Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Courtship for Wobblies

New York Times:

France crystallizes the paradox facing many women across the developed world in the early 21st century: They have more say over their sexuality (in France birth control and abortion are legal and subsidized), they have overtaken men in education and are catching up in the labor market, but few make it to the top of business or politics.

We have to ask the same thing about those organizations we call our own. There should be a meaningful difference between what "business and politics" has to offer women and what a practice of solidarity does. If what women experience as patriarchy is more or less the same everywhere they go, this is a terrible indictment of what we are doing -- or not doing -- within nominally "progressive" organizations. Unless working women want to associate with us, we aren't doing nearly enough.

One of the reasons I feel so adamant about this is because social advocacy inevitably fails without women. In fact, nothing "social" succeeds without them, for the simple reason that they comprise the majority of the world's peoples. To the degree that our organizations are marginal or ineffective, I believe a large part of this owes to a failure to make them at all attractive to women. Without women, social advocacy too often turns into some dudes arguing over dumb stuff nobody but those particular dudes care about.

Making our organizations attractive to women doesn't necessarily mean trying to impress them with dudely accomplishments or dudely intelligence. The whole point is to tone down all these dudely impulses -- big time. Even if men have the technical know-how and women are newcomers, as men we really need to make things about how we can welcome people into an unfamiliar setting, not broadcast the fact that we have the advantage.

Most of us at some point learned how to engage the women who interest us, if only on an interpersonal level. And yet somehow this is completely lost on us at an organizational level. It must be one of the identifying traits of patriarchy that we learn to extend a level of consideration to certain women, but not to every woman. By the standards of patriarchy, this amounts to showing a modicum of decency to the women we really like, and not much to anyone else.

So let us review some of the basics of going on a first date, and consider how they can be applied within our organizations. First, don't talk about yourself all the time, or only the things you care about all the time; in fact, try not to talk so much. Let other people speak, and actually take an interest in what they are telling you. Just because they haven't read Marx or Proudhon doesn't mean they can't communicate the fact that they don't want to talk about Marx or Proudhon. If all we take from somebody is that they haven't read Marx or Proudhon, we may miss out on the fact that they don't particularly care that they haven't. If we want to appeal to people, we have to respect their preferences, not immediately insist on our own.

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