A Feminist Perspective on the Ethics of Communication

A Feminist Perspective on the Ethics of Communication.
Explored in the context of an ongoing group of women with decision making responsibility.
Kit Evans - Exec. Dir. AWAKE
AUGUST, 1980

In a feminist work group we must recognize that every act of each woman reflects our pioneering of •a new/old woman ethic. It is time to face the reality that how we treat each other, how we feel we are being treated, affects the direction of our movement and deeply affects our individual view of working with women through/in feminism.

Each time we communicate with each other, we create a negative or positive thread in our weaving/work. Because I believe this, this paper twines issues of personal woman to woman sharing, with women communicating within a group and as a group.

There are basic principles for ethical communication at any level that I would like to suggest:

1)   Personal agendas are valid. Secret agendas are anti—group and invalid. Dishonesty/secrecy of purpose creates dishonest/unethical communication.

2)   Invalidating another woman is an unethical means of advocating a point of view.

3)   Seeking power over group direction by blocking the voices of other women is non—consensual in intent/outcome.

4)   It is the group’s responsibility to make sure that no woman is alone, though she may hold a singular viewpoint.

5)   Empowerment of each member is the responsibility of each other member.

6)   Persons have a right to information that affects them.

7)   Each member has an obligation to get/be/stay clear with each other member; each woman owes it to each other woman to do that clearing with her, not by speaking ‘it out with others.

8)   The purpose of each individual’s communication within a group is to work towards agreement, not to shape decisions in her own image.

9)   There are times when it is valid for members to agree that what is said in the room stays in the room. It is far for the group and its members to demand that some things be spoken about only as a group, in the group.

10)   Women know/notice when there is conflict, pain or mistrust between/among members. There is a patriarchal process that ignores feelings in doing business. It is women pioneering to seek a way that acknowledges and validates as a part of our work.

11)   Every personal relationship between members of a group affects the group and therefore may be personal but not always private.


To explore:


The purpose of communication is to reveal/share your thoughts, plans, feelings with others. Among women, we must fight against clouding our clear touching with using communication to gain power OVER each other. We invalidate our new/old ways with secrecy, dishonesty, discrediting. As women we are the victims of twisted words, hidden meanings, words that say one thing while producing another effect. (See Gyn Ecology by Mary Daly) As women, our power is to TRANSFORM, it is beneath us to seek power OVER. (I attribute this knowledge to Adrienne Rich)

We have the space to move forward to experience creation of a
new/old way within our group. A step on the way would be to state,
as we give our views on an issue:

   “My agenda is to see ‘X’ outcome”.. .or...
   “This discussion touches upon an overall direction I would like us to see us take”.. .or...
   “My reason for not wanting ‘X’ woman to take/be given this responsibility is that I feel her region/viewpoint/class has too much influence already.”

At our last meeting California women gave us a strong example: their action in requesting time history of their work, and in their representation demands. They came clear, they spoke early, plainly and gave their demands over to the group for decision. They were implacable, some people may have felt blackmailed—-that is not the issue being addressed here. The element for learning was that they revealed their intentions, their feelings, their plans. Another way would be to wait, lobby, deal, align. . .to use stalking horses. While this may be appropriate strategy for dealing with male— dominant systems/institutions, for us to proceed in this path only means that we become (remain?) woman—run, male process dominated groups.

It is the nature of secret agendas that some members in the decision—making process have more information than others. No true group decisions can be reached if one segment of members manipulates, misinforms, under—informs another. Each woman feels/knows that a secret agenda is being played out. And decisions made under those circumstances will never hold. It will become part of the history of warring, old wounds, inexplicable factionalizing later. It will be over—turned, block movement, create hostility so great and wearying that old and new members alike leave in turmoil and disgust. I am not describing the event of members leaving because they cannot support the decision, but of those who will/must leave because they cannot support a dishonest process.

There is a deep and devious process open to all of us, that of quietly undermining a woman’s being/acting and thereby invalidating her point of view. We have all been taught how to do this by the examples of decision—making/politics we have watched/experienced. Every woman knows of her passions, beliefs, creativity being rendered silly female, of being discounted. If we follow this way, we again become patriarchal in our process, and a male process dominated group.

A tool of power in communication that is often used, is to block or harrass the expression of others. This can be done by seizing on a fragment of the issue and making it central to discussion, thus deflecting the attempts of others to express their thoughts on the body issue, by inciting feelings through rhetoric, by using techniques to invalidate the woman (I’m sure we could all expand this list) .~ When opposing views are not allowed a full airing, or at least a complete concise expression, and a decision is reached, it will again create the kind of lack of long-term support for the outcome described in #1. It is simply true that persons who feel that they are not allowed input will have o investment in upholding the decision and may, in fact, feel they have the right to undermine the group or the individual they see as having blocked/harrassed them. Energy must be spent in insuring that individuals know that while the group has chosen another course,