Does sexism exist in activist spaces­?

We all grew up in a patriarchal society and were socialized as sexists. Sexism for me starts with gender stereotypes and the pressure we put on ourselves and others to be, interact and look a certain way. We are all guilty of falling back into patterns we grew up with and it needs to be our communal effort to hold each other accountable and learn together.

Most activists are quite aware of the faults of the state, capitalism, the patriarchy and our society. The assumption therefore may be that sexism is less prone to rear its ugly head in activist spaces. How do we see the impacts of this consciousness when living together and how do we empower those being oppressed?

As every space in our world, camps are mainly fitted for the needs of cis men- living on camp requires a lot of physical strength and most activities are perceived as normally done by men (building, making fire..). People perceived and socialized as women are very much capable of all these things, but normally have less experience, since they weren´t taught how to when growing up. So, on camps it´s sometimes easy to fit into the roles society has told us to fill in, with the “women” cooking, doing the dishes and doing a lot of emotional support- all unseen care work that doesn´t get a lot of credit. While “men” are more empowered to build, climb up trees, collect firewood or carry heavy things. Everyone sticking to the things they grew up with and feel the most comfortable with.

We (two non-binary people) have experienced sexism, trans-phobia and misogyny in one way or the other on this campaign and want to share some of it:

“Seeing how a handful of incidents were handled recently, I can see why frontline activism could be off putting for gender minorities. Concerns regarding unconscious hierarchies, outdated gender roles and some language and comments used on camp were raised, but seemingly shot down by some of the cis men. They both denied some of the incidents even occurred, and also that there even was any sexism on site. This was both unhelpful and baffling.

As a relatively cis- passing trans man, I´ve often had experiences in which cis men have said sexist things around me that would not otherwise be said if they were aware that AFAB (assigned female at birth) people were listening.”

“Since living on camps I´ve been able to feel like myself even though I stopped correcting people when being misgendered. I have felt the freedom to not put on any make-up and not to wear a bra but to climb up trees and be more direct and bossier without being judged as not “feminine” (not that I believe that these things innately demonstrate femininity!).

On the other hand, I still experienced a lot of pressure to do emotional work for others and found myself holding back when it comes to building and instead talking about well-being, first aid and the kitchen. I also experienced people crossing my (physical) boundaries, cis men not taking responsibilities for people they´ve got intimite with or cis men invalidating our experience by saying that they don´t believe a group of FINT (female, intersex, non-binary and trans) people telling them about the sexism they´ve experienced.”

We can´t be inclusive towards sexists, racists, ableists, classists without being excluding of FINT, BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of colour), people with disabilities or from a working class background. But we also don´t want to be part of a “disposable” culture, where we tell people to leave camps (who are we anyways to ask someone to leave a piece of land?) just because they fucked up. We all fuck up at times and the important part is to be willing to listen and learn. Hence, we need to start looking at ways of facing conflict and making spaces safer for those oppressed; addressing sexism and dealing with individuals who have caused harm in ways that help us and them to move forward, learn and eventually strengthen our communities. Some ways that have been practiced are safer space agreements, community resolutions, FINT meetings or Tekmils (a module from the Kurdish freedom movement to express criticism and self-criticism). We have yet to find the perfect balance between not allowing sexism to occur in our communities yet having an understanding for people’s backgrounds and the challenges our upbringing in a patriarchal society brings. Leaving sexist attitudes to embolden themselves, unchallenged, and away from spaces where they may be confronted in a challenging, productive and potentially transformative way on protest sites, is not the solution. We know that fighting and highlighting sexism is hard work, but we cannot fight the capitalist system without liberating those, who are oppressed.

The emotional work should not be left to those most at risk, or who are usually made to do this kind of work (ie women). We must take a collective responsibility now.

Therefore we ask you, cis men, please do yourself and your community a favour and acknowledge and use your privileges. Listen to the experience of FINT people around you, educate yourself by reading their books and blog posts, listen to their podcasts, acknowledge their experience and don´t question it, reflect on your privilege and stand up against sexism whenever you see it (even if it´s your best friend, you are tired of the conversation or “it´s just a joke”). It´s your privilege that you can decide to not engage with the conversation – sexism is something we always have to live with, we can´t just turn it off for an hour and have a break.

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