How Emotions Shape Feminist Coalitions

Nancy Whittier, Smith College

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This article develops a framework for conceptualizing the emotional dimensions of coalitions, with particular focus on how power operates through emotion in different varieties of feminist coalitions. The article proposes three interrelated areas in which emotion shapes feminist coalitions: (1) Feelings towards coalition partners: feelings of mistrust, anger, fear, or their reverse grow from histories of interaction and unequal power. These make up the emotional landscape of intersectional coalitions, which operate through a tension between negative emotions and attempts at empathy or mutual acceptance; (2) Shared feelings: feminist coalitions build on shared fear of threat or anger at a common enemy; and (3) emergent emotions in collective action. Coalition partners possess distinct emotion cultures. Joint collective action can cement bonds when all participants’ emotion cultures are reflected, or weaken coalitions when the reverse is true. In all three of these areas, organizers engage in emotional labour in order to create or maintain coalitions. These three dynamics are illustrated with examples from intersectional feminist coalitions, the Women’s Marches, and interactions between feminists and conservatives opposed to pornography.