An Idea

In light of Caitlin Moran's incredible stupidity and in light of seeing so many other privileged white, cis feminists be racist, transphobic, ableist and other such things - whether out of malice or privileged ignorance - I have had an idea, and one that I think might be worth a try.

In a conversation about this with @WeekWoman (who is well worth a follow) she mentioned that all feminists have different experiences and because of that it's so important that we all listen to each other, otherwise we're not promoting feminism: we're promoting individualism in the sense of doing what's best for ourselves, rather than for all women.

Now, infighting pisses me off, as does lack of understanding. It angers, upsets and sickens me when people end up working at cross-purposes; it upsets me even more when it's because people don't understand each other. For those of you who don't get this: we could be busy tearing down the kyriarchy, but instead we're tearing down each other due to what is essentially ignorance and stupidity. It's rare for me to call anything a tragedy - I feel the word is overused - but this definitely qualifies as one.

And so my idea is this: gather up all the feminists for a conference, or multiple conferences, where we all listen to each other. That's it.

There are going to be a lot of objections to this idea, and I'll go through the ones that I can think of. If I've missed some out, argue with me in the comments. This is only a half-formed idea and a lot of things still need working out; that doesn't mean that you shouldn't criticise it, it means that I need criticisms in order to be able to refine it.

One of the first objections is that dialogue won't work, because the radfems, third-wave feminists, or whoever your chosen enemies are will simply refuse to listen because they're so eeeeeevil. My reply is this: dialogue is not an easy, pretty thing. Dialogue with closed-minded people makes me want to rip my hair out. But from (admittedly quick) searches I haven't seen much dialogue between different kinds of feminists going on (certainly not as much as I'd like); instead, I've seen stupid. I've also seen lots of stupid and infighting, some of which could have been prevented had people sat down and talked to one another instead of yelling insults at each other. (I, and many other people, are guilty of this. I admit this not because I'm proud of it but because I don't want to sound holier-than-thou.) This seems to indicate that we need more actual dialogue between different feminist groups and less verbally beating the shit out of each other and working at cross purposes. I therefore conclude that dialogue isn't necessarily easy, but it's needed to actually get things done - and that's the important thing.

Another objection is that feminism by its nature is a big tent and that people are going to disagree, so there's no point in trying to get people to agree on things if they don't already want to. Trying to get people to agree can also be construed as excluding others who don't agree, and trying to get together some basic principles might decrease the diversity of viewpoints.

However, there is a point in trying to get people to agree on basic things and one I'll return to over and over again: it decreases infighting and thus we can spend more time attacking the system and less time attacking ourselves. As for the exclusion of others? That comes with setting principles in stone, to use a clich├ęd turn of phrase, and that's not what I intend to do. I don't intend to lay down some line on feminism, just to get people to talk to one another without trying to score points for their own side. Now, decreasing the diversity of viewpoints? This is where someone else might say "Diversity of viewpoints is a bad thing" or the like; I've seen it happen. It has not made me a happy Osnat. As for me, decreasing the diversity of viewpoints isn't my aim, it's my aim to make sure that people understand each other and can figure something out.

Here someone might argue that it's impossible to get certain groups to agree. There are two problems with this, and I'll illustrate those two problems using something I'm all too familiar with: the conflicts between atheism and religion.

First of all, I'd wager that it's only impossible for certain groups to agree on certain things if their stances are contradictory. For example, you can't get an atheist and a believer to agree on the existence of gods, because the believer's stance "deities exist" contradicts the atheist's stance "there is a lack of deities". At most, you could get them to agree that neither of them have definitive proof - and even that would probably be impossible if you got a fundamentalist and a militant atheist together. Secondly, even if you can't get them to agree on that it's possible they could agree on something else - for example, working towards the same cause. (For example, a Christian liberal and an atheist liberal working for the same thing; people are not solely defined by their religion, or lack of one.)

