Notes of the meeting of the SLLU Feminist Network on Sunday 2nd May
At this meeting we talked about the involvement of men at our regular Sunday meetings. Coincidentally there were only women here today so it seemed a good time to talk about it. It was something we had talked about at the very beginning of the network over a year ago but had never returned to.
Our feelings about two recent meetings were shared.
At one of these meetings the group had to deal with a man who seemed to be there with a view to being deliberately if not confrontational certainly challenging.
At the second meeting, the men present were totally supportive. However, it was felt by some that the dynamics of this meeting was different.
The differences are subtle and sometimes hard to pin down.
Thinking about it, we noticed the following :-
Chat speed was much faster – this had made it difficult to read and reflect on each person’s contribution. It had been difficult to show that people were being heard.
Individual contributions had been much longer.
The effect on some had been to silence them, the effect on others was to feel they had to say more than the normally would.
[13:47] : Well I just have to say this is one of the few places where I don’t feel stressed out
[13:47] : I mean I don’t feel I have to comment on everything
[13:47:: This is a very nice group like that
[13:47] : In other contexts, you feel you need to pick up on everything.
[13:48] : I usually talk 90% of the time. I always struggle to take less of the space and here I find that struggle easier
[13:49: One might have thought, that the effect of women only would be to make it easier for you to talk, not to be silent.
[13:49: I find that pretty interesting.
[13:50] : Well I think there is a lack of triggers
[13:50: Ahh. OK.
[13:50] : Lack of verbal dominance play
[13:50: if you understand what I’m saying
[13:50] : Yes, entirely.
[13:50: Good point ...it may be that men raise the feeling of competitiveness
The above is interesting not just because of the content but in the feel of the dialogue. The space that someone is given to express a view and the evidence that she is being listened to.
We talked about whether the ‘physical’ presence of a male avi made a difference to the dynamics within the group.
[13:38] : But I think of it mostly as my own prejudice, I react to a male shape differently. So it’s kind of my own fault I guess
13:39] I'm very sensitive to the nature of the avi.
[13:40] : maybe we could put up a screen ;)
[13:40] : smile
[13:40: Like in a synagogue?
[13:41] : haha
[13:41] : exactly :)
[13:41] : Why don’t we just put them in these boxes
[13:41] : and sit on them
[13:41] : I have a few folding screens
[13:41] : Lol
Having said all of this (and taking into account the difficulties of determining gender and wanting especially to be welcoming of transgender people) all of us were reluctant to exclude anyone who shared our aims or who genuinely wanted to engage with us.
“it would hurt my soul to exclude comrades”
“I know you are right ... I hate the idea of excluding”
“ but on the one hand, women only space is really important. especially in particular settings and the involvement of men can really change the dynamic and it's not about exclusion, more about maintaining a safe space for women”
These were some of the suggestions generated:-
Always having a facilitator
Putting up a poster with some of the ground rules
Having some meetings which are women only
Meetings in the main SLLU group discussing feminist issues
Passing out copies of our ground rules to newcomers
Excluding ‘trolls’ or those who are obviously antagonistic
Turning on our typing animation
Sending out copies of these notes to generate thought and discussion
PS Some interesting posts on the subject :-
“I find it odd to realize that most men don't observe something that is obvious to every woman I know: that there is a competitive male dynamic to groups that is completely different from the way female groups act. They don't know, of course, because unless the group is overwhelmingly female, the dynamic of any mixed group always defaults to male, with women fading back into supporting conversational roles. Maybe it's the kind of thing you can only observe by contrast to the extremely anti-competitive nature of female groups.
The easiest way to put it (and this is hardly original) is that men in groups are focused on their role within the group. Women in groups are focused on the group. Men gain status by standing out from the group; women gain status by submerging themselves into it — by strengthening the group, often at the expense of themselves.”
“Research shows that in western culture there are gender differences where men and women tend to use different paradigms for communication. Women tend to communicate with a goal of establishing connection and men tend to communicate with a goal of establishing status.”
Our Ground Rules
The SL Left Unity Feminist Network is made up of members from around the world with varying viewpoints on lefty issues and various perspectives on feminism. There will be times when we disagree, perhaps passionately so, on topics discussed. This is fine, of course, and to be expected, but we need guidelines to help us ensure - as far as possible - that debate and discussion is kept respectful and that people feel safe to air their views.
No aggression - under any circumstances. We can disagree but we'll endeavour to do so respectfully and constructively. Personal attacks have no place in this group.
Confidentiality - Group members may share their personal experiences and/or opinions. Those experiences and contributions to group discussions should never be shared outwith the group. However, since it is difficult to monitor and enforce all of these guidelines in SL, I would ask all group members to think about what they are sharing and consider that everyone may not respect the rules of the group. It has been known for people to post chatlogs and IM's on blogs or to share them inappropriately with other people.
Non discriminatory - The network, like the general SLLU group, opposes discrimination in any form on the basis of race, religion, language, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age or ability.
Non judgemental - a tough call sometimes, but important in fostering an atmosphere where we can challenge and disagree without judging or silencing those who have differing or opposing views
Be mindful of your own and others contribution to the group. We should aim to include the views of others, to make sure everyone has space to contribute and to encourage everyone to share. It is destructive for any group to be dominated by one or a few participants. Sometimes people may just want to listen or be quiet and there must be space for this too.
Be mindful that people will have had lots of different experiences which may have impacted them in some way or arouse strong emotions for them. Think before you make statements.
Be mindful that even if you have shared similar experiences to a group member, that they may have chosen - or had to - deal with that experience differently from you. It sometimes helps if we are clear that we are speaking from our own experiences rather than generalising.
We all have responsibility to follow the ground rules and challenge within the group when they are not being followed.
We don't need to agree! Let's listen to each other, debate, challenge (ourselves and others), discuss, explore, learn and develop.
If ground rules are not followed, we decide as a group how to deal with each individual situation. No one group member should have a monopoly on this, or any other decision, for the network.