Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 21, September 6, 1976.
Why Women Only
Why Women Only
It might seem stupidly obvious to say that blacks suffer most from racism, and yet to make a parallel with sexism many people continue to assert that both sexes suffer equally from sexual discrimination, so therefore a movement to overcome such oppression must be open to both males and females. Certainly both sexes are forced into specific and often cruelly restrictive roles and yet it is women who are regarded as inferior in this society, sanctified by the church, and legalised by the state.
Recognising that we are in such a position the problem is then to work out how we can best fight to overcome it. We have all our Lives been taught to follow men, to be weak, passive and submissive, and it is only till we work out ourselves how to overcome this, to build up our confidence and to be ready to assert ourselves that we can even start to make headway.
From my own experience in Christchurch, it became clear that this could only be done in an independant women's movement. When we started a group in 1971. we included men in it, believing that because men also suffered from role stereotyping they had a part to play in building the movement. However, we found ourselves either continually defending our very existence from men who felt quite threatened by us, or we encountered men who because of their own dominant role in society perpetually telling us what to do, or being very patronising in our attempts to organise; ourselves.
Finally we decided that since our basic aim was to fight against women's inferior position, and it was only women who could fully understand what it is like to be in such a position, we had to start by working out what to do ourselves.
After the meetings were restricted to women only the change was quite amazing. Women who had hardly spoken when the men were present began to take a lead in organising the movement. The discussion on more personal aspects of our oppression became much more open and honest, as most of us had been quite inhibited in the presence of men. I mean, after all, if women were liberated there wouldn't be a need for a women's liberation movement would there!
Through taking over leadership roles, learning we were capable or organising ourselves, we gained the confidence to hold regular public forums, speak up at meetings etc., and because of this the movement grew rapidly drawing in more and more women and getting our ideas out to countless numbers of groups and individuals.
It has been a trend lately to label such a movement as separatist. Yet there is a clear distinction between the two. Separatists basically see men as the primary enemy in a patriarchal society and therefore isolate themselves and their struggle from males. An independant women's movement simply sees the necessity for [unclear: wo] women to lead their own movement, while recognising that many men and other minority groups are also discriminated against in different ways by this society, The support of men in campaigns affecting women's rights is welcomed, i.e. the abortion campaign.
It seems easier for many to relate to the reasons the Maori movement sees the need to work independently in leading the fight against their oppression, and yet the parallel is very valid to the women's movement.
It amazed me recently when I heard individuals who argued and fought against women discussing and going over women's policy on the Women's Commission within NZUSA, adamantly surporting the formation of an autonomous overseas students association to be controlled and run independently by overseas students themselves.
Such a contradiction is hard to understand, I can only dare to suggest that the individuals concerned believe it is much harder for them to influence women when they start working things out for themselves, and simply can't handle the proposition.
On the one hand many student politicians remain perplexed as to how to o encourage more women into the male dominated student political scene, and yet women gaining enough confidence to do just that, by joining with other women to work out what they can contribute most positively, is hotly opposed as the wrong sort of channel to have come through.
Since students recognise that women should have an equal part to play with men, they expect them to step up and take positions of leadership immediately.
While it is appreciated that women have been stereotyped all their lives not to assert themselves, they seem to think if women don't get over that without male assistance, its not a positive development.
Take SRC meetings as an example. It is very rare for a woman to say anything. The times women have forced themselves to play a part has invariably been over issues most affecting their rights. And this has almost always been achieved by a group of women joining together giving each other the confidence needed to get up in front of what must be the worst possible audience there is. Surely this is a positive step.
It is argued that the feminist movement splits overall movements for social change. Yet far from feminism dividing sections of society it is sexism itself that performs this function, the very thing that feminists seek to break down.
Society is already split, women have already been slotted into a special and oppressive position. That reality has to be taken account of, and from there the best way to overcome it worked out.
Women can themselves work out how best to develope as leaders in the movement that effects them most, and from there also gain the confidence to take a more active role in general politics.
Those who genuinely support the fight for women's liberation should not feel its necessary to tell women what to do, but allow them the right to work it out for themselves.