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New Rules 

Airial Clark upends gender norms with Sonoma workshop

click to enlarge WTF? Airial Clark saw a need for a new type of women’s support network - PORTRAITSBYMJ.COM
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  • WTF? Airial Clark saw a need for a new type of women’s support network

Emotional Labor. Gaslighting. Harassment. Assault. Transphobia. Racism. Pay Gap. Scapegoating. Unbalanced domestic duties. Women are pretty exhausted from carrying it all with perfectly crafted gender-appropriate charm. Some women are even angry, raging, tearing apart the patriarchy in their minds all day, every day. And according to Oakland-based Airial Clark, a women’s leadership coach and all around social justice warrior, a lot of women are ready to stop giving a fuck. “When I say ‘not give a fuck,’ I mean women do the most. We’re always doing so much, and a lot of women's empowerment stuff just kind of adds to that,” says Clark. “It's like ‘Do more! Do more! Do more!’ It's like what the fuck? We're doing enough!”

Last fall, Clark, who has years of experience as a sex and relationship educator, saw a need for a new type of women’s support network and thus launched a new workshop entitled “How To Be A Woman and Not Give A Fuck.”

“Women right now are properly angry and they're properly pissed off, and they're finally adequately skeptical. So a lot of this shit that says, ‘There's something wrong with you. Here, I'm this man, or I'm a woman who's completely enamored with powerful men, I'm gonna teach you something,’” says Clark. “That’s what frustrates me about modern coaching, or the women's empowerment stuff: it depends on women feeling inadequate or like there's something wrong with them. It feeds on that. And I wanted to create a women's empowerment workshop which was the exact opposite of that.”

Clark had up close and personal experience with those exact issues at the end of her year working as an organizer for Interchange Counseling Institute, a now closed academic organization that focused on sex-positivity and personal growth. Before leaving her position there last fall, Clark discovered that the institute’s founder, Steve Bearman, was allegedly using his knowledge of several students’ vulnerabilities and past traumas to exploit and sexually assault them.

“I worked for this man who was supposedly an expert on sexism and empowerment. And he talked this talk that a lot of strong, powerful women bought into, but there was the opposite of that happening,” says Clark. “He was doing terrible things that no one knew,” she alleges.

Clark points to the sexism and poor boundaries in many of the programs that were born of the Bay Area’s Human Potential movement in the 1960’s and 70’s and how many of the unhealthy dynamics have carried over into programs meant to help women today.

“It was all started by overly privileged, bored white dudes who didn't think they were getting enough respect,” says Clark. “There's nobody who's actually not kind of a slimeball offering personal growth stuff.” Clark says many of the women’s empowerment programs available today rely on women’s vulnerabilities and poor boundaries to make a profit. Her workshops focus, instead, on the concept of intersectional feminism and women learning how to trust one another and be good allies to one another, while recognizing barriers that certain groups of women face.

“Solidarity means intersectionality. So, everything we bring into the workshop is accounting for the differences that different women experience. Yes, white women, shit sucks. And women of color, shit super sucks. Trans women, oh my god, they’re dying, you know?” Clark is passionate about focusing on what's it like to be explicitly anti-racist and acknowledging that all women are already leaders. Therefore there is a strong emphasis on leadership support instead of leadership development.

“It's a fully interactive, somatic, immersive experience for women to practice and learn on how to not give a fuck,” she says. Because the #MeToo movement has caused a bit of a backlash from men feeling attacked by the surge of outspoken feminists, Clark clarified that this workshop is entirely centered around women.

“We're actually focusing on the lived experiences of the women in the room,” says Clark. “We're not centralizing or centering it on men, or even hating men. Men are so not the point. We're not even talking about how to fix men, or how to change men. Like nope, that's not part of the conversation at all.”

Still, she acknowledges that there may be some critique of her bold approach and use of language. Our culture hasn’t completely come to terms with women speaking or behaving outside of traditional societal gender norms. She’s also very clear about women needing a new approach.

“Clearly, that shit wasn't working. Right? We tried it, we tried smiling our way through it,” says Clark. “We played by every set of rules that has been sat down in front of women. We have followed every fucking rule that has been given to us. And we still get assaulted and harassed and abused and denigrated and exploited. None of the rules have worked.”

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