Feminism | Radical Relatedness and Feminist Separatism
by Nancy B. Howell
[Nancy B. Howell is Acting Executive Director of the Center for Process Studies. 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont CA 91711. She is a doctoral candidate at the Claremont Graduate School. .The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 118-126, Vol. 18, Number 2, Summer, 1989. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.]
Is the separatism of radical feminism as "radical" as it could be? What is feminist separatism? How might Whiteheadian philosophy complement radical feminism and enhance the revolutionary promise of separatism?
In light of the diversity among feminists, separatism is variously understood and occasionally carries the vagueness of an intuition rather than the precision of a definition. At one level, separatism is represented by literary utopian visions (like those of Sally Gearhart and Charlotte Perkins Gilman) in which women form woman-identified, male-excluding communities. Feminist utopian literature depicts these hidden communities in isolation from patriarchal civilization, which poses a threat to the creative and peaceful ecological niches imagined by women. These novels are, in fact, "useful fictions," which criticize patriarchy by envisioning alternatives to its misogynist, biocidal hierarchies. At their extremes, utopian alternatives capitalize upon romanticization of a female essence and idealization of female community. Whether fictitious or theoretical, this type of separation suggests that women’s potential will be realized only when women have segregated themselves into gynophilic, biophilic women’s societies.
Even with this much specificity, we could speculate about a number of forms which separatism may take. Separatist communities could be non-hierarchical or matriarchal, perhaps fluidly hierarchical or temporarily hierarchical. Women’s separatist communities could be potentially inclusive of all women or selective of gynaffectionate women and lesbians (perhaps of limited numbers of gynophilic men). These segregated women’s communities could range from the profoundly nature-centered, nature-identified society of Sally Gearhart’s utopia to the tidy, biophilic civilization imagined by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Perhaps a characterization of the hypothetical forms of feminist separatism would reflect the teleology of each. First, women might envision permanently segregated communities. In these societies, women could choose to separate themselves permanently from patriarchy in the effort to create an environment where women could experiment with personal and societal identity without the pervasive influence of patriarchy. This form of separatism would reflect hopelessness of the transcendence of patriarchy in society at large. Second, women could choose provisional separatism, segregating themselves for a time into exclusive women’s communities as a means of deprogramming themselves from patriarchy. Provisional segregation could involve living in all-encompassing women’s communities which reflect woman-identified priorities in business, domestic, and governmental affairs. This form of segregation would be temporary or provisional either to allow women to form a metapatriarchal identity and then to re-enter patriarchal society with renewed personal integrity or to await the transformation of patriarchy into postpatriarchy (provisional is a better descriptor for the latter purpose, since no feminist expects the imminent collapse of patriarchy). Third, instead of a total temporal and spatial segregation of women from patriarchy, women could and do engage in separatism which is limited to selected spheres of their lives. For example, women establish women’s businesses, participate in consciousness-raizing groups, reside in homes for battered women, create lesbian families, support women’s political organizations. The purpose of nonsegregationist separatism is the formation of personal and political identity within a patriarchal society.
These teleological characterizations make perfect sense; however, there is one serious flaw in the presupposition which leads to such categorizations within feminist separatism. This sort of categorization presupposes that the purpose of feminist separatism is fundamentally to answer the question, how do feminists intend to relate to men? It suggests that the issue basic to separatism is the female-male relationship. This is an androcentric interpretation of women’s separatism. Perhaps, women’s separatism is not a question of how women will relate to men, but of how women intend to relate to each other.
Because Mary Daly is a wise prude who perseveres in removing androcentric, patriarchal scales from her own and other women’s eyes, I want to refer to her understanding of radical feminist separatism as a gynocentric interpretation of women’s separatism. Daly defines radical feminist separatism as
theory and actions of Radical Feminists who choose separation from the Dissociated State of patriarchy in order to release the flow of elemental energy and Gynophilic communication; radical withdrawal of energy from warring patriarchy and transferal of this energy to women’s Selves. (IW 96)
Daly’s definition suggests that separatism is not another investment of energy in confrontation with patriarchy. Separatism is the investment of energy in women’s self-hood. It is precisely an absence of androcentric focus, a refusal to allow patriarchy to control the use of gynergy. "What about men?" is an irrelevant question, because separatism concentrates on a gynocentric agenda.
