For Us: Feminism in Defense of Women-only Spaces
By Laura Kamienski
“Currently feminism seems to be a term without any clear significance…but
another prepackaged role…a lifestyle choice…Emphasis on identity and lifestyle
is appealing because it creates a false sense that one is engaged in praxis…”
--bell hooks (48, 28)
Lately, when I talk to young women about feminism 1
I very often hear the statement, “For me feminism is…”. Many of them go
on to tell me that they are anti-choice, opposed to affirmative action,
or that they believe that defending freedom to do “whatever they want” should
be the main priority of feminist agenda. The recent trend to include any
and all beliefs under the appellation “feminism” has made becoming a “feminist”
more attractive to young women who have been reluctant to be associated
with a radical movement. One of the most vocal and organized proponents
of conservative “feminism” has christened itself “ifeminism” or “individualist
feminism”. 2 I would propose a more accurately descriptive
neologism: “formēism” (for-′mE-i-z&m.)
While superficially calling for the end of oppression, formēists are
replacing conviction and action based on political analysis and class struggle
with a focus on the acceptance of any personal opinion or preference. For
example, instead of acting from the understanding that to advance the cause
of women abortion must be considered expressly as an economic, logistical,
practical, and political question, formēists are discussing the morality
of abortion and are defending an individual’s right to be anti-choice.
This is exactly what those opposed to women’s liberation want and is exactly
what those engaged in the women’s movement must argue against. The issue
of women’s advancement through reproductive freedom is not, and must not
become, a personal moral question about the fetus. Feminists, including
those personally opposed to abortion, must fight for reproductive freedom,
including access to safe, legal, and when needed free, abortion for all women.
This is not a call to divorce morality from political ideology as some contend.
On the contrary, consciously subordinating personal concerns to the broader
aims of achieving societal morality is a necessary and critical component
of feminist, and all progressive political strategy.
More generally, formēist language includes silence about (or subtle denouncements
of) lesbianism, and the use of unisex titles instead of “women’s” or “feminist”.
Formēists are engaged in redirecting the feminist movement to include all
personal politics, including anti-choice, anti-affirmative action, and
heterosexist and class collaborationist stances. And, instead of developing
a more accurate analysis of the global oppression of women 3 , they co-opt the concept of diversity to mean the wholesale
acceptance of any personal belief system or action.
It is a sign of successful reactionary influence when women feel encouraged
by the fact that feminist stereotyping has declined. The reduction of stereotyping
is a result of the influence that patriarchy has had on feminism. When
stereotyping escalates it is an indication of the success of the movement.
Because of their vapid, non-confrontational positions 4
, formēists are often met with less resistance than the “ball-breaking dyke
and man-hating neurotic” feminists of the seventies. But let one formēist
speak out about exploitation or oppression and she’ll certainly be met with
the same disdain and reprisal that the “short-haired”, “unshaven”, “flannel
shirt / boot wearing”, “bra burning”, “dyke” has experienced throughout
the entire history of the women’s movement (Russ 3). Feminist goals are
strategically developed to undermine patriarchy, including the structure
of the patriarchal family. Homosexuality also undermines patriarchy by rejecting
patriarchal familial relationship. 5 Along with other
well-founded fears of reprisal, the aversion to the word “feminism” is deeply
connected with the specific fear of reprisal for, or disgust with, the possibility
of being mistaken for a lesbian–i.e., homophobia. 6 Since
heterosexism and homophobia are both crucial for maintaining patriarchy they
are institutionally encouraged and are a prominent ideological force behind
the campaign to re-define the word feminism.
What has replaced feminism is a sort of counterculture that bears little
resemblance to a political movement (Russ 2). The idea that all women’s
ideas, behaviors and experiences are equally valid in relationship to feminist
goals has led to the widespread acceptance of the preposterous belief that
anything a woman says or does is “feminist” simply because she is a woman.
7 In other words, being a woman has become the equivalent
of being a feminist. But not all of a woman’s actions or beliefs necessarily
correspond with feminist goals simply because she is a woman. There is clearly
a deficiency in the ability of the women’s liberation movement to develop
cohesive strategy when a profusion of women are identifying as “feminists”
no matter what their political positions are.
Conservative ‘feminists’ are championing short skirts, make-up and high
heels under the guise of personal empowerment and a “woman’s right to choose”.
Mediated encouragement of personal obsession with appearance, weight and
motherhood has impelled women’s centers to implement an increasing number
of programs on topics catering to individual concerns such as health, fitness
and time management. “Feminists” and “feminist” groups are more frequently
using male authority and relationship or collaboration with men in power
to gain respectability, to avoid being labeled, to insure job security, or
to gain promotion. Similarly, men in power are placing conservative women
in positions of prominence and public visibility, in an attempt to increase
their support from women (Russ 7). One recent example of this is the extraordinary
amount attention and air time (space) given to Anne Coulter, 8 a prominent female lawyer who accuses the “liberal
democrats” of causing all of society’s ills under the false premise that
democrat and republican interests are somehow distinct. 9
Women’s groups and centers are discussing and adopting mission statements
that replace social and political consciousness with personal gain. In
their attempt to popularize feminism, especially to men, formēist groups
have abandoned authentic or effective political agendas and have reduced
feminism to issues of personal lifestyle and opinion and single-issue programs
and activities. In effect they have created an ideology devoid of political
analysis, agenda and liberatory impact (Russ 7-8). What has been lost is
feminism as an impetus to the radical reordering of society through socially
conscious political struggle. Collective consciousness and the courage to
withdraw support of patriarchy are exactly what are missing in this conservative
wave of formēism.
The Psychology Trap
“The only way oppressed people can reclaim their damaged self-esteem
is by struggling against those responsible for their actual objective, material
Joanna Russ (11)
Some psychologists and theoreticians attempt to incorporate critical
social analysis and action into their practices, but psychology by definition
is the science of the mind and behavior. As a collection of academic disciplines
concerned with how [individual] people work, including their behavior,
mental processes, and pathologies it can only function as an attempt to
tweak oppressive conditions into something more livable (i.e., reform)
within the existing framework of capitalist exploitation.
The attempt to abate the oppression of women through psychological reform
is specious because it allows us to stand outside of the political arena
in a non-confrontational, “lady-like” manner and still feel like we are
engaged in the struggle. But in reality what is being offered to us only
serves to reinforce the status quo. According to Russ, “[Psychological theories]
function to direct our attention away from the causes of oppression located
outside the oppressed individual and toward the inadequacies in personal
relationships between oppressed individuals” (Russ 34). Oppression and exploitation
then cease to be understood as an outgrowth of historical conditions and
come to be considered as entities produced by a “special psychology” (Russ
32). This reactionary stratagem enjoys success because everyone is interested
in improving her personal relationships, and it’s dangerous because psychology
and social work within the constructs of capitalist ideology are tools of
reactionary manipulation. As Selma James, international coordinator of the
Global Women's Strike and founder of the International Wages for Housework
Campaign, so adeptly points out:
The chicken or the egg?
