15 October 2012 ~ 3 Comments

Carpe Sexism! Seizing the Campaign Moment

Wow, everyone is talking about sexism these days, right?

It’s suddenly popped on the agenda as if it never existed before, or as though everyone got too numb and sleepy about it, and then along came a big bucket of cold water to wake us up.

For those folks who’ve been working consistently on gender equity it must be incredibly frustrating – oh, so now you want to talk about this, huh?

Moments like this don’t come along all the time. Part of the job of activism is being able to spot political opportunity and make the most of it.

There’s a whole lot of opportunity in the way the public conversation has opened up about sexism. The issue is getting attention. People are angry, upset and offended. There are undoubtedly people prepared to take action. But where will all that energy go? Where are the campaigns to translate this action into attainable outcomes to improve women’s lives and address gender inequity?

For such a long term social movement there’s surprisingly little campaigning going on. The Destroy the Joint twitter storm and Facebook page and the Change.org petition targeting advertisers on Alan Jones’ 2GB radio show are recent eruptions that have captured widespread outrage.

Elsewhere, advocates continue to push for traditional women’s rights issues such as access to abortion and freedom from violence, but these don’t seem to take the form of campaigns which build a profile, set the terms of debate, mobilise concerned constituents, win new allies, and build power over time. The Equal Pay campaign of recent years is a notable exception, with clear thanks to the union movement’s strategic campaigning.

There may be several campaigns going on that I’m just not aware of, and apologies to those working hard on them, but the lack of profile is clearly part of the problem. What would it take to use the current opportunity to propel such a campaign into the spotlight? Or start something fresh and build a bunch of momentum behind it?

Here are some steps I suggest for getting started campaigning on sexism.

  • Cut the issue. Find one issue to campaign on, not the whole kit and caboodle of mistreatment of women in the whole world. Some questions to consider when finding the right issue to campaign on:
    • What’s the problem? How do you know it’s a problem? Because people say so, because the research backs it up?
    • Who is affected by the problem? Are they concerned about it? Will they speak out about it?
    • Who cares about it? How do you know? Ask people, do research, look into polls, scan past demonstrations of sentiment. Do a lot of people care about it, and do they care enough to take action? Do people get fired up about it? Is there anger or other emotion around this issue?
    • What are the solutions or partial solutions to this problem? Is there a particular outcome that you can win that will improve the situation?
  • Focus on an attainable solution. In the area of gender equity people often come up with solutions which are about cultural change and awareness raising. Although this is obviously crucial it is possible to affect both of these by campaigning for something tangible, such as a change in funding for a Government program, an increase in welfare payments to single mothers, or getting a shock-jock off the air. It is easier to build a movement which focuses the concern, anger and action of participants at achieving an actual winnable solution. If you have come up with an issue to campaign on consider:
    • Who can deliver the change you want to see? Is there a decision-maker or power-holder with responsibility?
    • What would it take to win the change you want to see? What would shift the position of the power holder?
    • Can you see a path from here to the win that is feasible?
    • What are the forces for and against success? Who are your allies? Who are your opponents?
  • Tell a compelling story. Consider:
    • What is the central conflict in your campaign? Who are the goodies and baddies? Do people relate to that portrayal of conflict, does it resonate with many people’s experiences or world-view?
    • Who are the characters in your campaign story? How can you amplify the voices of those most affected?
    • How can you make your issue visual and emotive? Can you use popular culture or existing memes to ‘piggy-back’ your story?
  • Build a sustainable infrastructure. Campaigns need people working together effectively and resources to have an impact.
    • What resources can you gather for this fight?
    • Who can offer leadership (in many different forms)?
    • Who is the right messenger or spokesperson for this campaign?
    • How will new activists and supporters be engaged and developed?
    • How will communication and decision-making happen in the campaign team?
    • How will you learn from experiences, manage data, reflect, evaluate and strategise?

It’s an exciting moment. Space has opened up around sexism – imagine stepping into that space with a well thought through campaign which could channel community concern and activist energy to win significant social change.

If you are interested in grappling with these questions please get in touch. I would love to offer my support to emerging campaigns to seize this valuable moment.

After more resources? See this blog’s campaign strategy and community organising posts; the Change Agency’s strategy tools; the Women Occupy action guide; and these Feminist FAQs.

3 Responses to “Carpe Sexism! Seizing the Campaign Moment”

  1. Lefa 15 October 2012 at 5:38 pm Permalink

    This is a fantastic piece, Holly. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. About the people who marched in Brunswick for example; it’s fantastic to see so many people mobilising and being visual, but I’d much rather see them campaigning for tangible outcomes that might prevent violence towards women. It’s not that I think the march shouldn’t have happened, because I quite understand that people reacted to this particular incident in very different ways, but I suppose I wondered if they are active in other ways? If they saw the potential to turn their feelings over the issue into action which saw their communities improved in the ways they wanted to? I certainly hope so.

  2. Rachel 15 October 2012 at 8:52 pm Permalink

    In terms of something small and entirely achievable, reading this today I myself was confronted by my own use of ‘gaslighting’ on women, and resolved to be more vigilant with myself and with others:


    PS you rock Holly!

  3. Holly Hammond 26 October 2012 at 1:47 pm Permalink

    Hi Lefa, thanks for your comment. Being a part of the big march down Brunswick St was one of the things that prompted me to write this article. It was a big outpouring of concern… and then what? I also went along to Reclaim the Night, which had a big attendance, and heard one of the speakers say something along the lines of ‘Let’s keep this going, let’s put it into organising International Women’s Day’. That’s a well established pattern in feminist organising but I think we could be going for much more than these annual events.

    People interested in this topic should know that there is a Melbourne Feminist Action meeting being held on Thursday 1st November to discuss potential campaign issues. Great stuff! http://www.facebook.com/events/541763089172491/?ref=ts&fref=ts

    Thanks Rachel for the link around gaslighting. I’ve heard the term in relation to psychological abuse in relationships but it’s good to think about it more broadly. Outrage can be a powerful catalyst for action for change. Yashar Ali talks about some women being rendered ’emotionally mute’ by gaslighting, unable to feel or express outrage on their own behalf. Enough of that already!

Leave a Reply