Doing Feminism at Home (or, "Homework")
Updated: Apr 14
CW/TW: This article discusses the current COVID-19 pandemic, domestic and family violence and harassment towards essential workers.
I acknowledge that this article was written on the ancestral lands of the Ngunnawal, Ngambri and Ngarigu peoples and I acknowledge Elders past, present and future. This land, which I benefit from occupying, is stolen and sovereignty by never ceded. COVID-19 is set to disproportionality affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; please sign this GetUp! petition to demand that the government adequately fund and resource an emergency response to ensure the welfare of Indigenous communities across Australia.
Sara Ahmed's concept of feminist "homework" takes on a whole new meaning in a period when we are literally stuck at home. Homework can be understood as something that we do at home, often assigned by an authority figure from outside the home. Feminist homework, on the other hand, can be understood as work that we allocate ourselves to transform our homes (and worlds) (2017, p. 7).
Usually, feminist homework takes place in all spheres of life, including home, work or school. However, now that many of these spheres of life have been shut down (for now), we are forced to think of more creatively about how we can do our feminist homework.
Before I go on, I must acknowledge the people who are unable do their feminist homework at this time. As we are all acutely aware, many people are unexpectedly grappling with isolation, unemployment, shifting parental responsibilities, working from home and suffering from COVID-19 itself. My thoughts go out to people who are immunocompromised and who are suffering due to the sickness or loss of their loved one's. We also can't forget the essential workers who are working exhausting hours to keep the cogs turning (and who cop a ton of abuse while doing it).
In this article, I explore ways in which we can do our feminist homework (if we feel up to it, that is) while in isolation. The suggestions below start off more light-hearted for those who aren't up for doing much (because, let's face it, living through a pandemic isn't exactly motivating). However, if you are keen to sink your teeth in to some gritty tasks, keep reading until the end!
1. Practice self-care
Yes, practicing self-care is feminist homework! As they say, you can't help others if you can't help yourself. Self-care may include eating or preparing a healthy meal, going for a walk or bike ride (if you're not in quarantine) or doing an online meditation, yoga or fitness class.
For more ideas about how you can engage in self-care practices, try self-care bingo.
2. Watch feminist series or movies
Watching stuff is not only a good way to relax, it is also a fun way to do your feminist homework!
If you have a Netflix account (or can borrow someone else's), my recommendations include the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Tales of the City, Kim's Convenience, Dear White People, She's Gotta Have It, Feel Good, The Good Place, Santa Clarita Diet, Special, Rita, Orange is the New Black, Jane the Virgin, Queer Eye, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Jessica Jones, Grace and Frankie, One Day at a Time, Sex Education and On My Block.
If paying for streaming services isn't in the budget, you can explore free online streaming services such as Kanopy, SBS OnDemand and ABC iView. To access Kanopy, you will need a library membership that has a subscription. Most universities and some public libraries have subscriptions to Kanopy.
In honour of International Women's Day, SBS OnDemand put together an entire Femme Fatal collection. You should also watch The Handmaid's Tale (CW/TW: distressing themes) and Shrill, an amazingly uplifting series about a "fat" writer who finds herself!
If you have Netflix, you can download the Netflix Party extension for Chrome which allows you to watch while chatting with your friends. If you don't have a Netflix account, you can use Zoom's screen-sharing feature to watch movies with friends.
3. Start a blog or write an article for a feminist publication
Have you got some extra time on your hands? Have you got something to say and a flair for writing? Then, you should give writing or blogging a go, if you haven't already! I personally set up this blog years ago, but I've hardly had time to write in it. However, now that I spend a lot more time at home, I am finding the inspiration to write.
How can you start a blog? The platform I use is Wix; however, some people prefer to use WordPress or Squarespace. I like Wix because it is user-friendly and you can edit your website in your browser using a drag and drop feature, which makes it easy to use. Be warned, though, these platforms are not free.
