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Nine Separatism
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MY CENTRAL GOAL IN Women and Organizations is to enable the students to recognize the importance of female separatism. I also want them to understand the problems of women's groups. For, if separate women's organizations are important, then it is desirable to grasp the difficulties these groups face, especially the internal difficulties that often threaten the groups' survival. Women's organizations are treated differently by the external world. They receive fewer material resources than men's and mixed organizations, and their boundaries are invaded more carelessly, with greater destructive effect. But the biggest problem for women's organizations is that women themselves devalue what is women's. Women withdraw from women's organizations, fearing contamination by being with other women, or loss of advantage by not being with men. They feel that women's groups are less good than similar male or mixed groups, or that they are unnecessary, or for someone else and not them. Often, women are members of women's groups but do not recognize their membership. "I have never participated in a women's organization," women say, when they have been raised by a single mother, or an extended female family, and are dependent on women's friendships.


Women bring different expectations to women's organizations than to male or mixed groups, and they often have such high expectations of women's groups, and, at the same time, take them so for granted, that the groups perish under both pressure and neglect. Usually, women see women's organizations as failures because they are not like men's groups, rather than interpreting them on their own terms. Separate women's organizations are a major source of power for women—of pride in their own lives and effectiveness in the larger world. Yet when women make gains because of the political functions of their separate organizations, we often abandon the organizations, thinking them no longer useful. Unfortunately, when we lose our organizations, we subsequently lose the basis for sustaining our gains.

When I first put together the syllabus for my course on women and organizations, the value of female separatism seemed to me the main lesson to be learned in the later weeks. By female separatism, I mean women organizing apart from men. I mean organizations composed of women, and run by and for women, to which men are denied access, or, when included, are required to conform to women's terms. The need for separate women's organizations has always seemed to me to follow from what we learn earlier in the course about the subordinate status of women and the permeability of women's individual and group boundaries. Yet, in the later weeks, I find that embracing separatism requires more than logic. I find that the students have deep prior emotional investments in gender integration. They feel separatism to be an assault on their way of life and their expectations for the future. Similarly, I have a deep investment in separatism. When the students reject separatism, as they often do at first—or, if not separatism, lesbianism (and if lesbian is a frightening word, it is mostly because it means separatism)—I feel they are rejecting me.

At the start of the second half of the term, I am faced with a group of women students who are, for the most part, heterosexual. They are more worried about how to take care of men, and how not to exclude men from their lives, than they are about how to open up the range of choices available to them. They see women's worlds as less good than men's worlds and do not want to give up access to male privileges by leaving men behind. I am a lesbian and I depend on women's worlds. I


cannot reject them even if I dislike aspects of them, and even though I am often afraid of being among "just women." By the end of the quarter, I want the students to feel as I do. I want them to see their ties with women as so important to them that they are willing to overcome their fears of losing the support of men.

Ideas about separatism are not new in the second half of the course. When I asked the students, in their first research project, to look at characteristics of women's organizations, I wanted them to have images of women's groups as an initial frame of reference, rather than have men's groups come first. When I had them look at what happens to women's groups when men enter, I wanted them to gain a lesson that would be useful later for understanding why separatism is important. The students initially are so oriented to male-world success that they fail to grasp fully my intent in these early research exercises, but the important thing for me is that they do them. In the first two class sessions of the quarter, I make clear to the students deciding about whether to enroll in the course that we will be a class in which women will set the tone. The men present are here to learn about women. This is not a course to take if they are hostile to women. I ask the men to take their lead from how the women in the class speak and act, and to try to follow and blend in. They should not attempt to provide a male viewpoint, or "the" male viewpoint, but to speak for themselves. I ask the women to avoid taking care of the men, or focusing on them. I say that if they turn to the men in the class and say, "How about a male point of view?" I will stop them. This is to be a class centered on women.

The need to work at being women-centered, and at not becoming male dominated, is discussed further during the second week of the course when I divide the students into subgroups. These are groups of four to five members each that will meet every other week outside of class to enable more intimate discussions than are possible in the larger class of twenty to twenty-five. I have noticed that the size of a group is often an important issue for women, who tend to break groups down into ever smaller units to increase intimacy. When I give the students their first subgroup assignment, I tell them that if they have a man in their group to treat him like a woman, which means, "Treat him as an equal. Bring him up to your level. Act as you would if you were a group


of all women." The students, of course, will find this hard to do, but it is, I think, an important thing to attempt.