The solidarity of women who challenge patriarchy creates the superficial impression that feminists have already overcome the distortions in female relationships. In fact, this is not the case. Feminists have found it necessary to devote a good deal of effort to envisioning sisterhood and gynaffection. Recent literature indicates that the issue of female relationships is an unfinished constructive effort which will continue to receive priority.
If women are the more relational gender, why is it necessary for women to reflect upon constructive modes of female relating? The fundamental reason is that the role of women as relational caretakers has been exercized for the nurturing of hetero-relations rather than gynaffectionate relations. In this role, women have been instrumental in the maintenance of patriarchal relationships which serve to separate women from women. The result is that women are cast in competitive or estranged relationships with each other. Internalization of the patriarchal agenda leads women to do horizontal violence to each other. Mothers act as token torturers of their daughters, when they teach their daughters to serve patriarchal interests. Token women, who have achieved apparent equality, take upon themselves the priorities of the patriarchs (including nonrelational, gynophobic attitudes). Mary Daly has argued that patriarchy thrives upon these separations of women. The patriarchal taboo against women-touching women is an indication that the power of female bonding is a threat to patriarchal strongholds.
Woman’s estrangement is not simply from her sisters but also from herself. When Daly introduced the issue of separation or separatism in Gyn/Ecology, it became clear that this estrangement is the crux of the issue. Using a play upon the etymology of "separate," Daly described separatism as follows:
When Spinsters speak of separatism, the deep questions that are being asked concern the problem of paring away from the Self all that is alienating and confining. Crone-logically prior to all discussion of political separatism from or within groups is the basic task of paring away the layers of false selves from the Self. In analyzing this basic Gyn/Ecological problem, we should struggle to detect whatever obstacles we can find, both internal and external, to this dis-covering of the Self. (G/E 381)
From this description of separatism, there are important features which ought to be underscored. First, separatism has nothing to do with building walls which isolate and confine women. It is primarily a concept which has to do with loosening the confinement of women. It is the release of women’s energy and power. Second, separatism paradoxically removes that which is alienating. One could surmise from Daly’s description that separatism facilitates genuine relationships with oneself and others rather than obstructing relationships. Third, separatism as the paring away of false selves from the Self is prior to any discussion of separatism from or within groups. Political separatism is a derivative issue, not the primary issue. Fourth, separatism intends to remove both internal and external barriers to selfhood. Removal of internal obstacles is crone-logically primary for all authentic separation and is normative for personal and political separatism.
In her book Pure Lust, which is an elemental feminist philosophy, Daly discusses separatism in relationship to Be-Friending, a term which suggests the ontological status of female friendship. Radical Feminist Separatism is defined here as
a necessary disposition toward separation from the causes of fragmentation; especially: advocacy of withdrawal from all parasitic groups (as a church), for the purpose of gynophilic/biophilic communication. (PL 362)
In this definition, once again the point is that women have already been fragmented and that radical feminist separatism is action which counters phallic separatism, separation of women from ourselves and our Selves. Fragmentation is the result of broken gynophilic, biophilic communication -- the ontological communication of deep and natural interconnectedness. Fragmentation is the disconnectedness which flies in the face of interconnectedness, interruption of the flow of connection with all be-ing. The philosophical and existential presupposition here is that "everything that IS is connected with everything else that IS" (PL 362). Fragmentation creates "things" which are disconnected from Ultimate Reality and participation in be-ing. In this sense, they are nonbe-ing. In another sense, these things are very real barriers to realization of being, barriers from which women must remove themselves.
Daly suggests that the word "separatism" functions as a Labrys. It has a two-edged meaning. "Separatism" names phallic separatism, the separatism which blocks women’s lust for ontological communication. "Separatism" also names feminist resistance to phallic separatism. Positively stated, it is women’s choice for radical connectedness in biophilic be-ing. Radical feminist separatism is transcendence of the fear of separation from phallic separaters and acknowledgment that separation from Self has already happened. Radical feminist separatism is a choice to pare away the false selves layered upon women’s selfhood by patriarchy and to undertake telic centering, the purposive focusing which facilitates women’s metamorphosis.
