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Gender and Race in a Pro-Feminist, Progressive, Mixed-Gender, Mixed-Race Organization Author(s): Susan A.

Ostrander Source: Gender and Society, Vol. 13, No. 5 (Oct., 1999), pp. 628-642 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/06/2011 10:55
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Feminist researchers have urged more study of how feminist practice is actually accomplished in mixed-genderorganizations.Social movementscholars have calledfor moreattentionto dynamicsof organizations,especially to the challenges of maintaininginternal gender and race in social movement mixed-racesocial progressive,mixed-gender, solidarity.Based onfield observationsin a pro-feminist, movementorganization,this article examinesorganizationaldecision-making processes and interperare sonal and group dynamics.Genderedand racializedpatterns of subordination both very much in evidence and-at the same time-actively challengedin this organization.Theauthorargues thatproand feminist andprogressiveorganizationalpractices effortsto createsolidarityacross genderand race can exist throughcompetingand contradictory dynamicsand ongoingstruggles.Complexand inconsistentdynamicsaroundthesesocial barriersare likelyto occur in organizationsmoregenerallyand need to be a subjectfor more research.

Current thinking about gender in organizationshas primarilydeveloped either in from studiesof male-dominated, mixed-genderorganizations which women are a subordinated minority(Blum 1991; Cockburn1991;Moss Kantor1977; Fainsod Katzenstein 1995; Roth 1998) or from studies of single-sex women's organizations. Most of these women's organizationshave been white women's organizations (Arnold 1995; Bordt 1997; Iannelo 1992; Morgen 1995; Tom 1995). Only a few researchers have studied women-of-color organizations (McNair Barnett 1995) or attended closely to differences between women-of-color and white women's organizations(Poster 1995). The organizationI studiedis pro-feminist,mixed gender(with women a slight of majority),and mixed race (with representation people of color ranging from one-thirdto two-thirdsin differentpartsof the organization). People's Community in or Fundis a 25-year-oldpublicfoundation "publiccharity" Boston whose overall of mission is to changethedistribution wealthandpowerin society andto challenge some fundamentalaspects of currentsocial structureand distributionof societal rewards.

REPRINTREQUESTS:SusanA. Ostrander, Medford,MA Departmentof Sociology, TuftsUniversity, 02155; e-mail:

GENDER & SOCIETY,Vol. 13 No. 5, October 1999 628-642 ? 1999 Sociologists for Womenin Society 628


One of the majoraims of my study was to investigaterelationsof race, gender, and class. (Fora discussion of class relationsat the People's CommunityFundand for othermajoraims of the research,see Ostrander 1995.) In this article,I focus on gender and race. Social movement scholars have suggested that more attention needs to be paid to internaldynamics and conflicts in social movementorganizations, especially to the challenges of maintaininginternalsolidarityin the face of potentially divisive issues of race, gender,and class (Roth 1998, 143). Using an activenotionof "structure" developedby Giddens(1987), I show how people atthe People's Community Fund create, maintain, and-most important-simultanethere (Anderson 1996, ously contest how genderand race relationsare structured I also show how solidarityacross social barriers developed is 738; Giddens 1987). in the face of threatsto solidarity. and continued of I aim to contributeto an understanding the "challengesthatfeminists face in mixed-gender [and mixed-race] organizations"(Roth 1998, 130) and how they "actuallyaccomplishwhat they do" (Roth 1998, 143). People's CommunityFund Its can be seen as a feminist organization. mission, goals, and activitiesrecognize thatwomen are oppressedrelativeto men andthatwomen's position is "shapedby inequality,notindividualactionsor circumstances" (Yancey processes of structural Martin 1990, 184). The People's CommunityFund has "a vision of society that does not [yet] exist andsees social, political andeconomic change as necessaryfor that vision to be realized"(YanceyMartin1990, 184). Since improvingwomen's circumstancesis only one of the fund's goals, along with improvingthe circumstances of people of color, low-income and working-classpeople, gays and lesbians, and people with disabilities, I have chosen to name the organizationprofeminist.Here,I am following the thinkingof scholarswho see feminismas "oneof multiple movements"-including those that emphasizerace and class along with gender (Poster 1995, 659). I argue that the myriad and complex ways this organizationis gendered and racializedrepresent competingtendenciesthatare,in my view, not inconsistent two with a claim of being pro-feministand progressivein a mixed-genderand mixedof race context.The firsttendencywas a subordination women, especially women of color, which might be expected in more mainstreamorganizationsthat are neither progressivenor feminist. This tendencythreatenedinternalsolidarityacross gender and race. The second tendency was a well-establishedpatternof actively This competingtendencyreflectedan challenginggenderandracialsubordination. organizationaldynamic of cross-genderand cross-race solidarity that might be expected in a progressivefeminist organization. To explicate these two competing tendencies, I organize my data aroundtwo questions:(1) How were the changesmadein the staff-collectiveandoverallorganizational decision making duringthe period of my researchgenderedand racialized? (2) How were interpersonal betweenindidynamicsandmodes of interaction viduals and groups gendered and racialized? Before addressing these two questions, I briefly describe the People's Community Fund and how I did my researchthere.