Mixed Company: The Army

We begin the separatism section by reading about women in the United States Army, that large hierarchical, standardized organization that is considered the measure of men. Helen Rogan's Mixed Company: Women in the Modern Army is the best book I know of for seeing gendered organizational patterns in a branch of the military. Rogan traces the history of the Women's Army Corps from its inception in 1942 to its ritual dissolution in 1979 asking, What happens to women in a male system, first with, and then without, their own separate women-run organization? For their assignment, the students go through Mixed Company thinking about the question, "What got lost when the Women's Army Corps was dissolved?" I ask them to note both specific passages in the book and implicit suggestions, such as feeling tones, and to report these in a paper, identifying, in the end, how they felt about what got lost. Did it make them sad? for instance. They are also to note, in the end, whether they thought the dissolution of the WAC was a step forward or backward for women, explaining why. This assignment plunges us directly into dealing with the question of separatism versus integration. If the students think the dissolution of the WAC was a step backward for women, they are arguing in favor of separatism. If they think the destruction of the WAC was a step forward, they are arguing for integration.

At its peak, the WAC numbered 100,000 women. When the Corps was dissolved and women were then integrated individually into the male Army, they became divided from each other. They faced an environment of harassment and withdrew as individuals, adapting strategies of merging and blending in with men in order to make themselves less conspicuous as targets. There was reason, Rogan says, for male hostility against the women: "Women soldiers deprive men of their masculinity by showing that soldiering is not so terribly hard and by usurping the profession." After the WAC was gone, policies negatively affecting women could not be effectively countered. With the WAC, the women


had the power of numbers and of organization; now each woman had the power of one. In their papers, the students mention many losses after the demise of the WAC: loss of "a chain of women protecting, encouraging, and looking out for other women in a world of men," loss of an ability to produce young women leaders, loss of real power, of a WAC esprit, of a sense of closeness and solidarity among women. They mention loss of lesbian inner cliques of power, of special ways of training women, of higher standards for women. Without the WAC, they note, women lost pride and a chain of command that could be used against sexual harassment.[1]

The students' conclusions about whether loss of the WAC was a step forward or backward for women work out differently each year. I was surprised the first time when a majority of the students favored separatism. Last year, I was surprised when a majority favored integration. Even when only a few of the students favor integration, I feel that their arguments for it are irrational. The evidence about losses cited in their papers clearly shows a step backward (the losses are so great), and the students' feelings about these losses are always negative—the losses sadden and anger them. Yet they often argue that integrating women individually into the Army is better than women having a separate organization furthering their interests within the Army. In part, I think, the students argue for integration because events that have occurred historically seem inevitable. In part, the students have a personal investment in integration—they have chosen a coeducational college. I think they also have a prior prejudice in favor of integration that asserts itself despite the evidence in the Army case. When I mention the possibility of such a prejudice to the students, some think it likely. They can see how there might be a bias toward gender integration in our culture. In previous generations and other cultures, separate gender arrangements have seemed natural and desirable, but in our culture, gender integration seems the more desirable arrangement. Some of the students feel their favoring integration does not reflect a cultural prejudice, however, that it is simply a difference between their views and mine.

I often feel a tension in the classroom at this time in the course. One year, several students complained of feeling that suddenly, when we discussed Mixed Company , there was a correct way I wanted them to think


and they felt that was unfair. Since then, I have sought ways to avoid causing a reaction against me on the students' parts when I seek to teach about the value of separatism. My main solution has been to encourage the students to grasp separatism in intellectual terms. Beginning with Mixed Company , I tell the students that I want them to understand the logic behind separatism, despite possible negative feelings they may have, so that they will have a choice. I want them to be able to choose separatism—at times, and if it is useful to them—and to support others who choose it even when they do not. At this point, most would not choose separatism and would criticize others for doing so. The Mixed Company assignment provides an opening that enables me to encourage the students to question their prior assumptions about the desirability of integration.

Separatism As Strategy

The topic "Separatism as Strategy" is so emotionally sensitive that its placement in the course has varied. I used to schedule this topic in the next to last week. I felt it belonged at the very end of the course as a culmination, or answer, to all of the problems of "women and organizations" raised previously. Two years ago, I decided to move it up two weeks earlier because I felt there was too much tension in the air beginning with the Mixed Company assignment. The students felt pressure from me to believe in separatism, but our readings presenting rationales for it were still weeks away. Moving the separatism readings and discussion two weeks earlier has helped to relieve this tension. In the later weeks, the students now focus on other issues and have time to reconsider separatism. But curiously, although the tension surrounding separatism has been relieved, the students' dissatisfaction simply moves on to the next topic. (I discuss this in chapter 10, "Desires for an Ideal Community of Women.") It seems to me that no matter what I do, feelings of student frustration linger over the last weeks of the course.

