A Comparison of the Activities of the Guerrilla Girls and the Black Lives Matter Movements

Both movements fall under contemporary political sociology, and not only because they are contemporary movements. Traditional political sociology focuses on the direct, institutional relationship between the state and society. In this way, the field is concerned with institutional changes like elections and voting power. In contrast, contemporary political sociology asks how meaning and power is formed in a social body – particularly through social movements. Neither the Guerrilla Girls nor Black Lives Matter concern themselves directly with institutional politics. Instead, the movements focus on shifting power in society – through the language that we use, the responses that we have, and the expectations we maintain. Because these movements are focused on this shift in power, they are more a concern for contemporary political sociology.

Both the Guerrilla Girls and the Black Lives Matter movements represent social movements that focus on influencing social and cultural norms, and their power tactics reflect this. The primary tactic used by both of these movements is information – the movements attempt to spread information relevant to their message. In the case of Guerrilla Girls, this is presented primarily through protests and artistic endeavors. For the Black Lives Matter movement, information was initially spread through protests. More recently, however, the movement has gained a media foothold and has been able to communicate information through these channels.

Even though the Guerrilla Girls movement looks like a political movement, it would technically fall under Giddens’ area of a labor movement that works for the control of the workplace. The movement was created to fight against sexism and racism in the art world, a professional domain that will only be altered through the social change the movement is fighting for. The movement is not really fighting for any political change, but rather a social change within the professional world of art. In contrast, the Black Lives Matter movement falls under Giddens’ area of a democratic movement that works for political rights. The movement works primarily in the political sphere, putting pressure on policymakers to enact institutional changes that will address excessive police violence against minority citizens.

While some art professionals and critics may take issue with the Guerrilla Girls movement, it does not seem to have an official or established countermovement. However, the Black Lives Matter movement has ruffled enough feathers in conservative America as to create a countermovement. In response to the movement’s slogan, many have used #AllLivesMatter to counteract the movement’s main point – that police violence is a particular issue for minority groups. The response implicitly critizes the Black Lives Matter movement as being reminiscent of reverse racism. However, this has been limited to social media, and may not constitute a viable social movement.

The Guerrilla Girls movement can be described by Aberle’s alternative social movement category. First of all, the movement is at the individual (rather than social) level. It targets those who influence and who are influenced by the art world. Second, their message is to change the creation and perception of sexist and racist art, as well as to include the rights of female and minority artists. This can be considered a minor change in the world of art, rather than a radical change of the way art is created or perceived. The Black Lives Matter movement can be considered a reformative social movement. The movement is political in nature, and therefore is focused on changes both in society and in the political sphere. However, the movement does not seek to take any power over like a revolutionary social movement. Instead, the movement is advocating for minor changes in political and police practices.

The Guerrilla Girls is a New Social Movement (NSM) both because of its message and its membership. First, the movement is focused on cultural concerns, rather than economic or political change. Second, the movement appears to be constituted of the new middle class, as it is made up of professionals within the art field. Third, the movement is centered on just a single issue (sexism and racism in the art world), and changes in that field. The Black Lives Matter movement is also a NSM in form and function. First of all, just like the Guerrilla Girls movement, the movement is more focused on social changes in the way that police violence against minorities is perceived. Second, the movement consists of a loosely organized social movement with individual, local chapters. It is not so much made up of official members as it is made up of supporters. Finally, Black Lives Matter can be considered a NSM because it is focused on the action of civil society in response to what is seen as an authoritarian state.

Dress is very important for the Guerrilla Girls movement. First and foremost, all of the major members of the movement wear gorilla masks when appearing in public or in the media. The goal of this is not only to maintain anonymity, but also to capture the main essence of the movement. The members also appear to purposefully dress in gender neutral, or otherwise evocative clothing that defies gender norms. Dress is not as important in the Black Lives Matter movement, but still plays a part in the movement. The primary role of dress is the adoption of the movement’s slogan (and name) into a simple black t-shirt with white words: “Black Lives Matter”. This emblematic dress has appeared at protests, in media interviews, and even on mannequins in department stores. Because the t-shirt has become an icon of the movement, dress certainly does have a part to play in the movement.

The Black Panthers Party from the 1960s exemplifies a social movement in which dress had a large role to play. A sort of power response to the non-violent Civil Rights Movement of the same decade, the Black Panthers focused on black pride and advocated fighting for economic and social equality. In relation to this goal, the movement created a uniform for members: a black leather jacket, black pants, a black beret, and even black gloves. This uniform seemed to have two effects. First, it united members of the movement in an almost military fashion. Second, it gave the movement a clear image to the public, and clearly communicated its black pride. The Black Panther movement was revolutionary, and its dress reflected this.

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