Psychology itself by its nature is a prime weapon of
manipulation, i.e., social control, of men, women, and children. It does
not acquire another nature when wielded by women in a movement for liberation.
Quite the reverse. To the degree that we permit it, it manipulates the movement
and changes the nature of that to suit its needs. And not only psychology.
Women’s Liberation needs—
- to destroy sociology as the ideology of the social services
that bases itself on the proposition that this society is ‘the norm’; if
you are a person in rebellion, you are a deviant.
- to destroy psychology and psychiatry, which spend their
time convincing us that our ‘problems’ are personal hang-ups and that we
must adjust to a lunatic world. These so-called ‘disciplines’ and ‘sciences’
will increasingly incorporate our demands in order more efficiently to redirect
our forces into safe channels under their stewardship. Unless we deal with
them, they will deal with us.
- to discredit once and for all social workers,
progressive educators, marriage guidance counselors and the whole army of
experts whose function is to keep men, women and children functioning within
the social framework, each by their own special brand of social frontal
lobotomy [emphasis in original] (James 197-198).
[U]ltimately this comes down to the key question of whether the struggle
is to abolish capitalism as a precondition to women’s liberation or whether
the goal is to reform men.
--Mary Alice Waters (1970, 27)
No organization, including the women’s movement is immune to pressures
from the society that surrounds them (Waters 1972, 9). Variations of conservative
“feminism”, including debates about the need for a new feminism and whether
women have all the power and success that they need, have developed during
every period of backlash. For example in 1927 Elizabeth Abbot wrote: “The
issue is not between ‘old’ and ‘new’ feminism. There is no such thing as
‘new’ feminism, just as there is no such thing as ‘new’ freedom. There is
freedom; and there is tyranny. The issue is between feminism…and that which
is not feminism” (Jeffreys 154). And, in 1984 Linda Tschirhart Sanford and
Mary Ellen Donovan noted that there is a “myth that women today are ‘making
it’ in great numbers” (211).
Conservative waves and backlash coincide with the success of the women’s
movement to achieve some of its demands (Faludi 46). According to Mary
Alice Waters, “This battle has always been one of the dividing lines between
revolutionary and reformist currents within the working-class movement;
between those who are committed to a class struggle perspective and those
following a line of class collaboration” (1972, 3). So a division over the
chicken-egg type question of whether women’s oppression can be eradicated
within the constructs of capitalist class society (a caste analysis), or
whether capitalism must first be destroyed (a class analysis), has perpetually
plagued the women’s movement. Formēism is the latest expression of conservative,
class- collaborationist “feminism” that gives caste, or reformism, a place
of pre-eminence over class, or revolutionary struggle. In light of this,
it isn’t surprising that, during capitalism’s recent worldwide economic
downturn, and subsequent upsurge of war and reaction, this peculiar reactionary
tendency is gaining momentum...and the chicken-egg dispute rages on.
So which came first? If one adopts the untenable position that men and
women share an indistinguishable relationship to production and that women’s
oppression is a matter of caste and not of class, then formēism seems sensible.
For if women and men do, in fact, share the same relationship, then turning
to individual psychology, socialization and interpersonal relationships
as the source of women’s oppression makes sense. However, women’s relationship
to production is not identical with men’s. In fact, it is our unique relationship
to production that defines us as a group, and creates the framework for
our oppression and exploitation.
In 1969, Margaret Benston wrote an astute article, “The Political Economy
of the Women’s Liberation Movement”, detailing women’s special relationship
to production. In it she describes the distinct relationships that men
and women have to production and some of the social ramifications that
result from those differences. She asserts that “household production”
10 is assigned to women and that men have no structural
responsibility for it. Moreover, even though women are not entirely excluded
from commodity production, their structural responsibility rests solely in
household production. Conversely men are structurally responsible for “commodity
production”11. It is this distinction in our relationship
with production that defines us economically, socially, politically and
personally. This structural framework creates antagonism between the sexes
that manifests itself in personal relationships, but it is the material
based antagonism between the working and ruling classes (which reveals itself
in the oppression of both men and women) that must be overturned in order
to achieve women’s liberation. So, the primary difference between men and
women rests in our structural responsibilities to production. According
“The material basis for the inferior status of women is to be found in
just this definition of women. In a society in which money determines value,
women are a group who work outside the money economy. Their work is not
worth money, is therefore valueless, is therefore not real work. And women
themselves, who do valueless work, can hardly be expected to be worth as
much as men, who work for money. In structural terms, the closest thing
to the condition of women is the condition of others who are also outside
of commodity production, i.e., serfs and peasants” (Benston 19).
But keep in mind that the goal of achieving the same relationship to
production as men within the constructs of capitalism is one of liberalism’s 12 slipperiest slopes, as Benston points out:
“[T]he contradictions between these alternatives and the need to keep
women in the home will grow…First, the amount of unpaid labor performed by
women is very large and very profitable to those who own the means of production.
To pay women for their work, even at minimum-wage scales would imply a massive
redistribution of wealth…And second, there is the problem of whether the
economy can expand enough to put all women to work as part of the normally
employed labor force” (Benston 22).
Since what defines us as a political group is our relationship to production,
it follows that women’s oppression is rooted in the development and needs
of class society and not on the physical, sexual, and psychological differences
between men and women. Yet the debate continues as to whether feminist
struggle should be primarily to abolish capitalism as a precondition to
women’s liberation or to reform gender specific roles and behavior within
the existing structures of capitalist class society. In order for feminism
to advance, reforming social and psychological behavior is necessary, but
not sufficient, to end the oppression of women. Nor can fundamental changes
in social and psychological conditions be realized under capitalism. Struggling
to combat the lack of self-esteem generated by oppression acts as an ephemeral
emollient, but women’s emancipation can only be achieved by overturning
the economic structures that abet and encourage sexism and misogyny within
the framework of institutionalized capitalist patriarchy (Russ 11).
This does not mean, however, that overturning these relations will immediately
result in the emancipation of women or the end of misogyny. Misogyny is
deeply ingrained in our social structures. Sexism is older than virtually
any other form of oppression and exploitation (Waters 1970, 28-29). 13 It is so pervasive in our culture that even those
of us who are conscious of it cannot be fully aware of all of its baleful
effects. But, the eradication of class society through the destruction of
capitalist property relations 14 will eliminate the
material basis of women’s oppression. Without the material basis for oppression
all “human relationships can themselves be transformed into free relations
of free people” (Waters 1972, 4). The scientific methods of Marxism provide
a materialist foundation for both socialism and women’s liberation. “It explains
the role of the family within class society and the function of the family
in perpetuating the oppression of women” (Waters 1972, 4). 15
Only after the abolishment of private property can women escape domestic
subjugation and be free to develop fully as equal members of society.