GENDER SOCIETY October1999 & /

DESCRIPTION OF THE FUND People's CommunityFundis a publicfoundationestablishedin Boston in 1974 and devoted to providing financial supportin the form of grants to community engagedin grassrootsorganizingfor progressivesocial change. (For organizations a discussion of organizing,see, e.g., Bobo, Kendall,and Max 1991.) Money for operatingexpenses of the People's CommunityFund and for grantscomes from individualdonors, many of them with inheritedwealth. (For more discussion of this, see Ostrander1995.) By the time I completedmy researchin May 1992, the People's CommunityFundhad given away more than$7 million in grants.In the early 1990s, the People's CommunityFund gave away approximately$400,000 each year to local communitygroupsworkingon issues of peace and international solidarity, workers' rights, housing and homelessness, environment and safe energy, health, antiracism,gay and lesbian rights, women's rights, and disability rights. The People's CommunityFunddefinedits mission at the time of my researchas a creating,boththroughits grantsandits own internalstructure, democraticsystem of basedon collective ownershipandcontrolof resources;an equitabledistribution wealthandpower;an end of all exploitationof some people by others;andfreedom from the oppressionsof class, race, ethnicity,gender,and sexual orientation. Funddoes "socialmovementphilanthropy" I call whatthe People's Community (Ostrander1995). The importanceof monetarysupportfor sustainingmovement organizingactivityis now widely acknowledgedby social movementactivistsand scholars (Buechler 1993; Jenkins 1987; McCarthyand Zald 1977). Money is and needs of social movementorganizations pay for requiredto meet maintenance sustainedorganizingand protest(Hunterand Staggenborg1986, 173). Membersof historicallymarginalized groupsarepresentin high numbersat the People's CommunityFund comparedto most mixed-race, mixed-class, mixed(Delgado 1986).The level of repregenderprogressivesocial changeorganizations sentation of marginalizedgroups is consistent with the fund's mission to create through its own internal structure(as well as its grant making) a society that opposes the multipleoppressionsof class, race,ethnicity,gender,andsexual orientation.In 1990, when I beganmy research,a surveyby a staff membershowed that of the 54 membersof nine regionalfundingboards,3 of 5 memberswere women, and 2 in 5 were people of color. The governing board consisted of five white women, four white men, four men of color, and one woman of color. The board of one-thirdrepresentation people of color as quickly defined this approximately insufficient.By 1992, therewere five womenof color,threewhite women,two men of of color, andone white man-a representation nearlytwo-thirdspeople of color. the boardincludedtwo or threeopenly gay or lesbian members. Typically threewhitewomen(one lesbian),one AfriIn 1990,thereweresix staffmembers: can Americanwoman,andtwo men of color (one Asian American,one Latino).By the end of my researchin 1992, therewere six womenon staff:four white (two lesbians) and two African American(one lesbian). Delgado claims that a paid staff



