Exploring gender at the Margate megatraining

IssueMarch 2013
Feature by Hannah Lewis

Many of us have beliefs about ourselves that prevent us from doing what we want to do, or being who we want to be. Those beliefs can follow us around like a ghost for large chunks of our lives. At the beginning of the year, I participated in Training for Change’s epic seven-day training for trainers in Margate. I went there expecting to pick up some new exercises and learn the subtleties of group dynamics. What I hadn’t bargained for were some pretty eye-opening realisations about myself.

Not me, I’m sorted!

One of the most liberating lessons I took away from the workshop is that I can identify old beliefs that I’ve developed about myself, and then let go of them. I get the theory — this will help me grow as an individual and it’ll help me be a more effective activist. ‘But not me, I’m sorted’, I thought as the workshop started — I’ve let go of my baggage, I’ve dealt with my demons. As the week progressed, as I let down my guard, I realised that maybe I’ve a little further to go before enlightenment. I became aware of a quiet rage, but couldn’t place it, until someone commented on the way I seemed to scowl when I said the word ‘men’. ‘Ah’ I thought, ‘maybe it’s something to do with gender’.

Weeks since the workshop, after a lot of internal processing, it’s clear to me now that I’ve held this belief for a long, long time: Men are in control and make plans. Women fit in with men’s plans.

As a feminist brought up by strong women, I’m amazed that I’ve carried this with me, unconsciously, for so long. I’m now realising that this is only true for me if I keep repeating it to myself.

During the workshop, every participant facilitated a half-hour practice session. After my own practice session a fellow participant commented that he had seen me sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, wide-eyed and scanning the room. When he put his body in the same position, I recognised a predatory energy about me, and it looked like I was hunting.

“If I’m not in control, I’m disempowered?”

During the session, the group had been grappling with its own power dynamics. I was hunting for the conflict, trying to see what the ‘edge’ was that the group was trying to explore. I was subtly trying to control the situation by staying so intensely fixated on it. Ironically I found it difficult to follow where the group was going. When I’m participating in a group, sitting back relaxed in my chair, I feel much more grounded and I find it much easier to follow the many threads of a group; it’s like watching tributaries in a river.

Learning about my hunting energy led me to a second belief, connected to the first one: If I’m not in control, I’m disempowered.

As a woman, to avoid being submissive, I have to keep tight control of a situation. But now I know this isn’t helping me be as effective in my facilitation as I could be, and in other areas of life. And it’s also challenging my perception of confidence. Being confident doesn’t mean holding on to the reins, it means knowing when to let go of them.

The week in Margate helped me become aware of how these two beliefs play out in many areas of my life, and since getting home I’ve been consciously letting go of them. It’s liberating. Almost as soon as I got home, I realised that I’ve been missing adventure in my life, and I’ve been waiting around for years for the men in my life to plan adventures that I could join in with.

How liberating to know I can make my own adventure. I’ve since been on a last-minute trip winter walking around Ben Nevis, planned a solo cycle trip through Snowdonia and booked a place on the Coniston Marathon!

Of course, this work will help me be a more rounded person, but doing this personal work has a broader aim of building stronger social movements. The people who make up social movements are their primary resource, so the more empowered its participants, the more effective we will be at bringing about radical social change.

Topics: Training