Room at the Table: The “Problem” of Men By Lara Helfer

This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium,  Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.

Lara Helfer is a 3rd year MDiv Student at Claremont School of Theology. She is humbled and excited by the intelligence, passion, and commitment of her classmates and professors, and looks forward their feedback and challenges to her very first blog post. 

As an out lesbian for more than 25 years, I have always struggled with the separatist movements associated with radical feminism. For me, affiliating as a ‘woman loving woman’ means just that, I love women. But wait – I love men too!  Whom I partner with – and yes, as a lesbian my partner is a woman – is but one aspect of me. Being a lesbian is not all of who I am, by far. I can’t, and do not wish to, imagine my life without men as an integral part of it.

So as a new reader of Mary Daly, I struggle with what feels like a ridiculously radical call for a woman-only world. This seems to contradict the core values that I hold as a “Jewnitarian” (or a Jewish Unitarian Universalist). I have been taught to see and value the inherent worth and dignity of every human being – that is one of our principles. I am not able, or willing, to reject the value of men; for me, to do so would be to reject a part of myself. Allow me to explain – another Unitarian Universalist principle, and one that speaks strongly to me – is respect for the interdependent web on life. We rely on and need one another.  We are part one another.

Moreover, if you allow me to conduct a bit of a recidivist reading of Mary, I question her very basic assumptions about the differences between men and women. Yes, like her, I learned a simplistic biology that all that men and women have a chromosomal difference – that the Y chromosome and the resultant testosterone make men different from women. But as scientists will tell you now, female/male binaries are no longer that clear. In fact, in the last few weeks, the Australian government officially recognized an individual as neuter – as not definably male or female.  I hope this paves the way for many more official understandings that gender is indefinable and ever-changing, and has as much to do with ‘nurture’ as ‘nature.’  This matters, at least to me, because if we are part of each other, if the gender lines are rather more muddy than clear, then a separatist notion is not only unappealing but indeed unachievable.

Returning to ethics, then, I admire Daly’s tenacity in formulating a language, a culture, and a movement that helped women, tremendously…if in nothing else than discovering our own anger. Anger that we and our mothers used to gain women’s’ rights. And as a classmate said yesterday, Daly set the stage for all that came afterwards; by comparison, if you will, any non-Daly feminist appeared downright reasonable. (Yes, I’m suggested that Daly’s revolutionary tactics, while useful in igniting a movement, were also a bit outside of realistic long-term solutions).

I contend that Daly’s radical feminism is no longer what we need. We need instead to recognize that which binds us, to respect our differences, and to engage, meaningfully, in dialogue that helps our common good. To continue to forge a path towards equality. To my radical feminist colleagues who will undoubtedly object to my position, I wish to reiterate that in this fractured, troubled world, I believe we desperately need voices and mechanisms that bring us together.  That is my intention here.  From the vantage point of the Jewish High Holy days, I am reminded of the need to build bridges. So at my table and in my heart, there will always be a space for men.

37 thoughts on “Room at the Table: The “Problem” of Men By Lara Helfer”

  1. Congrats, Lara, on your wonderful and thoughtful first post; may it spark interest in you to keep blogging. (Hooray also for “Jewnitarian” becoming a new tag for our Feminism and Religion blog). I appreciated the way you spoke out of your social location (i.e., your plural identities and commitments), drew upon contemporary findings, and provided an insightful critique of Daly’s platform without needing to denigrate the value of her scholarly contributions. Your post models well what feminist critique should look like. Well done!


    1. Anything I did right, I learned at CST!:) Thanks for giving me a forum – even if not one I originally thought I wanted – to express myself.


  2. While not an expert on everything Daly said, I have some idea of what her ideology was like, and from that I can safely say her philosophy wouldn’t suit me at all. Aside from a general misandry, she also had peculiar ideas about transgendered persons. Transgenderism is “A male problem,” and symptomatic of “Men trying to hijack female power,” both of these statements have no place in the modern world.

    I can grant Daly credit for her positive contributions, and I certainly hold no ill will toward her or anyone who knew her personally, but it does both history and honesty wrong not to admit that some of her views were unrelentingly cruel and false.


    1. Agreed. I pondered how to address her view of transgenderism and then realized that others might speak to it better, so thanks for doing so.


  3. Lara: Thank-you for this thoughtful post. I echo many of Professor Kao’s sentiments, and appreciate this thoughtful feminist critique. I appreciate that you engage with the material and push us forward to think in a constructive way about where we should go next. I find that often in feminist work, we get so caught up in arguing with each other that we forget that, as you said, “in this fractured, troubled world, I believe we desperately need voices and mechanisms that bring us together.” Although I enjoy Daly, I agree on many levels. Moreover, I really enjoyed hearing about how you approach this from your position as a “Jewnitarian.” As a fellow UU, I sometimes, particularly in the past couple weeks, have found myself disengaging with my religion when I think about radical feminism and the writings of Daly; thank you for bringing it all back together. Great post.


    1. Thanks Katrina. I struggled mightily with Daly until I realized I could only approach her from my own social location, and once I began to ‘own’ that, my thoughts coalesced. I hope to see more of you in our local churches and activities.


  4. Lara,
    Yes, I echo Grace’s comments and congratulate you on “putting” yourself out there for all to read and critique. Not always an easy task to be sure.

