Positive Philosophy & Feminist Friendship – My work over the past several years

Many people around me have been so incredibly supportive lately by encouraging me to write more. I can’t believe it’s been four years since I got a job after grad school, and thus, four years since I’ve been in the practice of regular, philosophical writing. It’s been a good but somewhat confusing space – I feel like I’ve still been very active in my thinking and teaching and speaking, but I haven’t figured out how to manage writing on top of my other responsibilities. And yet, there’s so much that I want to write. Thanks to those who have been cheering me on to write more. This post is an attempt to share what I’ve been up to and how things have been connecting since I wrote my dissertation (and to share my dissertation!), and perhaps to serve as a catalyst to inspire and inform my writing practice moving forward.

This video only captures the first half of this essay –
read on to see connections between
positive philosophy and feminist friendship.

* * *

The first (and until very recently, the only) time I shared my research on positive philosophy was four years ago during the fall of 2013. It was to a relatively small audience and I was a freshly-minted, though unemployed, doctor of philosophy. People wondered, “Oh, Positive Philosophy? What’s that? I’ve never heard of it.”

Now, in the fall of 2017, people’s reactions are pretty much the same and that’s okay. Few people have heard of positive philosophy because it’s my own concept, and aside from my dissertation, I haven’t published anything on it. My research, it seems, gets primarily shared with others through talks like this. At least, in theory.

In practice, if you look closely and pay careful attention, you can see that positive philosophy also permeates most of what I do as a professional and a person living in the world. But, I’ll get to that in a bit.

For now, my primary aim is to introduce you to what I call “positive philosophy” and share how my understanding of it has shifted over the past year and half. More specifically, I want to share how I’ve seen the significance of positive philosophy develop since the last presidential campaign and election of 2016, and how it relates to other work I’ve done this year in my classroom and around feminist friendship.

First, some background.

I’m a philosopher by training, which means I work with and through theory. I value ideas, concepts, theoretical frameworks, and understanding the relationships among them. As a philosopher, I’ve been most fascinated with epistemology, that is, what we know or don’t know, and how and why we know or don’t know it.

Whereas scientists find thrill in discovery, or artists put passion into expression, the epistemologist in me finds excitement in learning and developing new ways of thinking and understanding.

I center my work on the importance of what is called ‘knowledge,’ precisely because what we claim to know is directly associated with what we value as true and real and good and right. Inextricably embedded within what we claim to know, you can find ethics, politics, and quite literally, the foundations for the world we erase, destroy, or create, and the means through which we end up doing those things.

As a feminist philosopher, my passion stems from doing theory in ways that challenge and change the status quo, that disrupt dominant narratives which perpetuate and maintain systems of oppression.

My feminist commitments mean that doing philosophy is an explicitly political project, and my questions center on issues of power, privilege, and liberation from oppression.

For me, good theory is intimately connected to, informed by, and geared towards practice – it seeks to name, articulate, and understand our concrete, lived experiences in liberatory ways. In fact, like bell hooks, I believe that doing theory can itself be an important and meaningful practice of freedom.

As far as I can tell, doing good theory involves the head – it requires a lot of critical thinking, but good theory is connected to the heart, too. I believe it can provide resources for the strength to persist, to live, to grow, to thrive, to fight for change. Sometimes that means directing our theories at changing the world, but often times, that means developing theories that have the capacity to change us and how we are in it.

One reason I’m so passionate about this is because engaging with good theories changed me and my life.

I would consider myself a thoughtful and curious person. As a child, I loved learning, and I still like the creativity involved with making connections and expanding my own understanding.

I loved exploring questions and that sense of awe one feels upon realizing the vast amounts of things you know you don’t know or understand, from the cosmos to how refrigerators work. I still revel in the excitement of having my mind blown from finally seeing something that’s been right in front of me all along.

Even with this disposition, I remember a critical time when my excitement for learning became progressively stifled.

For my first two years of college, I was clear on my interests and what mattered to me, so I took classes on gender, race, class inequality, human rights, and social movements. But class after class, I felt frustrated. I didn’t feel challenged.

Worse, I felt like my education centered on learning the descriptions of these realities, without gaining a practical sense for how to change them.

