Feminists in the late 60s started formally getting together in groups to talk about the conditions of their life in order to analyze them politically. One of the keys to consciousness raising was that women felt isolated in their experiences (and were physically isolated from each other by the conditions under which many of their experiences took place). By connecting to other women who had similar experiences and analyzing them politically, they were able to cut through the isolation and begin to understand the systems behind their oppression. Instead of having a weird feeling about what was happening in their life, they could understand it, and know they were not alone.
That technique is not practiced as much today (although if anyone knows a radical consciousness raising group in the SF Bay Area, drop a note), but sometimes, at its best, online discussion can serve a similar purpose. I’ll give my two favorite examples.
Hollaback started as a shared blog where women in New York City could share their street harassment stories and often post photos of their harassers. It’s since sprouted sister sites all around the world. A woman harassed on the street feels isolated and alone. Depressing as it might be to know this crap happens all the time, it’s powerful to realize you’re not alone. And when folks who have never experienced street harassment see the evidence, it becomes harder for them to dismiss it.
Fat, Ugly, or Slutty didn’t start out with the intent of consciousness raising, according to the author, just as a way to vent. Yet, by showing how prevalent and how vicious in-game harassment is, it drew attention to the problem. Now, when someone wants to show quickly what women have to face when they choose to log on, there’s no need to spend time explaining and then trying to convince one’s interlocutor it’s really that bad. Just a link will do. More importantly, women who get harassed in games know that they aren’t alone, and that makes it easier not to take this stuff so personally.
Depressing as it may be to realize there’s a whole system of behavior and thought around making life shittier for women, it’s less depressing than constantly wondering if you’re doing something wrong or crazy or oversensitive. Because once it stops being about just you, and becomes political, that means you can organize against it, and fight it, and hopefully, one day, overcome it.