    You mentioned you felt we have progressed to a point of moving away from a radical feminism that is now inclusive, which I could not agree with more. But having been a daughter of the 70’s, awakening from a male dominated Catholic church and home (6 brothers with parents who raised us with a conflicted gender binary), I would have to say the birth of early second wave feminism was far from monolithic. While I too am able to appreciate Daly’s contributions as setting the scholarly bar very high, in many ways I am wondering (and asking), how representational of the “movement” was she?

    The building of bridges between the sexes (and as you pointed out is not a clear XX or XY), remains, I contend, a stable of any feminism that works toward eradication of sexism, (and all other ism’s that oppress or marginalize).


    1. Thank you for providing some additional clarity on the issue. As someone fairly new to the academic study of feminism, I have much to learn about 2nd and 3rd wave feminists. I also appreciate the manner in which you – correctly – link this issue to the end of sexism.


  5. I’m not interested in building bridges between the sexes, nor am I interested in
    “equal rights” feminism… equal to what? The horrifying low standards of men? Equal to their rape and violence? No, I am a proud Daly feminist, because I see no improvement in men, in fact, they are actually becoming more aggressive, worse and worse with each passing year. To paraphrase Daly, they are boring.

    What is exciting to me is the continued dream of lesbian only space, and women only space… what it is we women can do when we focus our attention on each other. Men steal the air out of a room, they silence women, they get in the way of furious focus and radical thinking.

    And there has been an escalation in violence against the strong proud lesbians who created Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. It is private lesbian land that refuses to allow MtTrans people on the land. They nevertheless, in male entitled fashion, refuse to honor the boundaries of sacred women’s space, and have caused endless trouble to all the women who go to Michigan to find a place free of male energy, free for women to be with each other.

    The sad truth of radical feminism is that it didn’t contiue to go far enough, and the male apologists and the “I love men too” gang actually undermine women’s revolution. It is the cowards way out, a capitulation to male dominance, and a refusal to honor the women who don’t want to deal with men within a feminist radical visionary context. We go to feminism to meet women, to study each other’s ideas. And it is men who attempt again and again to rape women, to dishonor our boundaries, to co-op our ideas, and to control the lions share of the wealth. Over and over again, I meet so many lesbians dying for women only space, for wealth directed solely for the beneift of lesbians for once. Women get easily co-opted to every cause but our own; there’s a reason women own 1-2% of the world’s land or are still paid 75 cents on every dollar males earn… and we have to always known that men steal…. they don’t listen, there is no point in a feminist dialogue with men.

    But women! We need to build more, concentrate more, be more honest and respectful of all the women who were raped, battered, abused and cheated by men, and who want nothing more to do with them. I’ve fought hard to keep women’s space women’s. And I’ve had to put my foot down with straight women who insist on dragging males into the picture… no I do not want to have to deal with your sexist husband, or your teenage boy who views porn on the Internet. By rights, I want my land and my people, I want a world women world.I won’t compromise on this point. Let the liberal women falsely believe men will ever “grant” equality, when they can continue to steal our small resources and spaces. Just read what male to trans are really doing in Michigan, the abusivenatures, the porn actors, the attacks on women. Read what they do.

    Daly never let us down. She never backed down, and she was heroic for this very reason. She knew that you cannot have feminism as long as men are there to slow the process down. What men need to do is educate themselves, but as for me, I’m tired of talking to them about feminism, tired of their attacks on women, tired of their smug looks. And I want freedom, not equality, true freedom, and that is a very different thing. Three cheers for strong take no prisoners separatism. For all the strongest women who want this, women’s desire for rape free spaces comes before all male needs, and women can’t help but cave to men. I hate it when women dull down as men come into the room, and I see hetero women doing this constantly, they just can’t see themselves doing it.

    Where are the women’s land lesbians? Where are the true followers of Daly? Why is this giant sell out going on, when women need more not less women only space? It’s sad.


  6. And I must say, I really distrust all the m.divs taking over our movement… academentia… there are plenty of women out there who will consort with and serve the enemy, the rapists, the wolves in sheep’s clothing. It is easy for women to feel fearful of putting women first. Threatening, not nice… but there are so many of us that want this. We don’t want a bunch of academics and women clerics going out there and serving the males in the churches, when we know that women own so little, and what little we have is not for men at all.

    We need to push harder, and for men to back down, we need to simply take our energy back. And they are not going to change under liberal feminism. No I am not interested in your sons, your husbands etc. NO! I want something far more powerful, not this wishy washy compromise.
    Not this capitulation to males invading Michigan. It’s horrifying, and the academics in the colleges… I just am disappointed a lot of the time in your capitulation and lack of drive for women’s freedom. 5000 years of male dominance, and you think this is going to work?


    1. I hear your concerns. I don’t agree with many of them, but I hear them and appreciate your reply. I wish to offer a few clarifications. First, I have been hurt, badly, at the hands of men. I understand what men can do. But I don’t believe, even vaguely, that such violence is the purview of men only. Women have proven otherwise, and what is most sad is that when women perpetrate violence (e.g., abuse of one’s child) it is most commonly against another female. Second, I’m not suggesting giving men all the power but working with them. While I understand that you do not view that as a second approach, I suggest not discounting those women that do. Which brings me to my third and final clarification: it is radical feminist women who do/can/will call me out of my stance. So where, I ask you, is this great sisterhood of women (no less lesbian women, which I presume is something we share in common) you speak of? I believe with all of my heart in the need for some women only spaces, but like many 2nd and 3rd wave feminists, I also ask the more practical question of not only what I need but also what the world needs.