This analysis removes the struggle for women’s liberation from the personal
and rightfully assigns it as a social task in the interests of all humanity.
In the mean time feminists shouldn’t ignore opportunities to undermine
prescribed gender roles. We shouldn’t wait to fight for women’s liberation,
but basic feminist strategy for struggle must be determined with the clear
discernment that capitalism must be abolished in order to succeed (Waters
Formēists will often claim that this argument is antiquated, that the
victory of the women’s movement 16 has reassigned
these structural responsibilities; that men and women now share equally,
or at least share equal access to, commodity and household production. Most
often this is expressed by pointing to the few examples of token women in
positions of “power”, such as professors, business leaders, politicians.
But this assertion is plainly false. For example, when examining the current
situation of women, statistics show that we are still much less likely to
have steady employment than men, and working women are still paid less (UN-HABITAT,
URL). Jobs in commodity production which are considered feminine are conceptually
and practically related to traditional household production such as teaching,
nursing, sewing, cleaning, child care and secretarial work. These jobs are
also some of the lowest paid with the most oppressive conditions. Moreover,
when women enter commodity production, in any capacity, it does not alleviate
their structural responsibility for household production. Women are considered
transitory workers whose need for work is less necessary—after all, men are
structurally responsible to care for us. When men perform household tasks
it is considered emasculating, or an exceptionally generous act of kindness
(Benston 19). Though the women’s movement has succeeded in clearing some
obstacles, one need only pick up a magazine or turn on a television to get
a glimpse of the effectiveness of culturally mediated gender role assignments
as a bulwark for exploitation.
Women-only Spaces – A sagacious tactic
“It is nothing extraordinary for a master to bar his slaves from the
manor, but it is a revolutionary act for slaves to bar their master from
Marilyn Frye (Johnson URL)
Space is culturally and economically defined. The allocation of space
is not gender neutral. It is distributed according to relationships of power.
Throughout history spaces have been culturally, religiously and politically
marked as either "male" or "female". Even though women won full access
to a limited amount of space in the 20th century, both symbolically and
structurally, space was and continues to be largely defined as male. The
struggle to attain and maintain space is of great concern to the women’s
movement globally. The objection to, and disappearance of women-only space
is an effect of backlash against women’s attempts to build personal and
political autonomy (McFaddon URL).
As a socialist, a feminist and the director of a women-only martial arts
studio, I am regularly compelled to specifically examine the value of women-only
spaces and initiatives as a means of affirmative action within the context
of feminist strategy. Since I believe that violence against women is a result
of the institutionalized oppression of women, I maintain that it cannot
be eliminated until women are no longer oppressed, which will ultimately
require the destruction of capitalism. Marilyn Frye wrote, “The woman-only
meeting is a fundamental challenge to the structure of power…When those
who control access have made you totally accessible, your first acts of
control must be denying access or must have denial of access as one of its
aspects” [emphasis in original] (Frye 103). For this primary reason, among
others, women-only spaces are a powerful weapon in the destruction of capitalism.
The first and most basic woman-only space is her body. Historically,
women’s bodies have belonged to a man or men. (e.g., girls have belonged
to their fathers and wives to their husbands.) Complex laws exist for determining
to whom a woman should belong, should a husband, father or brother not be
available. 17 Thanks to blood, sweat and tears shed
by the fighters of the women’s liberation movement, many of these laws
have been changed in the United States, some within just the last couple
of decades (such as the requirement of parental or spousal permission to
obtain an abortion). Yet as a class women are still dependent on men financially,
politically and socially. Our bodies are objectified and presented
as simply another thing to be controlled by someone else. They don’t belong
Over the years that I’ve been a women’s fitness instructor I’ve repeatedly
heard from clients, “I don’t want to bulk up! I don’t want to get big!”
Interestingly, in this context, bulk refers to muscle which translates to
strength yet women feel compelled to avoid it. The encouragement to take
up as little space as possible has us dieting to the point of starvation
and having dangerous plastic surgery (Faludi 217-219)—not to mention an epidemic
of eating disorders. 18 Women are also encouraged
to have small posture: legs crossed, lowered heads and eyes, slumped shoulders
and closed gates. The deliberate encouragement of unhealthy small bodies
and submissive posture renders us weak and vulnerable. We are taught to be
soft-spoken and quiet, to be polite, to never make a scene; and heaven help
us if we should interrupt. Essentially, we learn that our voices don’t count
and should take up as little “space” as possible. Correspondingly, while
men are busy throwing their proverbial weight (a measure of space) around
we are busy desperately trying to get rid of ours!
According to patriarchal tradition, external spaces allotted to women
are “private” spaces characterized by child rearing and family care. Men’s
spaces are public spaces where social and political decisions are made. Women's
assignment to the home has both economic and social implications. In Benston’s
article she discusses some of the ramifications of women’s relegation to
“The woman, denied an active place in the market [commodity production],
has little control over the conditions that govern her life. Her economic
dependence is reflected in emotional dependence, passivity, and other ‘typical’
female personality traits. She is conservative, fearful, supportive of
the status quo” (21).
Again, Formēists will often rebut that this polemic is obsolete, that
the success of the women’s movement has reassigned these structural responsibilities;
that men and women now share equally, or at least share equal access to,
commodity and household production. But Benston’s assertions remain vitally
relevant today, as is clearly indicated by an article written in 1999 by
Caroline Langridge, Independent Consultant and former Head of England’s National
Health Service Women’s Unit:
It is ironic that even though women have been outwardly allotted household
space and responsibility for its care, for all intents and purposes, the
notion of the family or household, with or without relationship to a man,
is fundamentally male-centered. For example, if a woman steps out to create
a family or household without relationship to a man that space is immediately
relegated to “Other” status—single headed, female headed, woman headed.
When women step outside of their designated roles within the male-centered
family they are also relegated to Other status such as working mother or
second income (McFaddon URL). In any case, women’s “authentic” work is still
in the home whether we are married, single, or heads of households (Benston
Isn’t the reality that in a world where women
still only earn 73% of the average male wage (1) the majority of women have
some way to go before they can choose to regard themselves as no longer being
economically dependent on men. Whilst I agree that now women can walk away
from a marriage or partnership and survive, surely there is a distinct difference
between surviving and thriving.
