Today I decided to combine two of my favorite concepts: Women’s separatism and the Riddle Scale of Homophobia. The Riddle scale offers a range of positive and negative attitudes along a spectrum, acknowledging that homophobia is not an ON/OFF switch, an either/or. And, it contributes the complicating assertion that “tolerance,” quite the buzzword in workplaces and schools, is still a very negative approach, all things considered.
An important consideration: When I use the term “women’s separatism,” I’m not merely referring to Lesbian separatist land communities. I’m using Marilyn Frye’s definition from “Some Reflections on Separatism and Power.” She writes, “Feminist separation is, of course, separation of various sorts or modes from men and from institutions, relationships, roles and activities which are male-defined, male-dominated and operating for the benefit of males and the maintenance of male privilege–this separation being initiated or maintained, at will, by women.” Since these male institutions, roles, and activities that we might separate from include rape, abuse, beauty standards, workplace harassment, compulsory heterosexuality, forced childbearing, male-dominated religion, and so on, separation is pretty clearly a basic feminist tool, yet it is extraordinarily vilified. But so is any kind of feminism that actually opposes patriarchy, and I think replacing “separatism” with “feminism” in the scale below still makes sense. I have found it extremely interesting to put reactions to feminism/separatism along the Riddle Scale, if only as a frame for categorizing them.
REPULSION–Oppose any form of separatism as unnatural and will do anything to prevent it, even violently. Includes rape of lesbians, forced marriage, killing women who leave abusive situations, kidnapping girls from school, setting fire to separatist land, and encouraging acts of violence of harassment in others. “Die in a fire” and other internet harassment fall here.
PITY–Separatists should be corrected if possible, and those who cannot be corrected are to be pitied, because separatism will inevitably die out due to its inferiority. Includes characterizing separatists as “doddering old maids,” “Second-Wave dinosaurs,” and “crazy extremists.” The public face of the Michfest boycott falls here.
TOLERANCE–Separatism is immature, and separatists should be treated as children who are expected to “grow out of” this phase. Includes characterizing separatists as women who have been hurt by men and have not been able to “move on with their lives” or women who have a “victim complex” and won’t “take responsibility for their own actions.” Also can characterize separatists as ignorant of the current scholarship who, with gentle education, may see the error of their ways. “Equalism,” “post-feminism,” and “I don’t need feminism because…” can fall here.
ACCEPTANCE–Do not agree with separatism as a strategy, privileging a “gender-blind” approach to feminist change, yet take a “live and let live” approach to separatists.
SUPPORT–Accept the logic of separatist approaches but may still be personally uncomfortable with separatism; however, may be able to offer the beginnings of support. Also may see the logic of separatism but cannot yet integrate it with other, conflicting beliefs. “I’m not a feminist, but…”
ADMIRATION–Acknowledges that openly opposing patriarchy takes a great deal of courage and strength, especially in light of possible opposition. People at the level understand the necessity of separatism on an emotional level.
APPRECIATION–See the value of what separatists have given us–domestic violence shelters, naming sexual harassment, women’s cultural communities, feminist spirituality–and recognize separatism as an important part of the feminist movement.
NURTURANCE–Assumes that women’s separatism–women’s ability to set boundaries and reject oppressive patriarchal institutions etc.–is essential to creating a just world. Setting boundaries is seen as a healthy and pleasant expression of personal integrity. People at this stage are genuinely delighted by all acts along the spectrum of women’s separatism and are excited to act as allies/advocates/practitioners of women’s separatism.
Frye writes, “When we are in control of access to ourselves there will be some no-saying, and when we are more accustomed to it […] we will not strike ourselves or others as being particularly negative. In this aspect of ourselves and our lives, we will strike ourselves pleasingly, as active beings with momentum of our own, with sufficient shape and structure, with sufficient integrity, to generate friction.” When we understand separatism correctly–as the rejection of oppression–we see separatism for the healthy, soul-nurturing thing that it is. When we exercise feminist separation, we are not sick, not crazy, not stupid, not irrelevant or uninteresting–we are IN OUR POWER, exactly where all women should be.
I welcome constructive criticism from radical feminists.