Feminist friendship begins with a willingness to share and listen in order to learn. So this is intended to be a place for sharing, listening, and learning. It’s also a place to explore, not to master. It’s intended to be more immersive than linear, for both you and me.
* * *
I believe that we need to create new ways to engage with one another, to listen to one another, so that we can better understand and support one another. So while I’m willing to start by sharing parts of my own experience, I really hope that others will engage by sharing something from their experience, too.
I can imagine this going a few different ways:
If something resonates with you, comment and describe how the concept, idea, or experience is similar to something that informs your own life: Where and how did you first start thinking about it? Did someone introduce you to it? Are there resources you could share to introduce others to a similar idea that came from a totally different place? Ideally, we will all be learning from each other.
If someone (myself or anyone else) shares something offensive, ignorant, or harmful to others, I hope people will engage with and support one another to maintain a space that furthers understanding.
It may be helpful to acknowledge that we are all in different places of understanding ourselves and how we can better support others, and we should all recognize where we have more to learn.
But that doesn’t mean everyone gets a pass to do or say hurtful or harmful things – it means that if you encounter something problematic from another person, you get to choose if and how you will engage: Name it, ask clarifying questions, or tap someone else to address it.
It also means that if you get called out, don’t get defensive. First, engage in some critical reflection, listen harder, and recognize that feedback is often a gift. It shows respect, and that there is an expectation that you can do and be better. Also, seek to identify if there is pain in what someone offers you. If there is, hold that pain, acknowledge it for them (even if it wasn’t your intent to cause or exacerbate it) and apologize, especially when you can recognize that you could have done better. Then commit to do better next time.
If something differs from your experiences, thoughts, or reflections, I hope you share and name that difference. Doing so may help me and others understand how and why our experiences are different.
Are our respective experiences different because of the intersections of our different identities? Because systems and institutions advantage some and not others? Because of historical realities and present conditions? Or is it simply because we live in totally different “worlds”?
Even if we live in relatively close geographical and cultural proximity to one another, we can still have vastly different experiences based on who we are.
It’s insufficient to assume our commonalities are enough to connect us to one another. It’s better to understand our differences and leverage our differences to help us forge stronger connections. Or, as Audre Lorde said about the master’s tools, “Divide and conquer, in our world, must become define and empower.”
If you read something that helps you learn, gives you pause for thought, provides new insight, helpfully puts words to nuanced experiences, or helps you better understand yourself or someone else even just a little bit better, let them know. Thank them for sharing.
Then do something with your learning! Talk about it with the people in your life. Share a reflection of your own on social media. This is not something that should be contained. The goal here is to spread the practice of learning from and with one another in meaningful ways.
If someone is trying to cause turmoil, disruptions, and discord, don’t bother directly engaging with them. Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t waste your time and energy. (I will block those who do not demonstrate a genuine commitment to listen, learn, and share for the sake of understanding across our differences.)
Instead, be louder with your support for the person, view, idea, or experience that is under attack from a troll. Amplify and uplift those whose voices and realities have been systematically and historically silenced, undermined, and devalued. Let them know that you see them, and that you are standing with them, especially when your differences protect you from similar forms of attack.
The good news is that you can do this anytime, troll or no troll. I hope you do!