by Chanel Dubofsky
I was late to the last Feminist General Assembly, so in a flurry of embarassment and neurosis, I am absurdly early to this one. I sit on a bench for a while, getting sprayed by the fountain whose water moves when the wind blows, watching the Women Occupying Wall Street crew in a beautiful, conspiratorial huddle. When the Feminist General Assembly sign is unfurled and held up, people start to gather. A middle aged, balding white dude in a polo shirt calls out, “Get a job!” and keeps walking past, accompanied by some women with sweaters draped over their shoulders. What I want to do is chase after him and yell a lot, but instead, I make a mental note to write him a strongly worded letter, which he will never read.
The GA, the theme of which is LGBTQ because of Pride Month, opens with a reminder that Cece McDonald is still in prison, and that today, Lisa Brown and Eve Ensler are performing the Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Michigan capitol, because dudes think vagina is a really gross and terrible word. We all shout “vagina”, and I have a series of flashbacks to being in college and yelling it during rehearsals for the Vagina Monologues, feeling subversive and kind of dirty and scary.
We get into small groups to answer the question “What words/names/terms have you had trouble using/receiving?” In my group, the words are queer, feminist and anything queer positive. We talk about young women being nervous about using the word feminist, although they benefit so directly from the achievements of it, and how the word “feminism” implies a monolith, in fact, there are many feminisms.
The GA is being tweeted by a bespectacled guy with an “Occupy Justice” patch on the back of his sweatshirt. He says that UStream, the apparatus he’s using, won’t let him tweet the word “vagina.” Apparently, it’s “inappropriate language. (“Ustream, which we use to make sure people far away can participate or hear what’s going on, is still a corporation..”) We retaliate by yelling it a lot.
In larger groups, we are supposed to tackle two questions: How did the feminist and queer movements influence each other? and how can we collaborate towards goals of gender/sexual justice and freedom? (This first question feels a little like school.) In our group, S, the male facilitator, explains progresive stack, which is a process designed so that marginalized folks get a chance to speak. Overall, we don’t seem to know a lot about feminist history or the history of the LGBTQ movements, which seems to hinder the conversation. A woman points out that if you don’t have information about this topic, you might not have a lot to contribute. Who has access to this knowledge? (Me, the self professed feminist history nerd.)
S proceeds to list his numerous feminist and radical affiliations and to confess that he doesn’t know what’s in him that’s moved him in this direction and that he struggles with it. I’m annoyed. On one hand, he’s probably a bit unnerved by being a dude in this space, but on the other hand, I feel like this is an attempt to assert power. I don’t know if he knows that.
We discuss that it’s easy to ignored the connections between feminism and labor rights, gay rights, etc, because capitalism has created a system whereby we can’t share accomplishments, even social justice ones. We all have to be able to claim our “own” and benefit from them, even if it’s impossible to actually make progress without coalition building.
Another older, white dude begins his statement with “I am old enough to remember,” which is almost always a hint of problematic things to come. He’s old enough to remember when people hid their sexuality and got married and had children instead of risking coming out. It’s a valuable perspective, certainly, but it’s like he just woke up today and realized things, and he wants to talk about it, rather than address what we’ve come here to discuss. He’s not racist or sexist anymore. We are all equal. This is about rights. I am so uncomfortable. He will not stop talking, and no one’s checking him. I’m not sure what the protocol is for this. When we disband our group and prepare to give report backs, I think, “Well, that was patriarchy.”
I find R, my excellent friend who does puppetry for Occupy. She’s with another puppeteer, and they’re rigging up a giant Lady Liberty. I tell her what happened in my group, and she assures me that there is protocol for what happened and it’s designed specifically to make sure people don’t get out of hand. A, someone from my first group, is reporting back. “What’s restricting our ability to free ourselves?” she’s saying. “What does it mean that our movement is represented by professional advocacy groups? We need to be our own experts with our own agenda.”
R asks me to help her and another puppeteer operate Lady Liberty for the photo op that’s coming. We stand in back of the Feminist General Assembly banner while others hold black and white signs with quotes on them. I hold the pole that works Lady Liberty’s left arm while R puts a sign in her right hand that says “Reclaim Hope.” She uptwinkles and waves.
The next Feminist General Assembly is scheduled for July 18th.