Challenging patriarchy in political organizing

Submitted by wojtek on January 11, 2013

Examples of sexism in political organizing:

· Most political organizations and meetings are still dominated by men, and even more dominated by male speakers

· Women have to struggle a lot harder to prove their capabilities as political activists, their intelligence on political issues, and to be taken seriously as committed organizers

· Women often have to adopt socialized roles of authority and domination in order to be validated in political organizing

· Women are often sexually objectified in political circles

· Sexism is perceived as a “women’s issue” and not a collective issue

· Feminism is still not seen as central to revolutionary struggle; instead it is relegated to a “special-interest” issue

· Trivializing women’s issues, frequently by considering it as being secondary to “more important” political work

· Men are more readily perceived as experts on “hard” (versus “soft”) political issues such as war and economics

· Traditional gender roles such as secretarial work, clean up, and childcare still falls upon women

· Women are frequently tokenized by being asked to moderate or speak in public which (intentionally or not) invisiblizes the culture of male domination within the organization

· Women are more likely to challenge men on sexist comments rather than men challenging other men

· Women discussing sexism are often characterized as “divisive”

· Characterizing women, particularly when dealing with sexism, as “emotional” or “over-reactive”

· The general assumption (rather than the exception) is that women discussing sexism are “pulling the sex card” or are making false accusations, leaving women feeling guilty and/or unsafe in raising such issues

· Women often feel like they have to moderate what they (say) so that men (don't) feel attacked

· Disrespect for women’s voices in discussing their own oppression

· Women’s issues and concerns are belittled or invalidated until validated by other men

· Many men are more likely to shut down emotionally, stop listening, or get defensive when women want to discuss specific incidents of sexism instead of first listening and understanding what is being said

· Sexism within political organizations is seen as less trivial than sexism in wider society

· Working with progressive men can have its own frustrations as male comrades feel they are not guilty of sexism (often because of the lack of intention to be sexist) without truly analyzing their actions within a
framework of privilege

· Given the particular socialization of women under patriarchy, seemingly minor comments or incidents can make women feel humiliated, angry or upset; yet such comments are often dismissed as harmless and/or

Some Suggestions

· Share secretarial and clean-up work and make childcare a priority

· Honor women for un-glorified community organizing - for example childcare, cooking, note-taking, providing frequent emotional support

· Respect women as activists

· Be mindful of the language being used (i.e. girls)

· Use inclusive language. Besides the obvious examples (like saying ‘spokesperson’ or instead of ‘spokesman’ [say] ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairman’), also be careful not to use ‘us’/‘them’ language

· Don’t place the sole responsibility for fighting oppression on the oppressed

· Take sexism on as your struggle

· Don't trivialize women's issues

· If it is obvious that the same few people are dominating a discussion, the facilitator should consider suggesting a go-around to get more people talking so that any decision made is truly inclusive

· The path to ensuring the full and equal participation of women in a political organization can be difficult and the process may feel tokenistic if it does not give equal consideration to women’s opinions, issues, and wants in a meaningful manner

· Recruiting women into the organization is not necessarily the solution. The fact that an organization is male-dominated might merely be a symptom and not the problem itself

· Being better than “mainstream” society does not absolve responsibility for taking even seemingly minor incidents seriously

· Believing in equality does not mean that men no longer experience male privilege

· Realize that there is a difference between listening & respectful questioning and invalidating or denying that an incident of gender oppression was experienced

· Realize that just because you might not find somebody’s behaviour offensive, women might have different boundaries that have been shaped by a history of socialization under patriarchy

· Realize that sexism, in various forms, runs really deep and always plays itself out

· Be proactive, not reactive

· Create an atmosphere that is dynamic, empowering, and open especially to new members

· Share skills and knowledge in a non-paternalistic manner to build the leadership of women

· Transforming gender roles and socialization is not about guilt or who is right or wrong

Harsha Walia is a Vancouver-based writer, activist and organizer in No One is Illegal-Vancouver.