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The Cruciality of Women (only)

I had been a solitary pagan for several years by the spring of 1998 when, after attending an Ostara ritual for women, I decided to plan a women's retreat with two peers. The cabin we rented, on a bend of a river, was normally inhabited by frolicking gay men. We cleaned and blessed the house and the land to make it hospitable for women. We covered the multitude of male images with scarves, fabrics, flowers, anything we could think of. We turned the sign with the image of an erect penis pointing to the grove and obscured the sex harnesses hanging from the trees. Happily, joyfully we turned the boy's playground into a Women's temple, just for the weekend.

I remember so many things about that weekend. I remember listening to the quiet planning and fussing of the women making supper. I remember sitting on the bank of the river and hearing women laughing. I remember lying in the sun-dappled yard and drawing on each other's skin … with henna, with markers, with whatever. But most of all, I remember sitting in a circle of women, some of whom I'd known for a couple of years, and listening to them speak more than I'd heard them do in all that time. It was then I had the realization: Women behave differently when men aren't around.

The Ostara ritual and the resulting retreat were the first official events of the group that was to become Sisters of the Goddess (SOG). The group has had many retreats, rituals, festivals and parties since its inception, but the core has been the bi-monthly meetings that have taken place, pretty much non-stop, for eight years. Except for one picnic, all of these events have been for women (only).

In the early days of SOG, I monitored the e-lists and every great once in a while we'd get a letter from a man who was angry about our women-only status. I wrote a little blurb that I always sent out explaining that we weren't excluding men, we were including women (only). I still believe that there is a big difference in the two.

Media: Reflection or Chisel?
Last night NBC ran a rerun of their dark sitcom, The Office. The premise of the show is daily life in a typical corporate office managed by a complete clod. The show is presented like a documentary film and does not have many LOL moments, but when they come, they're seriously funny. In last night's episode, the regional manager, a woman named Jan, comes to the office to meet with the women (only) to discuss their roles in the workplace. Later in the episode, Jan "interviews" that she's actually there to scope out the females for possible management talent, but has been sorely disappointed as none of them seem to have vision beyond their dreams of having a big family and a bigger house.

The tension of the episode revolves around the reaction of Michael, the aforementioned office manager/clod, to the "secret" meeting. It has rattled him, visibly, that the women are meeting and he's not allowed in. He finally breaks into the meeting and starts spewing garbage about "equality" and other hollow (as he presents them) concepts. Jan tells him to leave, but he says no, he's their boss, he'll stay. She then reminds him that she's his boss, which obviously rankles, and he mopes out of the room.

This episode was a perfect microcosmic representation of how the men's movement came about in reaction to the women's movement.

As the women continue their meeting, the increasingly agitated Michael decides that he will counteract the subversion by calling a men's meeting … just outside of the women's meeting. He starts with a warm-up — having the men clap loudly. At this point my feminist insides were squirming and I truly felt like screaming at the TV. I wondered, at that point, if there was a strong feminist writer on the staff, or if they'd gotten to this point ironically, but this episode was a perfect microcosmic representation of how the men's movement came about in reaction to the women's movement.

Everywhere I look, it seems, women are losing ground. I see home decorating shows showcasing homes that have the "perfect set-up" for mom and the girls to cook while dad and the boys play pool, or watch TV, all in the same room. WHAT? Interviews on morning programs telling us that boys are falling behind girls academically because the women's movement focused too much attention on the way girls learn. I see plastic surgery becoming the norm and the consensus growing that women who don't resort to these methods (once considered extreme) just don't care for themselves. And I just keep thinking, "Women are different when men aren't around."

A Womyn's Dystopia
So should women have their own space? Hell yes. Every woman should find herself in the company of women (only) from time to time. If nothing else, we need to have the change of perspective. I'm not saying that women-only space is a sort of utopia. In fact, I've had some very rough experiences in women-only space. But I've also heard things I never would have heard, experienced things I never would have known, and been challenged with ideas I never would have considered. Women (only) have deepened my experiences on this Earth by unfathomable measures.

This week I start the joyous process of preparing and packing for the yearly sojourn to womonland, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Thousands of women building an ephemeral queendom among the trees. Seven days of truly revolutionary ideas, mind-blowing music, beautiful creations, feminist comedy (what?!), new friendships and life-changing revelations. The womon-energy is so powerful that many of us start our menses, bleeding within hours of entering the front gate.

When I tell people about how hard Michigan was for me, emotionally, the first and second times I attended, they ask why on earth I would submit myself to that a third time.

I will not claim MWMF is a paradise, in fact I have had some of the hardest times of my life there. When I tell people about how hard Michigan was for me, emotionally, the first and second times I attended, they look at me with incredulity and ask why on earth I would submit myself to that a third time. I can't explain it. It draws me. The bad parts are not only tolerable, but a fundamental part of why I need to go. The festival is a slam dunk into just how different women are when men aren't around. Sometimes you need a good slam to get yourself going.

As for the women-born-women rule… I don't care. Shocking, I know. I have, in the past, sided strongly with both (all?) sides of the argument and at this point in time, I really don't care. I can't wait to be on the land with all those women … butch womyn, femme womyn, androgynous womyn, Birkenstock-wearing women, child-toting, girl-loving, bare-breasted womyn … and the bois, of course. And if there are a few M2F women, I don't care and will be just as happy to meet them as anyone else. But I would say to the trans-folk who aim to take down this event … work to change the policy, from within, from without … make us redefine what it means to be a woman. But don't work to abolish women (only) space. The world needs what happens there, now more than ever.

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