Lesbian separatism: Wikis

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Separatist feminism is a form of radical feminism that holds that opposition to patriarchy is best done through focusing exclusively on women and girls.[1] Separatist feminists generally do not believe that men can make positive contributions to the feminist movement and that even well-intentioned men replicate the dynamics of patriarchy.[2]

Author Marilyn Frye describes separatist feminism as "separation of various sorts or modes from men and from institutions, relationships, roles and activities that 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."[3]

In a tract on socialist feminism published in 1972, the Hyde Park Chapter of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union differentiated between Separatism as an "ideological position", and as a "tactical position".[4] In the same document, they further distinguished between separatism as "personal practice" and as "political position".[5]


Heterosexual separatist feminism

One of the earliest, and best known examples of heterosexual separatist feminism was Cell 16. Founded in 1968 by Roxanne Dunbar, Cell 16 has been cited as the first organization to advance the concept of separatist feminism.[6][7] Cultural Historian Alice Echols cites Cell 16 as an example of feminist heterosexual separatism, as the group never advocated lesbianism as a political strategy, instead promoting the idea of celibacy or periods of celibacy in heterosexual relationships.

Echols credits Cell 16's work for "helping establishing the theoretical foundation for lesbian separatism".[7]

In No More Fun and Games, the organization's radical feminist periodical, Cell Members Roxanne Dunbar and Lisa Leghorn advised women to "separate from men who are not consciously working for female liberation", but advised periods of celibacy, rather than lesbian relationships, which they considered to be "nothing more than a personal solution."[8]

Lesbian separatism

Lesbian separatism is a form of separatist feminism specific to lesbians. Separatism has been considered by lesbians as both a temporary strategy, and as a lifelong practice.

Charlotte Bunch, an early member of The Furies Collective, viewed separatist feminism as a strategy, a "first step" period, or temporary withdrawal from mainstream activism to accomplish specific goals or enhance personal growth.[9] Other lesbians, such as Lambda Award winning author Elana Dykewomon, have chosen separatism as a lifelong practice.

In addition to advocating withdrawal from working, personal or casual relationships with men, The Furies recommended that Lesbian Separatists relate "only (with) women who cut their ties to male privilege"[10] and suggest that "as long as women still benefit from heterosexuality, receive its privileges and security, they will at some point have to betray their sisters, especially Lesbian sisters who do not receive those benefits."[10]

This was part of a larger idea that Bunch articulated in Learning from Lesbian Separatism, that "in a male-supremacist society, heterosexuality is a political institution" and the practice of separatism is a way to escape its domination.[11]

In her 1988 book, Lesbian Ethics: Towards a New Value, Lesbian Philosopher Sarah Lucia Hoagland alludes to Lesbian Separatism's potential to encourage lesbians to develop healthy community ethics based on shared values.[12]

Bette Tallen believes that lesbian separatism, unlike some other separatist movements, is "not about the establishment of an independent state, it is about the development of an autonomous self-identity and the creation of a strong solid lesbian community."[13]

Lesbian historian Lillian Faderman describes the separatist impulses of lesbian feminism which created culture and cultural artifacts as "giving love between women greater visibility" in broader culture.[14] Faderman also believes that lesbian feminists who acted to create separatist institutions did so to "bring their ideals about integrity, nurturing the needy, self-determination and equality of labor and rewards into all aspects of institution-building and economics."[14]

The practice of Lesbian separatism sometimes incorporates concepts related to queer nationalism and political lesbianism. Some individuals who identify as Lesbian separatists are also associated with the practice of Dianic paganism.[15][16]

The term 'womyn's lands' has been used in America to describe communities of lesbian separatists.[17]

Radical lesbianism

The radical lesbian movement is a francophone lesbian movement roughly analogous to English-language lesbian separatism. Inspired by the writings of philosopher Monique Wittig,[18] the movement originated in France, in the early 1980s, spreading soon after to the Canadian province of Quebec.

Wittig, referencing the ideas of Simone de Beauvoir, challenges concepts of biological determinism, arguing that those in power construct sex difference and race difference for the purpose of masking conflicts of interest and maintaining domination.[19] Separatism was, as such, an opportunity for lesbians to diminish the impact of these constructed power differences on their lives.