made up entirely of women is not unusualin progressivesocial change organizations (Delgado 1986, 191). While I did not haveaccess to all of Haymarket's donors,of the 25 donorsI came to know by name, 18 were white women, all frominheritedwealth.While this portion of women donors is somewhathigherthanmight be expected, anecdotalevidence suggests thatdonorswho give to progressivefundingorganizationsnationally are more likely to be women. METHOD FromFebruary1990 to May 1992, I did intensivefield observationresearchat the People's CommunityFund.I attendedandtook detailednotes at more than300 hours of meetings; conducted40 in-depthinterviewswith boardmembers, staff, and donors; had innumerableinformal conversations;and reviewed documents back to 1974. I was presentat meetings where grantswere made, meetings of the governingboardandboardcommittees,staffmeetings,annualmeetings,anddonor meetings. I read grantproposalsand follow-up reportssubmittedby community groups.Only individualdonorfiles were closed to me, and they were off-limits to everyone except staff who dealt directlywith donors. The mode of analysisI used to make sense of voluminousfield notes, interview transcripts,and copies of documents is consistent with established methods of qualitativeresearchandthe generationof groundedtheory.It representsneitheran of objective write-up of researchdata nor a purely subjectiveinterpretation that data.It consists of repeatedreviews of writtenmaterials,developmentof themes or patternsthatemergefromthose materials,andthe systematicuse of themes as cod(Glaserand Strauss1967). Consising categoriesto organizean analyticnarrative tent with groundedtheory,I sharedwith my subjectsdraftsof papersandmy 1995 theiradditionsandrevisions.I did not do book from the project,andI incorporated that for this article since it follows publicationof my book. To gain access, I approached staff memberI knew slightly from feminist cira cles in the city. I told her, and subsequentlythe governingboard,that I wantedto study the People's CommunityFundas an example of social change philanthropy to develop generalguidelinesfor doing progressivephilanthropy. Gainingapproval was facilitatedby a familiaritythata few people therehadwith my earlierresearch, which is criticalof upper-classwomen's philanthropy maintainingandjustifyfor 1984). People at the People's Coming class privilege and domination(Ostrander munityFundcorrectlysaw this researchas supportiveof theirprojectof creatinga that progressivephilanthropy challenges social inequalities.While I had no previous involvementat the People's CommunityFund, access was also helped by my activism in feminist and progressivecircles. As they met me, people there often "checkedout"who I knew thatthey also knew from these circles. Contributing to valid findings as well as to open access, people at the People's CommunityFund told me that my promise of individualconfidentialitycontributedto their talking


GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1999

freely with me. Having sharedinformationthatthey observedI did not pass on to others in the organization,some told me they had noticed that I kept their confidences, and they noticedthatothersspoke openly even when I was takingdetailed notes, creatingan atmosphereof sharedtrust(Ostrander1995, 172-74). The fact that most of my observationswere at meetings where othersalso took notes also to contributed my access and the completenessand accuracyof field notes. access andongoingdialoguebetweenme andpeople at the People's ComOpen munity Fund aboutmy researchdid not, of course, mean that there were no chalwere fraughtwith turlenges. The yearsI spentdoing fieldworkin the organization moil and majorchange, and I sometimesfelt pressuredto "takesides" (Ostrander 1995, 175). On the whole, however,the largerprojectoutof whichthis articlecomes and and was one of collaboration mutualrespectbetweenresearcher subjects. ENDING THE STAFF COLLECTIVE AND MODIFYING A CONSENSUAL PROCESS People at the People's CommunityFund believed thatfeminism and feminists was structured in had been criticallyimportant establishinghow theirorganization and the process it had historicallyused to makedecisions. White men and women were somewhatmore likely to talk explicitly aboutthis feminist connection than people of color.A white womanwho was a memberof the governingboardandwho has been involved there almost since its foundingmore than two decades earlier told me, "I think [the People's CommunityFund]is stronglyinfluencedby femiA nism.... There'san organizational acceptanceof feministprinciples." wealthy white man who has long been a majordonorsaid, "[The]collective ..., the culture, structure.... All of thatcomes out of feministprinthe process,the nonhierarchical ciples."Anotherwhite man donorsaid, "Thesuccess of [the People's Community amountto feminism.Women'senergyhelpedunleashit." Fund]owes a tremendous Similar to other progressiveorganizationsfoundedin the 1970s, the People's CommunityFundinitially operatedin a largelyinformalcollective andconsensual mannerconsistentwith (thoughnot uniqueto) earlyprinciplesof feminist process 1979; Sirianni (Ferguson1984;Iannelo1992;Mansbridge1994;Rothschild-Whitt 1994; YanceyMartin1990). Ideally,decisions were made by consensus insteadof vote; a staff organizedas a collective made at least some effort to sharetasks in a nonhierarchical manner,with everyone doing some aspect of every kind of task; overall organizationalpolicy making was locally based in regional boards;and of directparticipation the whole was maximizedin semiannualand,morerecently, annualmeetings open to all. Fundrevisedthis mode of operatingduringthe period The People's Community of my research.Two of the most important changeswere endingthe staff collective and creatinga single governingboardwith overall organizational authority.The those changes occurredand the reasons people gave for them were, as I will way show, highly genderedand racialized.



