Patriarchy, Ambition, and Costumes, Oh My!

By Caroline Midden

PAC Line
On all 3 of my visits to Compersia, I’ve ended up in a glittery cape, thanks to Meren, my fashion advisor and good friend.

Greetings, Communards! It’s Caroline from The Midden in Columbus, OH, on a visitor period to Compersia in DC. I’ve been here 11 days, and have been participating in the labor system, exploring the city on foot and by car, wrangling children, and connecting with various other visitors– Sitali, Telos, Mary, and Beaux. Telos arrived a couple days ago, and he and I have been job searching, updating resumes, cooking, and just connecting in general. Yay!

When I first arrived, the house was nearly empty. Peaches, Courtney (and Telos) all went up to the HONK! Festival in Boston along with some other communards, Maximus Cambia and Paxus Twin Oaks. The children were staying elsewhere. Kathryn and her visiting mother Mary took a trip to Dolly Sods for a weekend adventure. GPaul was on a month-long trip to the west coast. I found myself nearly alone after having survived a particularly challenging yoga class, when Jenny emerged in the backyard in a snazzy dress and makeup. She had a date later in the evening, and so we decided to go out to dinner beforehand to talk about membership. I donned a dress and some glitter and we walked to Thip Khao, a Laotian restaurant. The verdict: DELICIOUS. En route we encountered these fantastical huge mushrooms.

PAC shrooms

While it was just me and Jenny in the house we got to have a couple really good conversations about patriarchy, alpha men and white male privilege in the communities movement, and the damaging and lasting effects that this stuff can have on women. Even when we try to dismantle these systems in an intentional way, we’re so indoctrinated by society that it’s easy to reproduce this shit in our communities without even realizing. Patriarchy isn’t a just a women’s problem, or just a men’s problem. It’s a multilayered system full of subtleties.

Top takeaways: as a woman you’ll often find yourself on the losing end of any proposition. You may not even realize there was a power dynamic until it’s too late. You may end up with more work to do, or you have have surrendered your self-determination into the hands of a man (who may or may not even want to be The Decider!) Don’t beat yourself up about it when you do finally realize. Take notice of how it went down, and look for early warning signs next time. Because there will always be a next time. Refine your ability to notice the nuance, inquire within about your own internalized patriarchy, and choose your actions carefully. There’s no one right way to subvert the patriarchy. Outright refusal to be complicit, gentle on-on-one conversations, banding together to build power together, dancing about it, smashing about it… Creativity counts.

PAC cat

 

But enough about patriarchy. How about cats?! There are 3 hammocks hanging in the back yard. (Twin Oaks hammocks, obviously.) One night I went out to hang and this lil fluffer joined me for some cuddles. I’m allergic, but really couldn’t resist. A nice moment of decompression after some deep emotional work.

PAC wookie

Compersians often appear to be in to costumes from my perspective from under a cape, but I’m told that in fact, there’s a desire to increase costume time. Courtney has been rocking the Wookie costume for a couple days now. I’ve suggested they start an adult costume closet, so they can combine forces and always have ridiculous things to wear. Like Commie Clothes, but Commie Costumes.

Courtney and I had a couple substantial conversations during my time here, one in particular stood out, and included Telos and Kathryn. The conversation was about a phrase we have all heard said by a number of community members, “We want to be an ambitious commune.” At first blush, this struck a number of us oddly. Like, is this Ableism in action? Or is it some domineering work ethic, similar to the one white people imposed on black people in this country for centuries? Why would it be a good thing to be ambitious? Wasn’t Hitler ambitious? So we dug in a little more and expanded and modified the idea. What if it’s not the communards being individually ambitious, but the COMMUNE itself? If the community hones in on it’s ideals and dreams and pursues them relentlessly, can’t that be a good way to be ambitious? For the good of the whole, and not as a competitive individualistic pursuit? More people living communally is a good thing. Let’s pursue that together, with gusto. This is obviously a conversation that has a lot more room to evolve, but this conversation appeared to be a second draft of what it means to “be an ambitious commune.”