Valerie Solanas' SCUM Manifesto, written in 1968, suggested that it was the job of females to rid the planet of men. After her widely publicized 1968 shooting of Andy Warhol, Solanas claimed that her writing was a literary device.[20][21][22]

Feminist theorist and author bell hooks believes that the beliefs of separatist feminists run counter to many of the original goals of feminism, and instead of seeking to create equality, attempt to establish a female-centric and female-dominated society in which men are subjugated and misandry is brought into the mainstream.[23]

Critiques of the term "separatist" have also emerged from feminist critics such as Sonia Johnson who, while advocating a broadly separatist policy, point out that feminist separatism risks defining itself by what it separates itself from, i.e. men.[24]

In a published conversation about black feminism and lesbian activism with her sister, Beverly Smith, Barbara Smith, co-author of the Combahee River Collective Statement expresses concerns that, "to the extent that lesbians of color must struggle simultaneously against the racism of white women (as against sexism), separatism impedes the building of alliances with men of color."[25]

Smith also notes that race places lesbians of color in a different relation to men as white lesbians, as "white women with class privilege don't share oppression with white men. They're in a critical and antagonistic position whereas Black women and other women of color definitely share oppressed situations with men of their race."[26]

Smith makes distinction between the theory of separatism, and the practice of separatism, stating that it is the way separatism has been practiced which has led to "an isolated, single-issued understanding and practice of politics, which ignores the range of oppressions that women experience."[27]

Lesbian poet Jewelle Gomez refers to her entertwined history with black men and heterosexual women in her essay, Out of the Past and explains that "to break away from those who've been part of our survival is a leap that many women of color could never make."[28]

Cultural critic Alice Echols describes the emergence of a lesbian separatist movement as a response to what she sees as homophobic sentiments expressed by feminist organizations like the National Organization of Women. Echols argues that "...the introduction of (homo)sex troubled many heterosexual feminists who had found in the women's movement a welcome respite from sexuality."[29]

Echols considered separatism as a lesbian strategy to untie lesbianism from sex so heterosexual women in the feminist movement felt more comfortable.[30]

Separatism in literature and culture

An important and sustaining aspect of lesbian separatism was the building of alternative community through "creating organizations, institutions and social spaces ...women's bookstores, restaurants, publishing collectives, and softball leagues fostered a flourishing lesbian culture."[31]


Lesbian separatism and Separatist Feminism have inspired the creation of art and culture reflective of its visions of female-centered societies, including various works of lesbian science fiction where new technologies in human reproductive strategy have created Lesbian utopias, eliminating the need to have men for human reproduction.[citation needed]

The Wanderground (Persephone Press, 1978), is a separatist utopian novel written from author Sally Miller Gearhart's personal experience in rural lesbian-separatist collectives.[32]


In the 1970s, lesbians and feminists created a network of publications, presses, magazines, and periodicals designated "for women only" and "for lesbians only", a common sight in the 1970s through the 1990s, (see List of lesbian periodicals) including the London lesbian magazine Gossip: a journal of lesbian feminist ethics,[33] Lesbian Feminist Circle, a lesbian only journal collectively produced in Wellington, New Zealand,[34] [35] the Australian periodical Sage: the separatist age[36] Canada's Amazones d'Hier, Lesbiennes d'Aujourd'hui, produced for lesbians only in Montreal, Quebec,[37] and the Killer Dyke a magazine by the "Flippies" (Feminist Lesbian Intergalactic Party), based in Chicago.[38] [39]


The early 1970s was an active period in Womyn's music, a genre mostly originated and supported by separatist feminists. Maxine Feldman's Angry Atthis, and Alix Dobkin's Lavender Jane Loves Women, were two early examples of this phenomenon.[40][citation needed]

Community projects

Separatist feminism provided lesbians opportunities to "live their lives apart from ...mainstream society,"[41] and, in the 1970s, "significant numbers of lesbian feminists moved to rural communities.[42] One of these Lesbians, Joyce Cheney interviewed rural separatist feminists and lesbian separatists living in Intentional community, Land trusts and Land co-ops. The result was her book, Lesbian Land.[43][44] Cheney describes the reason for many of these separatists' move to Lesbian Land as a "spatial strategy of distancing ...from mainstream society".[44]

