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:
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.
– 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