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What is a feminist practice in a time when the entire world is pushed into a one-size-fits-all way of living and working? Is there one thing everyone, everywhere can just do in the blink of an eye, considering we all live in different contexts, circumstances, economies...?
How can we claim that “the personal is political” when all spaces are reduced to just one, the personal: the house, the flat, the room, the shack?
What if this "personal space" that hosts our bodies as well as our minds and hearts is not really a separate space we can hold and control, but is shaped and designed by invasive, often violent power structures?
What if the private space where we are enclosed belongs to parents, partners, larger traditional families, landlords? A shared, precarious, non-existent physically separated-from-the-rest kind of space?
What if this precious fragile personal space exists just in the digital realm as an online account hosted on proprietary, unsafe, intrusive data-driven platforms, accessed on shared devices through an expensive data package and surveilled and spied on?
How would the “personal is political” feminist practice resonate then?
Feminism is an imperfect and on-trial political practice. It is not a magic word and never had a magic wand. It smells and is tainted by privileges running across race, gender, class, caste, age, disability... But as a practice of solidarity and hope, it is powerful, creative, transformative, contextual and inspired by our lived realities.
Mind/heart/stomach came all together and a shift happened. We are then moved, enlightened, transformed by a collective intelligence driven by feminism, solidarity and recognition of each other...
Here are some reflections and highlights of our feminist practices in forced lockdowns and remote lives:
What do boundaries mean? (Leila from Madrid)
For many of us, work, activism and social life are so intertwined that it’s a big challenge to know how to establish boundaries, and yet boundaries are key to care and self-care. Especially as feminists and human rights defenders, as we’re easily trapped in our activists’ sense of duty and our passion for what we do.
I’m going through this pandemic in Madrid, one of the most affected capitals in the world, and have stayed in confinement for over a month now. Learning how to establish boundaries is proving difficult, as we’re constantly bombarded with information on the death toll, the overwhelming situation that health care workers and other collectives face, and the fact that vulnerable people are increasingly vulnerable.
It’s particularly difficult to set these boundaries when it comes to people you love and care about. So many messages, questions, requests, needs for exchange and reassurance… and yet, it’s key to find moments to close it all to protect one’s self. How to do that without feeling guilt, distress, or just shutting down?
Something I’ve noticed is that I’m increasingly aware, and careful, of the content I consume. In the same way that I now nurture myself better, with better food, cooking everyday, treating myself with the meals I like and I know will keep me strong and healthy, I am learning something that does not come easy as a person who works in the daily management, curating and sharing of information. At a time like this, it’s more important than ever to carefully choose the content we consume and share online. To become more disciplined in how we live online, just like we do offline.
For me, this means trying to disconnect from social media when I’m not at work or doing activism. It also means being particularly careful with what I share or send to others. Violent and graphic content without warning has a very damaging effect, even more so at a time when we’re hypersensitive and don’t have our usual resources to channel grief and pain.
It also means being better at saying “No”, and “I can’t”, when I feel overwhelmed with all the apps, screens and tools that have replaced my tangible life, the hugs, the kisses, the closeness, my personal and social interactions. Saying no, as a feminist and human rights defender, is key to keep doing what we do in a sustainable way, and yet it challenges many of the assumptions we internalised as little girls.
For me this process is going hand in hand with being better at verbalising when I feel that I can’t consume any more information, exchange any more thoughts, utter or take in any more words. And, of course, understanding and accepting when others need the same.
#feministinternet is a rainbow of many forms of resistance (hvale from Sarajevo)
When all this started I had been flooded almost drowned avidly reading, scrolling, commenting and sharing statuses and statuses.
Each and every turn of #covid19, the dreadful hashtag was getting me lost and despairing.
Then, once and again, someone offered a hand, someone else responded and one tweet after the other, a way out took shape, which was and is, indeed a way in.
“A network is only as strong as the people that are part of it.” All my networks are overwhelmingly feminist so I turn to them as they turn to each other. I started looking for feminist words of hope of politics of practices. I was looking for the obvious to be said, for the cry about injustice to be transformed into one of solidarity and beauty. Yes, beauty, I needed and I need in this rarified virtual grossly “viral” world to see and touch and sense the many worlds I belong, the many worlds that gently, generously let me in and I wanted to open my world too. To share beyond fear, to laugh sharply at the absurd and to be kind to ourselves.
Feminism for me is a mantra, a chant, a political spiritual discipline (I have been failed as materialist each and every time I have tried) I believed with all myself, it improves listening, it generates and heightens energy and it makes us tuning and sensing toward others.
It really is a simple mantra once you start practising. It’s composed by the magical names of the people that circle you. The closer, the far away and the not-yet-met in the street of face-to-face life. But that’s why the internet is and will be always the blessed multiverse I will always keep going back to.
Smita a great young human living in Mumbai and fighting with memes and book sharing and stories of loves and queerness. Checking on me as I check on them. Jac and Mallory with their Twitter threads, demystifying tech and speak of possible #remoteworking practices, the same we have shared for many years. The anonymous poetry in my inbox because someone initiated a circle and it expanded and expanded. Shubha and the generous collective of Body and Data, getting up and running to fight against false news and hate spreading. Azar, my best friend in Sarajevo and their story of a night dog’s walk that became a tragicomic run.