Disappointed and on the verge of dropping out, I took a class with a professor that changed everything. He introduced me to aspects of feminist theory and queer theory, and he related those theories to questions that have since become my questions: “Who is the philosopher? What is Philosophy? What can philosophy do?”

With this renewed excitement, I took a couple independent studies on feminist and queer theory, and well, thus sparked my own appreciation for the power of theory. This was my personal, experiential seed to what I would continue to explore and eventually develop into what I now refer to as ‘positive philosophy.’

Although I have thus far emphasized theory in the context of doing philosophy, it’s important to know that the heart of what I call positive philosophy is not necessarily philosophy per se (though I am intentional about situating Philosophy as a means for this mode of engaging). Technically, my own moment of renewed excitement was created in a religious studies course on Christianity with a professor who was hired as a theologian in residence.

Most importantly, what I’ve been calling theory can be generally understood to include a range of practices like critical thinking (maybe philosophizing?) or reflection as part of what Paulo Friere refers to as “praxis” (that is, action and reflection on the world as a means for changing it).

Now, I could give countless concrete examples of how engaging in theory changed me and my life regarding specific experiences related to race, gender, sexuality, and more. (For examples on the blog, you can start here, here, and here. Or, check out old videos on my YouTube channel.)

But the point is, thanks to learning from insights of other theorists, I have developed my own capacity to critically think about my life, my experiences, my body, my identities and how all of this fits into larger systems that oppress me and others in various ways.

In turn, my capacity for critical thinking and considering alternative narratives has translated into a kind of strength, courage, confidence, and commitment to confront and challenge those systems when and where they seek to limit me, my freedom, and the freedom of others.

Locating myself in the world through theory and articulating my own experiences has been affirming and empowering, particularly around identities and experiences often regarded in as sources of shame, confusion, or worthlessness. In addition to feeling empowering, another appropriate way to describe my relationship with theory is that of healing.

Even if I were to describe specific instances when theory helped me navigate difficult realities and experiences, that still wouldn’t fully illustrate what it can feel like to get there.

Oppression is a hideous, painful reality. Feminist work is geared towards ending oppression, which means feminist theory interrogates and focuses on oppression, in all forms, in order to challenge it. Like most anti-oppression work, feminist theory doesn’t look away from the ugliness of oppression, but rather looks it in the face and memorize its pores.

Most of the time, the sort of theory I engage with explicitly centers on some of the most violent, harmful, hurtful, and painful parts of our human existence. And it forces us to look at those realities as they show up in ourselves and in our own experiences.

But we who engage in this work are not simply masochists. Something else can happen when we confront the social, political, and personal realities of oppression in ways that don’t just seek to merely describe them, but rather, change them.

Developing new ways to understand and make sense of even the most painful parts of ourselves and our world can be exciting.

It can be exhilarating and affirming to have our experiences named and reframed. It can feel good to undermine existing systems of power that undermine the lives of the oppressed.

Challenging dominant and oppressive knowledge claims and creating new ones, even in theory, are acts of resistance. And doing so can heal us.

This is the purpose of practicing positive philosophy.

As I worked through my dissertation, I reflected on my own experiences of oppression and marginalization and how specific theories animated, revitalized, motivated, inspired, encouraged, affirmed, and empowered me to think and feel differently about myself and my place in the world.

This struck me as significant because oppression, by its very nature, is a force that denigrates and works to keep people down. Of course, oppression operates through violence, intimidation, discrimination, colonization, harassment, brutality, deprivation, and other overt and institutionalized ways. For the oppressed, the negative effects of oppression are very real and come in many forms – physical, economic, social, and political.

But as if the experience of one’s own oppression isn’t difficult enough, by reflecting on my own experiences and the accounts of others, I started paying attention to the negative physiological, psychological, and emotional effects oppression. We know that stress is a killer. But stress is like the amicable cousin of oppression.

The violence of oppression compounds through producing negative affective burdens that we carry within ourselves, our bodies: fear, anger, shame, alienation, dehumanization, isolation, self-loathing, hopelessness, helplessness, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, addiction, and despair.

