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No Limits, at Beijing+20

The following are some reports on the No Limits for Women project at the non-governmental-organization Women’s Forum held in conjunction with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women Beijing+20, in New York, New York, USA, March 2015. The project was led by Diane Balser, the RC International Liberation Reference Person for Women.

Susanne Langer, Copenhagen, Denmark (delegate): Our No Limits delegation consisted of thirty-nine women and men—from India, El Salvador, Iran, Canada, England, Sweden, Denmark, and the United States. Some of the people from the United States were born and raised in Pakistan or Kenya, and some had Japanese heritage. We were ages twenty to seventy-one, people of African heritage, Asians, Jews, Muslims, Gentiles, and white people. We offered five workshops, all with ending sexism and male domination central.

We were at the forum to learn and also to share our invaluable tool of discharge, so that people could know how to actually free themselves from the hurts caused by sexism. We were reminded of how the world is so much bigger than the limited version we get in Western mostly white societies. The struggle for freedom is global; what happens to one can happen to all.

Esteniolla Maitre, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA (delegate): A highlight for me was the No Limits men’s panel on ending sexism. As a young Haitian Black woman, I had never seen men be so vulnerable and honest about where male domination had left them hurt, confused, isolated, and unable to think. Hearing them clearly articulate the ways it had hurt them, and seeing the ways they leaned on each other to address the hurts, shifted something in my mind. For the first time I began to fully believe that it was not my job to be on the receiving end of men’s hurt and to fix it. I was reminded of the goodness of men, apart from the caretaking patterns that got installed on me as a little girl. I could think about where I get hooked and act like it’s my job to remind men that they are good, even in the moments when I don’t truly believe it. I have decided that the fight against sexism will remain central in my life and that a primary focus on being female is significant to my re-emergence.

Caryn Davis, New York, New York, USA (volunteer): I teach language immersion and college preparation to young adult immigrants from around the world. My spring semester curriculum was about women’s liberation and male allies and was based on RC theory and practice. It included two days of field trips to the forum. The students and I attended the Young Women Eliminating Sexism panel. The students probably understood less than fifty percent of what was said, but the RCers on the panel communicated kindness in their faces and tone of voice (one of the students noted that). And Emily Bloch, the moderator, and others on the panel told the workshop that they were nervous and why. That made a big impression on the students. They feel frightened to speak in English, and the fact that the panelists, native English speakers, were nervous to speak was an eye opener for them. Five of the students stayed after the panel for the support groups.

Joanne Bray, Stamford, Connecticut, USA (delegate): I loved being part of a worldwide movement on a foundation of females first. At the beginning of the No Limits Women and Leadership panel, every female introduced herself as a “female first.” I don’t think anything can turn us back if we hold that in our minds.

I loved the mini-sessions with women I might never see again. Almost every woman I was with teared up or laughed while eagerly sharing stories. I remembered my first life-changing five-minute mini-session (forty years ago). Looking into the face of a female from somewhere around the world whom I had met for the first time, I thought that that session might be exactly the right ingredient for her to remember what’s possible. I’m proud of RC and what we held out for all women. Every woman activist deserves the tools we have to make her work and personal life better.

Suvan Geer, Santa Ana, California, USA: Fundraising for the project made me discharge repeatedly and put myself forward as a leader. I worked on a fundraiser that created a change in our local RC Community. I saw a new kind of trust and closeness between the women and men who participated and a spark of welcome pride in the men aft-er they’d publicly demonstrated their commitment to being allies to women. What we did was simple: the men joined me in baking cookies and selling them at my church. In the United States, women have traditionally baked cookies to raise money for civic projects, band uniforms, schools. I asked fourteen men, from both inside and outside the RC Community, to bake cookies to sell to help pay for sending RC delegates to the forum. We baked them on International Women’s Day, the same day the forum started. Then we sold them all the next day at my church, making over $600 from cookie-sales and donations. When the men arrived at the sale, they wrote on their nametag the name of a woman they admired or were there to honor. It was good to see them talking to each other about these women. The labels on the cookie bags proudly proclaimed that these were “Great Guy Cookies” that were earning money for the forum delegates. Also on the label was “Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven.”1

