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December 22, 2004

Including men? Some questions.

In my travels to Women in Black groups in other countries I've found almost all include a few men on vigils, and sometimes even within the organization (though not in the decision-making). Women say, 'Well, they're veterans or conscientious objectors', or 'They're quiet and supportive'.

In London WiB we have maintained our organization and our vigil site as a women-only space. I concur in this. But I would like to be clear about our reasoning. Would any London WiB (or other) friends like to debate this question here on my weblog? Arguments both for and against including men would be welcome. This discussion will contribute to my research.

I just put up two new new Profiles (Florida and San Francisco Bay Area) and a new Thinking Aloud piece (Feminism as a Resource etc.). Comments, as always, welcome.


This is in response to your call for comments on the subject of men in Women in Black. It is a first attempt. I may have more to say at a later stage!

I join women only groups because that is what I want to do. I don’t want the group to be diluted by ‘nice’, ‘feminist’ or ‘needy’ men. The quality of the man is not in question. I have chosen to be with women in this instance. I think that any man who calls himself a feminist should know enough to respect woman only spaces. There are very few of them around (women only spaces I mean). I joined Women in Black because I thought it was a women only group and that it operated on feminist principles. I have not been disappointed since I joined Women in Black, London. However, if it was ever decided that we should welcome the presence of men I should have to, regretfully and rather crossly, find myself another place for me to express my opposition to war and militarism and violence to women.

I hope you will get more comments on this subject Cynthia. I would be interested to read them.

dear friends,
i also think this is an important question.
each group decides for herself. I see that lately there is a mainstreaming in every single feminist field. For example, four lesbians were ready to form a first ever lesbian group in Macedonia, and then the funding organisaiton arrived, Helsinky Committee for Human Rights, and they told them they will finance them only if they are gay and lesbian organisaiton!! This is just to let you know that 'only women spaces' not only were nover popular, but are now almost impossible, and therefore i do support you to make a decision which is only yours.
In Belgrade, Serbia, given that the war was here, there was not much to choose, we always had to deal with men as well, who escaped... and other issues. But, in London there can be as many peace and anti-war groups as you like, and therefore i support your political ethics to make it only women's act.
lepa mladjenovic, belgrade

I tend to agree with the comments above. Here in India also winds are blowing (my understanding is due to "projects" being undertaken by various women's groups) whereby the women's space is being questioned. Something, which was not under discussion for last many years, we find that many women's groups have included men within, both because masculinity has been under microscope now at world level and many agencies are interested in funding such project. The question is really complex. If men are involved in the organization then they definitely need to be included in decision-making process, as accountability and collective functioning demands. And if these men are part of decision-making process then where is the autonomy for women activist, which we have been struggling for years.
It is also not the case as some do project that we as movement reached a level wherein we can include men without being dominated. I do think it is just some justification being evolved to validate the expediency of the moment, a rather opportunistic stand.
Sandhya Gokhale India

Hi, I found these three comments by Val, Lepa and Sandhya really interesting and helpful. Like you, I feel a deep need to work and act in a women-only space for this and other purposes. But then I also wonder... it does seem to me very necessary that more men start to talk with and organize with MEN to identify the cost of patriarchal/ militarist forms of masculinity to men (and women), and to develop a critique of violence, war and militarization that is gendered and in which they speak specifically as men. Should/could we as feminist anti-war activists foster this process in and among men? If so, how? Or is it not our concern or responsibility?
Best, Cynthia.


Unfortunatelly not one single woman has assured me, and had no valid argument, why men should not be involved into women's movements.

As the world stands on "binary" system and it is the biggest discrimination for so many people on the first place, wouldn't it be more clever or more "human" that we as women activists would break that discrimination as we are fighting against it?

It would be interesting not to do to others, what we don't want them to do to us... or?

Sisterhood, ivana p.

Whenever and wherever in the world it is possible for women-only groups to be able to meet, talk and decide action, then, surely,they must be supported. In many places this cannot happen openly without engendering the irrational fear of some men and women that leads to discrimination, violence and suppression.
This does not mean that men have nothing to contribute, they can contribute so much by supporting women's rights to safe meetings.
I have a quote on my wall from Emmeline Pankhurst Oct17th 1912: "We disregard your laws, gentlemen, we set the liberty and the dignity and the welfare of women above all such considerations and we shall continue in this war as we have done in the past .. I incite this meeting to rebellion!"
Doesn't her voice still ring out true today?

