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Notes from the Portland Feminist Meetup – November Edition

December 9, 2012

The first Sunday of every month, a group of feminists meets in the In Other Words space to discuss current issues through a feminist lens. The topic for Sunday, November 4th was “How do we use feminism in our daily lives?” IOW volunteer Susan was kind enough to take notes at the meeting.

Please note that this discussion is the result of an independent group, and the opinions expressed do not reflect those of In Other Words. If you’re interested in joining in on these talks, the Feminist Discussion Group meets the first Sunday of each month at In Other Words; the next meeting will be Sunday, January 6th. You can join the facebook group for more information.

What can we do in our daily lives that’s feminist, and how do we deal with the flawed system (this toxic patriarchal society)? How can we approach the challenges on a daily basis? How do we deal with what other people do?

We have another scary election coming up and we could end up with another oppressive Republican in the White House, but this topic is always relevant, not only during election time. Feminist activism and subsequent change really does need to happen outside the political sphere. We aren’t going to see major change starting from a national level because, historically, major change has never happened from the top. It starts from the bottom. Politicians like Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem compromise too much, and compromise doesn’t get us very far. We ask for change because we need it, but some people would rather compromise than get nothing.

LGBTQA—They’re in a similar space to feminists. There are protests, they’re out on the street, not relying on law makers to start the movement. I think we’re coming into a period of great social change. It’s great to see so many people who are fed up with the status quo and hope people will get out on the streets and make it happen.

On November 3rd, Occupy hosted an Anti-Austerity Protest at Lloyd Center. Little things like that visually make a difference—demonstrators dressed like Druids and having a Pagan Samhain ritual in public. Maybe that’s something we need to get back to more. At the protest, there were big blocks of college students wearing chains and angrily protesting. During the march, the cops pepper-sprayed people three times. People had to stay behind a line, but the police sometimes get the wrong people.

It’s nice to see the younger generation is not participating in the corporate materialist agenda. We don’t want these things, but we’re not acting on our beliefs. It’s not enough to grumble on Facebook, but sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind that social change takes a long time.

One way to practice feminist activism is to be like Amy Goodman (of Democracy Now!) and become the media you want to see. Independent media is what we should be paying attention to. Mainstream media is from a war-mongering white male supremacist perspective. Actually, mainstream media backlash has successfully demonized feminism and made it a dirty word.

EDUCATION

I believe in education as revolution. In kindergarten through twelve grade, we should be taught nonviolent communication (NVC) skills. Children should be taught (by parents, guardians, and teachers) to understand their emotions and the needs behind them. People who aren’t in touch with their emotions and have poor communication skills (not to mention are greedy and barbaric) cause wars.

Unfotunately, today there is a huge disparity between private and public schools. Politicians and others of power and means put their kids in private schools, so they don’t care what goes on in the public schools. Just like so many Senators are pro-war but don’t want their kids to go to war as soldiers: powerful hypocrites.

Every legislative session there’s all this stuff about schools and improving educations, but we close schools all the time and have huge class sizes and the schools are still slipping through the cracks. Everyone is saying we need to save and fund the schools, but nothing happens.

“I remember protests about the school cuts back when my daughter was five years old, and she’s grown up now.”

The United States is now 19th in terms of the quality of the schools (editor’s note: Exact statistics are hard to find, but HuffPo has a good article about it); we think of ourselves as a superpower and should be in the top five. The economy is dependent on everyone. We can’t rely on being number nineteen. (And we’re number twelve in the world economy; that’s something to keep in mind when someone smugly says we’re the “best country in the world” or “we’re the wealthiest country in the world.”)

But it goes deeper than the value of education. In the Middle East and Asia there’s a lot more importance put into education—studying for long hours. Here there’s not as much emphasis on reading for pleasure and reading and studying outside of what is taught in school; it’s not just the educational system. It’s also a matter of teaching people to educate themselves and to seek out knowledge. Schools here are more motivated toward sports. There’s now so much emphasis on playing video games instead of studying or going out to play in the fresh air.

