intervention & transformation
September 29, 2003 03:16 PM

Over the past week or so, we've had some debate going on over the topic of rape trials, which resulted in a couple of our more aggressive debaters kind of discounting each others' experiences. While it's hard to tell if that's someone's intent over this medium, it certainly provoked some thoughts for several people. Kerri expands on a related topic in this week's question: (to summarize) How do we get past competition over our various experiences to focus on strategy?

Vic took this question one way and got all sorts of brilliant around it. I agree. We can't expect feminists to all be of one mind. That would be creepy.

We will never share identical priorities or identical experiences, nor should we. I think it's important that every feminist recognize there is no single feminist agenda. There is only your own agenda.

The purpose of aligning yourself with a group is that, at least in part, you believe that group shares your purpose. You believe it's worthwhile to accept that some people in the group will disagree with you, others will be outright stupid, and that the group can still be useful and productive.

I don't think Kerri is advocating feminine groupthink when she talks about power and sisterhood, though. What I get from her question is something more important - when do we stop having to share and get the hell on with the real work?

To take an example. Say, I was once falsely accused of shoplifting, and you're a small business person whose business is jeopardised by shoplifters. We both agree shoplifting is bad, right? Then there is really no need for us to debate the relative values of our experiences if what we're trying to do is stop shoplifting. Now, if we're discussing appropriate punishment for false accusations, there is some point to listening to each others' experiences - simply as input to assess how to look at those accusations in the context of two real victims, but there is no use in dredging up these experiences in details except to vent, to unload. And there's absolutely no reason those experiences need to be weighed against each other or need to prevent us from recognising our common desire.

That's a problem I think feminists and others in the political environment encounter too often. Maybe in part because of the whole consciousness-raising background, we tend to see personal experience as the best indicator of the value of a theory or opinion. Personally, I think that's foolish. I think it's foolish that politicians (and people in general) are more responsive to moving stories than to rational arguments.

It's almost as if your political perspective needs to have the weight of your moving personal experience behind it. None of my experience has been particularly tragic or moving (huzzah for that, I say), and I guess that makes my opinions less valid (actually, statistically it does - the fact that I write letters to congressfolk based on theory and research rather than my sob story makes my letters less likely to be read in any detail).


But not a foolishness that is solely or inherently part of feminism.

So, right. How? How do we pass over that foolishness to collaboration?

I think Vic had an excellent point about celebrating all the things and people that represent feminist successes (be they "feminist" or not). And on a person to person level, it's alright to let people try to argue experience sometimes, if only to get it out so they can move on to the next step - the what do we do about it step. The challenge to anyone is that you must recognize this foolishness in yourself and stop it in order to really collaborate.

It's hard. We are all narrow-minded asses in some form or other, especially when sharing our valued and painful experiences.

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your wicked thoughts

I just now got a chance to read this. Consciousness raising was needed when taboos ran amok, but now it seems redundant. Not to say it's good to keep painful experiences to ourselves, but like I said, I think we need to move beyond gut reaction and into pragmatic action. Unfortunately everyone has a story about either being raped or having a friend or family member who has been. We can agree rape is bad. The next step would be to figure out a way to stop rape, punish rapists, etc.

these are the thoughts of Kerri on October 13, 2003 11:26 PM

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