A Feminist's Feminist

Thorne Has Been at the Cutting Edge of the Women's Movement Since Its Beginning

by Julia Sommer

"The easiest move I've ever made" is how Barrie Thorne describes her transition from the University of Southern California to Berkeley this fall.

First holder of the Streisand Chair in Intimacy and Sexuality in the Program for the Study of Women and Men in Society at USC, Thorne now holds dual professorships in Sociology and Women's Studies here.

One of many founders of the women's liberation movement and women's studies, Thorne is an ardent feminist. Her partner, University Librarian Peter Lyman, has shared fully in raising their two children. "Our careers have taken shape through continual negotiation of work and family," says Thorne.

Their son is a first year graduate student at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, while their daughter is a first year undergraduate at Bryn Mawr. The family has an email alias to keep up with each other. "We're all starting new stuff this year," says Thorne.

Thorne recalls the early days of feminism with relish. "I've been both a creator and beneficiary of the women's studies movement," she says. "I'm part of the generation that invented it through being martyrs--teaching extra courses, struggling with curriculum committees, running against the grain, not getting official credit or support.

"We were from many disciplines, committed to including the excluded and changing bureaucracy. It was thrilling, exhilarating work."

Thorne's research has centered on children, gender relations, language and the family from a feminist point of view. Her latest book is "Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School." She co-edited, with Nancy Henley, the groundbreaking 1975 book "Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance." (Henley and Thorne will be on a panel reflecting on the last two decades of this interdisciplinary field at the fourth Berkeley Women and Language Conference, April 19 to 26.)

Thorne's current research project, "California Childhoods," is a comparative study of urban childhoods in Los Angeles, the East Bay and Santa Cruz-Watsonville in collaboration with anthropologists and psychologists at Stanford and UC Santa Cruz. It is being organized and funded through the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Pathways Through Middle Childhood.

Thorne was raised in Logan, Utah, by descendants of Mormon pioneers. "Maybe I get my proselytizing fervor from that," she says with a smile. She was, not unwillingly, excommunicated from the Mormon Church in 1980 for her feminist activities.

Thorne's father was vice president of Utah State University. Her mother, who received a PhD in economics in 1938, helped found the women's studies program there at the same time Thorne was creating one at Michigan State. They shared sources and syllabi.

Thorne received a BA from Stanford in 1964, then studied for a year at the London School of Economics as the first woman from Stan-ford to win a Marshall Scholarship.

Last semester Thorne taught "Introduction to Women's Studies" and a graduate sociology seminar in participant observation. This semester she is teaching "Sociology of the Family" and "Feminist Theory." Next year, while on sabbatical, she plans to create a new course, "Sociology of Childhood."

"I especially appreciate the diverse student body here," says Thorne. "I hope it will hold over time--it's one of UC's major assets."

Among Thorne's consulting activities is a research and video project on school climates that empower girls sponsored by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. She was also involved in developing landmark Association of American Colleges publications dealing with the "chilly" atmosphere for women in classrooms and on campuses.

"All you have to do is watch Saturday morning TV or visit Toys R Us to see that sexism and gender stereotyping are alive and well," comments Thorne. "But children, and adults, have always been far more diverse than the stereotypes. This variation, and individual and collective resistance, are forces for change."


Copyright 1996, The Regents of the University of California.
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