      1. Dear Lara,
        I think you wrote a great response to the critique you received! I also really liked your blog post. I think that until there is a great uprising or all men just disappear off the planet, we do have to work with them. I struggle as well because so much of what I hear about patriarchal male dominance is not something I see in my own experience. That is not to say I don’t think it exists (because certainly, there are many many cases of it being so) but that we cannot continue to punish men who work against patriarchy / are feminist, simply because they are men. If we continue to tell men that we expect them to be patriarchal and opposed to women as opposed to celebrating those who strive for change , then the paradigm will never shift.

        I would love to read case studies on women only communities and how they successfully navigate living separately from the rest of society. I am sure they provide good models for how this can be done.

        Awesome post!


  7. Lara – Thanks for this post. I enjoyed reading it. The more I learn and hearn about UU beliefs, the more deeply I find myself resonating. I agree with you that Daly’s separatist stance is not necessarily desirable (or perhaps even attainable), and that we need to continue to find mechanisms that can bring us together. However, I recognize that, at least in my own Mennonite tradition, we have too often used discourses on “unity” to silence dissenting voices and to “cover up” various forms of oppression. How can we talk about unity in diversity, or a togetherness that allows for fluidity of identities and does not spend too much energy trying to define boundaries of who is in and who is out? Thanks for your post!


  8. Thanks so much for this post, Lara. As Katrina mentioned earlier, it is very refreshing to see a constructive response to the authors we are reading. Often when I am doing reading for class (any class, not just Feminist Ethics), I find myself bogged down in the details of criticisms of a particular author. At the risk of being misunderstood as self-centered, I confess that I frequently have to step back and say, “So what? What does this mean for me in my context?” I really admire that you were able to do that in a constructive manner that critiques some of Daly’s shortcomings yet does not write her off.

    This particularly hit home for me this past week when it came to reading Mary Daly for the first time. I opened the front cover of Gyn/Ecology and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” While I enjoyed her prose and the re-definition of words, I became more and more concerned about her stance toward men as I read our assigned chapters. I deeply value the friendships I have with people of all gender identities, and I do not feel comfortable with the broad, decisive strokes Daly takes at erasing what men can and do contribute to human lives (by this I mean not only or even primarily the matter of procreation but also the benefits that male-identified individuals bring to human interaction in general).

    I absolutely agree with you that “we need…to respect our differences, and to engage, meaningfully, in dialogue that helps our common good.” I would also agree with your contention that Mary Daly’s stance is not an effective way to come together and engage in this discussion, though it was powerful and progressive in its time. While her work may yet serve a cathartic purpose for women struggling against patriarchal oppression, I believe that when we leave the doors of the academy, we must be able to work with people of all [insert identity politics word of your choice here] identities – in short, people of all identities, however they wish to construe them.

    Thanks again for the post.


  9. Lara,

    I really enjoyed your post, and I got very excited to see that someone was writing on this. Thank you!

    I did want to comment on a couple of things. First of all, in your first paragraph, where you say “”As an out lesbian for more than 25 years… I can’t, and do not wish to, imagine my life without men as an integral part of it.”

    I would like to point out… YOU can’t… but that may not be the choice made by some other women. While I appreciate why Daly may feel “ridiculously radical” to you, to some other women she is read like a prophet.

    You identify yourself as a “Jewnitarian” (which I enjoyed… I might be a Paganzeniversalist, myself), and that, in itself, is going to put you at odds with Daly. Daly’s inspiration was a First Wave Feminist named Matilda Joslyn Gage (, who, among other things, wrote a book called “Woman Church and State.” in which she, basically, said that women would never be free of male domination until we stop worshiping a male god. In my opinion, she (Gage) was the beginning of the Women’s Spirituality Movement. In the 80s, Daly was part of the cannon.

    Separatist lesbians comprise a group which I would call (inspired by Dr. Kao) a “theology of EXTREME distrust”. You had a commenter here demonstrate that earlier. Separatist lesbians just do not trust men, and they all have some reason. Women still make 77 cents to a man’s dollar. We still have never been president. We still lag behind in leadership roles. Around the world, we continue to not be safe from rape. Women are still treated as property in many places in the world. In many African countries, lesbians are routinely subjected to “corrective rape” and nothing is done about it. And, the woman who commented earlier, I think, expressed this very well.

    So, I contend, that Daly’s radical feminism is not what YOU need, but there are women out there who do. The part that I DO agree with, however, is where you say “We need instead to recognize that which binds us, to respect our differences, and to engage, meaningfully, in dialogue that helps our common good.” I know you were talking about between men and women, and straight and LGBT, but I say, let us not dismiss the Radical Lesbian Separatists quite so readily. There is a lot… a LOT… of strength and beauty and wisdom there, and I, for one, would be a much poorer woman without them. I can’t, and do not wish to, imagine my life without THEM as an integral part of it.”


    1. Joan – today we’ll be spending our entire class discussing Sarah Lucia Hoagland’s Lesbian Ethics, responses to it, and the question of (specifically) lesbian separatism. Wish you were here!


