Building bridges and why we should bother

Building bridges and why we should bother.

Some thoughts from lenka

“What we risk reveals what we value.” Jeanette Winterson

I’ve often heard women who don’t like feminists or call themselves “I feminists” or “post feminists” say that women are women’s own worst enemy. This is usually followed by talking about how bitchy and mean women are to each other. I don’t think that many feminists would try to claim that any amount of bitching, backstabbing or even bad meetings would make other women a worse enemy to them than the patriarchy for its years of rape, violence, control and oppression. But I have heard feminist women talk about being treated badly by other feminists and how traumatic and disappointing this experience is.

I am feeling motivated to write about this right now partly as a result of a rather upsetting weekend-long feminist workshop that I and many other Wellington feminists attended. I do not want to write about the events of the weekend in depth, only to say that communication was not good, people behaved badly at times, there was conflict and many women left feeling hopeless and upset.  The way that I have heard many women talking in the aftermath of the weekend has made me realise what extremely high expectations we have of other women, even other women who we hardly know.  I think that for many of us having a bad experience with other feminist women is so much harder to take than having a bad experience with any other group. Our expectations of each other are so high, and so the disappointment when those expectations aren’t met is huge. I have heard women say that they feel really reluctant to attend feminist events outside their usual familiar groups because it feels too unsafe.

I have also been finding that lately the feminist groups that I am involved in have lacked passion and energy. We feel a bit lost and listless. I often feel that we have huge amounts of energy and passion when reacting to a crisis or responding to a negative experience we have had with men, but when we come together just as women we don’t really know where to start!  This is hard to deal with and many women have felt discouraged and stopped coming to meetings as a result. Many of us have had such amazing, cathartic, life changing experiences in women’s groups that we attend expecting it to always be like that. When we arrive and find that it is unexciting and hard work we feel let down.

While I completely understand and relate to both these feeling I find it really sad and feel that it is somewhat of a victory for the patriarchy that women are not managing to find broader solidarity with each other than we are. I guess that what I am trying to do by writing this article is to encourage us not to give up on each other. Wider solidarity among feminist women is worth fighting for.

I am not suggesting that we should lower our expectations of each other because I do believe we are capable of working together amazingly and achieving huge things. But I think we’re going to need to put some work in to get to that point and that it is likely to push our tolerance and sometimes be hard and boring.

We struggle so hard and so constantly to work with men, in personal relationships, in groups and in families. Most feminists I know struggle to live alongside men and to do political work with men every day. For me personally this has involved struggling to resolve issues of sexism in countless groups. Running some horribly disempowering workshops for men on sexism (and some more successful ones), trying to work with rapists and dealing with being objectified, ignored, belittled and patronised by men I love and trust. None of this has got any easier. I have learned lots of hard lessons. I have incorporated a great deal more separatism into my life but I have not given up on men. It is too important. I have to exist in this world. I have a brother, a father, male friends and most importantly a nephew and a son. Giving up is not an option.

The fact that I can’t give up on men makes it even more important that I struggle to build wider and stronger networks and relationships with other women. And surely if I can endure hard work and disappointment for men I can endure it for women too!

It is lovely to think that we can all come together with ease and automatically be full of energy and have our shit together (by which I mean being able to communicate in a way that works and feels safe for everyone). Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a lot to expect. It shouldn’t be. But we have all been struggling to live under the patriarchy! The fact that we are feminists doesn’t make us immune. If there is one thing the patriarchy has worked hard at, it’s eroding women’s ability to come together and find solidarity without men. I do not want to condone bad behaviour. I am just saying that we are all human. We are hurting and we are passionate. There is urgency and excitement and desperation. We are often scared and often angry. We often get it wrong and sadly we treat each other badly sometimes. I think that this is all a side effect of how deeply we care and just how important it is. If we are going to create a truly strong feminist movement we are going to have to push though the hard bits and challenge bad behaviour in women, just as we have all become accustomed to challenging bad behaviour in men. We have to have high expectations of each other but we also have to have the commitment, understanding and trust to help each other live up to those expectations. It’s not easy and it’s scary, but I believe it’s one of the most important and rewarding things we can do and to me it’s what feminism is all about.

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3 comments to Building bridges and why we should bother

  • Quinn

    I understand and sympathise how hard it can be to get a group of people, male or female, to agree enough on anything to move forward and manifest in a meaningful way. Sometimes, as you say, everything does comes down to hard work and tedium in the intervals between breakthroughs. In fact in some ways I’m sure its the norm.