When you’ve been repeatedly kicked down, these negative affective burdens further deplete you and keep you feeling down, maybe even to the point where you don’t feel like getting up again. Maybe to the point where you don’t want to fight the good fight any longer.

So as far as I could tell, it is politically and philosophically significant that oppression makes us feel so bad that part of the struggle is simply having the energy to carry on, let alone fight.

In this way, oppression does not only produce, but actually works through, the negative affective burdens of the oppressed. More than unhappy byproducts of oppression, the production of negative affects and emotions is an integral part of how oppression is perpetuated and maintained.

This is why self-care is a necessary act of resistance.

This is also why resistance includes celebrating and taking pride in the aspects of ourselves that have been marginalized. This is why affirmations of excellence, power, resilience, beauty, joy, and strength have been crucial aspects of reclaiming histories, traditions, cultures, and bodies of the historically oppressed.

We seek to create, hold on to, and heal from cultivating positive feelings because oppression strives to give us only the bad ones.

To thrive in a world that seeks your demise is undeniably an act of resistance. 

With this in mind, I wondered about the significance of those good feelings that resulted from me thinking more philosophically.

As far as connections between positivity, thinking, and healing goes, psychologists had already been looking into that. The relatively new field of positive psychology champions the notion of positive thinking – they claim it’s not enough to rid oneself of negative emotions like anxiety or depression, for that will eventually leave one with nothing.

Instead, the positive psychologist recommend that one must also cultivate positive emotions, like gratitude. By studying people’s hearts, brains, blood pressure, and other empirical things that philosophers tend to steer clear of, positive psychologists found that increasing positive emotions had impressive effects on improving overall health, happiness, longevity, and well-being. That’s positive psychology. And it’s a cool story.

I appreciated the empirical evidence that positive emotions are good for us, but I was skeptical of the politics of who gets to practice gratitude and how that could maintain the oppressive status quo. I certainly wasn’t about to run around telling the oppressed to practice more gratitude and call it a win for the day.

Thus, I took the liberty to extrapolate those findings and assume it could be possible to produce similar healthful and healing benefits by cultivating positive affective experiences from critical thinking, i.e., engaging with theory.

For one, I think this is true because of how theory has helped me navigate very difficult and stressful situations with far less shame and anxiety and more pride and self-love.

I also think this is true because I know how good it can feel to make knowledge claims that establish you as right, good, and true, especially when the world has been constructed to tell you that you and your existence are wrong.

Morally, politically, psychologically and emotionally, it feels good to be right. That’s one reason why it is so tempting to make, what I call, “righteous knowledge claims.”

However, the epistemologist in me became very skeptical of righteous knowledge claims.

Remember, I center my work on the importance of what is called ‘knowledge,’ and inextricably embedded within what we claim to know, you can find ethics, politics, and quite literally, the foundations for the world we erase, destroy, or create, as well as the means through which we end up doing those things.

If our only goal was to produce positive affects to overshadow the negative ones we get from being oppressed, we would already have it made. We could look into the face of oppressive systems and scream, “No! You are wrong! I am right!” All the good and positive feelings that stem from knowing we are right would embolden, inspire, energize, and excite us to fight for change.

But beneath righteous knowledge claims (even those I want to and tend to believe) I see potential for them to be motivated out of desperation, a fear of being wrong, a deep longing to cling to something that recognizes our position and establishes our place as right in the world.

This, it seemed to me, was eerily similar to what the oppressors do and say.

Cut from the same cloth, maybe righteous knowledge claims are part of the same system of oppression, just another distant cousin of dominant narratives that righteously assert knowledge claims like, “I’m right. You’re wrong. And holding tightly to that helps me feel better about myself.” See, even in saying that now it is difficult to discern if I am speaking as the oppressor or the oppressed. That is the danger of righteous knowledge claims.

In other words, theory is powerful because it can reframe, reconstruct, and rearticulate our experiences of oppression in order to challenge oppression. But if we are not careful, we may seek out theories that make us feel better by merely assuring us that we are right and can lay claim to truth.

I needed to go further.

I wondered if there were even more powerful resources for resistance and healing when we focus on how we think and our habituated ways of knowing.

