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Separatism is a mode of thought—often borne of oppression (real, perceived, or otherwise)—that advocates dividing the human species along lines of particular shared/homogenous traits. Oppression of a particular identity group by other elements of the human species is often utilized as a grievance explaining the need for group isolation. Such oppression is, according to the separatist, insurmountable or so profoundly harmful that drastic measures must be taken—that is, striving to isolate a certain population from the rest of humankind.
Examples of separatist populations include religious, ethnic, racial, gendered, and sexual identification groups. We’ve in this class encountered separatism explicitly in the article by Bunch and implicitly among other writers.

A critique of lesbian separatism (or separatism in general):
An argument for lesbian separatism: if men (and, thus, patriarchy—though this ‘automatic’ correlative is questionable) are removed from the social life of women, an oppression-free society of liberated women can thrive. The absence of men necessitates the absence of patriarchy, and therefore of sexual oppression.

From this (admittedly oversimplified) description of lesbian separatism emerges a flaw prevalent in all separatist thought. In order to reveal this flaw one must turn to Derrida and the inherent obstacle/antagonism between the condition of impossibility and possibility (Zizek 2000; 17). In order to illuminate the flaw in separatist thought one can take as an example an erroneous Marxist critique of capitalism and the transition to a communist society.

Communists (indeed Marx himself) believed that once the fetters and oppression of capitalism were abolished then communism would emerge as a similar economic environment minus the deleterious effects of capital. This involves the false belief that once the obstacle (source of oppression) is removed the situation will persist to function in a machine-like way, that social and economic life will continue as before. The problem is that it is often this very obstacle or coercion—the idea or social practice which must be excised—that makes the system function as it does in the first place.
The furious production pace within capitalism occurs only because of the coercive and oppressive practices of capital toward labor. Once labor is freed of this coercion, why should it then be assumed that production will maintain its hurried pace? It is then a flawed assumption that unbridled production exceeding (or even equaling) that of capital will emerge outside of capitalism. This belief is, as Zizek explains, “an ideological attempt to ‘have one’s cake and eat it’, to break out of capitalism while retaining its key ingredient” (2000: 19).

Where does this leave lesbian separatism (and all forms of separatism)? “If we take away the obstacle [patriarchy], the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates” (2000: 18). Removal of oppression radically changes a social situation, and adaptation to a new set of power structures is required. Keeping the obstacle/antagonism relationship in mind, one must ask: ‘Why does the absence of men mean that there will remain a void where oppression once existed?”
With the unifying force absent—that is, the abolition of the obstacle (patriarchy, the social presence of men, etc.)—what binds together this assembly of women? Were they not thrown into one another’s arms by the hostile forces of male supremacy, found themselves united by the common cause of fighting their oppression? With the sudden disappearance of patriarchy and men, a new social system, wrought with power dynamics, emerges amongst these women. Is it not likely then that new forms of oppression based on difference will manifest? It is evident that this will occur since the ideology of separatism is wholly based on identifying according to difference (e.g. “I am many things, but I am NOT a man”). Who’s to say that this emphasis on difference-distinguishing and identification of difference—a primary feature of separatism, that of Othering—will not resurface within the newly-created utopian community, creating schisms between new identity groups where oppression finds safe haven in new gradations of power?

That is not to say that oppression emerging within the separatist community could not be combated, but it has delivered the separatists directly back to the situation they sought so desperately to escape. It must be asked: Why then divide and subdivide the human species when it is likely that addressing oppression and power relations cannot but be accomplished in the arena of humanity united, whole?

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Proletariat: the population operating within the capitalist mode of production that does not own the means of production. Consequently, the proletarian is forced to sell her labor to the owner of capital in order to secure her livelihood. These two forces, proletarian and capitalist, operate in contradiction to each other: the former to secure her due compensation and the latter to generate maximum surplus value by withholding from the worker a portion of her labor-value. This contradiction between laborers and owners, according to various theorists and schools of thought, establishes in the mind of the worker a revolutionary class-consciousness.
Contrary to common belief, particularly due to male-dominated labor movements in the past two centuries, the root of the word proletariat owes its origin entirely to the woman. Terry Eagleton explains the classical etymology behind the term:

“The word proletarius in the ancient world meant those who were too poor to serve the state by property, and who served it instead by manufacturing labour-power. Their role was to produce children; and since the historical burden of this task has fallen more on women than men, it is no mere modish gesture to claim that the proletariat is a woman. If that was so in antiquity, it is equally true today.” (Eagleton; 2001)

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Long hair is a physical characteristic associated with both “femininity” and “masculinity” conventionally defined.
It is a pervasive Western (patriarchal) norm that women grow their hair long and men maintain their hair respectably short(er). Revealingly, men retain a great deal more freedom in hair length normativity/social expectation than do women.
There are exceptions to this norm, but deviants of both genders risk being socially ostracized by defying hair length normality. In United States history, noteworthy examples include:
-The “Flapper” movement of the 1920s in which women adopted a short “bob” cut and took more “lenient” positions regarding the woman’s proper relation to sex, drinking, partying, dancing, and “masculine” activities such as driving cars and smoking. The Flapper was consequently ostracized by “society” (or “Society”) due to her deviation. This movement all but disappeared with the coming of the impoverished Depression 1930s as opposed to the opulent economic conditions of “the Roaring 20s” that gave rise to such feminine liberation. (this is an interesting correlation to bear in mind: whether economic comfort lends itself to greater opportunities for women liberation? There is–or is there?–a connection.)

