by Aga (she/her).
Lex and I went to this year’s Anarchist Studies conference in Loughborough, themed ‘Anarcha-Feminism’, and it was so weird! We spent a lot of time being guarded and/or angry at the conference itself but afterwards we felt both that it was a constructive and rewarding experience. PLUS: The conference was catered by the lovely vegan activists from veggies!
Upon arrival we were greeted by a bunch of men standing around everywhere, outside the door to the venue, inside the corridor and even more men in the room where the opening plenary took place. We were outnumbered by far. We were happy to see the main organiser, the awesome Elizabet, taking the space and giving a friendly, welcoming introduction. A bit of relief and a lot of solidarity for Elizabet speaking to a room filled with white academic men came over us.
The first thing we did was to put up gender neutral signs (easy peasy, take a piece of paper, write down ‘gender neutral toilet with or without urinals and with or without waste bins’ and stick it on the appropriate door). The first thing that the university that hosted us did, was to take them off. So we just kept reapplying the signs throughout the three-day event.
Soon we began to notice all the awesome people who stood their ground against mansplainers, wannabe-heroes and patronising know-it-alls. We heard amazing presentations on the binary restrictions of international law when it comes to gender, about transformative justice as well as the damaging hyper masculinity in charity campaigns helping male survivors of sexual violence (our menninist-guard was up for this one but it turned out to be a great talk!). We heard people speak on free love (as opposed to relationship anarchy) and sexuality. A group of settlers and first-nation allies from the unceded (stolen) Coast Salish territories in (what from a Eurocentric perspective is called ) Canada, came all the way to tell us about the work they are doing there to decolonise their region and undo themselves as the oppressor of the first nation communities. I also attended a workshop on consensus making, safer spaces and constitutions in anarchist spaces where I learned a lot and hopefully some of the men, strictly opposing any and all rules, understood why some sort of agreement, constitution or other document with established principles is important for people to feel that they can be themselves, express concerns and find allies in a group.
There were even three (!) panels on animal liberation, on one of which Lex and me gave talks. We both spoke about animalistion and dehumanisation from different perspectives ad presented ways in which human liberation and animal liberation is interconnected. We spoke about how important it is to be sensitive to human needs within the movement and beyond, if we want to achieve anything for the animals, and what possible tactics there are to practice anti-oppression across the board. We spoke about how we need to undo our privilege and how, we, as humans, have a responsibility to undo our relationships with animals whenever we possibly can, as every relationship we have with an animal in a human, Eurocentric and capitalist world, will by default be one in which we dominate the animals, and thus it will always be a speciesist relationship. Unfortunately some people in the audience couldn’t accept the fact that we can’t possibly ask animals for their consent to enter into relationships with us as enough of a reason to leave animals alone.
Of course we offered our zines as well and even met some awesome people who are now involved with us! 🙂 We were also happy to see the Black Pigeon Collective from Basel, who do the most amazing prisoner support work! We joined them in making a solidarity banner for a group picture taken with the attendees of the conference, to be sent to political prisoners across the globe and wrote letters and cards to them.
The conference finished with a discussion of safer space policies that will hopefully be applied by next year! In the roundup it became obvious what some of the main concerns were: binaristic (mis)gendering of people, assuming people’s academic status or that they have one at all (as one womxn put it: ‘I keep being asked who my thesis supervisor is. I AM the supervisor, I teach students!’), and of course, mansplaining and erasing womxn from history. So not too bad, just the classic, all too familiar stuff we deal with everyday!
Overall it was an exhausting but valuable conference and we couldn’t be more grateful to Elizabet for organising it and all the amazing non-binary people and womxn we met.