Long story short – positive philosophy isn’t about theorizing in ways that make us feel better by simply giving us counter-narratives to yell in the face of dominant ones. It’s not about collecting good feelings when we can claim to know what is right.

Instead, it’s about renouncing the common “fear the unknown” and even a fear being wrong, It’s about rejecting the will and desire for certainty.

Positive philosophy is about developing the capacity for positive affective experiences while exploring and creating new ways of understanding from a place of not-knowing.

It’s about generating pleasure, excitement, and energy from engaging in an open-ended process of critical thinking in ways that counter the negative affective burdens of oppression.

This capacity for positive affective experiences is not rooted in merely demonstrating how we are right and others are wrong. It boils down to how we interact and engage with what we claim to know.

The capacity for positive affects is developed in us, not through developing definitive theories.

In short, positive philosophy is about thinking better and feeling better. That is part of its mode of resistance.

Thus, I titled my dissertation,Positive Philosophy: A Feminist Practice of Affective Therapy and Political Resistance.” (And it’s publicly available!)

* * *

Now, fast forward to 2016, when the presidential campaign pulled my attention to the “alt-right,” to the increased visibility and outspokenness of white supremacists, men’s rights activists, and others who – despite largely coming from historically dominant groups like those of straight, cisgender, white men – now fervently claimed they are being marginalized, threatened, discriminated against, even oppressed.

But this is more than just a whiny group of white dudes to be ignored and dismissed, since explicit opponents of social justice and civil rights movements are in mainstream media and the White House.

Out of curiosity, I began exposing myself to their thought processes by checking out their websites, watching their documentaries, and listening more carefully to what they say about their “causes.”

Not only were they co-opting language that describes experiences of oppression, but they were also echoing language of the negative affects that burden the oppressed.

Whether I wanted to validate their feelings or not, this is what I heard: a felt loss of self, loss of community, loss of culture; a felt loss of power; fear of threat of isolation, alienation, marginalization, and discrimination; even men’s rights activists cite high rates of suicide, heart disease, and addiction, which could be physiological correlates to these negative affects.

For better or worse, I’m not often engaging with folks who explicitly align themselves with the alt-right or white supremacy movements.

However, I am constantly in spaces with good-intentioned, well-meaning white people and I hear them express similar feelings. They are my family members who voted for Trump; they are women who get defensive if you call them white feminists; they are my colleagues who fear that they will be viewed as racists; and they are my white students who want to critically understand their privilege, even if it is difficult at times to do so.

With all these bad feelings floating around in predominantly white spaces through people with multiple dominant and privileged identities, I had an uncomfortable epiphany.

I’ve developed positive philosophy as a practice of resistance for the oppressed. Is it possible that positive philosophy could be equally appropriate for oppressors?

If so, what does that say about my theory?

Does this mean my next project will be, “Positive Philosophy Part II: A Feminist Practice of Affective Exorcism and Political Transformation”?

Maybe so.

Now we could go in a lot of directions to explore why, but instead I’ll share a scenario from my class last fall.

Four of my students were giving their group presentation. The assignment is for students to meet outside of class and dig deeper into the materials that we discuss during the lecture earlier in the week. They are to have a rich conversation on their own, then bring back their new ideas, questions, and insights to the rest of the class to further our collective conversation.

This particular week, we were reading Peggy McIntosh’s essay on White and Male Privilege (pg. 61 if you follow the link) and an essay by Alison Bailey on how to develop the character of a white Race Traitor.

The students started by acknowledging that they were approaching the texts as four white women or, as we started saying this semester, four women of whiteness. This signals that it is not just the fact that they have pale, light skin that is the most significant to note, but rather, that they have been socialized and conditioned to not see their own whiteness as part and parcel to a culture of domination in the service of white supremacy.

These four women of whiteness summarized their conversation (and I’ll note that they struck me as being quite eager to share that day). We sketched out the main points they touched on from the text, which started a pretty engaging discussion with the whole class.

About mid-way through our time together, I asked the room if they felt they now had a good handle on white privilege. As most students raised their hand, I noted, “But many of you said this is the first time you’ve heard of or really thought about white privilege. To say you get it now, with confidence, is potentially one of the Whiteliest things you could do.”

