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A Powerful Weekend for Women in Their Thirties

I was the organizer for a Women in Their Thirties Workshop, led by Diane Balser and Ellie Brown,1 at the end of April, outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. It was an incredible weekend. The participants were of a range of identities and from many different parts of the United States and Canada.

I left the workshop feeling like I was part of a sisterhood—a huge victory over the internalized sexism that so often convinces us otherwise. Every minute of the workshop—every talk, every mini-session, every interaction—felt completely relevant to my life. I had traveled from California (USA) with a gang of women from my Area,2 and on the way home we were so alert, clear headed, and excited to share all of our thoughts and new ideas from the weekend.

I’m shaking while writing this, because the act of writing is a fight against the internalized oppression that tells me that my thoughts are insignificant and that I don’t know the “right” way to give a report. But I’m going to push through, because it’s important for other women to know what we accomplished and covered over this short but powerful weekend.

SEEING OUR STRUGGLES AS SEXISM

Women of my generation were raised in a complex and confusing time. We benefited so much from the gains made by older women, including our very own Diane Balser, in the second wave of the women’s movement,3 but we were also raised in the backlash to that movement and with the totally wrong message that “sexism is over.”

The expectations on my generation of women have been that not only can we do anything but we have to be everything. I grew up in the 1980s and remember seeing so many images on TV and in movies of female athletes, astronauts, and businesswomen but also of women as mothers, wives, and caretakers. I saw my own mother trying to do it all: look great, exercise (jogging and aerobics became popular during the ’80s), caretake my father and me, and have a job outside the home that she was good at.

We have much work to do to know that our struggles are not personal but always in the context of sexism. Ellie pointed out that if we’re feeling bad about any of this, we’re seen as “mentally ill.” She spoke about the increase in “mental illness” diagnoses whenever there’s a spike in the expectations put on women—such as in the Victorian Era and in the 1950s and ’60s in the United States. Currently half of U.S. women have at some point been diagnosed with “mental illness” and a quarter are on psychiatric drugs.

 Having, at the start of the weekend, this historical framework for and clear perspective on how our generation has been hit with sexism opened up many opportunities for discharge. It also helped us feel a huge sense of relief. We could stop blaming ourselves for our struggles and see them as coming from sexism.

For the rest of the weekend, we worked openly on hard and relevant topics, such as whether or not to raise a child, the institution of marriage, women’s work (paid and unpaid), the sex industry, reproduction and technology, and dating. I went to a topic group on pornography that Diane led on Sunday morning. We each took one minute on our experience with pornography and shook, cried, and laughed. Diane spoke about how this really is our issue as females. We have framed pornography as a men’s issue, because of their addictions to it, but we need to claim it as our own.

A BREAKTHROUGH AS ORGANIZER

I’ve organized many workshops, but this was definitely the largest one so far. As a female targeted by racism (I am Chicana and Pilipina) and raised working class and Catholic, I struggle with how to make organizing re-emergent for me. In some way I do the work at my expense. I went into the workshop overworked, stressed, and pretty4 disconnected. I was scared to walk into the main room when I arrived. But then something happened that I didn’t expect. Because of my job as organizer, I found that I was excited to meet women whom I had communicated with for months. I understood my significance in a completely different way and assumed my importance as I introduced myself to people. Throughout the weekend, I made it a point to have contact with just about everyone at the workshop. At the end, one woman gave me a huge hug and cried and thanked me for getting her to the workshop. (I had offered a lot of my thinking to help her get there.) I had also figured out to ask another woman of the global majority to be the on-site organizer. It was a huge thing for me to not have to work, work, work all weekend and to get to enjoy the workshop for myself.

A DYNAMITE WORKSHOP

Now, a week and a half after the workshop, I am still going over my sessions and Diane’s and Ellie’s talks. Diane’s expertise on women’s liberation history and her commitment to putting women’s issues first, combined with Ellie’s profound understanding of how sexism and male domination have hit our generation, was dynamite!5

Cristina Mitra
San Francisco, California, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women


1 Diane Balser is the International Liberation Reference Person for Women. Ellie Brown is a former International Liberation Reference Person for Young Adults.
2 An Area is a local RC Community.
3 The “second wave of the women’s movement” began in the early 1960s in the United States and spread throughout the Western world. In the United States, it lasted through the early 1980s. Later it became a worldwide movement that was strong in Europe and parts of Asia. First-wave feminism had focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality. Second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wide range of issues, including sexuality, the family, the workplace, reproductive rights, and violence against women.
4 “Pretty” means quite.
5 “Dynamite” means terrific, wonderful.

 


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00