I often think that the students feel frustrated at this point because I have failed them—because I do not have a positive enough outlook, or offer them "individual success" solutions, or conduct my classes well enough. I do not usually think that their frustrations reflect the larger


world in which solutions to the problems of women are sought, or the fact that no sooner have the students immersed themselves in my course than they must think about leaving it and returning to situations in which others they know do not share the views I have been encouraging.

Our key reading on separatism is Estelle Freedman's "Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution Building and American Feminism, 1870–1930." Freedman poses the question, "What happened to American feminism after the suffrage victory in 1920?" She finds that the achievements of feminism at the turn of the century came through "building separate female institutions." After 1920, when a new generation of women opted for assimilation, feminism and women's gains declined. "As soon as male politicians realized there was no strong female voting block or political organization, they refused to appoint or elect powerful women," Freedman says. "When women tried to assimilate into male-dominated institutions, without securing feminist social, economic, and political bases, they lost the momentum and the networks which had made the suffrage movement possible."

Freedman argues that a lesson of the past is that it is important to create female interest groups and support systems and to continue separatism. "Otherwise, token women may be coopted into either traditionally deferential roles, or they will assimilate through identification with the powers that be." It is also important, she writes, not to be "self-hating of that which is female as we enter a world dominated by men."[2]

In each of the years I have taught my course, I have asked Estelle Freedman to come as a guest to my first separatism session. She teaches at the university where I have taught the course most frequently, and when I first read her article, I felt she sounded so sane and rational about separatism, while I felt so emotional about it, that I wanted her to come to my class to help me explain separatism to the students. I feared they would reject the rationale for it if they heard about it only from me. When she comes as my guest, Freedman addresses the concerns and fears of the students. She amazes me by making separatism acceptable to them. In addition to discussing her article, she asks the students to name their fears—fear of being lesbian, of excluding men, and of losing the advantages of gender integration. She points out that these fears cause the students to reject separatism perhaps unfairly, and she discusses


the value separate women's organizations have had in her own professional life.

For their papers this week, the students write about a situation in their own lives in which the issue of female separatism arises for them, identifying insights from the readings that help them to understand this situation better. Marilyn Frye's discussion of "separatism and power" also helps them understand their fears. Separatism, says Frye, is "denial of access," that is, women denying men access to women. There are many kinds of "feminist separations," she says, ranging from lesbian separatist communities, to women leaving a home or marriage, to more ordinary withdrawals from interactions with men. In Frye's view, both women and men rightly fear separatism because "when women separate, they are insubordinate." Separatism is an assumption of power—"the slave who decides to exclude the master from her hut is declaring herself not a slave." Separatism, says Frye, generates in women fear of punishment and reprisal, and in men a fear of loss of the goods and services they receive from women, a fear that is often buried beneath men's expressions of hostility. "When those who control access have made you totally accessible," Frye says to women, "your first act of taking control must be denying access, or must have denial of access as one of its aspects."[3]

Frye speaks as a lesbian and a philosopher (separatism, she says, is "undeniably connected with lesbianism"). At first, I thought the students would reject her essay because of its outrageous tone. However, they do not. It clarifies issues for them. The Frye essay was given to me one year by a graduate student and was not on my initial reading list for the course. Had I known about it, I probably would not have included such a blatant lesbian reading, assuming it would make separatism too hard for the students to accept. It has been important for me to see that avoiding confrontation with the students' fears of separatism is not the best way to deal with this subject. Both Frye and Freedman suggest to the students that there are grounds for their fears of separatism. This acknowledgment helps relieve their fears.

We read several other discussions of separatism. Regina Morantz-Sanchez' historical study of women physicians in American medicine describes how separate women's organizations have served women in


medicine in different ways than mixed-gender organizations. Women's medical colleges and hospitals provided training receptive to the needs of women; an atmosphere in which women set the direction; female role models; and distinguished programs in such fields as preventive medicine and gynecology. Although laboring under a "stigma of inferiority" and having fewer material resources than male institutions, these women's organizations met longstanding needs. When the women's colleges and hospitals closed their doors at the end of the nineteenth century, women entered integrated institutions and had to deal with problems of male dominance and an ethos of professionalism that stressed aggressiveness, scientific objectivity, impersonality, individual advancement, and "cure over care," rather than the more traditional women's values of devotion to family, compassion, use of feeling and intuition, and collaboration in caregiving. For women, Morantz-Sanchez says, coeducation would "ultimately prove disappointing."[4]

I find Morantz-Sanchez' study useful for indicating that separate women's organizations are not just fringe groups, like failing bookstores, but part of mainstream institutions, like medicine. At this point in the course, I want the students to see women's organizations as not outside their expectations for their own professional lives and to feel they may need such organizations in order to advance some of their values, such as the "sympathy" in science. I want them to feel they have a stake in making sure that women's organizations survive, or in creating new women's organizations.