It’s instructive to discover that whilst women are increasingly playing
a role in the fast growing small business sector, with 7% of women now described
as self employed entrepreneurs, only 16.5% or 396,000 of the 2.4 million
higher rate tax payers in the 1998/99 tax year were women. This reinforces
the view that we have some way to go before a significant proportion of
women are likely to reach the economic position of being able to purchase
for themselves unaided the economic necessities of life (URL). 19
The amount of physical property women own is negligible in comparison
with men. Women comprise more than fifty percent of the world’s population,
yet we own only one percent of he world’s wealth. Women occupy an extremely
small percentage of power positions such as corporate boards of trustees
or political offices and we are the most impoverished group in the world
(UN-HABITAT URL). Those of us who do manage to secure positions of importance
are constantly reminded to “shape” up, fly right and play by the (patriarchal)
rules. And, even when we do fly “right” we inevitably crash against a glass
ceiling. Author Susan Faludi, in her unprecedented feminist work Backlash,
talks about the reaction to women’s “success” in the capitalist marketplace:
“Under this backlash, like its predecessors, an often ludicrous overreaction
to women’s modest progress has prevailed. ‘The women are taking over’ is
again a refrain many working women hear from their male colleagues—after
one or two women are promoted in their company, but while top management
is still solidly male” (Faludi 64).
Women have historically had (and in many instances still have) limited
or no access to many spaces. The fear of rape, stemming from a wide array
of sources, results in our limiting our own freedom. In effect this means
that men and women do not share the same entitlements. Women are told,
and often believe that they should not and cannot go places where men can
go. And since a woman is responsible to protect herself and her children,
she often confines herself to her home even though, ironically, she is
more likely to be victimized there than in public.20
Most forms of oppression have a corresponding expression of violence.
For women this violence is manifested as rape and battering but also includes
less obvious forms like harassment, catcalls, demeaning and devaluing language,
and mediated objectification (Telsey 21). Though seemingly arbitrary and
personal, this violence is a socially and politically driven device to control
women as a population. But conservative feminist groups miss this point.
They are now framing violence against women in terms of personal relationship.
Anti-violence work has been removed from the context of social and political
oppression. Instead of acting from the understanding that patriarchy in
conjunction with capitalism has a huge stake in perpetuating sexist assault,
anti-violence work has been reduced to victim advocacy and appeals to the
personal humanity of men. Feminist actions such as women-only Take Back
the Night marches 21 and women’s self-defense programs
are being condemned as separatist examples of reverse discrimination. This
pressure has prompted widespread policies of indiscriminate inclusion, and
an emphasis on programs directed toward men.
Some Take Back the Night organizers have opted to discontinue the march’s
women-only tradition, claiming that to end violence we must change men’s
behavior, therefore the march should be open to men who are often reluctant
to recognize their role in patriarchy. These organizers have decided to
prioritize protesting all forms of sexualized violence and increasing awareness
about gender roles in relationship to perpetrators and victims of violence.
This decision effectively causes the call to end sexist violence against
women to become secondary to, or indistinguishable from, other demands.
Similarly reactionary pressure has encouraged anti-violence activists
to adopt taglines such as, “Rape is everybody’s problem!” and “Rape won’t
end until men stop raping!” Yes, rape is everybody’s problem. But, even with
the best intentions, when used as a slogan this phrase sidesteps the disparate
character and effect of violence experienced by various populations, not
to mention the root cause of violence against women—our relationship to material
production. A better tag line would be, Men won’t stop raping until women
are no longer oppressed! Reducing anti-violence work to victim advocacy
and appeals to the humanity of men 22 cannot effect
the elimination of sexist violence.
Sex-inclusive marches and non-gendered slogans make sense if you believe,
first, that violence against all populations, including men and women,
is identical, and second, that by reforming men you will achieve women’s
emancipation. But by including men, the purpose of Take Back the Night
is shifted away from the specific nature of women’s oppression, and the
resulting violence against us. This is also true when we focus attention
toward men in anti-violence work. This is an error in strategy for building
this particular event, for directing anti-violence work, and for building
a movement. Feminists must think in terms of the quality of political objectives
and strategies and not simply in terms of numbers, mass appeal or short-term
personal goals. As Leon Trotsky succinctly asserted:
“Not a single progressive idea has begun with a ‘mass base,’ otherwise
it would not have been a progressive idea. It is only in the last stages
that the idea finds its masses – if, of course, it answers the needs of
progress…[The pioneers] knew beforehand that the quality of their ideas
would be transformed into quantity” (112).
It makes sense that the women’s movement should fight against all other
forms of sexualized violence. Feminists should encourage and participate
in initiatives to discuss men’s role as perpetrators. We must also acknowledge
the role of violence against women in connection with struggles for liberation
in a broader sense. But to broaden events and the women’s movement in an
attempt to attract and reform men is a grave tactical error. Though there
will likely be some short-term benefit such as a few men making better decisions
regarding violence, some particular events, and eventually the entire movement,
will lose its long-term strategic value and effectiveness. Without deeper
analysis and a driven focus on developing autonomy for women as a class, the
systematic oppression of women, along with its expression of violence, will
continue in spite of a few more “good men”.23
The history of Take Back the Night is an important example of the power
of women-only spaces and the double-edged sword of the inclusion of men in
anti-violence work. It is our responsibility as feminists to clearly define
the roles of men in all of our meetings and activities. We must carefully
consider the ramifications of their inclusion and demand and defend the formation
of women-only initiatives whenever and wherever possible. We must be open
to alliances and coalitions while remaining clearly focussed on a set of
well-defined, long-term goals and strategies. Feminists must have well stated
and clearly formulated policies about men’s inclusion, or exclusion, for
every event and activity we engage in. For example, at my martial arts studio,
no men are permitted to attend classes or testing except for fathers and
brothers of minor students. Also there have been no male guest instructors
at Kicks. However, students are encouraged to participate in mixed-sex classes
run by our affiliates. Other examples of such policies include clearly outlining
men’s roles in women’s rape crisis centers and abortion clinics, as well
as mass actions protesting violence against women or defending abortion
I have deliberately structured Kicks Martial Arts for Women 24 as a consciously organized women-only space to confront
and dismantle culturally accepted misogynist norms. Certainly, it is not
an end in itself nor, as I have said, do I believe that women-only spaces
are the solution to women’s oppression. However, as a type of affirmative
action, women-only spaces are an indispensable means for radicalizing and
empowering women when organized within the context of a feminist agenda. Forming
them and defending them is a sagacious tactic; they are essential for ending
the oppression of women.
The Power of Women-only Spaces
[W]e have learnt along the long road of our struggle for freedom,
that compromising only takes us back even further than where we started.
So we must hold on to our spaces because they are the only living spaces
that we have and can own as women in these deeply woman-hating, patriarchal
societies we continue to live in at the present time.
