Episode 22: Feminist Reckonings or Feminist Wrecking Balls?
Episode 22: Feminist Reckonings or Feminist Wrecking Balls?
What is driving the growing numbers of implosions that many social justice groups around the world – including feminist organizations and networks — are experiencing? Coming on the heels of the #MeToo movement, the flashmobs inspired by the “El Violador Eres Tu!” movement, and the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, we started to witness staff in feminist organizations around the world publicly calling out abuse of power, racism, gender discrimination and other forms of exclusionary practices in the very organizations that we joined to reverse these.
As de-stabilizing and paralyzing as these implosions might be, this is a reckoning that is long past due. How can we leverage this momentum to build more sustainable and impactful organizations and movements that fully reflect feminist principles?
Join us to listen to the inter-generational insights and experiences of Lina Abou Habib, Lebanese feminist and Board member of the newly created Doria Feminist Fund in the Middle East; Dildar Kaya, from Kurdistan, who specializes in access to mental health services and the recovery of survivors of conflict and is a member of the Board of the Nobel Women’s Initiative; and Shawna Wakefield, a Gender at Work Associate who has worked for 25 years on feminist leadership and transformative approaches to ending violence against women, strengthening movement building for women’s rights and building cultures of care and who is a co-founder of Root, Rise and Pollinate.
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Aruna: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the gender at work podcast. I’m Aruna Rao the co-founder of gender at work and gender at work colleague Joanne Sandler.
Joanne: This year, the podcast is focusing on something we are both passionate about, which are the creative strategies for dismantling patriarchy. We especially wanna delve more deeply into shifting power dynamics in organizations and movements.
And we wanna explore ways that we can collaborate in building trust and collective power. And we also wanna imagine new ways of organizing how we work together to enable both humans and the planet to thrive.
Aruna: So that’s a big agenda and we are really hoping that you will join us in this exploration.
We’d love to hear from listeners. Please email us at email@example.com.
Beginning about two years ago, um, coming on the heels of the #metoo movement and the murder of George Floyd, we started to witness a series of implosions in social justice organizations, including women’s rights and feminist organizations, particularly north America, and increasingly around the globe.
Women, staff, younger women staff in these organizations from those ranging from Healing Justice Podcast, which is now called Irresistible to Women Deliver the International Women’s Health Coalition and the Nobel Women’s Initiative have all used social media to call out their leaders for their practice of what they term white supremacism, bullying and for fostering toxic work environments.
So now two years later, we find that this trend has not only expanded in the United States to longstanding women’s political rights organizations ranging from the National Organization of Women and the Guttmacher Institute, but also to a whole stream of mainstream organizations like the ACLU and Black Lives Matter.
This trend is also evident in women’s organizations around the world. Though, there the implosions have been a little more muted and also, frankly, there’s a lot that’s still under wraps that’s known only to select donors and board members,
Joanne: Abusive power of all kinds in organizations, including shockingly, sometimes social justice and feminist organizations is not new.
Some of the worst experiences of bullying and abuse are those that we second wave feminists now in our sixties and older have been responsible for and have faced ourselves. At the same time, it’s also where we’ve built lifelong alliances, friendships, and circles of support. So it’s, it’s very complex
for sure it’s way past time for these abuses to be addressed. And still we keep wondering, are we going about this in a way that is generative? And that will help us address these longstanding inequities over the long term?
So in the next two podcasts, we are going to explore what is happening in these organizations, the nuances and the dilemmas around how these issues are framed by internal constituents and external observers and what we can do to address these issues beyond calling out and sometimes actually destroying people.
In today’s discussion. We are joined by Lina Abou Habib a well known feminist from Lebanon and board member of the newly created Doria women’s fund in the middle east, Dildar Kaya, from Kurdistan, and a member of the board of the Nobel Women’s Initiative with you Aruna, who specializes in access to mental health services and the recovery of survivors of conflict and Shawna Wakefield, a gender at work associate, and co-founder of a relatively new initiative called Root, Rise and Pollinate. Shawna has worked for 25 years on feminist leadership and transformative approaches to ending violence against women strengthening movement building for women’s rights and building cultures of care.
