REcap + 6 Lessons Learned from Our Women's Day Event / by Julie Schumacher

In a two week sprint, we put together a full-day program for International Women's Day. In some ways, moving that quickly allowed us to not get stuck in all that can happen when time is on your side. No long engagement and Pinterest boards here, this was a shotgun style celebration. 

But at Forth we do things with as much thought as we can, even when we're moving fast. The teacher in me needed a progression and logic and, I swear, as we thought about the day a natural arc took hold. Screenings interspersed with opportunities to educate and connect. We started with a screening of Miss Representation. Then, a chance to get centered and create space with Dana Frost and Paige Worthy.

From there, with our open minds and hearts, a spirited discussion on intersectional feminism, the keystone of this whole dang thing, was led by Amelia Hruby.

 

After digging in to what it meant to be intersectional, why it's essential, and with a full house, we screened 13th. If that movie doesn't knock you on your ass, I don't know what will. 

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And then, after learning about the injustices heaped on people of color and the prison industrial complex, a chance to reflect on the personal: microaggressions with Rebecca Miller-Webster

So, yea, the teacher in me was thrilled with the offerings and the flow. All in all, well done us!

Yes, well done. But that doesn't mean we did it all right. Almost from the moment we created the event, we were given pushback from the larger community. No ugly trolling, mercifully, but general inquiry and questioning.

If you know me in the real world, you know I am super self-deprecating. The truth is I can poke fun at myself but I do NOT like to mess up. I.do.not. Not one little bit. So owning where I didn't do the best job is agonizing.

But if white women are going to stand in our roles as allies and amplifiers, we need to get a bit more comfortable being told when we drop a ball, intentionally or not. It was a message I heard loud and clear at the recent panel on intersectional feminism Jenna Blazevich organized and my younger-than-me role model Taylor Bryant participated in. WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO HEAR WHERE WE'VE FAILED when we = me and me = white, straight, at least middle class, able bodied, cis lady.

So, then, in the spirit of Forth's deep invested in reflection, I dug in. The good, the less than good, the opportunities. Here are six things I tried to do and could've done better, in the order in which they happened. 

Six Lessons Learned

1. Ask

get over yourself and Ask for what you need. ask for what you might not even know is possible.

Initially I had hoped maybe a few of the women I already knew who ran their own businesses would want to get together on the strike day. Maybe some of them would need to work for some of the time so we could be super chill about where and what.

As difficult as it is for me to ask for help or as for a favor, I swallowed my inherent need to do it all myself and started asking if folks were interested. Marcy had reached out about collaborating for an event so I asked. She offered The Living Room, just about the most perfect space ever. Cozy and malleable and beautiful. I tossed in our Forth member group if anyone would want to, you know, do a thing. I asked a neighbor who's a talented musician if she might want to come and sing with us. Once the event went public, women I didn't know (yet) offered to bring supplies. The responses blew me away. It was like Yes Town. People wanted to see this day be successful. 

It was a really important reminder that any pride I'd get out of sweeping my arms past something of my own creation with eyebrows raised is trumped, eclipsed and surpassed by what a group can do together. Ain't that solidarity?

2. Exhale

Listen to (reasonable) criticism with an open mind. defensiveness doesn't help get much done.

When you think you are doing something awesome and someone pushes back, do you get defensive? I sure do. When the first feedback for the event that came in was "This is awesome!" I though "You bet it is!" 

And then we got the first few comments asking questions or challenging things. We'd worked hard (in the short time we had) to be intersectional and inclusive, to include and connect. I got mad. I can own that. How dare someone not be just straight up grateful? I was giving time, energy, sleep willingly! 

There were some things I couldn't do anything about, including the one asking us to change the date. I am not sure I have much sway with the International Women's Day organizers so I let that one go.

But the rest, I needed to be open minded to. I needed to not be defensive. I needed to exhale and listen, read the comments and not immediately dismiss them because my feelings were hurt. 

3. Engage

Share your perspective. sometime education and information can go along way.

Once I got off my high horse and looked around I realized the best first thing to do was engage and educate. For many women coming across the event, it looked awesome but might be without context. They might not realize Forth is at its core an organization for, by and about women entrepreneurship. They might not see that all of our founders are moms or were, on the day of the event, literally in the process of becoming a mom.

To engage calmly and respectfully meant reading what these folks were saying and considering it. No knee-jerk reaction, no blocking comments. No ignoring. Engaging and offering the reasoning behind what we were doing. The why that surrounded the what, where and who. Thanking people for writing, assuming the best of their comments and questions (again, because nothing felt troll-y) and then responding while consciously not getting peeved. Did I complain a bit behind the scenes? I did and I can own that. But we tried to have our responses be representative of the spirit of the event. 

4. Improve

Where you can and whenever you can, make the thing you are doing even better.

The first improvements came before we ever went live. Having team members review what was going up meant seeing the ways I missed a chance to be more inclusive. I'll own that I mentioned as many aspects of diverse female identity as I could and missed remembering to see how accessible the space was. It was another set of eyes, our rad intern Amelia, who caught that. 

In some cases, engaging meant a simple explanation like "I wish we could! But we can't. Here's why." and then being ok that we might disappoint someone.

And in other cases, it meant mindfully adapting the language of the event based on feedback. Did we mean to say it that way? How could we say it better?

A last example was reimagining some of the event based on the feedback. While we couldn't accommodate older kids all day, how could we think creatively to try to incorporate them? Shannon, the protest song singalong leader, was open to kids attending her end-of-the-day portion which was planned for right as school got out. Did we have a thousand kids show up? We didn't, but intention matters even when impact isn't ginormous.

5. Amplify

Other events and people can do what you can't. Amplify those aligned with your values and you'll help more people.

Once I got over my never-ending desire to be all things to all women, I realized there was a damn good chance someone was offering events, programming or activities that did things we couldn't. Or did things we were doing in a different way. Or offered other things.

A quick search uncovered a work-friendly event that was offering childcare as well as an all-day, kid-friendly but less work-friendly event. Both were right nearby! And awesome! 

We added those events into our description. We went back and linked it to people looking for different things who had queried in our event. We tweeted it and shared it with organizers of other things. While I had to squelch my fears that I'd be sitting by myself all day while these other events were bumpin', I also had a heartswell of heck-yeas for all the incredible offerings and options around Chicagoland.

6. Encourage

Cheerlead the efforts to make the world a better place, especially those of folks just getting started. Activists aren't made in a day.

I can't help but plan things. Community building is what I am wired to do. And even I sometimes get overwhelmed. If someone isn't wired that way, or might be but hasn't tried yet or has other life happening (because oh that happens), the thought of putting anything together, whether a small get together to a city-wide Woman's March might be paralyzing. 

In the ways that we could, we wanted to remind women that whatever they could do on 3/8 was great. Great! Wear red at work? Fantastic! Get together at lunch and talk about intersectional feminism? Hell yea! Invite a few other stay at home moms over for a solidarity playdate? I love it!

We'll get beat down by the rest of the world, thanks world, plenty of times. Maybe a few of us will do more or feel secure in what we can do if there's encouragement from all sides. In this case, beyond amplifying the message of people trying to do something large, celebrating and honoring what every woman could do or wanted to do is part of what the day is all about. 

So there are six things I learned and hope to keep close to me as I continue to stay aware, stay active and stay engaged. I am already dreaming of how the day could unfold next year. Stay tuned...Same Feminist Time, Same Feminist Channel!

What did you learn on A Day Without A Woman? What would you do the same or different next year?

Big solidarity-filled hugs. -Julie