Feminism and mass movement assemblies

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Feminism and mass movement assemblies

Since feminist topics have all but dropped off the Active Topics (AT) list, I think it's time to give the forum more visibility again.

I've just finished researching and writing an article on Occupy and feminism. I wanted to know if feminism was changed by Occupy like some other movements were, or whether feminism changed Occupy. What I found was a little from column A and a little from column B.

Being an activist myself, involved in organizing social forums and movement assemblies, I have a good sense of how far women, feminists, have come in progressive circles. The answer is: not far enough. Not nearly.

My research, interviews and personal experience tell me that white men still have the dominant voice, that women, people of colour, differently-abled people, have to talk louder than the men in order to be heard. They have to insist upon having a voice. However, as a white feminist I'll stick to what I know and not appropriate the voices of others.

At its inception, Occupy (Wall Street) was not very inclusive. Women, POC, other grassroots organizers were practically mute. Feminists and others pushed for the creation of a Women's Caucus, a People of Colour Caucus, and other caucuses that would empower those without a voice. There was even a Safe Spaces Caucus to address the sexual harassment women were experiencing within the movement.

A similar experience occurred within Occupy Toronto, and according to my very knowledgeable and experienced source, it took a lot longer for these groups to gain a voice here, north of the border.

My experience with social forums and movement assemblies was different in many ways, and in some ways drearily the same. Caucuses sprang up immediately: women's, people of colour, original peoples, disability, etc., but still people had to fight to have a voice. I was frequently talked over by men during meetings, as were other women. Women were often the first asked to take notes during meetings (this has long been a pet peeve of mine) but quite often men took notes (an improvement over the past few decades). During a movement assembly planning meeting I was asked to run errands  across the venue. I pointed out that I was a 52 year old woman with osteoarthritis and wouldn't be the best candidate. He immediately turned to the woman of colour next to him and asked her.  She was, like, are you kidding? None of the men were asked as far as I know and the idea was shelved.

Over the more than 25 years I've been active in progressive circles I've seen a lot of change for the better, more equity, stronger voices from women and grassroots, etc., but I've also noted certain things that sadly remain the same. Less and less frequently women have a voice because their male partners are in leadership positions, but on occasion it's still a factor. It was certainly common when I was a young activist and thankfully is less so now.

My question is: how much longer will half the human population continue to have to yell to be heard? When will there be an end to the constant blowback women get for simply demanding a seat at the table?

Issues Pages: 

Edited to add: You don't have to identify as feminist to participate in this thread. We'll just keep it woman-friendly.


I was waiting for someone else to jump in first, but here goes.

Is it getting better in some ways? In terms of working groups,  I am sure. Though there are plenty of things - like economic disparity, and violence, that haven't changed for the better. And Jimmy Carter still right about the greatest human rights crisis in the world:


But the biggest change I see is that opponents of fairness are becoming more openly vocal, adopting the tone that they are somehow victims of feminism, and portraying anti-feminism as cool.

That there are now more women than men who play video games (a success), yet a woman trying to change the male-dominated tone of that culture has attack games made up about her, and more recently has to leave her home because of death threats:



Or that Emma Watson, in her speech to the UN, has to even address the trope that feminists are "man-haters".


IIt's hard to believe that anyone could think that women have more advantages, and that men are in fact oppressed, but I have run into more than a few people who actually believe that nonsense promoted by men's rights groups.They have been around for years, of course, but 20 and 30 years ago I think most would have considered them isolated cranks. Now they get charitable status from the federal government, and there is plenty of fodder online to back up their alternate reality.

And it's not even fringe sites. You have regular media twisting a study into victim-blaming:


(not only is the article completely one-sided; it does not reflect what is actually in the study, which is that certain drugs are less prevalent in assaults than some think)

The BBC take on the same study:


Maybe part of it is, as implied by the National Post article, a result of the successes of feminism. But along with those honest differences and a broader culture, I think attack groups are also far more organized.


I guess the short answer is "yes" but with that change has come a great deal of backlash.




I find it often appears as though women are being treated equally and it is just by chance that men are in the lead. I attended many Montreal occupy assemblies and the Montreal group came to a sad end. Had it not been shut down by the police I am not sure it would have survived. The group split into two because of two white men who butted heads both of whom were terrific activist leaders with different qualities.

There were multiple women with strong leadership qualities one of whom I remember in particular. It the closing weeks she was incredibly frustrated at never getting to speak and she was central to keeping the camp going. The insistence that there was no power structure made the power structure much harder to fight.

At one pre-assembly meeting the man I percieved to be "the leader" of the Montreal group was sitting in the "chairman of the board" position at a long table. Formally he was not the leader but in practice he was.

I'll be interested to read your article. From my vantage point the women were not given due respect for the work they were doing at Occupy Montreal.

The experience turned me against anarchism.


6079_Smith_W wrote:

I guess the short answer is "yes" but with that change has come a great deal of backlash.

