Several days ago I received an email from the Women’s Caucus of Occupy Montreal regarding their experience with misogyny at Occupy Montreal. With their kind permission I am reprinting it here because I think it will resonate with many others in different locations. No one is sadder than I am regarding the news in their opening paragraph that patriarchy has not yet been occupied, here I thought maybe I might just be able to retire and move to the beach. But as I pointed out to them, the good news is that we are now just that much stronger because they reached out to share their experiences.
Hi Occupy Patriarchy / FPN! Greetings from Occupy Montreal!
I wish this email came bearing news of an occupied patriarchy and much non-violent, anti-oppressive rejoicing in the snowy streets. Alas, things are looking pretty grim for the Women’s Caucus of Occupy Montreal.
About two weeks ago, a courageous caucus member presented the GA with a fairly basic proposition for progressive stack. While we expected the customary objections and background murmurs, we were in no way prepared for what actually happened. You see, not only was there a fair bit of opposition to the idea (including a “maybe” and a “no”), a white male blocked progressive stack–you heard right: he blocked it.
In the days following this event, submerged in controversy, we caucused it up and evaluated our options: should we back down completely, compromise, or step up? In good “Occupy Patriarchy” form, we opted for the latter. About 48 hours later, we had a document and made it public; clearly, this would justify our position and pave the way for a mature movement-wide dialogue.
Well, the document was largely ignored. And then the “blocker” publicly advised the caucus that the women “shouldn’t have done that” and tacked on something about “the kitchen”. Actually, the comment is so unbelievable that in spite of our desire to limit the exposure this individual’s action may afford him, the caucus feels the comment in its (unfortunate) entirety should be reproduced right here:
“When made aware of [this document] I thought ‘Who gives a flying fuck’ but than I noticed that the 3 first point are directed at me, yes I am the one who blocked… You shouldn’t have done that! Looks like it’s time to guide the woman back to the kitchen!
Exceptionally I will be at the next Occupons Montreal GA to remind some people that getting laid once in a while is recommended by 9 out of 10 doctor.
Not to mention that there was less than 15 ppl present at that “GA” or that that proposition was made on the fly.”
We appreciate our allies (and we do have quite a few!), but it’s getting increasingly difficult to hear them (and ourselves) over the incessant chatter of good ol’ misogyny.
The W.C. :)
The following is excerpted from their website and provides some very solid ideas of how to make the progressive stack really work. The full recommendation can be read here.
Recommendations of the Women’s Caucus on the Subject of Progressive Stack
- The (measurable) lack of diversity within OM is casually remarked upon but rarely discussed; a movement having difficulty recruiting outside the dominant/majority culture should at the very least implement minor logistical measures–progressive stack, for example–to actualize our supposed ideals, as well as to acknowledge privilege and power within our own spaces.
- The Caucus insists that any “stack” devised on the basis of criteria that doesn’t consider marginalised voices not be called “progressive”. OM’s resistance to progressive stack is symptomatic of a broader refusal to acknowledge the dynamics of privilege. To devise a methodology that addresses the problems of disproportional expression without naming or exploring that imbalance is somewhat disingenuous, and goes against the purported non-oppressive character of our movement. While implementation of logistical changes that will ultimately yield similar results to those we have proposed demonstrates a relative willingness to cooperate, the movement’s refusal to verbally recognize the struggle behind such modifications leaves us at some kind of semantic and/or ideological impasse.
- “Artificial” (simulated) modes of promoting equality are to be employed as placeholders or gentle reminders until equality arises organically. A useful metaphor is a set of scales that have been imbalanced for centuries, favouring one side. Measures like progressive stack add a counterweight to the other side, balancing the scales. Once the original cause for the imbalance is gone, we can remove the counterweight.
- Solidarity means offering support, acknowledgement and active listening, even with regard to struggles we may not have experienced and don’t completely understand.
- It has been implied (and even, in fact, stated) that the “beneficiaries” of progressive stack will abuse identity politics in order to bypass process. This is not only offensive in the extreme, but also goes against the unspoken community agreement whereby we assume that an individual is acting in “good faith”, unless we find irrefutable proof to the contrary. How can we, on one hand, decry injustice, and on the other accuse marginalised voices of abusing the “power” of their own identities? Let us remember that disenfranchised communities experience various degrees/forms of oppression every day, in nearly all social situations (even from within, as oppression is internalised); a short reprieve from persistent injustice in the form of progressive stack is nothing to be envied. Furthermore, as with all stacks, progressive stack preserves the right of everyone to speak–no voice is silenced, only ones that have been long unheard are amplified.
- Women have objected to the idea of being considered on the basis of their sex. This is actually a sound argument. However, because power dynamics are internalised through early conditioning and promoted in slippery and subtle ways, this line of argumentation disregards the way in which a woman is always considered on the basis of her sex. Though it may seem like people who “benefit” from progressive stack are being differentiated or “singled out”, the truth is far more complex. Regardless of one’s subjective analysis of the situation, the fact is, in mixed gender groups, men tend to speak first, more often, and for longer periods. This dynamic appears in early childhood conditioning and is sustained by (and useful to) patriarchal capitalist culture; it also happens to be invisible and odorless. Studies on this stretch back to the 50s (the 50s!) and are conducted today with similar results.
- We urge that the Assembly recognize the concept of stepping back: that dominant voices and identities recognise privilege and power in the room and in themselves, and ‘step back’ from monopolising a conversation in the interest of hearing a diversity of voices and experiences on the topic. We are not here to reproduce the same monopolisation of voice and power as the ‘1%’, we are here to diversify spaces for radical inclusion, and to name centuries of privilege and exploitation of particular demographics of the population, including but not limited to: women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ populations, non-status individuals, differently-abled persons, the very young and the very old…all these voices are regularly marginalised in our societies. In devising alternate modes of being and redistribution of power in the world, it is our duty and responsibility to listen and learn from prioritising these voices that are traditionally and systemically silenced in our dominant culture. Let us be accountable to our own declarations of values – let us put these principles into practice in order to devise alternate ways of being in the world.