Our article in last month’s issue (also available online here) looking at why women have left the Occupy movement elicited several responses. They are printed here to continue this important discussion.
As part of our Socialism 2012 conference, the Workers Party will be holding a session on “safer spaces in the left,” concerning how to make left groups welcoming and inclusive. This will be facilitated by Kassie Hartendorp at 11am Saturday the 2nd of June, Newtown Community Centre.
Still supporting the movement
How do you know they left the Occupy Movement to even start asking the question? Has there been some kind of research done? Occupy Auckland was, after all, in the CBD, so naturally it comes with the regular experiences that come with transients and those who drink and take drugs in and around the city, I had one frightening experience one particular night I was there, but it didn’t stop me supporting the Movement or going back, sleeping in the middle of the city poses its risks, irrespective of whether a person in an occupier or not, it’s all just part and parcel of sleeping rough, though I admit, the safer spaces policy did kind of go out the door during the latter part of the occupation.
Empowerment at Occupy
Occupy has been an interesting experience, it is the first time I’ve really noticed the effect of interpersonal issues, in addition to structural constraints, in marginalising people and deterring them from involvement in activism. I think it’s important to recognise that. Despite campsite issues that have caused many women to be excluded, the Occupy movement is not over in New Zealand, particularly in Christchurch where we still have a large committed group (of mainly men) organising actions. Moving forward, we need to be conscious of ensuring women can speak at meetings (this means men watching they don’t go off on ten tangents when it’s their turn to speak), addressing the structural barriers to women’s involvement such as organising meetings for times and venues that accommodate people with children and being open to organise around issues that specifically effect women. As someone who was politically involved for several years before October last year [when the global Occupy movement reached New Zealand], it was the initial culture of support and mutual learning at Occupy which made me feel comfortable speaking and leading chants at demonstrations, where I’d previously made the cups of tea and not said a lot even at small meetings. We shouldn’t forget the empowerment some women have experienced through Occupy, particularly during the early days, and we shouldn’t give up trying to reverse the trend of women becoming less involved in activism.
Invisible women & dishes fairies
Women are more likely to work erratic hours, more likely to be poor, more likely to be supporting family members from children to the elderly, more likely to be limited for transport and time. Women of my age are often sandwiched between children and parents. We are often tired.
Women in Occupy Christchurch/Otautahi found themselves cast in traditional roles. This was fine for me because i expected that, it was a role I sought. But it was really frustrating for those who were on site more. The dishes fairy just happened to be female. No women, no dishes. Men moaning about no dishes, still unaware of who the dishes fairy actually was.
Sustained protest requires emotional energy. Women are often already involved in ‘emotional work’. I am an obvious example as a social worker where every day i work with distressed, angry, frightened people. But you do emotional work if you do retail, or call centre, or many of the usual female workforce roles. And that’s even before you look at the emotional work of parenting or caring for relatives. Occupy could have been fine for women, because it was always something you could dip in and out of, unlike major strike action for example, but in a way it was harder to dip in and out of Occupy because so much could be missed. One GA could overturn everything that was done at a previous GA, for example.
People left Occupy, not just women. Men may or may not have left for similar reasons.
GA’s weren’t always friendly to the way women often operate. The last GA [at the time of writing] I was the only woman there for much of it. When we are in such a minority we become ‘othered’ and that is nobody’s fault. But to attend to it properly takes conscious effort on the part of the majority.
I think in meetings there are content/outcome thinkers and process thinkers. Women traditionally attend more to process. I ask - how do we combine or tease apart or summarise ideas? How do we ensure everyone is comfortable? What can i do to help? Whereas men like to lecture and opine. Of the people who have come specifically to promulgate an idea, they have all been men. Last GA reminded me of preschoolers engaging in parallel play. It looks like conversation because they are taking turns, but really they are parallel monologues. A good form of consultation is like making a soup - we all bring ingredients, chuck them in, and the result is something different from any individual contribution, maybe something quite unexpected. But to make the group soup we need to leave our egos in the fridge.
The women’s meeting [organised for women involved in Occupy Christchurch] was very comfortable for us, i think, because there are unspoken understandings about how we do things. We ate a lot, laughed a bit, watched relevant videos, shared experiences. Business and fun segued into each other. If there had been a man present it would have changed things. Not necessarily for the worse, but there would have been an extra dynamic to be accounted for. It may have been hard for the man. Now imagine that from the female point of view at an otherwise all male GA. Because there are unspoken understandings about how men do things….except, i believe, women study men’s ways of working far more than vice versa. We have to. Just as servants study their masters and employees study their bosses.
I want to say something as an older woman. Older women in our society are invisible to men. Usually i am quite happy about this because being invisible i can do what i damn well like. It’s one reason i can walk home in the middle of the night, and why i never felt particularly unsafe at the camp site. I can be a really invisible dishes fairy! However, if i am the only woman at a GA i am doubly invisible. I think quite hard about what I want to say in meetings. I am not particularly nimble intellectually, and i need a bit of a run up to arrive at anything useful. And i need to be useful, I say to myself do good or go home. i have shitloads of other stuff to do and responsibilities, like any 52 year old woman. When i have talked about Occupy to the women in know who are my age, it just seems irrelevant to them. Why would i hang out in the park with a bunch of losers? And it was hard to answer that, because i have been thinking about Occupy related issues for decades and often i don’t know where to start.