How to Throw an Intersectional Feminism Town Hall: A Tool Kit

On top of being a strategy shop, Wolf & Wilhelmine is an activist organization. We are pro-woman, pro-black, pro-choice, pro-Muslim, pro-native and pro-LGBTQIA. We understand that using our voice to support the civil rights of others is more important than ever in a time where Americans are more vocal than ever.

To that end, we not only want to create spaces and opportunities for gathering, but we want to help others do the same. We’ve put together this toolkit that informed an event we hosted around intersectional feminism in the hopes of helping others organize and come together within their own communities.

Wolf & Wilhelmine’s Intersectional Feminism Town Hall Attendees on February 22, 2017

WHY YOU SHOULD HOST AN INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM TOWN HALL

The feminist movement is surging. From The United State of Women to Women’s Marches across the world, women are organizing at scale to demand equal rights, equal pay and equal access. But in the 21st century, feminism needs to be more complex and multidimensional than previous waves. It must reflect the needs of black, brown, native and Asian women. It must consider the LGBTQIA and trans community. It must factor in age and religion and socio-economics.

Shit is complicated. And these diverse perspectives and their respective needs often aren’t heard. If we want to be a powerful collective voice, we must listen as much as talk.

To help spark this conversation, we need to gather together diverse women to come together to talk, listen and connect through the many lenses of the female experience.

WHERE TO START

The most important ingredient is a diversity of attendees. Additionally, we chose to focus our town hall on women to create a safe space, but feel free to amend as you see fit. We also chose to cap our attendance at 50 to maintain an atmosphere of intimacy and encourage sharing.

The second most important ingredient is space. Of course, you need to find a space big enough for everybody, but the layout of the space is even more important. Rather than setting up the space similar to a talk or panel event, arrange the room more in the style of theater-in-the-round, so that not only can everyone see each other, but everybody feels equal.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • Name tags
  • Sharpies
  • Writing materials (we provided blank notecards for the written reflection, but you could also ask participants to bring a notebook or journal)
  • Sound device to signal wrapping up (we used a meditation gong)
  • Possibly microphones if you’re concerned about sound (we didn’t use them to keep the flow of conversation more organic)

HOW THE TOWN HALL WILL WORK: THE AGENDA

In the spirit of intersectionality, it’s better for different sections to be owned and moderated by various women reflecting the diversity of attendees.

More details on each activity below…

WARM UP WRITTEN REFLECTION
Have participants quietly write for 2–5 minutes. Prompts: What do you want out of this? How must you be to achieve that?

AGENDA & RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
In addition to briefly outlining the agenda for the night, it’s important to set up some rules to maintain a productive and positive experience. We based our rules of engagement on the Four Agreements:

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word — Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally — Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions — Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always Do Your Best — Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

We also laid out some additional rules:

  • No phones from now until we close (take a group photo at the end so people have something to share).
  • No interruptions: allow people to finish their thoughts.
  • Listen and acknowledge, don’t blame or discount.
  • In order to keep the town hall moving, the moderator may step in occasionally to direct conversation. It’s nothing personal, it’s purely to help us get to everything on the agenda tonight.

We also suggest sending the Four Agreements out the day before so people can take the time to get in the right frame of mind.

COUNT UP EXERCISE
In this short exercise from Hyper Island, a group must count up to a certain number (say 20), each randomly calling out a number sequentially. The rule is that no two people speak at the same time otherwise we have to start over. The task is simple, however, it takes focus, calm and awareness to succeed. The exercise injects calm and focused collective energy into a group.

SHARED STRUGGLES EXERCISE
In this exercise, we show that despite differences, many women have experienced different shades of the same difficulties. This will serve as a community and empathy building exercise. We’ve listed a number of prompts, feel free to cut down or add your own.

Prompt: Please raise your hand if you’ve experienced the following…

  • Who has felt marginalized at work?
  • Who has felt like they’ve been unfairly passed over for opportunities of any kind?
  • Who has, at times, felt that other women are competitors instead of allies?
  • Who has felt undermined by women in the workplace?
  • Who has felt lonely?
  • Who has felt they couldn’t say something they wanted to say because their identity would color the interpretation of it?
  • Who has felt ashamed of their body?
  • Who has felt misrepresented in the media?
  • Who has felt absent from or isolated from cultural conversation?
  • Who has been made to feel weak?
  • Who has made jokes about their identity to put others at ease?
  • Who has avoided expressing parts of their identity with certain groups of people?
  • Who has felt that they didn’t have any heroes that were like them?
  • Who has hesitated to express their political views?
  • Who still remembers a moment from their childhood when they were bullied?
  • Who has hesitated talking openly about their sexuality or sexual health?
  • Who has felt that things would be easier if they had a different identity?
  • Who has felt discounted or invalidated by a female friend of a different intersectional identity?
  • Who has ever felt like they were in danger specifically because of their gender or race?
  • Who has felt the repercussions of repression that their mothers or grandmother dealt with?

LISTENING CIRCLE: SHARING OUR EXPERIENCES
A listening circle is based on the sacred traditions of sharing circles. Rather than listening to only set speakers, all in the circle are invited to share and participate as they wish. Sharing is organic. We will, however, gently guide the listening circle with questions and prompts. This first listening circle is focused on getting it all out and building validation, empathy and understanding between all women. Some discussion questions below.

  • Could someone share a time when they were disadvantaged by their intersectionality?
  • How has your work experience been more difficult because of your intersectionality?
  • How has your control over your body and reproduction been more difficult because of your intersectionality?
  • How have your social experiences been more difficult because of your intersectionality?
  • After listening to our fellow women share their struggles, what themes stood out to you?

LISTENING CIRCLE: STRENGTHS & THE FUTURE
The second listening circle will be focused the future and ways in which we can be allies toward each other:

  • What is currently strong about the feminist movement?
  • How might it be stronger through intersectionality?
  • How do you think this next wave of the women’s movement can address some of the shared struggles we discussed earlier? Class? Privilege?
  • How can we ensure that young women are exposed to intersectionalism earlier in their lives?
  • How might external forces, such as orgs, employers or public policy, change to better address intersectional feminism?
  • Based on our conversations tonight, how might you change how you show up or think about the world?
  • Based on our conversations tonight, what is a wish that you would send a fellow feminist?

CLOSING WRITTEN REFLECTION
To mirror the beginning, close the town hall with another written reflection, this time focused on setting intentions moving forward. Prompt: You set intentions coming in, how have those evolved as we conclude our evening? How are you evolving the way you think and how you behave in the world?

CLOSING POEM SHARE
To close, invite a few women to share a quote or poem which encapsulates their experience of being a woman.