Tuesday, February 10, 2009

out of the ordinary

This past Sunday I was invited to facilitate a workshop at the University of Florida's Annual Women's Leadership Conference.  I've facilitated workshops there in the past, usually with LBG(TQ) as my partner in crime.  This year however, it was just me.  Flying solo was odd, but interesting and somewhat empowering knowing I could do it on my own.  And I learned quite a bit from my audience...  more than I originally expected.

I presented a workshop I designed and facilitated last November for an internship I was doing at the Civic Media Center.  The workshop, Feminism in Media, focused on popular forms of media and the importance of having a feminist voice included/present.  Since magazines, zines, phamphlets, and now blogs are some of the most popular and accessible outlets for generating dialogues around feminist issues and concerns, I felt it was important to explore and discuss what such a presence looks like.  The goals of the workshop included, but were not limited to: creating a working definition of feminist media, providing/exploring historical background on where it has been, and sought to present examples of feminist publications, blogs, and zines.

The last time I facilitated the workshop people had 1) heard of all or most of the publications I discussed, 2) majority were familiar generally familiar with feminism and or self-defined feminists, and 3) were willing to engage in a dialogue/debate.  I had brought in 30-40 copies of issues of bitch, BUST, off our backs, Venus, Adbusters, The Nation, Harpers, Mother Jones, and GOOD.  I had laid the items out all over the front table and encouraged people to come up and check them out.  People were hesitant at first, but either out of boredom or curiosity, eventually came up and took a look.  I spent the 10 minutes (which felt like hours) of the workshop pulling teeth to get people to talk.  I have a newfound respect and admiration for instructors and teachers who constantly speak to a room full of seemingly uninterested people who may or may not be staring blankly at you.  Highly nerve racking and frustrating experience.  But we soon found some common ground and people warmed up to the idea of talking.  Probably after I told them, "You know, this is going to suck if you all don't want to talk.  This is an informal chat, so there's no need to feel uncomfortable.  I'm not giving you a grade or anything and I'm no expert on this.  I'm just another student with a fascination and passion for sharing.  Honestly we'd be sitting in a circle if the chairs weren't connected, and I'd be in jeans and a t-shirt if they'd had let me."  That made them smile a bit and broke down the whole expert/passive information sponge dichotomy.  

Since the audience was more "mainstream" than my previous (the Civic Media Center is an alternative reading room and library for non-corporate press thus generally attracting the "alternative/hippie" crowd) I had intended on tying in bigger name publications such as Cosmo and Glamor and comparing them to bitch, BUST, and Venus.  But since the group had never heard about the majority of the above titles, we ended up discussing if Cosmo could be considered feminist in any capacity.  Which, was very interesting.  

We then discussed blogs and internet outlets.  Particularly a social networking site utilized by the Greek (not as in Greece, but as in Sorority/Fraternity) community at UF called JuicyCampus.  I had never heard of the site and immediately felt old and out of touch.  Apparently the site was something like twitter (or something of that nature) where you could post comments about Greek life and specific people.  The site was recently shut down because it was slanderous and downright horrible (people were discussing top 5 people to sleep with and who gave the best blow jobs).  While I'd never read or seen any of this, I jumped at the chance to discuss the whore/madonna labels and question why there wasn't more solidarity between sororities.  We started discussing how if members of sororities stopped tolerating the sort of treatment/stereotypes/behavior from their so called brothers, the brothers would be forced to change their ways... or at least question it.  If you don't accept being called a whore or slut, the term looses its power and sting.  The same reaction isn't presented, and the motivation behind someone calling another that is lost.  It was as if a hundred light-bulbs turned on at one time.  While not ever imagined to be an intended goal, I felt the talk was very productive.  We then discussed things like heteronormativity, body image, etc  and the role glamor magazines, media, and advertising in creating/reinforcing these constructions.

By the end of my 50 minutes, I felt we had all learned something... or at least entertained me to the fact that we had.  I also had 3 people come up and tell me how much they enjoyed the workshop and where could they find the publications I'd talked about?  Another informed me they were excited to explore the hand out and list of websites I'd provided.  

Honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better response.  For such a rocky start, I'd say it was an overall success.  I'd might even venture to guess Oscar nominee... just kidding.  It also happened to be the self-esteem booster I'd been needing for some time.  I'd been feeling pretty crappy about my abilities to do anything right lately.  And a group of complete strangers did what my friends and family have been trying to do for years: assure me that I was good at something and what I had to say was valid.

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