yup, late again. *sigh*
there comes a point when a movement for social change questions whether it is wise and/or prudent to continue to work within the mainstream system that they are trying to change. this is a question that I find myself asking all the time in regards to my politics, and more and more I feel like moving into the woods and setting up a little commune like in the movie The Village. this isn’t a new urge. in the 1960s and 70s, separatism within the feminist movement was high – particularly in two areas: non-hetero sexuality, and women’s health.
Lesbian separatist communities were strong in some cities in the 70s. There were lesbian-only workplaces, businesses, housing complexes, bars, clubs, and social circles. The tag line at the time was “Feminism is the theory. Lesbianism is the practice.” And, so I have read, there was a strong tie between lesbian feminism and radical feminism – the idea being that relations between men and women would always already be fraught with sexism, and the only way to avoid such sexist relations was to live a male-free life. And this is where the idea that all feminists are lesbians comes from. This way of life was clearly separatism. Some might say that it didn’t work, because these communities did not get uptake from the dominant system. The dominant class scoffed, turned up their noses, joked about, and largely ignored the lesbian feminist movement. No uptake. I’m not sure I would categorize lesbian separatism as a failure because it was not acknowledged by the dominant class, but there certainly wasn’t uptake involved. I’m not sure how strong lesbian separatism still is, but my hope is that it has survived somehow, somewhere, quietly, and is working out great for those who participate.
The women’s health movement, however, was fairly successful in getting uptake. Tired of medicine – a largely male-run and male-oriented field – telling women about their bodies from an outsider perspective and theorizing about women’s bodies without asking for their input, several collectives of women gathered together and began making their own investigations, their own knowledge, about women’s bodies and women’s health, spawning feminist medical textbooks and illustrations such as Our Bodies, Ourselves, and even performing medical procedures such as abortion, like the Jane collective. Here, however, a major difference occurred between the lesbian feminist separatism movement and the women’s health separatism movement: the women’s health movement genderated knowledge that was given uptake. Eventually, medical illustrations began to become more like the feminist drawings, and women’s experiences with their bodies became seen as a source of (phenomenological) knowledge. It’s still not perfect, of course, but there was some degree of the medical community accepting new information from an alternative location. Win one point for separatism.
And this is kind of how I feel lately. I feel like the only way to get to any kind of objective knowledge is to separate from the dominant class and their system. Because you see, the dominant class has an investment in keeping things the way they are. They like having control over knowledge validation processes, and being able to decide what is and is not “true”. It’s a system that works for them; of course they will defend it. And of course, they will try to subjugate the knowledge of the underclasses any way they can. (right now, I think that this is being accomplished most effectively through the media.) So for me, separatism makes sense. generating knowledge from alternative locations is the way to greater objectivity.
And yet, how realistic is it to accomplish? Is it possible to live outside the dominant system? Can this be done? what about the old postmodern hag, relativism?
see, I think it could be done. I think that separatism, at the very least of ideology and knowledge production, is necessary in order to overthrow the dominant system. And I think this can work for feminists, for people of colour, for the disabled, for LGBT, for the poor. And the common goal, of wishing to overthrow the dominant system, can be a uniting force between and across these arbitrarily drawn lines, the ones created by the dominant class in order to divide and conquer.
this is a bit loosey-goosey, but I’d like to toss it out there for some feedback and thoughts. I’d particularly like to hear from those who are not members of the dominant class and who do not make a practice of defending the dominant system. what do you think?