessary tools and knowledge they
need to win a political race and to be successful politicians later. Accordingly, the White House Project
calls attention to the need to train women for political participation.
So where do the Latina Initiative and the White House Project place their emphasis in regards
to the three categories? The White House Project focuses on electoral activism within the category of
political advancement, specifically achieving gender parity in elected/appointed office. Elements
within the category of civic participation, such as cultural transformation, leadership advice, or the
creation of networks among women, are integrated into the activities because these are some of the
greatest barriers women face when they aspire to political office.
The Latina Initiative addresses the category of political advancement and civic participation
equally. The organization was founded to increase voter turnout among Latinas. As a consequence,
voter education, registration, and mobilization play an important part within the organization. Later,
the organizational activities were expanded to incorporate efforts integrating Latinas into the advocacy
process, for example the Latino/a Advocacy Day. Both advocacy and voting belong to the category of
political advancement. The Latina Initiative also started to offer programs aimed to build the
leadership capacity among Latinas, thus integrating an element of civic participation in its activities.
However, what is unique about the Latina Initiative is that it places a greater emphasis on self-
empowerment than the White House Project does. Many programs of the Latina Initiative, for example
LIPS or ORALEE!, are designed to create self-esteem and political awareness among Latinas. In this
way, self-empowerment, even if not the main focus of the organization, nonetheless plays a very
important part in all the activities of the Latina Initiative.
Integrating Feminist Theories into the Workings of the
Latina Initiative and the White House Project
In light of the above-mentioned characteristics of both the White House Project and the Latina
Initiative, both organizations display liberal feminist values regarding their activities, including
increasing voter turnout, integrating women into the advocacy process, encouraging women to run for
elected/appointed office, and building leadership capacities among women are all elements that are
prominent within liberal feminism. But as we have seen in the individual case studies in chapter three
and four, both organizations also incorporate third wave feminist elements into their organizational
structures and strategies. How do the White House Project and the Latina Initiative compare in regards
to integrating third wave feminism?
The two organizations include third wave feminist elements in similar ways. Both the Latina
Initiative and the White House Project implement a de-centered approach to their activities. The White
House Project has a preference for regional organizational structures where the regional offices carry
out all trainings and outreach efforts, while the national office is charged with doing research on
women and politics. The insights won through this research will in turn then be integrated into the
strategies and trainings of the regional offices. The Latina Initiative too favors a de-centered approach
compared to a collective action strategy. The organization sees Latinas as entry points to an extended
network of family and friends. Thus, outreach efforts target individual Latinas with the goal of
engaging them first in the political process and then later teaching them how to get other people in
their community involved. In doing so, the Latina Initiative brings change to the Colorado political
process one person at a time.
Both organizations also share the third wave feminist commitment to include all women in
their efforts. The White House Project aims to recruit women that are traditionally not seen as typical
political candidates. These are mainly women of color, young women, and low-income women. In
comparison, by the nature of the organization, the Latina Initiative targets women of minority
communities from all spheres of life: the very young, the poor, or the immigrant. In this way, the
Latina Initiative differentiates from the White House Project in that the Latina Initiative understands
inclusiveness in much broader terms. First, most of the activities such as ORALEE!, the citizenship
classes, or the Latina/o Advocacy Day are open to both men and women. And second, the Latina
Initiative reaches out to immigrants that are not yet citizens by offering citizenship education that will
enable them to become part of the political system. Further, the Latina Initiative targets mostly non-
traditional participants in the political process whereas the White House Project only has a minimum
standard of 30% regarding diversity for its Go Run training. Thus, the Latina Initiative has a stronger
commitment of inclusiveness than the White House Project at this time.
The White House Project as well as the Latina Initiative aim to empower women.
Interestingly, both organizations understand self-empowerment in third wave feminist terms. The
White House Project practices two forms of empowerment in its activities. First, it encourages the
concept of embodied politics. This means that the organization, in particular Marie Wilson, have
stressed the importance of individual life choices that reflect feminist values to challenge gender
stereotypes such as inspiring women to pursue their political ambitions at any level. In the
organizational document on How to become a leader or Lead a political life, the White House
Project urges women to address issues in their communities and tackle problems that affect them. And
second, the White House Project empowers women by enhancing their self-esteem. As seen in third
wave feminism, the White House Project understands that images are important. Thus, in its trainings,
the organization introduces participants to women they can relate to and that have successfully run for
office. By challenging the participants understanding on how a politician should look like and
demonstrating to them the variety of personalities that run for office, the White House Project fosters
self-esteem among these women.