These changes took place because people at the People's Community Fund increasingly saw problemswith a collective, consensual, and direct-participatory therewere difficultiesmakingtimely way of operating.As in similarorganizations, and firm policy decisions, as well as delineatingand carryingout specific tasks as the organizationgrew in size andcomplexity(Alter 1998, 262). Echoing a conclusion thatpeople at the People's CommunityFundcame to, JoanAcker (1995, 141) says, "Some division of labor and allocation of authorityand responsibility are necessary-given the social relations in which we are all embedded-to reach organizinggoals."The changesmeantthatthe People'sCommunityFundbecamea "modifiedcollective"within a "structural hybrid"(Gelb 1995, 130). People in this organization set out "to sustain their original commitments to organizational democracybut also to operatemore effectively and efficiently"(Gelb 1995, 130). the form of democform,the shift from a direct-participatory Illustrating "hybrid" in the open-to-allsemiannualmeetings to a representative form of democracy racy in the single governingboardstill retaineda local base since the new boardconboards around sisted of representativesfrom the fund's nine local grant-making New England. Anotherreasonfor the organizational changes was a growingawarenessamong staff and boardduringthis periodthatthe time and emotionalinvestmentrequired to make decisions collectively and consensuallyhad the unintendedconsequence of excluding or marginalizingpeople of color and low-income people, who were more likely thanwhites to have neitherthe hoursnorthe politicalinclinationto use theirenergiesin this intensivemanner(Freeman1975, 123-26). It also becameevident to staff and boardthat a lack of clear directionfrom some official authority could result in staff of color feeling suppressed,particularly-as I will showwhen they took a view counterto thatof establishedwhites. Events reached a particularly difficult point in 1991, when financialcontributions declined (temporarily, it turnedout), and a man of color on staff resigned as over a conflict about fund-raisingmethods. While the conflict was not explicitly aboutrace or gender,it becamehighly racializedandgendered,andit deeply threatened internalorganizational solidarity.The conflict became especially embittered between this man and two white women who were longtime fund-raisersfor the these threestaff all organization.In the face of a staff disputeof crisis proportions, felt they had nowhereto go for supportor resolution. Membersof the governingboardthoughtthatthe two white women fund-raisers hadtoo muchpowerin the organization since they were the mainpeople who determinedhow the money was raisedandfromwhom. Boardmembers-both men and women, white andof color,butespecially men of color-perceived a reluctanceon the partof these two women to change theirmethods of fund-raisingand a reluctance to relinquish the close relationships with wealthy white women donors throughwhich these boardmembersfelt the two women gained their power.The man of color on staff who eventuallyresigned objectedto what he saw as raising money solely on the basis of personalrelationshipswith donors.He wantedinstead to institute new fund-raisingmethods that were "more political." He talked of


GENDER & SOCIETY / October 1999

"donororganizing"aroundthe organization'spolitical goals as a way to bring in new donors,especially donorsof color. Indicativeof the complicateddynamicsin this organization, boardmemberswho weremost outspokenaboutthe imbalanceof poweramongthe threestaff andthe role they believedit playedin the man-of-color staffer's leaving included two men of color and two wealthy white upper-class donors to the organization,one man and one woman. What otherssaw as two white women havingtoo much power,the two women themselves saw as having too much responsibility.They connectedthis to gender andracein a way thatwas indicativebothof how workin the organization genwas deredandof how limitedandinconsistentfeelings of solidarityor sharedresponsiOne of bility between white women and women of color were in the organization. these white women staff said duringa meeting, "If people put a job on the table, who volunteers?The white girls! It has to do with being here a long time, and with The otherwoman agreed:"Ijust take on class and sex. It's a really bad dynamic." or else it wouldn't get done."One of the main reasons these two women [work], first wantedto end the staffcollective andhirethe organization's executivedirector was theirdesireto be relievedof whattheyfelt was an unreasonable (andgendered) In burdenof responsibilitythey carriedin the organization. additionto having an executive directorto take on some of that burden,they wanted to involve board membersmore in raising money duringa time when contributionsseemed to be declining. Partof the differencein responsibilitybetween women and men staff reflected of true the sheerpredominance women,as is apparently of mostprogressiveorganizations (Delgado 1986, 191). One possible accountfor the abundanceof women relatedto how the People's CommunityFundtended,at least duringthe 1980s and reflecteda familiargender early 1990s, to raiseits money.Methodsof fund-raising in which women staff fund-raisersregularlyperformed"emotion labor" pattern (Hochschild 1983, 153) and "sociabilitywork"(Daniels 1985, 363-64, 372). The work of creatingand maintainingpersonaland social connections-in this case, with mostly women wealthy donors-constructed an atmosphereof "pleasant transactions" (Hochschild1983, 153) in whichdonorswerewilling to be present,to this and participate, to feel at ease (Daniels 1985, 363). Not surprisingly, relational approachto raisingmoney,based in emotionalconnectionsand bonds of sociabilwas ity,meantthatfund-raising implicitlydefinedas "women'swork"andcarrieda lower statusthanwhatwas seen as the "morepolitical"workof grantmaking.The were well awareof this political hierarchybetween two women staff fund-raisers grantmaking and fund-raising.They were eager to have men on the boarddoing more fund-raisingas a way to raise the statusof their work. The strongagreementof the two white womenstafferswith the governingboard aboutendingthe staffcollective andinvolvingboardmembersmorein fund-raising createdsome organizational solidarityacrossrace andgender.The people of color these two changes.While the two on the boardhaddifferentreasonsfor supporting white women staff wantedto sharewith the boardthe burdenof responsibilityfor



