When I talk about celibacy, I mostly get responses, mostly from straight people, saying that celibacy is too hard and that they could never do it.
And that’s where you’re wrong! You CAN be celibate. Let me explain.
Celibacy in separatist feminism isn’t a religious vocation where you pledge complete lifelong celibacy upon threat of excommunication from Womanhood or dousing in MRA hellfire. I realized recently that I wasn’t clear on this and that’s making it hard to have this conversation.
Celibacy in feminism is practical. It serves a purpose. If you read the Wikipedia entry on separatist feminism, you will find it is described as being in various degrees (ie not total) and maintained *at will* by women. Furthermore, a pioneer in heterosexual separatist feminism, Cell 16, advised either total celibacy or *periods* of celibacy within relationships. Also separatists are to deny sexual or other intimate access to men who are “not consciously working for female liberation.”
So it turns out heterosexual relations are acceptable in separatist feminism…with the right men and under the tight conditions, initiated and maintained by women. Chances are, you’re doing a little celibacy and you don’t even know it.
But in order for celibacy to be truly feminist, political, and effective, it needs to also be a) consistent and B) strategic. For celibacy to work, you need to name the problem in all its detail, identify the solution and put those solutions to work in your relationships…consistently. And you refuse access to men who won’t be part of those solutions. Men feel entitled to all kinds of concessions from women, and many of them are subtle and woven into the fabric of daily life. Feminists need to pluck out those mini battlegrounds and win decisively.
This approach is different from personal or incidental celibacy. Incidental celibacy is temporary abstinence from men because of a recent bad experience and subsequent anger/hatred of men. Political activism of any kind cannot be sustained on raw emotion alone.
Personal celibacy is when you choose to abstain not out of hatred for men, but a just love of self and desire to develop oneself. All people benefit from taking the occasional sabbatical from satisfying others and being alone with themselves. Personal celibacy is a crucial first step to political celibacy, but political celibacy goes a step further. Personal celibacy is individual. Political celibacy starts with the self and expands to include all members of your class. You can’t influence women and impose sanctions on men without a firm sense of self and dogged focus. On the other hand, a firm sense of self and dogged focus don’t result in lasting change when they’re restricted to you and you leave everyone else to their choosy choices.
Classic celibate feminism tends to focus on straight women, since they have the most contact with men and the best chance of challenging patriarchy directly. However, lesbians and bisexuals can be celibate too. Even male feminist allies can be celibate. In this age of queer, lesbians and WSWs are at high risk of encountering female partners that either enable or tolerate male supremacy, and it is just as crucial to restrict their access as it is to restrict access to males. Men are powerful, but they are slightly less than half the population. Men are successful in large part because women cater to them, often unwittingly or by coercion. So we not only need to center women but also women who are woman-cemtered.
As for men, your chances of finding a man who is willing to seriously pursue celibate feminism are very, very low bit if you do…he is rare gem and very highly prized. Keep him. Why would a man be celibate for women’s sake? Because he sees, or has been shown, the dynamics of female oppression and male privilege, and how even genuinely good men are suspect in the dark of the night. Because he wants to get to know and appreciate the women in his life and he realizes that his desire for sex will have to take a backseat. He will wait for the woman’s lead and knows that when he does this, sex will be better for the both of them. He wants to dissociate himself from the sins of his fathers, be a different kind of man, and to be there as a protector if needed. Most importantly, men who do this educate and set a positive example for other men…and deter men who refuse to learn.
Celibacy is truly a gift, and anyone can be celibate for the betterment of women. And this celibacy doesn’t have to be total, nor does it have to last forever.
What are you waiting for? I want YOU to be celibate.