Fighting men for women-only space through the ages
I am re-visiting the recent feminist fight-backs of the past by reading the few herstorical books written by feminists about revolutionary struggle, including the freedom-fighting undertaken by radical feminists during the 60’s/70s/80s. Reading old truths with eyes of hindsight can reveal new truths.
And it suddenly struck me – women have always had to fight for women-only political space. For any oppressed class to foster revolutionary action, it has to have the freedom to decide its own goals. There is nothing new about that. What is new about contemporary times is that feminists are attacked virtually with real life consequences (so-called feminists or feminist ‘allies’ conspiring to destroy, sabbotage and dismantle women-only political space).
We’ve always been allowed to meet together if the purpose is to re-enforce our gender oppression (e.g. hen parties, WI (Women Institute) meetings, cultural women-only activities, make-up evenings, ‘ann summers’ parties etc). We’ve been allowed to be in other women’s company for centuries provided:
- the remit is narrow,
- women present re-enforce compulsory heterosexuality and
- the gender hierarchy is strengthened through the activities.
When we break through comp het to fight for our freedoms, men resist us meeting together as women with everything they know. It’s a repeat pattern – and blatantly there. If only more women would see it. They may look but we have been taught not to see.
For centuries, women were allowed women-only activities provided they fitted into the definition above. One marked period of resistence was when enough women believed that the right to vote would alleviate their oppression. They began organising to achieve this one main goal late 19th century-early 20th century.
Men resisted on all levels – the usual psychological warfare against specific women freedom fighters, and by physically preventing, intimidating and punishing women
The WSPU (the Women’s Social and Political Union) held an open-air meeting in 1907 in the north of England
“The mob then armed themselves with decayed vegetables from a nearby refuse heap and began to pelt suffragettes – who stubbornly continued their meeting for almost an hour. The mob then ran up a lane, hurling eggs and banana skins…Rioters (men) threw stones and even half-bricks, cracking one of the door panels” (Jill Liddington, “Wild Girls”, p131)
During the early 20th century, women appearing in the public domain to make political arguments about their rights was a step towards liberation. Men resisted. Women speakers and activists were physically attacked and called “unnatural”. Men demanded that they conformed to the expectations of their gender by remaining in the home and out of public political arenas.
In hindsight, the most powerful step taken by feminists towards liberation in the 60s-80s, was a recognition of the political power of women-only spaces. It began with CR groups. Groups of women recognised that men have made our traditional place in the home and away from societal decision-making. Over these decades, women fought men’s psychological warfare games aimed at stopping them meeting together in women-only spaces. Women were called ‘man-hater’ and ‘ugly’ and ‘lesbian’ (ha!). They steadfastly continued to pursue political goals in the interests of the female class within those spaces.
It always begins and ends with our own political spaces – only there can we think, dream and plan for a future with freedom. The concept of our own space to escape male supremacy was so successful that a whole women’s sector was built by radical (many were lesbian) feminists.
The idea that women could meet to make things better for all women was becoming so well-established that male supremacy found a way to attack, discredit and destroy it. What better way to do that than from an incredibly regressive ideology disguised as the new progressive way forward. We can’t possibly tell who is a man or who is a woman, the argument goes, (without a degrading look at those genitals down there and that’s unthinkable bigotry). We must, therefore, stop “policing” boundaries on gender lines. We must hold lesbian marches that are open to anyone who identifies any way they like, and we cannot have meetings where we ourselves define the boundaries unless men tell us it’s ok and we’re not “bigots” for our attempts to do so. In one short generation, women-only space is under attack again. As (some liberal etc) feminists are beginning to find out, the use of queer ideology in feminist spaces is a way to silence and control all women; not just those scapegoated for naming the way gender hierarchy oppresses women for the benefit of men.
On 21 June 2014 it feels fitting to dedicate this blog post to all the women who marched for their freedoms in 1908 in Hyde Park London, 106 years ago exactly. They believed that the right to vote would end their oppression. We now know it was barely even the beginning of our fight for liberation but it is entirely understandable that they risked so much to achieve that one main goal. It is also dedicated to UK radical lesbian feminists who cannot go on a ‘Dyke march’ around ‘visibility’ (oh the irony) in London today because men are more welcome than us and to the brave radical lesbian feminists who went anyway and demonstrated their concerns. #takebackdykemarch The two events falling on the same day is embedded in irony.