Paula Giddings' book on Delta Sigma Theta and the Black sorority movement attests further to the value of separate women's organizations. Giddings speaks of the history of African American sororities and of how they have represented a lifetime commitment for many Black women. African American sororities have had large and coherent memberships (Delta Sigma Theta had a membership of 125,000 at the time of Giddings' writing) and they have been a source of community service, leadership, pride, and solidarity for Black women. Says Giddings, "It struck me that Black women may be among their freest, their happiest, and, in some ways, their most fulfilled when they are together in their organizations."[5]

Bernice Johnson Reagon, in an article "Coalition Politics," also discusses


experiences of African American women and the value of women's organizations. These groups can be like being in your own "barred little room" with people just like you, she says, or they can be like going out of that room in order to be in a broader coalition. By comparison with the small room, the broader coalition is often an uncomfortable experience. Although its members may all be women, they will be different kinds of women who may not feel they have much in common. Says Reagon, "Wherever women gather together it is not necessarily nurturing. It is coalition building. And if you feel the strain, you may be doing some good work."[6] Similarly, Alma Garcia, in a discussion of Chicana feminists, suggests an image of women feeling uncomfortable—conflicted, alienated, and alone—when among other women different from them in important respects—class or race, for instance—and thus needing more specialized separatisms.[7] A Chicana feminist group allows a Chicana to feel more identified with other women than she would in a white women's feminist group, for example. Among other Chicanas, she feels closer to home. Echoes of this sentiment are found in discussions of other specialized separatisms. In Esther Chow's study of Asian American women, in studies of lesbian communities, and in studies of other women's groups, a repeated theme is that women feel more at home in small groups of others like them.[8]

Our readings on specialized separatisms suggest to me the nature of a large-scale women's organization, such as a women's movement. It is a coalition, or confederation. It is separatist in the sense of drawing a more than usually selective boundary between itself and an outer male world, but also in the sense that, within itself, it is composed of many different female separatisms. It is made up of ever smaller units in which women can relate increasingly closely with other women with whom they feel an affinity. Although the outside world's way of viewing a women's organization is often to call it "factionalized" (to view it as a failure to be coherent or whole), more properly, it may be seen as a mosaic of tiny separatisms. These groups touch occasionally at their borders, or in spirit, or through a vague knowledge of one another. But that is all.

My point is that all organizations need not look like the United States Army. They need not have a chain of command, a structure that contains


all the members, or even procedures for working out disagreements. The image of a women's organization is different. It is less defined by standardization (by the imposition of a uniform style of behavior, or of a worn uniform) than by affinity—by congregations that form because of likeness, or attraction, or to close gaps between members. It is less defined by "power over" than by "conformity with," less defined by conflict than by avoidance of conflict. It is also often short-lived. A women's organization will dissolve and reform rather than survive for power's sake and become like a men's organization.

Feminist And Women's Processes

To enable further discussion of the nature of women's groups, I have titled our next week "Feminist Processes and Alternative Organizational Forms." Our main reading is an essay on feminist process, self-published in 1974 by a four-member women's collective.[9] It is notable to me that I need to turn to 1974 to get the kind of statement I find useful at this point. Some of our other readings in the course are also older, and for a similar reason. Recent studies of women's organizations tend to be less proudly self-assertive, less critical of men, and less down-to-earth about women's experiences than those written in the 1970s. The more recent works are more theoretical and assimilationist, and they focus on different issues—success, professionalism, equal treatment, stages of growth, multiple identities, divisions between women, and how women's ways are similar to men's, or, if different, not threatening. The more recent writings are less about creating alternatives and making change than about women taking their rightful place as part of a mainstream. They are often written by academic feminists, whose commitments are different—more careerist, and more constrained—than those of the previous political feminists.