Tell me about it. The more "threatened" the dominant white male culture feels, the bigger the backlash. Susan Faludi's book Backlash is an indepth well-researched look at the forms that the backlash against feminists have taken. Just proves the old adage, "the more power they have, the harder they fight to keep it."


Pondering, I'm sorry to hear that Occupy Montreal wasn't any better than Occupy Toronto. It's frustrating to see women in leadership roles shut down by male privilege. As an older activist I see it as my responsibility to encourage the voices of younger women. When I was young, I was afraid to speak out (I know, hard to believe, lol) and I see a lot of the same reluctance in the upcoming generation of feminist activists.

That men butting heads thing is such a waste of time. I've seen it in a wide cross-section of movements - labour, environment, food sovereignty, etc. People in leadership roles tend to have strong personalities, especially in groups and orgs that are very hierarchical. Hierarchy really does play to patriarchy, disparity, disempowerment. Some movement leadership is working toward a more horizontal organizational structure, but old habits die hard and change is being resisted.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

My recollection is that Occupy Vancouver (OV) did relatively well in terms of putting women in leadership roles. The first large movement assembly, which was held on Oct 8, 2011 in atrium at the Woodwards building, was facilitated by a young woman. After the official start of OV a week later, she remained the facilitator of the assemblies until we got consensus on how to rotate the facilitator role. After that there were a few days where we had a mix of male and female facilitators, until we agreed, due to some women being uncomfortable with male facilitators, to have only female facilitators for the duration of OV.

There were still gender issues related to OV. Men in the assemblies were much more likely to block consensus, not follow the rules, get nitpicky about the rules, and to make disrespectful comments. And there was at least one case of a man sexually assaulting a woman at OV -- the incident inspired an article that appeared on Rabble.

More generally within the activist circles I've been involved with in Vancouver, I find that men take leadership roles more often than woman. I certainly have female friends who actively seek out leadership roles, and male friends who actively encourage women to take leadership roles, but this doesn't mean there's gender balance within leadership roles.

One important factor that influences womens involvement in activist projects is the reproductive labour that only women can do (pregnancy, breastfeeding), and the voices of women are noticeably diminished at this time of their lives.


I don't think Occupy Montréal was particulary representative of activists here (obviously it was disproportionately anglo - "white" does not cover all such questions here). The student movement a bit later did FAR better in terms of young women's involvement, creativity and leadership, though obviously problems remained. And a lot of us older lefties were happy to tag along - many contingents set out from Villeray and Petite-Patrie, the part of town where I live. Some of my friends (a bit older than myself, and pensioners) were "full veterans" of the 1972 General Strike exactly 40 years earlier.

I was never an anarchist, but no, the problems with Occupy did NOT turn me against anarchism or anarchists, as I've been working with many good anarchist or "communiste libertaire" activists for years in tenants' and community issues. I think that at their best, they were much more creative and less hidebound than many of us old socialists. And the latter could certainly be utter jerks in terms of how they treated women.

And our local Idle No More movement, like the pan-Canadian version, was unabasedly led by young women. While I certainly supported the movements at Oka and Kahnawake, INM was a breath of fresh air after the macho orientation of some of the "Warriors".

There is indeed a backlash though, with anti-feminist attitudes present in the press and opinions voiced, accompanying a general right bloc opposed to labour rights, refugee rights, better conditions for poor people, environmental action and the rest of it...


I've done some work with local anarchists and they're a great bunch of people, very progressive, very activist-oriented.


MegB wrote:

I've done some work with local anarchists and they're a great bunch of people, very progressive, very activist-oriented.

And you can add to that their dogged dedication to communal decision-making, which some of us have little patience for. My hats off to them.

(not joking at all. I'm serious)

More important than simple equality is the ways systems change (or don't) so that the onus isn't put on women to act like men if they want to participate.

It's not just a case of men butting heads , though that is true, but of men, even then they are trying to be positive,  often being way too self-assured and not aware of others.

I know it is not a newsflash to any of the women here, but not that long ago a good friend was talking about the fact that she likely lost a job competition because she gave an honest assessment of her skills, whereas the man running against her simply assumed and acted like he knew the job inside out, or if he didn't he could learn on the job.

It is very real that men tend to blame the system when they run into something negative, and give themselves all the credit when things are going good. 

On another note. I took our son up to a scouts campout this weekend (and for the record, girls can be scouts in Canada, and Guides, which are a progressive organization in their own right, can participate in any scout activities). One of the fellows mentioned that he was at an event in the States. A woman was hauling a wagon, and one of the scoutmasters came up to him and said "you should be ashamed of yourself for letting her do that". He said he was polite, and did not give the guy an earful in response.

I have my own differences with the scouting organization, but the kids like it, and incidents like that point to change for the better in some things (not to mention that the Guides in the states are targetted by right wing Christians as a pro-choice organization).