I didn’t have any big, new reactions after reading the New York Times article about lesbian communities. It felt a bit superficial and simplistic to me, but most newspaper articles on subjects one cares deeply about seem reductive. It turns out that some of the women I met in the course of our oral history project were interviewed for the piece. I spoke with one woman yesterday who’d spoken with them and reported that the collective response to the finished piece was, predictably, mixed. Meanwhile, the article has, also predictably, been fodder for debate on some of the blogs I regularly read. I particularly wanted to highlight a post up at the new blog In Persuit of Harpyness, What We Should Talk About When We Talk About Lesbian Separatism. In reflecting on both the article and the conversation generated about it, the blogger writes:
As a feminist it is my job to recognize that such experiences exist, that it is important to listen to the women who lived through them, and not try to shame them or make their choices about mine. It is important to listen because they have something to contribute to my feminism, these lesbian separatists.
. . . I can cut their critics some slack, but only a little. Sometimes, when I am in the heat of an internet argument, I start to forget how much of my devotion to feminism is rooted in good old boring ordinary compassion. Because I am a person who enjoys talking about ideas abstractly, I can sympathize with those who want to synthesize the contributions of these women . . .
But those discussions, they aren’t the whole truth of the matter. They aren’t about the women themselves. And though I’m always going to keep talking about feminism abstractly, I often wish everyone would keep their eyes on the ball.
As someone who has spent time on womyn-only land, and has listened extensively to the life stories of the women who were kind enough to let us ask nosy questions about their lives as lesbians and as feminists, I think this post gets to the heart of the matter here. Communal living arrangements, sort of like feminist thinking and activism, is a response to a particular historical context and personal experiences, and like feminism communal living is an organic, fluid project that constantly grows and changes to meet new challenges. Hopefully, the New York Times article will spark conversation between generations of women who are intrigued by the idea of communal life, and spark creative, contemporary approaches to experiments in living that will help our elders and youngers improvise lives worth living.