Our last monthly staff meeting was so fruitful, we thought we’d share some of the lessons learned during our “Gender Justice” training. Gender oppression, both personal and political, can often be difficult to discuss but obviously super important in maintaining a safe and healthy work culture. We want to create a culture at all of our work sites that empowers people of all genders/sexuality/ability/ethnicity/class/and others. We are committed to addressing the trauma of oppression, both personal and structural, using methods from the Be Present Empowerment Model. For the Gender Justice training, our Education team created different activities that illustrate the impact of gender oppression on an everyday basis. Have you ever played “The ABC’s of Gender Stereotyping”? Our staff broke up into two teams lined up in front of a vertical list of the ABC’s drawn within a box that’s labeled “Boys/Men” for one team and “Girls/Women” for the other team. When the timer starts, each person writes a word using one of the letters from the alphabet that fits within the damaging yet persistent stereotypes of what boys/men and girls/women should be like within the dominant culture of the U.S.. As people took turns, words like “bossy”, “ego”, “athletic”, and “emotional” emerged. This activity was prime for eliciting a dialogue about people’s experience of gender oppression. One of the issues that came up was about public street harassment, and this timely report from Mother Jones exposes more information about these “unwanted interactions in public spaces between strangers that are motivated by a person's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, or gender expression."
During our power shuffle activity, staff members moved across the room and silently reflected on a list of different ways in which people experience gender oppression in our culture: “If you’ve ever been called a name that is feminizing or demeaning towards women, such as sissy, mama’s boy, or any other name”; “If you ever felt an experience or opportunity was closed to you because of your gender”; “If your father had more opportunities to advance himself economically than your mother”; “If you were raised by a single mother”; “If you went to a school district where the textbooks and other classroom materials reflected men as the heroes and builders of our society and there was little mention of the contributions of women to our society.”; “If the products or services you buy advertised in magazines, media, or the internet use women’s bodies to sell products.”; “If most of the clothes you are wearing or the electronic products you are using are made by underpaid women”.
We took time to talk about the meanings of gender and sex, patriarchy, gender discrimination, heterosexism, feminism, and gender equality. Then we each anonymously wrote down one thing we wanted others to know about ourselves, one thing we never wanted to hear said or see happen again, and what we need from others to be an ally, and we took turns sharing the anonymously written responses aloud. Here are some gems of knowledge and experience from our staff members: “I want others to know that I’m really sensitive and I work to push through my triggers everyday so that I can support others”;
“Sexual orientation doesn’t matter when it comes to sexual harassment. Anyone can be a harasser and anyone can be harassed (man to woman) (man to man) (woman to man) (woman to woman)”; “I never want to see young children abused - those scars last a lifetime”; “I never want to hear in amazement that I can lift something heavy or that I actually know how to build things”; “If I’m calling you out about hurting me, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m angry with you. It means I care enough to live through it and grow.”
Also, check out this script of a skit performed during the training by several of our talented staff members. And please share with us other activities you’ve participated in to learn about gender oppression and the vital work of gender justice!
staff member 1(sm1) : woman
staff member 2 (sm2): woman
staff member 3 (sm3): man
staff member 4 (sm4): man
On stage sits sm1 working on the computer. Enter stage sm2
sm2: (sigh) what a rough day! walks into the other room to drop off her bag and comes back on stage
sm1: hey, what happened today?
sm2: first, this morning before work, I was at the coffee shop and my baby wanted to nurse. i looked around and did not feel comfortable feeding her there in public, so i took her into the bathroom and nursed her in the toilet stall.
sm1: oh, yuck!
sm2: yeah, and while i’m sitting there with her, i’m having to read all these negative comments written on the walls of the bathroom stall: “your a fat cow.” “slut” “suck my dick”.
sm1: ugh, why do people write such hateful things?
sm2: so, i had to rush to drop my baby off at daycare - oh how she cried and I missed her all day. but then, on my walk to work, a guy slows down his car and hollered at me.
sm1: i know, it happens all the time (shaking her head)
sm2: yeah! even while I was out landscaping at a client’s home today, shoveling compost into the wheelbarrows, a neighbor had to comment “oh wow, you’re so strong! I’m impressed that you’re working so hard, that’s amazing!”
sm1: sure the neighbor’s intentions are good, but I doubt they would have said that to one of the guys on the team, right?
sm2: right. well, then I had to rush off to the bart station to get my paycheck deposited at the bank downtown, and i just barely missed the train because no one held the train door open for me. I was running down the platform and everything! (sigh) harassed all day and then I couldn’t even get some help at the bart station. so now I don’t have any money in the bank, rent is due today, and I need to buy more diapers tonight.
sm1: I’m so sorry its been a rough day. I can lend you money for diapers, no problem. Perhaps your landlord will be fine accepting rent tomorrow after the bank opens?
enter stage sm3
sm3: Hey everyone, the crew just got back from site. How’s it going here at the office?
sm1: It’s ok
sm2: Not good.
sm3: I’m sorry darling (leans in to give sm2 a hug)
sm2: (clearly upset and speaking firmly) Don’t touch me.
sm3: (looking confused) Sorry, I was just trying to help.
enter stage sm4
sm4: (sounding stressed) Hey everyone, can I get some help unloading the truck? I have to leave right now.
sm1 and sm3: (in unison) sure
sm2: (shaking her head) I’m done, do it yourself. (walks off stage where she dropped off her purse)
sm3: (looking confused) What's wrong with her?
sm1: She had a rough day
sm3: It’s everyone’s responsibility to help unload the truck after work, and she doesn’t need to be such a bitch about it.
sm2 re-enters stage and clearly overheard sm3
sm2: why you calling me a bitch?
sm3 and sm2 look ready to fight, dramatized for effect. sm1 steps in between to break it up.
sm1: Hey everyone, take a deep breath and step back. I know its been a rough day and the truck still needs to be unloaded, but let’s take some time to talk this out.
all four sit down, even sm4 who looks reluctantly at the truck and his watch, but then he notices the pain and anger on everyone else’s faces and so his attitude shifts and he looks determined to find a solution that makes everyone feel validated.
sm4: well, remember the skills we learned in that Be Present training? The first part was to know yourself outside the distress of oppression. And its about really listening to each other without being distracted by our feelings of being hurt, or annoyed, or confused, or afraid. Let’s really listen to each other in a conscious and present state of mind, in order to give a fair consideration to what the other person is saying.
sm2: Alright, I agree. Take a minute to hear this, because today i’ve felt hella oppressed and i’ve been internalizing it all day. (everyone waits, listening) But, i don’t want people to see me as just that part that hurts, as a woman who has been oppressed. That is just a part of me, and there is so much more that makes up my wholeness, you know? At the end of such a long and hard day, I notice that my feelings are low, my body is tired, and my mind is on the defense, but I also have to remember that I have really supportive people in my life that I can safely share about what i’m going through. And I have a whole past history of strength and resilience that I can draw upon to overcome days like these.
sm3: what you’re saying is really bringing up a lot of past experiences and feelings for me, but like the Be Present model describes, I don’t want to let those feelings distract me from understanding where you’re coming from and supporting you in your needs. You know, I really value our friendship and the way we work together. I’m sorry I reacted so harshly and called you out like that. sm2: thank you, i appreciate the apology. I really want to be able to treat each other with respect and find creative ways to bring all our diversity of insights and experience and knowledge together to change this world where we experience such oppression as I did today and that we all experience in different ways. We have a mutual responsibility for the well-being of everyone around us and to build a more sustainable community where we all feel safe, validated, and empowered to use our knowledge and creativity.