Warning: pissing on other feminists’ organising cornflakes a bit. Dear UK Feminista: I think it’s great you did a survey. But it . . . just doesn’t really . . . somehow I had an unexpectedly strong reaction while responding to this survey by UK Feminista. I stumbled across it from the excellent Feminist Webs which I had been reccomended as a resource for networking feminists and girls/ young women’s groups (of which there is an exciting resurgence at the moment), and thought I’d supportively fill it in. But I wrote so much that I wanted to write it up.
The survey started, after the offer of a free T-shirt & tote bag or somthing:
“Tell us about your passions, priorities and needs in our online survey”
Sure. Ok. I scrolled on down. First question:
- Are you part of a feminist, women’s or other campaigning group?* YesNo
- If yes, what is the name of your group?
Ah, well . . . what group? There are different groups I sometimes attend, and do different things with. I’m not sure if I’m part of any of them. Is there a maybe? I don’t have any group that I primarily identify myself with.
Hackles up, I continued.
- Please describe your involvement in feminist activismFor example, have you run or participated in any campaigns? Have you attended any demonstrations or protests?
OK, can we just address that formalised feminist activism, in the form of demonstrations or protests, is NOT THE ONLY SORT. I have attended plenty demos, reclaim the night, pro-choice stuff, uh, and erm, loads of non demo/protests . . .one the most worthwhile things I have ‘done’ was a women’s split off from our anarcho network, a group of women in activism joining together to have conversations we hadn’t had before, unfortunately is didn’t get through the puke phase into the productive FUCK YEAH WE WANT TO ORGANISE ON THIS stage, but it felt connected and real and valuable . . .
and wait a minute. actually, this is just not where I’m at.
my feminist activism is my hairy legs and armpits when I work in a school. it’s subverting the make-up out at ‘girls’ club’ at a secondary special needs school with girls who can barely assent yet alone comprehend or express fully why & how they might want to use make up by joking about it, by suggesting to boys that they put on some eyeshadow to bring out the colour of their eyes, and how pretty they’d look if they did, and then in the staffroom discussing how we push genderroles onto kids, in a way that connects with the other staff who will not self identify as feminists.
It’s supporting my women friends in any and everyway, being actively non-judgemental. It’s telling a woman who’s beating herself up about getting interviews but no jobs that it’s capitalism, not her, and capitalism and the patriarchy want her to blame herself and try harder (in more user-friendly language).
It’s dealing with intimacy and power and expectation and consent and our histories in our interactions and relationships. Recognising that there is a rape culture, and acting on the assumption that we are all affected by this, and knowing that anyone could be a survivor of something that they may not ever want to talk about.
It’s reacting to sexist comments with confrontational or jokey or provocative responses. It’s letting a fellow applicant who’s got two kids know that I thought the introduction to our PGCE course where they said ‘by the way, don’t get pregnant this year’ was bang out of order. It’s letting a girl choose to get muddy or not get muddy in the garden.
It’s not ever greeting a girl with ‘oooh you’re pretty aren’t you’ as the first comment, and calling out my colleague when she does it, but finding a way to talk to her which doesn’t make me seem like a wanky PC academic feminist but actually connects with her.
It’s having a conversation on equal terms with that 10ryold girl about playing, growing up, maturity, conflict, bullying, teachers, safety vs sticking up for your friends, football, when she says tentatively ‘it’s like they’re sexist or something’ affirming ‘they are sexist’, and making plans with her for setting up a girls’ group, letting her know that she is able to get things and stick up for herslef in a way that adult women struggle with, but sometimes adult women come together to help each other stick up for themselves better, and seeing her mother, and discussing the issues around the conflict kids have to deal with, and the responsibility as a single mother . . .
It’s pointing out to my partner that he’s been socialised to under-estimate the amount of cleaning that gets done in a house because his mum did the lion’s share, and so actually he’s over estimating the proportion of washing up he’s doing.
And most of these things are things that women do every day without calling them feminist activism. It’s life. And many women who operate in the everyday sphere of feminism normally haven’t had the hours of explicit feminist spaces and campaigns and protest that I have had to to articulate this rant in terms of feminism, and certainly not in response to your question and it’s answer box. Most people have learnt at school and in their workplaces that you should give the answer to a question that is wanted on a form. Say yes, no, specify, elaborate, Don’t question the question, that gets you in trouble.
Well, your box hasn’t run out. I’ve got physical space to write this, but you didn’t invite it. And you wonder why UK feminista isn’t being led by a greater diversity of women. No-one who is at the bottom of the capitalist patriarchal heap has got the energy to come and seek out a movement that’s not going to help them with immediate practical stuff. Go and try meet some people where they’re at and find out how you can support them. This survey isn’t the way to do it.
this next question . . . I like what it’s asking for, but not how it asks it.
- Describe a feminist action or campaign you have found particularly inspiring or empowering
practical feminist self defence. Getting women who are not necessarily active in Feminism together, to learn and share practical, useful reactions to the violence and oppression and harrasment perpetrated against them, and discovering a commonality of experience, including having learned to be ‘polite’ and also discovering a variety of ways in which we experience harassment etc and choose to deal with it in different circumstances.
And the survey went on a little bit more. I think there are some wider reflections to draw out of this, that are dynamics between organising around a campaign, or organising around people as a starting point. I’ve had a lot of recent contact with youth work engaged for social change, in the sense of emancipatory, youth-led, holistic youth work rather than youth services, and discussions around the failures and successes of activism and youth work, and one thing I’m processing from that is picking out those two distinct organising dynamics. I think that Feminista’s survey is a campaign centred approach, which I am just coming to view as inherently and problematically limited in its potential for inclusivity. This, after having entered a-lot of stuff through quite formal, if anarchofeminist in consensus decision making process, groups. I’ve just had a transformation in my levels of connection and motivation, for the better, and I’m trying to formulate and express how my vision of ‘how to organise’ has changed/ what it has become. Thanks, Feminista, for provoking this thought-space. I might try and draft a more people-centred variant on this survey. Or look for an existing one.