No One Wants to Live on Womyn's Lands

Illustration for article titled No One Wants to Live on Womyns Lands
Screenshot: HOWL Facebook

The brutally expensive cost of housing in many American cities means that more young people than ever are living with roommates or even in dorm-like setups, which begs the question, how come communes aren’t making a comeback?

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A recent New York Times piece asks that question specifically as it pertains to lands across the US owned by and designated specifically for womyn-centric groups created, primarily, as “rural lesbian utopias in the 1960s.” As the founding members of these communities age, they’re having a difficult time finding new members to keep the communities alive. A couple of the younger visitors to these spaces interviewed in the piece are around 35 years old and report often being the youngest in their groups by about two decades.

The Times interviewed many of the proprietors and residents of the spaces, who provided a lot of possible answers: The communes that once eschewed social media and self-promotion out of privacy concerns are now too behind and too cash-strapped to know where to begin. In places like Vermont, some residents of these international communities believe that not as many people are looking to escape the patriarchy as they once were. Others say it’s easier for lesbians to connect with one another in the world at large than it was 50 years ago.

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But one current that seems to run through a lot of the answers given to the Times seems to be that the residents feel cast off and ignored by younger generations of women: “Young women have never wanted to learn from old women,” one resident, who was forced to remain closeted for fear her children would be taken away, told the Times. “We are invisible to them. They’ve always been told that old women are worthless.”

However, the Times doesn’t mention an obvious problem for the communities until the very end of its coverage, most people need money to survive:

And it’s not just about age. These communities were primarily founded by white women, and they continue to occupy them in the greatest numbers. According to Dr. Keridwen Luis, an anthropologist and the author of “Herlands,” some feminists called the alternative living structures a “middle-class response” that low-income women of color simply didn’t have access to.

Women were really, really trying to get away from a capitalist-minded mentality,” Dr. Luis said. “But it does come down to the fundamental problem of, how do you get the land in the first place? That kind of thing shapes the kind of end result of the community that you’ve got.’

And the article, titled “Why Doesn’t Anyone Want to Live in This Perfect Place?” does not really fully explain who can and cannot live in these communities:

Others take issue with policies that exclude bisexual and transgender women, or fear a group of older women won’t be welcoming. “Younger demographics tend to assume that older generations are less forward-thinking,’” Dr. Luis said.”

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And while the piece names one community that welcomes “anyone who identifies as a woman” and mentions another that has “no formal policy regarding trans women” it doesn’t specifically explain these policies or speak to why they might be detrimental to communities desperately seeking new members. Excluding a longer discussion of these ideas seems like a pretty big oversight in a piece that declares these spaces “perfect” and purports to be investigating why younger people don’t visit them.

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DISCUSSION

accesskathryn
accesskathryn

First of all: “...some residents of these international communities....” I think you mean “intentional communities.”

That said, it sounds like the womyns’ lands discussed in the “Times” article are having a hard time attracting new members for all the reasons discussed in the article itself and in the comments here: it’s easier to live openly as a lesbian than it was when these communities were founded, younger women have student loans to pay and can’t afford to live in the middle of nowhere with a paucity of career opportunities, there’s a generation gap (yes, I’m glossing over that one).

I find the opening of the Jez article to be intriguing:

The brutally expensive cost of housing in many American cities means that more young people than ever are living with roommates or even in dorm-likesetups, which begs the question, how come communes aren’t making a comeback 

...and it’s only partially answered in the discussion of the Times article, which of course focuses on lesbian communes.

There were all kinds of communes in the 60s and 70s, including ones in urban areas. I’m thinking of the Berkeley commune Ruth Reichl lived in in the 70s, which she describes in “Tender at the Bone” and “Comfort Me with Apples.” The members had low-paying and/or part-time jobs, but were able to buy a large house together by pooling their resources. Can you imagine such a group of people getting together enough money to buy such a house in the Bay Area (or most urban areas) today? Real estate prices have soared in real dollars, while the minimum wage has shrunk.

(Yes, this was a group of white, middle class college graduates who may or may not have been able to rely on their families for help. (I don’t think Reichl discusses that, tbh). Still, they were able to get a mortgage as a group even though many of them were underemployed. In today’s economy, they probably wouldn’t qualify with the jobs and income they had.)

And then...how well would communal life among millennials work out? Sharing space (and bathrooms), dividing household chores, paying the collective bills. One issue mixed-sex communes of the 60s and 70s had had was a patriarchal division of labor, where the women did the household chores while the men dictated the lifestyle...and didn’t do the chores. Would it be more equal now? I really wonder. I don’t want to trot out the dumb stereotypes of selfish, clueless millennials because that’s what they are...dumb stereotypes.

Just some thoughts on a Sunday evening.