Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Choo Choo

Went to Chattanooga…I don’t know how I feel about it. Perhaps it is because we mostly saw the gentrified areas and talked to people about creating a better Chattanooga, but it all seemed a little too perfect. Bike friendly, pedestrian friendly, lots of public art…but no mixing of cultures, no bunches of people smushed together and forced to make things work. Too planned is the word maybe? Makes me wonder how effective having very clean cut development plans actually are. Everything seemed a-okay, but there must be conflict, no? And if there isn’t…am I uncomfortable with it because I don’t know what that could or would look like? I’m thinking it’s more of the former than the latter. I certainly hope if cooperation and beautification and celebration, etc. all worked in tandem that I would be intelligent enough to recognize a good thing when I saw it.

In any event, I met with CWLI (see previous post on it) today. Rather, I met with a woman named Marj, one of the seven founding members of the woman’s organization. It was interested in meeting her on two levels: 1) I learned some answers and more to the questions I had about her specific organization and 2) I learned a little about why she is so passionate about it, how it got started, and why she is still (13+ years later) just as enthusiastic about it as she was in the beginning. I’ll speak to the second point, since this is something I have been thinking a lot about lately…is it possible to remain just as passionate about and effective in an organization 5, 10, 20 years down the line? In many organizations that have been existing for what seems like f-o-r-e-v-e-r, I often find it the case that the employees are simply carrying out tasks that were invented and implemented ages ago, regardless of their effectiveness. That has less to do with personal passion and effectiveness, though I think the effectiveness and passion of the top runners often has a heavy influence on the attitudes and actions of the employees. From what I gathered from her conversation, she is passionate about women's issues because, well, she IS a woman. I'm curious though, even if leadership is something she still so strongly believes in, how can she continually be so convinced in the mission of her organization? How does one avoid burnout on an issue?

We talked a bit about organizational structure, which became much more relevant with interviewing additional organizations, especially women-focused orgs. I was correct in my previous blog post when I said I thought CWLI targeted natural leaders within a community, women already making something of themselves and working with them so that it hopefully trickles down to other women who are not so self-motivated and who I guess would be classified as the "down and out." This trickle-down theory...does it actually work? This is a question that I asked to an organization in Nashville today who works with the "down and out" population...and was not surprised to learn that though they may work with women that are lower on the totem pole, it still comes down to the fact that whoever is participating--either in CWLI or Against the Grain--has to WANT to be there. Has to volunteer themselves to change.

...really? What if someone wants to better their life, but it takes a program like AtG to figure that out? If AtG spends money on training a woman who fails their program and only relaizes after the fact that they need to do a complete that wasted resources? For the most part, I would think the answer to that would be no, not wasted, but it certainly puts a strain on the organization when proving success rates to funders...

Anyway, back to CWLI. It was certainly nice to connect with a woman in TN and hear the same issues that are in Buffalo are in TN, are in Iowa, are name it. But I knew that. It's like the story that Marj told me about CWLI starting: everyone got together weekly to talk about things that has happened during the week, complaining about inequality, etc. but nothing ever came of it! What was more interesting to me was the topics that were discussed in the mentorship program that they run. Many of the topics were about using knowledge of the male-dominated world to the woman's advantage ( to be politically savvy, using power, authority, and influence effectively in the workplace....). What this basically says to me is...act like a man to be accepted as a successful business/career woman in our society. Yikes. I understand that it can be necessary to use some of these tools and "act like a guy," but I believe this thinking is problematic. By assigning gender roles to specific qualities and by assuming that power and authority doesn't come naturally to some women, which it definitely does, we already have a huge gender separation! I don't know if there is much of an alternative and I think this argument is rather like the argument surrounding race (if you talk about it, it will continue to exist, but...if we ignore it, it may get worse because it doesn't seem like race and racism will disappear anytime soon...) In any event, meeting with Marj has gotten me to thinking about target populations, how an organization talks about and frames the issues it is tackling, and about teaching/mentoring models...

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