PAC climbers

On Thursday night, Peaches came home from visiting family in Maine with new ideas for building a swinging bed from the rafters in the living room. (Not gonna happen.) On Friday, GPaul came home from a grand train adventure across the country. The children were clearly happy to have their jungle gym back. (Not pictured: Solomon and his awesome new mohawk.) There’s a new 20-foot shipping container for bike storage, and it’s full of bikes. Which is great! Except we lost the key. So that’s a thing… Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of antics and mayhem from this thriving young urban commune we call Compersia.

 

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Patriarchy, Ambition, and Costumes, Oh My!

Feminist Think Tank: Past and Future

from The Leaves of Twin Oaks, Spring 2017

FemTO1

The Feminist Think Tank (FTT) group at Twin Oaks began in fall of 2015 in response to concerns about inter-community boundary-crossing issues. It’s gone through some changes since then and has recently re-formed. Originally, our process team was tasked with looking at the sexual assault and harassment response policy and organized a focus group meeting of women to help guide the process. This group continued to meet and ended up discussing all sorts of feminist issues at twin oaks, gradually inviting some gender-non-conforming folks and men to attend every other meeting. Over time, the group became more focused on events and activism in the community.

In our first year, we accomplished many things:

  • movie showing
  • play reading
  • two consent workshops
  • feminist dance party
  • feminist creek walk
  • reviving monthly women’s tea for female visitors
  • two men’s meetings
  • women’s (and mixed) tool-using workshops
  • introducing the values oreo to the visitor program
  • supporting racial justice at the Women’s Gathering
  • supporting the “visiting our visions” program
  • supporting the zine discussion group
  • publishing an article in geez magazine about living and working together in community despite having differing individual philosophies of feminism
  • sparking conversations with other communards
  • ftt e-mail list to share additional resources, articles, etc
  • bringing together folks from different social circles
  • helping to increase focus on the bylaws on a community-wide scale

As with many regular meetings at Twin Oaks, the original group dwindled in attendance over time due to a variety of reasons (people leaving the community, scheduling conflicts, general attrition, interpersonal conflicts, political differences, etc) and so we decided to revamp the group this past fall 2016. The new incarnation of FTT now meets every two weeks and is open to anyone of any gender who:

  1. Acknowledges the patriarchy exists
  2. Identifies as a feminist or feminist ally, and
  3. Recognizes that patriarchy is at play at Twin Oaks and wants to do something about it

Since re-forming the group, we’ve organized another two consent workshops prior to the 2017 New Year’s Eve party, designed and distributed fingerbooks about consent expectations for the New Year’s Eve party, had several folks participate in the Women’s March on Washington, and have continued to discuss our sexual assault and harassment response policy.

Ideas we have for the future include a consent tea party, consent fingerbook for Validation Day, increasing men’s support around the Women’s Gathering, more feminism 101 programming and educational opportunities, better bridging of issues between Twin Oaks and the outside world, doing more outside activism in order to gain connections and resources, re-inserting Twin Oaks into radical circles, dealing with the perception gap between how men and women see feminism at twin oaks, a feminist discussion group, and more. While Twin Oaks is certainly less sexist than mainstream society, we’re definitely “not utopia yet” and need to continuously strive to improve our culture at twin oaks and the world at large.

FemTO2

Feminist Think Tank: Past and Future

Gender-Bending on the Commune

by Valerie

Originally published by the Fellowship for Intentional Community in Communities Magazine  http://www.ic.org/communities-magazine-home/

As a self-identified feminist ecovillage, gender as a social construction is definitely on Twin Oaks’ radar.  There are many of aspects of our culture that could be described, from the work we’ve done eliminating gender bias from our labor, to the way our egalitarian values blend seamlessly with a feminist approach to life, and also including the experiences that the community has had with transgendered people and the experiences that they’ve had with us.

