Sunday, 21 August 2011

My Review of UK Feminista Summer School

I said that I would try to write something a bit more positive about UK Feminista Summer School. So here it is.

I want to start with the best outcome of the School for me. And that was the opportunity to meet a very special feminist from my home country. Her name is Inti, and she’s committed to the daunting task of bringing some badly needed feminism to a deeply sexist and misogynist culture. I admire her bravery; I didn’t stay to fight sexism, I just left the country.

A small part of me started to heal from my talk with Inti. It’s a part I never acknowledge, full of pain, shame and confusion. For once in my life someone understood what I felt when I was a teenager. I could never make people understand it, and nobody was keen to do so anyway. But for a split second, in between our conversation, a single shred of understanding shone through, imperceptible to anyone but me. And it was enough. For now, it will be enough.

And had it not been for UK Feminista, this encounter would not have taken place. I am immensely grateful to the organizers, just for this opportunity. So thank you, UK Feminista organizers, for creating a space where feminists can come together and meet each other.  

Now I got this off my chest, on to the actual school.

"How to run an effective campaign"

From Eve Sadler, I learned about campaigning. I find it very difficult to be “practical” and get things done; I am a natural thinker, not a doer. So Sadler’s focus on strategy and her “what to do when” approach, helped me actually picture “how to get stuff done rather than read and dream”. It’s a strange feeling, to suddenly imagine yourself actually “achieving change”, even if it is small, rather than passively waiting for a Revolution. To top it all, Sadler gave us all a nice handout with detailed instructions on how to run an effective campaign.

What could have worked better? Perhaps focusing the campaigns a bit more on “feminist” goals. And a passing comment about the “Revolution” would have been nice.
I don’t want to be a party poop, but we have to acknowledge that we won’t be able to change the world just by writing to our MPs. Yes, I realise that this may be the easiest way to achieve “some” change, but what are our chances to bring in Real Feminism to our lives when most of our MPs are men, and (roughly) all of them support the current economic system?

"The attack on women’s reproductive rights"

Darinka Aleksic and Helen Collins opened my eyes to the reality of women’s reproductive rights. Or rather, the current attack on women’s reproductive rights.
I’ll be honest with you, the subject bores me slightly. The reason is quite… silly. I am a theory junkie: I like political arguments. And the “arguments” used to undermine abortion rights are more or less of the “nonsense ranting by people gone bananas” kind. That presents no challenge to my grey matter. So, I have more or less kept aside from the Grand Abortion Debate. Also, up to now, I believed the attack on Abortion was merely an example of Crazy American 'Sugar'.

Turns out, I was wrong. And the Crazy American Sugar has already made it to the British Isles. There are anti-abortion groups in this country spouting the same ranting nonsense as they do in the US.
This eye opening session taught me a lesson about how my mind works. I subconsciously seem to believe that once I “understand” a subject, the battle has been won, justice has been made and I can move on to other stuff. That may be a great strategy for “learning” things, but it’s a non-strategy for fighting for social justice. It will take a little bit more than me understanding how something works for that something to stop taking place in the real world. (Yes, I do live inside my mind, it’s a much happier place. I’m working on it.)

What could have worked better? I would have really liked some political “context”. I wanted to ask if anyone knew what motivates these people gone bananas into ranting nonsense. What is to them if a woman has an abortion or ten? Does anyone know why they care so much? Don’t they have cakes to bake, dogs to walk, children to read stories to, teacups to paint?
But there’s a bigger question that I don’t think anyone has tackled yet. Why do these groups get so much money? Yes, they are funded by the religious right, but why. Why is it in the interest of the Right to undermine abortion rights? WHY? Doesn’t make sense to me.

How the cuts are hitting women hardest” 

Another eye opening talk. I already knew the basics of this, but its sheer scale made me, and probably everyone else in the room, jump a mile high. I really appreciated Anna Bird's summary of the cuts as “ideological threats” (yay! Back to theory).
The talks by Sandhya Sharma (Southall Black Sisters) and Aisha Mirza were really inspiring. They reminded me once again (and I do need a lot of reminding) that even the smallest actions can lead to change, and that all it takes is one small step in the right direction.

What could have worked better? A bit more focus on Trade Union movement. Bird described these cuts as a “threat to employment protection, maternity rights and equality law”. Excellent. It would have been grate if she had kept on that track and framed these cuts around “class”. The best tool at women’s disposal for fighting the cuts is to join unions and strike; and strike good.


UK Feminista Summer School is not, and it should not be, about what “I want to hear”. The School helped me realise how easy it is, when doing feminism online, to just drift towards our favourite topics and forget the rest. Similarly, it’s easy to just fall back on a single mind groove (“I’ll wait for a Revolution”) and stay there. However, during a feminist conference, one has relatively little say over what others will talk about, or how they will frame the issues. This can backfire, of course, if it gets too “top down”. However, it can be a good thing if it opens our eyes to a reality we hadn’t seen before. It’s easy, in the internet world, to hover around a few “niche” issues, because we are most comfortable around them. Yet, every now and then, we have to come out of our comfort zone.

What could have worked better? 
*A more “bottom up” approach. Having a few sessions were activists just got together and talked to each other.
*More “political context”. The word “neoliberalism” was only articulated once in the whole day and I’m sad to report it was done by a man. There was a general lack of awareness of “how the world works”. Listening to all those amazing activists working hard to make things a bit better, I got this image in my head: “Feminist activists work on putting out the fires set off by men”. For instance, it is men who crash the world economy and it’s women who go out and care for the vulnerable and needy. I don’t like this set up. Putting out fires is all well and good but some of us should be sparing the occasional glance to those who are setting them off.
*More focus on “herstory”. 
*Also, class and race.
*An opportunity to “get to know one another” that is a bit more structured, so that we all participate. As opposed to “go out and talk to strangers whenever you can find the time”.
 *Also, I think UK Feminista could be clear on what their goals are. Is it supposed to be an “umbrella type organization”? If that’s the case, then it should work towards highlighting all kinds of feminism. There isn't a direct acknowledgement that UK Feminista's feminism is one of a multitude of feminisms. 
*I leave my bitchiest comment for the end. It would have been great if the “talks” had been overseen by the organizers beforehand. Just because the speaker has letters after her name and works within academia does not mean that their talk will be up to scratch. Or remotely related to “feminism” for that matter.

For a critique of the talk about "the men", don't miss MadamJ-Mo's post.


Cath said...

Brilliant! Completely agree with most of your criticisms too, especially the last point. I found that some of the speakers were pretty uninspiring, and some workshops felt hurriedly put together. But it is only the second time this has gone ahead, so hopefully next year will be much better.

Mary Tracy said...

Cheers, Cath. Absolutely, this was only the second year. I'm sure that the next Summer School will be even better.