Feminism and Men: Contradiction or collaboration?

The Feminist Club Amsterdam discussion night 10th of January 2017 @ Atria 
Sum-up by Vanessa Cantinho de Jesus


Real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you.
― Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017)

When I first joined The Feminist Club I decided to do so because I felt this was a space where people were open for real dialogue, as in the words of the late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (who passed away on the day of our meeting, hence the homage). This is because I truly believe that, even if complex and sometimes defeating, inclusive dialogue is always more constructive than just retreating away in our safe spaces and rejecting people or opinions for their perceived wrongness or incapability of understanding ours. As much as I concede that we all are bound to our particular bio-socio-historical positions and eventual privileges, so that for instance a white middle class man will never have the lived experience a low class black woman does, I cannot accept that this is enough reason to dismiss the first one on the basis of arguments like “he will never understand the position of the second”. Although indeed it will never be the same thing hearing about an experience and actually experiencing it, I sill believe that communication and empathy are a better answer. It is also important to boldly underline, like one of our members so righteously did, that this must be a shared responsibility and not a cumulative burden on the ones who are already in a position of disadvantage.

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Discussion Night: Safe Space / Closed Space

On this night we will discuss the idea of Safe Space. What are its conceptual ideals and its practical existence? And what are the tensions between the ideology and the lived reality? These are some of the questions we wish to explore together.

The concept of Safe Space originated in the LGBTQ communities, where it signified a space where LGBTQ- people could come together and be safe from discrimination, marginalization and (physical) harm. It now extends to all kinds of groups who are marginalized in society on the basis of sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability. Safe Spaces should be hospitable environment, in which they can come together, feel at ease, and exchange experiences that other people can’t relate to. Safe spaces, in short, should be exactly that: Spaces were people feel safe, where they can be themselves, where they can be with people like themselves.
This idea, however, is not without conflict. Criticasters argue that Safe Spaces actually contribute to more separation, more division, more hierarchies. Moreover, as commitments to safe space, and related concepts such as the use of trigger warnings and pronouns, are exported to other sites and situations (for instance, higher education) critical voices argue that these formalized sensitivities towards the presupposed minority experience effectively leads to censorships. Only thoughts and opinions that take account trigger warnings, pronouns and the like are allowed to be voiced, opponents say.
In this discussion, we want to explore these criticisms: to learn how to productively and appropriately engage with them and how to not simply withdraw from conversation in “less safe spaces”, and thus take them as an invitation to ponder on the means through which we translate commitments to inclusivity and equality into practice.

Acknowledging and exploring the tensions that might come up from this is particularly relevant for the Feminist Club if we consider the different goals the club and its online platform aspire to: creating a safe space for marginalized people, fostering open debate about feminist issues, and mobilizing people in, and advancing the fight against, among others, sexism and racism. Taking into account the latter two ideals, we will discuss whether, and if so how, norms to make spaces safe may risk turning them instead into orthodox and closed spaces.

(Sources for preparation of the meeting will follow asap, you can find the event on Facebook and on Radar.Squad to keep up to date) 

Becoming an Active Feminist! Upcoming Events

Preaching to the feminist choir
On the discussions on our Facebook page, there is certain topic that regularly resurfaces. Every once in a while people will critique online feminism, and I totally understand why. In our Facebook group, a lot of people post articles, pictures, videos, about feminist issues. The online discussions that follow are valuable. It is nice to see that people share these posts with others. Hopefully, some people are educated, grow and maybe also start calling themselves feminists. But a lot of the time, it can feel like preaching to the own choir. So shouldn’t our feminism be aimed more towards the outside? Shouldn’t we run to the streets and protest? Every so often someone will exclaim this in the Facebook group. Gathering likes within a feminist facebook group will hardly change the world right?

I think that sharing posts and reading up on feminist issues can be great. It’s very nice to find like-minded people. It gives a sense of belonging, knowing that you’re not the only one out there who thinks a certain way. Activism can take place online. We’ve seen that in the past when we collectively complained against sexist posters and more recently against an online campaign by health insurance company OHRA (in Dutch). And sharing articles is what got me personally involved with feminism. Without tumblr and twitter, I may have never been as active as I am now.

But going to streets does create change! For some examples, check out these articles on recent protests in Europe:

  1. The protests in Poland which resulted in the rejection of a new law proposal to ban all abortions.
  2. In the UK women’s rights groups blocked bridges, demanding a reversal of the budget cuts of specialist services for PoC survivors of domestic violence. (read more)
  3. In Iceland there is a recurrent protest were women leave their work early, to protest the wage gap.

These protests show that going to the street works. It also shows that one protest is not enough, however, they’ve gotten results.

So what can you do?

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Discussion Night #4: Feminism and Labour

On the 29th of November we are organizing another Discussion Night. This time we will be discussing feminism and labour.
We will be meeting at Atria. Participation is free. We will have a money-box in which you can put a small donation, so we can keep on providing materials and keep the website running.

To prepare for the evening, or just to learn more about feminism and labour, we have put together the following text and have provided a number of links to useful information. It is very much appreciated if you look into this before attending our discussion night.

We hope to see you there!

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Feminism and Abortion

Last Wednesday, November 9th, we held another discussion night, this time on feminism and abortion. We started the evening with discussing the win of Donald Trump in the USA elections. His win can have devastating results to the abortion-laws in America.

Compared to the previous discussion nights, the turnout was quite low, however we had a very interesting and sometimes enervating meeting. We had more time to go in-depth and ponder on the issues at stake, so the quality of a discussion night is not in the amount of people that turn up.

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Feminism and Mental Health #2

On October 18th we had a great Discussion Night at the office of Mama Cash, where we discussed mental health in relation to feminism. In this blogpost, we want to highlight some of the things that we discussed.

First of all, it should be mentioned that a night like this can work like a trigger. Talking about one’s past and using ableist language can be hurtful and emotional. This came up yesterday and we weren’t really prepared for it. We try to learn from these instances and provide a space that is as safe as possible, however we shall not always succeed. We do continue to try to improve. If you ever feel triggered or unsafe, please let us know.

We started the night of with discussing ableist language and trying to find suitable alternatives for ableist phrases. If someone is having moodswings, don’t call them bipolar or a schizo. If someone is being unreasonable, don’t call them crazy. If someone is upset, don’t call them hysteric.
For some phrases, it was hard to come up with good alternatives. If you’re going to say that someone you don’t know looks anorexic, it might be better to not say anything at all. Other words, like idiot or imbecile, once were used as official terms in psychology. Many people are not aware of this history and use the word to indicate that someone is being dense or silly. Is that okay? Can a phrase lose it’s original charged meaning and can it then be used as a more or less innocent swearword?

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