To take it right from Wikipedia:
Separatism in a feminist context “suggests that the political disparities between men and women cannot be readily resolved, and encourages women to direct their energies toward other women rather than men."Meaning that trying to solve the issues between men and women that are caused by the patriarchy is futile. Women building a support group for other women is time better spent.
Karen Mudd, writing for Off Our Backs describes separatism in the eyes of Marilyn Frye as
“various sorts or modes from men and from institutions, relationships, roles and
activities which are maledefined, male-dominated and operating for the benefit
of males and the maintenance of male privilege -- this separation [is] being
initiated or maintained, at will, by women.”
Because of patriarchy, everything in our culture privileges certain traits, that of white, straight, able, upper class men. If you do not possess these norms, you are excluded or suffer in some sort of way. Creating one’s own group effectively changes the norms and privileges of the culture that you create.
Mudd also nods to Bette Tallen, a feminist political scientist, who defines the differences between
“segregation and separatism-- the former being imposed by the dominant class,
the latter being self-imposed.” Mud goes on to say, that Tallen believed,
as a supporter of separatism, that “integration and assimilation are
Tallen views separatism as an active choice that fully rejects dominate social structures.
In gaming culture I’ve learned that I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. Rather, if I want to be seen or respected as a gamer and as a woman, I get in trouble, as in getting harassed. Yet, if I keep quiet, I get to internalize and ingest stacks of sexism (with heaping sides of racism and homophobia.)
However, if you split off into your own separate and safe space, the dominant group is still incensed. What’s going on here?
I see separatism as something that spits in the eye of patriarchy. There’s safety and revolution in numbers. When a group of people split off, they’re essentially saying that they’re rejecting the way things are. They want to create their own place with their own rules, because way things are isn’t working. Within this group, members are able to organize, solve issues, and work towards solidarity. They are powerful rather than powerless. Ideally, after some time, the group might decide to mingle with the dominate culture again, or they may not.
I realize that what I just wrote is all hypothetical. A separatist group can be successful or fail, like any other project. Also, while I do see the value in separatism, I think it has its limits. I want to take part in dominate culture. I want to be recognized, I want to have a say. I believe, essentially, that over time and with a lot of work, that it can change. That’s why I love the idea and work of Iris. Groups that focus on inclusiveness, like Iris, provide a safe space while working towards evolving dominant culture.