We started by asking Lina to reflect a bit on how different these times are than the eighties and nineties. When we didn’t even have words like toxic organizations.
Lina: You know, I think we were still most of us in this situation where, you know, uh, separate the art from the artist where, you know, you could have somebody who was a genius and with these amazing ideas, but actually was a horrible person. And it was basically about individuals being horrible or difficult, or, you know, I don’t ever remember using the word toxic until later during that period. And I think, um,
again, um, I, I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I think we have, we are in, in a different, uh, worlds where we have defined the different kinds of abusive relationship, which are beyond racial and beyond sexual and beyond physical, and beyond also financial because, you know, financial, you know, financial misconduct and also conflict of interest were something that were defined before and there were ways you could pursue them.
But I think that the new, the new generation of ideas in terms of what is a feminist work environment started to define these other, these other, these other, situation, which, you know, definitely, I would say as somebody who is 60 now, I wish I had the tools back then. I wish I had the tools to, to basically make a case of how somebody was manipulative, and how, when you would have a conversation with them, they’d start crying.
And, you know, I honestly, at 30, I didn’t have these tools. I didn’t understand that was on the, you know, uh, that was part of, um, a very consistent abusive behavior. And I think what I’m trying to say is that where we are right now is, is actually partly, I would feel because, um, because we, we, we have better definitions because we are able to name situations because we are able to connect different kinds of abuses and because we are able to understand that this is harmful.
Aruna: You’re right, Lina, this is not a new issue, but we didn’t have the language to frame it, the tools to address it. And certainly we didn’t have the audacity to call people out on it.
Lina: The strategy of calling out, uh, and calling out all over the place is I have to say is used without any consideration for what is due process. You know, what is it that we want? What is due process? And as you both know, I have been part of something like this, which, you know, has been very painful and very complicated where the complainants didn’t want due process, they wanted uh, kind of an immediate public lynching of a person. Uh, and, and I think there was, uh, kind of a, um, misuse of the concept of, we believe the victims. Of course, of course we believe the victims, but in any case, you know, how do you make sure that there’s no harm done? How do you make sure that whatever, whatever measure is taken is commensurate with whatever happens happened?
Um, and you know, this has been still is incredibly brutal and truly done in a way where we want to destroy a person. Um, I’m not convinced that the person in question, you know committed harmful practices to the extent that you know, she should be totally canceled.
Uh, and, um, um, you know, I’m, I’m not going to even tell you what words were used. and this is where we do have the tools and the definitions, but how are we using them? Do they really fit purpose? Do they fit a situation? I gave you an example, Aruna when we had the brief call over, over messenger. And I like this. I’m gonna look up the call, call out and call in. The situation that we witnessed was a calling in which could have easily been twisted to a calling out and gone to donors and et cetera with actually no consideration, uh, in terms of what will happen and what would be the consequences. And what about this possibility that, um, The truth is, is, is neither here nor there, uh, after all. Um, and, and this is not to put on a scale, what is bad practice?
What is medium bad practice and what is soft bad practice? But nevertheless, bullying, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial misconduct, force narratives, all of which are totally unacceptable is different from, you know, having, arguments that are heated, where people’s violently shut doors.
You know, and I think it’s really a moment and that, that’s why, you know, I really think you’re, it’s great that you’re doing this conversation that we really think, you know, we’ve moved a long way and I can feel it because I’ve just turned 60.
Joanne: In the transnational women’s rights world now, there is a much deeper focus on personal wellbeing of activists. As Lina said, 30 years ago, we didn’t even have language around concept like toxic work environment.
Although black feminist circles have long spoken of the depletion that comes from navigating racist cultures in organizations and communities in that tradition, love is central to healing and healing is in fact, an act of communion.
Bell hook said: “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: How do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing, and yet at the same time, remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” So we asked Dildar and Shawna how they see toxic work environments in their contexts and how they came to focus their work on healing in the context of women’s rights activism.