See, I kept challenging them to see that whiteness is everywhere, and almost everything they did, if they paid close attention and looked carefully enough, would still demonstrate some (or a lot of) whiteness.

In fact, even when we discussed one of the main points of the text, which is to become privilege cognizant rather than privilege evasive when it comes to recognizing things White people do that manifest whiteness, we ultimately landed on a critical insight: There are many ways in which being “privilege cognizant” could actually just be more sneaky forms of whiteness. Like thinking that once you read an essay on white privilege that you are sufficiently privilege cognizant.

Together, as a class, we came up with this important insight to build upon what we had learned from the theories in the text. And something else was happening.

I shifted the conversation and asked my students if they could imagine what it would feel like to actually be so privilege cognizant that one would live as a race traitor, to be a white person who embodied the commitment for racial justice rather than being a person of whiteness who just really didn’t want to be racist?

They said they couldn’t yet imagine what it would feel like to have such a paradigm shift.

So then I asked, “What does it feel like be where you are right now? How does it feel to learn about whiteness, and be told that even when you think you’ve got it, you are probably still manifesting whiteness?”

Most of us can probably relate to what they said because it’s difficult to want to do good, think you’re doing the right things, and then be told or realize that you’re still stepping in it.

They said a lot of things: They felt guilt and shame. They named a kind of loss, a lack, or a longing for something that was missing. They felt disappointment, a sense of failure, and even some fear around what to do. They said this process was overwhelming, like they didn’t know how to take a step in any direction, or what the next step should be, which made them feel insecure and very frustrated.

While there are very important differences between these feelings and the sort of negative affective burdens felt by those who are oppressed, these are still negative affects. And they are commonly felt by a lot of people of whiteness, especially when they desire to act and change in ways that support social justice and healing.

So I shifted again, and reminded my students that even though this may feel overwhelming, we were still able to come up with a pretty powerful new understanding. We named potential risks of being privilege cognizant that could actually help people of whiteness (namely, many of them) understand how they can still do better. They did that. We did that together.

I asked, “What did that process feel like? How does that make you feel?”

And like music to my ears, I kid you not, three students of whiteness said, one after the other:

It’s kind of exciting.”

“It’s sort of empowering, you know, to see these how we could do things differently.”

And from the back, “It’s humbling.”

Exciting. Empowering. Humbling.

Even with the students of whiteness in my class, we practiced positive philosophy to unpack privilege and challenge the ubiquity of whiteness, while resisting the temptation to make righteous knowledge claims that would leave them feeling good in all the wrong ways.

I hope no student of mine walks out of class thinking they have definitive answers, but I really hope they leave feeling that something positive happened during our time together.

Something that encourages them to keep challenging their own thinking rather than getting stuck on the hard and heavy feelings that could make them become complacent with it.

Finally, I also hope they have a positive affective experience that I hope all people with privilege and dominant identities can use to frame such moments.

And that’s gratitude.

I hope my students and people with dominating identities are grateful for the opportunities they have all around them to learn how to be and do better.

I hope they are grateful for the insights and resources that support their process of coming to consciousness.

In particular, I hope they are grateful to those who have persistently fought and struggled against their own oppression, because that struggle enables oppressors to more fully realize their own humanity, as well.

So, maybe there is a place for positive psychology’s call for gratitude, after all, if we use a critical lens to explore the politics of who should practice gratitude and how that could destabilize the oppressive status quo. If those with privilege started running around expressing genuine gratitude to those who have afforded them opportunities to get more in touch with their own humanity, I may even call it a win for the day.

* * *

Now that you know a little more about positive philosophy and how I recommend we engage with theory, I want to share how I’ve taken what I’ve learned in theory and applied it to other feminist practices.

That is, if we can cultivate the capacity to critically think about our experiences in ways that are exciting, affirming, and encouraging without tying those feelings to our own righteousness or desire for certainty, how might this inform how we show up for one another as feminists?

The example I will give is that of feminist friendship.

Last spring I gave a TEDx talk on Feminist Friendship. Unsurprisingly, I started by noting my own personal history with feminist theory. I referenced several feminist theorists whose work has helped me make sense of the world and my place in it, and helped me locate myself within feminism by highlighting what has not been working within the women’s movement.

