One of the biggest critiques of feminism is the notion that feminists want to live in a land where women rule over men. Of course no feminist wants this but I recently saw a video that made me wonder if this hypothetical land of women would not, in some places and under some circumstances, be necessary.
What if women were so oppressed and afraid that they were forced to create women only spaces in order to lift each other up and gain independence from the men who oppress them. How would we feel about such a place?
Where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the desert, the people of Samburu have maintained a strict patriarchy for over 500 years in northern Kenya. That is, until 25 years ago, when Rebecca Lolosoli founded Umoja village as a safe haven for the region’s women. Umoja, which means “unity” in Swahili, is quite literally a no man’s land, and the matriarchal refuge is now home to the Samburu women who no longer want to suffer abuses, like genital mutilation and forced marriages, at the hands of men.
Throughout the years, it has also empowered other women in the districts surrounding Samburu to start their own men-excluding villages. Broadly visited Umoja and the villages it inspired to meet with the women who were fed up with living in a violent patriarchy.
The video profiles women in Kenya who have run away from forced marriages and brutal traditions in order to join a community where these acts are not tolerated. I think it’s a pretty brave and badass thing to do in a country that harbors some hostility toward the types of women who refuse to stay in their place.
It is sad that these women were forced into a situation like this but to be honest they seem to be making it just fine on their own. They have built homes and even started a business selling the beaded jewelry they make to tourists who pass through. In some of these villages men are allowed to live among these women but are given no power to make laws or decisions. These men seem to have had their minds enlightened by the whole thing. I am sure the video doesn’t tell us everything of their interactions but they seem to have found a way to get along. I think they have seen that it can work.
“You will never find women confronting danger. They need men”
The most interesting part was when they interviewed a man who lives in the area but outside of the village, where traditional gender roles are still firmly in place. Despite the fact that these villages had been going on for years and years this man still believes that a women only society will fail. He states that women cannot live without man. No women would face a danger head on.
Yet, it seems these women have faced the greatest danger. Haven’t they faced the possibility of death, or worse, by simply deciding to live in a way that makes them feel free and safe. Why can’t these men see that for women living in these places, finding the courage to run away is the bravest thing a human can do? These men have not seen, or not recognized, what a women is capable of doing. They either do not see these women as their intellectual equals, or they are threatened by the idea that they are not required for a society to run.
These men may not have ever known anything but a life where men are at the head of every household and every government decision. They may be scared of what this means for the future of their culture. I get that on some level. They don’t understand what life is like for these women though. They cannot understand why genital mutilation is so horrible and they cannot fathom the early marriage and rape of a young girl. They will never know the fear these women felt when they put their foot down and said no more!
The worst part is, a lot of what these women are put through is illegal, but when the government won’t help and the authorities won’t help, what else can you do? If the men in your family won’t help and you have no where else to go, what can you do? The fact is, if these women could have found the help and support they needed they wouldn’t have to set up villages that exclude men or regulate them to a place where they cannot do any harm.
Here in America women do not face the same level of atrocities and oppression as other women around the world, but we do have a culture of victim blaming and treating the must vulnerable women among us with contempt. Even now I read posts from women on Twitter and Tumblr who wish for women only places such as this. They want to be free of the abuse and fear.
Whenever it is mentioned men inevitably attack these women, claiming that this is evidence of their theory that feminists want to push men out or rule over them. I say to them, feminists don’t want that, but if this world doesn’t fix it’s shit this may be where we are headed. It will be in reaction to the current reality that women are not seen as equals and their fears and pains are not taken seriously. There may be more women like those is Kenya who get fed up and choose to isolate themselves from the threat.
It’s sad, but it’s brave, and I support it whenever necessary.
Featured image via Museum of New Mexico Media Center