Patricia McFaddon (URL)
There are many historical examples of women-only spaces, both real and
symbolic, within the women’s movement: consciousness-raising groups. political
party caucuses, the original Take Back the Night marches as well as a number
of non-fiction and fiction anthologies. 25 Such
spaces and actions have an extremely powerful effect on building autonomy
for women as a class and changing the cultural view of women as individuals
and as a group. It is no wonder that encouraging women-only initiatives and
spaces has historically been high among the goals of feminist agenda.
Many who are uncomfortable with the idea of a women-only setting see
it as divisive, separatist, or marginalizing women’s issues. Although feminists
do need to be cautious, women-only spaces do not lead, as some would argue,
to the introversion or narrowing of the concerns of women. In fact women-only
spaces are an important vehicle for the politicization and radicalization
of women, enabling us to begin to draw connections between women’s struggles
and the struggles of other oppressed groups. In such settings, for instance,
women often learn that the women’s movement is a natural ally with other
movements struggling against the oppression of capitalism. Alliances made
through coalitions around related issues are an effective strategy of feminism.
There are inexhaustible opportunities for women’s groups to ally with others
fighting against the devastation of capitalism. For example the group Men
Stopping Violence (MSV) is a co-sex organization which was “founded in 1982
based on the premise that men can work together, in alliance with the battered
women's movement, to end men's violence against women” (MSV URL). Another
example of a strategic coalition might be the alliance of feminists with
co-sex groups organized against homelessness, such as the National Coalition
for the Homeless. Since poverty and domestic violence are often related to
homelessness, women are natural allies with this group (NHC). A third example
might be women’s organizations allying with the struggles of co-sex labor
unions. And of course because it stands in opposition to patriarchy, the
women’s movement is a natural ally of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered
rights movement. Raising consciousness about the connections between all
these struggles is an integral component of ending the subjugation of all
those oppressed by capitalism.
The most common objection to women-only spaces is based on men’s personal
feelings of exclusion. Just as is true for other forms of affirmative action
(which also create feelings of exclusion among those who are privileged),
women-only spaces are criticized as examples of reverse discrimination. 26 It is claimed that endorsing women-only spaces means that
feminists must then endorse men-only spaces as well, or oppose both. After
all, it is argued, it was feminists who protested women’s exclusion from
men-only spaces; by excluding men, the women’s movement is committing the
same transgression. 27 But the attempt to classify
women’s separatism within the same category as sexism or discrimination disregards
the reality of male privilege. The exclusion of men by women and the exclusion
of women by men are fundamentally different. Christine Delphy, internationally
known radical feminist and editor of France's only Women's Studies Journal,
writes, “To accuse women of ‘inverse sexism’ (or Blacks of counter-racism)
is not only unfriendly, it is reactionary, because it posits a symmetry between
oppressor and oppressed. To decry or exclude those who oppress you is not
symmetrical with decrying or excluding those whom you oppress” (Delphy 110).
Accusations of reverse discrimination in relationship to measures of
affirmative action are an aspect of formēism which closely resembles the
reaction we saw against the civil rights movement, insofar as it selectively
used the tactic of white exclusion. 28 At best these
allegations ignore or deny the reality of existing relationships of power.
At worst they are (consciously or unconsciously) racist, sexist and homophobic
attacks against programs of affirmative action that feminists and other civil
rights activists fought hard to win. The fact that these allegations are
being made by women who call themselves feminists is an indication of the
success of feminist opposition in undermining the collective consciousness
of the women’s movement. The sabotage of feminism is coming, not as much
from feminist opposition, but from the influence that opposition has on
the proponents of the movement itself.
The institutions of the prevailing (patriarchal) hierarchy define cultural
norms and preferences for behavior and impose restrictions and restraints
accordingly. Women’s lives are shaped by and understood according to these
standards, leaving us virtually devoid of our own experience unfettered
by patriarchal norms. A consciously organized women-only environment reveals
these, normally invisible, restrictions. Until they become exposed such
restrictions feel ordinary, favorable, and in some instances preferable,
because they are familiar (McFaddon URL). Only in the absence of the dominant
group (i.e., men) can these constraints begin to be dismantled. Women-only
spaces are a mechanism to strategically expose these restraints.
Within mixed-sex groups, women’s issues are usually considered a specialist,
secondary, or minority concern, which are almost always forced to compete
for consideration. Sometimes they are regarded as less serious and even
“silly”. In contrast, women-only groups put women’s perspectives, concerns
and interests at the fore. They provide us with opportunities to develop,
free from conventional role expectations, and to acquire leadership skills
we would otherwise be unable to cultivate. Women’s organizations enable
girls and women to feel more confident and to learn more effectively. A
2003 Study by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators
regarding women-only universities found that, “[A]ttending a women-only
institution appeared to have a significant positive impact on the development
of intellectual self-confidence” (NASPA URL).
Suzanne Pinette of Sun Dragon Martial Arts in Austin, Texas, relayed
an experience with her younger students who train without boys: “About ten
years ago we had an epiphany and realized the young girls would also benefit
from the opportunity to train with each other rather than with boys present…When
girls go to the mixed class they go from a position of strength and get respect
from the boys who usually have trouble keeping up” (e-mail).
Women alone cannot end patriarchy. But fighting for separate women’s
organizations poses no contradiction to this verity. Consciously organized
women-only spaces do not exist for the purpose of excluding men. They exist
to empower women. They are a reflection of the independent character of
a movement. By restricting membership, oppressed groups can begin to develop
self-confidence and their own identity (Waters 1970, 27).
Women’s Self-defense Training
I experience a sense of freedom from encultured/feminine physical
constraint/restraint when I punch, block and kick. I think that if more
of us did this (and took off our high heels and danced, etc.) we'd experience
--Coralynn Davis, Bucknell University
Women’s Studies professor
and Kicks Martial Arts for Women student
There are few examples of role or design models outside of prescribed
patriarchal norms. Organizations in which women occupy equitable leadership
positions and power are almost non-existent. This is especially true in martial
arts and self-defense. My personal experience as the owner of a women-only
martial arts studio and an instructor of women-only self-defense classes
has strengthened my conviction that women-only spaces have enormous value,
both personally for my students and politically for women as a global population.
Since I started training in martial arts in 1994, I can’t count the number
of times I’ve been in public wearing a martial arts T-shirt or jacket and
a man taunts me with, “Oh, I’m not going to mess with you!” I always reply
with a sarcastically coy, “Thank you; but would you if I didn’t practice
martial arts?” I’m most often met with a “Hm” followed by a thoughtful stare.
One time a young man was washing my hair in a styling salon. He noticed
my T-shirt and we had our exchange. He thought for a moment and quite frankly
and honestly said, “Yep, I probably would.” His honesty was refreshing!
