IN AUGUST the New York Times compared a shot of the Ferguson protests and police violence to a picture taken by photographer Danny Lyon of a moment in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. This juxtaposition served as a stark reminder of how much was accomplished by that work, but also how much still needs to change.
On September 14th in Los Angeles, singer-songwriter Kate Nash will host the first open Girl Gang Collective meet-up at The Smell in LA. Last week Nash posted a flier on her blog encouraging “feminist girls and boys” to get together on a weekly basis to “discuss things personal to you” and “explore creative ideas on how you can raise awareness of feminism, sexism, and issues important to you.”
One catalyst for Nash was the rallying around Ferguson and the realization that many young people are, due on the connectivity and freedom of social media, becoming politically conscious in a way that they have not been for some time.
The idea of bringing together people to share their experiences in order to organize politically was actually instigated by the Civil Rights Movement among African Americans and then adopted by feminists in the late ‘60s. Back then they called it consciousness raising. CR, as it was known, was essentially about making more people aware of their own oppression as a group and providing support. Some saw it as the core strength of the feminist movement.
Just as Nash has done with her shareable flier, groups like New York Radical Women would pass out leaflets explaining how to hold a CR meeting and their motivation of fostering bonding and creative thinking. Women would ask each other about their experiences of sexism in order to raise the consciousness of others. At the time some tried to put down their efforts by saying it was just a therapeutic exercise, but feminists argued that railing against the kind of isolation that Nash writes on – today in relation to the Los Angeles lifestyle and our increasingly busy, work-orientated lives – was an important political act of resistance.
Nash hopes that Girl Gangs will spring up around the world (there’s already one underway in Manchester, England) and coordinate to share experiences and ideas with each other, utilizing the best of social media to make those connections.
Explaining her idea behind Girl Gang meet-ups, Nash writes, “This is not about sitting online and debating whether Miley Cyrus is a good or bad example for young girls, or whether shaving your pu**y is a political or personal choice. I feel very lucky that I wake up every morning and don’t have to shave my toes, but I can if I want to. Yay for me! Thank you feminism, genuinely. But I feel unhappy that still so many girls are afraid of having a voice, they are encouraged to be silenced… I feel like it’s our responsibility together to start making noise, taking action. We need to have a more “fight it” attitude, get angry, make some waves, be loud.”
Whether Nash realizes it or not, she is part of a feminist tradition. If we look at recent online campaigns like ‘Why I’m Not a Feminist’ or the Twitter Feminism in-fighting and nastiness that has in itself caused some women to feel unable to enter the conversation, it looks like she might really be onto something here. How much could we benefit from taking this discussion offline? Would we have more of an effective movement if we didn’t waste so much time misunderstanding each other? As Nash writes, “The internet can empower me as much as I can let it dumb me down. I’ve realised it’s a choice,” but maybe to move forward we need to meet face-to-face?
In a 2010 article for On The Issues magazine founding member of New York Radical Women Carol Hanisch explored the history of CR and concluded, “Safely settling in behind computers and interacting on Facebook and other social networks—though certainly useful—has its limits. Consciousness-raising groups of the grassroots are a badly needed antidote to a good deal of what is wrong with feminism today… it could even jumpstart a new era of radical change.”
As I’ve said before, celebrity-endorsement of feminism is great, but might Nash’s Girl Gang be what we’ve really been waiting for?