Billy Yalowitz, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA (delegate): Six of us were on the panel at the Men Ending Sexism and Male Domination Workshop, led by Rudy Nickens.2 I could sense how useful it was for people to see us openly show our struggles with the sexism we carry. Within the context of stating men’s goodness, we spoke directly about our individual battles with our conditioned denial and unawareness of the daily reality of sexism faced by the women we are close to. We talked about how taking full responsibility as fathers for the day-to-day details of parenting can help lift the additional burden of sexism for women in their work as parents; how our isolation as men and early hurts as boys set us up3 to pressure our female partners for sex; how we struggle within the institution of marriage against our conditioned sexist behaviors of disrespecting our wives and belittling their work, their concerns, their thinking; how men’s oppression sets us up to disregard our own lives; how it is useful to notice even small victories in eliminating the sexism we carry. Each of us described how crucial RC and our close relationships with other men have been in allowing us to become aware of the oppression of women and personally move against it. I am pleased that we could show aspects of the oppressor role without getting lost in apologizing for our maleness or feeling bad about ourselves. Our individual and collective work over many years—to reclaim the discharge process, build close and trusting counseling relationships with one another as men, and work more directly on sexist recordings4—was apparent. We are learning to offer a fuller picture of how ending our role as oppressors is at the core of fighting for our liberation as men. We are making this work understandable and hopeful in the wide world and are increasingly able to follow women’s leadership and work together with them as partners.

Lotahn Raz, Israel: I am honored, proud, and happy to be a part of this movement. I am in awe of and excited by the work the delegation did. It was easy to see the effects of the years of discharging about, thinking about, and acting toward women’s liberation and ending sexism and male domination. We in RC have a unique and important contribution to bring, and the effects of our work have resonated all the way to my computer in Israel! I am honored to be a part of an organization that has taken on5 this work and done so well. I even opened up a Twitter6 account to follow things more closely. (There is no other organization in the world that could make me join Twitter!)

Jeannette Armentano, Portland, Oregon, USA (volunteer): I got to march with the delegation through the streets of Manhattan (a borough of New York City). It was my first time marching as part of a women’s liberation movement. I loved walking through the streets of the city I grew up in and taking up space as women and girls. I also loved being reminded in our RC meeting that sexism and male domination make it hard to keep the word sexism at the center of the battle. That was part of what we got to do—keep it in the center, so we could clearly state what we are facing, in order to understand the battle. I had never before been in a place where women’s liberation was front and center. The contradiction was amazing. It looked like every person was there with the same goal: to eliminate sexism. We didn’t have to argue over the existence of the oppression or its devastating effects on our minds, bodies, and hearts.

No Limits was the only organization that had translation available, which was a huge contradiction. We were so human it was hard not to love us.  

Many of us could say things like, “At this point we don’t believe that this process is a luxury; we believe it is a necessity in order to make the world the human place we want it to be.  How else will we get the hurts out of our minds so we do not keep repeating the same irrational behaviors that we have repeated over and over?”

I met an African-heritage woman who lives in Portland and asked her how her days were going and told her about mine. I asked her if she wanted to meet again while we were in New York instead of waiting until we were back in Portland. She was eager to, so we met for breakfast and listened to each other’s life stories. She is now in my RC fundamentals class.

Diane Balser, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA (delegation leader): I woke up this morning exhausted and pleased. We did something that I was not sure was possible. We contributed a whole new dimension to the wide world women’s movement and to our RC work on sexism and male domination. To hear over and over again “No Limits, an organization of Re-evaluation Counseling committed to the ending of sexism and male domination,” said to wide world female liberation activists, was a dream come true. Having a group of men alongside us who had worked on sexism and male domination, and were for us and backing7 us, was another dream come true.

Fiona Clark, Seattle, Washington, USA: I am twenty-two, and I followed the No Limits group on Twitter. It was so inspiring to see RCers doing big things out in the world, not just in RC. Seeing No Limits for Women on Twitter made me excited for a future time when everyone will know about RC and will be posting on Facebook8 about great sessions they’ve had and new directions they’re trying.

Tresa Elguera, Brooklyn, New York, USA(volunteer): I spent the march with my seven-year-old son and an eight-year-old female friend of ours. When we weren’t chanting, I was answering questions: “What do ‘upheld,’ ‘respected,’ ‘society,’ and ‘priority’ mean?” “What do ‘united’ and ‘defeated’ mean?” “Why aren’t women paid the same as men?” “What does ‘no limits’ mean?” “Why are there climate banners at a march for women?”

I’d been at women’s marches before, but never with my son. I found it moving to hear Tim Jackins and the other male members of the No Limits delegation chanting, “This is what a feminist looks like.” Not only were men from our delegation at the march, but many other men were there as well, and lots of young men, too. That was not true in Beijing9 twenty years ago, and it was sweet to see, especially since I was there with my son.

Chuck Esser, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA (delegate): Our workshops were one of the only places in the larger forum where everyone got a chance to talk. Our understandings about racism, men being good, and oppression needing to be ended resonated with people I talked to. Many other groups were interested in how we’d gotten men to see eliminating sexism and male domination as part of men’s liberation.

