Feminist Friendship #3 – Bridges Over (Very) Troubled Water

Now that we know who we’re talking to when it comes to the practice of feminist friendship, let’s touch on some foundational issues that are at stake. Like what happens when someone recognizes their privilege and thinks, “Okay, maybe there’s room for me to learn something here. Maybe I can do better,” and then proceeds to ask the people of color, the queer folks, or anyone who embodies some type of difference and happens to be around to educate them about what it’s like to be “different.”

First, it’s good to recognize that there are a lot of things about someone else’s experiences which you probably don’t know, especially if you don’t find yourself confronting things like racism, sexism, or homophobia (and thus having to understand and think about them) in your everyday life.

But a very real problem arises when well-meaning, privileged people turn to those with marginalized identities as the go-to-resources for their own education about what it’s like to live with oppression. On the surface, it might seem like this is great way to respond to the recognition of one’s own privilege, because it supposedly reflects a desire to learn more about the experiences of others that one realizes they simply won’t and can’t understand first-hand, like if a man looks to a woman and says, “So, please explain this whole male privilege thing to me. I’m curious about how that changes the way I move through the world in a way that’s different from you.”

What curious folks with privilege don’t often recognize, however, is that this places an additional burden on those who are already burdened with the daily realities of oppression by asking them to be the explainers, the educators, the informers. (It also falsely assumes – or hopes – that the intricate complexities and cumulative significance of such experiences could be readily summed up in a convenient, little, easy-to-swallow “pill” of a few sentences.) Continue reading

A Peek Into the Feminist Friendship Class: How We Are Practicing What We Teach

We’re just four weeks into the semester and things have really been picking up in the Feminist Friendship course. One of the key practices at stake for this class (and, I would argue, most others that focus on social justice) is the practice of cultivating genuine dialogues.

It’s not very often that we learn how to engage with others on difficult issues, to think together, to learn and grow together, and to help one another along through that process. But my students, they’re doing it. On Facebook, nonetheless.

I’m sharing this discussion thread for multiple reasons. One, it teases out some of the issues and themes we’ve been discussing in previous weeks, so it will be a helpful window into the larger context of the Feminist Friendship course thus far (for those who are following along). Two, and perhaps most important, I love how my students are willing to practice being honest, open, self-reflective, curious, generous, charitable, and full of care as they unpack and explore the reading together. In this way, they are demonstrating that it’s possible to have such exchanges while simultaneously practicing it, and sometimes, for some people, we learn better when behavior is modeled to us (thanks, students!).  Third, to be honest, I’m showing off how great these students are. This is how they engage with the texts before we even meet to discuss them as a class, which is great because it means I get to learn from them just as much as they might learn from me!

audrelordeThis week’s readings included some classics by Audre Lorde: The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House and An Open Letter to Mary Daly. (Note: Students’ comments are unedited.) Continue reading

Feminist Friendship Forums – The Basics

Feminist Friendship Forums

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What are these things?

The feminist friendship forums connect concepts and theory behind feminist friendship with concrete practices of developing open, honest, challenging, and caring relationships that better recognize, value, and work across differences among women (and men).  In other words, these feminist friendship forums seek to develop deeper understanding of one another as the meaningful basis for building constructive relationships across personal differences. To learn more about Feminist Friendship, start here with a special blog series! Continue reading

Feminist Friendship #2 – A Message From Me to You

My interest in feminist friendship is the result of a long process of wondering, “What’s wrong here? Why does it seem so impossible to make things better?”

On one hand, “here” is the women’s movement, or, more specifically, what’s wrong with mainstream white feminism as it has developed out of the seventies into the new millennium. The concern isn’t that feminism is outdated in the sense that it’s no longer necessary now that women can vote. The concern is that mainstream feminism has continued to narrowly focus on the lives and concerns of only certain groups of women (namely, white women) while excluding, dismissing, and exacerbating the struggles of other women (namely, women of color). There’s a whole lot of history around the tensions among white women and women of color within the women’s movement that I’ll be touching on in future posts, but for now, suffice it to say that those problems have hardly gotten any better over the past fifty or so years, and mainstream white feminism continues to be influenced by racism and unchecked privilege. (If you want to learn more and see recent examples of those tensions playing out, just google “white feminism”… or start herehere, here, and here.)