In contrast, the Latina Initiative sees empowerment deriving from the creation of identities.
They share with third wave feminists the belief that empowerment comes from discovering your own
identity (Martinez 2002). Women are able to establish their own identity by finding your own voice
and expressing your own opinion. That is why the activities of the Latina Initiative, such as ORALEE!,
LIPS, or the Serious Women, Serious Issues, Serious Action Conference encourage and help
participants to find their own voice within the Latina/o community. In addition, the Latina Initiative
creates a political awareness among Latinas that enables them to serve their own communities. The
Latina Initiative achieves this with issue education and by encouraging participants to be leaders on
issues they are concerned about. Accordingly, the White House Project and the Latina Initiative both
understand empowerment in third wave feminist terms; however, they emphasize different elements of
third wave feminism in their approach to self-empowerment. The White House Project utilizes the
concepts of embodied politics and self-esteem whereas the Latina Initiative employs the concept of
identity.13 Further, the concept of self-empowerment plays a more central role in the activities of the
Latina Initiative than in the activities of the White House Project.
Beyond these commonalities, the Latina Initiative and the White House Project incorporate
other elements of third wave feminism, which are unique to the respective organizations. The White
House Project shares with third wave feminism the attention to de-facto discrimination. The White
House Project specifically targets de-facto discrimination as it occurs in media and popular culture.
Concern with popular culture is another aspect that the organization has in common with third wave
feminism. One of the goals of the White House Project is to change leadership perceptions and
challenge the existing power structures in society by transforming culture, an approach that is highly
prominent in third wave feminism. The White House Project achieves this with the help of popular
culture which it uses to draw attention to gender stereotypes and to confronts sex discrimination.
On the other hand, the Latina Initiative emphasizes the importance of education in order to
integrate more Latinas in the political process. The organization sees education as the prerequisite to
enter the public sphere, a liberal feminist view. However, the Latina Initiative also recognizes that it is
necessary to expand education to minorities and low-income people, a cause that is championed by
third wave feminists. Further, both the Latina Initiative and third wave feminists understand education
as the necessary means to enable women to fight social injustices themselves.
13 For a more thorough discussion about these concepts, please refer to chapter two
In brief, the White House Project as well as the Latina Initiative integrate the same third wave
feminist elements in their activities: they both understand self-empowerment in third wave feminist
terms, both organizations employ a de-centered approach to their strategies, and both aim for
inclusiveness in regards to their respective target audiences. Still, the Latina Initiative has a broader
understanding of the inclusiveness than the White House Project. In addition, third wave feminist
elements in the Latina Initiative, for example the creation of self-esteem among Latinas is more central
to the activities of the Latina Initiative than third wave elements are to the activities of the White
The Interrelationship between Feminist Theory and Womens Organizations
Based on these case studies, what can be said about the interrelationship between feminist
theories and the workings of womens organizations on a more general level? Both organizations are
shaped by liberal feminism but also integrate certain aspects of third wave feminism into their
activities. Based on this fact and in view of the emphases of these two organizations, I argue that the
even though both organizations are informed by liberal feminism, the Latina Initiative incorporates
third wave feminism to a greater extent than the White House Project does.
This shows that womens organizations are able to integrate more than just one feminist
theory into their activities. As the case study demonstrated, womens organizations are able expand
their feminist understanding by adding new dimension and even insights from other feminist theories,
in this case third wave feminism. For example, the White House Project as well as the Latina Initiative
have diversified the face of leadership in third wave feminist terms; yet they have done so in different
ways. The Latina Initiative has added Latinas as participants in the political process and the White
House Project by recruiting diverse women as political candidates. Accordingly, both organizations try
to reach out to diverse women in order to be as inclusive as possible, a third wave feminist goal.
In addition, the Latina Initiative emphasis of education demonstrates that womens
organizations are able to consolidate multiple feminist theories in their activities. Education is seen as a
prerequisite to enter the public sphere (liberal feminism) and the Latina Initiative aims to expand
access to it for non-traditional students (third wave feminism).
The goals of the White House Project and the Latina Initiative also matter in regard to the
ideas of liberal feminism. By continuing to promote gender parity for elected and appointed office, the
White House Project ensures that liberal feminist goals continue to be accepted and valued. In
comparison, the Latina Initiative continuously draws attention to the need of women involvement in
the political process not only as voters but also as advocates and leaders. In this manner, the Latina
Initiative also adds continuing value to liberal feminist ideas about civic engagement among women.