“I think education is a key, though. You need an educated populace to grow and change.”

“We learn to be technicians and to have a function. Some of the better schools are actually teaching critical thought and leading toward the change our educational system should be moving toward.”

“[My] high school is trying but limited by the fact that it’s a Catholic school. The teacher has to stop certain discussions because she/he could get into trouble for them.”

“When my daughter was in school there was one teacher who was trying to teach critical thought like when I was a kid, and he got fired.”

“Teachers are afraid to teach. They’re struggling and kind of at the mercy to teach what they can teach. They aren’t able to do the things that would be beneficial to the students. A lot of schools teach the children as cookie cutters. But everyone has learning styles and different children learn differently.”

Two members of the discussion are students at different high schools, one all-girl and the other co-ed. The atmosphere at the all-girl high school is more open and empathetic perhaps because there aren’t boys there. It’s done wonders to get students to support each other and to talk about how they’re feeling. Coed school is more about the socialization of boy and girl – with that aspect removed, girls can focus more on building relationships with each other. Coed high school with an awful lot of students who have trouble empathizing and it’s hard to get them to connect with each other. Likewise, kids who grew up in homeschool environments have different approaches to socialization, communication, and relationship-building.

It’s unfortunate that you have to get a gender-separated high school in order to get that empathetic environment. The same student who now goes to the all-girl school remembers a co-ed school where she didn’t like to be friends with girls because they were so petty and catty.

Youth and Government Program at high school—teaches you about the government, how to write a bill and all these students from around Oregon meet at the senate and the bills they write get passed or failed and really reach the government. Writing law is one of the most powerful things we can do as Americans.

When I was in college we had a program called the Illumination Project, at PCC. We all got together who wrote a skit about oppression. We thought we needed to make people aware of oppression. “If you see something oppressive, you say stop and let them know what to do to stop that.” It was tuition-free.

SPREADING FEMINISM/TEACHING FEMINISM

How do you address feminism with people who are not within the movement? How do I talk to my family, for instance? How do I talk to my mom—smile and nod or do I talk about things she isn’t necessarily going to connect with? How do I speak the language of feminism with people who don’t get it?

I’ve noticed that some misogynists have been convinced by male feminists. After all, they’re more likely to take a feminist seriously if that person is male. A friend of mine said she has a feminist male friend who looks ordinary—he looks like a “Good old boy” and he’s casually talked sense to patriarchal males. I’d like to see people like him sent out into the Midwest!

“I think that with some people you need to not necessarily baby it down, but use language they understand; you don’t want to go over their head and sound like a snot or be preachy. It’s a lot harder for people to accept information if they’re being preached to.”

“So much of my understanding of feminism is intuitive, ingrained in our culture, and eventually you see it more clearly. Others aren’t educated. It’s not like you’re seeing feminist commercials. There aren’t a lot of feminist TV shows. It’s not like you’re getting educated about it just by being alive.”

As a feminist, I’ve had to educate myself rather than relying on school or parents. Not everyone is inspired to do this.

My patriarchal mother and aunts behave as if women’s history and female perspectives are still not written down or published, and as though their local Barnes & Noble’s doesn’t even have a women’s studies section, which is not the case. They don’t try looking up feminist books or otherwise educate themselves and say ridiculous things like, “If women wrote history, it’d be about babies and children.”

“I think there are definitely a lot of feminists who are a part of the problem. They sometimes go so far to the extreme that they say you’re either with us or against us when addressing a stay-at-home mom. An example is saying you’re not a feminist if you’re wearing make-up. There’s a better way to say that, like you look beautiful without make-up.”

“As women we need to support each other. We need to support each other more in just being women and being confident and educating and learning and those kinds of things.”

“I had an experience with some young women who went so far as to be bullying. And what it comes down to is we’re no longer friends because I’m white, cisgendered, and so privileged. It’s all thanks to a petty argument. Especially in high school girls get so petty and cliquish and I don’t like that because I want to connect with other girls and experience sisterhood.”

