Discussion group ideas needed
April 30, 2015 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I am hosting my neighborhood women's discussion group tonight. I am supposed to have some discussion topics ready, but I have absolutely nothing. Help!

In the past, our discussions have centered around an article chosen by the host of the night, but since we were studiously avoiding any articles about controversial topics, our discussions never really got off the ground. One of the group members suggested that for tonight's group, we skip the article and instead bring some potential discussion topics (including topics that might be about politics or religion or other potentially controversial things). Great, discussion! Except it's now hours until the meeting and I have no topic ideas, and Googling is giving me tons of junk that aren't actual discussion topics and/or are for like Bible study groups or business women businessy groups. This is a group of women in our 30s/40s/50s, our biggest common factor is that we all live in the same place and are nice people presumably interested in fostering a sense of community in our neighborhood.

Help me, Metafilter! Any ideas for discussion group questions? Any leads on good websites with actual discussion group ideas?
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Local history? Women in local history?
posted by bimbam at 9:53 AM on April 30, 2015

I swear I posted that BEFORE I looked up your location. :D
posted by bimbam at 9:54 AM on April 30, 2015 [17 favorites]

Demographics of aging Boomers and how to deal with aging parents while raising children.
What will society look like to service these elders? More senior housing? More multigenerational homes?
How will healthcare change and respond?
End of life decisions and hospice care?
An emotional topic but probably not contentious. And those that haven't faced aging parent issues yet will learn a lot, those dealing with it can find a community of support.
Good luck!
posted by littlewater at 9:57 AM on April 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

Off the top of my head, how about a discussion inspired by this recent NPR blog post (it would be helpful if they could read it prior to discussing, but you could also have some printed copies to give people or, give people the link if they like the idea of discussing it): Is It Sexist To Say That Women Are Superior to Men?
posted by gudrun at 9:58 AM on April 30, 2015

littlewater beat me to several topics I was going to suggest.
posted by Elsie at 9:59 AM on April 30, 2015

I'd be curious (as a man & father) what women of different backgrounds would have to say about the recent media kerfluffle about the African-American Baltimorean mother who publicly whacked the bejeezus out of her teenage son on camera. Representations of motherhood, of femininity, of discipline, of the voyeuristic nature of the public commentary around the incident, parent shaming in US culture, etc. Potentially fraught, sure, but interesting nonetheless and not necessarily an alienating discussion.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:03 AM on April 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

Positive women role models in each other's lives, and what made them stand out
posted by spindrifter at 10:06 AM on April 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

You could consider something like this book: Would You Eat Your Cat?. It provides thought experiments and conundrums, designed to inspire discussion about a wide range of interesting moral topics.

Relatedly, you may be able to mine Ask.Me archives for useful conversation starters. I'm thinking of Human Relations questions, for instance, that allow one to consider moral and social matters from unusual angles. Consider, for instance, the question from a few years ago, in which someone wasn't sure if she should be held financially responsible for replacing the sweater a guest tore while on her property. An issue like that is controversial, in the sense that there are many reasonable positions that can be taken and a fair bit of discussion that can result from considering the case, but it is not controversial, in the sense that it is unlikely to inspire angry religious/political debates.
posted by meese at 10:25 AM on April 30, 2015

Just this Tuesday I was hanging out with 6 of my friends (we are all 30s-40s; I'm the youngest) for our weekly ladies' night, which usually just involves grabbing a few beers/glasses of wine and gabbing. I wanted to make it less chit-chatting, so I posed a question I've been thinking about a lot on my own. It led to a good 3-hour discussion, so maybe something like this would work for you?

I asked: When you think of yourself, do you consider yourself a girl, a woman, a lady, or other? If you consider yourself a woman now, but at one time considered yourself a girl, what was the catalyst for that change? (This brought up other questions, you may want to keep in mind, such as: What does "woman" mean to you? What does "girl" mean to you? How do we "do" woman/girl?)

Some of us, in our 30s and 40s, still think of ourselves as girls, while others take offense to being called a girl and are resolutely women. I think it sparked good conversation because in the group, at least two people said, "I've never thought about this before." Maybe your group is different, but I think it would still be an interesting start-off point and isn't as touchy of a subject as religion or politics (though it certainly could contain elements of those).

I'd love to know what you decide on!
posted by dearwassily at 10:36 AM on April 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

Housework and gender roles.

When I worked at a Fortune 500 company and had no car, I was routinely picked up by people from the company and given a ride home. I often didn't really know these people, but sitting next to someone in a car for 10 minutes is a comfortable situation in which to be chatty. I would talk about having adult special needs sons who still lived with me. I was routinely given all kinds of sympathy for being some kind of saintly martyr of a mom and every last person assumed that "And after working all day, Now you have to COOK. You poor thing!" And I would say "Nope. I will do a little vegetable prep, but my oldest son does the cooking. After I do vegetable prep, I will take a bath and when I come out of the bath, dinner will be ready and he will serve me my dinner." They would turn green with envy and stop talking about how pathetic my life was.