His deep-seated sense of entitlement is ubiquitous among men living in our
After opening my school, Kicks, I began to experience a wide variety
of sexism and sexist violence in various forms ranging from physical threats,
personal insults and accusations of being a “man hater” to arrogant dismissals
of doing anything of value. I’ve heard reports of friends of students whose
male partners won’t permit them to train at Kicks. (The fact that these
men wield so much power over their partners is illustrative of how men affect
women’s ability to be self-governing.) A number of students have quit because
of pressure about spending too much time away from home duties or because
of being labeled as “one of those feminists, a lesbian or a man-hater”.
One striking example of how men can unconsciously undermine women’s training
is the hackneyed expression; “You hit like a girl!” This statement, even
with the best intentions of helping a woman to be more powerful, is disempowering.
It contemptuously disregards the fact that girls are taught to hit feebly
and not to use their bodies in any powerful way. At Kicks, our slogan “Hit
Like A Girl!” encourages pride in our bodies, our capabilities, and ourselves.
It is no coincidence that even now, after fighting tooth and nail to get
into mixed clubs, only a tiny fraction of martial arts students achieving
the rank of black belt are women. One of my students, whose son practices
at a mixed sex studio, reported that at the level of white belt the enrollment
of boys and girls is about even, but as students progress in rank there
are fewer and fewer girls left in the class. I’ve encountered similar reports
from mixed sex schools all over the world. It appears that even though
women are no longer legally prohibited from training in mixed-sex schools,
they infrequently find spaces that are hospitable to, or supportive of
women and girls.
“Oh, and you should never hit a woman!” My jaw fell to the floor when
I heard a co-instructor at a co-sex martial arts studio declare this rule
to a young male student while he was training with a young woman. When I
asked why, he replied, “Well, in case she’s pregnant!” Although I wanted
to ask him how the young female student was supposed to train effectively
if her partner refused to hit her, instead I asked him what the rule would
be in my case since I had a hysterectomy some years ago. He didn’t seem to
have an answer! In addition to this statement relegating the female student
to a position of importance below that of a possible but non-existent fetus,
it disregards the fact that a pregnant woman may be called upon to defend
herself and that men have even more vulnerable reproductive organs. This
is just one mild example of the kind of backhanded sexism I’ve experienced
training in co-sex martial arts schools.
Even with the increasing popularity of “kick-butt-woman” images 29, women are told, and often convinced, that we must wait
for and encourage the benevolence of men for our personal safety and in order
to end violence. This belief means that essentially we are asking our attackers
to rescue us from themselves, and until then, the best we can do is to establish
survivor resources and focus our attention on making appeals to the good
will of men. This strategy is an example of waiting for the knight in shining
armor to determine the fate of the damsel. It reinforces the idea of women’s
incapability of self-defense and self-determination. Instead of reinforcing
the notion of being rescued, women-only spaces foster and encourage self-determination
for women, both as an individuals and as a group. They are places where
we learn to be our own rescuers, our own heroes, and our own knights in
The deep-seated image of man as rescuer and woman as rescuee is a small,
but integral, part of the systematic socialization process that defines
what it means to be women and men in our society. This socialization
is not accidental or arbitrary. Gender roles serve a specific purpose for
the perpetuation of patriarchy. Along with being an effective tool of political
oppression and economic exploitation, this gender training leaves women
vulnerable to violence and encourages men to seek control and power. I believe
it is no coincidence that through all of my martial arts training and teaching
experiences I’ve found that the biggest hurdles women face in learning to
defend themselves result from this gender training.
Women who have had the opportunity to train at Kicks describe their experiences
with words and phrases such as: freedom, our/my own, realizing my/our potential,
not measuring myself against men, feelings of independence, confidence,
power and strength as a woman and as women. All of these accounts relate
to the concept of autonomy. Autonomy is a prerequisite for the social and
political equality of an oppressed group. Kicks, along with other women-only
ventures, plays a vital role in helping many women begin to recognize and
analyze their oppression.
In reporting what they like about training in a women-only space, students
make statements such as, “I don’t have to worry about being watched”, “I
like it that I don’t have to worry about what I look like”, “I can be myself
and not worry about what I say or do”. These sentiments clearly indicate
feelings of freedom from surveillance. Surveillance is a mechanism used
to maintain subordination. As a subordinate group, women are under constant
surveillance in many ways. Freedom from surveillance by the dominant group
establishes an atmosphere ripe for open discussion and the development
of leadership skills. African scholar and feminist Patricia McFaddon observes,
“Surveillance of women’s political consciousness is a key objective of
the patriarchal backlash, which manifests itself through male demands for
inclusion into women’s spaces” (McFaddon URL). Free from such surveillance,
women at my school enjoy the opportunity to expand their consciousness in
a less inhibiting environment.
When in mixed-sex settings, women tend to react in sexually gendered
ways. Again, McFaddon has keen insight; “Men tend to intimidate most women;
even the wimpiest male has an impact on the confidence of some women, and
that is a cost we should not have to incur in our own spaces” (McFaddon
This tendency is prevalent in co-sexed martial arts schools. April Miller,
a long time martial artist and member of the National Women’s Martial Arts
Federation, relayed this experience:
“I went to a local women's karate class once, the head instructor was
a women, but her two assistants were men. The adult women were more giggly
than I have ever seen in women-only classes. Some of the women black belts
were sent over to work with us new folks. They were told that they could select
a helper to hold the kicking pads. Without exception they chose the male
instructors instead of any of the other women black belts in attendance.
There seemed to be an undercurrent of trying to impress the male assistants,
the head female instructor wasn't all that important. The focus seemed
to be external, instead of on one's self. It disturbed me. I felt so bad
that these women just weren't getting it” (e-mail).
Kicks Martial Arts for Women does not take away from anybody, including
men. The problem is it threatens, deliberately so, the stability and foundations
of patriarchy. If I had decided to open a studio that offers only children’s
classes, I seriously doubt that anyone would complain that I were discriminating
against adults. Kicks is a place where students can freely acknowledge
that women are different from men. As a distinctly oppressed class, women
train for different reasons. Women have specific self-defense needs and
concerns. Women benefit from modeling themselves after female teachers
and each other while not being overshadowed by men. Coming in contact with
real examples of women in power has an immeasurable effect on a woman’s
self-image. It is the beginning of realizing her own possibilities.
Opposition to, and the elimination of, women-only spaces, both real and
symbolic, is a self-preserving function of patriarchy. It is a tactic which
benefits the status quo whether it is overtly accomplished by men or it is
achieved by women who, through the sometimes overpowering effects of backlash,
become convinced it is somehow in everyone’s interest to do so. Those in
power commonly use tactics of division and surveillance to keep oppressed
groups in subordinate positions. These tactics are very successful because
they weaken solidarity and obstruct autonomy. The pressure to discourage,
or even ban, women-only spaces comes in many forms. Sometimes it takes the
form of laws. Sometimes it’s manifested as outright violence or harassment.
