Toronto-based Dr. Bonnie Burstow is a personal favorite feminist of mine. As a feminist counselor-to-be, I’ve drawn on her work a lot in my school work and intend to apply the hell out of it in my future counseling work. She created this equation:
OPPRESSION + LIES + ISOLATION = ALIENATION
ACTION + AWARENESS + CONTACT = POWER
Bonnie is a champion of women’s empowerment and liberation from our oppressive personal and socio-cultural lives. She is a psychotherapist, educator and researcher with particular interest in working with and empowering marginalized groups. Her long time work with CAPA (the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault) exposes and denounces the devastating harm done by electroshock
therapy torture (later sanitized and now known as “electro-convulsive therapy” or “ECT” but just as horrific and brain damaging) and brain-damaging anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs. Listen to her in action on the subject of electroshock / ECT here.
In the first part of her book, Bonnie describes oppression in general, as well as the landscape that females in particular live in:
Oppression itself involves the systematic over-determination of one group by another. It involves spiritual and material domination of one group by another. With oppression, one group – the elite – systematically reduces the “others” to objects to be characterized, used, and in some cases even disposed of. With oppression, one group has the power to realize their choices and to name the world in order to change the world, while the other has these choices, these names, and this world imposed on them.
Problems in life are rooted in systemic oppressions. The young girl is more likely to be given an impossible array of liberated and oppressive messages that hopelessly contradict one another and confuse. Unfortunately, indirect messages are more influential than direct messages. Women more generally are separated from eachother by over-responsibility, co-option, and the [culturally-specific] horror of female existence. Woman in a profound and meaningful way is being kept from knowing Self by being prevented from knowing woman.
On empowerment work, Bonnie explains:
Co-investigation and empowerment begin with solidarity in the face of an oppressive world. Where we are bridging oppressions, it is important that we acknowledge differences as well as similarities or else the joining itself becomes unauthentic and authentic exploration is sabotaged.
We nurture whenever we make room for the [inner] child, whenever we attend to that child, whenever we express any caring or support for the child. By helping women see the [cultural and family] lies for what they are, we are helping them decontaminate and reclaim their selves.
Oppression, lies and isolation serve to alienate, confuse, and disempower. Awareness/emotional work helps women cut through the lies, becomes less confused, and rid themselves of internalized oppression. It is equally important to help women forge links with other members of their oppressed communities [..] and take action, whether individually or collectively. Joining with and dialoguing with multiple others who are similarly situated, on equal footing, and intent on empowerment help forge a positive identity and cut through the alienation in ways that dialogue with a single counselor cannot. It also facilitates common analysis and common action. Our part in mending the woman-woman bond begins with relating as one caring woman to another.
Thank you Bonnie for all your hard work, you are an inspiration to all women and I wish your work was mandatory in all psychology and psychiatry education (yeah right, her work would bring psychiatry tumbling down). I highly recommend reading her book for anyone encountering a struggle with living – it’s a good form of self-therapy if you can’t afford or access good one-on-one therapy.