  10. Separatism can be understood in different ways. Some like Daly had utopian hopes that women could create a world without violence, war, domination (overthrowing the Unholy Trinity of Rape, Genocide, and War)–and a very noble idea that was! Most feminists even at the time understood women only spaces to be very important but did not view them as the only spaces we wanted to be part of. It saddens me when women tell me they have never even experienced women only spaces or do not understand how empowering they can be. I don’t think there are too many women who would have felt empowered enough to speak of incest tor the first time in spaces that included men. Even I who was married at the time would never have felt brave enough to present “Why Women Need the Goddess” in an open space at the AAR, which is why I chose a closed seminar space at the AAR open only to women. Alice Walker said a womanist is “Not a separatist, except periodically, and for health.” The question of separate spaces need not be an either-or; it can be a both-and. Mary Daly obviously stood at the end of the continuum that argued for separatist space more than periodically, and not only “for health,” but also because she felt it was a place where women could spin and spark visons that took them beyond patriarchy. I do agree with her on that, while at the same time I also stood as a candidate for the Green Party in Lesbos in the recent regional elections and work with both women and men in “green” space and try to influence the government of Greece in non-green patriarchal space.


  11. I think we need to understand that separatist space is rare and denegrated. Do women truly have enough space of our own… communities of our own, buildings of our own? And I’d say there is a big divide between lesbian feminist women who simply don’t want to work with men or have to deal with them at all. We are trapped in a world of male dominance and violence 24/7… see all those policemen with guns, driving around in cars…. look at a typical urban police force, for example.

    Why are men important, when women have such great need for this space? And I mean this as a serious question. Mary Daly was right on target, and perhaps women today are naieve enough to believe men have reformed or that patriarchy has just gone away. In fact, it is more virulent than ever.

    What is preventing women from gathering even greater space in the world for each other alone?
    And the problem with the critiques of Daly is that they come from women studying male centered christianity in the first place. Or getting m.div. degrees that center men, whether they choose to believe this or not. It is a fact, that a default male god is always there.

    So if the need is great for women only space and countries and cities, why the reluctance to not want to create more and more of it? And women are the happiest and most carefree when there are no men to interrupt us. Our greatest rolicking happiness is when the oppressor is absent completely. And even most het women I know have very bestest girlfriends who obviously fulfill a deep emotional need that their husbands have no clue about.

    What is the real threat of expanded women’s territory? And why do we keep thinking that men can be reformed? Of course they can’t. Daly said we didn’t go far enough. She knew the enemy inside and out, better than all the mediocre educations of today. The woman knew the central texts of patriarchy, she knew never to sell out to it.

    Now I’m not saying that separatism is a 24/7 thing, but I do know I have a choice to be in women’s space, and to do work with women. I know I don’t have to waste time socializing with het couples and their boring babbledom. I do know a focus on the genius of women is powerful and dramatic, and I do know the power of lesbians bonding and really seeing and being together. It is not the same to talk to het women and lesbians, not at all the same energetically or spiritually, and so lesbians naturally want more and more lesbian space, and we are being attacked and invaded constantly for wanting this. Maybe the answer is quite simple, we do not love men. We may deal with them, but we love women, and want that world. I think this desire for male free worlds is
    noble. grand, poetic, powerful and desireable. And I celebrate this power and spinning and vision.
    Men are violent, dangerous at worst and bores at best. That is who they actually are. Women can pussy foot around forever, or het women can justify this forever, but I celebrate the woman centered universe, I say put women first 100% and you will change the world.

    Sing the praises of the courage of Mary Daly, because she knew what she was talking about. No doubt she is sad every time some woman says “well women can be abusive too” — yeah, I l know we live in terror daily of women beating us up on the streets and raping us. Yeah, women are just as bad as men, right? Oy eyes roll…


  12. “To my radical feminist colleagues who will undoubtedly object to my position, I wish to reiterate that in this fractured, troubled world, I believe we desperately need voices and mechanisms that bring us together. That is my intention here. From the vantage point of the Jewish High Holy days, I am reminded of the need to build bridges. So at my table and in my heart, there will always be a space for men.?

    You make points as to the importance of bringing a movement together. The thought and care you put into this article are amazing and they really do show. Although “radical feminist colleagues” might wish to wipe the slate clean and start over you make a great point as to how this might be impossible. We all touch each others lives in many ways and to separate that might seem unnatural. However, if we are able to build a bridge of respect, loyalty, and empowerment for all we might be able to all talk together one day instead of just at each other. Great post Lara, I echo what everyone has been saying so far.


  13. First off, I’m gonna start with the bare facts that this is a many gendered world, there is *no* space that is free from “pollution” (as I’m sure Radfems would refer to it as) no space that is, that is not completely artificially created by separatists themselves. Secondly, we’ve seen the damage separatism can do in a patriarchal context. In the Greek Orthodox world there is Mt. Athos that has been completely artificially cleared of women by fiat, it is a sad, lonely half world. I’m not going to trade one sad, lonely half world for another under new management. I don’t condone this in Patriarchy, and I wont condone it in a Matriarchy either.

    Furthermore, lesbian women, of all people, should understand what it is like to be forced into some bogus gender binary code. Passive/aggressive, Male/female, Good/Bad. It’s literally a bipolar disorder that allows some women to make blanket statements about the nature of men, pure prejudices that have no bearing on reality. As a quote from a favorite book of mine says, “Anyone who judges by the lot is a peawit.” And besides, I’m straight, I thrive in the company of men. I would never demand that a lesbian choose between her intellectual commitments on the one hand and cutting herself in twain on the other to satisfy someone else’s narrow interpretation of what those intellectual commitments entail. (eg. “All real true women/feminists have men as sexual partners”).

    What Daly stood for, in her worst moments, is what was most wrong with 2nd wave feminism in the first place. It was she who became the prototype of the cartoon image of what a feminist is and what she stands for, which those most opposed to equality love to throw back in our faces time and again. It is for this reason that some young women don’t refer to themselves as “Feminist” at all, if it means taking onto oneself all the metaphysical baggage that the word implies. It is time to move beyond gender essentialism and sex segregated ghettos.