raising money, people of color on the board saw their increased involvement in They hoped to fund-raisingpartlyas a way to get more power in the organization. increasetheirpowerbothby bringingin more new donorsof color andby associatwealthywhite donorswho they saw as exercisingpowerbehindthe ing with current scenes. governingboardmembers-both white andof colorPerhapsmost important, saw the hiringof an executivedirectoras creatinga moreformalizedorganizational structurethatwould betterprotectand supportstaff of color, such as the man who While some evidence from otherresearch hadresignedunderbittercircumstances. thatwomen of colorprefera collective nonhierarchical democraticstyle in suggests their own organizations (Poster 1995), others have suggested-consistent with the fund's experience-that people of color in mixed-race organizationsmay to instead need a more formalstructure preventracializedpatternsof white dominance from prevailing (Freeman 1975, 123-26; Mansbridge 1994, 547-48; Rothschild-Whitt1979, 520). This view was taken especially by two outspoken instanceof race and men of color on the governingboardbutalso-in an important severalwhites, most notablyhigh-leveldonors,one man and gendersolidarity-by one woman. Women of color on the governingboard,while less outspoken,also supportedhiring an executive director. In contrastto the sharedagreementacross race and gender on the governing boardabout ending the staff collective and hiring a director,two women regional fundingboardmembersfrom outside Boston-one white, one of color-objected stronglyto this decision by the governingboard.They spoke out at an annualmeeting in which all the people involvedat the People's CommunityFundwere invited to come, saying thatthe decision was intolerableto them.They saw it as a violation of the principlethat"we makethe revolutionby living it."These two women subsequently left that meeting and the organizationin protest, though they failed in a half-hearted effortto taketheirlocal fundandits donorswith them.The strengthof their objections and their withdrawalfrom the organizationsuggest the tenuous level of solidaritynecessary for the organizationto do its work. In the course of discussions aboutthe staff collective, questionsarose aboutthe long-standing feminist-definedconsensus mode of decision making. This issue was actuallymore divisive thanthe one aboutendingthe staff collective. Two men of color who were membersof the governingboardtook a strong position on the issue, arguingthatconsensus decision makingtook too much time and thatvoting was a more efficient and effective way to make decisions. Several white women, from both staff andboard,objectedto whatthey saw as more and more relianceon formalvoting. They consideredthis a violationof organizational feministprinand ciples. One woman governingboardmembersaid, I thinkwe do consensus whenwe'recomfortable votewhenwe'renot.We've and
done a lot more voting lately because the decisions are getting tougher... we could use some trainingon consensus.


