And none of this happened with M. There were many reasons for this, but one of them lay in the techniques - the routine behaviors - that we had both learned in or from explicitly feminist communities, techniques that, for various reasons, I was not able to bring to bear on my family's dynamic.
- Checking in: both soliciting information ("how are you feeling?") and giving it spontaneously ("i'm starting to feel some strain on my ankle") before it has direct consequences. With my family, no one said "i'm tired" unless it was a distress signal: "i need to stop now."
- Always acquiescing to the other's request for a break, a glass of water, a picture, whatever. Consequently, we stopped with some frequency, always earlier relative to tiredness level than with my family.
- Generally matched pace and non-verbally kept track.
- Made all decisions collaboratively and in good faith. E.g., traded a backpack back and forth at even intervals, unless modified by verbal agreement. No wondering "If i ask zim to carry the backpack for five minutes now, will ze keep it for five hours until we get back down, and refuse to hand it over?"*
The relationship between core values - doubtless historically determined to some extent but as close to a solid thing as there is in ethics - and the formulations we use and the behavior we train and encourage is not one of necessity. These behavioral patterns are contingent and doubtless imperfect. One flaw i can point out is that they depend to some extent on code phrases; they are much more effective within the community than without, such that i could not simply behave in this way with my family and expect it to work. More crucially, this flaw means that these very systems can end up functioning as behaviors of exclusion, a violation of core principles; that is, people who have not received this training and do not respond appropriately are punished (usually by being treated less well socially) and can be chased away. Probably we could have come up with many other, and some better, systems to bring our values into real existence in the world. Doubtless we will; as these behaviors hopefully train us to be better people, and more alert listeners, and to better enact our values, we will correspondingly adjust the behaviors.**
These values, and these behavioral patterns and formulations, are ones in which feminist communities train people. I'm sure that other justice groups do the same, but my experience of it is specifically with feminism.*** A lot of this training is implicit, absorbed by osmosis when one spends time in feminist communities or with feminists.
And a lot isn't. It's the consent workshops everyone hates to sit through; it's trainings for educators and people in charge; for me, it was Yale Swing & Blues (a wonderful stealth-feminist group) organizing everything from dance-etiquette trainings after dance lessons to large volunteer workshops where we discuss what to do when someone makes you uncomfortable, how to gently prompt people into trying the other role, how to call out people, that you don't offer feedback, how not to create a hierarchy...
I've been aware of it: aware what a difference it makes, aware of my own behavior and how it contributes positively or negatively, aware of safe and unsafe spaces. But this - hiking - was the first time i realized so explicitly that feminist training can make things better even in ways that on the surface have little to do with feminism.
*A lot of these sound like specific complaints, and they are, because that's the best way to illustrate what i'm trying to say. That is, I do not aim to complain about my family. They're wonderful people behaving in ordinary ways, without the benefit of feminist training. I really had a great time hiking with them; there were just a lot of little things that grated, and that made the experience just a little bit more fraught than it could have been. These little things were noticeable to me, and prompted these reflections.
**In fancy philosophical terms, virtue ethics.
***Yet a third digression: this seems to me to be somewhat of an American thing. The anecdotal evidence: i've encountered it much more among Americans than not (among a sub-group of Americans of course), and the French word for "safe" is ... "safe." Of course I haven't hung out enough in French or German or Mexican queer-feminist circles.