Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mexico’s ‘Feminist Library’ Aims to Offer Women Something New

Fotografía de perfil de la Biblioteca Feminista en Facebook, publicada masivamente en las redes.
“Neither master nor slave.” Photo: Feminist Library / Facebook

The Feminist Library is a Facebook community that two Mexican women have administered for a little over a year now. Today, the group has more than 9,000 followers. The Library was founded to serve as a collection of information on feminism and women's rights:
We compile materials about feminism and creative women in order to share them with the world. We want to disseminate feminist culture with all its diversity and its contributions to the construction of other possible worlds.
Global Voices spoke with the community's two administrators, discussing feminists and feminism, the need for solid information, and the importance of responsibly sharing this information. In a country like Mexico, where the frequency of femicide and gender-based abuse is alarming, projects like Feminist Library are trying to raise awareness about a problem with strong roots in culture and conventions.

Sharing information involves much more than just clicking on Facebook's share button, however. The amount of information available online is immense and readers don't always look beyond the headlines and photographs. That's why the Library also advocates the idea of “responsibility in publication.” The texts, news, photographs, and articles promoted by the Library are carefully selected, reviewed, and verified before before publication on Facebook. 

The Librarians

As in the case with many other activists, the group's administrators first began contemplating gender roles and feminist movements through their own personal experiences.

The community's founder and her creative approach to feminism are connected to issues of body care, food sovereignty, and ideas about freedom from the state and from market pressures. The group's participants are also dedicated to alternative modes of citizenship, and fighting sexism and abuse against women:
I had to turn into a feminist for survival. When you work on issues of solidarity in the economy, you can't imagine you'll have a partner who harasses you. But that's the reality. Misogyny and machismo also occur in the movements that are considered alternative to the system and our ability to participate is subject to these prejudices and acts of violence. My former partner was the leader of a group, and I was expelled from the community for not wanting to continue that relationship. I was treated very harshly, even by close friends, who told me that my word was worthless for having been involved with him. That is why, for survival, I started searching. You need to find ideas that stop you from thinking it's normal to be treated like this.
The Library's other main collaborator has similar activist experience and familiarity with the faults within women's advocacy groups. Many of these organizations, she says, are particularly flawed when it comes to taking concrete actions:
I had the opportunity to work in a hospital, but that experience showed me that the groups identifying themselves as defending women did not always work in a spirit of solidarity.
The Feminist Library aims to create spaces—virtual or physical—where women can share and reflect together. The group's administrators believe this simple step can be the beginning of many needed changes:
I believe in the power that exists in the spaces for and by women. I do not think that mixed spaces are bad, but the spaces that are managed by women whom I have met are areas in which I have learned a lot, where there is not only theoretical work, but criticism and self-criticism. This process is difficult, even working in organizations devoted to civil society. I think that there is resistance to the work on gender issues, I have met people with a strong background in human rights who show a lack of interest in this topic, and who believe that you try to speak only about women and that you intend to exclude men. Being part of the organized civil society, we often make the mistake of wanting to analyze reality, without questioning privileges.
This work, the group's administrators say, addresses concrete needs:
"It is complicated, but it is also wonderful to find people who are on the same wavelength about your desire to create things. When I was invited [to the creation of the group] I said “Yes!”, because, although I have colleagues who work with community feminism issues, we do not share a workspace. It was also very good to create a virtual space to share and keep creating ideas. The dynamics of this process are stimulating."
Feminism Hurts
The librarians laugh at the negative opinions and the typical fights that take place in spaces dedicated to feminism. The trolls, the aggressive responses, and the protests have become common features of the movement. After some confrontations, the Feminist Library decided to avoid answering comments that are not conducive to constructive debate:
Feminism is an antidote against the things that numb you to withstand the overwhelming amount of misogynist violence you endure every day. Becoming aware hurts, but it is the only way to find what makes you suffer. You realize that what happened and brought you pain is not “natural” or “normal.” You had an intuition, but you did not even dare to name it. You realize that women have lived it for centuries and many have struggled to break free and liberate all of us. Each time I discover the stories and the words of women before me, I feel comforted and motivated. We need to know more about our history—about ourselves. That was the inspiration behind the Feminist Library.
Much of what is published in the Library is also inspirational material. Cases and stories that many would like to see reproduced in different parts of the continent are also shared. One example is the history of the formation of the “Women Front School.” (The video was first published online by the YouTube channel Education in Motion.) In fact, this is the next thing the librarians would like to accomplish: compiling a collective training guide to help women defend their rights.

For safety and privacy reasons, Global Voices has redacted the names of the Feminist Library's administrators.