I’m a lesbian. I’m also a mother, and my child is male. I had sex with a man (married him, no less!) and we had a child together. There. Cards on the table, does this make me a traitor to the cause?
Well, possibly. Lesbian Separatism dictates that women should withdraw their labour from men, that this is the only way to dismantle patriarchy and thus liberate women from male oppression. Withdrawing your labour applies to every area in which you might ‘serve’ a man. So, for those women in relationships with men it means stopping your unpaid, undervalued labour in the home, and withdrawing all sexual services.
Those women who have sexual relationships with men and have children as a result of those encounters are sometimes known as Breeders. It’s possibly one of the less attractive aspects of radical feminism. To apply such a term to fellow sisters, a term that reduces them down to their reproductive capabilities is, without argument, pretty offensive and dehumanising. Not only that, but it flies in the face of what I perceive to be feminism. A love for your sisters shouldn’t manifest itself in offensive terms such as that. A commitment to make the world safer and more supportive for women does not include a sneering disparagement of their choices or circumstances. And, I guess, this is where me and radical feminism part company briefly. There are no ‘choices.’ There are only decisions made under the influence of patriarchy, which is true. But we make our ‘choices’ based on what we know at the time, what is expected, what has been expected since we were born. I had a fairly unsettled childhood and a chaotic adolescence. I met my husband when I was 18 and involved in the Militant movement. We married when I was 21, I was pregnant by 22.
I can see why I made the choices I made but I don’t regret them. My son is almost 24 and is an adult who has faced numerous challenges and health problems with acceptance and patience. He is his own person but I would like to think that, as a feminist, I’ve helped to nurture him into the loving, kind, respectful man he is.
Lesbian Separatism dictates that we don’t focus on men. That whatever problems men face is generally of their own doing – a result of patriarchy – and therefore they can sort themselves out. Women should not be derailed from the cause to pick up the pieces or fulfil any specified gender role of caring. I get it. I really do.
And not only do I get it, I believe it. For men as a class I genuinely couldn’t care less really. But I resent being considered a traitor or a breeder. I am neither. I am a woman who made choices based on my experiences and beliefs at the time. That makes me just like every other woman. I will never apologise for being a mother because it has shaped my life and taught me some valuable lessons. If you expect apologies for ‘breeding’ then you will be sadly disappointed. I am so much more than my reproductive system, and I am so much more than a mother. But I am also both of these things and it feels ok to me. I don’t think any woman should have children if she doesn’t want them. That’s a fundamental part of radical feminism. We are not here to ‘breed’ for ‘breeding’ does little more than reinforce women’s role as the caregiver, nurturer. By having children we harm our careers, make ourselves vulnerable to attack and abuse, and become reduced to unpaid labour. But there has to be another way. A way in which we can acknowledge the political implications of having children, and understand and accept the circumstances of those women that do.
No woman was born a radical feminist. It’s is a journey that we undertake when we’re ready and not all of us follow the same path. So remember that when you dismiss women as breeders you are dismissing your sisters who are standing right next to you.