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From the perspective of prefeminist or nonfeminist lesbians e. From the radical feminist perspective, the older prefeminist lesbians were problematic because they reproduced heterosexual normativity in their femininity and butchness. Definite tensions existed between those who choose lesbian life for reasons of desire and those who choose it for feminist politics; each group imagined the other was inauthentic.

For some lesbians, feminism and its rage against men were the reason behind the sexual preference, the ground of possibility for loving women. For others, feminism was the enemy, the movement that sought to eliminate maleness from culture and butchness from lesbian culture. In the early days of my coming out, I distinctly remember being aware of the conflicts between these worlds and being aware of the fact that both factions drew me in. I remember going to lesbian feminist meetings at various women centers, and then to the local lesbian bar to hang out with the women who wore slicked-back hair and black penny loafers.

For the most part, I think I hid my dual involvement from both sides as much as possible even from an older butch I dated for several months. I was young and both communities were willing to let me try out their worlds for a while. I think if feminism hadn't been there to legitimate lesbianism for me, I would have found my way to those bars and those butches eventually anyway.

But feminism did find me; it gave me yet another way to understand the politics behind my sexual preference, and eventually it won me over. I moved to Durham in , then, precisely because the women's community there was thriving. In the first five years of my life in the triangle area, I witnessed the birth or existence of the following: a women's health center, which provided services from abortion to feminist therapy; a rape crisis center; a battered women's shelter; women's studies programs at all three major universities in the area; an alternative medicine center; women-owned businesses, including an auto mechanic, a bookstore, several self-defense gyms or organizations, printing presses, carpentry companies, restaurants, and snack shops; as well as social and spiritual organizations such as a lesbian twelve-step meeting, Wicca and other women's spirituality groups; and many, many radio shows, much music, films, dance, poetry readings, and other performing arts.

Not all these establishments were peopled exclusively by lesbians, but a definite acceptance and perhaps even valorization of lesbians circulated. Many of us thought that by avoid ing men and building a parallel, alternative culture, we were changing the world.

What is POLITICAL LESBIANISM? What does POLITICAL LESBIANISM mean? POLITICAL LESBIANISM meaning

I moved into a neighborhood in west Durham that was known for its progressiveness and was very quickly absorbed into the network of friendships, meetings, potluck suppers, and dances that existed there. I managed to live most of my daily life avoiding men all together, and spent most of my social time reading, dreaming, planning, talking, and writing about the beauty of a world run only by women.

Throughout the early s, I lived in various settings, mostly sharing households with other lesbians. In every room I lived in, one thing was constant. Among my books and growing number of records, I had a framed sign quoting "The Woman-Identified Woman," written in by Radicalesbians, a New York group that predated the radical feminism I was living in the middle of but one that presaged sentiments to come.

I have it still, packed away in a trunk in my garage. I pull it out now; it reads: A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.

Identity Politics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

She is the woman who, often beginning at an extremely early age, acts in accordance with her inner compulsion to be a more complete and freer human being than her society cares to allow. These needs and actions, over a period of years, bring her into painful conflict with people, situations, the accepted ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, until she is in a state of continual war with everything around her, and usually with her self.

She may not be fully conscious of the political implications of what for her began as a personal necessity, but on some level she has not been able to accept the limitations and oppression laid on her by the most basic role of her society--the female role To the extent that she cannot expel the heavy socialization that goes with being female, she can never truly find peace with herself.

For she is caught somewhere between accepting society's view of her--in which case she cannot accept herself--and co ming to understand what this sexist society has done to her and why it is functional and necessary for her to do so. I am stirred by this plaque it almost feels like a framed diploma, a recognition of some duty performed , I am captured by the places and desires it conjures.


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I go looking for more information about the Radicalesbians and other groups that set the stage for the radical feminism that engulfed me. I pull down my dog-eared copy of Alice Echols's Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, , and once again go searching through this text to find an ancestry that does not blame my cohorts for its downfall. Echols's Daring to Be Bad traces the ways that early radicals broke off from the New Left in order to extend leftist arguments to women. Groups such as New York Radical Women, Cell 16, Redstockings, Radicalesbians, and The Feminists formed spontaneously all over the country and were active in bringing socialist politics into women's issues.