    1. Please allow me to respectfully point out… you are straight. All of those things that you said are true… for YOU. I think that what is important to remember is that when the Separatists say “we want women only space”, that is all they want. No one is telling anyone else that they cannot have their male lovers, lovers, friends, sons, brothers, fathers, etc. However, the very fact that separatists continue to have to fight for that right, is, in fact, a validation of the problem. Why should anyone care if a bunch of women have a music festival in the woods? Why should that be a problem for anyone? And yet, every single year it is a battle. What possible over arching need can any man have (other than a chance to see a bunch of half-naked women), to go to a women’s music festival? And, as I gently and lovingly try to express to my trans friends, there is nothing up there for them, either! Further, any woman, straight, gay, bi, or otherwise, who does not wish to spend a weekend separated from their male loved ones… who feels no need to do that… should simply not go! No one is forcing them! I was especially moved by Dr. Christ’s comments earlier. I think she hit it on the head. There is absolutely nothing… anywhere… like women-only space.

      I wish I had more of it available to me. It isn’t that I don’t love my male friends, my trans friends, and my ex-husband, but, there are pieces of myself that I simply cannot get to whenever there are men around. And, the fact that I still feel this way even though I have not been on women’s land for 20 years, tells me that there is still a problem.

      However, no, I would not go so far as to say “all men are like THIS.” That just isn’t true, anymore than “all WOMEN are like THIS”. And, yes, I have taken quite a bit of abuse from women over the years (some of them lesbian separatists). However, there is a deeply ingrained power dynamic that goes on between men and women that is difficult to see. It is like the fish who cannot describe the water. We live in it all of the time, and so, it is hard to understand. That is one of the values of taking a time-out once in awhile… to be able to see and understand that power dynamic. That, to me, is the biggest value of women-only space.

      And, besides… to tell the separatist women that they should just get over it and join the rest of the world is like telling the Amish to just get over it and go buy a car already. And, why does no one do that? I think the reason is because we with in a hetero-normative, Christocentric culture, and the Amish are somehow considered “more pure” in that regard, and therefore, they are allowed to be left alone.


  14. The Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete ( is for women only and many of the women who come on it are married,in a relationships ieht a man, or wish they were. Other are lesbian and come with their partners or alone. some come with their mothers, dauthters, or sisters. Some are happy to come on their on and to be living on their own. We all enjoy being in women’s space on the tour, because there we don’t feel we have to defend our spirituality to anyone.


  15. What a great post and a great discussion. Lara, I love your vision of what the world needs: bridges, dialogue, and a world that values the inherent worth of every human being. I too envision a world where men and women can work meaningfully together for a better future, and I particularly hope and desire for this within my own faith tradition. I can’t wait for the day when men and women have seats together at the Church leadership tables.

    That said, Carol Christ’s comments about the power of women-only spaces resonated deeply with me as well. As a woman who operates under patriarchy within my religious context, I have found great strength and healing at women-only retreats, where we feel safe enough to open up to one another our most intimate hopes and fears. I have seen these gatherings spark vision and movements that would probably not have otherwise come about. So Joan’s comments about wanting both women-only spaces sometimes and gender inclusive spaces at other times makes sense to me. But that does make me wonder: if I see the importance of women-only spaces, should I likewise affirm the importance of men-only spaces? Is there something ennobling and empowering for some men about men-only spaces? Or because we live within patriarchy, are men-only spaces unnecessary?


  16. I am deeply grateful for and inspired by all of the discussion on this issue, and hope to continue the dialogue. I feel compelled to amend, slightly, what I said, or at least to clarify further: I understand and did not mean to suggest that some women-only spaces are inappropriate. Such spaces, in my opinion both genders, as well as othered non-gendered groups, need these sort of spaces where safety and growth can at times be extended in a way not possible in most other venues. But any such option taken to an extreme does more for polarization, over the long-term, than for healing.


    1. You did a good job with this, Lara. This is what blogging is about…. active… and, sometimes even confrontational… dialogue. I hope you do more of it. It suits you :-)


  17. Hi Lara,
    Thanks for the post. I’m going to change the direction of the conversation a bit and wonder what you think.

    I did not find Daly ridiculous. Extreme, yes. While reading “Gyn/Ecology” I delighted in imagining what it would be like to be free of patriarchal systems, not men per se. My thoughts took form during recent class emails about women’s “safety” within the context of the class. I’d never really thought about my safety in a class before because I have become inured to the patriarchal system of the academy. But the fact is, I feel emotionally unsafe amid the aggression and competition that comes with performing well under the academy’s hierarchical rules and the singular focus to put forth one’s unique ideas and reasoning. Unfortunately, this approach to learning thwarts those who do not have equal information, reasoning ability, and deft expression. For instance, I am new to the realm of feminist ethics and I would feel intimidated if my embryonic thoughts were challenged in public and embarrassed if my reasoning found to be faulty or lame. It is a marvel to listen to ones who are mastering those intellectual skills and I respect how hard-earned they are, but I am not a natural academic and the rules of the academy do little to encourage me. (The academy obviously disadvantaged Daly too for opposite reasons. She threatened its patriarchy.) I recognize that my insecurity is not mine alone, it is an insidious product of the academy, and many of us suffer under its tyranny. So I am grateful to Mary Daly for “moving beyond the imprisoning mental, physical, emotional, spiritual walls of the state of possession [of institutional patriarchy]” and giving us a vision of something different. (Mary Daly, “Gyn/Ecology, The Metaethics of Radical Feminism” (Boston: Beacon Press, 1990) xxi-xxii.)