Dildar: It’s something else to be aware of something, but to actually feel it and to feel how it feels, um, to be within an environment that, um, where you don’t necessarily see justice or where you feel like it’s toxic. And I think once I experienced it myself, I was much more aware of like the different nuances and the layers, um, and the impact of such an organizational culture.
And so I was more and more interested in. Um, feminist organizations, um, that are not necessarily, um, living up to the standards that they’re advocating for externally. And then I was more and more, um, Uh, looking into the different layers, how it impacted myself, how it impacted a lot of my colleagues, a lot of other, um, activists that I know from, from really, um, different environments and different geographical locations who’ve been to very similar experiences, of course, all in individual and different ways, but still very similar. And a lot of times these were like, um, toxic work environments. There was a lot of favoritism, a lot of like discrimination. Um, a lot of really also misconduct, um, different things, bullying, um, very violent, um, behavior, communication and so forth.
Um, and also, um, Kind of this, this perception of okay just because we are doing important work, um, that is so difficult to do, and this is why we can, we can act, uh, in that way, you know, because, um, it justifies the means. Um, and I think that was something that triggered me because. There is just simply no need for that.
And I think that I went deeper and deeper into that. And then I went into a process of, um, looking into how to change and so forth.
Shawna: I think I started really at the personal level, um, working inside of, um, you know, an international NGO being a feminist inside of that space. Um, and going through on the one hand, all of the, you know, the challenges of being a feminist inside of a mainstream organization. and on the other hand, going through personal, um, loss and trauma around, um, childbirth, you know, at the same time living, living overseas.
Um, and I had been working in Afghanistan and had, you know, some, um, residual, I think stress, you know, from that, um, as well as my experiences working, working, and living in Cambodia. And I really, at that time, um, recognized as I was shifting out of that space into a new role, a bigger role inside of the same organization that I didn’t want to bring all of my trauma with me, um, that I wanted to figure out how to heal that.
And over the course of, you know, probably eight years that I was in that role at Oxfam, um, I was really looking for, how do folks do this work? How do we find each other beyond our, um, beyond our politics? Like what actually is motivating us to continue in the work beyond, you know, um, beyond the politics to how do we regenerate ourselves?
How do we feel like we we have some level of, um, joy in this work that we enjoy each other, you know, in this work, um, that we don’t tear each other down in this work. I think we’ve all experienced that, um, that feeling of disconnect and deep, deep disappointment, um, and it’s sort of connected back, you know, to earlier experiences I’d had working in feminist organizations and just being very disappointed that we weren’t really perfect. Um, and so that’s, you know, flash forward, I’ve just gotten more and more focused around how do we, how do we be, who we say we wanna be? And when we can’t be, how do we give each other, um, some grace, you know, how do we give ourselves some grace so that we can change?
Aruna: Give us some grace, you know, Shawna, that’s a lovely way of putting it. So let me ask you both: Since we know that abuse of power in organizations is not a new issue, why do you think there’s so many feminist organizations imploding now?
Dildar: I think that multiple things, I think one is, um, okay. How can we be credible as feminist organizations and advocating for equality, justice and, um, compassionate leadership and transformational leadership and so on when we are not really upholding these values and behaviors ourselves within our own four walls?
Um, and I think that is something that, that probably is then, um, seeking the attention of external, um, media outlets individuals, because there there’s this, this really slight, um, I think perception of hypocrisy, right? Uh, we, we are advocating for something we’re putting all our, uh, financial means or emotional means or whole labor into something advocating for it externally?
And we want this systematic change outside, but then within our own walls we’re not really upholding to these different values that we are really preaching. And I think, um, although a lot of other NGOs and within the CSO sector, The same. Right. But I think feminist organizations then distinguish themselves again from, I would say, normal, um, um, NGOs or CSOs, because then we have this very special approach to organizational values as well as, um, I think to our work.
Um, and I think, uh, that is probably what is seeking the attention, um, and is maybe also causing this interest in, um, in really covering these topics. Although very much and we have to be really honest and frank here, um, I think this should not be only counting for a feminist organization. This should be, um, holding feminist organizations accountable should be across really organizations.