Life is about relationships and taking care of the selves, it happens while taking care of each other. Nurturing and putting relationships as the daily practice is a gentle opening of the selves. A phone call, a tweet, an article is a lifeline. It is the magic potion of solidarity regenerating again and again. Every day I try to talk, share the stronger and the weaker self with few people. Feminism is always in there, as the mantra, as the chant weaved in the way I type on my laptop and in the way I talk. I need feminism talks, imaginaries to believe we are building the many tomorrows while going through the ugliness of the many todays.
I do not search for news anymore, I look for imaginaries that expand me, nurture me, make me thrive in togetherness:
In these stressful times, we're trying to self-isolate & avoid public spaces unless it's absolutely essential. But self-isolation doesn't have to mean loneliness! We're loving this series by [IG] hellomynameiswednesday — via @queer_abad. #COVID19 #selfisolation (1/2) pic.twitter.com/JO1v1CKyL8
— Point of View (@povmumbai) March 17, 2020
Feminist inspiration for community care (Shivani from Mumbai)
Experiencing a crisis such as this – the coronavirus pandemic – has made everything seem blurry.The world as I knew it is over. A few weeks ago, I had plans for the future and now I don’t know what that future even looks like. And some of us, who are not as fortunate as others, can’t help but wonder if there is a future at all – if there is even a tomorrow. All that talk about this virus being a great leveller is bogus and an attempt to pacify privilege guilt. As we have seen over the last three months, all over the world, vulnerable groups – gender minorities (not limited to cis gendered women), refugees, religious minorities and daily wage workers – are affected disproportionately during this crisis. For a lot of people, it took a pandemic to realise that quarantine is a luxury that only some of us can afford when large sections of our society live on daily wages – only being able to manage “essentials” one day at a time.
For me, it’s the social media and constant barrage of news shoved down my throat that makes it worse. Of course, everything going on is horrifying, but we’re also trying, in our own little ways, to make our days a tiny bit brighter and better. This is what makes up a large part of my learning of feminist living, practising and principles – community care and responsibility.
I have been thinking a lot about “essentials” during this time. As quarantine is our new normal, essentials for everyday life mean everything that we need for sustenance. So, when you think of essentials, mental health and self-care are not the first things that come to mind, but these are as important to our lives as food, water, medicines, etc. In my experience, in the last couple of weeks, as the situation is getting worse in some parts of the world I have been bombarded with information. This is not information that I volunteered to seek. Information is great, news is great – especially during this time we are sharing information purely out of concern, care and caution. However, it’s affecting me in ways I never imagined it would. My anxiety is through the roof. I am unable to focus on work, my care, care for my loved ones – it makes me want to bundle up in a corner and cry. What’s worse is that I am afraid, if my anxiety has reached its peak, what happens next – apathy?
We are vulnerable and clinging to any and every little thing that may give us a sense of normalcy. This includes reaching out to others, but reaching out to others should not be limited to sharing links of articles and news constantly. I think it should also mean being mindful, stopping and thinking before we hit send.
I am fortunate to be alive in a time where technology and digital media is helping me stay connected with everyone who is physically so far away from me. I am fortunate to be able to access information from anywhere in the world through my screens. But I am also living in a time where we’re not mindful of our asks from people, not being responsible before sharing content, not respecting boundaries. So, now when I think about community care and support during these times, I will also think about being responsible.
I have started by reducing the number of articles/content I’m sharing and the frequency of sharing in a day. Personally, it has helped me to shift from reading news every hour to reading only analysis pieces.
I am also reminding myself to ask people if they have the bandwidth to read/listen something I found online before I share it; their consent guides the exchange.
We’re living in the times of misinformation and disinformation and it’s our responsibility to do our best preliminary check to ensure the information we want to share is verified. Perhaps, sometimes, the best way to care for others starts with the the very same care we seek for ourselves.
Links to some articles that inspired the above reflections:
COVID-19: A Feminist Killjoy’s Rant On Toxic Productivity In The Academy
Covid-19: Why Are Sanitary Products Not Deemed As ‘Essential’?
What are your practices, highlights and inspirations?
We started writing to make sense of our contradictions and hopes for ourselves. To share some of the ways we navigate the immense landslides of information as well as the solitude and spiraling of fears brought continuously to us any time we venture out on the streets of real life or of the internet. While doing this we learned about each other and we also shared and acknowledged the many existing feminist ways of doing. So we share, with our contradictions and practices, the solutions and advice coming from this ongoing mutual feminist peer support. What are your practices, highlights and inspirations?
More about hvale, Leila and Shivani.
Check out the Feminist Principles of the Internet, a series of statements that offer a gender and sexual rights lens on critical internet-related rights.
Visit the GenderIT website for articles, news, podcasts, videos, comics and more on internet policy and cultures from a feminist and intersectional perspective, privileging voices and expressions from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Arabic-speaking countries and Eastern Europe.
Image: Collage by Flavia Fascendini.