As a political scientist and feminist, I’ve heard a few times the critique that the political Left has some of the most sexist of misogynists of any group. While I personally think this could not be farther from the truth, it was something that has been tickling the back of my head every now and again since deciding to join the #OccupyOhioU movement.
Looking around at most of the faces at the general assemblies (the planning meetings) before the actual #Occupy occurred, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the people there happened to be white men. Arguably, this is why most of the people who spoke at these meetings were also men. Since actually going out and occupying the space, I once again noticed that most of the people in our little tent-village were men.
Graduate-student critical thinking mode thankfully kicked in before I could make any over-reaching generalizations. Why are protesters in general and occupiers in specific usually men? Well. Because young men, especially young men on campuses, typically do not have jobs but really want one- preferably a really good one. They often do not have the communal care obligations that women do in dealing with elderly relatives or young children. Arguably, young white men have a higher sense of entitlement to, say gainful employment, good credit, and opinions on their domestic military operations. The often and unfortunate violence and crime that surround the stage for political movements can be dangerous places for women- for our physical bodies as well as our reputations within the larger community. Logistically, camps can be difficult places for women to have privacy or security, maintain personal perceptions of modesty, care for children or even use the bathroom.
What does this mean for #OccupyOhioU? Well, the issue was addressed by a man in the second general assembly. During the creation of norms for our community on the first day of occupying, emphasis was placed on ensuring that our space was both physically and mentally safe and that all voices and narrative styles were honored. Community tasks are tackled communally- cooking, cleaning, building, and decorating are willingly done together. This has been the closest I have ever come to truly acting an ethos of community care- where food and shelter and safety are seen to and provided communally free of charge.
Free Skool happening at all times of day allows people with a variety of schedules and obligations to both learn and teach. Children were welcomed and often participated in Free Skool events and at the #OccupyOhioU campsite. Furthermore, six of the Free Skool lectures have been given by women on topics ranging from Appalachian women activists, debt, queer activism, and photo journalism. Furthermore, #OccupyOhioU has been a space that I can talk about my anger, that really anyone can talk about their anger, without being called irrational or infantalized.
That’s pretty feminist to me.
–Elizabeth Chinn, Women’s Center Graduate Assistant