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„We are interested in a bigger picture of society!“ Robin, member of the Belgium feminist grassroots group FEL, in conversation with Rosa Reitsamer about feminism and the challenge of bringing about social change in society.

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Robin, please could you introduce yourself?
I'm a member of FEL, a Belgian small feminist autonomous group based in Ghent in Belgium. I joined the group two months after it was founded. I am mainly interested in queer issues and issues of transgender rights because these issues are part of my feminist ideals. Actually, about six years ago I met some people from a grassroots queer group and I was immediately very attracted to gender issues and especially transgender issues. It was after a few years that I met people who were also interested in queer issues, and feminism.

How did you become involved in writing and publishing?
I was always interested in writing. I started writing fiction. But right now I only write non-fiction. I have also written for Indymedia, which is an alternative journalist network. There is much to sayabout feminism and it's really important to spread feminist ideas, so I really enjoy writing about feminism.

And do you read other feminist media?
Yes, there are of course a lot of interesting books to read.There is also the zine culture and DIY publishing which connects to the anarchistic tradition and which is sometimes connected to radical feminism. And of course online, there are some interesting blogs today as well. Three of my FEL-friends and me have created the only Dutch-spoken feminist blog De Tweede Sekse I also read the feminist print magazine Scumgrrrls, created in Brussels. I love fun comics like Hothead Paisan and the comics and graphic novels by Alison Bechdel.

Could you please tell us a little bit more about the organisation FEL?
It was created in spring 2008 by three women and a genderqueer man because they felt the need to take feminist action. Years before there was another feminist group called Feminist Anarchist Ladies (FAM); they already had undertaken the first Witches Night, that's a yearly protest march against violence against women, and they were really aware of the necessity of feminism in a male dominated world.They organised discussions and they wrote and published texts online. Those people were influenced by anarchism, the anti-globalist movement and a radical left vision of society, but they had to struggle against many prejudices about feminism. We also have to do that. The most active people of FAM were attacked by men in the anarchist movement, I think that was really hard for them. Finally they stopped the organisation FAM. Some years later in 2008 our organisation was created; those three women and the genderqueer man were anarchists, and another person who identified as a socialist, and then there were other people who didn't clearly identify with a political movement. But they had problems about organisation.ome people wanted a very loose group that made for example on spot decisions about actions. They also opposed the writing of a basic manifesto for the group, while other people really wanted such a manifesto. There were also different opinions about topics like prostitution and pornography, so some people wanted change it from within, and other wanted to focus more on the analyses and critique of the sexist aspects of prostitution and pornography. So finally this caused a split-upin 2008, but immediately after that a new group has been created, and that was FEL Now we have about twelve active members and they are all people who identify as women or who are seen by society as women but do not really identify as women.
That's a little bit the history of FEL. So, FEL is an activist group but we are not officially recognised until now. We don't want to have the recognition right now. Maybe later, but we cannot do the administrative tasks that come along with it now, we want to focus on our topic, action, and consolidation as a group first..
We are doing direct political actions, but actually until now, the biggest part of our energy has gone to our own education as feminists. We are all interested in feminism and direct political action but we live in a society where we don't have access to information about what is feminism, what can you actually do with it, and who are the main people who wrote important things. The main thing we have done so far is our monthly reading and discussion groups. We also have invited some Second Wave feminists to talk about their lives, so that we can learn from their experiences. We did a few direct actions, showed some feminist films, gave some workshops about topics like feminism in general, the problem with pornography and prostitution, the influence of pornofication and the beauty industry on women in our society, Witches' night, zine culture, we got together with other feminist groups, participated to events like the World March of Women etcetera. Right now we are still writing our manifesto, we prepare some actions, we write and read, watch documentaries together, plan a Ladyfest etc.

When did you start the blog?
In the beginning of 2008. I'm talking now about the website of FEL: which we don't really use as a blog. It's more a website which gives an image of what our organisation is and how people can contact us. You can find links with information about different topics. There is also a page "men against sexism". If you click on it, you will find an empty page and a little text that says that we hope to meet a group of men who want to have solidarity with feminists and who want to make a group against sexism, but we still haven't met any man who wants to do that. But the FEL feminisme blog is not the page where we publish regularly. We publish regularly on De Tweede Sekse.

Before you said you invited some Second Wave Feminists. Would you say that your feminist self-understanding is that of a third wave feminism?
I'm not sure if there is a third wave. Actually we have the idea that we live in a very conservative time which is really not very progressive. We feel linked to Second Wave Feminists and it's really nice to hear them talking and to see what they have realised. It's very inspiring and impressive. But the times have changed. I think there is no Second Wave anymore. People in general aren't attracted to feminism at all, it has a very bad reputation. So I think right now there is no wave anymore, although we want to create a Third Wave of course. In the 70s feminists had a lot of positive attention and media coverage. There were many women interested in feminism, right now we are only a few people who are interested in feminism and we have to struggle against the bad reputation of feminism. But I think this might change. I think itstarts by being aware of your own context and your own world.
What interests us a lot is an intersectional idea of feminism. That is a view on the world that combines a lot of structural phenomena, like racism, the oppression of women, the oppression of transgender and intersex people, the oppression of gay people etc.