The authors of the essay "Feminist Process" describe dynamics of their collective group, such as use of "mosaic logic" and anecdotal speaking. The women in their group tell stories about their experiences, using multiple images, and seeking insight through processes of mutual identification. They avoid speaking in a debating manner that uses linear logic, techniques of persuasion, and other speech forms that establish


hierarchy. Instead, they work to relate to each other as equals, which requires overcoming expectations that a woman who is more verbal, or older, or who acts like a "good woman" is superior to others. Although women may start with a good deal of equality, even among women, it seems to take determined effort to keep interactions from becoming "hierarchical and competitive." The dynamics of their feminist group are similar to many noted during our first weeks of the course as characteristics of women's groups more generally. Deborah Tannen discusses one such feature, "women as cooperative overlappers," noting how women often finish each other's sentences, and seem to interrupt each other, when they are actually deliberately overlapping to maintain connection or rapport.[10]

Joyce Rothschild-Whitt speaks further of equality and of how collectivist organizations should not be judged by the same standards as those used to assess bureaucratic organizations. They should be assessed "not as failures to achieve bureaucratic standards they do not share, but as efforts to realize wholly different values." She notes that collective groups often seek ideals of consensus, community, and equality, and the integration of intellectual and manual labor and of the emotional and the intellectual. They seek relationships that are defined by individual whole persons, rather than by roles and a segmentation of tasks.[11] Women's groups are, I think, natural collectives in that female socialization makes many collective ways first nature for women. I ask the students how women's organizations are nonetheless different from other collective groups, such as mixed-gender collectives or Japanese-style, or participative, management groups, which also have egalitarian goals.

I always have problems answering this question about the difference of women's groups, but the students, by now, have learned to see gender. They say that it changes an organization when women are members because women bring with them female gender socialization from the outside world—habits of deference and invisibility, different styles of speech, different feelings of comfort. Their socialization affect how women act and are perceived by others. Simply imposing a collective group structure on individuals does not obliterate effects of gender differences. I ask the students about the difference of women's groups because when I have described women's group characteristics to organizational


theorists, they often say, "Oh, that's just like a modern management group," or they say it is like any other egalitarian group. I want the students not to let such responses make women's group characteristics disappear for them, as they often have for me. To bolster their sense of gender difference, we read about how women create "centrarchies"—structures of "circles with central coordinators but no hierarchical leaders."[12]

Women's groups often encounter problems of conflict between hierarchy and equality. In "Women Working with Women in the University," Carol Ascher describes a women's studies program in the 1970s that had egalitarian goals for students, faculty, and staff and, at the same time, operated within a university and was therefore heavily affected by hierarchy. Female faculty striving for advancement in the university often held themselves apart from, and above, others in the program. Ascher found this disturbing because of her egalitarian feminist goals and because, in her position as program administrator, she was often exposed to the hurts that resulted. The university hierarchy, she says, contributed to "perpetual obfuscations of honesty, underground alliances and convoluted agendas among women who, overtly, were trying to work together in an egalitarian feminist manner." Under the stress, "some days were particularly bad, my neck and shoulders became rigid concrete bricks." Ascher speaks of male behavior patterns among the women in the program, such as career climbing, as "conscious but unexamined," while female patterns are often unconscious. "A women's studies program is a collection of mothers and sisters," she says. "It is a composite of intimacies, rivalries, rebellions." Yet these and other strong feelings were often "diffused and disguised," and lesbianism was the "soft spot" that everyone was afraid to discuss.[13]

I like Ascher's description of the women's studies program and find it very real. The students in my class, however, are not as glad as I am to stumble across this glimpse of reality. They want women's organizations not to be conflicted and disappointing of their ideals, and they do not want to have to deal with lesbianism. Yet the Ascher reading illustrates how women's organizations are never strictly egalitarian, or strictly women's forms, but are always infiltrated by hierarchical, and often bureaucratic,


forms of social organization. The result is a hybrid that is sometimes difficult to tolerate because of how it fails women's ideals.

When we speak about feminist processes in this section of the course, I am aware that I see feminist strategies as having much in common with traditional women's ways. In large part, these strategies are a deliberate valuing, rather than a devaluing, of women's socialization. Similarly, feminist organizations are, in many ways, like traditional women's organizations. Both a feminist organization (a feminist collective, or a women's studies program) and a traditional women's organization (a female extended family, or a charity, or church group) will have many similar characteristics. For instance, there will often be a bias toward equality among members, a valuing of the personal dimension of members' lives, indirect styles of expression, and strong conflict avoidance tendencies. There will, of course, be differences. The feminist organization will be more self-conscious about having a goal of changing a male system of oppression, rather than being a ladies' auxiliary to it. The traditional women's organization will take more pride in standing behind its men and in engaging in customary female activities, such as caretaking, deferring, and supporting. But the traditional women's organization also has strategies of undermining male systems. Consider the traditional women's habit of manipulating men for women's purposes, of working around a husband or father, for example, and of keeping men (husbands, bosses) out of separate women's spheres—the kitchen, the nursery, women's social circles, and work groups. A recent literature on cultures of resistance in organizations such as department stores, restaurants, and families discusses women's ingenuity, self-direction, and the maintenance of special women's worlds even in subordinate statuses.[14]

