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Women, wimmin, womyn, womin, whippets - On Lesbian Separatism

by Julie McCrossin

About six weeks ago I began interviewing people about "Lesbian Separatism" with the intention of writing an article. I received a message that Girls Own would like to print such an article. I contacted the collective several times and warned them how long it was going to be. I was assured that up to three pages would be available.

When the collective read a first long installment debate arose over whether they would print it. The final draft was submitted to a second meeting. I gather the collective was divided in its attitude. A compromise was finally reached whereby they refused to publish it this issue. It will instead be published next issue in two months time, and other copy will be sought to make up a "Lesbian Separatism" edition.

I think that had this article been non-critical it would have been printed as arranged. The delay constitutes a form of censorship and an attempt to neutralize the article by presenting it amidst contrary opinion. Why not print it as planned in this issue and call for responses from the Girls Own readers for the next issue?

This article is topical now. I would suggest it is no more controversial than articles and graphics of a "separatist" nature which appeared last issue. A group of friends decided to help me print it immediately, to coincide with Mary Daly's visit.

Please send comments, criticisms and responses of all sorts to the Girls Own collective as contributions to their next issue

Julie McCrossin

This article is a response to the increasing sense of disquiet I've been experiencing about some ideas and attitudes around the feminist ghetto. I am concerned about the implications of a whole series of things I've heard or seen written such as: 'men are mutants'; 'its know use putting energy into men'; 'can heterosexual women be feminists'; 'porn is violence against women'; 'smash the sex shops'; 'castrate all rapists'; 'dead men don't rape'; 'kill them in their cots'; etc. Was there any relationship between these ideas? What could I read to explain to me the analysis behind them?

The crunch came when I woke up one morning to hear Fred Nile of the Festival Of Light praising the actions of Brisbane Uni feminists which lead to the removal of girlie magazines from the university newsagent. Fred was calling for community response to the "nauseating filth" of Caligula. Soon after some women are alleged by police to have thrown paint at the screen during a session. A remembered my misgivings over the tone and ideas behind the Reclaim The Night marches which focused on sex shops. What exactly is the difference between the Festival of Light's position and ours? Fred Nile says Caligula degrades women too. Do we advocate censorship? Can we afford ambiguity at a public level?

I decided to write an article to spell out my misgivings and to invite people to respond. I have talked to lots of people and done some scattered reading. My aim is to initiate written and open debate of ideas, not to have a go at any one.

This article has become an examination of "Lesbian Separatism" because it was to that spectrum of ideas that I traced many of the tendencies I find so unpalatable.

Why Be A Feminist?

Why be an anarchist? Why incorporate a body of ideas into the way you view the world? Political analysis gives us insight into our experiences and puts them into a context by helping us to understand the way the world works and its effects on us. Its aim is to help us work out tactics to change what we don't like.

I remember my first contact with women's movement ideas at Sydney University in c. 1972 sex role conditioning; women were not naturally inferior; monogamous, heterosexual marriage was not the only way. A little later I got involved with Gay Liberation ……it was alright to feel sexual feelings for your own sex!

What was the effect of these ideas? of this new found analysis? …..recognition, things clicking into place, relief, encouragement. It was liberating information. The world now seemed a bigger place, full of more choices. My brother's refusal to do any washing up because it would set a dangerous precedent, may have been a funny line, but it was unfair as I'd always felt. There were lots of women who were aroused by their own sex - whats more, the numbers appeared to be increasing. . . . After "The Loudest Whisper" and the evasions of the school chaplain, this was news indeed!

I had similar mind expanding sensation when I was first introduced to anarchist ideas. Alexander Berkman's indictment of state violence and Emma Goldman's criticism of the way the Russian Revolution developed were good news to this left-winger who had always felt uneasy with the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. To hear of a form of organization that didn't involve leaders or hierarchies or forced obedience to party lines of any colour, offered an ideal worth fighting for.

When I started to think about why I found the "lesbian separatist" ideas floating around town so unpalatable, I realized it was more than the absurdity of the mutant theory, more than the prejudice and authoritarianism of dismissing half the human race, more than the reverse sexism it was the hopelessness such ideas engendered.

