The Language of Domination: Oppressive Meeting Dynamics
COCo stumbled across this list a few years ago. It was adapted from Nemesis, a radical feminist collective active in Montreal in the mid 2000s, and the article “Working Together for Change”, put out by the School of the Americas and written by Bill Moyers. We’re not sure who actually put the list together – so if you know, let us know!
It describes a number of different ways that oppressive dynamics can play out in meetings and in organizations. In general, these issues are always good to look out for in yourself, and in your organization, to ensure more inclusive and participatory meetings and groups.
White/Male Domination in Organizational Spaces
- Hogging the Show: speaking too often, for too long, and too loudly
- Speaking in capital letters: presenting your opinions and solutions like they are the final word on the matter, an attitude that is reinforced by your tone and your body language
- Seeking the spotlight: using all sorts of strategies, drama, and set ups to attract a maximum amount of attention to yourself and your ideas
- Self-listening: Formulating a response after the first few sentences, not listening to anything from that point on, and leaping in at the first pause
- Deposed kingship: attaching oneself to formal positions of power and give them more importance than they are actually worth, and continually to hold on to and identify with those positions after they have left them
- Diminish & belittle/ putdowns and one upmanship: starting your sentences with, “I used to believe that, but now…” or “How could you say that…”
- “Jouer au coq”: seeking attention and support from women, while public putting yourself in competition with men
- Instransigence and dogmatism: affirming a position that is final and not up for discussion, even for fairly minor conversations
- Invisibilizing marginalized folks: pretending that racism, classism, homophobia, ableism, etc do not exist in our more “evolved” groups. Saying things like: “as feminists, we understand oppression, so this isn’t a problem between us”.
- Speaking for others: making your own opinions the voice of some collective to give them more weight, i.e. “many of us think that”.
- Erasure meets Self-Involvement: Interpreting what others say to support your own statements, i.e, “what she wants to say, in fact, is that…”
- Keys to the City: Controlling the circulation of information: almost jealously keeping key information of the group in a small set of hands—or one set of hands—for one’s own use and profit.
- Master of Ceremonies: Taking actual physical control to direct the group: continually taking key responsibilities before others have the chance to
- “Draguer”: treating others seductively, using sexuality to manipulate, using ambiguous “humour”
- Lashing out: Seeking emotional control, people often adopt a defensive attitude and respond to any opinion contrary to their own as if it was a personal attack
- Forcing: Imposing an idea that the only valuable issues on the table are the task and the content, while sidelining people’s learning processes, the general process that informs and grounds your work, and the shape and form of the work that is getting done
- Negative/critical: finding someone wrong or problematic in every single subject or project that is brought up
- Avoiding Feeling: Avoiding all emotion: intellectualize, joke, or passively resist at any point where it is time to exchange personal feelings
- Condescension and paternalism: infantilizing others, particularly people who are new to the group. Typical phrasing “you’ll definitely need my help in order to get that task done”.
- Playing mommy: over protecting and infantilizing others. Typical phrase: “Now, does one of the new… (e.g. women of colour) have something to add to this?”
- Playing victim: constantly searching out sympathy for one’s own suffering as part of the collective. Be offended, but passive, by the actions of others.
- Solution Giver: always being the one who gives the response or the solution before others have had a chance to contribute to the exchange
- Splitting hairs/nitpicking: bringing up every imperfection in other people’s contributions and an exception to each generalization that is offered
- Restating: repeating in your own words what someone (usually a woman) has just said in a way that is perfectly clear. Interrupting the conclusion of an intervention to recuperate it for your own ends.
- Focus Transfer: Avoiding the question: bringing the subject of discussion back to issues that you have mastery of, in order to look smart and knowledgeable about the issue
- Taking certain voices more seriously than others. Always giving more weight and authority to certain people’s perspectives; checking out when women/poc are speaking
Other Resources About Meetings
- This resource deals more about making meetings inclusive when working with a multilingual group
- This resource deals with Board meetings
- Our project on anti oppression in organizations (or rather, one of them!) could be interesting also
How to Use this Document
We have used this document by sharing it with a whole group, and asking people to identify:
- What are some of the dynamics they themselves have participated in?
- What are some of the dynamics you have observed in the group? Are they similar or different to what is written in this list?