GENDER GROUP REPORT FROM ECOTOPIA
Almost every day throughout Ecotopia, there were some gender related activities going on. In the center of these were the workshops, most of which were mixed genderwise, though some were for men or women only. Each workshop was typically attended by 20-25 participants, often with a slight majority of women, though the imbalance was never great. Activity was intense during these workshops; we who took part felt that the subjects discussed really concerned us deeply, and people got so involved that the workshops had a tendency to go on and on even after they were formally ended.
There was also a women’s affinity group which met every night in the Women’s Tent, save those nights when there was something special scheduled for the whole camp. A number of subject were discussed in an informal and relaxed, yet serious, way. Similarly active was the men’s affinity group which, albeit fewer in numers than the women, met during meals and in the Men’s Dome which was constructed during the camp.
Apart from this, the gender group took part in the preparation and casting of a Forum Theatre which was played for – or rather together with – the rest of the camp one evening.
- Monday 4th August -
WOMEN'S MEETING :
- presenting EYFA Women's Project,
- introduction to each other and the work we are doing;
- announcing gender days
- forming the Women's Affinity Group
- making plans for Ecotopia workshops
GENDER WORKSHOP (men only): SEXUAL VIOLENCE. Crossing of personal borders – what it is, how it happens and how to avoid it - was discussed, and personal experiences of this and of sexual violence were discussed. (Unfortunately, no notes from this workshop were made, and so the presentation here is brief. This goes for some of the other workshops also.)
- Tuesday 5th Aug -
GENDER WORKSHOP: MYTHS THAT KEEP THE DATE RAPE POSSIBLE
- exploring, in separate women and men only groups, myths which are active in each one of us and which keep the date rape possible
- sharing the results in mixed group
- discussion on chosen myths (e.g. "If a woman is open about her sexuality she is a whore"; "Man should know when to initiate sex")
All of us carry some »myths« about sex inside of us; ideas that we perhaps don't believe in on a rational level, but still exist somewhere in the back of our heads and sometimes influence our thoughts and actions. After a short introduction at the start of the workshop, women formed one group and men another. Each group then had a 20-30 minutes long brainstorming session where people came up with myths that they felt that they carry inside them. These myths were discussed - leading to new myths - and written down on a large sheet of paper.
Afterward, the whole group gathered, and the papers with the myths were spread out on the ground. The women proved to have come up with many more myths than had the men. Everybody were then given three stones (black for women, red for men) which each person placed on the myths which she or he recognized and wanted to discuss the most. Discussed myths:
"If voice says 'No' and body says 'Yes" - it's a 'Yes'" (2R, 9B): many women had the experience of being together with a man with their clothes on, holding and kissing him perhaps; in this situation they got physically aroused, without really wanting to have sex with the man. But the man took her arousal as a sign that he was free to push her into having sex, saying "come on, I can notice that you want it too". This made the women feel disrespected. One woman observed that most women seemed to need a "big green light" from the other person in order to proceed to sex, whereas many men needed a "big red ligth" if they not were to proceed to sex.
"The man is supposed to know when to initiate sex" (4B, 2R): both men and women expressed unhappiness aobut this attitude. Women pointed at problems with passively waiting for the man and with being seen as abnormal if making the first move, and men expressed fears of being seen as a "bad sexist man" when taking sexual initiative towards women, and a desire for women to take more initiative.
"It spoils things to ask for sex" (4B, 4R) "If I say 'No', I could hurt his feelings" (3B, 2R) in relation to this, the feelings of rejecting, and men's and women's way of reacting to rejection was discussed. The importance of being open about what one wants at an early stage was stressed by some people, although others responded that too much openness might take away the dynamics in a relationship, and that being pressed to be open when one is not ready for it is a bad thing.
"If I'm open about my sexuality, I'm a whore" (7B): in relation to this, the myth (probably invented by men, to keep women down) that women are (should be) mainly interested in love and not so much in sex was also brought up.
In general, most of the participants had experience of acting in nontypcial ways genderwise - something which often had good effects -, and overdue generalizations were warned against.
WOMEN'S AFFINITY GROUP: Discussion on female sexuality
- Wednesday 6th Aug -
GENDER WORKSHOP: MYTHS THAT KEEP THE DATE RAPE POSSIBLE, PART 2. Continuation on request from previous day (for details: see part 1)
WOMEN'S AFFINITY GROUP: Men in alternative movement: has anything changed? How many men in the movement have children they are not taking care of?
