Sunday, October 28, 2007

consciousness raising groups

How to start your own consciousness-raising group Reprinted from a leaflet distributed by The Chicago Women's Liberation Union (1971) (Editors Note: The CWLU organized many consciousness raising groups around the city.)

Consciousness-raising groups are the backbone of the Women's Liberation Movement. All over the country women are meeting regularly to share experiences each has always thought were "my own problems". A lot of women are upset by remarks men make to us on the street, for instance, but we think other women handle the situation much better than we do, or just aren't bothered as much. Through consciousness-raising we begin to understand ourselves and other women by looking at situations like this in our own lives. We see that "personal problems shared by so many others--not being able to get out of the house often enough, becoming exhausted from taking care of the children all day, perhaps feeling trapped--are really Political problems. Understanding them is the first step toward dealing with them collectively, whether in forming a day care center, exploring job possibilities, or planning the best strategy for getting our husbands to help with the housework.

It's easy to form a group of your own. Here's how: A consciousness-raising group consists of a small number of women (generally not more than 12) who meet informally once a week at a member's home or women's center. Ask friends to bring friends--it isn't necessary to know everyone.

... A different topic could be chosen each week, and everyone discusses it in terms of her own life. Go around in a circle, each woman talking in turn so that everyone speaks; this keeps anyone from dominating a discussion and helps keep on the topic. After everyone has talked (when you start your own group you will find it isn't hard to speak in a small, close group), you might want to discuss the information you gained as you went around the room. The first meeting: each person can talk about why she wants to join Women's Liberation, what she thinks the group will be like, and tells a little bit about her own background and how she came to be at the meeting. This breaks the ice very effectively.

Topics: a different one each week or so. They should be both specific and basic. Here is a partial list of topics that other groups have discussed:
why did you marry the man you did? (or date the man you do?)
How do you feel men see you? ...
Do you think that what you do with your day is as important as what your husband does with his day?
What did you want to do in life?
What kept you from doing it?
How did you learn as a little girl what "feminine" meant?
Do you worry about being "truly feminine"?
What does "femininity" mean to you in terms of your own life?
What did you do as a little girl that was different from what little boys did? Why?
Did you ever want to do anything else?
What did your parents teach you about sex?
How do you feel about menstruation?
How did you feel when you had your first period?
What was your first sex experience?
What is a "nice girl"? Were you a "nice girl"?
Do you pretend to have an orgasm?
Have you had an abortion?
How do you feel about being pregnant?
Do you enjoy taking care of your children? All the time?
What hopes do you have for your daughter? For your son? Are these hopes different? If so, why?
Do you think you could get a better job? Why not?
Do you compete with other women? In what ways?
Are you economically dependent on a man?
How do you relate to women of a different economic status and/or race?
What things do you have in common? What things differ?
What do you feel about lesbianism? What do you know about it?
Who was Sojourner Truth? Elizabeth Cady Stanton?
What do we know about our history as women?
What is the basis of love between a woman and a man?
Between a woman and a woman?
Between parent and child?

You don't have to stick to this list. Other topics will present themselves. At the end of each meeting you can choose the topic for the next week. After a period of several months, your group might want to begin study or action projects. CWLU has literature available and a special introductory packet that might provide a good basis for discussion.

Your group might want to start its own action project; for example, a group in California joined the picket line of women factory workers who were protesting discriminatory hiring practices, a group in Washington, D.C. held hearings on the pill, several groups began newspapers and magazines. or, you can check to see what on-going projects are happening in the city that you might want to become involved with: learning how to give pregnancy tests, having a study group in the Liberation School for Women, doing abortion counseling, working for childcare, etc. The CWLU office (927-1790) can put you in touch with these projects. Starting new groups: Once your group has begun, you will find that other friends want to join. Some will want to come as guests. But consciousness- raising really depends on participation. Sisterhood doesn't come from just listening. It is important to keep the group small enough for everyone to participate. What you can do is keep a list of women who express interest. When your group has met four or five times you will be confident enough so that two or three of you can help a new group get started from the list. Go to the first meeting or two, to make sure the new group gets off on the right track. Every week new groups start all over the country. Before you know it, you will have several groups in your area, and you will begin to feel that you really belong to a movement.

3 comments:

hollywoodnorth said...

sorry to do a post like this but I am really interested in your work. I went to your website to order some zines, but it says to send an email when you live in Canada, and the email wouldn't go through. I couldn't find anywhere else to get a hold of you so I thought that this would be best.

Thanks!

email @ this_is_brainwash@hotmail.com

Darlin' said...

I think that some of those questions are [arguably] "leading questions" -- i.e., questions with an agenda.

"What did you want to do?"
"What kept you from doing it?"

A life isn't over until it's over, even, believe it or not, for a "pre-liberated" woman. I'd drop the past tense: "What do you want to do? What keeps you from doing it?"

Also, "femininity" is a word and a concept in desperate need of transgressive reexamination and the use of the inverted comma seems to suggest that it was "femininity" keeping us down all this time.

And finally, questions that highlight the fact that some of us have had access and/or exposure to some kind of liberal education, either formal or informal -- and that some of us have not ("Who was Sojourner Truth? Elizabeth Cady Stanton?" Because, let's face it, even though it shouldn't be so, liberal education/exposure is the only way a woman gets to know about these things since they're not exactly widely publicised)seem to kind of put a girl on the spot, no?

I believe it's time to move towards a more intimate and personal awareness of feminism and femininity wherein we name our own role models and define our own terms. To "educate" women, even amongst ourselves, is more of the same shit. It's time we facilitated one another's individual voices rather than seeking to lay down yet another fucking gospel on what a woman should or should not be.

Just sayin', and it's with all possible love and sisterhood.

X Darlin'.

doris zine blog said...

oh, I totally agree. It is dated and problamatic, and that the feminist movement of those days opened up a whole world where now we can challenge even more than they were able to, and create a world even more fabulous than they were able to imagine. I like the consciousness raising group model, and published this just as a stepping stone for people to brainstorm up their own discussion questions. I probably should have said something about that.
thanks!