“We do grow up—well, it doesn’t always happen. I’m sorry you had to experience that. But it does help you learn the friendships you do want and the people you associate with.”

“It does help you figure out what you do want in friendships and relationships, You learn to reject people who are toxic.” (I’m in my forties and am still learning this.)

“There’s a fine line with education and beating guys over the head with their own privilege. After you identify the privilege, where do you draw the line and stop telling them, stop beating them over the head? I’ve talked with a lot of my male friends, and they do feel a lot of guilt. Guilt is an unpleasant place to be in.”

You don’t want to be so overwhelmed that you don’t even try.

I’m learning all the time and learning as a feminist. You can always say, Oh, I just saw this… and bring up a specific situation, and that can help educate others. You can’t force anyone to do anything.

“And you shouldn’t. You wouldn’t want anyone to try to force you to be something that you’re not.”

“I love my mother but she’s very set in a certain mindset. I’m not going to shift her thoughts unless she wants to change. I think there’s a point when you have to acknowledge whether someone is willing to change or not.”

Sometimes maybe you can sit down with someone and ask them why they think a certain way.

Sometimes you just have to accept each other as you are (when it comes to relatives) and that they’re not going to change. With parents, it’s easier if you’re not living with them.

“My high school does have a gender studies class, but we have a really work-heavy senior year so I didn’t get to take it. I’m glad that this is a space where I can kind of have a gender studies space.”

Any word is the power we give to it. The word cult has a negative connotation. The word cunt has a negative connotation. They’re bad because we feel that they’re bad. Words are power.

What do you do every day as a feminist?

Read feminist books, watch feminist movies and TV shows. Say feminist stuff, volunteer at In Other Words, sign petitions, share stuff on Facebook and Twitter and blogging, be myself. Not-so-every-day: participate in demonstrations.

“I stopped watching TV. It’s so counter-intuitive to what I believe in. It wasn’t helpful for me in this stage.”

“I watched America’s Top Model and it made me want to cry—the toxic messages I was getting inundated with.”

  • Drop-Dead Diva – This TV show is actually pretty decent. It’s a strong woman in a powerful position who’s defies some typical “beautiful, successful woman” stereotypes.
  • Adventure Time – It’s a kid’s TV show that’s pretty progressive and refreshing.
  • Hayao Miyazaki  – An animator whose films are feminist and appeal to adults and children (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke).

THE MEDIA

Toy commercials—I’ve seen gender-specific toy aisles in stores. It’s disturbing to see a very pink aisle and then a very military aisle. There’s a video of a little girl complaining about how girl’s stuff is expected to be pink and boy’s stuff always blue.

Advertising and commercials: false sense of feminism. A sense that this is what feminism is supposed to be about. Sex in the City—women having lots of sex and wearing mini-skirts—is that really what feminism is about? The show has a character who wears a Playboy bunny necklace. You can see ads about “feminine odor” in a magazine. Another women’s magazine had something about “if men could menstruate” it’d be open and mainstream and there’d be more research on it (actually, that describes a 1970s Ms. article by Gloria Steinem). If men could get pregnant, abortion clinics would be like Starbucks.

(Editor’s note: I had originally included this image in the post. After some discussion, I’ve realized it was insensitive and wish to extend my apologies to any upset it may have caused.)

Photo clips from a video, so you could tell how the parents reacted to what the kids did. Skit in which girls picked the Spiderman costume and the boys picked out the Princess costume. Parents saying, “You need to get out of this phase.” Toxic parenting. Boys are treated as if when they wear a dress that’s horrible. Why is that? Because being a girl “isn’t OK.” Because being a girl means being powerless. Pop culture considers a submissive female to be a good role model…but sometimes it’s a strong female character. But for boys it’s only one option, to be macho and to be strong and get the girl. Patriarchy doesn’t want guys to cry (a normal emotional behavior). They’re expected to be macho and not display “feminine” emotions. It’s socially acceptable for men to show anger and no other emotions.