Best wishes to you all for this new year. I am quite new to e-mail so feel hesitant however I come across, but I am enjoying the process of being in touch with women in other countries.
Lepa, I take your comment about my privileged position in London both for access to many anti-war groups and in using my own language. Both you and Sandhya mention the questioning of women-only spaces generally, I think we have to resist this because I agree with Sandhya that women still need to find a sympathetic space where we can get strength to engage with the world. I am not saying that it is always easy to be in women only spaces because of all the differences we have to accommodate

Now to Cynthia's question of helping men to communicate with other men. My first response is: if this is women's work (and what isn't!) does it have to be done from women only spaces? As you will have gathered by now, I don't think it should and anyway women could only help men in this way if they were asked by the men themselves.
Ivana, I understand what you are saying but women worked hard to establish women only spaces. It doesn't mean that we can't or wont work with men. I think Maggie says what I'm trying to say very well. But I must add that we call ourselves WOMEN in Black. I find the inclusion of men in such a clearly defined group puzzling.
In sisterhood, Val

One or two new points in this very interesting discussion. I imagine that many of us who have joined women's peace organisations have come from, or still function in mixed groups. We have experienced the problems of the structures of our society being reproduced in the anti-war movement, and seen the women who opperate 'well' within these organisations having absorbed the male 'power over' techniques. Its the same syndrome we see in national politics where the women ministers sound/behave just like the men.

We have probably come into women's organisations to be able to work in a different way, as women. That's why we feel so protective of our women's space.

It is interesting that some groups in other countries have accepted some men within their organisations. This has a parallel with the Co-operative Women's Guild established at the end of the 19th entury which had associate members who were men (presumably husbands). WILPF also (founded in 1915) has some men members (husbands and partners). This makes me uncomfortable. A woman's organisation is a woman's organisation because it takes a feminist perspective and provides its members with women's space. Men do not need to be part of the organisation to be supportive of their nearest and dearest. As was mentioned in another message, it would seem wrong to have members without full participatory rights, and if the men are full members, how can it be considered a women's organisation?

So what about the men who need help to develope a new perspective on miitarism and patriachy? We should be ready to be helpful and supportive, to meet with them, to join in discussions, to offer our 'expertise', whether they come to us, or we approach them. That is not the same as being part of our organisations.

The fact that we, and new and younger women still seek out and join women's organisations indicates that they are are needed.

Dear beauties,

When i think of women's safe place, I don't see a picture of a room full of women. Room with full of women can be also women's unsafe place.

Unfortunatelly, so many women behave patriarchally dominant over other women…in friendships, in relationships. Let's be real, ok?

The thing I wanted to point out in my previous letter is that women's movements unfortunately are also based (mostly) on biological differences, not including possibillities of variety of identities that create our life and living.

Just want to mention that i'm talking about antimilitaristic-feministic women's groups, such as a Women in Black group for example is. Because SOS groups for help and shelters for women are different story.

So, can anybody of you here, beauties, on this forum, explain to me what you do in your local WIB (or not-WIB) woman group if some intersexual, drag or transexual person comes and ask to join the vigil or group in general?

I'm just wondering … and maybe little playing with stereotypes…

Love, warm hug and sisterhood,


January 14, 2005

Dearest Ivana.....

You’re an amazing woman – an astounding and brave example of humanity. Your words resound with what I suspect is personal experience of living in the face of war. Possibly I am wrong.....yet my gut tells me it is likely so.

Yes, let’s be real. In 48 years I’ve encountered far too many patriarchally dominant women to be able to label out of hand a room full of women as a safe space. Who will stand at the door to oversee what types of women are admitted to these safe, all-women groups? In any gathering of women (feminist or not) there are those with a need to dominate. I often forget, and so am caught off guard each time this happens. Oh well. That’s life. People are people. We can find a way to work together for the greater good if we try. And we must remember that women are not immune from dominating other women.

I agree, Ivana, that SOS help groups and shelters for women are a different story.

I would love to hear the ideas of the Palestinian and Israeli Women in Black. I suspect that, symbolically, women wearing all black in their cultures represent mothers, sisters, and wives in mourning. In many countries, aren’t there also cultural and religious rules governing the mixing of the sexes outside of their homes? It’s easy to overlook this in American, where men and woman aren’t restricted by laws if they want to meet together.

Flawed and human nonetheless, I am a woman who believes with every fiber of my being that true change will come in uniting the sexes (and religions and races, as well) only when humanity resolutely commits to inclusivity rather than exclusivity. Our world's established patriarchy has done this so well for so long – too long -- this gender exclusion. Are we limiting ourselves in the end to only imitate that which we abhor?

The pendulum has swung far since the days of Abigail Adams and Susan B. Anthony. The polar opposite of female subjugation is not the most commendable, nor the most judicious stance. We will know when we’ve arrived at the highest ground in these matters that divide humanity into subgroups, because then we might finally achieve peace on earth.

I am your student, Ivana.