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A womanstaffmemberadded,"I'dlike to see this issue not ignored.It is a political discussion."Anotherwomanstafferpointedout the genderingof the disagreement: "[There]is clearly a division between women and men [on this issue], and that rarelyhappensat [the People's CommunityFund]." Discussion aboutconsensus-based decision makingbecameespecially heatedat the 1992 annualmeeting,when a white womanboardmembersaid, referringespecially to the behaviorof the two men of color who hadtakena strongposition, "We [women]raise the consensusissues, andmen startshakingtheirheadssaying, 'Oh, no, not thatagain!'That'svery sexist behavior,andit reallypisses me off."Largely at the insistenceof mostly white womenon bothboardandstaff,a modifiedconsensus decision-makingprocesswas retainedby the governingboard.Most of the men, both white andof color,wouldhavepreferred makingdecisions in a way closer to a "voting"method.Womenof color tendedin this situationto play a mediatingrole, seemingly unwilling to ally themselveseitherwith men (white or of color) or with white women. People in this organizationmodified an original commitmentto what some feministstructure process while still managingto retain and might consider"pure" essential aspects of their commitmentto organizational democracy.They did this form.As Acker (1995, what some have called a hybridorganizational by creating of the revisionof feministprocesstowardincreasedformalization allo141) putsit, work and making decisions "does not mean that feminist organizersmust cating to abandoneffortsto keephierarchy a minimumandcreatefavorableconditionsfor Recent researchby others suggests that, like the Peodemocraticparticipation." that ple's CommunityFund,most women's organizations startedout committedto staff collectives have since become less concernedwith structureand more concerned with strategy(Bordt 1997, 12). Their new overall organizational "hybrid" of forms "combinein innovativeways the best characteristics both [collectives and bureaucracies]" (Bordt 1997, 10). GENDERED AND RACIALIZED DYNAMICS: EXPRESSION AND CHALLENGES Gender and race dynamics occasionally occurredat the People's Community These dynamics Fund thatpeople there consideredoppressiveand inappropriate. were typically challengedand countered,often in ways thatcrossed race and gender lines. Forexample,duringone meetingof the Boston fundingboard,a white mankept repeatedlyto speak.Gradually, talkingwhile a woman-of-colormemberattempted she seemed to give in. In an illustrationof cross-race cross-gender solidarity, anotherwhite man intervened,saying to her,"Just jump in here. Shutthis guy up!" She hesitatedat first,thenopenly challengedthe manwho hadnot been listeningto her.She counteredhis view thata particular communitygroupshouldnot be interviewed for a possible grant, asserting,"I'd like to talk with them,"and her view



prevailed. Perhaps permanentlyempowered, this same woman challenged this same white man at a later meeting and argued successfully again for a grant to anothercommunitygroupshe favoredand he did not. a On anotheroccasion, the same white man interrupted white woman funding boardmemberas she reportedon a groupshe wantedto interviewfor a grant.The same white man who facilitatedearlierdid so againandtold him, "Be quiet.Let her The do the summary." boardlateragreedwithherview andgave the groupa grant. The white manwho oftenfacilitatedmeetingsduringthose yearsregularlymade it a point to call on women andmen of color who had not yet voiced theiropinions. He also sometimesremainednoticeablyquiethimself, even when directlyaskedby anotherwhite man whathe thought.His silence seemed intendedas an invitationto others to speak. When I interviewed him, he suggested intentionality in his behavior: sometimes speak],andit affectspeopleof colormostly.... It's a competition [to it's Giventhehistoric patterns, easierforus whitementojustjumpin. and An expression of this "historicpattern" a challenge to it occurredduringa meeting in which six new fundingboardmemberswere firstpresent.All were people of color, five women and one man. Tensionarose between the same two white men about how to conduct the meeting. One proposed, "Let's finish by one o'clock,"andthe otherobjectedby saying therewere new people present.Hurrying for along would make it harder themto fully learnthe board'sway of operating.He stated firmly, "Weneed to go throughthe process,"and his view prevailed. When I later interviewedthe white man who had insisted on taking the time needed for new boardmembers,he spoke aboutthe importanceof old-time board membersholding back to make space for newcomers,and he said, "I think we all recognized we had to diversifythe board.We all spenttime looking for new folks. There was a strong commitmentto making it happen." When I spoke with the otherwhite man who had wantedto move quickly to finHe ish the meeting, he also seemed at first to sharethis understanding. told me, like was like "[There a timewhen]it seemed thewhiteswerein charge, thepeopleof colorwere sitting in.... Thetwowhiteguys[including talka lot. [Theother me] just whiteman]is alwaystellingme to shutup,andthat's healthy.... Wedo intimidate people,so we hadto addsomepeopleof color. But then he made a comment that suggested he did not fully comprehendthat to (as incorporate opposedto simply add)new memberswho differedin race andgender fromcurrentones requireda changein how the boardoperated.He told me that new membershad to be "peopleof color who could standup to us,"andhe seemed unaware that this principle would require new people-in this case, nearly all women of color-to accommodateto and fit in with existing ways of doing things establishedlargely by people who had proceededthem.