    I’m fine with a man at my dinner table, but with whom do I dialogue about patriarchal tyranny?


  18. Thank you Lara,

    I am totally agree with your post and discussion. Particularly I like you words “I am not able, or willing, to reject the value of men; for me, to do so would be to reject a part of myself…… We rely on and need one another. We are part one another.”

    No doubt feminism is the ongoing process of transforming the patriarchal and hierarchical systems. Feminism is theoretically non-dualism which rejects the dualistic ideas of separation between men and women. On the contrary, Daly’s exclusion of male is inconsistent with this concept of non-dualism. According to my understanding, more specifically, feminism is not to fight against men or revenge men, but it is fundamentally fighting against the “Isms, Systems, Institutions, and Structures” that violate, oppress, and dehumanize women. It is not to hostile male, but to eradicate the “evils” existing in the hearts of men. Since men and women are interrelated and interdependent, excluding women from men is deformed human image, and excluding men from women can also become distorted nature of human beings.

    Best Post!


  19. Joan DeArtemis, I really liked your comparison to the Amish… and how all these good hetero liberals never object to their way of life… buy a car… get over it… never heard one het liberal religious type ever say that. And I have to make the obvious clear here… men are not safe to be around, and I don’t think I should have to be subject to them if I have other options. It is men who rape women, it is men who kill their woman partners… one of the major causes of death to women…
    and no it is not gender essentialist to mention that women who are attacked and belittled by men suffer woman specific harm. That’s right, rape can result in pregnancy, and women might have a vested interest in creating something for themselves, free of the patriarchal gaze.

    It’s a pretty serious issue to me as a lesbian feminist. And when I meet a lot of lesbians my age, they all complain about the lack of women centered space. Now if you are het, of course you want men around… you are kind of stuck with them, but I am not. There are no males in my house, except a neutered male dog… there have been no males under my roof for decades, and I am used to this powerful life.

    However, when I leave my house, I get to see how straight women cater to men… you’re the fish who don’t know you’re swimming in the water. You are so tied to men, that you have no idea what this looks like. So what is the great threat of lesbian separatism? What was it that Mary Daly did that was so powerful, that it makes het women nervous and trans serving to this very day?

    What is it about the power to name, the power to exclude, the power of the oppressed to say no to the oppressor? If women don’t have the power to control space and time, just what does this mean?
    And why is it that we don’t take the threat of men seriously? How do you know that one male in your women’s studies class isn’t a rapist, a preditor, or a porn addict? How do you know whether he beats or rapes his girlfriend? How would you know this for sure? I think it is a very valid set of questions.

    So as a lesbian, just what do men offer me? Well, I can tell you they are road blocks to my creativity, they are deadening beings a lot of the time. I can say that I see very clearly what men do in day to day life in the corporate world, and I see how bad they really are. The wives of these corporate men never see their behavior, but I do.

    As for male only spaces…. there are hundreds of thousands of male only places. Try the Oval Office…. when is it a female only space? Maybe as the maids clean up after the men at the end of the day? As long as there is a male president, there will be male only meetings in the White House. There is a body of law written by, for and about men. And yet women come here and say I as a lesbian shouldn’t demand more women’s space? That we shouldn’t care about rapists in the room? That we should just believe our het sisters, when they bring their husbands into our worlds? I can’t think of a more insulting assumption. And what is it about the very demands of lesbian separatists, the Mary Daly’s of this world? What was it that she actually accomplished? A man who was that amazing would have a statue raised in his honor, they’d name a national day after him. But women, well, they are still trained to jump when the male calls, to say they love the rapists and the oppressors, and that all women should just love these colonizers. Hell I say hell no! The women who built Michigan are visionaries, and we need not less but more space for all women who say NO to the male, NO to their demands, NO to their oppressive natures. Married to them? Well goody for you. I have a perfect right to be suspicious of this, or to question the goals of women who want the oppressor in the house, and a well paying job that Mary Daly helped create in the academy.

    Amish… sure… all ethnic groups… sure… women only space, nah, and I just LUUUVVV my oppressor, I just LUUVVV my husband… just ask Maria Shriver. Yeah, she loved her man too, and she stood by him when other women charged him with sexual harassment.

    Give me a proud women’s space, or the dream of it. If the Amish can have their lands and culture, I think it’s time we honor the dream of women’s land and freedom as well. No one is telling you to kick your sainted hubby out of the house, just don’t bring him to MY HOUSE ON MY TIME! Just don’t waste my time with this stuff… the boy children, little Johnny who harasses the other girls in his class… all the sweet little rapists in training. And how would you know? Don’t you think after all this time het women would seriously question how we are going to end patriarchy? And I don’t think you have a clue as long as you keep dissing the brave women who stood up to the oppressor, and who made room for the cowards of today… your PhDs, your academic jobs… all for being nice to the men. Being nice, being male serving and male apologists… it’s a contradiction thank the goddess I don’t have to live with.


    1. Dear Turtlewoman,
      While I appreciate all of your comments, I think you are missing some of the points found in the comments people are making to this blog post. As someone who has sat in many classes in undergrad which were only women, having served in many leadership positions where all the other leaders were women, having gone to all-girls schools and having worked in jobs where only women were in employ, I completely agree with with you that we should have more women only spaces. It is a powerful experience to be among other women without men coming in and altering the dynamics. I also have not read a person who has commented on this blog yet who says disagrees with the need for women-only spaces.

