Our work is norm critical and feminst - but what does that mean?

Feminism refers both to a political movement that originated in the battle for equal voting rights for women, and a political ideology that strives to attain equality between all genders. Although feminism arose from the women’s rights movement and have come a long way under its banners, there has recently been a move towards more focus on the struggles of other minorities in society. This is referred to as intersectional feminism: the intersections that occur between identities which affect the way a person experiences society, for instance as a black bisexual woman, a non-binary person with a disability, a transgender gay man, and so forth.

Feminism rejects the traditional patriarchal values that oppresses the individual regardless of gender. An aspect of this is the notion that women are worth less than men, or that being straight is preferable to an LGBTQIA+ identity. The struggle of women in society is still an issue deserving of undivided attention, but it does not need to be at the cost of addressing overlapping identities that face problems on a similar basis.

An example: A boy gets teased in school for wearing a dress. Here, feminism tells us to disregard the idea that there is a correct way of “doing” your gender, and instead encourage us to express ourselves freely. It may sound simple, but we live in a society that is deeply influenced by traditional understandings of gender, and it requires and active awareness that not everyone fits into the classic binary understanding of gender. And that’s totally okay! 

The feminist work practice of Copenhagen Pride is tied up with the recognition of privilege blindness. Privilege blind refers to the tendency to be unable to see the challenges faced by others because of your position in society. It is not in and of itself a negative thing, but it can be harmful because it can lead to the exclusion of certain persons or groups. By recognizing this blindness, we can get insight into our distinct challenges and thus become better at helping one another out. An example of privilege blindness is the fact that the global Pride movement has often been criticized of only catering to (primarily white) gay cisgender men and forgetting about the other identities in the acronym. This comes to show if a Pride chooses to only have pictures of this group in their promotional material, thus contributing to a feeling of exclusion by others, who may not feel as welcomed. We can work against this by actively incorporating women, transgender people and QTBIPOC[1] into our strategies and representation and making an effort to amplify the voices that have a hard time being heard. This is ideally done by working towards having decision making persons and groups representing a broad section of our community. A way to use your privilege for good is to pass on the mic, instead of believing that you can speak on the behalf of others. That’s our responsibility as feminists!

Norm criticism is the practice of questioning the norms in a given society or context. Norms are the things that we collectively consider to be “normal” or “just the way things are” and do not take up for discussion in our daily lives. A norm is not per definition a negative thing. In Denmark, we have a norm about “hygge” – no one would question why you’d choose to spend your Friday night under a blanket on the couch, with candles lit and a good book. Norms can also be something as simple as taking off your shoes when entering your home, subconscious things that we all take for granted.

But norms can quickly become more complex because they contribute to rules for how to look or behave without being stigmatized. At its core, it’s about visibility: A person who follows the norms does not stand out and will generally not experience having their existence or lifestyle questioned. On the other hand, a person who breaks the norm and stands out becomes extra visible and is in risk of being met with wonder, rejection, or exclusion.

An example: To a lot of people, it continues to be the norm that marriage involves one man and one woman. A person who thinks this way is not necessarily evil or homophobic, but they’ve grown up in a society where this constellation has been overwhelmingly more visible and represented. That means that if a person like that hears a coworker talk about her wife, they might take pause. And if the whole work environment has the same set of subconscious norms, it may lead to the employee who breaks with this norm feels othered or looked down upon. At the same time, this can affect equality in terms of the law, for instance when marriage is only legal between a man and a woman, thus robbing same-gender couples of the legal perks that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy.

A norm-critical practice is one that abandons society’s expectations of what is “ordinary”. We like to say that it isn’t about coming out of the closet, but breaking the closet down; to challenge the expectations of how to be a man or a woman, the assumption of gender as being binary, and so forth.

For instance, we do so by avoid gendering what does not need to be gendered. Chairman thus becomes chairperson, which helps dismantle the norm that a person in a power position is by default male. It is also about accessibility – in our society, the norm is that we assume people can hear and see, which means that we often aren’t mindful of deaf or blind people, who miss out on news and events because their existence isn’t thought of during the planning. The same applies to wheelchair users, who all too often are excluded from participating in society because of a lack of ramps or lifts. We keep gaining insight into what norms play a role in our daily lives and a part of the norm critical workplace is to be open and listen to other experiences of the world than our own.

Working with a norm critical and feminist mindset is thus to be aware of the power structures in society and your own place within them, while also remaining sceptic about the idea of what’s “normal” and make an effort to create space for other voices than the ones you are used to hearing. When we work in this way it is to create room for all kinds of people, where everybody has the option to join in and participate. We want to help create an accepting society, where people are not outcast or discriminated against, but instead listened to and respected.

 [1] Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous, People of Colour

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