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Although this man saw the social relations of dominance and subordinance between old andnew boardmembersandconsideredthemproblematic, seemed he to be unawareof the more complicatedintersectionsbetween organizational longevity andrelationsof raceandgender.He toldme, "There'sstill some deferenceto In us, not as white [men],butas long-termboardmembers." contrast,one of the new women-of-color board members seemed to understandthe deeper implications when she told me, Wetendto relyon themostexperienced and peopleon theboard, thosearemostly I evenformenof goodwill,it'shard relinquish men.... [What seeis that] to privilege. Wehavethesamemenleading discussion. think would anactof goodwill the I it be forthemto be quietfora whileandlet others learn lead. to In anotherkind of race and genderdynamic,women of color occasionally took on the responsibilityof mediatingwhen otherpeople were in conflict over some issue. This seemed to reflect both the somewhattenuous positions of women of color in the largersociety and in mixed-race,mixed-genderorganizationsand the skills and experience they had acquiredas a consequence of being in these positions. Inthe few situationsI was able to observein whichtherewas conflict between men of color and white women, it was my impressionthat women of color often found themselves "inthe middle."One such occasion occurredat the annualmeeting aboutthe fund'sconsensusmode of decision making.Whenthe debatebecame especially heatedbetweenwhite womenandmen of color,two womenof color diplomaticallyrestatedwhateach "side"hadsaid andremindedthemeach how importantit was to resolve this issue since it hadbecome divisive. Theydid not ally themselves with either side. White men tendedto stay out of the fray,often remaining silent when this kind of conflict arose. While this silence by white men had the effect of not addingto the polarizationalong race and genderlines, it can also be seen as a markof privilegethatwomenof color felt theycould not afford.Too much was at stakefor womenof color whentheirtwo mainsourcesof allies, white women and men of color, were in dispute.They felt they had to intervenein some way. Indicative of the location of women of color relative to white women, one woman of color told me abouta situationin which she had intervenedto mediate members-one of color,theotherwhite-during a board betweentwo womenfunding conflict. She said, "Itriedto give thembotha sense of whatthe otherwas saying and feeling, and I urged them both to talk directly to each other."I cannot be certain for aboutwhy women of color saw it as important white women and otherwomen of color to come to some agreementwhen in conflict. Here too their concerns seemed to reflect both theirtenuouspositionsin society andin mixed-race,mixedgender organizations,as well as their special skills and experienceacquiredfrom being in those positions. In the same way that women of color may need men of color as allies when issues threatento divide along raciallines, they also may need to otherwomen-both white andof color-when issues threaten divide along gender lines. While I observed a few white people-men and women-who acted



consistentlyas allies acrossraciallines, whatwas notevidentwas a dependablealliance between white women and women of color. The relativeabsenceof a cross-racesolidarityamongwomenmay havereflected the secure position of white women relative to people of color in this particular organization,a securitythatmadewhite womensee gendersolidarityas less necessary than in an organizationin which they felt more threatened.This apparent absence of a strong gender-basedalliance between white women and women of color-an absence inconsistentwith feministprinciplesin an overtlypro-feminist organization-may have contributedto the need by women of color to maintain good relationswith everyonesince they neverknew who they could count on. This dynamic requires furtherresearch in other mixed-race,mixed-genderorganizations, especially pro-feministones in which it seems unexpected. An additionalexplanationfor the mediating behaviorsby women of color is theirbelief thatmaintaininggood personaland social relationsis essential on principle to doing good political work(BookmanandMorgen 1988; Hill Collins 1990; Sacks 1988). Supportingthis explanationwas the accountby the woman of color who did the behind-the-scenes mediationworkwhentwo otherwomen were in disshe said she "tookit on myself to do something"because she saw that "perpute; sonal dynamics get in the way of the political work." While severalwomen of color at the People's CommunityFundtalkedwith me abouttheirmediationefforts, I neverheardmen or white women mentionit. They seemed unawareof the work women of color were doing in this regard.To the extent thatthis patternpertainsin this andotherorganizations, theircontribution is unrecognizedand devalued.It is an apparentlyunintendedpatternof gender and racial subordination is repeatedlyformedand perpetuated. that While these interventionsseemed to me effective in resolvingor at least minimizingthe conflict and were thuspositive for the organization, extraburden the womenof color who the for became involved in them constitutedanotherway this progressive organization a unintentionallyperpetuated patternof subordination. The examples I have presentedshow the extentto which entrencheddaily faceto-face oppressivepatternsof genderandrace interactiontakeplace even in a progressive pro-feministorganization fully committedto endingthem. The examples show as well the importantsimultaneouscompeting dynamic in which people acrossrace and gendertakeit uponthemselvesto activelychallengethese patterns. These seemingly contradictory dynamicssuggest thatto createandmaintaininternal solidarityacross genderand race and to sustainsome measureof pro-feminist is progressivepractice,whatis required a sharedcommitmentto ongoing struggle. CONCLUSION of My aim herehas been to call attentionto the importance the myriad,complex, andsometimescompetingandcontradictory ways thatan organization may be gendered and racialized and still lay claim to being feminist (or pro-feminist) and