First of all, I'm sorry I haven't read all of your comments before posting, as I am limited on time.

But as the only male poster (i think) I figured I may as well add my 2 cents.

Women in Black, is the banner under which your actions are presented. This is a very clear message. Adding men to the mix risks diluting this message to the point of irrelevance.

Concerning discrimination: Simply because they are excluded doesn't mean they are discriminated against. In fact I encourage WIB to guide interested men to relevant organizations and projects that could be of interest. The fact is women are still discriminated against on many fronts, your unity is your power.

Concerning Ownership: Whether you realize it or not you "own" WIB. This is an important point, women are still not recognized as equal owners of things in todays societies. Men joining the group want some of that ownership and recognition, and why shouldn't they it makes them look and feel good without really having to do anything.

I also think it changes the group dynamics in ways that aren't that helpful to the cause.

I've only got a few seconds as i am at work, but my take is: let them help where you need them, but if they want to be activists they can start thier own independent group. They can always lean on you for guidance and support.

Women in Black is for women.

Men should be volunteer helpers and consultants.


Rock n roll cynthia!

Your work is important to us all whether we realize it or not!


Interesting post from Lucas. His discourse is very clear and I respect that. But, I don't agree. Every exclusion is some kind of discrimination.

«The fact is women are still discriminated against on many fronts, your unity is your power.» (Lucas)

Our unity is not our power if we exclude half of the world population. Of course, a big part of that «half population» is not prepared to fight for women's rights because they don't even see women's position as a discriminated one. The position of power is in their hands (economy, politics. But, if we as women activists use our power and give a little more energy for relations between people and not sexes, maybe definition (Lucas) wouldn't be «your (women's) unity is your power» any more, but «our (people that are sensible for human rights) unity is our power».

Does this sound so impossible? Does this sound so stupid?


Dear Women 
Men’s consciousness-raising can not be the same as women’s: we are not in the same oppressed position, and at least one of our goals is to dismantle men’s privilege and sexism. Consciousness-raising allows us to bridge the gap between our intellectual beliefs and an emotional acceptance of them. Making a wish to live in a non-sexist world becomes empty rhetoric if it is not put into practice.
I will happily criticise the systems of power or the ideologies which privilege men as a group, without blaming individual men for those systems or ideologies. It is more complicated that this ‘individual versus system’ dichotomy however, as individual men can be supportive of, complicit in, or resistant to sexism through our own behaviour and attitudes. I encourage other men to take personal responsibility for confronting involvement in supporting relations of inequality between men and women, and to join with other men to take collective responsibility for undermining these inequalities and the models of manhood which are linked to them. While there are a whole bunch of ways in which we can try to change men’s sexist attitudes and behaviours, I’ve found that a woman’s groups (if they decide to be open for men) could be one of the places to do this. Men in women’s groups groups could be both a space for personal growth and a grassroots tool for political activism. Through our groups, men can increase both emotional sensitivity and our empowered political awareness.
The role of men in promoting gender equality and eliminating violence against women has been highlighted in several United Nations documents and declarations, including the Beijing Declaration, in which participating governments expressed their determination to encourage men to participate fully in all actions to end violence against women. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action emphasizes the importance of working in partnership with men and involving men in actions aimed at achieving gender equality as well as mobilizing men’s groups against gender violence.
Sandra Ljubinkovic, Belgrade


Following on from Sandra...

When does a women's group become no longer a women's group but a mixed group? Logically, I would think that happens when a man or men join it. Could we not see value in: (a) mixed groups addressing gender oppression; and (b) men's groups addressing gender oppression; while (c) still seeing importance and legitimacy in women-only groups - for the whole host of things women still have a desire to explore in each other's company?

I do badly want men to work on these issues. First and foremost, I think they should work on them with other men. Why do they seem to find that THE most difficult thing to do!? If men, as they are always saying, and as I believe, suffer from the patriarchal system too, why don't they want to discuss it with each other?

I'm not averse, as a woman, to sometimes joining these discussions and helping them along. But isn't it treating men like children to feel we have to be always holding their hand in this?

And I really, really do not believe that to achieve the consciousness-raising of men we have to sacrifice the one fantastic gain I have seen us make since 1970: the creation of women-only spaces.

Any woman who grew to adulthood the 1950s and early 1960s will remember how divided we were from each other as women, how competitive we were, how we valued only male company. When we first started going out together, as a bunch of women, we were stared at. The relief of normalizing 'women-only'possibilities, as the women's movement came to life, was memorable!


