STAGE Goes Between the Door and the Street: An Event Cheat Sheet

A group of performers/activist at the event

This past Saturday a handful of us were lucky enough to attend Between The Door and The Street, a performance art piece/feminist gathering crossover conceived of and executed by the artist Suzanne Lacy in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum.  Up and down Park Place in Brooklyn, groups from various feminist organizations held conversations about political and social issues that affect women, or that women have a unique perspective on.  Among a crowd of hundreds of spectators, we floated from stoop to stoop, hearing snippets of insightful debate.  It was encouraging and uplifting to set our own thoughts, questions, and worries in the context of this vibrant community of intelligent, active, progressive feminists.  Afterwards, in a buzz of inspiration, we sat down and had our own “stoop talk”, a debriefing of our experience.  Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the day:

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Things We Heard

– “If I want to worship at the Church of Bringing Down the Patriarchy, I have to constantly practice it.” Sexism exists in assumptions not in conscious decisions.  Feminism, thus, must exist in consistent conscious decisions.

– A hard but crucial part of the modern feminist movement is the part where “we all grab all the men in our lives and convince them to engage in the practice of feminism”.  Again, misogyny can live comfortably in the subconscious, and excising the ingrained sexist tendencies from our world can only be achieved by women and men together.

– When we talk about domestic violence, we have to be aware of how much we normalize violence.  We have to acknowledge that we are all complicit in the development of domestic violence when we allow our children to link violence and love in their heads.  It starts so early.  We tell our 5 year olds: Don’t worry, he’s just hitting you because he likes you.

– Looking beyond blatant harassment like catcalling, women are also demeaned by other women. From girls making fun of eachother to the expectation to always wear makeup, or to straighten your hair, a lot of pressure, especially on young women, comes from other women. Perhaps we should start a national holiday, where people honor natural beauty by going a day without affecting their appearance. It’s a start.

 Things We Said

– Calling yourself a “Practicing Feminist” borrows terminology from religious “practices”. It is interesting to think of feminism as a kind of spirituality or a lifestyle rather than a purely intellectual concept, because the hyper-intellectual element of feminism can be alienating (it takes a certain amount of privilege to obtain the vocabulary necessary for purely intellectual feminism).

– The idea of a practicing feminist might illuminate the difference between women’s liberation and where we are in the movement today. One of responsibilities of feminism today is to constantly point out what in our society is a product of the patriarchy, no matter how mundane or seemingly insignificant (e.g catcalls on the street, problematic elements of women’s magazines, dress codes, etc).  Second wave feminism was about raising a collective women’s consciousness and exposing gender-based injustices in society.  Modern feminism is tasked with wiping the deeply imbedded sexist habits out of our collective behavior.

– What does it look like to teach children about identity outside the gender binary? Do we have a responsibility to deter our girls from playing with barbies at a young age? What about our boys? When we villainize and remove princess toys and barbies, we create a confusing stigma around femininity, which can be as dangerous as allowing them to be influenced by these things directly.  To what extent can we safely and effectively pass our principles on to children? We should attempt to teach children in a maieutic fashion, meaning we pose questions and challenge assumptions and lead our children to their own conclusion about gender.

– When, as a feminist, so much of your movement is about resisting the resistance, it is easy to constantly be ready for battle, so to speak. This event was particularly refreshing because it was a reminder that we can engage with feminism in a way void of aggressive conflict.

-One person commented on how refreshing it was to see men on a handful of the stoops, involved in debates, conversations, and showing support for the feminist movement. Although through movements like this it’s easy to villainize men, these conversations cast light on the fact that without accepting, incorporating and working with our patriarchal society, we will not move forward. Instead of advancing by degrading men we need to empower ourselves by honoring the distinctive strengths of men and women alike.

– The question we heard most frequently, on the stoops and in our own conversation, was: What does that look like? What does it look like to honor natural beauty?  What does it look like to divorce the notions of violence and love? What does it look like to eliminate the gender binary? This is perhaps the greatest mental exercise of the feminist movement.  None of us have ever seen a world remotely like the one we are striving to achieve.  We must not let this deter us from the effort, we must simply keep asking and answering this question: What will it look like?

