How to start a consciousness-raising group for men


This is the second installment of a special feature that will go live every Tuesday for the next three weeks. Read part one to clarify your feminist agenda, or get started by jumping in below. 

bell hooks: start a consciousness-raising group for men

If you haven’t already heard me mention the feminist scholar bell hooks, welcome to Writing on Glass. She’s a huge inspiration for me. This bell hooks Infographic covers her key lessons, but today, I wanted to hone in on one specific action item she provides: involving men in feminist consciousness-raising groups.

What are consciousness-raising groups?

Consciousness-raising groups were one of the primary ways for women to teach each other about feminism in the 1970s. In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks dedicates several chapters to exploring the history of these female-only get-togethers. The gatherings generally consisted of around 12 women and were hosted in a group leader’s home. Over the course of an evening, women were encouraged to examine how sexism influenced their circumstances, dismantle their own limiting beliefs, and learn about what actions they could take to advance women’s rights.

The Amazon TV series “Good Girls Revolt” reenacts what a typical consciousness-raising group might have looked like. One major component, bell hooks writes, was that these groups "emphasized the importance of learning about patriarchy as a system of domination."

The Amazon TV series “Good Girls Revolt” reenacts what a typical consciousness-raising group might have looked like. One major component, bell hooks writes, was that these groups "emphasized the importance of learning about patriarchy as a system of domination."

The point, as hooks says,  is that “Feminists are made, not born.”

All of us, regardless of gender, need to learn about feminism before calling ourselves feminists. Otherwise, we’re in danger of believing we're feminists, while really still perpetuating “internalized sexism”: those unconscious yet prescriptive notions of gender that generally work in men’s favor (one example: double-standards around sex, like the slut vs. player dichotomy). 

While consciousness-raising groups for women are as important as ever, feminism won’t succeed unless men also join in. That’s why bell hooks recommends feminist get-togethers specifically for men:

“Without males as allies in struggle feminist movement will not progress. As it is we have to do so much work to correct the assumption deeply embedded in the cultural psyche that feminism is anti-male. Feminism is anti-sexism.”

She makes the key point that men are welcome into feminism, because despite media stereotypes, feminism is not anti-male! It's anti-sexism, and women can be as sexist as men any day:

"Feminist consciousness-raising for males is as essential to revolutionary movement as female groups...A male who has divested of male privilege, who has embraced feminist politics, is a worthy comrade in struggle, in no way a threat to feminism, whereas a female who remains wedded to sexist thinking and behavior infiltrating feminist movement is a dangerous threat."
bell hooks speaking at the New School in 2014.

bell hooks speaking at the New School in 2014.

inviting men to talk about feminism isn't as daunting as it sounds.

When I first thought about starting a consciousness-raising group for men, my mind raced immediately to how on earth I would secure affordable space, get a hundred men to sign up for a female-oriented talk, and figure out exactly what to discuss.

When I starting thinking on a smaller scale, things got a lot easier. I could use my apartment and aim to get only 3-5 men to show up, men whom I know support me. I could come to the table with one idea, talk about my feminist perspective for 5 minutes, and then we could open up a conversation. I could even call the "consciousness-raising group" a "feminist chat," or something more contemporary. Reframing the idea in these terms sounded much more doable, and more exciting, too. 


DECIDE ON A space:

  • Your home or a friend or family member’s home
  • Public library
  • Public park
  • Common space within apartment buildings (courtyard, rooftop)
  • Socially conscious spaces (e.g. New Women Space in Brooklyn)

MAKE Preparations:

  • Keep it simple. For your first time around, I recommend hosting 3-5 guests. Preferably, these guests will be people whom you’re comfortable around and who already care about you. Whether this includes a boyfriend/husband/partner, a brother, a dad, an uncle, a best friend, a colleague -- it doesn’t matter, so long as you know they won’t undermine your efforts, make you feel uncomfortable, or contribute to a negative vibe.

  • Set the tone. If you’re worried about the discussions getting out of hand, set some rules. Mine would include no yelling (I’m conflict-averse; what can I say), no interrupting, and no insulting. In my view, reading rules in the beginning is stiff and formal, so I’d rather email people beforehand with some casual guidelines. 

  • Gauge your guests' comfort level. If you're inviting a group of veteran political activists into your home, they'll probably know more about feminism than your 20-year-old neighbor studying math. But maybe not. You can gauge how comfortable your guests are with feminism by simply asking. When you invite your guests, see if they're able to rank on a scale of 1-5: a) their comfort level re. feminism, and b) their background knowledge of feminism. This will both break the ice and flag whether you'll be starting with "Let's define feminism," or "Let's discuss patriarchal language, implicit bias, and recent progress with reproductive rights."

  • Relax. Just because feminism is a serious political movement, it doesn’t mean that these gatherings can’t be fun social events too. Order snacks, play some music, chit-chat before or after getting down to business. People are at their most open-minded when they feel comfortable, so creating a welcoming atmosphere has great implications.

SET AN Agenda (75 minutes):

  • 15 minutes to chat, eat, joke around, set the tone

  • 2-3 minutes to briefly recap any ground rules

  • 2-3 minutes of introduction (if people don’t already know each other). Have everybody state what they’re most nervous or skeptical to discuss. Maybe someone is really hesitant to talk about abortion, while someone else feels odd talking about sexual assault. Good to get this on the table before diving in.

  • 40 minutes to pose 1-2 questions and dig into the discussion. Download our recommended questions list below. 

  • 10 minutes to write down everyone’s 1-3 takeaways from the meeting.

  • 5 minutes to debrief, clean, decompress, hand out our free reading list (below).  

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Part 3 of this series will be here next Tuesday, September 26. 

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