"Some of my best friends" are Women in Black, and I have been proud to have their contingent next to ours on marches. I admire and envy their courage and steadfastness in the Balkans and the Middle East.
But the distinctive outlook and character these women bring to their vigils and protests is a special contribution to the wider movement, and that might be lost if it was diluted. As a man, I cannot pretend to be coming from the same place, and I don't share the same perspective. Yet I know that movements like Women in Black, or Machsom Watch, are important, in making us think, and confronting and shaming the "macho" male culture that helps sustain the war machine and those in power. I'm sure it gets under the skin of soldiers and aggressive patriots when the mothers and sisters they claim to be defending challenge their self-esteem and conscience.
This just could not be done by yet another general, mixed political or peace campaign (even aside from the bad old oppressive and careerist habits we know dog our efforts in campaigns and parties, and which some of you regard as "male" in origin, though alas, they infect both sexes).
I'd feel out of place in a Women in Black picket, like I was being an imposter. And I'm not sure I could take the discipline in remaining calm withstanding ignorance and provocations. Or earn the same respect. So while I don't mind passing on information or otherwise assisting when called upon, in general I'd say you do better by doing your own thing as women. But that should not stop you also taking a vociferous, and critical, part in the general, mixed movements. We don't always agree, but we do need you!

Charlie Pottins

It would be interesting to note, Cynthia, how age factors into these varied opinions.
Our attitudes toward males in general, and male participation in WIB, are products of our environment-- both physically and culturally-- as well as our relationships with males within our families of origin as we grew up, so we might never agree on this issue.

I have found a renewed sense of liberation as a woman since passing the age of 55,a return to "the girl within," as some have described it, that sense of self and independence and power I enjoyed as a pre-adolescent, before hormones and peer pressure and the media ideal of female beauty and competitiveness factored into my relationships with other women. Now that I have found that uniqueness again, I find a renewed sense of sisterhood with other women that has been lacking these many years...a sense of oneness in our goals for our children, ALL the children of the world -- peace, understanding, and nurturance. It is our ability to give birth and intuitively nuture that separates us from men, and it is that capacity which allows us to experience violence toward women's bodies and the sacrifice of life in war in a unique way. Women in Black
vigils are almost cosmic in their ability to allow the female participants to physically feel the pain of the young rape victim halfway around the world, or the mother holding the broken body of her child in her arms in a distant land ...standing silently, draped in the color of mourning, we could be the women of Palestine, or Iraq, or Darfur, or any country at war or under brutal occupation. Our experience of
war id different in perspective than that of men...there is a common thread that binds all women, and that is what keeps our vigils growing.

I think it would be very difficult to reach that level of integration of feeling during vigil with a man standing with us. His experience would be different -- not easier, just different-- and might best be expressed in a different format, perhaps with his peers.

We do not have men in our weekly vigil of 40-60 women, and have thus far voted to keep it that way.The few dissenting votes were from the younger women, who perhaps have not yet borne children or nurtured another life in some long-term relationship.

Olympia, Washington (USA)

As a young radical lesbian feminist of 28yrs old, I would just like to add my support to those women here reminding us of the importance of women-only space.
It is not for no reason that women-only space has been historically, and is still, under attack.
As women, we have still to empower ourselves, we still have many women to bring to our united cause - but already women talk about adding men to our cause.
If we wait for men as a group to start listening to women as a group and respecting us as equal human beings with equal rights, through working with individual men, we will be waiting a long time. Power and privilage is never given, it must be taken.
The backlash against women's liberation takes many forms, one of these forms is the dangerous and insiduous lies peddled to women about the 'sexism' of women-only space. So it is the same with many of the laws and language of Equal Opportunities - that have been cunningly adopted by patriarchy and used against those people they were put in place to protect; so that now, we as feminists are the ones who are 'anti-women' because we protest against the so-called sex industry, or we are the ones who are sexist because we want to organise for our rights as women, with only women.
What we are forgetting is power relationships. It is no use trying to live in some post-modern, rosy coloured world and pretending that men and women are equal and can work together as equals. We are not yet at that stage.... hopefully one day we will be, through feminism and through political mixed movements that recognise power relationships and the right of the oppressed to self-organise.
Women-only space is a political act in itself, in a patriarchal world that denies space, agency, freedoms, rights and life to women, simply because they were born female in a world that decrees women are second class citizens.
Men that I know who are anti-sexist and support the women's liberation movement are completely supportive of women-only space, and recognise that women have a right to organise for themselves as an oppressed group and would never question this. Just as I would never question my exclusion from a Black rights organisation for example as I am White, but am a member of mixed anti-racism movements. Similarly there are many mixed movements for human rights etc that men could join.
And I second Cynthia's comment - I would be overjoyed to see men organising in groups as men to protest against sexism, to stand up and make it clear that not in their name is gender constructed as it is, not in their name are women raped, prostituted and sold in pornogrophy - to say that as men they want no part of what society sells to them as men, would be very powerful and I would urge men to do it. Because as long as they remain silent, patriarchy will continue to disenfranchise all of us, many men included who are failed by the myths of masculinity and born into systems of privilage at the expense of their mothers, daughters, lovers, sisters and friends.