One thing I learned is that, even with a PhD in it, feminism is hard and complicated.

Doing good feminist work and the work to be a good feminist is even harder.

Also, being a good feminist isn’t just about challenging oppressive structures outside of ourselves; it’s fundamentally rooted in the need to constantly reflect on one’s own practices.

You can already hear echoes of positive philosophy here, right?…

One of my main points in that TEDx talk is that if you are committed to social justice and ending oppression, that means you have to stay open to the possibility that you could be doing it poorly, or at least, that you could always do it a little bit better.

As feminists, that’s especially true when it comes to how we work together, how we stand in solidarity with one another, and what our feminist practices look like.

Of course, historically, some of the largest obstacles within the women’s movement have been the internalization of oppression among women, the lack of intersectionality for understanding diverse needs and experiences of women, and a lack of appropriate support and solidarity, particularly among women of whiteness and white feminists.

And yet, these things can be true for all of us: even when we say we share the same goals, women will often tear down other women, or women will be homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, and more.

The systems of oppression do not just exist outside of us. They operate and maintain within us.

On the whole, internal conflicts among different groups of women evidences the ongoing failure to heed Audre Lorde‘s call to not let our differences divide us, but rather to leverage our differences as a resource for strength, creativity, and power.

Doing so necessarily requires thinking outside of ourselves and our own experiences, and learning how oppression operates in different ways so that we can more effectively support each other as we work against it.

So how do we build that type of understanding? How do we cultivate the kinds of bonds and connections that facilitate understanding which leverages our differences without exhausting, exploiting, or exercising power of one another?

Through genuine, reciprocal dialogue.

That’s what Maria Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman, two feminist theorists, recommended in an essay they wrote together back in 1983. They weren’t the first or the last to suggest dialoguing across our differences, but they were particularly candid about their skepticism around whether this was even possible.

See, Lugones and Spelman were keen to the fact that, despite claiming shared goals, white women and women of color would disagree on many things, namely, the asymmetry in their working knowledge about how white feminists continue to colonize, harm, and oppress women of color.

In order for genuine, reciprocal dialogue to be possible, Lugones and Spelman said that women of whiteness would need to face harsh realities, hear criticisms that could destabilize conceptions of their world, their practices, and themselves, all while holding difficult feelings of alienation and not being trusted.

In other words, much like the example I told of my students, white feminists would have to get over their fear of being wrong, their desire to defend themselves as right, and deal with a whole lot of negative affects – from guilt and shame, to anger, frustration, and disdain.

As far as working to end oppression goes, getting mad at being told you are harming others and you can do better doesn’t do much to advance one’s goals.

IMG_7478.jpgOr, as the comedian Eliza Skinner tweeted it, “White Women getting mad at Women of Color for pointing out racism in feminism is like getting mad at being told there’s junk in your teeth. IT’S A FAVOR. FIX UR FACE.”

Aside from cultivating the capacity to feel excited, empowered, humbled, and grateful while pursuing an open-ended process of understanding ourselves and our place in the world, what else can we do?

Since this work is hard and can bring up a lot of hard feelings, Lugones and Spelman recommend that we check our motivation for even seeking to engage in processes like genuine, reciprocal dialogue, or even learning feminist theory, in the first place.

They say it shouldn’t be merely out of some moral obligation, self-interest to be a good person, and I’ll add, it shouldn’t be out of the desire to be right.

Instead, they suggest the only motivation that makes sense for entering into genuine dialogue across differences is friendship, out of friendship.

So I developed the model of feminist friendship to help illustrate how we can do feminist work better without reanimating the oppressive structures that continue to divide us (both in practice, and in how we feel about our practices). (Listen here for more discussion on feminist friendship!)

In short, the model of feminist friendship draws parallels between being a good friend and being a good feminist. The ideas is to apply skills for social justice that you hopefully, already practice with your closest friends – you care about them, and you show up for them, regardless of if/when it’s convenient.

You demonstrate support by responding to their needs (and not prioritizing your own need to feel good about yourself through superficial shows of support).