Differences between feminist and traditional women's organizations are not unimportant, I think, but they are mainly differences in emphasis. For the feminist organization, the values of system change and of individual liberation (or reversing habits of subordinance) are usually more important in the life of the organization, and more prominent in the self-concept of members, than these values are in a traditional women's organization. The difference in what its members value causes


a feminist organization to overestimate its nonauxiliary function, just as members of a traditional women's organization will overstate their organization's male support role. In my readings about women's organizations, I have been surprised by the many similarities in women's interactional styles that appear across different cultures and in different types of organizations. In studies of Nazi women's organizations, of women of the Ku Klux Klan, of Mary Kay Cosmetics and other women's businesses; studies of nuns, women's church groups, women's schools, extended female families, different racial and ethnic women's groups, and of feminist movement groups, the most striking thing to me is how similar the patterns are. In all these groups, in ways that seem to me significant, women seek to avoid conflict with each other. They seek a oneness, or sense of solidarity, with one another and equality in their relationships. Their disappointments with each other are often great and their expectations high. Women's groups tend to be life sustaining for their members, although often they are spoken of disparagingly. In these groups, women seek to assert female styles of social relating despite conflicts with male styles. In many of the groups, women seek fervently to protect their different way.[15]

I think that the similarities in the dynamics of women's organizations are due to women's subordinate status—to the fact that women's gender characteristics are the characteristics of people who have learned to defer in order to survive. The similarities are also due to the fact that women's particular type of subordination has historically been linked to certain kinds of work, such as childcare and the care of men. Both the subordinate status and the link to caring work give female characteristics much of their definition, even when that definition is embroidered very differently in different settings.[16]

Reaching For Separatism

During these later weeks of the course, as we focus on the functions and problems of separate women's organizations, I feel that the students are reaching. They are often seeking to take an intellectual position to which they were previously opposed. The strain of reaching for separatism, and the complications that separatism raises for the students, are


reflected in their papers, which often speak of a past in which separatism was unacceptable to them:[17]

I never expected to be for separatism. (Peggy)

For most of my life, I have rejected coalitions and separatism as negative things. (Maureen)

In the past, I would never have identified with a separatist female organization. In fact, the reason that I never considered myself a "feminist" is that I did not consider myself a separatist. (Ann)

I had an integrationist bias, but after reading, I have converted into a separatist. However, I realize the issue is more complex than I had anticipated. Thus, although I now favor separatism, I still harbor mixed feelings about it. (Kelly)

Although I want the students to accept separatism, I am always surprised when they do. For if they are reaching for separatism, I am reaching for a sense that my encouraging them to value it is legitimate. In another feminist course, the teacher might have, as a goal, that the students accept, and identify with, the term "feminism." In my course, the term "separatism" carries that weight. These are, I think, conversion terms. They are tools in the process of effecting a change from old to new values. In my case, the change sought is a valuing of alliances with women.

It matters a great deal to me to accomplish the shift to separatism. I sometimes wonder whether my emphasis on separatism is my lesbianism passing. Two weeks later in the course, we discuss a lesbian community, but I do not then demand that the students become lesbians, or that they open themselves to a lesbian choice. I seem, instead, to use separatism to get as far as I can toward having them value relationships with other women.

Often in these weeks of the course, I stay awake at night thinking about my experiences with separate women's organizations. I want to tell the students about these experiences, in part to indicate that feeling


conflicted about participating in a women's group does not mean one has to reject such a group, and, in part, because when I see the students wrestling with separatism, I know I have also done so. In class, I speak to them first of my experience at a women's college, painfully thinking back to my first year. In my first two weeks at the college, I tell the students, I decided to transfer out. Then I stayed for two years because people said transferring right away would not look good on my transcript. I wanted to leave because that Seven Sisters' women's college felt like a summer camp to me. It felt artificial—not like part of the real (male) big-city world. Most of the faculty at the college were male and I felt they talked down to the students. In classes, the students knitted, were quiet and polite, mostly listened to the teacher, and did not challenge the teacher or one another. The classes felt deadly to me.