The above illustrations show that the interrelationship between womens organizations and
feminist theories are twofold. First, womens organizations help to preserve and validate existing
feminist values. Second, womens organizations are able to add new feminist perspectives to their
organization. In this manner, womens organization can continuously expand their understanding of
feminist ideas and adapt to new challenges they might face. The White House Project and the Latina
Initiative integrated third wave feminist ideas and values into a liberal feminist understanding of their
Most importantly, the case study confirms an interrelationship between feminist theories and
womens organizations. As we have seen, the mission, the activities, and the strategies of the White
House Project are greatly informed by liberal feminist theory and to a lesser degree by third wave
feminism. In comparison, the Latina Initiative, even though informed by liberal feminism, places a
greater emphasis on third wave feminist ideas than the White House Project does. To conclude, the
relationship between womens organizations and feminist theories can be regarded as a continuous
dialogue between feminist ideas and feminist reality' where one informs and validates the other.
This thesis started out with the goal of investigating the interrelationship between feminist
theories and womens organizations. As 1 have illustrated with the respective case studies, the
workings of womens organizations are indeed shaped by feminist theories. The White House Project
as well as the Latina Initiative are able to integrate both liberal and third wave feminism into their
organization albeit to varying degrees. This shows that they manage to incorporate certain elements of
third wave feminism into the respective organization without losing their liberal feminist
characteristics. Accordingly, womens organizations are embedded in a continuous dialogue with
feminist theories that enables them to integrate new ideas into the respective organization. For
example, the White House Project is greatly defined by liberal feminist ideas about gender equality but
recognizes the third wave feminist claim that, in order to challenge power structures in society, popular
culture is an important means. In comparison, the Latina Initiative integrates liberal feminist values as
they pertain to the civic engagement of women as well as a third wave feminist concern about
inclusiveness or self-esteem.
Further, I argued in this thesis that womens organizations also are able to construct and
normalize certain feminist ideas not only in their organizations but, to a certain extent, also in society.
Both organizations attest to this claim. The White House Project and the Latina Initiative concentrate
their efforts on constructing women as viable and worthy leaders in the political process. By doing so,
these organizations also normalize and institutionalize the presence of women in the political process.
This is not only true for the organizations but also for the Colorado public. The White House Project
contributes to the training of female leaders in Colorado and thus is partially responsible for the high
percentage of women in the state legislature. Because Colorado has so many women sitting in its
legislature, the presence of women not only as political candidates but also as politicians becomes
normalized and institutionalized. Likewise, the Latina Initiative promotes the political and
organizational power of Latinas in the political process in Colorado. Through its massive voter
outreach efforts during election years and through leadership trainings all year long, the Latina
Initiative increases the number of Latinas as participants in the political process and, more importantly,
enables them to become spokespersons for their communities. By adding Latinas to the political
equation, the Latina Initiative normalizes and institutionalizes their political presence. In addition, both
organizations challenge the traditional face of leadership by adding diverse women to leadership
positions and to the political process. The White House Project and the Latina Initiative successfully
normalize the ideas they construct because the organizations are integrated in an extensive coalition of
womens organizations that support and advance each others missions. In this manner, the White
House Project and the Latina Initiative are able to spread their ideas beyond their immediate target
As I have discussed in the beginning, womens organizations not only normalize and
institutionalize certain feminist ideas in society but, based on Foucaults ideas on power and discourse,
womens organizations are also able to challenge existing power structures. In particular, feminist
theories are constructed to address and to rectify the power imbalance between men and women in
society. Because the Latina Initiative and the White House Project are influenced by liberal and third
wave feminism and considering the mission of both organizations, the White House Project and the
Latina Initiative should be able to challenge the current political imbalance of power between women
and men. Accordingly, the Latina Initiative and the White House Project should challenge and change
the existing power structures in Colorado, where both are active. For example, the White House
Project should transform the existing political power structure between women and men by increasing
the number of women in the political process and the Latina Initiative should alter the current
composition of the Colorado electorate by adding more Latinas to increase the political influence of
Latinas. Based on the illustration regarding the normalization and institutionalization of certain
feminist ideas of the White House Project and the Latina Initiative, I assume that this is the case for
Colorado. However, it is not in the scope of this thesis to answer this question. Nonetheless, this
question is worthy of further research because the impact of womens organizations on existing power
structures is necessarily part of any interrelationship between feminist theories and womens
organizations. This thesis has answered whether an interrelationship between feminist theories and
womens organizations exists. However, to gain an understanding of the full scope of this
interrelationship, research on the relationship womens organizations and societal power structures
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