by Guest Writers Naomi Grupp and Ana Freiberg
"Have you ever experienced discrimination because you are a woman?"
This is the classic first question we pose when introducing women to NOW Feminist Consciousness Raising (CR), one weve asked many times over the years. We wondered what would happen when we asked that question in a workshop at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women.
Never mind how hard it was to get to the conference site at Huairou, an hour from where we were staying in Beijing. Never mind how hard it was to find the assigned workshop space at tent #74, and walk the half mile from the gate of the conference site to get there.
There we were, two U.S. women in China, looking out at 40 women and one man who came from many countries -- and our job was to do CR. We had no idea if it would work, if the concept would "translate" into so many languages, if we would connect and understand each other.
Our workshop was called Consciousness Raising as a Tool for Grassroots Organizing. With typical NOW aplomb, the first thing we did before we began was to change the seating arrangement.
The seats were set in rows, all facing the speaker at the front, which we identified as a patriarchal model that cedes the authority and power for the meeting to the speaker. So we moved the chairs into a circle. In 30 seconds the space was transformed into one where we all could see each other, where each person was included and valued.
It is hard to convey in words how powerful the consciousness raising experience that ensued was for everyone. We heard a variety of testimonies, even those of the young Chinese women who were there as interpreters for the Chinese attendees.
Editor's note: Our apologies to Ana for spelling her name incorrectly in our last issue and for neglecting to note that she and Naomi led the CR workshop.