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Notes from the Portland Feminist Meetup: March Edition

May 12, 2013

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, March 3rd was Feminist History. 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, April 7th. You can join the Facebook group for more information.

Women’s History/Feminist History

This month’s discussion topic is women’s history—or for that matter feminist history, such as the history of feminist movement in the United States (and/or around the world).
Just a few relevant books (available at the In Other Words library):
Other relevant books (not currently in the In Other Words library):
Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan

Early Feminists/Proto-Feminists:

Some British Feminists in History: Harriet Martineau, the Pankhurst sisters, George Elliot, Barbara Bodichon, Lydia Becker, Emma Paterson, Josephine Butler.

Waves of Feminist Movement in the United States

First Wave, 1848-1920: This emphasized such things as getting the right to vote and to own property. The vote is what it’s most known for (starting with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848), but nineteenth century feminists were also very concerned about domestic violence and reproductive rights. Margaret Sanger was a major reproductive rights activist. Late in her life, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was more radical and was questioning patriarchy itself; she wrote a book called The Woman’s Bible, about misogyny in the Bible. Other activists included: Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Harriet Tubman, Lucy Stone, the Grimke Sisters, Ida B. Wells, Margaret Fuller, Alice Paul, etc.

Inez Milholland in the 1913 Women's Suffrage Parade

Inez Milholland in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade

Second Wave, 1967-1980: This is what the average citizen thinks of when they think of the Women’s Rights Movement, and they often think of it disparagingly- the religious right mounted a fairly successful backlash campaign in the 80s, which undermined a great deal of progress made by second wave feminists. These “hairy-legged, bra-burning feminists” included Gloria Steinem, Susan Brownmiller, Mary Daly, Marilyn French, Germaine Greer, Betty Freidan…but don’t forget to also think Alice Walker, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins. It wasn’t quite as white as most people think.

Before this wave came along, educated women got jobs as nurses, teachers, and secretaries; less desirable jobs for women included housekeeping, prostitution, and factory work. That was about it; job listings specified gender, women weren’t allowed to attend certain universities, and abortion was illegal.

Women's Lib

Third Wave, 1990s to the present: One of the missions is dealing with negative publicity of feminism being elitist and white middle class: intersectionality has been key in the 3rd wave. So we’ve wanted to include black women and women of color in general. Other areas of focus include defining your own feminist agenda, and taking a big stand against violence against women. Riot grrrl played a major role in developing the third wave.

Recently there was a riot grrrl event at Slabtown ( in NW Portland, called the Slabtown Grrrl Front.The event included day activities and evening activities, and was open to all ages.

Recent feminist movements have also worked to debunk the idea of the gender binary. What is the gender binary? It’s a continuum from female to male. People aren’t always 100% male or 100% female; you can be in the middle, even hormonally, not only in self-expression.

The Third Wave doesn’t necessarily say men and women are the same, but that not all women are the same. We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that a woman with more male traits is trying to be more like men or have more “male” values. A biological argument has been used to marginalize people; if there is a continuum of not just feminine and masculine, then need to see there’s a continuum biologically too. You determine for yourself how you want to be a woman or how you want to be a feminist.

Women supporting each other to grow internally = another third wave agenda. It’s about equipping each other to take advantage of opportunities; getting confidence and self-esteem. Battling to feel confident economically (or to feel confident in general). This may be more second wave, but you might not feel capable of supporting yourself and your family, like you’ve internalized that message whether or not it’s true.

When the second wave hit, women had opportunities but lacked the confidence and know-how to act on it to the extent that they would have liked. It’s comparable to how black people got some rights and weren’t equipped to use them—not to mention, the rest of society didn’t want them to have those rights, in addition to their not knowing how to use them.

A certain level of separatism makes sense under such circumstances. Let’s build ourselves internally as a separate entity, our own culture and our own sources of media and such—both feminist and black culture is like this to a large extent, to this day.

We’re stuck in a system that we know is inherently flawed. Making a new system is so difficult, that it might be easier to work within the system and make things shift gradually….but at the same time work within the separate, new system. An example of working within the system is working for the abortion and ERA movements, attempting to get the government to change its laws.

