[Edit: I had a hard time not putting Amy’s entire post in here, because there are so many important points. For that reason, I only addressed part of it. I was trying to get at: is separatism a good idea and could it work? But I’m all over the place. And a lot of this post is simply quoting her and saying “Uh huh!”, which makes me think I should scrap and redo the post. Strap on your seat belt for this one.]
First of all, go to Feminist Reprise and read I’m sick of heterosexism too. In yesterday’s post, I referred to Amy’s discussion of heterosexism and separatism, and how it really got to me. Why? Well the classic reasons, of course. It was very honest, it laid out an effective plan, and it made me supremely uncomfortable.
[aside: Amy is a very thoughtful woman, and she wrote today that she hesitated to blog about this issue because she didn’t want to hurt heterosexual feminists. IMO, one of the aspects of community is support. Support from other feminists is vital and it means so much to me. But another equally important value in a community is to push each other, challenge each other, and hold each other accountable. It ain’t comfortable, but it sure is worthwhile.]
Full disclosure: I am married to a wonderful, pro-feminist man. In July, we’ll celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. No one is more surprised by that fact than me. He’s amazing, and I’m keeping him. Now I realize (yet another) area of hypocrisy in my life. Because you see, Amy’s right:
I’ve never been the kind of person to sit around and wait for other people to do what I want them to, particularly after I learned, at a fairly tender age, the new-agey sounding but no less true adage that the only person one can change is oneself. I still see a lot of feminists writing and talking and acting as if we really can’t get on without the men.
Here’s where my discomfort really kicked in. She’s right, I’m not willing to live without the men I love. But more to the point, I’ve never considered separatism, because heterosexual privilege kicks in and I don’t have to think about it.
This just leaves me speechless because it’s so dead-on right:
There were some lesbians who looked at the understanding that patriarchy is built upon the usurpation and direction of women’s emotional energy, sexuality, and labor into the support of men’s interests; they stood back and scratched their heads and said, “Hey, what would happen if we, being women, directed our emotional energy, sexuality and labor to the support of women’s interests?”
I had the same reaction to this:
Nevertheless, there are lots of ways of prioritizing relationships with women, that is, of being lesbian, without involving sexuality. As just one example, I know some women have at least discussed the possibility of living more communally, such as sharing a house with another woman and their children, in order to live more cheaply and have help with household chores and childcare, as well as companionship. Why don’t more women do this? It’s a question I, as a lesbian-feminist, cannot answer, because my social and emotional energies, as well as the financial resources I can spare, are already directed almost exclusively towards adult women.
After reading this next section, the “Yes, but” thoughts were taking over my brain:
I have to say, my feminist sisters, from where I sit it looks like a lot of you want the crops without plowing up the ground. … Some of us don’t want to understand that men are not going to hand over their privilege, that the transformation of happy heterosexuality into something real and egalitarian can’t begin until women refuse to participate in the institution as it currently exists. Think about it: Did labor unions say to workers, “Well, we know that some of you have really good jobs with employers who only exploit you a little, and you really care about your bosses, so you all keep on working. The rest of us will go on strike to try to get better wages for everybody.” Of course not. They knew that some workers’ positive experiences or fair treatment didn’t negate the analysis that the system is exploitive and only collective action in the form of refusal to participate by all will change it.
Now I’m really stuck. Some men (several, many?) are worth it. They are good, decent people who work to end oppression. When these men are in our lives, we want them to stay. But comparing feminist separatism to worker organization is an apt comparison. It isn’t enough to change things a little; we need drastic reorganization of our society.
If we really want that safe feminist world, women are going to have to give up male approval and male love and start to build something with other women—not because rape is our fault or because justice is our responsibility but because men like raping women and they like hitting women and they like controlling women and they’re not going to stop until they have to. All that rhetoric about “giving up heterosexual privilege” wasn’t about being politically correct or cool or cutting edge; it was about the recognition that justice can’t co-exist with the systems of privilege that created the injustice in the first place.
The rapists and batters are not going to stop. Women fighting tooth and nail have not been able to make them stop. What’s missing in this scenario? The rest of the men: men who don’t rape, who don’t batter women and children. There’s a continuum out there from wonderful, kind and thoughtful men down to selfish but nonviolent. All of those men need to be involved in the battle to end violence against women.
What would shake up these men enough to get them involved in the battle? If every woman walked away and lived by principles of separatism, we’d have their attention right away. As I write this, it makes me feel like a traitor, because I won’t leave my husband.
So I’m at an impasse. Separatism seems reasonable. I think it would achieve its goals. But I won’t leave my husband. I usually am on the other side of issues: I’m the one trying to shake others up and get them to see that taking action is the only viable choice.
Right now I’m reading Life and Death by Andrea Dworkin. Amy’s post created cognitive dissonance in me, and I don’t have any solutions. But there may be one truly concrete result from this.
But I just keep thinking, what if there were 10 or 50 or 1000 of us and we were holding out our hands to each other and saying, “I’m scared, but I’m ready to make other women my priority so that we can start to build the world we want, together.” What if?
Thanks to Andrea Dworkin and to Amy, I decided to take some real action. Today I submitted my application to Eastside Domestic Violence Program. On May 1, I will start a 50 hour training program that will enable me to work directly with and for battered women. Thank you so much for writing that piece, Amy. Yes, it made me uncomfortable. But being outside our comfort zone stimulates growth. I certainly don’t have answers for how to resolve my conflict/hypocrisy. This volunteer program is a tiny step, but it’s a start. I’m sick of heterosexism too was the catalyst.