It seems obvious that US culture has undergone a veritable feminist awakening in the past 18 months, and "feminism" has become a buzzword worthy of being voted Merriam-Webster's bright pink "Word of the Year" in 2017.
I've undergone my own feminist awakening of sorts during this time, and that process has been fruitful and challenging and made me feel both nourished and cynical simultaneously. From that process, I birthed a book of feminist mantras that helped me stay both centered within and critical of the world, and I met so many women searching for the same sort of feminist practice.
As a result, I've realized how hungry I am for feminist community -- not simply communities of women where many of them identify as feminists -- but communities in which women (and trans folks and non-binary babes and allies) come together to discuss their experiences and build feminist perspectives on and for their (our) lives and their (our) worlds.
During this time, I've also realized how important I find an art practice to be to that endeavor. Building feminist worlds is a matter of undermining structures of domination and oppression and imagining new lives. Doing that imagining is creative work that requires creative practice.
These realizations lead me back to ideas about feminist consciousness raising groups that I wanted to share here.
What are feminist consciousness raising groups?
Feminist consciousness raising groups first emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as spaces where women gathered to discuss their experiences as women. These groups were community gatherings with critical aims. They sought to bring women together to examine their lives and feelings on their own terms and imagine new and different terms around which they could center their experiences.
As a result, consciousness raising groups were (and are) very personal. They are not meant to be occasions to examine abstract theoretical or sociological phenomena, but rather opportunities to reflect on individual and group experiences by the individuals and groups present. They both affirm and interrogate our histories, presents, and futures.
What have been some of the problems/issues with these groups in the past?
To put it bluntly, feminist consciousness groups failed to include and engage women of color, women from economically disadvantaged positions, women of different abilities, and, at large, women who weren't white (upper)-middle class women. As a result, they became spaces in which white women talked about privileged issues and failed to work toward addressing marginalization and oppression as systemic, structural issues impacting different communities differently. Their "feminism" became too exclusive.
What can a twenty-first century feminist consciousness raising group look like?
To avoid past problems, feminist consciousness raising groups have to be inclusive spaces that bring together women from different backgrounds to share their divergent and similar experiences of the world. They have to cultivate trust across difference in order to hold all of these experiences and make sense of them together.
This is hard work! But I also think it's why creative practice brings new meaning and intention to consciousness raising spaces. Our experiences of art can be parlayed into conversations about our lives in ways that keep the focus on individual and group experiences while maintaining societal reference and inviting other perspectives. Creating art together can also give groups a sense of shared purpose and endeavor that threads voices together without diminishing any one.
This tentative thesis is why I've called this new group, a feminist creative consciousness raising series. This group/series centers the creative spaces of imagining new, feminist worlds amidst the important personal and political work of discussing our experiences and lives.
This group will bring together women, femmes, and allies in conversation and artistic practice. It will be actively inclusive and non-hierarchical. Those in better economic positions will support the participation of those in more marginalized positions without comment. Each meeting will center specific feminist values that provide a starting point for conversation, and dialogue and creation will proceed communally.
I very much consider this series an experiment. I'm not positive that feminist consciousness raising groups (even creative ones) will be the best way forward, but for now they seem to me to be a fruitful path toward feminist action and the dismantling of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.
If you're interested in joining, you can find more information here. I'd love to be in community with you.