Just a few days ago I read Skulldrix’s post on a separatist state of mind, which I have found very refreshing and enlightening, and which brought me back to many of my own first experiences of separatism. I remember some conversations going on at FCM’s on separatism, maybe a year and a half ago, where several of us bloggers and commenters discussed whether we should call ourselves separatists or pro-separatists. FCM at the time argued that separatism wasn’t a realistic or feasible goal for most women under patriarchy because the reality is that we can’t completely escape men, so it would be more realistic to envision ourselves as pro-separatist instead of separatists.
I can’t quite remember what I wrote at the time or whether I expressed myself clearly but I thought that the distinction between pro-sep and sep was unnecessary once we conceive of it as a way of being, an ongoing journey and struggle, according to the means we have and what is safe for our survival. Though I agree about the fact that most if not all of us can’t escape men on a daily basis. Most women will have to work alongside men to some degree because that’s the only or least worst job opportunity we can find. Very often we will have to depend on men to learn a skill, or to heal from severe illnesses, because men monopolise and control all disciplines and sectors of their society.
Well Skulldrix’s take on it as state of mind is really important, because that’s how it is really, and that’s also how radical feminism works. Once you have the state of mind, a strong perception and insight of how male domination works – including on how it affects and colonises us – the willingness and drive to move on, and out, and take women with us on the ride: that’s the only thing that counts. Everything stems from here. And radical feminism and separatism from men and from male mindbindings are one and the same to me, both theoretically and in my experience: both were absolutely synchronous in my life. Radical feminism can’t go without separatism because separatism (or a separatist state of mind) is the logical conclusion to radical feminism, that is to seeing and understanding how men’s domination works and understanding the danger men represent to us. Once you perceive and feel viscerally how destructive men are and how their mere presence may suffice to sap our vital force, your gut reaction is to run away from anything male.
But this is where the importance of separatist state of mind comes, versus mere physical separatism from men. Refusing to interact with men as much as possible is not enough. It is not enough to flee men and hang around with women only, we also have to unwork the effects of men’s ideological and traumatic mindbindings on us and unlearn woman-hatred, and transmit this to other women in some way or another. Separatism is of no use at all if it’s to reproduce similar male hierarchies and values of domination and subordination between ourselves. In order not to do this, it requires a particular state of mind: both a clear vision and focus and a willingness to maintain and especially develop this vision and focus over time.
This is because in patriarchy, our radical feminism / separatism is constantly put at trial, and all strategies are used, from attacks to manipulation – to put as back into fragmentation. There is no moment pure free consciousness or place where we can leave our status of oppressed and where men’s violence will no longer affect us if we are subjected to it. Oppression continues to affect us and our mind, because that’s what violence does, and men’s violence remains pervasive, even if the degrees of violence vary. The separatist state of mind is a commitment to persist into radical feminism, deep empathy towards women and hatred of male oppression over time.
And sometimes, we have to choose between physical separatism of men and our own survival, most notably when we need a job, money, skills, care or resources and we have no other choice but to get them from the hands of men. This is where the state of mind is important because we will choose to give as little energy and mindspace to men as possible, and to try to bond with the women whenever possible.
Finally, one thing I’ve noticed is that to continue sparking other women and reaching women requires to a certain extent working on the boundaries of male institutions (whatever these may be, whether blogs or other platforms that we can bear staying in for a certain amount of time) because there is simply no chance of interacting with women if we live recluded or hidden (although this choice is perfectly understandable). Mary Daly talks about this living in the boundaries in “Outercourse” and Janice Raymond talks about it in “A Passion for Friends”. It takes a very, very long time to bring women to radical feminism and for women to be in a safe enough position to be able to think about it; If we want to find women, we can mostly only find them in places controlled by men, because the vast majority of women in western countries are too afraid of separatism. Separatism therefore also means to me creating a pocket of freedom or an open door within this place from which to move on to and transcend, create true women-only identification and place.
I think this boundary-living must be done with extreme caution however because such experiences can be very abusive and getting the measure of how far we should go or which institutions we should be in the boundary of or when it’s time to leave before things get too nasty, is very hard. I’ve been thinking about the reclusive / vs boundary-living separatism for a long time and I know Mary Daly and Janice Raymond have criticised reclusion, as opposed to Sonia Johnson who embarked on this route fully with her partner Jade DeForest, and documented it in her books – they decided that they wouldn’t even interact with other women any more because it was too endangering to their integrity.
When I first became radical feminist and separatist, not only I couldn’t stand being with men but it was physically impossible for me and endangering for my sanity to be around women who were even slightly colonised. I couldn’t deal with the dissonance, radical feminism was too fresh, I had barely discovered myself, I had much less confidence in my perceptions then and my greatest fear was too lose my mind again. I had a visceral need to expel everything male from my life. Now, with several years of experience in radical feminist journey behind me, I don’t feel that my world will crumble down so easily when my reality as an oppressed woman is denied, because I have much more confidence in my own perceptions than I used to. I have also bonded to a network of radical feminist lesbian friends, learnt not to beat myself up any more when women turn against me out of misogyny or because they can’t follow me farther in my bus ride. I feel my feet and my soul are much more anchored into the ground and it’s less easy to topple me. I’m better at protecting myself, at creating situations that are safe for myself and women and avoiding those who aren’t. It is only with this background that I know feel slightly more confident about finding other women and understand better how it works. I know that the most important thing is to talk with women and create spaces where this is possible, without interference. Three or two years ago this wouldn’t have been possible the same way.
Most importantly, I love being around with women too much. I love feeling the electricity and spark of when we share and create insights together, I love witnessing women unpeeling the mindbindings and freeing themselves from the bonds of a man. I love the stars in our eyes when we See each other and our reality, when we become visible to ourselves. I love our laughter. Being with women-identified women and making this woman-identification possible is like dancing around a fire of joy, you can feel the fire inside you becoming bigger. I would never be able to become a reclusive separatist.
Here are the comments I wrote on Skulldrix’s post which spurred me into writing this post. I’ve rephrased the first one and put it here for clarity.
it’s great to see such a nice article on separatism. I relate to your perceptions on separatism, on many levels, and have followed a very similar path. Separatism started for me in a crossroads of circumstances. It started in part when I decided that I wouldn’t date any men because dating with them had been so painful and traumatising and I wanted to protect myself from that. I was already feminist, had almost perceived that PIV was inherently violent and a way to humiliate women, and that all men wanted was to use us as receptacles for their dicks. So I first thought that if I wanted to date a man, a way to prevent being used by them as their dick-socket to be thrown away the minute after, I’d have to choose one I knew for a long time and could trust he wouldn’t abuse me, had already built an equal, friendly, respectful relationship with him which stood the test of time, and especially, they would have to understand feminism and i should be able to be feminist with them without feeling uncomfortable about it.
Well I very quickly realised that this standard was totally impossible! Once I held this standard for interacting with men, they all disappeared out of my life very quickly. It became obvious that men didn’t want to interact with me or with women in general on an equal level, and that what “attracted” them in women was subordination to them – as soon as we wanted to be their “equals” they were repelled by it, lost interest or tried to thwart the feminist drive in me some way or another. This was a major eye-opener. I’ve said this before in various comments but I found this experience really amazing – just setting the bar high for men made them disappear out of my life.
Also once I saw how everything men do is always directly or subliminally a rape threat and reminds us of our penetrable caste, I couldn’t bear being exposed to anything male, either in physical presence or in mediated ways (religion, ideology, media, art, etc, etc,). It re-triggers unconscious or conscious defence mechanisms to rape, PIV and sexualised invasion. It’s stressful and traumatising.