You listen because that’s a supportive thing to do, but also because listening is a good way to learn what else you could do.

You don’t give unsolicited advice, and if your friend says they are facing something that you are unfamiliar with (I gave the example of a blood disorder), you don’t deny that it exists. Instead, you likely scour Google and WebMD to learn more (even if this is on your own time).

Good friends find ways to learn more so we can understand what our friends are going through and how we can best support them. It’s not to prove that we are friends. It’s not to keep them as our friends. Although those might result from our showing up, it’s just what friends do.

And then, when we hear, “You know, you’re not being a good friend right now. I need more from you,” we shouldn’t get defensive. If we are good friends, we’ll hear it, apologize, and commit to do better, because we care about our friends, and we want to show up in the best possible way.

Hopefully, you can see the parallels between friendship and social justice.

If we are really committed to ending oppression, we should show up for others, listen to them so we know what support and solidarity look like for them, and respond to their needs without being dismissive or defensive.

Especially if we come from a place of privilege, we need to check our negative feelings, even more so if we seek to feel better by asserting that we are actually right.

Finally, we should graciously accept critical feedback as a gift.

If we are the ones for perpetuating oppressive systems, we should be grateful for the opportunity to fix our face.

Now, to tie this model of feminist friendship back to the theory and practice of positive philosophy, I want to clarify that the model of feminist friendship is more than just a model.

* * *

Since we live in a culture that seeks to divide us by our differences, forming genuine bonds of connection, understanding, solidarity, and friendship with others across our differences is itself also an act of resistance.

But don’t get confused though – I’m not saying go find yourself that new “one friend who…”

Tokenizing others as your friends is like saying, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and hold tightly to them makes me feel better about myself.”

But I do think that actively, intentionally, and genuinely building friendships with other women is a very important feminist practice. For one, women supporting and loving other women in community flies in the face of oppressive systems that separate and pit us against one another.

And finally, for as much as I love theory and all the feels good theory gives me, friendship is also a good, maybe even better, resource for learning, growing, and becoming better people. We often exchange more grace, patience, generosity and gratitude with our friends.

And just think of all the good feels we get from being with our friends. Being in community with our friends is one of the best ways to displace the negative affective burdens of oppression.

Celebrating and cultivating the fun, playfulness, love, warmth, connection, trust, respect, and joy that we have when we really get to know others on a personal level, when we really get to see and be seen by our friends, that’s a way to connect with our own power, and our power together.

So, to tie it all together, where do we go from here? How can we practice positive philosophy? How can we practice feminist friendship?

We must create conditions and environments of support that foster and nurture these practices in everyone, and continually do this work within ourselves and with others.

That means going through the process with others so no one feels so lost that they can’t take another step, even if they don’t quite know where they are going.

We must recognize that that this process is not definitive, we should not strive to “arrive.” Most importantly, we need not, in fact, we must not, go it alone.


2 thoughts on “Positive Philosophy & Feminist Friendship – My work over the past several years

  1. Coir…What can I say except..EXCELLENT..!! Thanks for thie link to your dissertation. I ahve just printed it & will start reading. My early interest was in Philosophical Counseling and will get a better understanding if that was what you were talking about with the term “Affective Therapy”. Yuo came to my attention in the fall of 2015 when a Dr. Doan at Eastern Michigan had mentioned your work as the closest thing to Philosophical Counseling he could identify with. I can’t thank you enough for helping me open thes 67 years old Africian American Urban (Chicago) raised eyes to a new realify.

    Thanks fo rall you do & for the continued deep insightful introspection you participate in.

  2. Cori,

    Outstanding as usual. Thank you for embedding a link to your dissertation. A Philosophy instructor at Eastern Michigan University turned me on to you & your work when I mentioned to him that I was interested in Philosophical Counseling. I got some reading to do to try to catch up with your work. Just 1 question…what do youthink of Philosophical Counseling & was that what you were talking about…The transitions we individually make is through very deep introspection which occurs a lot by reviewing our individual interactions with others & tinking hard about what it all means in our reality. This is also possible through 1 on 1 therapy.

    Thanks for being the woman you are and the woman you are becoming.

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