It doesn’t matter if these are, if these organizations are within the CSO sector or outside, this also counts for corporations, this counts for businesses. And I think, um, but unfortunately, feminist organizations, um, are right now under severe scrutiny and I think this is it’s mainly because there’s this association with, um, feminist organization and feminist leadership needs, uh, is more compassionate it’s more equal.
Shawna: The first thing that popped to mind was like, the feminists are not all right. um, you know, I think there’s a couple forces, um, and. In the last couple years, we’ve had the last few years, you know, we’ve had the #metoo movement, we’ve had then AidToo, you know #AidToo , which sort of came after that. Um, where, you know, there was this reckoning that we have problems of racial, you know, um, inequity of harm, um, that are happening in the international aid and development field and human rights field.
Um, and I think that was real reckoning for a lot of folks who thought, well, we’re humanitarians and we’re doing good work here. We’re we’re human rights advocates and we’re doing good work here. And sort of, weren’t really looking inside at the identities of people who are running these organizations, um, the power and privilege that’s come with, you know, being from the global north, which we’ve talked about for a long time or the west, which we’ve talked about a long time, less about white folk white men in leadership or white women in leadership, or, you know, upper class people in leadership. Um, and what that means, you know, and I think related to that, um, even the sort of diversification of leadership, you know, and having more people of color people from the global south in leadership positions has not, um, sort of solved the problems.
You know, they’re, they’re deep, they’re deep, deep problems and the, the sort of feminists are not all right piece that, um, that pops to mind is that folks are not, um, you know, are, are coming in experiencing, um, experiencing racism, experiencing Sexism, experiencing homophobia, you know, disablism, all of these things.
Um, and now there’s frameworks, you know, Black Lives Matter coming out around the same time. You know, um, you know, two years ago, we’re basically at the anniversary, right? Of, um, of George Floyd’s murder of a lot of aid organizations coming out and saying, um, we are in solidarity, you know, with, with Black Lives Matter.
And really, I think that, um, a lot of folks who of color in organizations, in feminist organizations, but also other organizations have seen that there are forces that are countervailing, that are actually influencing our experiences inside of these organizations and that it’s okay. And it’s actually important to speak out.
Um, and so that movement influence, I think, has, has influenced how people are seeing their own experience in organizations and not sort of saying, okay, well, we’re all feminists here. We’re all the same. We may look different, but we’re really all the same. We have the same values and really sort of interrogating that.
Okay. Well beyond, you know, beyond gender, what else are we fighting for? You know, beyond gender equality, beyond, um, Um, gender freedom as one, um, south african activist that I loved spoke about, um, years ago, this idea of gender freedom beyond that. What else?
Joanne: We all have been witnesses, um, to implosions in organizations where there have been harms done. There have been processes that haven’t worked there have been public denunciations of leadership. Can you kind of give examples of what kind of processes have led, you know, what are the dynamics that led to this? Like what, what are the things that people try, if anything before things blow up like is, is, you know, what are, what are those kinds of things?
Dildar: I think for me, what I realized within my own experiences, there’s always first like this analysts of pros and cons. So what are the benefits within the organization and then looking at, okay, how toxic is the environment and what, what is the severity of harm that is happening? And then what usually happens?
And this comes out later, right? Because it’s such a condensed area. And then also depends on in what kind of organization are you? Are you operating. And what kind of privileges do you have and also what kind of risks are involved in coming forward or pushing for change? So there’s so many layers that actually have an impact on if you are going forward or not.
Um, and then first this analysis happens, right. Um, how severely was I harmed? How does this impact my wellbeing outside of work? How, um, far can I continue? Can I give up this job and like search for multiple months for another one, or do I need to feed a family? Do I have sick family members? You know, how is the environment of like economic stage of the country or like location, for example, in the () region, um, economic situation is just awful.
People just can’t find jobs. And then you have like this favoritism of, I mean, within the humanitarian aid sector, as well as feminist organizations, always international and experts and mostly, uh, from the global north. And then again, like predominantly white individuals are preferred, uh, and so on and so forth.
