"There should be a place for women to get together and discuss issues without someone else telling them what they should think." - Pauline Wahl
by Kathy Magnuson
Minnesotans might like to think we are a more progressive state than North Dakota, but Pauline Wahl would disagree. She has taken on the task of helping Minnesota catch up.
"I moved to Minnesota from North Dakota," she explained. "I had no friends here and started looking for people and groups ... all the people I got to know shied away from discussing issues. I didn't realize that my thoughts were so much different than a lot of the people I worked with until I started asking questions and bringing up issues. Women seem so shy to talk about issues that might cause them to disagree with each other and so those issues didn't come up a lot."
Undaunted in her search for connections, she started going to political candidate forums but found them pretty empty. She joined a national women's organization that claimed to have a Wright County chapter near her home, but found none at that time. She felt that another women's group in her area was just a junior version of the partner men's organization.
"I just decided that I would start inviting the women I knew to come out and get together," Wahl said. She asked the director of the North Dakota Women's Network she had belonged to if she could copy their name and format of Feminist First Friday. With a green light from them she was on her way.
Her idea launched in spring of 2010 and after a break in the summer, it began rolling in the fall. "I started with a few women I knew in Elk River. I went to a pro-choice rally at the Capitol and met another woman from my district. I just invite women that I've met one at a time and whoever can fit it in and show up is good." After the group's November gathering in Otsego, a woman in a nearby booth who had overheard the Feminist First Friday conversation asked Wahl if she and her friend could join them the next month. A year, later, they are still going strong.
Wahl sees the group bringing younger and older women together. "I don't really know the political persuasion of most of the women so we can discuss issues and can all feel free to say what we like and not offend each other. Some are married, divorced or have never been married. We don't know much about each other but it doesn't matter. I think that is a lot of fun," she enthused.
"There should be a place for women to get together and discuss issues without someone else telling them what they should think. A lot of women don't know where to go for information on issues that would affect their lives or their daughters' or sons' lives," Wahl stated.
There are no dues or required meetings for Feminist First Friday, which meets in a local bar and restaurant. "There is no responsibility other than being responsible for yourself and your community. I think it's the simplest thing ever," Wahl said.
IFYOUGO: Feminist First Friday meets from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Otsego Holiday Inn's Mississippi Valley Lounge. For info about the next meeting contact Pauline Wahl at firstname.lastname@example.org
DIY: Feminist Fun Fridays
Beth Johnson enjoyed attending meetings of Minnesota NOW and the MN Café Coalition working for the Equal Rights Amendment, but she longed to connect with other feminist women and men outside of meetings, just to "be able to let down our hair and not worry about what anyone is thinking-to relax and enjoy."
To that end she started what would become a Feminist Fun Friday night tradition-inviting small groups of feminists to her home. She looks for a diversity of people through her workplace, her neighbors and the organizations she belongs to. She introduces people, hoping they will build networks, too.
It is a positive experience, a little bit different each time, according to Johnson. They have had movie nights, legislative discussions and just talked about their gardens. "Unscripted" is what she calls it.
One to 15 people have attended each Feminist Fun Friday "because that's what my house fits," she explained. Johnson's gatherings are "definitely multigenerational" and have led to some mentoring relationships. Johnson believes these feminist gatherings are "springing up all over" and are the next generation's feminist version of the old-time coffee klatches.