We are inviting women from diverse cultures, races, sexual orientation, and all who self-identify as women, regardless of birth gender, to share their personal stories about their encounters with sexism, racism, classism or similar forms of discrimination as they relate to the larger issues of women's oppression.If through dialogue, we find ways to work together to move the lives of women forward, great. If not, we can at least listen to each other and become more sensitive to each others' goals. These diaries are intended to be dialogues among women from their own perspectives. We ask men readers to respect this.
This is likely to be short and to the point, as I am very involved in OccupyBoston and little time today. I did want to jot down some of the gender-based experiences I've seen and heard about here, though.
As I note in a previous diary, OccupyBoston almost fell apart organizationally last week. We were having a difficult time creating a General Assembly environment which was conducive to openness and productivity. On Wednesday evening not one person on the facilitation team wanted to facilitate a GA. A huge factor in that dynamic had to do with how women were being treated. More below the fold.....
At last Tuesday evening's General Assembly, two women were facilitating. One of them ended up walking away from the assembly and the other wanted to but felt too strongly that the occupation couldn't afford to have that happen. They were both quite shaken up, as they stage had been rushed by the crowd and they were not afforded any respect or empowerment to facilitate a meeting. Men were dominating the airwaves and encroaching on their physical space.
We had seen a lot of this. There were some stark examples:
- We try to keep the presentation area clear of anybody who is not presenting during the GA. It's distracting to everyone when other people are milling around up there and often they are blocking the camera for the livestream. It is difficult to get compliance. The facilitation team has to assign people to monitor the space and ask people to move. One evening a woman was doing this job. She asked a man to move down from the presentation area and he refused. Four times. She then sent another woman to ask him. He refused. Twice. She then sent a man to ask him. He moved upon the first request by a male.
- The first time I facilitated the GA, there was in the beginning a fairly diverse crowd. People were sitting up front and behind them people were standing. At every agenda item in the meeting there were voices of dissent saying, "who gave you the power to put that on the agenda?!" or "I think we should be doing it this way!" About halfway through the meeting, I looked down to see that the crowd sitting down had vacated and the standing crowd and changed. The entire front line of people standing was male and mostly white. They had disrupted every discussion and blocked any progress at the GA. The next morning, there was camp GA and when I arrived at the 5pm meeting for the evening GA I was told how they had done such a great job facilitating. I asked what was done differently. The only functional difference was that the agenda items were in a different order. They hadn't done anything different in terms of the way they facilitated. The structural difference: the facilitators were two white males. We had already seen a pattern: when men facilitated, the meetings went more smoothly. When women facilitated, men disrupted and tried to overpower them.
- OccupyBoston has not been able to put out any "official" declarations or demands. I've seen several attempts at people proposing that we have a provisional list wherein we can put one item at a time until we feel the list is complete. That, at least, this would allow us to say something official without claiming that the list was all-encompassing or prioritized. These proposals are always shot down. There are a couple of people insisting that their working group is writing a full list and that it would be detrimental to the entire occupation if we were to go through any process other than what their group is doing. Their group meets late at night, after the GA. I stayed one evening to see the group. All male. Mostly white. I think there may be one or two other people trying to be involved, but I am very concerned about this group defining a movement which is supposed to represent a plurality of voices.
- After our frightening and intense night of arrests, we used the GA for some testimonial time so that people could hear from differing perspectives and connect the experiences for a fuller picture of what had happened. We asked for people to categorize themselves - those who had been arrested, those who had witnessed arrest, those who held the line but saw no police action, etc. We created different stacks for each category and started calling out those who were willing to come up and speak. The lead facilitator was about to close the testimonial segment, when I stood up and said, "we need to hear from women." We had heard from about 10 men and only 1 or two women. I went to the microphone and called women up to speak. Suddenly there was a line and about 6 or 7 women then spoke.
- The Media Team, who are often interviewed and in front of the cameras, is predominantly men.
There are tons of little exchanges where the women are feeling overpowered and disrespected by the men. My sense is that a couple of things are feeding this dynamic. People have come to protest which means many are coming with their anger. We have a contingent of angry young men and they don't realize or seem to care that this makes them aggressive and oppressive. There is one young man, for instance, who is beautiful in so many ways and I'm certain that I agree with much of what he stands for. But, no matter how many times we say something, he insists on yelling when he gets the microphone. Women, particularly, end up cringing. Yelling is not the only way to express anger or passion. It is a violent form of expression. Women are not comfortable with men who yell. The women are going to fade back when they encounter this.
Also, this is an encampment at the core of a movement. The rough nature of living in an encampment means that there are many more men camping out than women. The movement includes far more people than the campers, but the campers naturally feel a bit more like they own it. That can lead to them feeling they have more of a right to control things or have more say.
After the near-demise of the GA last week, we have seen some improvement in how the facilitators are treated. There has been more respect for the process and this has gone a long way to empowering the facilitators. It is my hope that the more the GAs go well with women facilitating them, the better the gender dynamics will get. Also, the more the community bonds and people's anxieties are quelled, the better it will get. It's a stressful thing to gather in civil disobedience and the stress can bring out our lowest common denominators in terms of relationship skills. I hope to see that as the movement builds and trust amongst the members of the community grows, we'll get to higher common denominators. Still, it's sad to realize that we are in the 21st century and through a few waves of feminism and gender dynamics remain so challenging.