AMC Session Inspiration: “Radical Crones”

The Allied Media Conference is a space to come together to explore the practice of “media-based organizing,” which is any collaborative process that uses media, art, or technology to address the roots of problems and advances holistic solutions towards a more just and creative world.

As we gear up for AMC2017, we are excited to take a look back at some highlights of last year’s conference. We hope the ideas and creative strategies explored below encourage you to propose a session for AMC2017!

At AMC2016, Hong Gwi-Seok presented a session called “Not Your Mama: Radical Crones for the 21st Century,” a workshop for women-identified people to explore the topic of aging as women in a heteropatriarchal society. Read Gwi-Seok’s reflections on the session below, and get inspired to submit a session idea of your own for AMC2017!

Radical Crones
Participants of "Radical Crones" at AMC2016

“Radical Crones”

Written by Hong Gwi-Seok

Radical Crones and allies gathered for the first time at an AMC2016 workshop called “Not Your Mama: Radical Crones for the 21st Century.” At the session, a small but mighty group of women-identified folks, from their 30s to their 50s, came to discuss everything from sexuality to money to dying.

The “Crone” is the third phase of life of the archetypal female, a pattern or model of the feminine based on the biological stages of Maiden (premenstrual), Mother (child-bearing years), and Crone (post-menopausal). Admittedly, it’s based on a sexist notion of gender that feels out of place in radical circles. Furthermore, it’s a Eurocentric model more commonly referenced by white women than those of color. Yet/and, we are all biological beings, experiencing the effects of age and changing hormonal states, whether by choice or not.

At our session, we asked: Can women-identified folks defy cultural expectations and make the most of this stage of life, which is practically the whole second half of our lives? As women of color, low-income women, LGBTQ folks, what does being a crone mean?

We recognized our age group as a distinct minority at the Allied Media Conference, yet felt strongly that we had much to offer and much to learn. Our culture, however, and the capitalist work model, deceive us into thinking that by the time we hit our 50s, we should be advanced in our careers, comfortable, and well situated for retirement. Many crones may feel it’s too late or too risky to reinvent themselves, quit oppressive jobs, leave cozy but unfulfilling relationships, and step into the unknown. The AMC, on the cutting edge of social change, may be daunting for boomers and Gen Xers who value stability more than dynamism. But for those crones willing to embarrass themselves, we’re never too old for the AMC!

During our discussion, we explored a broad range of topics related to aging as women and how we can challenge the narrative prescribed for us by a heteropatriarchal society. I was pleased to find that our session ended up being very heartfelt more than pragmatic - folks wanted a space to talk and vent and express feelings and fears. I ended up scrapping my workshop outline and instead following the lead and urgencies of the small group and building an emotional connection through our conversation.

We talked about how our sexual appetites can range widely, and how some women go through a kind of a second adolescence sexually, “like a teenage boy,” and how the clitoris is reportedly the only part of the body that doesn’t age!

We talked about relations with younger folks, and what it means to step into elderhood and matriarchy. One facilitator, Myrtle Curtis, introduced herself as a “Grand Mother”— a radical, empowered crone in contrast to the mainstream media’s negative view of older women. Sharing her reflections on the workshop, she said, “this workshop was necessary on many levels, to help stir visionary organizing,” which must include the voices of women elders.

We recognized that we often have more energy than our younger counterparts, and that on some levels we are freed up from many responsibilities, such as householding and parenting.

Even as we have decades of life experience to share, we still have so much to learn, and need friends much younger to challenge us, humble us, call us out and keep us growing. Our willingness to learn is what keeps us relevant or not. We cited Grace Lee Boggs as a role model of a lifelong learner, always willing to rethink her positions, and never settling into smugness.

We talked about favoring collaboration over competition to ease potential tensions, and embracing difference and vulnerability instead of trying to imitate younger friends. We discussed the significance of age without it defining all of who we are. We noted the changing definitions of family, and the necessity of intimacy beyond sexuality and blood-relations.

As we face the final decades of our lives, we concern ourselves with mortality. Frankly, it’s hard to talk about aging because death is a taboo topic in our culture. If we want to keep denying the inevitability of death, we must also deny the fact of aging. I commented that when someone tells a crone that she doesn’t look her age, it feels like an ageist condemnation to me. Even though it’s intended as a compliment, the assumption is that it’s bad to look old, because it’s bad to be old. Why should I not look my age?

Perhaps this generation of crones can rewrite the narratives of both aging and dying. Instead of fearing both, and accepting the medicalized/institutionalized cultural norms, can we take these processes into our own hands and embrace them?

I hope this is just the beginning of an ongoing discussion. After our session and based on our conversation, I developed this tipsheet “How to Be a Radical Crone” that I hope will be a resource for others and a starting point for further conversation.

As the Allied Media Conference nears its 20th anniversary, long-time attendees are also aging, and no doubt bringing inclusive, conscious, more just and creative approaches to each step on the path.

About the Author

Hong Gwi-Seok is an Iyengar Yoga teacher, mother of three young adults, DIY fanatic, cook, poet, and music-maker in Detroit. She presented the session “Not Your Mama: Radical Crones for the 21st Century” at AMC2016. Crones wishing to collaborate on future projects and discussions, can contact Gwi-Seok at kwisuk63@gmail.com.


Want more AMC session inspiration? Read our interviews with the presenters of “Babel’s Workshop: Best Practices for Multilingual Events,” “Collaboration with Github and Git,” and “Holding Space: Strategies for Anti-oppressive Facilitation.”

It’s that time of year again! We’re coming up on the 19th annual Allied Media Conference, June 15 - 18 in Detroit, and we need your ideas to make this year’s conference the best yet. Artists, designers, technologists, policy advocates, media enthusiasts: we encourage you to submit a session proposal! The deadline to submit your idea is March 12, 2017.

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