Today’s Complacency and Women in the Workplace

Many people think our society has already been fixed, because women and people of color can get jobs and work and such. But you’re still not accepted and should stand outside of the mainstream and not fall into the traps. Some people think we don’t need affirmative action anymore because we supposedly already have these things. They conveniently ignore the fact that women still only earn on average 77 cents on the male dollar.

As a woman, you’re not taught to negotiate your pay raise, to actually speak up about that at work. You might often see men promoted before women, because men are more likely to take it for granted that they deserve a pay raise and are more likely to speak up. We are less likely to ask for a promotion, to speak up and say, “I’m qualified for this.” Men might be more successful in part because they’re more competitive (not to mention they have more confidence and a vaster sense of entitlement).

Women don’t need to be more competitive; instead collaboration and compassion should be valued more in the workplace. We’re slowly rising to the top, but still male dominated. Some companies are starting to have female CEOs. Cooperation and multi-tasking are generally female values and help the workplace. It’s all moving too slowly.

Things that women can bring to the work force should be rewarded. Some women make it to the top by using male values and not caring about women or women’s values. It’s more important for women to fight for raises based on their own terms rather than “I’m going to out-male the males.” Don’t be afraid to brag to your boss, to say that you’ve done something well “This is what I did, and I did it well.” Women didn’t create the rules, and it’s not our initial instinct to function within them.

The women are the ones who went and worked in accounting firms and such when it wasn’t a popular position. They thus forced these big companies to embrace diversity because they had no choice—others didn’t want to do that work.

More women are graduating from college than men now.  On the other hand, there are more graduating from undergraduate college, but women are still behind in Masters and Ph.Ds.

Oppression, Past and Present

On a reservation in the United States, there’s a potential law that will hopefully get passed: some women are married to non-natives and the native law doesn’t apply to non-native men raping and abusing the native women. According to native law, they can’t prosecute anyone who isn’t native (and they don’t have prisons on the reservations); so if native women are married to non-native men, the native laws against domestic abuse and rape aren’t applied. There are aboriginal women’s groups who are attempting to do something about this.

Historically, the colonial government undermined native law and had a tendency to let another family become the chiefs of that tribe—this is one of the problems with native law. If native men are abusing/raping women, then the reservation does prosecute them. One Billion Rising, and Idle no More (focus on violence against native women) got a hearing with the government about the rape and abuse of aboriginal women. They were possibly going to take it to United Nation.

Idle No More protest in Toronto

Idle No More protest in Toronto

Domestic violence: nothing was done anywhere until the 1980s in the United States, and the 1970s in Canada. The first safe house was in Canada and it was not government supported; a group of women started it. You could beat your wife or child until quite recently; it’s not that police thought it was OK but rather that it was none of their business.

The Future of the Movement & the Importance of Activism

What would be the tipping point for women to see things in a different way and live in a different way? The average person goes along happily with the way things are. What would it take to get the average person to wake up and want to change society? We need to make women more aware that they’re not equal and don’t have power in this society.

“We don’t live in a free society: we don’t have a vote that matters, and if I stand out in the street and say things and have enough people to listen to me, I’d get arrested. A lot of the careers out there are geared toward making the corporations wealthy. I don’t think there’s true freedom in this society. I’m oppressing others when I go out and buy an iPad, for instance. I want more people to be aware of this.”

As for women, this social structure wasn’t created by women and they don’t need to go along with it.

Maybe this is one of those things that we can only change by working outside the system and creating a new society, having a revolution. We do change things slowly; stuff originally done by radicals is getting more mainstream.

You could say this is about how to convince people to lead examined, meaningful lives. It’s the job of women, the job of anyone who feels this and is aware of oppression, to band together and spread the word. We must create an activist culture.

Mainstream “news” in the U. S. is utter crap, I noticed this during the George W Bush administration. It’s overt and idiotic propaganda. Better sources for less biased news:

  • KBOO evening shows: Hard Knock Radio, and Prison Pipeline—you can listen to these radio shows and know about activism.
  • Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, good coverage of the G8 and regularly has coverage of activism worldwide.
  • Synergy is a local newsletter that you can use to find out about activism. Newsletters and such are a form of activism: Reaching out to people, informing people, promoting activism.

The first step is to wake up, step away from entertainment, promote activism, and let people know what’s going on.

Patriarchy oppresses everyone, including males.

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