Building collective feminist leadership – unlearning the “me, me, me”

Collectively authored by Ria, Lucy and Elena

Western society is based on a colonial capitalist and neoliberal patriarchal system which encompasses all forms of discrimination, violence, oppression and dominance. This society seeks to dominate the whole world-system. This Western “way of perceiving and living” has literally led to putting life on Earth at risk. Central to this system and society, there is individualism and egocentrism: a focus on self-achievement and competition, on “success” and the image of the self, on self-centred personalised leadership, and on a lack of connection and sense of belonging as beings of nature. 

Feminist leadership is at the heart of creating transformative social change and creating inclusive and non-oppressive environments. By building collective feminist leadership, society as a collective will be much better equipped to challenge racism, classism, poverty, and any form of oppression and discrimination, building a more equal and just world where everyone feels part of a whole, where there is collective agency and not reliance on some attention/celebrity-seeking personalised leaders – who do not change the status quo by practising power this way. This would allow us to focus on collective achievements, building meaningful relationships and journeys with each other, and collectively use our power, resources and voices in an inclusive way. To do this, we need to put collectivism and collaboration over self-recognition and self-centredness. 

Artwork by AnnaOtto and Ria Ryan.

Feminist leadership is a way to profoundly transform the way that leadership is practised, and it is necessary to pursue a feminist vision of the world

We cannot profoundly transform how we understand and practice leadership if we don’t transform the fact that Western society is based on individualism and egocentrism. We cannot do this unless we start with transforming ourselves and dismantling our own egocentrism in order to transform the status quo. We need to unlearn the “me, me, me”. 

Let’s start with unpacking what feminist leadership is not: it is not about women becoming CEOs, it is not about strong inspirational women leaders spearheading or driving change, it is not about showing stamina or charisma, and feminist leadership is not only about women!  

The collective element is an essential part of a feminist leadership approach and vision. We emphasise that aspect when saying collective feminist leadership, as otherwise it could be easily misunderstood just as “another” way of practising individualist self-centred leadership, given that almost every space and structure in Western society is dominated by such a vision. If you think of how everything works, from politics to sport, it’s all about the individual and their image, and social media has really exacerbated this approach in a way that is difficult to challenge. There are very few examples of collective feminist leadership being practiced, and all those that we know are within intersectional feminist movements, organisations, collectives and networks. 

We need to stop understanding leadership as an individual practice, or as a “virtue” that only some have or something that is somehow bestowed upon a few “superior” people – it’s not really about placing the attention on individual feminist leaders. The whole nature of feminist leadership is about sharing power and building collective power, sharing leadership and building collective leadership, so that there is no dynamic of leader/follower, protagonist/spectators, hero politician/voters, etc. This “celebrity/hero/inspirational leader” paradigm needs to be addressed as it profoundly clashes with a feminist vision of the future. 

The transformative element of feminist leadership is key. Feminist leadership transforms power, and is about transformative work: in any structure/organisation/movement/community/group it is applied, the aim of their work needs to strive to contribute to building a feminist world that is socially just and equal for all, in reciprocity with all of nature. 

It is too easy to say:“but we need to communicate in a way that people understand and can relate to, using digital tactics in a way that builds personas and drive some sort of engagement”, just continuing with the same power dynamics: this is not transformative feminist work. This is just perpetuating the status quo for the sake of maintaining personalised power, thinking the “ends” can justify the “means”. They don’t. The how is so central to feminist transformative work, also because the how will determine the ends: if we don’t shift how we use those tools, narratives, and power more generally, if we keep considering people as followers or a mass that needs to be “engaged” or “mobilised”, we are just perpetuating the same dynamics that have led us to a violent, divided, unequal and unjust society.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its impact has made even more evident that individualism and egocentrism, along with its framework of a patriarchal neoliberal colonial society that oppresses, discriminates, creates and perpetuates structural violence, cannot be the way forward, we cannot allow for a return to that “normality”. It is now even more evident that a just and equal collective feminist future is not only an aspiration to have, but it is an urgent reality that we must build together, in practice, right now, step by step.

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