And then once this analysis happens, the next stage is okay. Um, do I have the privileges or what are the harms or pros and cons? Once you analyze this ratio, you go individually and you maybe, uh, file an attempt or you collect evidences and so on. And then when, depending on what happens for you individually, And also how much you are talking and sharing, you know, is this, is there even a, is the organization even a safe space to share with colleagues?
Because if somebody finds out, maybe this can have the repercussion that you losing your job, or maybe you will have other challenges. I mean, there’s so many things in just coming forward because people always expect when something negative happens to you, you need to fight for yourself and justice, but that’s so full of privileges.
And then if the organization allows us, there is a safe space and only really when the risks are not too high and when the privileges, um, are somehow there. That’s the only time I saw a collective approach. Otherwise it’s so rare to see a collective approach, but most of the time, what I saw within my experience, once either evidence is so severe that it can harm the organization so severely, um, beyond just an individual, um, I don’t know, uh, legal suitor whatsoever, then the organization acts or the second is when people collectively act, but the collective action agency is most of the time, it takes a long time and it really depends on like really risks and privilege.
Shawna: Many of our organizations are unprepared to deal with conflict and to expect that it will happen. So if we’re going to really live our values, you know, and say, we’re going to do that, and we articulate that. Of course, then that becomes part of what staff hold, you know, staff and, and allies hold ourselves accountable for, if we say we actually are about a racially, just feminist, you know, multicultural society, then that provides a layer of, okay, we’re gonna actually, we need to do that then we can’t just look the same and talk different or be, be the same and say we’re doing different things. It, it raises the bar. We’re constantly raising the bar and that’s a really good thing. It’s an excellent thing. And it means also that we have to prepare for prepare ourselves internally and relationally to deal with conflict. Um, and that it’s generative you know, that it be generative, that it actually be part of. It’s part of how change happens.
It’s kind of funny that we talk about backlash and how that’s part of transformation and that’s part of what we need to adapt to in our movement work, you know, in our organizing work out there. But we don’t think about that so much. I think inside of our organizational spaces. Like there will be moments when, when there’s conflict and we need to actually take a step back and realize, oh, some harm has been done here and we actually need to take care of that.
We need to take care of those people. Um, and we need to look at ourselves, and I think part of dealing with that, that conflict is being able to – you know, people in leadership positions actually. Every time a new declaration is made or, you know, a new realization of what it means to live values is made to actually look internally and say, okay, actually, what do I need to do differently then?
You know, or what does my leadership team need to do differently then sometimes that might be stepping out. Sometimes that means stepping aside, sometimes that means bringing new people in. Sometimes that means, oh, I need to actually go address that person. Um, directly that I, I sense something was going on there.
Like having a better radar, you know, um, one of the formal wasn’t really formal ways, but, um, I helped a group of, um, cross cultural group that was working together for, um, solidarity against gender based violence in New York city who really they’re one of the few groups that, that I’ve worked with that said from the start we wanna actually put in place all of our own cultures and systems and practices to be able to deal with, um, to deal, deal with racial conflict, um, to deal with what it means to be anti-racist to actually say we’re actually pro black.
Inside of our work across, you know, Latinx communities, Arab communities, African black American, um, south Asian that we all need to be actually being in inside of work in New York. In this context, we actually need to be pro black. Um, and this group, I helped them over a year, you know, just to set up like, what are our values?
What are our principles? And then what are the practices that we actually have to put in place to, to make those reality? They were very concerned about what would happen. Um, you know, they were looking at transformative justice frameworks, and very much wanting to apply that very much, wanting to apply healing justice frameworks as well.
Um, which are about you know, relationship and repair in dealing with trauma, um, and not throwing that under the rug as if it’s something separate, some, some things we need to hide, um, and not punitive approaches. Right. Cause they were trying to do that in their work, in their organizing work too. So said, how do we do that inside of our relationships?
I mean, we can call it solidarity, but really in mutuality, like what’s happening to you affects me personally, and it affects how we organize collectively. Um, and they, you know, they set up accountability mechanisms around it and, and, and sort of resisted like, what’s the policy, what’s the, what will we actually do?