MACHISMO

Morrissey is the lead singer for the Smiths. He sings emotional songs sometimes and is still is very popular today. There’s a huge Hispanic following of Morrissey. It’s weird, a stereotype. Especially in the young Latino community in California. They’ll line up around corners. Why do macho Latino guys like Morrissey so much? It’s a way for them to express their other side without losing their masculinity.

“I don’t think feminism can make that much progress without men participating. It’s sad that they’re pressured to be macho.”

“Guys in Portland still have a long way to go, but they’re so much better than in other parts of the U. S. They don’t cry much, but they play the guitar and are more likely to express emotions.”

“It’s great that a guy can cry and be emotional, but it’s not enough—they need to be aware of their role in the status quo. They need to move to understanding their role in all this and stand up against it.”

There’s still a lot of transphobia. There’s a lot to learn, people need to educate themselves in order to get a general understanding of different sexual orientations and trans people. It takes time to wrap your head around it.

THE ELECTION

Binders full of women—I’ve seen two Halloween costumes based on Romney.

“I don’t think politics are about feminism. I don’t think politicians will help us out. However, I voted for a woman, Jill Stein.”

“I’m almost thirty and am now voting for the first time.”

“I was wondering what you all think of this… do you think if Romney were elected, what do you think the changes we’d see in government?”

“I think all the politicians are driven by big government, so I don’t see any big changes there. I think there’ll be more drilling, more oil. Climate? Both presidential candidates are pushing oil.”

“I’ve noticed when he’s in office Obama says the right things, and it’s terrible what he does. He’s taken Bush’s policies and upped them—more torture and deportation. He says one thing to distract us and then does another.”

“Obama has been pro-abortion, and I think that’s helped women.”

Howard Zinn – A People’s History of the U. S. “The laws that are in place have never meant to be for the people, our constitutions and our laws are not set up for us. They’re for the ones in power. Americans need to rethink our government. The people in office are not helping us, and people need to wrap their heads around this. Until we do, people will be relying too much on the system instead of marching in the streets. For change we have to acknowledge this.”

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca Weaver permalink
    December 11, 2012 12:11 am

    Just a comment on the tumblr graphic. . .I’m aware it’s supposed to be a joke, and I agree that genitalia-operated toys obviously aren’t for kids. Still, I think it’s a misleading graphic. . .because one of the unspoken assumptions that’s supposed to make it funny is (I think) that while there may be a diversity of toys that boys play with and a diversity of toys that girls play with. . .there’s not a diversity of genitals that boys have or a diversity of genitals that girls have. And that, therefore, in a hypothetical world where genitalia-operated toys WERE acceptable for kids, it would be OK for some of the toys to only be for boys and some of the toys to only be for girls, based off their genitals. And this simply isn’t true. One can’t accurately classify kids as boys or girls based off their genitals in many instances. There are kids with intersex-appearing genitals as well as girls with penises and boys with vaginas. The fact that virtually all adults regularly DO classify children according to genitalia is, furthermore, invasive of children’s privacy, extremely objectifying, and one of the biggest systemic factors that perpetuates a cissexist society that marginalizes intersex and trans* people.

    Anyhow. In other news. . .good discussion overall, guys. A lot of important ideas shared, I think. I especially agreed about the part that said how kids need to learn better from adults things like Nonviolent Communication–good communication skills and emotional awareness techniques.

    Like

    • December 11, 2012 8:52 pm

      Rebecca – I appreciate your feedback. As the editor of this blog, my intent is to make content more engaging by including a diversity of media – the image in question was one that I thought of while reading the notes that Susan sent me. I felt that it was pertinent to include based on the prevalence of gender-policing in children. I absolutely agree with you that one’s genitalia does not define one’s gender, identity, or preference in playthings, and by placing no emphasis on the pink/blue divide we’re opening the door to a wider range of genders and gender fluidity.

