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Commentary :: Education : Environment : Gender : GLBT/Queer : Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Media : Organizing : Politics : Race : Social Welfare : Technology
Challenging Patriarchy in Political Organizing
17 Feb 2006
Examples of sexism in political organizing

* Most political organizations and meetings are still dominated by men,
and even more dominated by male speakers.
* Women have to struggle a lot harder to prove their capabilities as
political activists, their intelligence on political issues, and to be
taken seriously as committed organizers
* Women often have to adopt socialized roles of authority and domination
in order to be validated in political organizing
* Women are often sexually objectified in political circles
* Sexism is perceived as a “women’s issue” and not a collective issue
* Trivializing women’s issues, frequently by considering it as being
secondary to “more important” political work
* Feminism is still not seen as central to revolutionary struggle; instead
it is relegated to a “special-interest” issue
* Men are more readily perceived as experts on “hard” (versus “soft”)
political issues such as war and economics
* Traditional gender roles such as secretarial work, clean up, and
childcare still falls upon women
* Women are more likely to challenge men on sexist comments rather than
men challenging other men
* Women discussing sexism are often characterized as “divisive”
* Characterizing women, particularly when dealing with sexism, as
“emotional” or “over-reactive”
* The general assumption (rather than the exception) is that women
discussing sexism are “pulling the sex card” or are making false
accusations, leaving women feeling guilty and/or unsafe in raising such
* Women often feel like they have to moderate what they so that men didn’t
feel attacked
* Disrespect for women’s voices in discussing their own oppression
* Women’s issues and concerns are belittled or invalidated until validated
by other men
* Many men are more likely to shut down emotionally, stop listening, or
get defensive when women want to discuss specific incidents of sexism
instead of listening and understanding what is being said
* Sexism within political organizations is seen as less trivial than
sexism in wider society
* Given the particular socialization of women under patriarchy, seemingly
minor comments or incidents can make women feel humiliated, angry or
upset; yet such comments are often dismissed as harmless and/or

Some Suggestions

* Share secretarial and clean-up work and make childcare a priority
* Honor women for un-glorified community organizing for example childcare,
cooking, note-taking, providing frequent emotional support
* Respect women as activists
* Be mindful of the language being used (i.e. girls)
* Take sexism on as your struggle
* Don't trivialize women's issues
* Give equal consideration to women’s opinions, issues, and wants
* Being better than “mainstream” society does not absolve responsibility
for taking even seemingly minor incidents seriously
* Realize that there is a difference between listening & respectful
questioning and invalidating or denying that an incident of gender
oppression occurred
* Realize that just because you might not find somebody’s behaviour
offensive, women might have different boundaries that have been shaped by a history of socialization under patriarchy
* Realize that sexism, in various forms, runs really deep and always plays
itself out
* Be proactive, not reactive
* Create an atmosphere that is dynamic and empowering
* Transforming gender roles and socialization is not about guilt or who is
right or wrong

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Re: Challenging patriarchy in political organizing
18 Feb 2006
Thank you Harsha Walia for your piece on sexism in political organizing. I think that you've made a lot of insightful comments that really help out a lot in thinking how we can challenge patriarchy!