Um, in a, in a formal way, you know, just really centering the relational pieces. Um, and I’m very curious, as we, as I was thinking about this conversation, I wanna talk to them, you know, like it’s been a couple, I worked with them for two years, but I’m curious, like, What’s the nitty gritty now, you know, um, as we, as we get into it, um, I just, just one other thing, I think there are times when the implosion happens and there’s just gotta be closure, you know, of some kind.
And how do you actually () or how do you actually, um, guide that process to a closure that will be good enough you know, that, that whoever was harmed is protected, that whoever has done the harm can move with some sense of dignity, but not without you know, not, not just getting to sort of continue on without any, um, any recognition of what they’ve done and I’ve seen that not work so well when a person is not able to recognize truly that they did harm it’s, it’s so painful.
Not everyone can hold that those who did harm and those who have been harmed. That’s a big, big, big, big task. And so I wouldn’t expect that for most of us to be able to do that, we need some of us to be able to do it, but we also need to recognize some people need to just go, you know, and they need to be cared for, but it’s not necessarily the organization’s responsibility to do all of it.
Aruna: So Joanne, it looks like organizations now are being called to provide supports for people experiencing trauma that they were never expected to do. Before we now hear about the need for trauma informed workplaces, for example, for people experiencing a range of different issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, racism, harassment, or even economic uncertainty, and under COVID of course we’ve seen that the lines between work and home got blurred and what may have been something that was previously handled in a private sphere is now brought into the public.
Dildar: I think harm does not necessarily lead to trauma. We have to distinguish between these things and toxic work environment can still harm you, but it doesn’t need to lead to trauma. Um, and every individual is different right? In our subjective few different things traumatizes us or harm us in a different way.
But trauma is really related to when we have a – we losing control and it’s so severe that it has different consequences on us. This can be either, um, impacting our physical health or this can be something that leads to, um, things that are also internalized long term, for example, and toxic work environments, when you constantly being humiliated or abused, and then you’re trying to leave your job and going to a different job. You’ll constantly, um, feel. You will not, you will be very conscious and then you will not be super confident when speaking up, this will impact your work performance, for example, in the next job, because then you will not share your ideas or not your thoughts because you were so conditioned to be humiliated and that you’re not sufficient enough or that you’re not smart and whatsoever.
Shawna: We have to experiment with a way of doing both things. We can’t do everything, but finding some ways, you know, at gender at work, we do a lot of experimentation and a lot of the work that we’re all doing now. I think there’s a lot of experimentation around complex change things. And this is a big one. How do we deal with, how do we deal with the big countervailing forces around us and not reproduce them inside of our organizations?
And not get so focused on that internal change that we can’t do anything, you know, outside of it, because we’re constantly dealing with internal conflict, you know, and we don’t know how to deal with conflict in a generative way. So we we’re getting distracted, you know, and then just training ourselves away when we could be actually experimenting with those new ways of being in the work that we’re doing, you know, and making mistakes and, and sort of operationalizing our feedback.
That one is huge. You know, we don’t really do feedback, well either, because if we can’t deal with conflict, how do we do feedback? Um, in a way that helps to prevent some of these dynamics or deal with them when they come up?
Joanne: This moment has a very long history, and let’s just for the moment think about it in feminist organizing and organizations, right. Um, because paid work to be a feminist is pretty recent. And I just wonder if you either, or both of you see any particular dimension that is about women working with women.
So; you know, the thing, what , what I sometimes think about is are we also caught in a patriarchal plot where we, where we eat each other for breakfast so that we don’t get to, you know, it’s part of how we get distracted from dealing with, um, what we do.
Dildar: I had that discussion, um, with a friend, um, just a couple of weeks ago, just from my own perspective. Um, I feel like that at least, um, the individuals I worked with and that I observe from, um, other, um, people within the sector, within the humanitarian aid sector and feminist organizations, most of the time, the women who are currently in power are usually, um, at least more from my experience were another generation than me and my friends.
What we came to the conclusion is, um, in order for these women to come in power because there are so, I mean, they had to operate through oppression and then also through so many patriarchal structure that they internalize these patriarchal structures and mechanisms and approaches. So they are so harsh in the way they communicate.
