In 2014, I attended a weekend workshop in Oregon, called the Fishtrap Winter Gathering. The theme was “Learning from Women,” and it was a weekend of talks, readings, and workshops by Molly Gloss, Ursula Le Guin, and Tony Vogt. It was a marvelous experience that changed my thinking in many ways, and I have never described it to my satisfaction. I did make one post to the Aqueduct Press blog, “Report from the Fishtrap Winter Workshop.”
First up was a discussion of the definition of women. Throughout the workshop, it was awkward to talk about “women” as a whole, because of gender essentialism. We did it anyway. There was an acknowledgment that the definition is shaky and incomplete, and a general invitation to men to take on the honorary name of “women” for the duration of the workshop, but that by and large, across cultures, women have been socialized to take on certain roles and certain ways of being.
There is a cultural division, and in it, the role of “men” is privileged. Ways of thinking, being, doing. An assumption that women will be liberated when we take on those roles. But why not the other way around?
At the moment I’m thinking about all these things in the context of the left. The group I’ve been working with got an influx of new members (hooray!) that is mostly men, and thinking, “Oh, this again” with a certain sense of exhaustion. It’s not the big things but the little things, like do you put smiley faces in your emails or not, when you should ask nicely or express gratitude. In mostly women’s spaces, we do all these things, and we do them to build community. In mixed or mostly men’s spaces, it comes across looking like weakness.
How does a group handle interruptions? Men often interrupt more and get more air time. If you want to change it, do you ask women to interrupt more, or men to interrupt less? Is there a social benefit to taking turns?
Just the little things.