Other times it takes the form of appeals to women’s sense of justice and fair
play, as Joanna Russ eloquently explains…
”[V]ery sexist assumptions lie behind the abandonment of woman-only spaces:
that it’s our job to take care of men, that we must accept into our space
all who need help, whether their presence serves our ends or not, and that
to place our own space and our own desires first is intolerant and unloving—a
judgement that assumes our lives and characters have value only if we love
and tolerate everybody else, that is, men” (Russ 90).
The Socialist who is not a Feminist lacks breadth. The Feminist who
is not a Socialist is lacking in strategy.
Louise W. Kneeland (Waters 1972, 12)
So, should women form separate organizations for struggle, raise our
own demands, develop our own leadership, and organize our own actions?
Absolutely, positively, unequivocally, unconditionally, insistently,
emphatically, and without hesitation or apology… YES!
Demanding independent space is a key strategy to fight effectively for
women’s liberation. That is why the women’s movement, as a political, ideological,
activist and structural space must remain just that—a women-only space,
both symbolically and substantiality.
Women’s emancipation depends on a clear feminist agenda based on an historical
materialist analysis of women’s relationship to production. While developing
strategy feminists will find that it makes sense to include actions and
tactics designed to break down psychological and social oppression through
prescribed gender roles, but we must never lose sight of the fundamental
cause of women’s oppression and fall into the specious reactionary traps
of individualism and reformism. We must be expressly interested in the quality
of our analysis and strategy and refrain from compromising our main objective.
This does not mean that we refuse to collaborate or cooperate, or work with
men or anyone else. What it does mean is that feminists must refuse to compromise
on questions of class principle such as the need for autonomous women’s
spaces, abortion rights and affirmative action, among others.
To begin, feminists must develop a concise political analysis stressing
that socialist revolution cannot be realized without the support of masses
of women, nor can women's liberation be achieved without socialist revolution.
We must recognize that the oppression and exploitation of women is an integral
part of the broader social questions of vital interest to the revolutionary
movement. We must be clear that these concerns are not secondary to the
revolution and must not be dismissed as “female concerns”. We must uncompromisingly
reject the notion that women’s liberation can be achieved by reforming the
capitalist system. We must organize broad-based coalitions while also forming
and encouraging autonomous women’s groups. And finally, every progressive
co-sex organization we are involved in must encourage the formation of consciously
organized women-only commissions within their internal frameworks. 30
Women’s Liberation touches on the most fundamental questions of human
existence. When it is attained, it will mean the liberation of men, women,
and children from the deepest form of sexual, psychological, social, and
economic oppression. It will mean that humanity has reached an entirely
new historical level—a classless society.
--Mary Alice Waters
Copyright 2003 Laura Kamienski. All rights reserved.
- Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. 2003. http://www.anred.com/stats.html
- Castro, Aquilas. 1997. “The anti-imperialist struggle today.”
- Benston, Margaret. September 1969. Monthly Review.
“The Political Economy of the Women’s Liberation Movement.” Reprinted in
Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women’s Lives,
collected by Rosemary Hennessy and Chrys Ingraham. 1997. New York. Routledge.
- Davis, Coralynn. 2003. Essay for Green Belt. Kicks Martial
Arts for Women.
- Delphy, Christine. 1984. Close to Home: A Materialist Analysis
of Women’s Oppression. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
- Faludi, Susan. 1991. Backlash, The Undeclared War Against
American Women. New York. Bantem Doubleday Dell Publishing
- Frye, Marilyn. 1983. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist
Theory. New York. Crossing Press.
- hooks, bell. 1984. Feminist Theory from Margin to Center.
Boston. South End Press.
- James, Selma. 1971. “The American Family: Decay and Rebirth.”
Reprinted in From Feminism to Liberation, collected by Edith Hoshino Altback,
Schenkman, Cambridge Mass.
- Jeffreys, Sheila. 1985. The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism
and Sexuality, 1880-1930. London. Pandora.
- Johnson, Charles W. 1996. “What you can do to support women’s
- Langridge, Caroline. 1999. “Time for Men to Stop Whinging.”
- Men Stopping Violence (MSV). 2003. http://www.menstoppingviolence.org/
- Miller, April. “On Women’s Spaces.” E-mail to Laura Kamienski.
- National Coalition for the Homeless. (NCH). 2003. http://www.nationalhomeless.org/
- National Association Student Personnel Administrators. (NASPA)
Center for Scholarship, Research and Professional Development for Women.
2003. “Do Women-Only Colleges Make a Difference?” http://www.naspa.org/netresults/PrinterFriendly.cfm?ID=1007
- Pinette, Suzanne. “Our School’s Experience.” Online posting 24
July 2003. <email@example.com>
- Reed, Evelyn. 1969. Problems of Women’s Liberation. New York.
- Russ, Joanna. 1998. What are we fighting for? New York: St.
- Tschirhart Sanford, Linda and Donovan, Mary Ellen. 1984.
Women and Self Esteem. New York. Doubleday.
- Telsey, Nadia.1988. Self Defense From the Inside Out: A Women’s
Workbook for Developing Self-Esteem and Assertiveness Skills for Safety.
Eugene, Oregon. BeFree.
- Trotsky, Leon. 1970. Leon Trotsky On Literature and Art.
New York. Pathfinder Press.
- United Nations Human Settlements Programme, The. (UN-HABITAT)
- Waters, Mary Alice. 1972 (Eighth printing 1999) Feminism
and the Marxist Movement. New York. Pathfinder Press.
- _______. 1970. The Politics of Women’s Liberation Today.
London. Pathfinder Press. Reprinted in Materialist Feminism: A Reader in
Class, Difference, and Women’s Lives, collected by Rosemary Hennessy and
Chrys Ingraham. 1997. New York. Routledge.
- “The European radical movement has always used the
word feminism as synonymous with opposition to materialist analysis of women’s
oppression. In this usage, a feminist is someone who consciously rejects
the idea that we must abolish private property if we are to achieve women’s
liberation. Socialism and feminism are thus mutually exclusive. The American
radical movement…has not always used the terms in this way. For us a feminist
is any woman who recognizes that women are oppressed as a sex and is willing
to carry out an uncompromising struggle to end that oppression.” (Waters
- According to http://www.ifeminist.com/ “The
core principle of individualist feminism is that all human beings have a
moral and legal claim to their own persons and property.” Favoring individual
property rights over societal need is a fundamental expression of pro-capitalist
- Waters refers to the Fourth Congress of the Comintern
held in 1922: “The Comintern attached great importance to work among the
particularly oppressed women of colonial countries. They realized that there
was no possibility of transferring power to the working class in an underdeveloped
country any more than in advanced capitalist country without mobilizing
women in the struggle for their liberation” (Waters 1972, 20).