    Now for my own little soap box, and I hope not to be accused of being a “troll” or to be shot down in flames, but it occurs to me that many of the problems that women face, men face also. While it is true that men would seem to have advantages in certain areas, to me these are few and far between, as an artist, and a worker, I am in many ways just as disadvantaged, and dismayed by the homogeneous, soulless, short sighted hegemony of dominant mainstream culture, and its worship of self interest, greed and materialism above all else.

    While I whole heartedly believe in feminisms right to exist, and the need for women’s rights and issues to be addressed, and that often this is most correctly achieved by women themselves, I am also aware that often a movement, or any group, is unified by the common hatred of a perceived enemy.

    In Bushes America, it was the “Axis of Evil”. In feminisms case, it is often that nebulous term, “the patriarchy”. Or the obviously gender discriminatory reference to “men” as obviously that which is seen to negatively impact women.

    When I saw the title, “building bridges and why we should bother”, I obviously had hoped that there might be some mention of the other half of the human race. Who come in all shapes and sizes and abilities, and are also oppressed by our MTV generation’s visions of unattainable perfection, all be it to a greater or lesser degree.

    The human weakness that is generalisation, effects all intellectual movements, and I would love it if women, having born the brunt of this laziness and still in many ways doing so, could reach out somewhat through feminism, and not lump all of us into the same group.

    Until I see some form of this, and I’m sure none of you will care, I will find it hard to relate to feminism. I do read feminist texts, from time to time, in order to keep abreast of current thinking, and although not formally educated, I believe men like myself could make great allies.

    It is a dangerous thing to be united by ones animosity towards another group. Surely, and perhaps it is true, feminism should be united more for its concern for women, and humanity in general, than a mistaken perception of half the human race as being responsible of all the worlds ills.

    Let us not forget, that women have been happy to profit from the oppression of others.
    Aristocratic women of Nazi Germany, were marched through Auschwitz, in their fox coats and fur Stoles, after the war, to witness first hand the utter moral corruptness of the regime they had lived the high life on the back of.

    One could argue that they had less power to resist, because they were female, but there were many courageous female resistance fighters, so obviously a choice was made.

    One could also question how much power a German soldier had, or anyone else who worked for the regime in order to put food on the table for his or her family.

    To me, the enemy is ignorance, and the struggle is the uplifting of humanity, and the raising of the ideal of the importance importance of community over self interest.

    I don’t see this as predominantly a gender issue, but an issue of mass media hegemony, and certain powers and political movements that have held too much sway over the generations.

    And I am sure they were patriarchal, these political powers, and that it was precisely their separation from women, and the feminine within themselves, that fuelled the madness.

    I believe in feminism, and believe it is essential to the betterment of civilisation, but I believe it is time it became more inclusive, and more sisterly, toward its male brothers. I also think its possible that the constant referral to the patriarchy, and demonisation of men, is possibly a symptom of female need to constantly refer to one self in relation to men, in itself a symptom of women being considered only as such for generations. Does anyone not see the irony of this??!!

    I suspect, that until feminism grows out of this, it may have a hard time gaining traction with today’s generation of young women, who I think by and large don’t see men as the enemy.

    I don’t claim to be an authority on anything, just a thinker, probably a flawed and confused one, any feed back appreciated.

    Just my two cents.

    Quinn.

  • Aileen

    Hi Quinn,

    Feeling ya – ma homie! If I could start with a very down to earth positive comment for your article.

    The war that I have suffered the past ten years, began when I started to be very confident and ask questions or really let’s break it down – challenge. Suffering injustice, discrimination and persecution in a supposedly civilised westernised country = NZ, has opened my eyes, my heart and my soul to the reality on this planet.

    Yes, it has been a ‘man’s world’ for many centuries – and with that generation upon generation of our own species – women – have been conditioned to an oppressive, chauvenistic hateful attitude towards women. I find it disgusting that our own mothers are part of our oppression.

    Leaders in the feminist movement have to be able to counter the contention, the struggle to be heard, the fustration of past suffering from our fellow feminists. To understand is the key. I just imagine a roomful of kids who have had a bit of a hard life and are all trying to work together, having mini tantrums along the way. So being sensitive to all the issues going on with individuals means reading everyone and psycho-analysing the whole room as quickly as possible, then taking the reins.

    The battle is everywhere and the amazing reality of being born a female is that we have a very close bond with the spiritual realm, that which gives life (because obviously we are able to make new life). So if you have developed all your 6 senses, are of extremely high character – you don’t take control.

    If feminists can’t work together in a basic meeting, we’re all pretty much f*%*ed – still!

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