The Breeders

By @planetcath 

 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.

 

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13 thoughts on “The Breeders

  1. Thanks for this post, its been long overdue, i wanted to write something about it myself. I am a lesbian who was also married to a man, the experience of motherhood has very quickly radicalised me and i became a lesbian after my baby was born. Yes feminism is a journey. So the fact that some women were lucky enough to become lesbians before they were trapped in motherhood doesnt give them the right to dismiss the one who haven’t. i have been called a breeder myself, and labelled privileged for being a mum by self proclaimed feminists.
    Not only was it the most hurtful because i didnt expect it at any point and especially not from feminists. But because nothing in my current situation (and in the situation of the many women i know who are mothers whether they are straight, in relationships or single) is a privilege.
    The oppression women face when they become mothers is not a privilege.
    Poverty isn’t a privilege.
    Post natal depression isn’t a privilege.
    Having to sexually service a male partner isn’t a privilege.
    Cleaning after him isn’t a privilege
    Being locked up out of the job market because unaffordable childcare isn’t a privilege.
    Discrimination isnt a privilege either. I can go on.
    I hate that distinction between mothers and nonmothers, just another patriarchal way to divise women. Thanks again for this post!

  2. Some lesbian separatists *do* refer to mothers as ‘breeders’. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I have quite frankly been shocked at the animosity towards women who have children, from some quarters.

    Great piece, Cath – as you know I am also a lesbian and a mother. I have been called a ‘fake’ lesbian for having children by the same few (and it is only a mercifully small number) of women who call me a ‘breeder’. If some lesbians don’t want to know me because I’ve ‘let the side down’, then that’s their prerogative.

    We all discover radical feminism at different times in our lives. I personally will welcome and embrace any women who discovers it, no matter her age or background.

  3. I am curious as to what privilege mothers get under the patriarchy. There is a lot of talk about how wonderful and nurturing motherhood is etc but in reality mothers get crapped on for being mothers all the time. They are paid less in the workplace and less likely to be hired than child free women. If something goes wrong with her child, the mother is almost always blamed. And heaven forbid that a mother not be married. Single moms are a fault for pretty much all of our societal ills or at least that is the popular theory these days. In fact, a huge proportion of people living in poverty are mothers and their children. Also factor in that there is no guaranteed paid maternity leave in the U.S. and the attitude that mothers are frumpy and boring.

    So mothers as a class are privileged in relation to whom? From what I know it as a mom, it is largely a thankless slog trying to protect and teach small human beings. I would be the first to admit that I am privileged in relation to many other women thanks to the socio-economic class of my family, my education, etc but I am not sure how being a mother gives me privilege. I think it is like a number of “accepted” roles for women under patriarchy. Praised on one hand and devalued because women are the ones doing it on the other.

  4. In support of @planetcath, I have seen the word breeder used by lesbian feminists, not with irony or to make a political point about how patriarchy devalues women, but in a disparaging, dismissive way. I have also witnessed lesbian feminist mothers being very upset about being referred to in such a way by other women. It is not unkind to point that out. It is necessary because if feminism is to truly undermine the patriarchal value judgments that limit (and sometimes end) the lives of women, we must be open to self analysis and scrutiny. We must be aware of internalised misogyny and how that manifests in our dealings with our sisters and the choices they have made. We have to be prepared to hold up our hand and say, Yes, I got that wrong.

  5. Reblogged this on Black Metal Valkyrie-question male-identified bullshit and commented:

    “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.”

    Whoa whoa whoa! You are confusing radical lesbianism and radical feminism. These are two distinct philosophies that only look similar on the surface. They are NOT interchangeable, as you use them in this article. The only time radical feminists use the term breeder is to describe gender roles under patriarchy. We do not believe women will ever be reduced to that. We are saying that is how men approach issues/policy impacting women and mothers. Patriarchal gender roles are, at the root, the belief that women are fuckholes and breeders. Obviously radical feminists are against gender roles.

    To use “breeder” or “traitor” as a slur against mothers is something a radical lesbian would do, not a radical feminist. Feminism, like any other movement- be it socialism, communism, liberalism, libetarianism etc has a definition, it’s not about what you perceive it to be. The widespread myth that feminism is a matter of perception is why trannies are claiming feminism has anything to do with them and idiots are using the term “feminist porn”. Anyone who blames a woman for heterocaptivity or even says she is privileged because of it, is an idiot.

    “Feminism is a political movement for the emancipation and liberation for all females, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, reproductive status, disability status, etc.”

    http://davinasquirrel.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/is-liberal-feminism-even-feminism-any-more/

    Witch wind has done a breakdown of radical lesbianism, why its different than radical feminism and why it’s misogynist. I certainly agree with you that mothers are oppressed under patriarchy and so would any radical feminist. Its only the radical lesbians which have a vendetta against mothers who believe in “motherhood privilege”. There is no motherhood privilege. What a BULLSHIT, MISOGYNIST concept.
    http://witchwind.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/radical-lesbianism-from-a-radfem-perspective-part-i-radical-lesbian-views-on-hetero-bondage-and-anti-lesbianism/

    Lucky Nickel mostly on a misogynist liberal dude but also on how there is a difference between radical lesbianism (also known as lesbian separatism) and radical feminism.

    http://smashesthep.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/an-open-letter-to-a-radical-profeminist-and-other-would-be-helpers/

    Radical feminists would be the last to claim you are born a feminist, though radical lesbians claim gender roles like butch and femme are inherent to them. Radical lesbianism=/radical feminism.

    “Feminist is also an honourific title, reserved for females, because it is the only social justice movement dedicated to females.” (Same Davina Squirrel post as above).