If you'd prefer to write for a feminist publication, you should check out some online magazines such as Feminartsy, Woman Kind or Meanjin. Also, if you have the resources, Zoya Patel (the founder of Feminartsy) offers short courses about Setting and Smashing your Writing Goals and Self-Promotion 101.
As a blogger or writer, you may want to consider having a Twitter presence (if you don't have one already). While Twitter has it's disadvantages (e.g. trolling), it also has it's benefits, such as helping you to build networks with like-minded people and to get your work out there.
4. Participate in online feminist events or campaigns
Do you miss attending events? Even though physical events are cancelled, a lot of organisations are migrating their events online.
While not strictly feminist, The Australia Institute runs some interesting events that have migrated to a Zoom format. On Wednesday 15th of April 2020, they ran a Webinar titled "The Role of Artists & the Arts in Rescuing the Economy". In Canberra, the local TED Talk organisation has started a discussion group.
If you are craving feminist events, why not start one yourself? Some ideas include starting a feminist book club, panel discussion or an online zine-making collective. There are many platforms that you can use to host online events including Zoom.
Perhaps you miss attending protests or rallies? Why not get involved with an online campaign? Every Friday, 350.org hosts a digital climate strike using the hashtag #climatestrikeonline. Tiktok is also a fantastic place to start online social movements, as demonstrated by the #passtheochrechallengemovement. This movement was inspired by hip hop artist Barkaa's online challenge to Aboriginal women and girls to put down the makeup brush and replace it with traditional ochre (note: please do not culturally appropriate this movement, I use it as an example only).
5. Support your favourite feminist writers & artists
Due to COVID-19, many feminist artists, writers and performers have lost their main sources of income. However, if you have the resources, you can support them. For a start, you can follow feminists on social media; some of my favourites include: Celeste Liddle, Ruby Hamad, Jax Jacki Brown, Benjamin Law and Carly Findlay.
Secondly, you can think of ways to contribute to their income. Find out if your favourite artist or musician is on Patreon or Bandcamp, which are both websites that support artists to get paid. The Feminist Writers Festival is also supporting feminist writers through a crowd funding campaign. You can consider buying the books or music of your favourite feminists; books I have read lately and that I can recommend include The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke and Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman.
Thirdly, you can support online events that support the arts. I recommend joining the Lounge Room Sessions group on Facebook, which is a live stream everyday Saturday night that includes drag, burlesque, comedy and DJs. Not only does this provide some fun entertainment on your Saturday night, but it also provides a source of income for performers. If you have spare funds, you can donate here.
6. Support the Aboriginal community
Recently, there have been urgent calls for the government to resource and fund Aboriginal health services to ensure they are able to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. If this does not occur, the consequences could be dire. Medics are preparing for "death and suffering" as COVID-19 hits the Aboriginal community.
What can you do? Firstly, you can keep up to date on with news. You can easily search for news on Google or set up a Google news alert. You can also follow Aboriginal commentators on social media, such as Celeste Liddle who recently wrote an article about how the virus could devastate the Aboriginal community. You can share these articles on social media or with your friends to help spread the word.
Secondly, you can call on the government to resource and fund Aboriginal health services to ensure they can adequately respond to COVID-19. You can sign GetUp!'s petition to Immediately Fund Elders Protection Areas or write to your local MP.
Thirdly, you can find some more practical ways to help out. If you have the resources, you can donate to Aboriginal organisations such as Children's Ground or reach out to remote Indigenous communities to see what kind of assistance they require. Or, it may be more useful to ask your local Aboriginal organisations how you can assist.
7. Support global action to end gender-based violence
It has been reported in countries all over the world that social isolation restrictions are leading to higher rates of violence occurring in the home. In NSW, Google searches on domestic violence have gone up by 75 per cent. The statistics of domestic violence before COVID-19 were already devastating and they are only set to get worse.
What can you do? If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, you can call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for 24/7 support. Domestic Violence Victoria has also provided a useful guide on how to support friends or family members experiencing violence.