      Thank you again for your insightful comments,
      Katy

      Like

  2. Rebecca Weaver permalink
    December 12, 2012 12:38 am

    Katy, thanks for responding to me! And overall, I think you’re being very successful with your goal of making the blog content more engaging by containing diverse media. Having the YouTube clips, picture of Amy Goodman, and so on really helped the entry come to life. The tumblr graphic you posted, however, is still clearly cissexist to me, even though I recognize you didn’t create it and that you weren’t intending to be cissexist in posting it. Furthermore, I do believe you when you say that you don’t think a child’s genitalia determines their gender. But allow me to ask some questions. Why does the graphic mention genitalia? Why is it bringing genitalia into the discussion? If genitalia is not necessary for determining whether a child is a boy and a girl, and children shouldn’t use genitalia-operated toys anyway, why are genitalia-operated toys being mentioned?

    Well, given the belief among the overwhelmingly majority of the population, including the majority of feminists (if not you!), that a child with a penis is a boy and a child with a vagina is a girl, and that’s that. . .I find it hard to believe that the graphic is doing something besides referencing that belief for humorous effect, in order to colorfully make its central point that boys and girls should be able to play with whatever toys they want. In other words, the graphic is playing on a commonly held cissexist belief that denies the existence of trans* and intersex children, in order to make a joke with the intent of undermining the gender policing that adults do of cis children.

    Finally, as a trans woman who was forced to live as a boy against I will, simply because I had a penis, the graphic is triggering to me. It reminds me that the overwhelming majority of people, including the majority of feminists, either A) think that things that marginalize and erase people like me are OK and acceptable or B) simply don’t have the cultural competency to understand what sort of things marginalize and erase people like me and what sort of things don’t. I know there are a lot of cis girls who are forced to play with Barbies when they want to play with matchbox cars. . .and I think that’s extremely messed up and shouldn’t happen. But for me, while I didn’t have any Barbies to play with, the more central problem in terms of gender policing was that I wasn’t even allowed to exist. Someone like me wasn’t even considered possible in mind’s of virtually all the adults who interacted with me. And graphics like the one you posted are part of the process that perpetuates the invisibility of people like me, even though I know that was the last thing you intended, Katy.

    Like

    • December 12, 2012 8:54 am

      I am absolutely sorry that my choice of that graphic caused you this stress. Thank you again for taking the time to tell me, and please accept my apologies. I appreciate the learning experience and hope to avoid making the same mistake again. I’ve removed the image in hopes of not causing further strife.

      – Katy

      Like

      • Rebecca Weaver permalink
        December 12, 2012 11:39 am

        Katy, thank you for your very kind response. I appreciate it greatly. And apology 100% accepted! If it’s any consolation, the stress for me was not that big. . .or at least, it was stress on a pretty routine level. The great length of my response here was not proportionate to my level of stress; rather, it was proportionate to my degree of optimism that saying something here would actually make a difference, because I respect and trust the people at In Other Words very much. Most of the time that situations like these arise in my daily life I don’t bother saying anything because it seems unlikely my words will be understood or have any impact.

        So thank you so much, Katy, for taking the time to read my thoughts and be open to my perspective. . .I know being “called out” in these ways is not always an easy thing! If I could make one request, I’d actually prefer (strange as it may sound!) that you add the graphic back into the blog entry, or at least post it someplace where it can be readily accessible. As someone who lives in Portland and volunteers at In Other Words, part of my motivation in posting what I did was the hope that other Portland feminists might read all this and understand a little more about a trans woman’s perspective on this sort of issue. If the graphic is not visible, I’m afraid the entire exchange and the content of my comments will be without context and have less educational value.

        Anyway, thank you again for being cool about all this, Katy. 🙂

        –Becca

        Like

      • December 12, 2012 12:07 pm

        Becca –
        Done! And thank you as well. I always appreciate feedback and a chance to learn!

        – Katy

        Like

      • Rebecca Weaver permalink
        December 12, 2012 12:59 pm

        No problem Katy! And thanks for putting the picture back in as a link. . .I think that’s perfect! Hope you have a nice day!

        –Becca

        Like

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