- Thursday 7th Aug -
GENDER WORKSHOP: TYPICAL GENDER RELATED COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS
The aim of the workshop was to explore typical problems which we are coming accross when communicating with the other sex and eventually find solutions for them. Approximatelly 24-26 people, (50% women and 50% men!), from both Eastern and Western European countries took part in the workshop. After the introduction, we created posters through the "silent poster discussion" in women only and men only groups. Then both groups chose two-three issues and made a role play for each to illustrate the problem. When we came back together into the mixed group, we read the posters out and acted the role plays.
Men had three role plays:
- A man and a woman are in a disco. The woman is suffering over a recent break up with her boyfriend. The man is comforting her but he's also interested in her sexually. While he is getting a drink for both of them, another man approaches the woman and they both go away dancing. [WHAT WOMEN SAY THEY WANT IN A MAN IS OFTEN DIFFERENT FROM WHAT THEY REALLY GO]
- A man is trying to ask a woman how she feels about their relationship. She replies constantly "whatever you feel like" and "if it's good for you it's good for me".[WOMEN ARE NOT CLEAR ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS AND DON'T SAY WHAT THEY WANT, BRINGING IT BACK TO THE MAN "WHATEVER YOU SAY"]
- A man and a woman are discussing an emotional issue. When he says "let's talk about it" she doesn't want to do so anymore. The man wants to "reasonably discuss emotions" [poster point: - they don't tell me what they want - often covering this up with instead talking about what I might want (8) ----> and then complain about me being dominant afterwards ----> and even if I ask very directly what they want they STILL don't bloody tell me!]
Women had two role plays:
- A woman is entering a shop in a foreign country. She is trying to buy a technical appliance. There is a male interpreter with her, he is translating her sentences to the male shopkeeper. The interpreter doesn't have the technical knowledge of the woman. Still, the shopkeeper keeps ignoring the woman and is only focused on the male interpreter. [WOMEN ARE NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY BY MEN, ESPECIALLY IN TECHNICAL SECTOR]
- A man is coming home late at night, drunk, with two other friends. His wife asks him to be quiet because of children, but he ignores her. One of the other men hears their talk and
suggests that they leave. The suggestion, coming from another man, is now accepted. [A SUGGESTION MADE BY MAN HAS MUCH MORE IMPORTANCE THAN THOSE MADE BY WOMEN]
These role plays were then discussed in small groups; people could eaily recognize themselves in the roleplays, and got ver involved in the discussions.
The women (but not the men, unfortunately) made a summary of their problems:
- they (i.e. the men) always know better - frustrated by sexist attitude - they are too loud, taking all the space - showing off intellect, exclusive language as power game - lack of respect for non-males - rational, no space for emotions - focused on solutions - they don't listen - friendliness & openness & dependency are seen as sexual invitation
WOMEN'S AFFINITY GROUP: free discussions.
- Friday 8th Aug -
GENDER WORKSHOP: - POWER STRUCTURES: ON POWER OVER AND POWER FROM WITHIN
In this workshop, the differences between "Power over" and "Power from within" were explored. Whith "power over" is meant power that keeps people down and backs up institutions of domination; inherent in it is a world-view with sees all things as disconnected and dead, and thus it creates a feeling of estrangement. "Power from within", on the other hand, enables individuals to do things they themselves choose; inherent in it is a world-view which sees everything as connected and alive, and thus it creates a feeling of togetherness and respect for other people's (and things) inner value. These aspects of power were presented on a paper distributed to the workshop participants, along with number of myths which keep the power-over structures in place. These myths were examined (e.g. duality [between good and evil, culture/nature, male/female], absolute knowledge, "there's not enough time", "if you don't succeed, it's your own fault"), along with alternative views.
The question of how this affects us all personally was raised, along with a question of how to find alternatives to "power over". As a tool for this, the leaders of the Forum Theatre had everybody make a "sculpture" (forming the body of another immobile person) of how they themselves felt some time when they were dominated by "power over" structures. Among these sculptures were one of a circle (i.e. the daily large meeting at Ecotopia). The woman who shows this situation pictures it with a small bunch
of people (mostly men) in the center, all on top of each other, making typical circle remarks like : 'I need four volunteers' - 'I have a technical remark' - etc. Around them sit a group of people in a circle, with their arms linked, so it becomes a closed circle. They are not speaking. On the outside sits the woman who says things like: 'But I don't understand what is happening. I am confused. I can not contribute to this. I feel so disempowered. This image is very recognizable for many people in the group. We play a bit with possible things that could happen to improve the situation.