These ideas have the exact opposite effect to the original women's liberation concepts. They are restricting. confining, inward turning and exclusive, not only of men, but of many women too. If you believe men are incapable of change, the future is indeed frightening.

The tactics such an analysis gives rise to reflect this hopeless quality - from no support to issues involving men, no involvement with male children, mistrust of heterosexual women; through to castration and death lists.

What Is Lesbian Separatism?

It would seem that "lesbian separatism" is a broad term meaning different things to different people. Women I spoke to in Sydney ranged in their interpretations from "not wanting to put energy into men", to consideration of ways to eliminate men all together. In Britain the lines have been more clearly drawn. Ludo McFingers gives a succinct description of the development of separatist threads up to 1978 in London in her article "The Way of All Separatists" in the Blatant Lesbianism. She writes how urban separatists squatting in London in the early 70's eventually moved into the country and became isolated and politically impotent. She writes "separatism as the extreme wing of radical feminism has been superceded by the revolutionary feminists, who call for the struggle to be taken back into the streets . . . They hate men, see women as a sex class, support biological determinism, reject reformism and despise the left."(1)

Here are all the ideas I associate with the term "lesbian separatist". I understand there are some women who call themselves "separatist" who may only agree with parts of the whole spectrum.

Attitudes Associated with "Lesbian Separatism"

It is not just the influence of "Lesbian Separatist" ideas. There is a body of attitudes I associate with these ideas, which are hard to define simply because they are never directly stated.

  1. There is an exclusive club mentality. An attitude exists which is prescriptive and judgemental. It is a trap easy to fall into in politics. The idea is promoted that there is a "correct line", a one true way. A group of knowers with the truth. It is a world of black and white absolutes. There is an implied denial of other women's outlook and experience. There seems little room for diversity.

    The Melbourne women had some comments about what has happened to the original women's liberation concept "the personal is political".

    "The Personal Is Political does not mean that every single action or word is dripping with heavy political significance and that therefore one must never act unless one has carefully worked out whether it is 'feminist' or not. Quite clearly this leads to a tyrannical situation where women are unable to be themselves (one of the key aims of Women's Liberation) ..... Instead of the slogan being a liberating insight ..... it has become an oppressive idea preventing thought, action and initiative (particularly since no area of personal life was able to be one's own anymore). "(16)

    Is feminism to be a liberating body of ideas whose general thrust is to understand our society through opening things up for discussion and debate? Or a new set of rules to be used to identify and label the ideologically unsound? Surely the aim is to open new avenues, not to make further restrictions.

  2. There is a general lack of detailed theoretical debate and open non-defensive discussion of these ideas. There is a need to express exactly what is meant and why and to follow through the implications of these ideas. "Separatist" positions often appear in black and white terms as water-tight theories where any deviation threatens the structure. One woman I spoke to likened this style to advertising. It is aimed at the emotions not the intellect.

  3. There is an uncritical attitude towards power for women. I remember posters at a Lesbian- Feminist conference several years ago depicting three linked women's symbols and the word "POWER" underneath. Power for whom? Over whom? To do what? Blatant Lesbianism contained four different photographs of women holding guns. Why?

  4. One woman pointed out to me that the patriarchal analysis lacks a true historical perspective. Five thousand years of oppression for women is often spoken of. It has a timeless, overpowering effect. Patriarchy looms gigantic, non-developmental and crushing. Women appear as passive victims. Another woman felt this view of our past only reinforces a masochistic and fearful attitude in women. "What about the women who resisted, fought back, or did other things?"

    Such a view of history denies cultural differences and historical context. Historical perspective is essential for anyone interested in social change. You need a sense of yourself as part of a tradition of dissent and agitation in order to develop a realistic set of expectations.

    I think that "Lesbian Separatist" ideas and attitudes have grown from an oversimplified analysis and an underestimation of what had to change. It is as if women's liberation began in 1968 and they are impatient because it hasn't happened yet. I can remember walking around uni in the early 70's talking about "the revolution" as if it were a big bang which would blow in the next few years. Now I see political struggle as a daily affair, a series of actions and reactions, advances and setbacks. The ends do not justify the means. The means we employ to achieve social change are the revolution.

