Sue Tibballs: Where are the females in the campaigning canon?

For someone who has spent most of her career in the women's movement, it feels like female voices are too often missing in campaigning, writes our columnist

Since joining the Sheila McKechnie Foundation in January, I have been reading the various books and guides on how to campaign. I've been surprised by how many are written by people who have campaigned chiefly in the green movement, and for Greenpeace in particular. I have just finished reading the new edition of Chris Rose's How To Win Campaigns, for example. It gives excellent advice and has some great stories drawn from Chris's front-line - and highly successful - career in green activism. And yet, to someone who has spent most of her career in the women's movement, it also feels like some aspects of my experience are missing.

For feminists, for example, activism in the public realm is always accompanied by exploration and enquiry of the private. The personal is political, as we say - understanding how society influences us is a necessary part of understanding how we can influence the world. But this consciousness-raising stage of activism seems to be wholly missing in the how-to-campaign canon (if we can call it that).

Pursuing this gender perspective, there is also something quite masculine, I think, in classic green tactics. Boarding ships and scaling buildings - isn't this quite swashbuckling and heroic? In fact, I've just been given a brilliantly boys-own guide to campaigning by a Swiss ex-Greenpeace campaigner called Peter Metzinger. It is called The AC/DC Strategy and marries his love for rock'n'roll with his advice for campaigners - complete with a buxom and bestockinged Rosie on the cover. I like the creativity and mischief in Peter's approach. And why not have a book for the boys? But where are the more feminine versions? What would a feminist approach to campaigning look like?

I started my career at the Women's Environmental Network, a hybrid of feminism and environmentalism. How it came to be born is instructive. Its founder, Bernadette Vallely, had worked at Friends of the Earth in the late 1980s and wanted it to look at the domestic and personal aspects of environmentalism, but FoE wanted to stay focused on the big global challenges. So Bernadette left and set up WEN, which ran powerful campaigns around household waste, the effects of toxins in breast milk and how female consumers could buy fashion, jewellery and make-up sustainably. FoE and WEN are both very different today, but it is interesting to observe WEN (the female focus on the personal and domestic) setting up separately from FoE (the male focus on the public and global).

I'm not for a minute saying one approach to campaigning is right and the other wrong, or even that one is better. And of course I am drawing on some gross stereotypes to make my point. But these observations do make me wonder whose version of campaigning we are teaching. Whose lens are we looking through to teach the next generation? Are those of us who attempt to teach campaigning drawing on a sufficiently diverse experience?

I have just learnt that a new history of campaigning has been written, funnily enough, by someone at FoE. I wonder what stories it will tell? I can't wait to find out ...

Sue Tibballs is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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