/ & GENDER SOCIETY October1999

progressive.I have shown how genderedandracializedpatternsmay both be very much in evidence and, at the same time, be regularlyand actively challenged.My conclusion about the importanceof these competing and contradictorypatterns contributesto explaininghow feminist practiceactually occurs in mixed-gender, mixed-race organizations(Roth 1998, 143). Here, feminism exists as a political organizational practice of ongoing struggle. Indeed, developing and transmitting forms thatseek to operateaccordingto progressiveand feministprinciples-even modified and unstableones-can be seen as itself a kind of activepolitical protest (Alter 1998, 265; YanceyMartin1990). Othershave documented,as I have here, the change in decision-makingstrucfoundedin the 1970sandorigitureof manyfeministandprogressiveorganizations nally committedto a collectivist form and consensualprocess (Bordt 1997). What my researchadds to the formulationis how people in the organizationI studied modified their structurefor a varietyof reasons that were often race and gender based. While conflict did occur, people created some measureof organizational solidarityacross genderand race aroundtheiragreementon the modifications,an While some evidence agreementthat sometimes seemed unstableand transitory. havebeenmoresuccessfulthanothersin mainthatfeministorganizations suggests taining democraticstructures(Alter 1998, 262), many progressivesocial change organizationsthatorganizedoriginallyaccordingto strictfeministprincipleshave not been as successful as the People's CommunityFundin making the transition from a collective to a more formalizedstructure(Sirianni1994). While women-white and of color-at the People's CommunityFund did not to find it necessaryto createwomen-onlyspaces in the organization advancetheir in genderterms(Roth 1998), they did find it necessaryto be alertto both position instancesof practicesandbehaviorsthatthreatand institutionalized interpersonal themas women.While people of color at the People's Commuened to subordinate nity Fundneverwent so faras to createa formalpeople-of-colorcaucusto advance their position in racial terms, they also found it necessary to regularlyspeak out against and actively oppose instances that threatenedto subordinatethem. What may havemadeit possible for womento continueto be activelyengagedin creating organizationalsolidarityin a cross-genderorganization,as well as for people of color to be engaged in creatingorganizational solidarityin a cross-raceorganizagroupswere tion, was the fact thatat the People's CommunityFund,subordinated not alone in challengingpatternsof subordination. Instead,membersof dominant groups regularlyspoke out too, establishinga patternof race and gender allies. was to Important creatingsolidarityacrosssocial barriers the sharedvalue context within which cross-racecross-genderstrugglestook place, a contextexplicitly stated in the formal mission of the People's CommunityFund. This is similar to that processes found in coalitions across social barriers are sometimescreatedand sustainedif certain"factorsthatpromoteunity"are present,includingsharedvalues andinterests(Poster 1995, 672). People at the People's CommunityFundhada political vision of the kind of society they wantedto live in and help create. This vision helped to sustain them when conflicts arose and made it possible to move



past the conflict of the momentto renewedcommitmentandprogresstowardtheir vision. Acker (1995, 141) has askedif it is possible to createfeminist organizingacross the intersectionsof gender,race,ethnicity,andclass. I concludethatit is possible to createthis kind of solidarity,but most probablyin the form of continuedstruggles and over establishedpatternsof subordination active ongoing effortsto repeatedly resist and challenge them. Looking closely at a mixed-gender,mixed-race, profeminist organization,as I have here, shows that organizationaltransformation towarda feminist andprogressivevision is a process, a goal to be reachedfor, with its courseperhapsbest describedas an ongoing andunstableproject(Sirianni1994, 573). REFERENCES
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Susan A. Ostranderis a professor of sociology at Tufts University.Her publications include at Womenof the UpperClass and Money for Change:Social MovementPhilanthropy Haymarket People's Fund;her articles havefocused on social changephilanthropy, studyingelites, and nonprofitorganizationsand the state. Her new project is about women's organizing,funding, and the state.