As importantly, I think, I left that college because I was afraid of lesbians. I did not know the word "lesbian" at the time, nor did I know what a homosexual was.[18] I only knew that when I saw certain women socializing with one another—women who were members of sports teams, for example—I felt excluded, sick in my stomach, and frightened. When I saw certain student leaders, I felt similarly. I wanted to get away from them. I then transferred to a large coeducational university in a big city, where I found the air of challenge in the classroom that I sought. The students, mostly men, spoke out in classes. I was glad for the change. I felt safer. The courses I took at the big-city university were far easier than my courses at the women's college. Later, I concluded that my college education really occurred during my first two years at the women's college, when I stayed up late many nights reading in the library and felt alone and out of place.

A second type of experience I mention to my class occurred when I first became a lesbian. I was, by then, a graduate student. I had been sexually involved with women for several years while married to a gay man, but now I was moving out of the marriage and seeking a comparable relationship with a woman. I started to attend meetings of a lesbian group in order to meet other lesbians. The group met every two weeks for mutual support and discussion. It was large for its type, numbering thirty-five to forty women a session, with members drawn from the university and the surrounding community. I was uncomfortable in


this group, which was my first lesbian group. I felt that the women present sat around getting nowhere in their discussions, only supporting each others' prejudices and saying "far out." They avoided conflict, avoided talking politics and intellectually challenging one another, were cliquish and quiet, and seemed to want just to bask in each others' presence.

In each meeting I attended, probably because I felt frightened, I challenged the "nothing happening" nature of the group. In one meeting, a handful of undergraduate students from a psychology class came and asked to study our group. The undergraduates were both women and men. When the larger group was about to refuse to let them stay, I said, "You kick them out, you kick me out too." Then I walked out with the students and waited in the hallway outside the meeting room door until someone came to get me. When the larger group wanted to have a guest come to speak with us, I asked, "Why do we need a guest?" I wanted us to discuss ourselves. I proposed that we go around in a circle and each tell why we were there. We went around the circle and I marveled at my nerve. I still had a wedding ring on my left hand. I wanted the group to talk about politics and do something radical, and I kept bringing that up.

After a while, the group's attendance started dropping. From a high of forty, soon only half a dozen women came. The meeting where they kicked out the undergraduates seemed the last straw. In the next meeting, the few women who showed up played guitars and sang moody songs and lay around on the floor with the lights turned low. Everyone present ignored me. They did not even look in my direction. "We are going to be happy in spite of you," I felt I was being told.

I managed to destroy the whole group, I told my class seventeen years later. The students laughed. They felt I could not have had so much power as to destroy a group of forty women. Yet I felt I had. Women's groups are fragile, it seems to me. They do not absorb disturbing events in the same way male, or bureaucratic, groups do. Instead, they splinter and disappear, ostracizing a disturbing member, and blending back into the environment. I was reminded of the students' research in the third week of the course when they looked at women's groups and what happens when a man enters—the women's group often disbands.

The year after I joined my first lesbian group, I joined a smaller lesbian


group building a women's coffeehouse. At an initial meeting, disturbed again by the passive nature of a women's group, I requested that we conduct our meetings in a more organized fashion, with an agenda, and starting on time. Someone called me a male chauvinist, got up, and walked out, and one-third of the group went with her. I decided I would, in the future, remain quiet in lesbian groups. The next year when I moved to the Midwest and joined the lesbian community portrayed in The Mirror Dance, I was careful not to challenge anyone, or any way of doing things. I had, by then, learned to be more respectful of lesbian groups. I also did not want to be ostracized from the group.

With these examples, I try to convey to the students in my class that participation in women's groups is often difficult. One is likely to have conflicting feelings toward women's groups, even to flee them. However, by now, I think the students have a different priority than understanding the troubles of women's organizations. They have read about separatism, they are familiar with women's styles of social relating. They wish now to experience what is good about women's groups.

Students On Separatism

Because the students have put much work into accepting separatism, I wish, in closing, to give a sense of their efforts in their own words. Their writing lets me know how hard it is for them to accept the principles of separatism. When I ask them, in their papers, to discuss their feelings, they say:[19]

RACHEL : I feel as if I am working toward embracing separatism, but right now I feel guilty that I may not be able to do so.

CATHY : I find separatism a confusing issue. I believe that it is something positive for women, but I also do not want to separate from everything in this world that is "male."

