To be honest patriarchy is still as abstract of a subject as it when I was first introduced to it. While I understand theoretically that Patriarchy is a system that values masculinity and men over women in a way that devalues us, exploits our labor, and systemically rewards and perpetuates masculinity as superior to femininity. Whether patriarchy rears it's head in my language when I say sorry excessively to white, entitled men at my hostess job, or reflects in the dollars and cents in my paycheck - it's presence is known.
This past December, I had the privilege of sitting in close quarters with one of the world’s foremost revolutionaries – Angela Davis. I sat behind her in Ciara’s Jeep trying to play it cool and mostly succeeding with the exception of one awkward question about sex work and the movement. But I digress – her visit set the stage for Dream Defender’s first ever Womyn’s Faction Retreat. Three days spent in deep intellectual, spiritual, and emotional meditation on our organizations own dark shadow – patriarchy.
How could I succinctly describe how beautiful, revelatory, and difficult those three days were? But I guess I’d begin by being honest – patriarchy is a difficult subject to approach from a completely theoretical stand-point. But unpacking what that means for us as an organization forced us to confront the oppressor in ourselves and how that manifests itself in our organizing as well as in day-to-day lives.
We began on Friday evening by cooking dinner and setting the agenda ahead of us. Feeling the fatigue from our weekend with Angela Davis, conversation didn’t come naturally at first. But sitting in a round eating sweet and sour chicken and curry tofu eased us into conversations about Erykah Badu’s mixtape, the digital revolution, and thoughts about the world we’re leaving behind and in exchange for the one we’re collectively crafting.
Soon sleep carried us into Saturday morning where Jonel facilitated an opening activity where we manifested what we wanted out of 2016 –whether that be joy, discipline, or more time for ourselves. It was grounding to see the similarity in affirmations of everyone in the group, as well as to verbalize what we wanted in the new year. Next as representatives of the SAGE Squadd (aka the Political Research and Education), Ashley and I facilitated a workshop that broke down the difference between gender, sex, sexuality, orientation and attraction.
During this workshop we broke down the roles that gender, sexuality, and attraction have played in each of our lives In short for those who weren’t able to make it:
- Gender is how you present yourself on a spectrum of masculine to feminine, with more androgynous gender representations being in the middle of the spectrum.
- Sex is the identity you were assigned at birth – boy or girl. But on a spectrum between male and female (Intersex individuals whose biological sex literally straddles the two.)
- Sexuality can simply be defined by who you love. While we traditionally think of sexuality as being simply gay, straight or bisexual; sexuality and the nuances of attraction are far more complex. Things get a lot more complicated when you consider what motivates attraction. Are you someone who is only able to sustain sexual attraction once you’ve built a strong emotional connection? (Demisexuality.) Or are you only attracted to people based off of an initial intellectual attraction? (Sapiosexuality.)
Through discussing our own orientations and our relationships to our gender, sexuality, and attraction not only did we gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter, but we began a process of unpacking what each of these terms meant to us interpersonally.
Moving forward through the day the Data/Research Squadd led us through a thorough analysis of the results from our Survey on Patriarchy in DD and individual member’s experiences. The data provided us with an analysis of patriarchy in our organization and how members - old and new, women, men, or gender non-conforming, LGBT-identifying, and those who understand patriarchy vs. those who say they don’t – deal with it.
With the help of Denise Perry, Director of BOLD (and Kim’s empanadas, thank God), we analyzed the results of the Patriarchy Survey and used those results to build the Womyn’s Faction in 2016. With Denise we probably had the most fruitful discussions, where took the analysis of the data and asked ourselves some real questions – what does power look like within our organization without patriarchy? Who are we when we don’t see femininity and many of the traits associated with it as weak? And how can we address the needs of the women in our organization in a way that attacks their interpersonal struggle with patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy; while also creating circumstance that will allow all women, LGBT, and gender non-conforming folks in our organization to flourish in spite of socio-economic hardship, the demands of higher education, raising children, etc..
Overall that weekend we began the long process of creating an accessible working definition for patriarchy, identifying the needs of marginalized individuals in Dream Defenders, and working towards building an organization that reflects the new world we all wish to live in. While we lay the foundation in Dream Defenders over the next year for the political consciousness we must share to move forward as an organization, we are simultaneously building a culture of love, support, and unapologetic dedication to the liberation of all regardless of where they lie on the gender or sexuality spectrum.