A story worth remembering– part I: criticism and controversy

Networking with others, awesomeness, running into the “best people,” being inspired, taking action, and so on. This is what some claim that the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation, is all about. [1] The website of the conference claims it will provide young activists with the opportunity to network, grow their knowledge on pertinent domestic and global feminist issues, and fine-tune their organizing methodology” while discussing a myriad of issues. I went to the conference to find out for myself if this was true.

Instead of writing an article the same way that I wrote others about events I’ve gone to, [2] I thought that it would be important to first highlight views of those who went to the conference, specifically their criticisms. Then, I’ll respond to these views and articulate my own experience at the conference. A sample of those on the twitterverse are as follows:

Some participants also relayed their experience about the conference in articles that they wrote. Both will have pertenient parts quoted. The first of these is by Ferrell Brenner, titled ‘Recap and Looking Back: NYFLC 2014.’ Here are some of the important parts of that article:

“The people from which I learned most were my fellow attendees. And not in the conventional sense. In order to get the full NYFLC experience, one would have to plunge into the Twittersphere headfirst. The conference, though a progressive space for feminist conversations, was problematic in many ways. Privilege went unchecked throughout the weekend. However, during each speech and each workshop, students and attendees who felt excluded from the dialogues did not stay silent…It made me so happy to see that the future of the feminist movement is in the hands of a diverse group of thinkers who see white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and imperialism as a complex interwoven system of oppression, rather than remaining complicit in that system…I would like to list here some of the most popular complaints and examples of exclusion that were cited by Twitter-using attendees…The use of the phrase “you guys” and “men and women” to refer to a group of people, which doesn’t account for women or trans* people…In the opening plenary, all of the male feminists present were recognized and applauded before a queer person or a person of color was even invited to speak…When a queer person finally did speak, this minimal lip service was dedicated to marriage equality…None of the panels, presentations, or discussions about sexual assault were prefaced by a trigger warning…When discussing gender inequality in developing countries, women were implicitly labeled a homogeneous group, with the same political and cultural contexts regardless of whether they were in Somalia or Uzbekistan. This is dangerous because it is simply not true, and promotes a harmful stereotype that all “third world women” are oppressed and in need of saving by a white state…Further, many Middle Eastern countries were lambasted for being dangerous and oppressive places for women, continuing racist perspectives that Middle Eastern [read: Muslim] societies are inherently violent and inferior…The word for this is Orientalism…Gender-neutral bathrooms were hidden in another area of the hotel complex, which presented a problem for trans* attendees…Again, the overall focus on reproductive rights for heterosexual women, though an important issue, was the main focus of the conference but irrelevant to non-heteronormative attendees…The fact of the matter is, queer rights are a feminist issue. Racism is a feminist issue. Systems of privilege and oppression are inherently a feminist issue. If we are seeking equality, we will not find it in a world where women of color are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of white women. If our goal is equality for women, that can’t exist when queer women can be fired from their job and face higher rates of poverty and homelessness…Asking someone to check their privilege is not an attack–it simply is a request that they step back and see a bigger picture, and how they might be inadvertently contributing to a problem.”

Then, there was a second article by a conference attendee about their experience at the conference. This article was by a self-declared black feminist named Kiaya titled ‘National Young Feminist Leadership Conference| #NYFLC2014.’ Here are some pertinent quotes from that article:

“This was my first time at this conference so I was so excited to go! But to be honest I was afraid of the idea that it would be a white feminist conference, and to an extent it was. The first general assembly was exciting and also troublesome. It was exciting in the aspect of being around so many people who identified as feminist…The general assembly meeting took a troublesome turn when the speakers were saying thing such as “Women and Men”, “You Guys”, “LGBT”…Needless to say this was a very heteronormativite conference. Some other problematic issues were a presenter called one woman a “wise Latina”…Another issue that really set me over the edge was they showed a video regarding sexual assault and rape…There were was mentioning of sexual assault and rape on specific college campuses and one of them happened to be my own! No one was warned of the content in that video…[at the session]  Fixing the system: Why Prison Reform Matters to the Feminist Movement…some key take aways…were…Shackling…The jail system was built for men needs, it wasn’t designed for women…The importance of intersectionalty…The justice system targeting minorities…The least cared about people in our society are black girls…Prison Rape Elimination Act…Power Dynamics in prison…The next session I attended was Skill Building. Beyond Hashtags: Building Community and Spreading the Word Through Social and Mainstream Media…This also was very informative since I love social media, and how it can be used for activism. Some key take aways…were…Women are more likely to be trolled…Tools…aren’t the most important, it is who you are reaching and discussing…Building relationships with followers…Go where your audience is…“Talking to people you aren’t reaching”…Don’t get emotional invested in the tool, when it doesn’t work for you anymore discard…Use hashtags…Make sure you have media/technology cleanse…The second general assembly topic was What it Takes: Changing the World through Nonprofit Leadership. Essentially it was a conversation and Q & A with women nonprofit leaders….I must say I would have liked to hear from feminist leaders who came out of college with no money and didn’t have much assistance from home. Only because that’s the situation I will be in. There was mention of taking unpaid internships for experience….That whole unpaid internship is reserved for a privilege individual and honey I am not one…After that assembly there was special caucuses, I choose to attend Women of Color. There was so much beauty and rawness in that room. It was literally one of those things you had to be there to experience the true magic…After a long day, it ended with Feminist Meetup and Mentoring Rounds: You in 5 years. This is when I meet my favorite person at the conference Erin Matson (Editor at Large at RH Reality Check)! She essentially was my saving grace! Talking to her she could tell I was going through some ethical issues when it came to picking a career. I was currently struggling with working an entry level non profit job (not making no money) or working in cooperate America…THAT IS JUST WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR! She discussed how you can still be active in your community and with feminism by volunteering and community organizing. Next she told me something that was also very necessary [which was] Never take an unpaid internship.”

There were others who felt completely differently about the conference. The conservative media including Fox News, The Blaze, and other self-declared ‘conservatives,’ has seemingly blew up in recent days attacking the conference and its attendees for discouraging a woman who was part of the group, Campus Reform, to ask attendees about their views on feminism.Before one makes further conclusions, consider that Campus Reform says that it works to expose “bias and abuse on the nation’s college campuses” and is a project of the Leadership Institute which “teaches conservatives of all ages how to succeed in politics, government, and the media” and “actively supports the entire conservative movement” as their website. For some clarification, on this, I turn to the twitterverse:

Finally, there were a number of ‘reminders’ of confronting one’s privilege, lack of certain types of thought, etc… at the conference by conference attendees as well. These are as follows

The next part of this article will address my experience at this conference.

Notes
[1] See Carmen on autostraddle.com and a post by the Ohio chapter of the National Organization of Women.

[2] These include events I went to like: last year’s environmental conference of the youth (PowerShift), a protest against the proposed war in Syria in Baltimore, Artscape 2013 also in Baltimore, a protest outside Fort Meade for Chelsea Manning, a march against Monsanto in Hunt Valley, my self-protest against Zero Dark Thirty, the huge march against Keystone XL and those concerned about climate change in February 2013,  and others I’ve written about, like CCAN coming to my college’s campus about CovePoint, and my talk with a my school’s radical environmental group.

About interestingblogger

I'm a social activist and a person interested in politics in general. I want to make a change and have a more just world for all.
This entry was posted in activism, conferences, feminism, Politics, Struggle. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A story worth remembering– part I: criticism and controversy

  1. Pingback: A story worth remembering– part 2: my experience | Beyond the Barricade

  2. Pingback: Listing the articles of Beyond The Barricade | Beyond the Barricade

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