      Furthermore, I would disagree with you that women who are heterosexual automatically want men around and would also disagree with the assumption that everyone who has commented on this blog affirming the need for male inclusion is heterosexual. I would also challenge your assumption that everyone in this class in an MDiv – we also have people receiving their MAs, and their PhDs in subjects such as gender studies. And also the assumption that everyone in the room is Christian, which I can also assure you is not the case (the author of this blog post being a clear example).

      Additionally, I disagree with your assessment that Lara or anyone else was “dissing” Mary Daly. Part of being a scholar is to be able to critically analyze the writing of other scholars. Part of being a feminist, in my understanding, is being able to ‘own’ your choices and to disagree with other feminists about how they view the world.

      Finally, as an educator, I do have to care about little Johnny. If I don’t teach him about patriarchy, about valuing women, etc, then how is he ever going to learn? I realize that this may not be an issue for you as you seem to have decided that men are a lost cause, but as an educator who interacts with male children regularly, I cannot simply ignore them in my classroom. As I understand from your comments, your solution to ending patriarchy is to abandon men altogether; I respect your assertion but I do not see this as a functional solution.


  20. Lara,
    Thank you for your blog. I love the way you position yourself within the context of feminism and Daly. The principle that you highlight from a UU perspective of interdependence and interconnectedness really resonates with me. I agree with a lot of what others have said and you have said as well, that there needs to be more gender inclusive dialogue, bridging, collaboration – however, we can’t forget the dynamics of patriarchy and power. I think Caroline raises an important concern about the need for women-only spaces within certain religious contexts and within the academy, in life, etc. So what about men-only spaces? I’m about to channel Daly for a minute – Do we really want to waste our womanly energy or even think about male-only spaces because that has been the way it has been for so long? I think both men and women should collaborate together because much richness can come for these discussions and women can also greatly benefit from the freedom and creativity that will come out of woman centered spaces.


  21. Lara, this is an excellent and deeply (de)constructive to Mary Daly. Though she was aware of the deeply-entrenched fractures caused by patriarchy, I really appreciate your criticism of her call for further separation. Though I’m not religious, I still identify as a Jew. The Kabalistic concept of “tikkun olam” or “repair the world” has always spoken to me of a vision of healing by which we can address injustice and move forward together. I hear echoes of this in your post. Preach it!
    Thank you for bringing up some of the recent medical findings concerning anatomical/biological sex difference. I couldn’t help but think that Daly was operating out of a very conservative understanding of the embodied sex and gender binaries. When 1% of the human population is neither fully male nor female-bodied, we have to rethink the way in which sex and gender are understood, constructed and performed by the actual moral agents whose bodies act as the nexus of ethical convictions and behavior.
    Reading her rail against Transpeople, even for the time in which she was writing, raised a red Transphobic flag for me. I doubt she asked any Transpersons how they experience/comprehend their identity within a patriarchal system, and I think her argument suffered from some serious presumptions about and prejudices against individuals who undergo sexual reassignment surgery. So, thank you for your vision and for your challenge to refocus some of Daly’s more problematic insights for the benefit of a more inclusive future.


  22. Lara,
    First off, great post. It has generated a great deal of discussion, and I have learned as much from your post as I have from the responses! I think you did an excellent job of analyzing some concerns that many people have regarding separatist movements. One concern that I have with such movements (whether they are for women/men only spaces or for racially specific spaces) is that many people within each of these groups exists within multiple identities – i.e. multi-racial individuals, transgender individuals, and multi-religious individuals. Ones hybrid identity complicates separatist movements because in retreating to one group you may feel that you are giving the “other” part of yourself a second class status.

    I agree with a lot of the commentary thus far, there needs to be spaces for groups of people to gather where they feel free from the burdens placed upon them by our societal structure. However, even in those instances, retreating to ones group may not be as much of a reprieve as we hope. In my own case, I have been involved with or lead many retreats and/or seminars for African Americans and I times I have left those meetings feeling as exhausted as I feel when I leave a meeting where I am the only (only = token) African American. I may be exhausted for different reasons; in the former I may be exhausted by the nature and intensity of the discussion, whereas in the latter I may be exhausted from having spent many hours thinking and speaking in a way that will always be foreign to me.

    The difficulty for myself, and perhaps others, is that we desire to maintain our hybrid identity and have the ability to retreat into safe spaces. Can their be a safe space for the hybrid person? Perhaps, but I believe that safe space (for now) will be created internally within the hybrid individual, rather than within our communities. My hope is that I can participate in creating a public safe space for hybrid individuals. Thanks for giving me insight, and reminding me that what I am trying to do is actually important! We forget that sometimes in the midst of all of our studies…


  23. Lara, I appreciate you sharing your self- jewish, unitarian, lesbian. You are a compassionate human being, and I can’t agree with you more about needing one another, as a whole- males/females and I might add we need eachother via interfaith and intercultural exchange- I too must be a “Muslimitarian”. It’s hard for me to imagine a world where humans insist on being separatist and exclusivisits, rather than intergrate one another and be inclusivists. I stand by your side, as your fellow human, and female sister, in working together in building bridges. Thank you for this thoughttful blog.


  24. We will have to agree to disagree here I think. I don’t believe there are enough women only spaces, and I think we have to be honest that not all women want to have to work with men. What I want men to do is work among themselves to end rape, to attack porn, especially on the Internet, and to educate themselves. I don’t want to have to educate them or waste time on them. That’s basically what I see as a waste of time for me, and for other very firmly committed lesbians who are fighting to maintain born women space.

