DOES 'FEMINISM' STILL HELP US CARE?
Knowledge Lab 3
Sunday 11-2pm: ‘Does feminism still help us to care?’
Helen, the adopter of the session, opened by introducing the two ideas behind the workshop’s title:
1) That there remains an urgent need to find ways of articulating women’s distinctive experiences in the contemporary social and political situation. 2) That feminism is a term which has been much contested. ‘Feminism’ and ‘feminist’ are abstractions used to describe, organise and call into being certain kinds of politics. Because of this there is often a tension between meanings of the term and political practices, there is not a perfect fit.
The workshop aimed to start from our perceptions, understandings, experiences and practices in order to explore feminism’s meaning and its utility for today’s activism.
Discussion 1: What is feminism? People mind mapped their perceptions of the meanings of feminism. We then shared these perceptions.
Key areas people identified were:
Power structures – social and cultural – creating changes – fighting inequality Term used to describe specific issues Questioning what seems ‘normal’ Reproduction – work – economic system Global
Used to fight oppression but sometimes used to oppress At times an aggressive doctrine
Caring about women Led by women, autonomy ‘Never give up’ ‘I still call myself a radical feminist’
‘All my political analysis’ Women’s liberation is everybody’s liberation Friends and new generations
Seen as less relevant? Recent history, recent changes Clichés, like hairy arm pits
Personal is political, and the political is not only personal Daily actions and personal relationships Expressing emotions – emotional framework
Language – sometimes dismissed as ‘political correctness’ Critique of women as passive Pragmatic essentialism and a critique of essentialism ‘Feminist theory’, too abstract? Feminist theory from practice Tactical use of ‘ism’
Who am I? Being aware what that means. Important because otherwise can feel isolated Raises questions – sex and ‘what is an orgasm’?.
Useful tool Intuitive
Discussion 2: When has feminism helped you ‘care’? Example – why that might have been?
When has feminism been more ambivalent? Example – why that might have been?
When has feminism helped? • Organising nursery provision in Hackney. Helpful because it helped develop an analysis about why nursery provision is important. • Developing a collective argument against the way men were organising in a student Stop the War group. • Not just you. Feeling bad about your body, for example, is a cultural produced feeling, and that it doesn’t have to be that way. • Think differently, value emotions and intuitions.
When has feminism been more ambivalent?
• Ambivalence about using feminism in research work in Ecuador, is it cultural imperialism? • First encountered feminism via phrases like ‘all men are rapists’ but ultimately helpful in critiquing femininity and masculinity. • Issues about feminist theory, sometimes initially intimating but worth it if you spend time understanding it. • The term ‘feminism’ can make people just reject the analysis they are already using to understand their dissatisfactions with their lives.
We concluded the session with questions that can out of our discussion. • How can specific ideas be connected up to the idea of ‘feminism’ as a term in a way which is helpful? • Is collective decision making more important than the result? (i.e. if everyone votes for gender segregation then is that a problem?) • How do we make sense of the successes of girls and boys schools? • Is academic feminism theory helpful to activism? Can you have theory if it is not produced through a dialogue with practice?