In northeast Alabama, hidden amongst the Bible Belt and unbeknown to the neighbors, is a "lesbian paradise." These woman-only communities began in the 1970s, when feminists longed for a utopia where they could live comfortably amongst friends, without the pressure of a male presence.
Since then, many of those communities have been shut down or attacked, but some still exist. Alapine, the community that is spotlighted by the New York Times, is one of the largest. The community allows elderly lesbian women, all of them former feminist activists of the Second Wave, to live in peace and nature in the final years of their lives. Many of the women have been drawn to such a community as a result of experiencing discrimination and hated:
The women agreed to be interviewed on the condition that the exact location of their homes not be revealed because they fear harassment from outsiders. Many in the network of womyn’s lands have avoided publicity, living a sheltered existence for decades, advertising available homes and properties through word of mouth or in small newsletters and lesbian magazines.
But the women at Alapine were willing to be interviewed because of their concern that their female-centered community would disappear if they did not reach out to younger women.
Winnie Adams, 66, who describes herself as a “radical feminist separatist lesbian,” sold her house in Florida in 1999 to move to Alapine. Earlier in her life, she had been married and had two daughters (neither of whom would be permitted to live with her now because they are not lesbians). She worked as a management information systems consultant for government agencies, she said, but when she came out as a lesbian was driven from her job by stress and discrimination.Ms. Adams’s partner, Barbara Moore, 63, was in the Army in the 1960s, when what she described as a “witch hunt” for gay men and lesbians in the military forced her out.
Only lesbians are allowed in the community; no bisexuals, heterosexual allies, or transgendered women, and men are only allowed to visit. Even when one woman's 6-month old grandson visited, a letter had to be sent out to all residents, warning, "There is a man on the land."
I completely understand the appeal of such a place. It is much easier to live amongst people who share their ideals, and it must be an enormous relief to, for once, not have to worry about being victims of hatred, discrimination, or violence. These women clearly worked hard for decades to push the feminist agenda, and it's completely understandable that they want to spend the last years of their lives settled down in a comfortable and peaceful community.
On the other hand, this separatist attitude worries me - and the Times article even mentioned that modern feminists are less inclined to agree with separatism. I don't see much of a problem with women spending their final years in a matriarchal community - I just hope that this doesn't trickle down to younger feminists, until, in the most extreme case, the world turns into isolated communities of different demographics, and integration is a thing of the past. Of course, I don't think these women aspire to such a world, but that's why separatism can be dangerous. To be isolated in a community with your peers, never to worry about discrimination or hatred, is extremely tempting. Integration and diversity are what require work. But it's what we need to aspire to - not separatism. Our goal is to spread feminist ideas, not confine them.