Right on, Finn!

Dear Cynthia,

I am very impressed by all your work and the open way you go about it. I have not been very supportive of men being part of
women in black, in part because what appeals to me about this movement is that it is feminist in expression and in action.

The political vocabulary used by women in black is different than the one use by the patriarchal world in every day politic, there is a deep solidarity between women even in silence: women are not really part of the political system the way men are implicated, let face it, we have a pityfull representation in most world governments and there is a reason for this. It is not a woman's world out there. Yesterday I learned that in the US, Superball day is a day where the most rapes happened for women!

We need a women movement and we need a much larger one than we even have now. It is not only that we do want to send our children in war to kill other women children, but we deeply ressent the arms sales and the massive destruction going around this planete at a time when we have the technology to do so much good, feed all the people on earth, design new alternatives energies, end disease, educate, create permaculture around the world and restore the environment that sustain us. It is death or life before us, and us women we stand to sustain life, to nurture and to care. For the most part, this is still very much a "women's job."Even in the US 80% of all the caring for the elderies and the children is done by women. This may condition us to stay closer to pragmatic visons and solutions. When we have 50% positions in the government and a participatory democracy maybe then man can be also participate in our movement on the same level. Just some thoughts, I am caught at work by a snow storm...

Warm regards.
Odile Hugonot Haber

Posted by: Odile Hugonot Haber |
January 23, 2005 02:19 AM

dear odile,

you have expressed feminist, antimilitarist and human rights discourse in general, and it is ok, mostly i agree (these are basic facts, basic feminist issues), but still you did not assure me why SOME men, or biological men with identity of female gender, or drag queens or...should be pushed into "men's world"? this really smells of ignorance...
is penis really so problematic?
i'm always asking myself: what is actually behind radical refusing of ANY biological men...and i never got answer...

