There were several women who were unable to join us for this meeting, but it was still very productive. I also brought some lavender to share from my garden!
I felt badly because we had chosen to discuss Free Space: A Perspective on the Small Group in Women’s Liberation by Pamela Allen (PDF here) between other books while I was to work on a new study guide for something else, but after reading this short instruction guide, I realized how powerful and important the information was. I should not have treated it as a “throwaway meeting.” As we talked about it, it became clear that we would need to devote another meeting to this book.
Because I did not have a study guide for this material prepared, I mostly had taken notes on quotes that seemed important and my general impressions.
In the introduction, Allen explains that “differences in men and women are not acknowledged because it would attest to the fact that equality is a myth.” This reminded me of all of the times I had attempted to discuss feminism with men, only to be told that feminism had no point because men and women are equal now. It is still very difficult for women to get men to take them seriously, which was a major theme of this reading.
At this point in the conversation, one of our members asked “Why does it seem like radical feminism has dissolved so much? Why don’t we hear about it in the mainstream at all?” This caused us to jump onto a different track. We talked about how feminism has, lamentably, been co-opted by capitalists in order to sell t-shirts, coffee mugs, and makeup (of all things). Radical feminists were also labeled as crazy, hairy, angry lesbians who were not worth listening to. It is much easier to listen to liberal feminists who conform to gender by wearing makeup, shaving their entire bodies, and call themselves sluts (because it is so empowering!). Liberal feminism is easy because you don’t have to think critically or change almost any of your behaviors (as long as you call them “kinks”). Feminism has changed from a movement for women’s liberation to a simply having a female perspective on life with a focus on the legal struggles of women, instead of a radical restructuring of society.
And so we returned to the book, specifically the 2nd chapter, which is focused on the women’s group Allen belonged to, “Sudsofloppen.” Allen describes the difficulties in changing old thought patterns and behaviors as well as focusing on changing society to be better for women. She also asks which should you work on first? I think that you can’t really change society without (at least partially) deprogramming yourself of male supremacist thoughts and behaviors.
In the 3rd chapter, Allen writes about breaking free of old roles by establishing honest relationships with new people (women, in this context). She also lists several obstacles to developing trust in a group, such as not liking an individual, thinking someone else is being emotionally immature, sometimes other people will have an idea that you think is stupid, or you might feel that you are being pushed to believe or do something you don’t agree with. Then she moves along to talk about ways that a group can counteract this. There was a big focus on acting responsibly towards the group, which would mean that you are giving other women the best version of yourself, that you are making your best effort to attend all of the meetings, and taking other women’s ideas seriously. She also suggested closing the group early in order to provide more stability. I think that there is an ideal number of members, at least for a book club/discussion group, and it really shouldn’t exceed 10 people so that we can focus enough time and thought to what each woman wants to express. Allen also wrote that we can build trust by being understanding of the pressures and obligations that each group member experiences outside of the group, but that we should all try to leave those stressors behind for the time that we meet.
Allen’s next point was that part of being responsible to the group is challenging each other if we don’t agree, being willing to disagree, and helping each other to grow. We had a discussion about how we are or could be challenged by this group.
- We are challenging each other to develop critical thinking skills
- We are challenging each other to read and analyze
- We are challenging each other to get out physically to meet, which is good for our bodies
- We are challenging each other to engage socially
- We are challenging each other to do the intellectual work that feminism requires
It felt good to talk about all of the ways that we are being positively challenged by this group, and I think that we were all grateful for each other.
We also talked a little bit about the Small Group Processes, but we will revisit this part in our next meeting.