- Some positions, like those of Ann Coulter, aren’t
banal or non-controversial, but they are in complete compliance with maintaining
the status quo.
- This does not mean that gay and lesbians necessarily
agree with dismantling patriarchy, nor that they are conscious of the implications
of their sexuality on patriarchy.
- Castigation for speaking out against sexism includes
all forms of social reprisals including being fired from jobs or refused
employment, social ostracizing, and violence.
- Along with this line of thinking is the increased
acceptance that any man claiming to be pro-woman is a feminist.
- For more on Ann Coulter, http://www.anncoulter.org/
- While Democrats and Republicans do tactically disagree,
and represent distinct interests of certain members of the ruling class,
(Democrats traditionally ally with industrial capitalists, Republicans with
Wall Street capitalists) both parties serve to maintain and protect capitalism.
- Household production consists primarily of the
reproduction of the labor force but also includes all social and material
production related to this primary reproduction, whether one bears children
- Commodity production consists of wage labor but
also includes the structural financial responsibility for women, children
and the elderly.
- Another requirement for the success of the women’s
movement is autonomy from the Democrat and Republican capitalist parties.
- There has been a long and tumultuous debate regarding
the origins of women’s oppression. Anthropologist and feminist author Evelyn
Reed has contributed a great deal to resolving this debate, especially in
her book Problems of Women’s Liberation. 1969. New York, Pathfinder Press.
- For a detailed explanation of building a classless
society through the eradication of capitalist property relations the see
The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, Volumes 1-47. New York. Pathfinder
- See Engels, Frederick. 1884. The Origin of the
Family, Private Property, and the State. New York. Pathfinder Press.
- Instead of pointing to the success of the women’s
movement, some assert that a shift to “post industrialism” has rendered socialism
obsolete. But this is a false analysis as clearly articulated by Aquiles
Castro of the Communist Party of Labor in the Dominican Republic: “[Some
claim that] we are living in a new post-industrial and post-modern era whose
essence [is] fundamentally different from the capitalist mode of production
which has dominated during the (last) two centuries. The fact that the bases
upon which the system is constructed continue in force is revealed when we
take into account the persistence of social calamities historically inherent
in capitalism: unemployment, lack of work, poverty, danger of war, etc. In
the light of this situation the so-called "new era" only makes sense in the
fertile imagination of post-modernist discourse” ( http://www.mltranslations.org/DomRep/antiimpPCT.htm).
- For example, during the middle ages sexual property
rights reduced women to chattel. The “droit du seigneur,” the right of the
first night, gave each medieval lord the right to take first sexual access
to any female serf who married on his land holdings. These laws made raping
new brides legal during the middle ages. Our own legal system still favors
the perpetrator in many instances. One of the most telling examples of our
culture's tolerance of sexual assault was the episode of attacks in Central
Park, New York City, during and after the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade
in June of 2000.
- According to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating
Disorders, Inc. 2003:
“Research suggests that about one percent (1%) of female
adolescents have anorexia. That means that about one out of every one hundred
young women between ten and twenty are starving themselves, sometimes to
death. There do not seem to be reliable figures for younger children and older
adults, but such cases, while they do occur, are not common.
“Research suggests that about four percent (4%), or four out of one hundred,
college-aged women have bulimia. About 50% of people who have been anorexic
develop bulimia or bulimic patterns. Because people with bulimia are secretive,
it is difficult to know how many older people are affected. Bulimia is rare
“Only about 10% of people with anorexia and bulimia are male. This gender
difference may reflect our society's different expectations for men and women.
Men are supposed to be strong and powerful. They feel ashamed of skinny
bodies and want to be big and powerful. Women, on the other hand, are supposed
to be tiny, waif-like, and thin. They diet to lose weight, making themselves
vulnerable to binge eating. Some develop rigid and compulsive overcontrol.
Dieting and the resulting hunger are two of the most powerful eating disorders
triggers known” (http://www.anred.com/stats.html).
- Of course this information is primarily relevant
to women living in industrialized countries in the west and does not account
for the situations of women in other parts of the world and those living
in third world countries, which in some instances is far worse.
- According to the U.S. Department of Justice, American
Medical Association, and other sources, domestic violence is the leading
cause of injury to women and the majority of sexual assaults are committed
by someone a woman knows, and often trusts. In spite of this information,
mediated images of psychotic stranger attacks, and other alarmist mis-information
encourages us to erroneously believe that we are in more danger outside of
our own homes.
- Men can walk the streets without fear of an attack
provoked solely by their status as men. Women suffer from sexism and the
loss of mobility and freedom because of the threat of rape. This lack of freedom
motivated the first Take Back the Night march in Ann Arbor, Michigan almost
a quarter century ago.
- Some well-intentioned men (and women) even call
for the renaissance of male chivalry, an expression of paternal male dominance.
- In my experience the genuinely “good” men voluntarily
back off and encourage women’s autonomy.
- Kicks Martial Arts for Women. Post Office Box
579. Lewisburg, PA 17837 http://www.kicks4women.com/
- The books That Takes Ovaries (Soloman Rivka
ed. 2002) and Her Wits About Her (Caignon, Denise and Groves, Gail
eds. 1987), as well as the play The Vagina Monologues (Ensler Eve.
1998) are examples of collections of women’s stories, told by women. To include
a male voice in these works would de-politcize them and rob them of their
political value and impact.
- There is a fundamental difference between not
being welcome and discrimination. Discrimination reaches far beyond exclusion,
but they are connected and invariably overlap.
- We need to address the question of men-only groups
organized to end the oppression of women. Should feminists support them?
Men should be encouraged to support the struggle for women’s liberation, but
groups that explicitly exclude women serve only to reinforce the dominant
position of men. For this reason men-only groups are inherently anti-feminist.
(The recent coining of the term “Men’s Movement” is a kind of oxymoron since
men, as a group, are not oppressed on the basis of their sex.) This certainly
doesn’t mean that men shouldn’t spend time together without the presence
of women. But men’s anti-violence organizations or those purportedly giving
voice to any feminist demand must be in constant communication, cooperation
and relationship with women’s groups.
- In relationship to supporting autonomous spaces
and action, James P. Cannon, in his 1962 study The First Ten Years of American
Communism. (Pathfinder Press. New York) explained that Blacks were not only
exploited as workers but as Blacks too. Autonomous programs were needed which
addressed the special demands of oppressed groups.
- Examples include, the Laura Croft character in
Tombraider, Xena-Warrior Princess and Buffy the
- This “To Do” was inspired by a resolution adopted
by the Third Congress of the Cominturn in June 1921 “which dealt with the
political and organizational aspects of the International’s orientation,”
as is described in Waters .1972. p 18-19.