I intended to write an article with this title for a while, but it was not so easy. Not because the content might be problematic, but because of involving emotions in the whole story. At the beginning of the text I will mention my personal experience, upon which it is based.
Namely, I met Women in Black three years ago at one of their seminars. I knew that they were some kind of peace group committed to conscientious objection and that was supporting deserters. That was all. After the first experience, my interest grew; I was fascinated with every text I read, every book, and every principle of the group… Then, it began. Actually, I started with talking to people around me about Women in Black. An unexpected number of prejudices came over me, but the biggest was: How can I, as a man, be in a women’s group?
I have asked myself this question after three years of activism in Women in Black.
However, after several years of experience, I have come to the conclusion that there are a few very important things that join women and men in feministic-antimilitaristic engagement.
First: feminism and antimilitarism are not a question of one’s sex or gender
Every war is equally brutal in relation to women and men, with regard that women are more ready to realize it and accept it as a horrible fact. Also, besides (most of) the men who wage war, there is part of them who resist war and do not feel violence as their nature. In addition to realizing, women also speak about the experience of war. This fact is very important. We live in a world where the notion of war is left to be unspoken about, especially from the gender perspective. Although it seems like war is something spoken about from the outside, there is a small number of those who will oppose it, especially when talking about men. The model that women have offered, that is, to speak about war from personal experience or feelings, is one that encourages and brings change. It brings change in the sense of raising awareness among men that military service and war are not given by nature and, on the contrary, they are the choice of destruction.
Second: women and “different” men are constantly under the pressure of patriarchy
Women are for sure the major marginalized group in the world. Right after them are “different” men. The diversity among men is reflected in many issues, but inside the politics of militarism (as one of the leading politics of masculinity) important aspects are refusing war, man’s awareness about war, responsibility towards peace, desertion, conscientious objection…as well as many other important differences inside one gender, such as gay men: sensibilized, anti-sexists, antinationalists, etc. Geographically, the space where Women in Black, Belgrade is active has been for more than a decade contaminated by war and militarization, and so the level of non-acceptance of diversity is high. The personal experience of Women in Black activists has proved this for years. No matter their sexual orientation or any other allegiance, every activist has felt some aspect of patriarchal oppression: underestimation, violence, mobilization, exclusion… However, that is the reason for us all to stay together with Women in Black – to resist patriarchy (especially when you feel it yourself), undermine its foundations, constantly destabilize it, pointing to it and transforming our diversity into an element of political action. One of the unique characteristics of Women in Black is that the group has from the beginning attracted gay men, gay pacifists who gave a political dimension to the oppression of their sexuality, above all by including militarism/war as significant factors of that repression.
Demilitarization can be accomplished in many ways, and one of the most important is through the promotion of different opinions in relation to majority. Men who are Women in Black activists are constantly doing this.
Third: educational space – the space of time
Many feminist groups are closed to men. Women in Black is one of the uncommon groups that do accept men. This is very important to mention. “Women change women” is one of the beloved feministic paroles, but women in a similar manner can change men also. We all have prejudices, especially about ourselves, but if there is a space in which we are given, without any accusation, the possibility to recognize and change ourselves, then there is a space that can influence the wider change of society as well. Women in Black points to paternalism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, militancy, macho positions, power…but simultaneously does two important things: they do not accuse, and they give space and time for recognition and change. Many men had the chance to meet gay men for the first time inside this group, to meet different, Other men. In this way, one women’s space that accepts men at the same time becomes the space in which men are changing men. This should be used (but not exploited), because the Women in Black space is the space of feminist experience, one in which values under the same sex/gender are transformed. Today, men who are in the group are doing exactly this: they recognize themselves in patriarchy, learn, transform themselves, and, at the end, change men around them.
Forth: the promotion of universal values
The values of feminism and antimilitarism are not only so-called women’s values. It is important to mention again the fact that (anti) militarism is a very important factor that connects women and men inside Women in Black. One of the characteristics of Women in Black in the promotion of the values of feminism and antimilitarism is that they are put into the context of the general responsibility of both sexes/genders. A feminist appeal to equal rights has been promoted inside the group through equal duties towards peace and nonviolence, towards a different world without discrimination of any kind. Promotion of the values of human beings is also very important (not so characteristic of many groups and organizations), and it can be best seen in giving equal opportunities to everybody to contribute to the work of the group no matter their age, educational level, origin…
Fifth: free space for different men
Inside many mixed or men’s groups (as gay groups are) there are problems that other men do not want to be aware of or do not feel politically close with those groups/organizations. For instance, sometimes in gay groups, accepting certain gender norms or behavior is insisted upon, or political responsibility outside of gay issues is excluded, or the patriarchal hierarchy and system of values predominant…Women in Black differ by their free space for everybody to be whatever he/she is. As this concerns men, they can be whatever they feel like as long as they are close to the group’s values. It is not emotional extort by the principle “if you are not with us, you’re against us” I am talking about, but the huge space of understanding and possibility for education, deconstruction and transformation. In other words, there is a space without oppression that will dictate that someone needs to be something in order to participate in the group. Of course, values that totally differ from the feministic antimilitaristic ones cannot be accepted, but the willingness for their change can be understood as well.
The feeling of such a place is the main reason for men to join Women in Black.
Feminism succeeded in defining and separating sex and gender, but many feministic groups have remained closed to men. On the opposite side, antimilitarism did not make this division according to sex and gender.
The wars in ex-Yugoslavia have led to numerous social breakdowns: the fall of all systems of values, a deteriorating economic situation, the increasing of nationalism, discrimination, clericalism…and each one of these elements is reflected in the gender aspect. Therefore, the existent pressure of patriarchy became even stronger.
Recognizing the importance of cooperation among women and men (as well as all others) and combining the values of feminism and antimilitarism, Women in Black, Belgrade has succeeded in the creation of a safe space for understanding and solidarity, but also for common political actions of women and men. This fact is of great importance because it shows the following:
- Feminism is possible on the level of cooperation between sexes and genders;
- Demilitarization/deconstruction of traditional masculinity is possible;
- Peace and nonviolence are universal values, but at the same time particular, not given by nature;
- Women’s solidarity stimulates men to understand the values of peace and nonviolence;
- War/militarism/militarization can be rejected both by women and men;
- Safe space is universal and everyone needs it equally.
The cooperation among the sexes/genders promoted by Women in Black is of great importance for the whole Balkan region, but also worldwide. This way of cooperation, often misunderstood in public or even laughed at, nevertheless produces results: from those on the institutional level to the most intimate level of single persons. Simply because of that, it is very important to support this kind of initiative.

Dear friends,

Lots of interesting thoughts floating around here... Although they advocate opposite strategies, some of the arguments I hear point – a bit disturbingly - towards biological constructs.

Having seen the consequences of the 2002 Gujarat pogroms, during which right-wing Hindu women incited “their” men to rape and kill Muslim women, make me question the assertion that “us women we stand to sustain life, to nurture and to care” (Odile).

I don’t think the issues here are about whether “the penis is really so problematic?” (Ivana) or about so-called inherent female qualities - as in “it is our ability to give birth and intuitively nurture that separates us from men” (Linda). It is not about the penis or the womb. Otherwise, do we suggest that men who have been deliberately emasculated in conflicts are not men any longer? Or that women “who perhaps have not yet borne children or nurtured another life” are not yet ‘fully’ women. What does this say about those of us who do not seek motherhood?