On the other hand, I know I’m not alone with feelings of discouragement, anger, and frustration when it’s also easy to encounter – on any given day – hateful and divisive rhetoric that is used to boldly inform anything from trolls on social media to politicians in political campaigns. Such rhetoric continues to feed into and perpetuate social separation, discrimination, distrust, conflict, disagreement, and violence in our country.

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Feminist Friendship #1 – What’s That?

As far as I can tell, feminist friendship offers one of the greatest resources we have for making progress around things like sexism, racism, and other systems of oppression. Why? Because anyone can adopt the practice of feminist friendship. In fact, most people probably already possess and employ the necessary skills to do it well in their own lives, even if they don’t identify as a feminist. One setback, though, is that most people don’t know what I mean by ‘feminist friendship.’

In a new blog series titled, “Feminist Friendship,” I’ll be introducing various features of feminist friendship, including some history and context behind the idea, basic concepts and themes that inform the practice of feminist friendship, and cautionary notes on major risks involved with establishing feminist friendships.

Although it might be tempting to think, “I know about friendship – I’ve got lots of friends!” feminist friendship is more than just a relationship between women. It’s a personally and politically transformative practice that aims to be – and do – very specific things to help us be better people and make the world a better place. Perhaps greatest of all is that, although the idea grew out of activist writing and organizing from women in the women’s movement, everyone – including men – can create, build, and strengthen feminist friendships to help improve how we interact in all sorts of everyday settings, like at work with our colleagues and at home with our families.

My goal is to help everyone become empowered and equipped to do just that.

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Seeds Already There

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On the surface, I get the appeal of highlighting moments that signal a stark separation between recent ends and new beginnings. Enduring long enough to realize those separating moments can make them feel like monumental achievements. For instance, a dissertation defense. A cross-country move. A new job. A new relationship. Another calendar year. (According to some metrics, that’s a relatively comprehensive synopsis of my own life over the past two and a half years.)

Living in those moments, the experience of transition often feels more excitingly palpable and present than other stretches of life – a time of change invites that unique mixture of reflection about what is and has been and hope for what is yet to become. It encourages letting go of hang-ups and moving on – unburdened – from the challenges we have (or have not quite yet) overcome. And the opportunity appears ripe to set out into a still unknown future, which, thanks to the sheer quality of going from something-already into something-not-quite-yet, we often intentionally orient ourselves as if moving through doors that open onto an even more open possible future.

Despite the inherent uncertainty, the utter lack of anything remotely close to a promise that things will work out with some degree of goodness, success, joy, or prosperity, we tend to value times of transition like we value the seasonal emergence of spring out of winter – it’s a moment for hope to override cynicism and for us to envision the possibility of more metaphorical sunshine, blossoming trees, and clearer skies.

However, technically speaking, as sure as the sun falls and rises, it also rises and falls. The summer also turns to autumn and then cold and darkness descend as winter. These, too, are times of change.

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Making the Point of Life About Every Day – #HaveAReallyGoodDay

A few weeks ago, a friend came over to my place to talk. He was really going through it, so I fed him some homemade chicken soup and made sure that the lighting was appropriately soft, warm, and cozy. As our conversation transpired and enough time passed to warrant my making of a second course – stovetop popcorn and fresh mango slices – he finally asked me, “Don’t you ever wonder, ‘What’s the point?’ You know, to life. Like, what’s the long-term goal here?”

I swiftly replied, “I think the long-term goal is to just have a really good day.”

My response wasn’t a pat answer that I already had tucked away somewhere in my mind. It just struck me and I said it. After I said it, I decided I liked it.

And thus began my latest personal project for living, complete with the adoption of a new hashtag: #HaveAReallyGoodDay. Sure, you can use it if you’d like. Let’s start a movement… Continue reading