Then the workshop split into small groups, mainly discussing what problems were with the circle and how the circle could be improved. Some discussed problems with the circle were:
1. Misunderstandings of language 2. Circle has an aggressive atmosphere 3. People can feel blocked even in small rounds (because of feeling obliged to participate) 4. Too few interactive methods
5. Some men get too competitive in the circle, trying with jokes to "outdo" each other 6. People are too isolated - lack of group feeling and connectedness 7. Circle is too big for good discussions 8. Bad preparation of the discussion 9. Too many circles 10. PERCIEVED time pressures (not real)! 11. Men lacking self censorship (i.e. talk about things they themselves like to talk about but which has no importance for the big circle) 12. Lack of skilled /eager/ experienced/ willing facilitators from non-native English speaking countries
As an anwer to problems, some suggested solutions were:
* strict facilitation * more facilitation * starting on time * songs and games at the beginning * non-native English speakers as facilitators * smaller groups: people write discussion points on board * be inclusive * discipline from within
Many of these suggestions were later implemented, and so this workshop was very fruitful.
WOMEN'S AFFINITY GROUP: free discussions.
- Saturday 9th Aug -
(No gender specific activities, because one third of the camp was away on action.)
- Sunday 10th Aug -
PLANNING MEETING for future workshops, especially the one on Tuesday 12th Aug.
Rehearsal of dialogues
WOMEN'S AFFINITY GROUP:Homophobia; our own experience...
- Monday 11th Aug -
(No gender specific activities, because almost all of the camp was away on action.)
- Tuesday 12th Aug -
GENDER WORKSHOP: MISCOMMUNICATION BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
- dialogues illustrating miscommunication
- work in small groups: what is our own experience with similar miscommunication problems?
- discussion in the big group
- presenting a tool to solve this problem
- work in small groups: making your own role play or just discussing
The workshop began with three pre-prepared and rehearsed role-plays. For each role-play, there were two characters but four actors - two women acted for the female character, and two men for the male. One man/woman acted the actual speech and body language of the character, and one acted out the alter-ego i.e. the true feelings of the character. Each actor took turns in speaking. After the role-plays, comments were sought from the workshop participants.
The first role-play cast a scene in a bar at closing time. A man is sexually and/or romantically interested in a woman, who finds the man interesting but is not interested either sexually or romantically. They have both been talking for some time, and the woman asks the man back for coffee to continue the conversation, but the man interprets this as an invitation to spend the night.
For the second role-play, the dialogue takes place between mother and son over the washing-up situation. The mother is annoyed and disappointed with her son for not doing the dishes, and thinks that if he cared about her, he would help out more without her having to ask for it first. He feels accused, thinks that what she really wants is for him to acknowledge that he has committed a fault and to accept guilt, and therefore takes a defensive (and, soon, aggressive) position.
In the third role-play, a sister and a brother are in the kitchen. The brother has done some good turn for the sister and now the sister would like to express her gratitude by cooking a quick and easy meal. The brother presumes she will cook a `proper' meal and is angry when he discovers otherwise. She feels obliged to cook something `proper' and offers to do so, but it is too late - the good feelings are broken.
The workshop split into small group, where people discussed these role-plays, how they had experienced similar situations, and what could be done about it. Afte this discussion, the large group gathered again, and the following TOOL was presented:
When you notice that there is a misunderstanding, tell the other person “Let me tell you what I hear you saying”, and similarly encourage her or him to tell you how she or he interprets what you are saying.
A final role-play was presented to demonstrate this tool: In this final role-play, two partners in an open relationship are talking. The man would like to have the possibility to have sexual relationships the woman doesn't know about. Both make certain assumptions about what is said between them, but when they talk more openly about their assumptions, in the form "Let me tell you what I think you're saying." "Let me tell you what I'm hearing.", the problem of miscommunication starts to dissolve.
After the role play, comments were invited, and further small-group discussions followed.
- Wednesday 13th Aug -
GENDER WORKSHOP (men only): On male sexuality, especially masturbation.
PREPARATIONS FOR AND PARTICIPATION IN FORUM THEATRE:
SEXUAL ABUSE OF FEMALE CHILD was the subject of the Forum Theatre in
the evening programme. During the theatre, anybody in the audience could interrupt the play and suggest an alternative course of action which would be more beneficial for the people involoved.
WOMEN'S AFFINITY GROUP: went for a swim together.
- Thursday 14th Aug -
STORY TELLING ON GENDER as a part of the camp’s evening programme
(There was a workshop on OBLIGATION MYTHS scheduled, but it was cancelled.)
- Friday 15th -
GENDER WORKSHOP (women only): MAKING YOUR OWN SANITARY TOWELS. On menstruation.
Compiled by Henrik Haraldsson, using the notes of other participants.