The question I feel is not about essentialism, nor is it about personal antagonism (I would not have learned about gay politics in Beograd or conscientious objection in Serbia if I had not met Boban in the WiB office). It is about political experience – and a deeply personal one.

What we have in common as women (in all our diversities and with all our conflicts) is an experience of oppression - which is indeed different from the oppression & privileges brought to men by masculinity.

These specific experiences inform our strategies and our priorities in various ways. This is not to say that there is no room for collaboration and solidarity, on the contrary. Women, men and transgender people can unite in common struggles AND they can organize separately. I have engaged in mixed spaces, in women-only spaces and, more often, in women-dominated spaces and I do not see this as constituting a contradiction in my activism.

For me, the WiB vigils I have been part of are women-only spaces – and I enjoy them for providing me with just that. On the other hand, in Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) we have our couple of token men yet (for reasons I can’t really articulate) their presence does not make me see WLUML as less part of the women’s movement – go figure...

Obviously it would make a powerful statement if anti-militarist men would organize more of their own spaces – but maybe we have to recognize that in some very polarized contexts, there may not be so much scope for them to do so: London or New York is not Beograd. Although still in minority, more and more men are confronting domestic violence, in South Africa, in communities “of color” in the US or in Sri Lanka: basically in places where it would have been unthinkable only 10 or 15 years ago for men to organize collectively around those issues. But, to respond to Cynthia’s earlier question, nope, I don’t think it should be a women’s responsibility to initiate or “nurture” such developments – at least not mine. So I guess it’s ok, as Lepa puts it, “for each group to decide for herself”.

Now, just coming back to Ivana’s point: I am not sure that exclusion systematically implies discrimination; maybe it just implies difference?
Let’s think about other (and very much socially constructed) categories of difference than the penis/ womb. Like race: I respect and understand the need for black activists to gather in separate spaces – it is on the basis of their politics that I’ll assess whether they play a racist card or not. Like sexual orientation: I respect lesbian or pansexual women organizing separately during feminist conferences (that includes me). Like gender identity: I would not crash a trans space or claim it is my right to be included, unless specifically invited.

But I would welcome a trans wo/man into WiB. Here I guess there is generation playing. I do think trans inclusion is important, and can enriched feminism, but it obviously remains a problematic issue for many feminists.

Given the sad state of the world, we need movementS – mixed and non-mixed, with broad scope and narrow focus, with diplomatic as well as bold radical strategies - that inspire each other, that complement each other. And we need a women’s movement.

Ok, it was a long one!


We have been vigiling every Friday in our small northern Michigan town for about 2 1/2 years. The forth or fifth time I was standing (alone) a huge man came toward me. I was frightened until he asked if he could join me. For over two years he stood at my side, summer, fall, winter and spring. He is truely a gentle man, and the war hurts him, as it does the women who stand. Often he and I were alone. For over a year there have been three women who stand regularly. Joe has moved and we miss him very much.

Peace Waits. Jo Anne

Thank you all for your wise and informative comments. I am writing my thesis on women's peace groups and including perspectives on the value of women's only peace groups and the importance of a gender analysis. I have worked both in women's only peace groups and in mixed gender peace coalitions. I have not encountered any sexist attitudes in the mixed peace coalition and the men are a joy to work with, but I do simultaneously support the existence of women only peace groups.

It was mentioned at a local women's only peace group meeting here in Halifax that regardless of the wonderful men who work in them, mixed peace groups do not deal with the pervasive sexism that women face on a daily basis in our society. The small amount of women-only space we have gained globally is sought to be co-opted by men, as is evidenced by the upsurge in economic and religuous fundamentalisms which downplay the rights of women. I believe that until women have established an autonous voice, via safe, suportive, women centred spaces, where new methods for working towards and an alternative vision for peace can be established, this separate space is essential.

Male entitlement and privilege, is so often internalized by men that they themselves are unconsciouss of the role it plays in their relationships with women. Unless they have a thorough understanding of feminism, women run the risk of even "nice" men bringing patriarchal values into our peace groups and decentering a feminist agenda. Even as women we often internalize elements of the patriarchal culture we live in and these safe spaces, free from sancions can allow us to divest ourselfes of power-over ways of relating to eachother and formulate life-affirming methods of communication. I see animosity among women as one of the saddest evidences of internalized patriarchy. We sometimes unwittingly weaken relationships with those who could be our greatest allies and strenghs: other women! I have also participated in some incredibly positive experiences where the positive echanges of ideas and energy flowed and provided the groundwork for many successful actions in the peace movement. These spaces can facilitate the building of a strong foundation from which we can develop a feminist analysis of the global webs of oppression that perpetuates war. Ironically, it is the shared experience of oppression that binds women together worldwide and creates the necessity of conscioussness raising goups in order to transcend it. Because women and men's lived experience of oppression is different, I believe that until a place of equality is achieved, men need to develop their own critique of patriarchal culture and ways to deal with it. I see this as not being done in binary opposition to but simply FOR women.

