At the Feminist General Assembly

by | May 24, 2012
filed under Feminism, Politics

Feminist General Assembly 2012by Chanel Dubofsky

I’m late to the Feminist General Assembly, and as a result, I have to run across Washington Square Park. When I see the black and white Occupy flag waving around,  I get all teary, and have to pull it together before I reach the edge of the crowd, because my ‘about to cry’ face looks  crazy.

There are moments like this, when my love for Occupy, my obsession with the theory and the manifestation have made me delirious with joy, and in those moments, I’m able to grasp it tightly and see everything through its lens. It’s a lot like feminism was and continues to be, realizing that this is my language, that this makes everything make sense: I’m not insane, I’m not shitty at life because I’m not interested in playing roles that don’t fit me. The thought of the two, Occupy and feminism, moving into together and building something, has kept me on the edge of my proverbial seat for weeks with anticipation.

So when I arrive, we’re all in these big circles (earlier there had been consciousness raising groups), which immediately is delightful to me, since so far at Occupy events, I’ve only been in giant, large groups that made me want to hide. (Although, to be fair, most of the time, any gathering with more than 5 people makes me want to hide.)  In these circles, we brainstorm, particularly around issues of allyship (what do we need from our allies and who are they?) and feminist activism. Each group would report back to the larger gathering.

Here is the thing about the people’s mic-it is so feminist. The idea and practice of having your words reflected to a larger group, loudly, with everyone having to focus on what you’re saying and making sure they’re saying the words you actually said is really powerful in itself,  but consider that women are socialized to be quiet, lady like, delicate.

The people’s mic is the exact opposite of that. It demands boldness, and it amplifies our voices. But, as was reported out by one group, while the tactics of Occupy are intended to allow for all voices, tools such as progressive stack aren’t necessarily always allowed to do what they’re meant to do. There must be effort made by people to create a space to be filled by quieter folks, accounting for not just a difference in personalities, but the fact that women are programmed to be silent.

Throughout the evening, I continue to be stunned by the use of the word feminist in such an unqualified, unapologetic manner. It’s like falling asleep and waking up and then falling asleep again-I keep being confused by it. This was purposely called the Feminist General Assembly, and although one of the messages reported back included the idea to refer to “feminisms,” recognizing that the movement(s) are fraught with problems around race, class and sexuality, there is ownership of the word and its histories and narratives. This indicates to me that we’re invested in claiming a specific space-this isn’t about equalism or humanism-we are dedicated to talking about sexism, patriarchy and misogyny, not just as concepts, but as living forces in the world.

Sexism is alive in Occupy, and this is addressed in the report back. Mansplaining, for example, is not a term I’ve heard outside of the feminist blogosphere, but here, it’s named. “Mansplaining,” says a woman reporting back, “is when a man explains something to a woman that she already knows, usually better than he does.” (You really have to imagine it being repeated by a group of 300 people. It’s beautiful.) Occupy Tweets, which there are countless amounts of daily, need to include more women’s concerns, since we know that capitalism by nature oppresses women, and women are suffering disproportionately in the current economic climate (and in general). One report back: We need to remind Occupy that the face of poverty is female.”

The report backs are so rich (LOTS of up twinkles and snapping): Make our media, because the corporate one does not listen to women, only caricatures of women. We need to embrace discomfort, remain critical, and work to frame the Occupy movement outside of patriarchal notions of male and female. Allow our anger to be beautiful and constructive. Notice male domination and deconstruct what we notice, take it apart not just as individuals, but as a community.

There are moments throughout the GA where it occurs to me how very second wave some of this feels. There are many women (and some men) who refer to their time in “the movement,” which is clearly not the same as “this movement.” I’m not sure this is bad, but it does give me some pause.

Part of what Occupy is working to do is create a space for brand new structures and thinking. The same is true for feminism, and the survival and growth of both movements depends on older folks being able to step back and make room for new voices, while at the same time, sharing their experience and knowledge. This will be hard, but for some reason, I leave the GA with the weird feeling that it can actually happen. There have been stranger things, after all.

So we agree to meet again, once a month. Then there is music, because, as someone said in their report back, “Fun is contrary to the way that capitalism and patriarchy want us to relate to work.” And also, we should have fun, while we’re imagining a future that is that is unlimited in possibility.

(photo by Chanel Dubofsky)


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