Feminisms in (narrative) practice

In Chapter 2 we will dive into a rich smorgasbord of individual and collective narrative practice from across the globe. This will be an opportunity to see how practitioners are turning the ideas from Chapter 1 into action!

Introducing Shelja Sen (she/her): Shelja is a narrative therapist, writer and co-founder Children First. She is originally a mountain dweller, now inhabiting the city (New Delhi) and hoping to live near the sea one day. She has worked in various contexts in India and the UK, curating stories of the know-how of the children and young people she has the honour of working with. What she values most in her life and work are staying curious and intentional, and nurturing and being nurtured by diverse communities.

In this video, Aunty Dolly Hankin and Aunty Kerry Major innovatively combine externalising practices and a doormat to address the silencing influence of shame with a group of First Nations women in Queensland, Australia.

Shame Mat by Aunty Dolly Hankin (she/her) and Aunty Kerry Major (she/her) [14:42]

Australian Lebanese Muslim practitioner Lobna Yassine describes some of her work with young Muslim people of different genders through the Tree of Life framework. Lobna makes visible how whiteness and Islamophobia intersect with gender to create particular pressures, single-storied accounts of identity and experiences of discrimination for Muslim young people, and invites us into some of the many alternative stories those forces seek to obscure.

Working at the intersections of gender, racism and Islamophobia by Lobna Yassine (she/her) [14:14]

It is not uncommon for reports of sexual harassment and violence to be met by calls for women to learn assertiveness and develop resilience. What discourses underlie these suggestions? How might we respond with feminist ethics to shift responsibility to those enacting harm while avoiding totalising narratives of perpetrators? Join Carolyn Markey as she unpacks these dilemmas and responds with narrative practice in a school in South Australia.

Exploring feminist narrative practice and ethics in a school setting by Carolyn Markey (she/her)

Now we step outside of the world of therapy and into the realms of narrative practice in media making. The Story Kitchen amplifies women’s voices, perspectives and histories in the male-dominated media of Nepal. Jaya Luintel describes the work of bringing women together while carefully attending to differences of caste, class, education, sexuality and ethnicity.

Feminism in The Story Kitchen, Nepal by Jaya Luintel (she/her) [16:50]

Our Host Shelja Sen, along with Rhea, P and Amrita, introduces us to another feminist narrative practice innovation drawing on the metaphor and the acronym COURAGE, which celebrates the resistance of young women in New Dheli, India, to violence and injustice and to rigid binaries of ‘good girls’ and ‘bad girls’.

Just Girls: Conversations on resistance, social justice and the mental health struggles of women by Shelja Sen (she/her)

Fariba Ahmadi shares an innovative project that transformed a school playgroup into a space where Afghan mothers newly arrived in Australia could link their stories of struggle and survival together and share them with others through definitional ceremony.

Journeys of faith, strength and persistence: Stories of new arrival Afghan mothers by Fariba Ahmadi (she/her) 

Now we’ll hear directly from young Muslim women in South Australia describing their skills and knowledges of surviving and responding to the intersecting oppressions of patriarchy, racism and Islamophobia: another opportunity to practice double listening to stories of suffering and reclamation.

‘We try not to take people’s hate into our hearts’ [9:02]

Next, we head to Toronto, Canada, to learn about the Building Bridges project, which recognises that ‘there are few spaces for women to examine the influence of challenging cultural images and social encounters’. It created a space for women living with facial and physical differences and/or disabilities to collectively co-construct diverse and sustaining stories of identity and experience.

Envisioning new meanings of difference by Carla Rice, Hilde Zitzelsberger, Wendy Porch, Esther Ignagni and Loree Erikson (all use she/her)

Why does gender matter? ‘It matters because I am not a man. And this has had social, political, historical and economic implications, and also life and death implications for women in my country and other Latin American countries.’ marcela polanco, a Mestiza from Bogotá, Columbia, describes how she brings the politics of Latin American decolonial feminist movements and an interest in doing the work with an agenda of social transformation to her current work context in the United States.

Finding Latin American ways to think our humanity in theory and practice by marcela polanco (she/her) [8:17]

Finally, Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo introduces us to COURRAGE, a methodology developed in partnership with women in South Africa that honours their skills and knowledge about surviving hardship and trauma.

Women and COURRAGE in South Africa by Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo (she/her) [1:00:33]

Reflection questions

  • How are women incited to continually evaluate and police their bodies and forge them as docile? How does it occur that these operations of power are rendered invisible to those who experience them most intensely?
  • How does psychiatry or psychology become complicit in these operations? How can that complicity isolate women in their experience of subjugation?
  • Why is it important to make visible, externalise and politicise acts of social injustice?
  • How can the practitioners invite personal agency and build richer counter stories by acknowledging micro acts of resistance, care and protest?

Optional further activities

  1. Write a letter to patriarchy. Here are some prompts:
    • What has it convinced you into believing about yourself?
    • What are society’s ideas of success, worthiness, beauty that it uses against you?
    • What confusions does it push you into?
    • How are you still standing up to it all?
    • Who are the people in your team who support you in this? What would they say about what you are up against? What do they know about you that keeps them rooting for you?
    • Why is it so important for you to not listen to what patriarchy is saying to you? What hopes for your life and work does this speak to?
  1. What song of sustenance comes to you as you wrap up your reflections on this chapter? Who would you like to share this song with? What do you think they would appreciate about this song? Would sharing this song create further ripples of change?
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