    Contrary to the atmosphere surrounding "Separatist" ideas, I feel that women's struggle has come a long way this century, and so has the situation for lesbians and homosexuals. We are now in a period of reaction when the gains of the last ten years are under attack. Historically movements for social change cope with internal differences while the movement is gaining ground and is on the offensive. Internal divisions and debate act as catalysts for change and advance. When the reaction sets in and we are defending our gains, we must be aware of the tendency for movements to turn in on themselves and to self-destruct. I suggest that "Separatist" ideas tend to limit the scope of political involvement for women by defining ever more strictly where feminists can put their energy. They create false divisions e.g. between lesbian and heterosexual women. Also these ideas and associated attitudes alienate women looking at feminism for the first time.

  5. Some "Separatists" feel isolated and persecuted. There is a sense of separation from left tradition, a tendency not to respect or seek to learn from past or current struggles where men are involved.

    For example, many "separatists" have strong feelings about pornography. I have found some "separatists" all too ready to suggest pornography should be banned, without regard or even awareness of the struggle over censorship dating back many years.

    Similarly with, what to do about rapists. Remarks such as "they should be shot" are easily made, but are women seriously arguing for the reintroduction of capital punishment? Do we want to lock more men up in jails? If so, what do we think it will achieve?


Women choosing to live their lives separate from men, whether in the city or the country, is their business. Seeing the patriarchy as the source of all oppression in the world, is one opinion. The problem comes in when the extension of these ideas leads to women feeling their credibility as feminists is suspect if they are heterosexual. And worse still, when they are reticent to admit that their children are males.

To have people feel restricted by a new "moral code" within a movement whose aim is liberation, is a problem in itself. But when ideas or slogans such as "Dead Men Don't Rape" begin to appear, the time has come to seriously look at the analysis which enables such an idea to be entertained. The implications of such a slogan are frightening. This is not the basis for a freer and more humane society.


I don't think we debate ideas often or fully enough. We tend to live in splinter ghettoes of the big ghetto called the women's movement. If we want to mix with a group of women socially, we feel we need to agree with their ideas, or at least to keep quiet. Several women have suggested to me that by writing this article I'm opening myself up for character assassinations as a means of destroying the credibility of my opinions.

I hope this article will be greeted as an attempt to open up debate. Lets try to put principles before personalities. Such an approach is based on an assumption that there is no single list of true ways of interpreting the world, and no single list of tactics to change it.

I have heard that in Italy people can have heated political disagreements but still expect you to be their friend. The distinction is drawn between the person and their ideas. A. helpful approach. After all lots of us change our ideas pretty radically as time goes by.

"It is not for us to create a plan for the future that will hold for all time. All the more surely what we contemporaries have to do is the uncompromising critical analysis of all that exists, uncompromising in the sense that it fears not its own results nor the conflict with the powers that be." Karl Marx.


1. Blatant Lesbianism. Sydney Magazine. P.10-13
2. Why We Are Revolutionary Feminists. British leaflet. July 80. P. 8.
3. same as above P. 8.
4. P. 6.
5. P.6.
6. P.6.
7. P.13.
8. P.3.
9. From an interview with a Sydney woman.
10. Women's Liberation The Problem and the Potential Melbourne 1976 P. 4.
11. Why We Are Revolutionary Feminists. British Leaflet. P. 13.
12. Same as above P. 3.
13 Blatant Lesbianism. P. 25.
14. Same as above. P. 45.
15. Women's Liberation: The Problem and the Potential P. 18.
16. Same as above P. 11.

Author/ysed by
Women behind Whippets
Whippet ident/yfied Whippets
Women who want to be whippets
Meta/lurgists who want to be whippets
Lurgists who want/unwant to be meta/whips
Whips who cre/ate didn't eat womyn
Women who would like to eat but can't digest wimmin.

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Last modified: March 30, 1999

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