Our group has grown to be more reflective of society as a whole: young, old, multiracial, from different countries and cultures and many religious backgrounds. This was the first project we had done in which a solid group of young people and young adults took major leadership. People seeing us wanted to join this kind of organization.

Mari Piggott, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; and Alana Eichner, Washington, D.C., USA (delegates): We attended the World YWCA’s Young Women and Girls panel. In the mingling time, we got our first practice at talking about the work of No Limits. The women were interested and asked questions about the peer-counseling process and the reach of the RC Communities. We also got a chance to listen to them about their activism and why they had come to the forum. We connected with women from Malawi, England, Nigeria, and Canada.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the General Secretary of the World YWCA from Kenya, talked about being a twenty-year-old at the 1995 Beijing conference and what a powerful experience that had been for her. She enthusiastically told all of us young women, “If someone says to you, ‘You’re the leaders of tomorrow,’ you tell them back that you’re the leaders of today!”

It was powerful and inspiring to be in a room with over a hundred female activists in which young women were completely in charge.

K Webster, New York, New York, USA (organizer): I attended the (non-RC) panel Prostitution, Sex-Trafficking, and the Human Rights Abuse Inherent to the Sex Trade. At one point the moderator asked, “What can men do?” When the audience was asked for comments, a man (whom I’d seen at our panels and with whom many of our delegates had had contact) stood up and said, “There is only one group at this conference that is talking about what men need to do, and that is No Limits for Women.”

Karim Lopez, Brooklyn, New York, USA (delegate): I attended the No Limits panel Young Women Ending Sexism and Male Domination with Young Men as Allies. The panelists did a beautiful job of showing themselves; setting a light, honest tone; and putting out clear ideas about what it means to fight sexism and eliminate it on a person-to-person level. The young men were honest and brave in talking about what they’d learned and figured out about becoming better allies and eliminating sexism. People seemed interested, engaged, and inspired. My heart was full and proud and hopeful.

Tamara Damon, New York, New York, USA (volunteer): One of my highlights was our team of volunteers and delegates. Unaware sexism and classism generally distort people’s ability to fully function as peers, even when they intend to, and women’s work is often the invisible, behind-the-scenes support work. However, it was clear that we were all peers and a team. It didn’t matter whether our job was to stand on a street corner holding a sign or to moderate a panel.

Ellie Hidalgo, Los Angeles, California, USA (delegate): A challenging but moving part of the event was the keynote address by Ruchira Gupta, the Indian woman who made the Emmy-winning documentary The Selling of Innocents. The film looks at the lives of young women and girls from villages in India who were sold into prostitution to be raped by men in the brothels of Mumbai (India). She called these girls “the last girls,” because they were so forgotten and abandoned by society, often dying in their twenties. Ruchira challenged the more than 1,500 attendees to view prostitution as commercial rape. She said that the words “sex work” sterilize the exploitation of girls and women. She said that if we normalize the sexual exploitation of some girls, we normalize the exploitation of all girls. She said to the women and men making policies for their countries that we can only effectively end the exploitation of girls and women around the world when we stand for the “last girl” and create policies that can be accessed by the “last girl.”

Nat Lippert, Portland, Maine, USA (delegate): From the moment I received the invitation, the contradiction10 of someone believing I could think about and act rationally on the topic was so great that my mind quickly sought out new information about sexism and male domination—talks, articles, and books about pornography, sex trafficking, and so on. I found myself initiating conversations about these topics in the restaurant where I work. My coworkers (mostly working-class young adults) were eager to share their thoughts.

Being part of an organized group in which the goal was to form loving, respectful relationships with new people (which seems to be our way of communicating our ideas) was probably the best-possible approximation of who I’d like to be in the world. I found myself reaching for people more on the subway, in the line at the store, everywhere I went. I didn’t always do it, but I could try a little more, and this has stayed with me since returning home.

This No Limits project was the first time I’d seen humility applied so intelligently by a group of men. I’ve often seen men act humbly in a patronizing or self-sacrificing way, but rarely have I seen a group of men decide that enthusiastically supporting the leadership of women is a key step in their own liberation as men. Many other groups noticed how we modeled this.

1 A slogan from a 1950s advertisement for a U.S. company’s ready-to-bake biscuit dough
2 Rudy Nickens is the Regional Reference Person for Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, USA.
3 “Set us up” means predisposed us.
4 Distress recordings
5 “Taken on” means undertaken.
6 Twitter is a free social-networking service on the Internet.
7 “Backing” means supporting.
8 Facebook is a free social-networking service on the Internet.
9The Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China, in 1995
10 Contradiction to distress

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