Between my fellow organizers acting like I don’t exist, only treating other men like competent organizers, and the constant “hey pretty girl” and kissy faces while I’m canvassing alone in a strange city, labor organizing while female is not working out well for me today.
Recently, in a conversation with a comrade, I asked him to comment on the ways in which he sees himself enacting and enforcing patriarchy within the left. He did not know how to answer, but instead talked at length about women who had inspired him, and what he learned from them. He talked about trying to build capacity within membership so that we could begin to share decision making and leadership. I wondered about why it was so important for him to work hard to ensure others are taking on leadership roles, and I realized it was because regardless of the work of others around him, he is often both pushing (and getting credit for) many projects and campaigns the left has engaged in recent years. He has a lot of experience and is charming and strong and brave. When people want historical context or strategic advice for a project or action, they go straight to him and he has the skills and knowledge to give great suggestions and perspective, and because he continues to be able to answer these questions well, we are reticent to have these discussions without him. I deserve a way to work within the left that supports me in developing my abilities, but this man will never be able to teach me his magnetism or power.
No matter how many wonderful, feminist men I am informally mentored by, I find that I can neither embody nor learn to hold the power and leadership that they hold more easily. Not because they are not making enough space for me, or because they are not attempting to teach, but because they often can not see the way male privilege has allowed them to achieve their positions of influence. They can’t teach me how to be viewed as a leader, or how to hold power in a way that seems entrenched and appears authoritative to men. The one area I am allowed and expected to have true knowledge and influence is around feminist issues. I am often the first person called when men around me want a “feminist perspective”, or when our study group is discussing feminist (women) writers. On one hand, this makes me feel like I have influence and value to my collective, but on the other, it often feels like men are using my assumed expertise in order to further their own cred as good feminist radicals. If the men of the left were truly interested in delving in to the work of feminism, I believe they would be less likely to call on me to give them the right answer.