-The 1960s ushered forth a social rebellion against established norms. The youth population expressed its discontent with US foreign policy and stifling social expectations by being socially reactionary. Men wore their hair long–whether in protest against norms or simply to “conform” to the non-conformist hippie movement. Long hair was “liberating” but also stigma affixed itself to wearers of long hair and this trend (as a trend) died with the end of the 1960s. However, the 60s men wedged their foot in the door of historical norms, thus allowing for men later in US history to wear their hair long and not to be regarded as a “savage” or space alien.

-The 1990s-today allow for many hairstyles that defy normality. Women with short hair and men with long hair can readily be found. However, social and gendered/sexed significance is still attached to one’s hairstyle, indicating that we haven’t moved nearly as far from Victorian ideas as we’d like to believe. A woman can shave her head, but that MEANS something. A woman can leave her hair long, and nothing more is thought of it. We’ve not escaped foolish hairstyle norms.

One is left wondering: why should hair say anything about what’s in between my legs? And the answer is: it shouldn’t. Frank Zappa once remarked, in an exchange with an interviewer:

Interviewer: “So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?”
Zappa: “You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?”

(NOTE: this is a severely inadequate history of American hair length–particularly because the women and men involved were all white and middle to upper class in social standing. But, then again, isn’t that the typical historical subject of American history? If anyone has other ideas about hair length and historical normativity, please add!!!)

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I’d like to start out with an example of comparison because that is how we ultimately view difference. Let’s compare apples and oranges and find their differences. One is red and one is orange. One has a core and one does not. Does that make one better than the other? We compare two kinds of people/things and point out what is not similar between the two in order to find difference. That which is not similar is difference.

There seems to be an issue of hierarchy involved when we speak of difference, because one is typically “better” than the other. The one side that is not as good, is the one that is considered of lesser value and therefor it’s the different one. The idea behind difference is finding things that one side has and that the other side is missing. It’s comparing two people or objects, like apples and oranges, or men and women, and pointing out what makes one unlike the other. Many people view this word in a negative way because they often times see difference as an area where two sides struggle to agree. This negative connotation that accompanies difference is not necessary. Being different from someone is not a bad thing or an issue of being unequal to the other.

Scott mentions the Sears case as an example in her essay and how: “Difference was substituted for inequality, the appropriate antithesis of equality, becoming inequality’s explanation and legitimation.” There is this desire for difference to be connected with inequality or equality. Why is there the need to connect something that is different with something that is unequal? The two things being compared, such as man and woman, are only able to be different because the other exists. So aren’t they in turn equal? This idea that “I’m a woman because I’m not a man” wouldn’t be comparable if not for the both of them.

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Hierarchy

A ranking system that organizes itself based on arbitrary values. Hierarchies posit one kind of thing at the “top” of the system and have a set list of gradations that end at a “bottom” point. What is at the “top” is generally what has the most power and that which is at the “bottom” has the least power, and is a poor subsititute for the highest ranking thing. Hierarchies allow people to view other human beings as if they exist on a “scale”, making it easy to identify the value (or worth) of someone based on how far away or close they are to the highest point. Race and gender hierarchies are often justified with concepts such as evolution and mental or physical difference. Hierarchies exist within all social spheres and vary according to the culture and values of each group.They can be dependent on multiple determinants; for example, a straight white male (the authority) might be at the top of someone’s hierarchical scale and a black lesbian woman (the subordinate) might be at their bottom. A gay white male could be posited as higher than a gay black male because “white” and “male” are factors that make up the person at the top of the scale. Hierarchies contribute to a narrow world view and both form and are formed by oppressive ideologies, making them ultimately untrustworthy.

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The act of undermining patriarchal institutions. To subvert something is to take oppressive forces and turn them into something that challenges the oppressor. Institutions such as Gender can be subverted by acts such as extreme perfomance of ones assigned gender or the adoption of criteria for a gender other than one’s “own”. To engage in subversion is to use the patriarch’s “rules” against him, making his intended meaning into something completely different. One does not need to use material means such as clothing to subvert gender, one can also subvert gender through the act of recontextualization. For example, taking a heteronormative song, movie, or tradition and placing it in a queer setting.

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