To focus upon radical feminist separatism is to engage a second order term. Separatism is not the primary women’s movement. The ontological metamorphosis of women is the final cause of women -- it is women’s movement. Because the movement of women is blocked by patriarchy, separatism is an essential prerequisite to metamorphosis. Metamorphosis, biophilic communication, participation in Be-ing is women’s movement. Metamorphosis contextualizes separatism.
In Daly’s usage, separation is unrelated to boundaries and walls, because sisterhood is concerned with eliminating walls and expanding physical and psychic space. Separation or separatism is the paring away of alienating, confining false selves in order that woman may break through both internal and external obstacles to discovering the Self. Women have experienced similar forms of oppression under patriarchy, but the paring process occurs in a variety of expressions which reflect unique histories and temperaments among women. There is no equality among unique Selves. Such differences mean that women may need separation from other Female Selves in order to make their unique discoveries.
There is pain in the differences and in separation, but there is also potential.
Acknowledging the deep differences among friends/sisters is one of the most difficult stages of the Journey and it is essential for those who are Sparking in free and independent friendship rather than merely melting into mass mergers. Recognizing the chasms of differences among sister Voyagers is coming to understand the terrifying terrain through which we must travel together and apart. At the same time, the spaces between us are encouraging signs of our immeasurable unique potentialities, which need free room of their own to grow in, to Spark in, to Blaze in. The greatness of our differences signals the immensity/intensity of the Fire that will flame from our combined creative Fury. (G/E 382)
Woman-identified relationships entail the authentic likeness against which genuine differences may emerge. Woman-identified relationships, therefore, create new and varying patterns of relating, subject to the intensity and turbulence of unique Female Selves in relationship (G/E 382-383).
The purpose of radical feminist separatism is provision of a context which promotes gynophilic communication. It affirms the identity of women as original women, women who are the antithesis of man-made female creations, women who are self-originating. Separatism is a communal process which facilitates the flow of interconnectedness for each woman.
Be-Friending is an ontological category for Daly which describes the context or atmosphere within which women experience metamorphosis. Be-Friending is ontological friending; radical ontological, biophilic communication among women, implying the interconnectedness of all be-ing (PL 362). Be-Friending is creative for women as each woman becomes a friend to her own be-ing. Be-Friending promotes the creation of an atmosphere for leaps of metamorphosis. The Websters who weave the contexts for metamorphosis are inspired by female potential, female potency/ power. Any woman who makes leaps of metapatterning weaves a network of Be-Friending (PL 373).
Be-Friending reveals the uniqueness of female friendship in comparison with male comradeship. While the comradeship/fraternity survives by draining women of their energy, female friendship is a bonding which is energizing/gynergizing (G/E 319). Female bonding is threatening to comradeship, because it is a relationship which ignores the brotherhood and exposes its relationships with women as property arrangements. Female bonding is a free bondage. "The radical friendship of Hags means loving our own freedom, loving/encouraging the freedom of the other, the friend, and therefore loving freely" (G/E 367).
Women are in the process of discovering what it means to be together as women. If women assume that sisterhood is similar to brotherhood with respect to freedom and self-affirmation, then the struggle to understand female bonding results in the imitation of male comradeship/brotherhood. On the contrary, sisterhood can only be described with words like "Sparking of Female Selves," "New Be-ing," and "biophilic Self-finding" (G/E 370). Sisterhood refers to the wide range of female relating which extends to women of similar vision who may never have come into acquaintance. Friendship is a potential for all sisters/friends. Female-identified erotic love is one expression of radical female friendship (G/E 371-373). Sisterhood, female friendship, and female-identified erotic love are female discoveries of relationships which do not entail the self-loss of male-defined relationships for women.
Lesbianism is not merely a "special case" of sisterhood or female friendship. For Daly, it is a paradigm. Lesbianism refers to woman-identified women who have rejected false loyalties to men (G/E 26). Lesbianism is beyond reach of any patriarchal interference which fetishizes gay and homosexual women. Lesbian communities, because of their marginal status, are removed from patriarchy and may act as pioneers in the dis-covering of female friendship. Lesbianism is ultimately threatening to patriarchy, because it is more than physical contact between women. The Total Taboo against Women-Touching women is rooted in patriarchal fear of the gynergized power among interconnected, touching women – "For Women-Touching women are the seat of a tremendous power which is transmissible to other women by contact" (PL 248).
