What kind of space are you sitting in right now? Are you on the bus, your living room, your cube/desk in a large open office, or the bathroom (side note: really, how much of the internet is now read in the bathroom)?
Because my life is what I lovingly call… weird… I have sat in a lot of different spaces, and more specifically in a lot of different rooms. Some of this is predicated on privilege: having time to volunteer, a job that has confidence in me (some conferred because of my race and perceived class), and living in a region with diverse events/social options. I frequently sit in activist group homes, fancy offices, ballet studios, IT trainings, conferences (academic, and professional), yoga studios, independent coffee shops, Buddhist prayer rooms, mountain cabins, pagan stores and workshops, and the virtual room of Google hang out.
One of the points Sheryl Sandberg makes in ‘Lean In’ (which, yes I read… long story) is to be sure you ‘sit at the table’ to not enter a room and head to the back, or sit to the side. This of course makes sense for women and other minorities in leadership positions, who should by office standards, be at the ‘table’. Broadening the scope (because the scope of her book is hella narrow) I think the real goal is to sit in many rooms, many different kinds of rooms, and to not always sit in the front.
When I enter each room I try to, or should at least try to be mindful of several things: where is this? what is the time and energy that took me to get here, and is this in an area that I am typically near, is this event supporting the local community, or is this space part of the tide of gentrification. Then who is in the room? Again, is it an all white room? Is it all one age, is everyone straight, or cis? If I keep finding myself in the same rooms, with the same people, with the same demographics, what does that say about my capacity to listen, to be exposed by things other than my comfort zone? Julia Serano discussed in her book ‘Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive’ that our only conceptualization of diversity is different kinds of bodies all liking and saying the same thing. Now I don’t go out and seek out hate groups to hang out with to ‘challenge’… but I do seek out places where not everyone likes my music, visits the same restaurants, or has the same standard hipster blocky glass frames and tattoos. I went to the DC Veg Fest recently and was thrilled to see how diverse the crowd was in age, race, body size, and perceived ‘differentness’ (ie. not just all hipsters, or hippies, but khakis wearers too!). The different organizations tabling also ranged in focus from animal welfare, to clothes, food, and addressing food scarcity. It is a little ‘chicken and egg’ to figure out which came first – the diverse tablers, or the diversity in attendees, but either way it was really exciting.
By sitting in different rooms I am always learning, listening; I get to hear from folks I perhaps wouldn’t normally talk with (when acceptable taking copious notes), I can listen and hear what others are facing, and share my own experiences when appropriate. Until about 2 years ago I realized that my life had filtered so that outside of night school I was never in a position of learning, of being quiet/soaking in a space. I was organizing, I was leading, I was talking and taking up space. These are fine roles, and ones that women are often excluded from, but in only being in the rooms that would have me in the role of speaker, I wasn’t in the stream of learning, or expanding my world view if I kept just re-iterating mine. Sitting at the table or the front of the same room every time does jack for equality.