A big objection to such a conference would be that it's just a talking-shop; nothing actually gets done except for people singing kumbaya round a campfire and holding hands. Or something. And actually, what we really need is to swarm out onto the streets and into the buildings of government and business alike to fuck shit up.

Well, that's half true: we do need to go and fuck shit up, but we also need to have some kind of a plan for doing so or else we're just several fragmented, disorganised groups trying to get something done and actually stopping each other from getting anything done. Hence why we need to talk and think before going off and doing something. Also, trying to discuss things with people you've considered bitter enemies or never really thought about isn't really singing kumbaya round a campfire and holding hands, is it? It's more like being operated on without anaesthetic of any kind.

So those are the objections I can think of and if you have any more, arguments and criticisms are more than welcome. I'll go on to my bunch of vague ideas for getting this off the ground, but first of all I should probably say this:

If this ever gets off the ground, it won't be a large, powerful, monolithic institution - it'll be composed of a group of equals, and it won't aim to brainwash people. I don't plan to make any money off this, and while I can't say that it has no agenda, I can say that its agenda will be to get people to talk to one another. Any feminist can turn up and choose to attend or not attend as they please; equally, feminists attending can work with non-attendees or choose not to as they damn well please. (I mainly included this section to allay the fears of people who think this'll turn into an exclusive clique of elitist feminists.)

So how to get this off the ground? How to organise it? I dislike rules, but I think a couple need to be put in place to make sure the conferences actually work:

1. Listen.
2. Check your privilege.
3. Don't be a bigot.
4. If you must insult people (and you don't have to) don't be bigoted while insulting them and don't use insults as your sole argument.

A note about rule #4: this is not the tone argument. People can get as angry as they please, they should just have an actual point. (If it is the tone argument in another guise, please call me out on it.)

Now for the bigger questions: if such an event gets off the ground, how and where do you hold it? It essentially comes down to having physical or online spaces.

Real spaces

The advantage of talking to people face-to-face is that you're significantly less inclined to call them a turd, but at the same time you've got to find a space in which to hold a meeting and you'll have to book it. Moreover, you'll exclude anyone who can't get there.

Online spaces

Here you can potentially have people talking around the world depending on time zones and how much they need sleep, but the medium matters a lot; text mediums might be better for archiving stuff but aren't necessarily that good when it comes to disinhibition. Twitter's great for meeting new people and I've had surprisingly deep discussions in 140 characters or less, but for a sustained and nuanced conversation I don't know how well it'll hold up. Facebook's good for organising things, but I, for example, dislike its attitude to privacy and personal data. You can probably think of more examples. As for video chat services, the ones I've seen only really allow up to ten people to interact at a time...That might be good for tiny conferences, but not one on the scale I imagine. Perhaps the closest is AnyMeeting, which allows up to 200 participants - but only six people can videoconference at any one time.

Both?

I like trying to think about things in different ways, and I also like trying to mash things up and see what comes out - hence I'm entertaining the idea of trying to link up physical and online spaces. There are quite a lot of different ways to do this, some of which will work better than others.

I've thought of having one central physical location and having people communicate there with online tools - like having some people having calls or video chats with the people in the physical space. Assuming there are enough ways to communicate it could possibly work - though there's the issue of whether it would just turn into a more private thing between the people with access to the technology and the people who don't. This could perhaps be gotten around with having a giant videoconference - say ten entire places all videoconferencing with extra input from others who have the technology. This is possibly more advantageous if people in multiple disparate locations all want to get together, but time zones might be an issue if people are trying to have conferences in the small hours. Equally, you could have conferences in different locations using Twitter and a hashtag - though this would work better were it purely online. I've been to places where they try and hold your attention while there's a giant list of tweets coming up...It doesn't work very well.

So those, I suppose, are my half-formed, half-baked ideas for something that could potentially turn out well...If anyone has any comments or criticisms, they are wholly welcome.

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