See also


  1. ^ Christine Skelton, Becky Francis, Feminism and the Schooling Scandal, Taylor & Francis, 2009 ISBN 0415455103, 9780415455107 p. 104.
  2. ^ Sarah Hoagland, Lesbian Ethics: toward new value, p. 60, 154, 294.
  3. ^ Marilyn Frye, "Some Reflections on Separatism and Power." In Feminist Social Thought: A Reader, Diana Tietjens Meyers (ed.) (1997) New York: Routledge, pp. 406-414.
  4. ^ Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Hyde Park Chapter. Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement, 1972, booklet
  5. ^ Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Hyde Park Chapter. Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women's Movement, 1972, booklet
  6. ^ Saulnier, Christine F. Feminist Theories and Social Work: Approaches and Applications (1996) ISBN 1560249455
  7. ^ a b Echols, Alice. Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-75, University of Minnesota Press, 1990, ISBN 0816617872, p164
  8. ^ Dunbar, Leghorn. The Man's Problem, from No More Fun and Games, Nov 1969, quoted in Echols, 165
  9. ^ Davis, Flora. Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960, University of Illinois Press, 1999, ISBN 0252067827, p271
  10. ^ a b Bunch, Charlotte/The Furies Collective, Lesbians in Revolt, in The Furies: Lesbian/Feminist Monthly, vol.1, January 1972, pp.8-9
  11. ^ Bunch, Charlotte. Learning from Lesbian Separatism, Ms. Magazine, Nov. 1976
  12. ^ Hoagland articulates a distinction (originally noted by Lesbian Separatist author and anthologist, Julia Penelope) between a lesbian subculture and a lesbian community; membership in the subculture being "defined in negative terms by an external, hostile culture", and membership in the community being based on "the values we believe we can enact here." Hoagland, Sarah Lucia. Lesbian Ethics: Towards a New Value, Institute for Lesbian Studies, Palo Alto, Ca.
  13. ^ Tallen, Bette S. Lesbian Separatism: A Historical and Comparative Perspective, in For Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology, Onlywomen Press, 1988, ISBN 0906500281, p141
  14. ^ a b Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0231074883, p220
  15. ^ Empowering the Goddess Within, by Jessica Alton
  16. ^ Goddesses and Witches: Liberation and Countercultural Feminism, by Rosemary Ruether
  17. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/fashion/01womyn.html?_r=2&ref=style
  18. ^ Turcotte, Louise. (foreword) The Straight Mind and Other Essays, Monique Wittig, Beacon Press, 1992, ISBN 0807079170, p ix
  19. ^ Hoagland, Sarah Lucia. Lesbian Ethics: Towards a New Value, Institute for Lesbian Studies, Palo Alto, Ca.
  20. ^ Claire Dederer, Cutting Remarks, The Nation, May 27, 2004.
  21. ^ Solanas, Valerie. Interviewed by Howard Smith, Village Voice, July 25, 1977 Issue, quoted in Scum Manifesto By Valerie Solanas, AK Press, 1996, ISBN 1873176449, p55
  22. ^ IPL Online Literary Criticism Collection
  23. ^ bell hooks (2000), Feminism is for Everybody: Pasionate Politics. Cited in Austin, Hannah (2004) "Separatism: Are We Limiting Ourselves?", EM 4:2
  24. ^ Johnson, Sonia (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution.
  25. ^ Smith, Barbara and Beverly Smith. 1983. "Across the Kitchen Table: A Sister-to- Sister Dialogue," anthologized in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, p121
  26. ^ Smith, Barbara and Beverly Smith. 1983. "Across the Kitchen Table: A Sister-to- Sister Dialogue," anthologized in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, p121
  27. ^ Smith, Barbara. Response to Adrienne Rich's Notes from Magazine: What does Separatism Mean?" from Sinister Wisdom, Issue 20, 1982
  28. ^ Gomez, Jewelle. Out of the Past, in David Deitcher's The Question of Equality:Lesbian and Gay Politics in America Since Stonewall, Scribner, 1995, ISBN 0684800306, pp44-45
  29. ^ Echols, Alice. The Eruption of Difference, from Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975, 1989, University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816617872, p216
  30. ^ Echols, Alice. The Eruption of Difference, from Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975, 1989, University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816617872, p218
  31. ^ McGarry & Wasserman, Becoming Visible : An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America, Studio, ISBN 0670864013, pp187-188
  32. ^ Shugar, Dana R. Separatism and Women's Community, University of Nebraska Press, 1995, ISBN 0803242441
  33. ^ http://www.laganz.org.nz/serials/gei-huz.html
  34. ^ Covina 1975,pp 244-245.
  35. ^ http://www.laganz.org.nz/serials/cap-cut.html
  36. ^ http://www.laganz.org.nz/serials/s.e-squ.html
  37. ^ Warner 2002, p 179.
  38. ^ http://www.wifp.org/womensmediach6.html
  39. ^ http://www.clga.ca/Material/PeriodicalsLGBT/inven/PeriodicalsInventoryH-L.htm
  40. ^ *Garofalo, Reebee. Rockin' the Boat, South End Press, 1992, ISBN 0-89608-427-2
  41. ^ McGarry & Wasserman, Becoming Visible : An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America, Studio, ISBN 0670864013, p190
  42. ^ McGarry & Wasserman, Becoming Visible : An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America, Studio, ISBN 0670864013, p187
  43. ^ Cheney, Joyce. Lesbian Land, Word Weavers Press, 1976
  44. ^ a b Valentine, Gill. Contested Countryside Cultures: Otherness, Marginalisation, and Rurality ed: Paul J. Cloke, Jo Little, Routledge, ISBN 0415140749, pp109-110

Redirecting to Separatist feminism

Redirecting to Separatist feminism

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