YOKO : Although I can better understand the merits of separatism, I must admit that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable with it. I wonder how groups will ever come together if they remain


so separate. Or perhaps I am afraid that if I participate more fully in such groups, I may never want to rejoin the "rest of society." (A thought that is extremely unsettling for me—I don't know why!)

The students use their papers to work toward accepting separatism, using insights from the readings to help them. I find their comments moving—both because they show a strong sense of problem solving and because they show an effort to embrace something initially felt as frightening and repugnant. As the students seek to embrace separatism, they seek to embrace themselves:

MARIE : Although intellectually I see the value of separatism, I first reacted strongly with fear and aversion. Insights from the readings and discussion helped me understand and reduce this fear. In Frye's article, she explains why people react so strongly to a woman who owns her own power, who doesn't "subordinate." Another insight that is meaningful to me concerns the fear of lesbianism. I grew up devaluing relationships with women and, quite frankly, avoiding them. As I face this truth, I find a load of pain and loss. And I embrace that part of me that hungers to be accepted, nurtured, cared for, loved by a woman/in woman's ways. And this hunger scares me. Does it make me a lesbian?

MARTA : The hardest topic I have had to wrestle with in this class is the issue of separatism. Before this class, I was not sure what separatism was. I thought it was a lot of men-hating women living in their own fantasy world away from reality. However, as I read, I realized that separatism was not so simple. It is about a movement within a bigger social capsule. It is about claiming your own strength and power. It is about defining yourself. After doing the readings, I discovered that I had been wrong. Separatism was good. However, I only thought of it as "good to an extent," and I did not think of it as a personal choice for me because of the race issue and the need


for Chicana-Chicano unity. Then I did my research paper on Chicana separatism. After I wrote my paper, I realized that I wanted to become involved in a separatist Chicana group.

LESLIE : Frye's article helped me see that separatism doesn't necessarily mean joining an all women's organization, that actions I'd always attributed to my "independence," and my desire to take care of myself, were also separatist actions. Reagon's assertion that not enough women recognize that the definition of "woman" is very broad—and that this causes many women to reject feminism because they are made to feel they are not woman-identified enough—spoke to me. I have felt rejected by, and resented by, other women for not always being the "nurturing" type at all times.

After reading the articles, I ached so badly to have close women friends, and I realized how much I've isolated myself from women because I felt I didn't qualify as a woman. I think women have carved for themselves a very limiting definition of what is "feminine" and this makes it difficult. I've had a relatively easy time finding men with similar interests and qualities as me, but these relationships leave me unsatisfied. I feel they've stunted my reflective side and made me feel isolated, as if I can't relate to other people. I told a male friend recently that I felt lonely because I felt like I didn't have any peers. I think I meant women when I told him that.

ROSE : Separatism was not a word I had seen or used prior to the past few weeks but it now has a considerable significance for me. When I entered the workforce, I believed I had no choice but to try to integrate by emulating the males. There were no other women in my area of engineering. But behind me in school were more and more women earning proper credentials. When they entered the workplace the effect was almost immediate. As a lone woman, I could be treated as a man, but with several women in the group, the men began to adjust their behavior. Office arrangements started to equalize. The term "girls" began to be exchanged for "women." Because


of witnessing this, I am encouraged, but I am also concerned that we will slip back into a deep valley.

ARNIE : I have always believed that separatism is at the heart of all the world's problems. This year I have been forced to take another look at separatism as a result of this class. One thing I really got out of the readings was the concept that there are a lot of different ideologies and ideas that the term separatism encompasses. This makes the idea slightly easier for me to deal with.

JULIA : I no longer see the choice between integration and separatism as simple. If the valuation of women is furthered through an organizational form, I say the form is a good one.

Separatism is the one topic in my course that most reveals to me the process of education. With time, intellectual nourishment, and a strategy that allows them to deal with their emotions, the students come to view the world and themselves differently. The degree to which they change their views to accept separatism sometimes frightens me. But the openness with which they seek a change and accomplish it, and the satisfaction they often express over their change of views seem positive to me. It is as if adopting new views is the reason they have come to college. I think that teachers are often discouraged from changing the minds of students on controversial social issues because it is considered brainwashing, or political, to do so. It takes nerve to suppose one has a right to bring students around to one's own way of thinking. But such nerve is needed or things fall to the nerveless, to those who will act less on principle than in order to conform. It is when the students deal with separatism that I most feel their needs of other women and their distinctly female desires for strength and for freedom from subordination. The students initially fear that separatism will make them into manhating women, but, in the end, it makes them more in touch with the female in themselves.


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