At the first Women’s Group meeting at Occupy Houston that did not invite men (but included them in the second hour of the meeting) many attendees expressed satisfaction at having gotten something out of the meeting and providing a safe space where women can talk about the gender balance issues they experience in the occupation.
Some of these issues include situations where an occupier is taking on one of the most work-intensive areas, then has a conflict with an indigent visitor, asks for support and the facilitator does not support her but tells her to let it go or let the person have what they want… in short, this woman is doing a lot of the work, but not able to make decisions directly related to the work she’s been put in charge of.
Other issues were insensitive sexist language and jokes. One woman was in the company of 2 men occupiers away from the occupation briefly when one told the other a rape joke, etc. As we talked we found there are many areas where further education about insensitive language and what to do when one hears such language…is wanting, as in much of society.
We appreciate that men were able to respect our space so that we could have this discussion.
There was some debate about not allowing men at the first part of the meeting. Aside from valid arguments for using established protocol like creating a Safe Space for disenfranchised groups, etc, the women themselves pretty clearly proved to me the need for such a group and ability to create such a safe space when necessary – In essence, multiple women did not feel that the system in place was allowing them to be heard and taken seriously when issues come up, as well as when they are being harassed are finding not enough support from surrounding occupiers– especially when women are not feeling heard, or any minority group, we will continue to provide safe places for women to meet and talk about the issues and struggles we have in common.
Overall, as a group we agreed that we would like to see the level of awareness of about the inequality women face brought to the same degree of awareness as race inequality and insensitivity.
The next women’s meeting will be Tuesday Nov. 15th at 5:30 pm. Everyone is welcome and the meeting will be moderated. I will update this post with the women’s group mailing list as soon as that becomes available.
If you have any questions or concerns please contact Roxanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the heated debate on Facebook, Nick Cooper posted this note and during the women’s meeting we agreed it was well spoken and that we’d like to add it to the general outline of what the meeting was about. To be clear, this was originally posted in response to a heated debate on Facebook (at facebook.com/occupyhouston at Monday 2:24 pm) :
We shouldn’t expect most white-males to arrive at occupyhouston already knowing the motivations for an all women’s breakout group. For me, it took seeing several presentations by queer and people of color caucuses to “get it.” At occupyhouston when the idea of a feminism meeting first came up, many guys objected. A feminism meeting with those males present might not even get started, and it made perfect sense for those who identify as female to choose to meet on their own.
Breakout groups inside larger groups sometimes choose to limit their participation to only women, blacks, people of color, sex-workers, rape-victims, or etc. These types of groups form because when non white males try to explore their thoughts in an open group, they are often interrupted, shushed, mocked, dominated, criticized, or otherwise shut-down. I do not think the response of occupyhouston should amount to “man up, deal with it on your own, and come back whenever you are ready.”
There is no equivalency here to an all-white breakout group, and comparisons to that effect are odious. Oppressed groups in our society are not the same as dominant groups and we shouldn’t maintain an unequal status quo on the basis of so-called equality. Black prejudice against whites is not the same thing as white prejudice against blacks. The concept of black power is not an equivalent to the concept of white power. Sex-workers do not get the same respect in our society as college students. Critiques of patriarchy are not the same as critiques of women. The 99% has real inequities in it, and they don’t go away by pretending we all have equal power.
If members of non-dominant groups often don’t feel comfortable to speak as much, or at all, in wide-open meetings, then they need other sorts of meetings to work on it. The process of developing ideas often requires a less pressured environment for collaborative dialog. Creating spaces where women don’t have to worry about being shut down by insensitive men can help build up the strength needed to dialog later with those men on a better footing. Sometimes the breakout groups start off as exclusive, and then can come to re-enter dialog with the larger group on their own terms.
There are exclusive associations taking place all the time at occupyhouston. There is no rule against such things. When David Rovics played a concert there, it wasn’t open for anyone to go up and play any instrument with him. A musician choosing who is in his band is no more problematic than a group of women deciding they want to meet alone.
White males often assume that their presence does nothing to stop women and people of color from feeling comfortable talking about their concerns and their histories. This fact alone explains why they are sometimes asked to not attend. I have been part of hundreds of types of groups and movements in my life and there has never been one in which white males didn’t speak for more than their even share of time. Those who would seek to deny women a chance to meet without them are obstructing the creation of a space where those who are used to speaking less get to speak more.
There are many who seem to acknowledge that we live in a white patriarchy where women may well not get their full thoughts out in the presence of men, but don’t seem to be open to creative solutions to bring balance. It should be obvious that women will not say all kinds of things about feminism if there are guys present, especially if they are insensitive guys. We have a long way to go, and we will never get there if women’s right to free association isn’t respected.