And they’re like, uh, and they were always praised and I saw that all the time, each time, and also within particularly, I mean, not everywhere in the MENA region, but a lot like in Iraq, in Turkey, um, in different Kurdish regions in Iran and so on, you have this, once a woman is like really harsh and she doesn’t show emotions and she’s like really tough and she’s like, ding, ding, ding going through her work and constantly, um, she’s being described then as, okay she operates like a man, she is like a man. And that is not something that is being seen as something negative. most of the time I saw that, oh, they get happy and they laugh about it because it’s somehow a compliment.
Um, when they’re being described, as they like a man, they’re not feminine, and I feel like now within newer generations, um, I see that the perception and the association that femininity is actually also strength, um, strength, and also within leadership. I think there’s like this maybe different connotation.
And then also really it’s so internalized, I think most of the time individuals, um, or the women in high or high profiled women, um, and really high powerful positions are not even aware of how internalized these, um, patriarchal structures are, but also paternalistic structures.
I think now people and I think particularly younger generations and also. Um, also older generations, um, they came to the point through the power of movement and through many people speaking up and just not taking it anymore, um, that there is a need for change and that there can be a holistic approach, um, and deconstructing really patriarchal thinking and approaches.
Shawna: Yes, it’s, it’s tricky. I think the, the, um, there is toxic feminine leadership and there is toxic male leadership. There’s toxic masculinity. There is toxic femininity. And I think we haven’t quite reckoned with, um, some of this, like, you know, the sort of archetypes of feminine and masculine, and where I think some of the values of feminist, um, leadership, we can debate what that means. And I think commonly, you know, being consultative, actually being reflective, um, communally minded rather than individualistic, uh, you know, that it’s purpose, you know, there’s a clear purpose. It’s not only for the sake of having power.
And those are wonderful things. And there’s some roots there in stereotypes around what is feminine, um, that I, I think are not always comfortable for us as feminists because it’s it’s, we don’t wanna be ordained to be nurturing mothers all the time. Um, we might wanna choose that. It might feel good. Um, and we might enjoy that in others’ leadership, but we don’t wanna be told that’s how we have to be. And we don’t wanna only be respected when we’re quiet or perfectly articulate. Um, and not coming with our voices raised loudly or shrill, you know, um, or, or yelling, which is what happens. I think sometimes when, when you don’t have power. You know, official power and you get a seat at the table, whatever size that table is or wherever it’s located, wherever there’s power, um, and decisions happening.
Um, you know, and I’ve seen this and I’ve probably been this too, where all of a sudden you have, you have a voice and there’s just like a frenzy kind of around that space. Like the space is gonna close so quickly. We have to use our voices loudly and quickly.
I think particular to feminist spaces and organizations is that look at power, you know, and, um, building power and building collective power and our friends at JASS and other organizations, who’ve made these frameworks that we use and that we, um, you know, um, find resonant in, in dealing with, um, what is transformative power?
What is power that’s harmful? Um, so we have quite a, you know, quite a lot. Um, investment, I think in, in thinking about power. And what I think about now is what does that feel like? Like when you get it, when you think you have it, what does it feel like? Um, what does it feel like to, to get collective power? We, we can say, okay. We changed some policies. Um, we changed some things and what’s that sensation that we have in our, in ourselves and in our relationships. Um, that sense of like urgency that I was talking about before, do we, do we feel like, okay, we’ve actually, you know, we’ve restored some life to our movements.
We’ve restored some life to, to. What people have, you know, materially, we can see that. And, um, is there any, like, what is, what is the life given quality of that power that’s um, in the work I’m doing with, um, Root, Rise and Pollinate,, which is a community of practice for feminist change makers around wellbeing and thriving, part of that work is really trying to shift our ideas of, um, our ideas and, and sort of narratives alongside the embodiment of what it takes to, to be well and to thrive for global peace, you know, and for, for mutuality and interdependence and, and, and in ourselves. And so that’s one of the questions that we’re exploring. Like, what is, how do you generate that, that life giving power?