Even the highest ranking woman in my department spent half her weekend doing housework -- a woman whose husband had followed her to her new job so she could take this spiffy promotion. And she got all defensive when this came up in discussion -- that I mostly didn't do "women's work" anymore at home, my two sons did that, because I was now the breadwinner. (To be fair, there was one female senior manager who did not cook, her husband cooked. But almost all the women did the cooking on top of having corporate jobs -- and the grocery shopping, etc.)

If the discussion takes off and goes well, you can suggest the following books for future discussions:

More Work For Mother: The Ironies Of Household Technology From The Open Hearth To The Microwave

Chore Wars: How Households Can Share the Work & Keep the Peace

Maybe do a like a chapter a week instead of an article a week or something like that.

There are other related books for this topic on subjects like The Second Shift and the pink collar ghetto. Women wind up in pink collar ghettos so they can preserve their energy for the second shift. If this topic goes over well, there are lots of articles and books out there that you could look up for future meetings, not just ones specifically about housework but also about how this negatively impacts women's careers.
posted by Michele in California at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

picking up on the "fostering a sense of community theme"... Do smartphones promote or detract from a sense of community? (My suspicion is that 20-somethings would say 'promote', and 50-somethings will say 'detract'). Might be fun to have each person create a throw-away twitter account and spend an hour tweeting each other. This, of course, assumes that each person has access to a computer or smartphone, so....
posted by at at 10:56 AM on April 30, 2015

What advice would you give your younger (15? 20? 30? 35?) self?

What advice do you think your mom, grandmom, good older friend would give to you at your age from their perspective?
posted by RoadScholar at 11:16 AM on April 30, 2015

Raising the federal (or local) minimum wage. How will this affect the women and children affected by poverty and poverty-level wages? How will it affect communities, both small business and the greater spending capacity of consumers? Do you think a raise will help close the gender and race pay gap? What do you think about the idea that fewer public services might be needed if people were paid at an above-poverty rate?
posted by weeyin at 11:21 AM on April 30, 2015

We got a really good discussion going in my feminist harridans group with this blog about how women change their names when they get married, the social expectations around that, and branching into self-determination and how you work with multiple surnames in a family and different ways of naming children (Spanish mother's and father's name, Russian patronymics, Icelandic -sson/-dottir, etc)
posted by corvine at 11:25 AM on April 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maybe search ask.mefi for "ask vs. guess culture", tell your group some of the questions for which that concept was offered in the answers. Here's the famous post Ask vs. Guess culture. And an external article about that post and the concept: This column will change your life
posted by at at 12:11 PM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would go so far as to print out the two pieces on Ask vs Guess culture and talk about it in gendered terms: Guess culture sounds like a stereotypically female thing and Ask culture sounds like a stereotypical male thing. See if you can get folks to brain storm a bit about why women tend to default to people pleasing and Guess culture and men tend to default to Ask culture and are more able to just say No. (I think this has potential to get heated, but if handled well, would be though provoking and not necessarily fighty.)
posted by Michele in California at 12:24 PM on April 30, 2015

If you're all post-secondary-educated or putting kids through college or planning to, how about stuff related to college? Allows for current issues to be discussed, sports, even just sharing fun college stories.

-rising cost of college
-favorite college courses and why?
-liberal arts or technical training?
posted by resurrexit at 1:13 PM on April 30, 2015

I used to teach first year (introductory) women's studies, and one of the things that always provoked a lot of discussion was distributing media images or ads for students to discuss. I'd ask them what messages about gender the ads or images seemed to convey. IOW, what do these ads suggest are "the ideal man"? "The ideal woman"? What are women NOT supposed to do/be? What about men?

If you can access it during your meeting on a laptop or iPad, Sociological Images would be a great discussion catalyst. Their website has smart articles on many, many topics and they collect relevant images on their Pinterest boards. Some boards that would probably provoke a lot of discussion are

Pointlessly Gendered Products
Women vs. People
Gendered Food
The Mean Girls Meme

Have fun!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:03 PM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks you guys! These are all best answers! We ended up using a topic that another woman brought to the group, which was for us to go around and tell our life story, or at least, important things about our lives. I will be keeping all of these ideas in my back pocket for future meetings.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:29 PM on April 30, 2015

Here's a list from the NYT of random things to discuss. It's for young people, but maybe you'll find inspiration there.

edit: Welp, guess you don't need suggestions anymore! I will add: my mom is in a group like this and I think it helps to not just have topics, but to have a set of questions related to the topic to keep the conversation going when it stalls. Whoever is hosting will guide the discussion through the set of questions, or come up with new questions to pose along the way. That helps spur debate.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:33 PM on April 30, 2015

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