Be-Friending, as feminists have already seen, is not a panacea for women. The very diversity implied by female friendship means that there is the potential for conflict and disappointment (cf. Raymond). Be-Friending does not mean that every woman is a friend to every other woman. In the first place, time and energy for friend-ship are limited. In the second place, temperament and circumstances prevent women from being friends. For Be-Friending to take place, women must be able first to identify women who are for women and second to identify from among these women those with whom Elemental friendship is possible. That all women cannot be intimate elemental friends is no cause for despair, since all women can participate and communicate female friendship.
Although friendship is not possible among all feminists, the work of Be-Friending can be shared by all, and all can benefit from this Metamorphospheric activity. Be-Friending involves Weaving a context in which women can Realize our Self-transforming, metapatterning participation in Be-ing. Therefore it implies the creation of an atmosphere in which women are enabled to be friends. Every woman who contributes to the creation of this atmosphere functions as a catalyst for the evolution of other women and for the forming and unfolding of genuine friendships. (PL 374)
The character of female friendship may be inferred from the basic premise that biophilic relationships occur among woman-identified women. For Daly, sisterhood is primarily the relationship of lesbian women and secondarily of gynaffectionate women (who for various reasons in a complex world also maintain relationships with men). From this starting point emerge the particular characteristics of Be-Friendings. First, relationships must facilitate the dis-covery of Self through Self-acceptance and Separation. Second, relationships are multidimensional, so that to speak of Woman-Touching women implies an interconnectedness inclusive of physical contact, but not exclusively physical. Third, relationships are creative and gynergizing by virtue of the power of Be-Friending (PL 386).
Clearly, Daly powerfully moves women to examine concretely the necrophilic patriarchal relationships which have diminished and victimized women. Then metaphorically, Daly has constructed a transforming vision of female relating. Its value is precisely that women are creatively empowered and reunited with their Selves and other Female Selves from whom patriarchy has alienated them.
By reference to Janice Raymond, we may summarize and restate the same problematic with a different vocabulary which may help to illuminate issues at stake. Raymond proposes that the dominant worldview may be accurately named hetero-reality. This perspective supports the perception that "woman exists always in relation to man" and consequently that women together are actually women alone (PF 3). Hetero-reality is created by the prevailing system of hetero-relations, which expresses a range of social, political, and economic relations established between men and women by men. Paradoxically, women are used instrumentally to sustain heterorelations, when in fact reality is homo-relational; that is, male-male relations actually determine the course of reality in social, political, and economic spheres. The result is that women’s energy is expended in support of hetero-relations. Under the assumptions of hetero-relations, the only relationships for women are male-female relationships. Hetero-reality assumes that women do not/ought not have relationships with each other. Raymond proposes that this is the basis for the need for a philosophy of female affection (the project of her book, A Passion for Friends). Women, who have been monopolized by maintaining relationships with men now must reflect upon what it means for women to move beyond the hetero-relational separation of women toward gynaffectionate relationships. Gynaffectionate relationships are relations of woman-to-woman attraction, influence, and movement. Female friendship has its origin with original women, women who chart their own "beginnings from the deepest recesses of [their Selves] and other women" (PE 41-42). Female friendship is a context within which women may regain the integrity of their disintegrated Selves and restore the prime order of women in women’s relationships. Gynaffection is a context within which women may remember original women.
With respect to the word "separatism," Raymond encounters the problem of definition of a term which is used in a variety of ways among feminist theorists. If we mean by "separation" the idea of segregation, then Raymond finds it necessary to make some significant distinctions. Raymond clearly rejects sex-segregation which is an option not obtained by women’s choice, but against their will. This is an imposed "ghettoization" of women. Separation, which occurs by women’s choice, needs to be distinguished from segregation. Separatism must also be distinguished from simplistic, escapist, apolitical dissociation from the world. Separatism is not to be understood as "escape from" -- separatism is a move toward personal integrity. It is not a dissociation from the world, but a dissociation from hetero-reality. The purpose of separatism is movement toward woman-identified existence which is marked by worldliness and the intent to make a difference in the world.