    The false use of the term transphobic throws off the focus on what born women need and should have. Just read about what is happening in Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and what trans are doing. I think Mary Daly was very aware of this danger, and also the idea that a male medical establishment can manufacture women. It can’t, it is not a viable position to say that “female” is a social construct, when it isn’t.

    There are women who want to compromise, but I want to focus my energy on lesbian groups and women’s groups. I do see women’s groups bringing in men, and I do see het women doing this on a regular basis. I do see them bring disruptive male children to events, and I do see them let little boys run wild. I don’t want to have to deal with boys or children in general… at all really.

    We are not even close to a women’s revolution, and I don’t think a lot of women really get this. We have to recognize the greatness of Mary Daly for standing her ground, doing something that even today is radical for most women on the planet. I keep wondering why men don’t turn out in the streets enmass to end rape. I don’t get why NPR seems to have so many men being “spokespeople” on the aire for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Do women really get our say in non-leadership situations with large numbers of men present? And I don’t think we ever do. Either that or the women present are left out of the radio interviews, left out of the coverage.

    I believe it was Gina Davis who pointed out that even in crowd sceens in movies, 3/4 of the “people” shown are men. Or that they are three times the number of cartoon characters.

    Given the dynamics I see in terms of what real men do in real situations all the time, I don’t see any improvement at all. What I see is their constant desire to dominate, “lead” control.. and that is real life. I am hard on academics, because I think academic women are very out of touch with the business world, very out of touch with what is being done to women employees daily.

    So, what I do, is I find the like minded women… and lesbian only groups are very powerful for me, because we don’t have to deal with het issues or children, and that is very powerful. We actually have time to raise the bar, so women can be their fullest selves. Women feel this at Michigan, they feel it in my lesbian groups, and the many heterosexual women I know who feel a great sense of liberation to have even one night a week to themselves and other women.

    It is not backward or a waste of time to keep on expanding born women space, to kick out the trans invaders in Michigan, it is never a waste of time for women to say NO to men, or male impersonators. This may not be a burning issue for straight women, but trans invasion is a huge issue for lesbian run programs, institutions, health centers, rape crisis centers etc. And we’d be foolish to just go along with another male medical model that says born women don’t have a unique life experience, and that this is based on actually biology.

    And it is real to say that you don’t know if men are going to be rapists or not. It is real.

    As long as men always have access to women, and always manage to get women to go along with this, we will short change women. And you can say that it’s ok to have men present or boys present as much as you want… and I know you all feel socially compelled to do this… but I just don’t see how this benefits me or my lesbian friends who have to fight for every inch of space they can find. And it’s real. For lesbians over 50, it is literally life saving. Go serve the men, and wait on little Johnny, just don’t call that feminism… it’s just what women have been stuck with forever…it’s not radical, it’s not new, it’s just the status quo. It is also the status quo to call radical feminism transphobic for not wanting men in our spaces, and the threat of trans is real, and they have done a lot of damage… That’s all I’m saying. And also this space does seem to be very
    M. Divish to me… not all the women here, but it’s seminary talk…

    So perhaps I should invite a bunch of radical feminists over here, and you’d be amazed at how this is going through a new renaissance on the blogs.


    1. Turtle Woman, thank you so much for taking the time to explain all of this. You have added a voice here that is a special gift to the rest of this discussion, and I, for one, deeply appreciate it.

      This morning, during my morning meditation, it occurred to me that one thing that we haven’t really talked about here is something that would be deeply interesting to many of those who are studying religion here at CST/CLU, and that is the spiritual aspect of the Lesbian Separatist Community. There is a entire richly developed separate religion attached that has grown out of this. Could you perhaps talk about that a little bit?

      I do realize that I am making an assumption that you are a part of that, so, please forgive me if my assumption is incorrect. I am also assuming that you are not a student here. That, too, may be incorrect. Again, I beg your forgiveness. However, many of our students are deeply involved in Inter-religious dialogue, and I am pretty sure that not many are Goddess Worshippers, so this could be a very special opportunity.


    2. Oh, and I almost forgot…. if you would like to set up something for some sort of interfaith dialogue, I would love to help you with that. I’m involved in the Inter-religious dialogue community here. My email is I invited you to contact me and see what we can do to make that happen. Blessed Be.


  25. Hi Lara,

    I too think that there should, even must, be room at the table for men in feminist dialogue.

    We need to have both places where we feel safe, and in exclusive feminist company. The number of times I have felt healed when I walked into a group of women and said: “This ass did this, I am imagining a reason to be pissed.” The affirmation that women give to one another cannot be overlooked. That Mary Daly is able to see this not just at the individual level, but extend it out to huge systems of oppression over women is one of the most remarkable contributions Mary Daly gave to the community. And yes, there is anger there, because patriarchy attacks us and hurts us at the most basic level of who we are as women. So I too find that valuable in Daly, because there is quite a lot to be pissed about what has been done to women over the millenniums.

    Yet, I recognize also that patriarchy has hurt a lot of men too. It hasn’t hurt men in the same way, and certainly not the same extent, but I think about the emotional and physical sacrifices that guys must have to be considered masculine enough, must leave scars. I can’t help but think that “It’s better here,” in this post-feminist awakening place. There is less violence and artificiality. I’d want to share that peace with guys too.

    Thank you for this reflection! I appreciate hearing that there are people who are interested in making room at this table too!


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