What would you think of a term like "DIY feminism"?
Well, anyway we have to do it ourselves. A We have to go back to grassroots feminism because in spite of institutionalised efforts towards more equality, there is still a lot of inequality and a lot of sexism, so we have to fight it ourselves. We cannot do it in the big women's organisations that were created because they are not very strong anymore. We are a very basic grassroots group because it is necessary to be able to be very critical again. I think, and I'm not the only one, that we really lost the sense of being critical towards social structures and the way our society is organised. So we have to do it ourselves again: to become aware of structural inequality to become critical, because I have the feeling that this is not at all stimulated in schools or in daily life. We have to take that up again.
The feminism that is still a bit popular in Belgium is more a liberal feminism, in which individuals are not really working as a grou to improve the situation of more women. They try to be 'strong' and appreciated women through their career, through conforming to certain ideas of strongness and individual liberty. That isn‘t what we want. We are really not interested in a very small minority of women who earn well or who have a position of power in society or who enjoy pornography and feel okay with prostitution. That‘s a small, lucky (?) minority.
We are interested in a bigger picture that shows that there is a large majority of women who haven‘t got a leadership position, who have more risk at poverty, suffer from violence and sexual violence etc. That's why our name is FEL- feminist and left. That means we are trying to look at bigger social structures, wanting to change this bigger picture. We are absolutely interested in a bigger picture of society.

How is your group FEL imbedded in a broader social movement in Belgium? How do you co-operate with other leftist groups?
We have a few contacts with other groups. Two of our members are also members of a known and recognised women's organisation, others are in the movement for climate justice, others are also active in a socialist movement, I am active in a transgender and intersex organisation. We have some contact with an activist group by younger women who are against the ban of the Muslim veil in schools and other public places. And then some of us go to the parties of the queer scene in Ghent, and to the activities of the two lesbian-feminist groups based in Ghent. We feel we are close to the gay-lesbian-bisexual movement, although we also have our critique towards them.Just about a year ago they started to incorporate transgender people as well, but there is still a lot of transphobia in the movement, and that's one of the things we a very critical about. So those are more or less the organisations that we have contact with, and we want to work together with other groups of people that identify as feminists in the future. It's very important to work together, but there are not so many groups that identify as feminists. Furthermore, I think most of our members have already been at least at one Ladyfest in Belgium or other European countries. It's very nice to go there, to share your skills, discuss and do something together.

How do you promote your organisation or your website?
The blog De Tweede Sekse has a feature that makes it possible to receive new updates and texts in your mailbox. Then we use Facebook to promote our texts and our activities. I think promotion is important to get people to become awareabout sexism again. We use email of course, we have a list of people who are interested and every time we do an activity or an action we email them. We also have printed some texts on the De Tweede Sekse blog in zines. We also went to the alternative book fair in Ghent, showing our publishing, flyers, brochures of other organisations etc.Sometimes we buy some copies from a good feminist book to sell them again. And one of our members has just started a website to collect and share feminist posters,

Where do you see challenges for your group?
What I experience as challenge is to convince people that they can be critical about the world we live in. I think it's a fashion to be more or less happy, of course people complain a lot but they are not critical anymore about social structures and things that happen. People accept a lot and people are blind to many things, for example violence and rapes inflicted on too many women of every class and age; it's still a taboo and still invisible, and it still happens a lot. I think it's a challenge to make people acknowledgeit again. Every year we do the Witches Night , which is traditionally a protest march against violence against women. The march can also be about another topic connected to feminism, but last year it was against violence against women, and there was a lot of conflict about it, especially with men, but also with women, because they don't want to accept that this happens. I think the same happens with pornography and prostitution. These are really big businesses in which a lot of women are objectified and abused and people don't want to see it and accept it because it is so perverse and it's part of our culture; and it is hard to accept that there are many victims. People hate the word "victim".
We use the word "victim" although we don't victimize ourselves, on the contrary, we want to take action and be opposed to the way things go. If we can pass the message to more people that we are strong and that we can take action andchange the world, I think maybe more people would become active and enthusiastic. I think it is a challenge to make feminism known again, to make it accepted again as a necessity in a patriarchal world. Our world is so clearly still dominated by men in many different ways, in many different parts of life: work, housework, care for children, jobs and property, safety, ... There are still a lot of things that should be changed if we strive to an equal society.

Thank you for the interview.

Robin, member of the Belgium feminist grassroots group FEL
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