    I think women should not use the term political lesbian because it gets rad lesbians into a tizzy and it’s not specific enough. Politically celibate is better. Not that radical lesbians will not find a million other Oppression Olympics causes to champion. Radical feminists focus on the commonality of women, leftists and those influenced by leftism like radical lesbians break up women into a million different categories.

  6. “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.”

    Whoa whoa whoa! You are confusing radical lesbianism and radical feminism. These are two distinct philosophies that only look similar on the surface. They are NOT interchangeable, as you use them in this article. The only time radical feminists use the term breeder is to describe gender roles under patriarchy. We do not believe women will ever be reduced to that. We are saying that is how men approach issues/policy impacting women and mothers. Patriarchal gender roles are, at the root, the belief that women are fuckholes and breeders. Obviously radical feminists are against gender roles.

    To use “breeder” or “traitor” as a slur against mothers is something a radical lesbian would do, not a radical feminist. Feminism, like any other movement- be it socialism, communism, liberalism, libetarianism etc has a definition, it’s not about what you perceive it to be. The widespread myth that feminism is a matter of perception is why trannies are claiming feminism has anything to do with them and idiots are using the term “feminist porn”. Anyone who blames a woman for heterocaptivity or even says she is privileged because of it, is an idiot.

    “Feminism is a political movement for the emancipation and liberation for all females, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, reproductive status, disability status, etc.”
    http://davinasquirrel.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/is-liberal-feminism-even-feminism-any-more/

    Witch wind has done a breakdown of radical lesbianism, why its different than radical feminism and why it’s misogynist. I certainly agree with you that mothers are oppressed under patriarchy and so would any radical feminist. Its only the radical lesbians which have a vendetta against mothers who believe in “motherhood privilege”. There is no motherhood privilege. What a BULLSHIT, MISOGYNIST concept. http://witchwind.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/radical-lesbianism-from-a-radfem-perspective-part-i-radical-lesbian-views-on-hetero-bondage-and-anti-lesbianism/

    Lucky Nickel mostly on a misogynist liberal dude but also on how there is a difference between radical lesbianism (also known as lesbian separatism) and radical feminism.
    http://smashesthep.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/an-open-letter-to-a-radical-profeminist-and-other-would-be-helpers/

    Radical feminists would be the last to claim you are born a feminist, though radical lesbians claim gender roles like butch and femme are inherent to them. Radical lesbianism=/radical feminism.

    “Feminist is also an honourific title, reserved for females, because it is the only social justice movement dedicated to females.” (Same Davina Squirrel post as above).

    I think women should not use the term political lesbian because it gets rad lesbians into a tizzy and it’s not specific enough. Politically celibate is better. Not that radical lesbians will not find a million other Oppression Olympics causes to champion. Radical feminists focus on the commonality of women, leftists and those influenced by leftism like radical lesbians break up women into a million different categories.

  7. I would argue that it is not separatism that requires not focusing on men, but feminism itself. The discussion that has been making the rounds as, at least the one I was participating in, was whether or not motherhood conferred a level of privilege relative to women who were not mothers in a patriarchal society. I take the stand that it does. This stance has been equated with “hating mothers” “having no empathy” “oppression olympics” etc. I also am unsure of which feminist referred to women as breeders, this isn’t a common parlance amongst women who recognize that motherhood confers privilege as far as I understand.

    • I agree with Nuclearnight. And this isn’t an accurate depiction of lesbian separatism. No feminist would call mothers “breeders” and it’s uncharitable, and downright inflammatory to claim that some do/had. There are lesbian separatists who are mothers. There are lesbian separatist mothers who built shelters to house women and children fleeing male violence. There are lesbian separatists who understand we live in reality – a world where men exist. Lesbian separatist or mother or good feminist or bad feminist – these are just labels. Labels don’t matter as much as actions. Our common ground is that we are female. We are allowed to disagree with one another on strategy and personal life choices and how we think about those choices. Critiques would be more helpful if they pinpointed to specific behaviour and mistakes made, rather than hypothesizing what one believes an entire group’s judgment of one’s individual choices might be.

      • But they have, that’s why the post was written. I wouldn’t name women because I think that’s unfair. Equally, I wouldn’t write something based on a whim. If a woman identifies as a feminist and lesbian separatist and uses the term ‘breeder’ then I think it’s fair to speak about it. I don’t for one minute think it applies to all and I didn’t mean to imply that.
        This was just my own thoughts and I really do welcome feedback so thank you.

    • Thanks for commenting. I think the reason I didn’t use ‘feminism’ instead of Lesbian Separatists was because there are so many different strands now. It felt easier to identify the strand that I most identify with, and where it’s been used.
      I’m interested by what you mean about mothers having more privilege though. Do you mean under patriarchy in general? Or bestowed on them (us) by men?
      @planetcath

  8. Hi All,
    thank you for all your comments, it is very interesting for me and i appreciate this blog even though i am not a mother and i hope you all don’t mind me commenting, if you do please delete my comment i will not be offended or anything like that 🙂
    as a radical feminist I do have a big problem with lesbian separatism, for me that is not real because wimmin being raped , battered, murdered, prostituted etc how the hell will you change anything by living in your little commune and close your eyes what happens to all your sistas…it is so so important to work within the system to try to dismantle it . And yes we are not born as lesbians or radical feminists it is a journey and some of us got more lucky then others to find our way earlier or later in live
    whoever is writing and saying these disgusting things about mothers are no my sistas and certainly not radical feminist !!! keep up the good work sistas peace and love to you all

    • Hi, thanks for commenting and you are welcome to join the debate whether you’re a mother or not!
      I take your point, and it makes sense. My issue is really that I’m tired of trying to make men understand. Women spend far too much of our time trying to get men on side when actually other men should be educating them. There are plenty of men around who beeline themselves to be feminists or feminist allies but don’t seem to do much beyond put it on their cv!
      @planetcath

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