As Raymond argues, we must be careful about what we mean by the dissociation of women. Women have developed a passive dissociation from the world by virtue of the fact that the world and its politics are man-made, homo-relational. Women who have been caretakers of hetero-relations have not participated in worldmaking. Women, therefore, have been worldless by default, In addition, there are women who have chosen worldlessness as a feminist ideal. The difficulty in both types of dissociation is that female existence becomes segregated and women lose access to the world. By dissociation, women multiply their superfluousness in a world which already views women as superfluous. Dissociation also diffuses the purpose and power of female friendship in two respects. First, it precludes the potential of female friendship to replace hetero-reality. Second, and perhaps more important, dissociation entails dissociation from women. Thus, gynaffection is restricted to a small community of women. Dissociation makes gynaffection a personal, rather than a political matter.
Daly’s and Raymond’s understandings of separatism lend themselves to interpretation from a Whiteheadian feminist perspective. While I in no way wish to say that Daly’s or Raymond’s views need validation from a "dead, white male philosopher," I do believe, first of all, that Whiteheadian philosophy will be enhanced by the incorporation of women’s experience (inclusive of feminist philosophy as part of women’s experience). Second, feminist theorists involved in critical and constructive projects ought to become involved in collaborative efforts to express feminist concerns. Multiple modes of expression can only enhance the clarity of feminist constructions. To this end, I want to suggest some Whiteheadian interpretations of feminist separatism.
The first point that I wish to make, as a Whiteheadian feminist, is that Be-Friending or gynaffection may function as a standpoint from which we may exercise judgment upon hetero-reality. In Whitehead’s philosophy, an operation of judgment may be directed toward particular perceptions (for example, "perceiving this stone as not grey" or "perceiving this stone as grey ). Whitehead noted that the most general case of conscious perception, the most primitive form of judgment, is the negative perception ("perceiving this stone as not grey"). As Whitehead describes the negative perception in relationship to consciousness, he says
Consciousness is the feeling of negation: in the perception of ‘the stone as grey,’ such feeling is in barest germ; in the perception of ‘the stone as not grey,’ such feeling is in full development. Thus the negative perception is the triumph of consciousness. It finally rises to the peak of free imagination, in which the conceptual novelties search throughout a universe in which they are not datively exemplified. (PR 161/245)
We may use this insight to suggest that women have come to consciousness in a most basic way, when we become aware of a particular negative perception. Namely, reality is not hetero-reality. The universe through which women search imaginatively includes women’s experience. In this case, it need not be exclusively the universe of women’s experience. If we search through any universe which includes women’s experience as we know it, we find that hetero-reality is not reality in fact. Women have a standpoint from which we may make this judgment, from which we may experience negative perception of hetero-reality. This standpoint is the context of female friendship. Out of this, we know that hetero-reality is invalidated. It is through female friendship that women have come to consciousness of the pseudoreality of heteroreality. Separatism is women’s way of separating themselves from pseudoreality. We could say that separatism is a judgment, a negative perception of hetero-reality.
A second feature of Whitehead’s philosophy may be used to suggest the propositional character of Be-Friending/Gynaffection. A proposition is a lure for feeling. When a proposition is nonconformal, it proposes an alternative potentiality in reaction to the datum. Such a proposition suggests a novel response to the given world. As Whitehead notes,
The novelty may promote or destroy order; it may be good or bad. But it is new, a new type of individual, and not merely a new intensity of individual feeling. That member of the locus has introduced a new form into the actual world; or, at least, an old form in a new function. (PR 187/284)
I want to point out that Be-Friending functions as a proposition in several respects. Be-Friending reflects a connection between actuality and potentiality. The actual world within which women function includes deep memory of female connectedness, but it also includes a predominantly hetero-relational mode of female relationships. Be-Friending introduces an alternative potential in response to the world. It would be fair to say that women have not fully separated themselves from hetero-reality. Be-Friending then is largely a potentiality rather than an actuality. As a potential, it functions to lure women toward novelty, novelty rooted in actuality. The proposition Be-Friending, when it is admitted into feeling, introduces a new form into the world -- "A novelty has emerged into creation" (PR 187/284).