I disagree with Boban that war is equally brutal in relation women and men. While it may be in the spiritual sense, women have to deal with the material reality of being used as collateral in war. Rape is still used as a weapon of war, the bodies of women used to demonstrate power and ownership. Their bodies are dehumanized and objectified, it is not about them as persons but done to them merely to express ownership to the opponent. It is the same mindset that is at the root of capitalist globalization which commodifies every aspect of women's existence, including our sexuality. There is a strong resistance to women taking up any space of their own on the planet which would allow them to define and strengthen their identities as women; a separate intity from men. Women's only spaces need not be seen as reacting to -either for or against men. They are simply for women. The actualization and empowerment of over 50% of the world's population would benefit the human race as a whole, and with hope put an end to the planetary destruction which is on the rise.
The goal in incluseveness, but can only be participated in from a place of equality. Women need to develp our knowledge and skills to act from a subjective, independent place of their own center, not a reactionary place of objection. The right of self-actualization is positive in and of itself and should be a given in the life of every human being. True connection can only occur from a place of wholeness, not symbiotic need, conjuring up an immediate hierarchy or power-over dynamic. I agree with the statement that our power is in our unity; the power to create a new system based on values of inclusiveness, sharing and life-affirming solutions to replace and transform the present system of greed, accumulation and power over violence.
Men's kindness needs to be appreciated and actualized by challenging patriarchal oppression and respecting women's right to reclaim and celebrate their own space on the planet in order to develop an alternative culture of peace via a new feminist paradigm. I hope that from a place of true centredness we can go beyond analyzing patriarchal gender imbalances and put our energies and time into focusing on what we do want to create in a peaceful world.
Hope it wasn't too rambling - good luck!
Sarah Morgan

Dear friends,

I am reading these contributions carefully as they pop up into this webspace day by day. It is an exciting moment to log on and see who's been visiting and what thoughtful and thought-provoking things they are writing. Thanks everyone! Keep going - I am learning a great deal, perhaps others are too.


Good morning sisters,

It is morning, somewhere... I read through all the posts and was touched by most all of them, as they touched on why I stand with WiB here in a small conservative city only an hour from Washington, DC: Whether because or in spite of being a man, I cannot say. Just as I would have to say i too am a "different" man, although I could give not easy or categorical explanation.

I had many thoughts while reading, but at the risk of declaring myself a "needy man", I will offer a poem; it has as much or more claim to "my" voice as anything analytical I could contribute:


I believe in causes
As does the hopeless man
Who watched “them” shred his leaders
And then how they shredded each other
To confetti under the stars.

I believe in Man
Although I am only one
Nearly half a woman
Barely knows what's human
Or even what is what.

I believe in God
– Oh, this one is odd! –
Not even not at all:
Merely in the whirlwind
Where dervishes allemand.

I believe in you, child.
Can't dance too much round that.
Except believe's not right. Let that
Be love. Though it move no mountain.
Though you pay no attention.

I believe, I believe: Words words
As make me grieve. Yet I
May not go
Where creatures know. And so
My credo. My love. Just so.

-- David Wolinsky

dear sisters and brothers...
this email before from july 29 2005 is completely interesting...hahaha...life is strange...
i hug you all,

Dear Dr Cockburn,

Preparing a seminar on sociology of technology at the Univ of Edinburgh I came to read one of your works. Afterwards, I had a look at your web site and read you prefer not to include men in your meetings. So why do you include Marx in your analysis which are predominantly marxists and...are you able to define 'man' or 'woman' in a postmodern society? I am unsure about those boundaries. I am man...but unsure too.

Thanks for any comment.

Dear Alberto,

I am so sorry to have delayed so long (almost six months!!) in responding to your comment. You say, if we exclude men from our organizing groups, why cite Marx who was a man?

Organizing as women only doesn't mean one doesnt value men, their persons, lives and thoughts. On the contrary. How much poorer the world would be if we only had women's literature or creations!!

It just means that sometimes when a group is oppressed in a particular way they benefit from getting together, for some purposes, without the oppressor group.

Would you deny the validity of black people sometimes saying they want to organize for certain purposes in the absence of white people?

Best wishes, Cynthia

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