While the government has committed to further funding specialist family violence services, advocates say it's not enough. Actions you can take include signing Fair Agenda's petition to urgently fund specialist family violence services to help women and children be safe while staying at home. You can also write to your local MP or donate to your local women's refuge if you have the resources.
If you want more information on this issue, you can keep up to date with the news (check out this recent article by the ABC). CARE Australia has also written a report outlining a current gender analysis of how COVID-19 is unraveling in Australia. You can also follow the international UN Women's campaign to eliminate violence against women and girls.
8. Join your local mutual aid group
Joining your local mutual aid group is a fantastic way to help out (or be helped by) your neighbours during the COVID-19 pandemic. A mutual aid group is a community-based organisation that reciprocally shares networks, resources, information and provides care for those in need in the community, including people who are immunocompromised.
My local group encourages young and/or able-bodied and healthy people (with resources) to support those more vulnerable in their community by becoming a local contact.
To learn more about the mutual aid movement, check out this interesting article published on The Conversation.
How can you join? You can search for your local mutual aid group on Google or Facebook. If you are a resident of Canberra, you can find the local group here.
If being a part of a mutual aid group isn't your cup of tea, you can volunteer in an official capacity. There are many organisations looking for volunteers at this time, including the Red Cross who are seeking people (both individuals and organisations) to assist in delivering their humanitarian services during the COVID-19 crisis.
Red Cross Lifeblood are also seeking people to donate blood, as isolation has increased the rate of cancellations. Donating blood is deemed as an essential service; so, not only would you be providing an essential service, it's also an excuse to get out of the house!
If you search Seek Volunteer, there are many volunteer opportunities. In Geelong, for instance, an organisation seeks "Lockdown Buddy Volunteers" in which volunteers provide non-contact support to seniors, such as deliverying groceries and walking pets. There are many other roles, including delivery drivers, sewers and secretarial services.
If you are a Canberra local, I recommend volunteering for the The Food Co-op. They continue to run organic store during the COVID-19 pandemic and volunteers are the backbone of their operation. At the time of writing, they were looking for volunteers to help with jar prep, shelf stocking and cleaning.
10. Support essential workers
It is essential workers who are keeping the wheels spinning right now, including healthcare workers, carers, supermarket employees, factory workers and delivery drivers. A lot of these people are women and gender-diverse people who already have caring responsibilities at home.
How can you help? If you know someone who works in an essential service, you can check in with them. Or, if you have the resources, you could deliver them meals or give them a gift voucher. If you have some extra time on your hands, you could also make them a homemade card, gift or send them a hand written letter to show your appreciation. Or, you can simply thank them for what they do and let them know that they are appreciated.
Don't forget to be friendly to essential staff and if you see them being harassed, please intervene (unless it is unsafe to do so)! Supermarkets are tackling violence against supermarket staff through their own campaigns; however, this does not stop us from intervening when we see a case of it. For example, a young Woolworths employee in Victoria was recently harassed by a customer, leaving her in tears. In the photo, we can see a customer comforting the staff member, which is exactly the kind of thing that we should do in this situation (however, don't forget to practice social distancing!).
If you are healthy and in need to work, you could consider taking a job in an essential service. Despite steep job losses, there is a high demand for certain jobs including supermarket staff, administrators, call centre workers, care workers, delivery drivers and farm workers. Services Australia is currently hiring 6000 temporary workers to get through the backlog of Centrelink applications from people recently unemployed.
If you are from overseas on a visa in Australia, there is a new special visa available that allows you to stay in the country to work in some essential services such as healthcare.
There are countless ways in which you can do your feminist homework right now, this is not an exhaustive list. How are you doing your feminist homework in the COVID-19 period? What would you add to this list?
Leave your comments below, I'd love to hear from you!
Ahmed, S 2017, Living a Feminist Life, Duke University Press, Durham.