Like our power building is for the sake of what. We can name these things, but what does it look like? Can we have a vision of that? Can we see it? Can we feel it? And then build that, you know, in kind of a, like what Adrienne Maree Brown and others talk about as like fractal way, like in each interaction in each community, you know, that we’re in.
So those are some of the, those are some of the things that come to mind.
Aruna: Joanne, I’m really heartened by the feeling that these implosions and explosions are making us as feminists more aware of what Ann Russo writing about feminist accountability calls: cultivating accountability. By that she means being aware of how our ideas, our organizations, policies and activism are all embedded in the logics and structures of power and how this awareness creates the potential for taking active accountability in ways that can lead to change and transformation.
And to be honest, I’m also holding on to bell hook’s belief in healing and compassion to allow a person to grow and change.
Joanne: You’re so right, Aruna. And the important question that we talk about a lot, you and I, which is as older feminists we need to ask ourselves what is our responsibility at this moment?
So we ask Lina to reflect on this.
Aruna: I wanna ask you, you know, now that we are, you know, uh, as old as we are, we’ve worked in these organizations for many years. What do you, and, and we see these younger people and you are actually in a situation where you’re working with students with younger staff, you know, in this sort of experimental laboratory, if you will, to try to redefine these things, what is the, the responsibility of those of us who are older, who do have privilege of experience of age of, um, often economic stability, which, you know, younger people don’t have, and we have the experience we’re acknowledged as you know, people who, ah, this is somebody you should listen to, who have a name, what is our responsibility to, uh, this younger crop of people who are raising these issues?
Lina: Yes. And, and as you’re saying, you know, and I think one of our most important privileges is our networks. It’s us three being able to be together and talking to each other and, uh, trusting each other and knowing that we can rely, I mean, you know, um, it’s it, you know, if you’re a fresh graduate and you identify as a feminist and you are 20, you don’t have, you don’t have this.
And, and I know how important it is and how, at least for me it has been, it has been tremendous. I think one of the things and, um, and that for me, I feel it as a personal responsibility is actually to open doors because particularly for young people, young feminists from the region, open doors in terms of connections, in terms of opportunities particularly because there are very few people from MENA out there, who are serious feminists, who are intersectional feminists and you know, how do we mobilize all these networks?
Secondly, although I think it’s a little bit maybe presumptuous, but I think, but I find it rewarding, which kind of, um, the kind of mentorship, which means simply means that you’ve got young people’s back because this is not an easy journey. And particularly in the region young people who are still questioning their sexuality, who often if not all the time are at odds with their parents, their families who actually face different kinds of violence, exclusions, stigmatizations, etc. So it means a lot, at least I’m talking in this context, so to, to have people’s back to know for them to know that you know. There’s a place they can go to.
Joanne: Aruna, there is so much in our conversation with Dildar, Lina and Shawna that I am gonna be thinking about for a long time. I really appreciated Lina reminding us that we didn’t even have language around concepts like toxic organizations decades ago, when feminist work paid work became possible. I so appreciated Shawna’s observation that we talk about solidarity, and when we talk about solidarity, we are also talking about mutuality and that how I am is going to affect how you are.
So our focus on self-care is really about each other and it was absolutely spot on for Dildar to remind us that the luxury of calling out or organizing around abuse of power is also intimately connected to individual’s abilities to take risks, to lose their jobs, to threaten a status quo that is essential to their survival, even if it is toxic and so much more.
Aruna: You’re absolutely right, Joanne. And I really hope that others as well will contact us to share their thoughts and experiences about what’s happening. In your feminist organizations, what’s happening? In your networks, what’s happening? And how are you approaching healing and restorative justice? We really love to hear that.
And in our next episode, we’re hoping to focus a lot more on the actions that organizations are taking to make amends and transform how they work.
And so once again, thanks so much to our speakers and thank you to our listeners.
You can listen to us on any platform you listen to podcasts on, and we’d love it if you’d subscribe and leave us a review, don’t hesitate to contact us. There’s nothing more we would love than stories about gender at work. Thank you so much.
Joanne: Thank you.
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