“All-woman groups, meetings, projects seem to be great things for causing controversy and confrontation.” – Marilyn Frye
I am with another lesbian feminist on a flight bound to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to attend the 40th, and apparently the last, Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. We are full of joy and excitement at the prospect of our ‘week in the woods’ with thousands of women, mostly lesbians, and we are hoping to connect with many other radical lesbian feminists there – some of whom we have the pleasure of knowing already, and many of whom we do not. As a lesbian feminist committed to women-only spaces but nonetheless a festie virgin, I am in awe at the achievement of the women who have created, and recreated, and recreated, and Recreated this space over decades. I know that I have barely begun to comprehend the nature and scale of that achievement.
On the flight, I read over the Terms of Reference of a new government inquiry that has the potential to make any such women-only gatherings in my own country infinitely more difficult.
Also on the flight, I read in the newspaper about a man who has just killed his mother-in-law in a horrifying supposed ‘revenge’ attack against his former wife, who speaks of the devastation he has brought upon her family, and her terrible regret at marrying him. Similar stories are, of course, a daily feature in our news media.
A womyn’s music festival that has been besieged over years by transgender activists.
A new government inquiry on ‘transgender equality’.
The ongoing, everyday reality of men’s violence against women.
Do we see connections between these things?
In the face of enduring and entrenched systems of male domination and unrelenting levels of male violence against women and girls – often perpetrated against those who with whom they are in close or intimate relationships – there is one glaringly obvious thing that women need to do for our survival: GET AWAY FROM MEN.
This separation can take many forms, from attending a women’s group to political lesbianism and separatism, but time spent away from men is essential for women’s survival. Creating women-only spaces, where women can begin to experience a sense of freedom, listen to and value other women, and start to think clearly about our oppression is the absolutely essential first step towards women’s liberation. Such spaces are a minimum requirement for the development of a feminist consciousness. Yet at a time when we have never needed women’s spaces more urgently, they are under attack in alarming and unprecedented ways.
While men’s intolerance of autonomous women’s spaces is nothing new, the rise of transgenderism has meant that male attacks on our spaces have manifested in new and hitherto quite unimagined forms, even gaining legal status in many jurisdictions.
One of the most disturbing things about the transgender assault on women’s spaces is the sympathy that such attacks receive from many feminists. Aggressive intrusion into our spaces is something that very few feminists appear willing to resist – on the contrary, many are its cheerleaders. Many collude with the antifeminist pretence that men are women if they say they are. Others privately understand the antifeminist nature of this assault, but maintain a public silence. Very, very few are willing to create spaces that are genuinely women-only, or to defend those of us who do. Indeed, it seems that at this point in time, very few feminists value or understand the necessity of such spaces. In the UK, for example, much feminist organising places great importance on engaging and involving men, and most student feminist societies include men. While there is thankfully a growing radical feminist movement in the UK, the mainstream feminist landscape is characterised by an eagerness to include men, at the expense of creating autonomous women’s spaces and at the expense of any chance of women developing a feminist consciousness.
For those of us who understand the necessity of women-only organising and are steadfast in our commitment to it, it is something of an education to be on the receiving end of vilification, threats and demonisation from the trans lobby, while our sisters stand silently by.
In a situation where you might expect a mighty roar, there is deafening silence.
This cannot go on.
Without women’s spaces, there is no women’s movement: there is no women’s culture, there is no women’s community. There is certainly no lesbian culture or community. And, as has been observed, lesbians are the canaries in the coalmine here: what happens to us is what will happen to all women.
The future for women in such a scenario is unconscionable.
On the 40th anniversary of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, I want to thank all the sisters who struggle to create and maintain women’s spaces in the face of the transgender assault and, agonisingly, the silence or worse of other feminists. You must never become our past. You – we – must be our present, and we must be our future.
Building the Night Stage at MichFest, 2006
We’ll not sit with our oppressors,
We will not break bread with men.
Not consort with our aggressors,
No way he’s a lesbian!
Stand together, in resistance,
Never sell our sisters out!
Never sell our sisters out.
Every day, assailed and harassed,
Public space is not our own
No respite from male aggression
In the street, at work, at home.
Women’s spaces, women’s spaces
Are a minimum demand!
Are a minimum demand.
We’ll not know the taste of freedom
With men in proximity.
In the company of womyn
Let us see what we can be.
Loving womyn, loving womyn,
We will see what we can be!
We will see what we can be.
Julia Long is a radical lesbian feminist and the author of Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism.
Coming Thursday: Samantha Berg Smashes Porn and A Freudian Nightmare Talks Health Risks