SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF FEMINISM
. This means that the women’s movement will take, and should be allowed to take, different forms according to its participants’ needs.
. That politically motivated women-only groups are a necessary, but not always sufficient, strategy.
. Organised hierarchies should be abolished to allow the emergence of collective leadership.
. Political change should not be imposed ‘from the top down’ but must include participation by those whom it helps.
Love thy enemy
I was a socialist until I discovered that not only was I not a working class man, but my interests and his were in conflict. He was fighting for the full value of his labour (his profit), his ownership of the paid workplace (his mill), and his right to representation (his parliament) and the creation of meaning (his say). As a socialist, I too was fighting for his ownership and his rights, including, of course, his right to oppress me: by rape, prostitution, pornography, marriage, unequal pay. ryvitas
I always thought politics should be about changing society to suit your interests and the interests of your community. (If you’ve got wrong who your community is, you’re going to sound hypocritical, parasitic or obsequious.) Once I’d realised I was a woman and not a working class man, my interests lay with those of other women. Our diversity of race, class, age and culture - enormous, heartfelt, and often antagonistic though those differences are - I now saw as sub-divisions of the major imbalance, which is men’s oppression of women.
I had come, to coin novelist Fay Weldon’s phrase, ‘down among the women’. That my interests lay with women was hot news: I was already ‘interested’ in women: sexually, emotionally, intellectually. I slept with women because I just happened to be closer, freer, more intense, more passionate with women than with men.
It took a while to realise the reason why I could not, and no longer wanted to. be close or passionate with men went back to this oppression business. It took more than a while - it took someone else saying that, exactly that, clearly: ‘If you believe that patriarchy is the root of all forms of oppression, that all men benefit from it and maintain it. they are therefore to be seen as the enemy. If you believe that the power balance cannot be changed by reason. patience and right simply being on our side, and, further, if you believe that women must build positions of autonomous strength through and with each other - .‘ Oh I do! I thought, reading these words at a conference on women against violence against women, surrounded by women describing the violence and violation they had suffered from the legal and medical professions, as well as from individual men.
So, as Lynn Alderson’s sentence reached its conclusion, I reached mine: ‘. - then it is, clearly, a big inconsistency to be, at the same time, in close sexual-emotional relationships with men.
My politics had caught up with my practice.
I do not call my politics ‘separatist’: separatism sounds like a temporary strategy, a defiant retreat from the mainstream until Things Change, Lysistrata refusing sexual favours till war should cease. I cannot live my life in the future: I am part of an autonomous women’s liberation movement which pays attention to the strengths, desires and power of women, not the temper tantrums of men.
When a ‘Reclaim the Night’ march is organised, it obviously makes no sense for men to be on it, as it is they who make the streets unsafe for women. However, I think it is the vision women have of their own collective strength which is the chief benefit of such a march, not the passing fear it may have instilled in men. Though there are women’s organisations which deal directly with the results of men’s violence - such as women’s aid refuges and rape crisis lines - in themselves these groups do not form more than a defence against patriarchy: they certainly do not form a radical movement. To move bet’ond defensiveness requires a more reflective, less crisis-oriented, less reactive politics: it requires thinking about what could be and creating what isn’t.
I went to college, got a degree, registered for a PhD before it occurred to me that a university was a machine for keeping everyone in their place, convincing them the world was just as they would have wished. Why would a non-feminist government (what’s that you say? There are no feminist governments? Excellent. Straight to the bottom of the class) fund an institution which opposed, or even threatened, its own interests? They wouldn’t: it doesn’t. My PhD was to be a linguistic work on women and silence - rather an empty gesture, I later thought.
The most explosive political theory seemed to take the form of poetry, mostly signed Adrienne Rich, or Judy Grahn. So I decided to people the silence, instead of papering it, and began writing fiction. My way of creating what isn’t.
I publish with, and now work at, Only-women Press, as the only radical feminist and lesbian press in Britain. My fiction describes, discusses and helps in the creation of a lesbian community. I write for lesbians, for feminists, for women. Lesbians are women. Lesbians are women who have chosen women, Doubly women, then, both by natural state and free choice. An intimate connection. Whatever is good for lesbians is, therefore, good for women.
The converse is not true: women who discuss and analyse, share and compare how men - as a group - oppress women - as a group - during their political lives, only to return home to enjoy the privileges attendant upon belonging to a man, are as true to their beliefs as weekend hippies.
Men don’t wish to keep the word ‘lesbian’ from other men, but they wish to keep it from their women. Men often like to hear about lesbians, but they use a special code so women won’t catch on. ‘Caution, behind this screen are books of an explicit nature likely to offend.’ Women know the dangers of being explicit. A man flashed at my thirteen-year-old cousin on her way home from youth club:
my aunty called the police, who asked for all the details. My cousin explained the man had been flashing, not wanking, to which the police replied that little girls should not use language like that.
In trying to place ads for ‘Only women Press, Radical Feminist and Lesbian Publishers’ in regional dailies, refusals have varied from:’NO’, to please delete "and Lesbian",’ to ‘we feel Radical Feminist adequately conveys your meaning’, to the simple declaration, ‘we are a family newspaper’. As men read pornography, and children are ‘too young to understand’, this clearly means ‘women read this paper’.
Far from ‘the dung of the women’s liberation movement’ as Germaine Greer would have us, lesbians are not only its logic but its driving force. We have most to gain and the least to lose, having already eschewed men’s privileges. But our presence is often glossed over, if not deliberately hidden, to convince the media, funding bodies and the public at large of the worthiness of a cause. The proper function of a lesbian is to be bereaved, or beaten. A group of heterosexual and lesbian feminists encouraging participation in a festival explained: ‘for reasons of funding, we have played down the lesbian element’, unconscious that a society which hates lesbians, hates women.
We have done this ourselves, too, employing falsifying techniques to tempt ‘women out there’ to identify with what we say. assuming them to be heterosexual or stupid. Lesbian poet and writer Adrienne Rich speaks of a ‘lesbian continuum’: ‘If we consider the possibility that all women - from the infant suckling her mother’s breast . . .to women like Virginia Woolf’s Chloe and Olivia, who shared a laboratory, to the woman dying at ninety, touched and handled by women - exist on a lesbian continuum, we can see ourselves moving in and out of the continuum, whether we identify ourselves as lesbian or not.’ As I have tried to indicate, it is an act of previous bravery to identify as a lesbian and it takes courage to live as one: to call all women lesbians is to invent a redundant synonym, to patronise non-lesbians and weaken ourselves.
The women’s liberation movement depends on the autonomy of women.
Most of the material cited in this article is published by the
Anna Livia lives in London, England, but most of her family live in Perth,