Oppression, detached work, young women and Friere

Okay so a long title but I have long been trying to outwork some of Friere’s philosophy around liberation since the early 1990s, and was thinking about this after last nights detached session. Particularly I was reflecting on this as the primary issues concerned a small group of young women we engaged as two male detached youthworkers. My twitter feed then came up with a great set of notes on Pedagogy of the Oppressed by God Loves Women. If you have never read Friere or read it and got stuck go read her notes HERE

For most of the session last night liberation was running through my mind as we encountered the group. Two young women started chatting with us about some of the issues they were facing, and you could tell from the off it would be one of those conversations that deepened quickly. We move from hello, to engaging issues of relationships and drug use within five minutes (we previously had worked with the group). They raised issues of isolation, hope, and powerlessness, as we talked around these issues. Desperate for a lighter, one girl, let’s call her Charlie shouted across to her friend, “got a lighter?” The negative response proved a response of “slag” from Charlie and although jokey in manner, I challenged this with “where’s the sisterhood? just cos she doesn’t have a lighter, you call her names” We explored this for a while, before being invited by the now larger group to sit with them.

My first reflection is ‘Can I as a man dialogue with these young women towards sisterhood?’ and this is a critical question because of how the conversation later develops. I am aware of my Conscientization role, but as the evening moves we have clearly created a good dialogue space and begin to hit about 50% of the points for the correct method of addressing oppression that lies in dialogue that God Loves Woman identifies from Friere.

The conversation continues around being made to go places by parents, threats, and a long conversation around stop and search, both in school and out of school. I do some problem posing with them, and move between concrete to abstract ideas, building in some organising and empowerment stuff. For example we discussed the issue of their feelings of victimization by a teacher as they were being regularly searched. We discussed their rights, responsibilities, and conditions under which searching may be appropriate and strategies by which the process could be challenged. My second reflection is all about the power, the positional power of the teacher, the powerless of the student and the lack of sisterhood that makes consolidating the power the young women have as a group problematic, as well as my own power in the conversation and process.

One of the solutions hypothesised was to identify the ten most regularly searched women and agree to challenge the system through direct action. The young women stated they often refused searches by teachers but are met with the response that the police will be called to do the search. We discussed community organising, principles of deliberately ensuring they had no contraband, warning teachers that if they called the police they would be wasting police time. We problematised this as a possible solution, and came full circle to the lack of sisterhood, and the question ‘why call her a slag?’ and what is your role in liberating yourself from this. I am pretty aware of the ethical and legal issues of this discussion, but the feeling of oppression, powerlessness and lack of hope in these young women was palpable. So my final reflection is a mixture of the first two, what is my role as a male in this context, my rights to speak, the value of anything I say? and what can be done towards liberation with these young women, as we are way beyond the make over pampering sessions to build esteem?

If interested in more conversation check out www.fyt.org.uk who are hosting a day with Worth Unlimited on work with young women on May 8th in Manchester.

3 thoughts on “Oppression, detached work, young women and Friere

  1. I think if I was in your shoes I would be asking the same questions. I regularly ask similar but completely different questions about working with young men. However, my first thought is that there is something really valuable in your reaction to their powerlessness that comes BECAUSE you are a man. A woman could do the “we’re in it together thing” to some extend (sisterhood) and you can’t do that, but you can do the “I think what is going on is wrong” thing from the position of male power and I think that has a different kind of value to it. If many men in their lives don’t see their value, their sense of powerlessness or any potential or need for that to change, a male voice that speaks truth to them, that values them, that sees their pain, is very valuable. I guess back to the idea that this is why we need diverse teams, we bring different things, not just through personality and life experience but just through who we are including what gender we are.

    You don’t mention the gender of the teacher the young women feel victimised by. Although, the feelings are of victimisation either way, as a woman, I feel the gender of the teacher in question (as well as whether the search is done by a male or a female teacher) is relevant to the exact issues and feelings they may be experiencing. For example if the teacher is female, that further erodes the sense of sisterhood. If it is a man, there is an additional question that they may or may not be asking about what his motives are, especially if they have had bad experiences with men in the past. Those are just the first two that come to mind.

  2. This is something I’ve thought about a lot recently, my boyfriend considers himself a feminist and has been brought up to be one, but has found people (particularly at university) tell him that he couldnt be one because he was a man. This seems ridiculous from my point of view but that view can sometimes come from the idea that true feminism holds no place for men and it’s women strong inspite of them. Instead it is better to show men who believe on women’s rights and the fair treatment of women. This is the view that the bible teaches, equality rather than one gender having more rights than the other. The other important part of that is that some feminists presume men should not be better at anything than women where as actually just as each person has individual strenghs and weaknesses, some women will be better at more demonized roles than men and some the other way round. If young people are given the space to be themselves away from preconceptions put on them by society/peers/family.
    he white ribbon project encourages men to stand up for women’s rights which is important else the next generation of men may not realise the importance of the issue.

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