Whitehead’s doctrine of internal relations may be particularly helpful in interpreting separatism and Be-Friending. Since it is foundational to process philosophy, we can imagine several levels at which this doctrine makes contact with feminist theory. First, it merely reiterates Daly’s maxim that everything that IS is connected with everything else that IS. The pervasive interconnection of all that exists is prevalent in both Whiteheadian and feminist thought. Second, I perceive that Whitehead generally wished to communicate bolder claims about that interconnection than feminists ordinarily assert (unless Daly’s reference to the metaphor of the hologram may be understood to suggest something like Whitehead’s doctrine of internal relations). Whitehead was suggesting more than the mere fact that we exist as individuals who axe connected with other individuals. We are not first individuals who have relationships. We are not individuals apart from our relationships. In other words, individuals are constituted by relationships. In the process of self-creation, we exist by virtue of our relationships. This means that relationships are causally efficacious (in a Whiteheadian sense) in self-formation.
In summary fashion, I want to suggest how the doctrine of internal relations may enhance an understanding of separatism and Be-Friending. In the first place, it helps to underscore the ludicrous assumptions of hetero-reality. The assumption that women are not really related to other women, the absence of understanding men in relationship to women, the refusal to acknowledge the homo-relational basis of heteroreality, the ignorance of connectedness with nature all attest to the relational naivete of hetero-reality in comparison with a worldview based upon internal relations. I will note here that Catherine Keller’s analysis of hetero-reality in terms of the separate self-hood of men and the soluble selfhood of women corroborates the stunted character of relations within the dominant patriarchal worldview, which diminishes both relationality and individuality with its dualistic patterning of subject-object in male-female relationships. Second, the doctrine of internal relations may be used to interpret the significance of female friendship. If radical feminist separatism is primarily for the purpose of dis-covering woman’s Self and women’s Selves in relationship, then the doctrine of internal relations may suggest in part how that happens. According to Whitehead there is a reciprocal relationship between individuality and society. We become individuals through our social relationships and we also contribute to society by our completion as individuals. Technically, this is what Whitehead means by creativity. In a context of female friendship, women contribute to my search for my Self, just as the emergence of my Self enhances the metamorphic movement of gynaffectionate women. In hetero-reality, the richest contributions to my emergence, the contributions from gynaffectionate women, were truncated by an imposed dissociation from female relationships. At the same time, my creative contributions to female friendship were limited, if not eliminated. A doctrine of internal relations indicates just how formative of individual female selfhood female friendship is. It also highlights the contagion of female friendship.
In a sense, I refer to an intricate assemblage of Whitehead’s concepts, when I introduce the topic of internal relations. Especially with respect to separatism, I want to mention the importance of causal efficacy in internal relations. Causal efficacy is not to be understood in the sense of causal determination of the present as a direct consequence of a linear connection with events in the past. It is more accurate to think of causal efficacy as a mode of perception in the present. The emerging subject in the present moment responds with a large measure of freedom to events in its relevant past. The emerging subject determines how it will take account of these influences from its past actual world (its subjective form) and to what extent it will be constituted in the present by these relationships. While the subject has freedom with respect to these relations, it is also the case that each subject has none other than its own actual world as an influence. The narrowness or inclusiveness of that actual world may limit or expand the potential which may be realized by the subject in the present. When I reflect upon the potential which radical feminist separatism has for change (the introduction of novel forms) into social, political, and economic relationships, I suspect that the intentional political dissociation of women is a form of separatism with limited efficacy.
I advocate the utter worldliness of feminist dissociation. Worldless dissociation of women is, in effect, segregation of women. Not only is segregation a silencing of women by hetero-reality, but it is an elimination or negation of women’s influence in the world. On the other hand, worldly dissociation of women from hetero-reality may expand the dimensions of the world, multiplying creative options for the future. Ultimately, as a Whiteheadian feminist, I advocate the bold emersion of gynaffectionate power and potential within a wide range of contexts. A Whiteheadian consciousness of radical ontological relatedness evokes a more radical separatism to challenge the patriarchal worldview.
Source: Religion online