For people who want to delve more deeply, there is a lot of information available about gender at Twin Oaks on our webpage. In the meantime, cultural anthropologists take note: here is a glimpse into several aspects of gender on the commune.

o   Our Gender-Neutral Pronoun “Co”: This is used when the gender of a person is irrelevant or unknown, as in, “Each week, every member should turn in co’s labour sheet so that the Labor Assigner can get all the jobs covered.” It’s much less unwieldy than her/his or even s/he. Also handy for thickening the plot in conversations like, “I hung out with a special someone last night, and co wants to spend more time with me.” (effectively doubling the number of people that this might mysteriously be referring to….) We use this word in policies and also to some extent in daily life, sometimes somewhat facetiously and at other times genuinely. The grammarians among us get antsy when people start using phrases like “Each co should…..” (using a pronoun as a noun) and often a lively grammar-geek conversation ensues.

o   “Addressing the Dress”:  This is a policy we adopted for our Saturday Tour guides. Each weekend we offer a tour for the public who want to learn more about the community, and sometimes male members of the community who are giving the tour happen to be wearing a dress or skirt. (At Twin Oaks, men as well as women wear dresses and skirts for comfort and fashion during warm weather. ) For us this is normal, but we are aware that for many of the people who come for a tour, it is not. And so if a Twin Oaks man is giving the tour and is thusly attired, he must “address the dress”, and consciously explain to the tour group that at Twin Oaks, our culture does not limit this style choice to female-bodied members, and that we’d prefer all members be able to be comfortably attired instead of having to adhere to an arbitrarily-imposed fashion norm.

TO Dress

o   Our Shirt-less-ness Norms: It gets very hot in Virginia in the summertime, and some people would like to take off their shirt to be cooler. In the mainstream, it is socially acceptable for men to do this but not women. We would prefer not to incorporate this gender bias and male privilege into our lives, and so our Nudity Policy (yes, we have one) states that at the times and places where it is acceptable for members to be shirtless, this applies to women and men equally. We don’t want our mail carrier or UPS delivery person to be uncomfortable and so in the generally public areas of the community, both men and women need to wear shirts, and in the more sheltered areas, both genders are free to be shirtless.

o   The Collective Menstrual Calendar: In our main dining hall, on the wall of the bathroom, each year a member creates a beautifully artistic menstrual calendar. In addition to the wonderful artwork on it, it is large enough for a square for each day of the year, and every menstruating woman can write her name on the day that her menstrual cycle starts each month. This is one way that gender intersects with our alternative culture-in the mainstream, this information would not be considered suitable for public sharing. For us, it is both a convenient way for women to track their cycle, and a fun art installation as well, without stigma around its subject matter. Although it is true that when it was first proposed, we had one member who was in general quite vehemently opposed to gender-segregated activities of any type, and who made an alternate suggestion that we post a “masturbation calendar”, which both genders would be equally able to participate in. While many members appreciated the humour in this (only-somewhat-facetious) suggestion, it never went anywhere.

TO Os

o   Home-made Edits of Kids’ Books: This is a familiar scenario to progressive and radical caregivers everywhere-you’re reading a book to a child, and as the story unfolds, you realize the gender biases that are woven into the plotline, and find yourself starting to change pronouns to model a more eclectic reality. A group of Twin Oakers wanted to take a more direct approach, and so, wielding a bottle of white correction fluid and a pen, they methodically went through our childrens’ books, and altered the gender and features of some of the characters with relation to who was the farmer and who was the nurse, changed select “Mrs” and “Mr”‘s to “Friend” (we do not use honorifics at Twin Oaks) and generally enjoyed re-imagining the storylines created by various authors.

Coda: I was just about finished writing this article, when my four-year old god-daughter came by my desk, and saw the current Communities Magazine the cover of which features a child with blue eyes and shoulder-length reddish hair. She commented on it, asking, “Is that boy eating popcorn?” My partner and I exchanged glances, silently remarking on the fact that upon seeing a child with medium-length hair, her baseline assumption was that the child was male. Perhaps the perfect final commentary on the subject…..

Gender-Bending on the Commune