This post was written as a collaboration by Priya Dieterich, Isabel Cristo, Rayna Holmes, Nora Delf, Naomi Chasek-Macfoy, Maggie Duffy, and Odette Blaisdell.

Photographs by Isabel Cristo

Setting the Stage: A Manifesta for Feminist Discourse

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Dear Reader,

The word “feminism” no doubt triggers a hundred different images in your head, and sadly for many, a good portion of them are likely to be pretty nasty.  In today’s world, feminism has become something of a dirty word.  A terrible stereotype of the feminist has emerged: she’s ugly and resentful, she’s a dyke, a misandrist, a bitch, she’s running around without a bra and waiting to yell at you for looking at her tits, she’s bitter, fanatical, and she can’t take a joke.  The resistance against feminism can be overwhelming, and it comes from men and women, young and old, for a variety of reasons.  Those reasons are complicated, important, interesting, and a little ridiculous.  Undoubtedly, we will talk about them at length on this blog.

But for now, let us say this: We are here as young people of the world who are confident in their choice to identify as feminists.  We are here as feminists who want to talk, intelligently and rationally, about making a more just world for the children who are growing up into it.  We are here as students and people who are invested in bringing about equality for genders, so that people of all genders can be freed of the restrictive expectations and stereotypes of the gender binary, imposed upon them based on a simple accident of their birth.

We understand the difficulty of the job ahead of us; It is particularly hard to write about feminist issues because it is hard to be passionate and ardent while simultaneously being composed and articulate. It is hard to uncover an injustice without seeming hostile and bitter. The job of the activist is to deftly navigate the fine line between ranting and inspiring, exposing inequality while still making the cause accessible to all. It’s a tough gig. A professor of mine once wrote on my paper that I needed to “dial back the ire.”  At first I balked at this. Then I realized how true it was.  It is incredibly difficult, and incredibly important, to write with passion, but without ire.

Writing about feminism can also, at times, feel like shouting into a vacuum.  It feels like everyone who will agree with you already does, and everyone else is immovable. When an injustice seems glaringly obvious, it can be exhausting to spoon-feed someone Feminism 101. It is draining to have to hold people’s hands and prove to them that feminism is not some massive conspiracy theory in a world where two thirds of the world’s illiterate are women and we are still arguing over the definition of rape. And we forget, too easily, that some people do not come from backgrounds that supported critical thought about gender politics.  And when we forget this, we forfeit the opportunity to engage those people in the ongoing conversation that is feminism.

Feminism is for everyone, and if we believe that, we must be willing to commit to rational discourse, no matter how frustrating or fruitless it may seem. As feminists, we will scream and rage at the heartbreaking realities of living in a world that is, all too often, overwhelmingly misogynistic.  And then we will check ourselves, gather our thoughts, and figure out how to fix it.  You can’t make the world a better place by yelling at it. And you can’t make the world a better place by grumbling about what a dumbass you think everyone who disagrees with you is.

Another challenge of feminism is a direct result of its scope. Feminism involves everyone. “Feminist issues” are men’s and women’s issues, and so they are simply people’s issues. So how does one speak to and for an overwhelmingly diverse group of people, each with their own, unique experience with gender and feminism? None of us, the writers of this blog, can speak for all women or all men. We will write as individuals and we will be forthcoming and considerate of the specific perspective we have of the world.  We promise to be cognizant of the privileged position we are in as American citizens and New York City residents and educated youth, and we promise to constantly engage our faculties of self-awareness to this end.  In return, we expect readers to respect the work we are putting forth.  Some of it will be creative and emotional, some of it will be intellectual and analytical.  All of it will be honest and genuine.

Our hope is that this blog becomes a part of a cogent and productive discussion about feminism today, feminism for young people, and feminism as a powerful force in the world.  The blog will be a space for all our members to voice their opinions about specific feminist issues, and to voice their unique perspectives.

This is how we are setting the stage.

Sincerely,

Isabel Cristo and Priya Dieterich