Mostly heterosexual but very prosex , these women were invested in refashioning the sexual revolution to be more friendly toward women. They didn't object to lesbianism in the same way that many liberals did; in fact, many early radical feminists identified as lesbian.

However, according to Echols, lesbianism was not for them a way to manifest feminist politics. Indeed, Echols argues that in focusing their politics on lifestyle issues, the activism of feminists after was void of serious structural potential. In her words, [B]y the early '70s radical feminism began to flounder, and after it was eclipsed by cultural feminism--a tendency that grew out of radical feminism, but contravened much that was fundamental to it.

With the rise of cultural feminism the movement turned its attention away from opposing male supremacy to creating a female counterculture--what Mary Daly termed "new space"--where "male' values would be exorcised and 'female" values nurtured. Although this woman--only space was envisioned as a kind of culture of active resistance, it often became, as Adrienne Rich has recently pointed out, "a place of emigration, and end in itself' where patriarchy was evaded rather than engaged.

Concomitantly, the focus became one of personal rather than social transformation. One of the radical feminists that Echols interviews remembers the moment when women began "boasting, 'we worked on our car all weekend,' as though it were an act of great political significance. As Echols concludes from this car illustration, "by radical feminism virtually ceased to exist as a movement. In the end, both the woman's movement and the larger Movement suffered as the idea that the personal is political was often interpreted in a way that made questions of lifestyle absolutely central.

Works Cited

I do not disagree with Echols's analysis of the competing ideologies here. I do not even disagree with her descriptions of the differences. What I do disagree with intensely is her interpretation and evaluation of the world of late s' and s' radical feminism what she calls cultural feminism. We were not socialists, because we believed that too much focus on things like workers and owners would suck us into the muck of patriarchy. We were not Marxists because we believed that true liberation accompanied the transcendence of men and the material realities they had created.

We were not interested in building coalition with men around leftist issues; we wanted only to organize our lives to be free of their patronizing dominance. Mary Daly's writing captured, for me, the hope involved in this women-centered organizing: What is happening is an emergence of woman-consciousness such as has never before taken place. It is unimaginative and out of touch with what is happening in the woman's movement to assume that the becoming of women will simply mean uncritical acceptance of structures, beliefs, symbols, norms, and patterns of behavior that have been given priority by society under male domination.

Rather, this becoming will act as catalyst for radical change in What is at stake is a real leap in human evolution, initiated by women. Indeed, in her later works, Daly explicitly challenged the validity of materialist and socialist politics from a radical women-centered point of view.

For her, feminist activism should be centered on the poetic quest of finding a female reality deeper than that created by men.

Review of Identity Politics: Lesbian Feminism and the Limits of Community by Shane Phelan

In a world where all men--and their words, materialities, and ideas--constituted the biggest threat to women and to women's liberation, the greatest political action that could be conceived was to separate from all men and put our energies solely into women. As Shane Phelan summarizes, "by sleeping with women, lesbians [of the s and s] expressed their commitment to a world that values women.

One's body and its desires became a more reliable guide to one's loyalties than words or public deeds. It is characterized by a feeling of a world dissolving, and by a feeling of disengagement and re-engagement of one's power as perceiver Woman-loving, as a spontaneous and habitual orientation of attention is inimical to the maintenance of reality. In the frame of our ideology, we were more political and more radical than earlier feminists who had been associated with materialism.

Additionally, Nancy Whittier argues that her research in the lesbian community of Columbus, Ohio, resists the declension narrative found in Echols's work. Whittier argues that if we focus on the presence of women organizing rather than explicit commitments to materialism, radical feminism looks much more like a continuous movement. Verta Taylor and Leila Rupp agree with Whittier. Also working in the lesbian community of Columbus, Taylor and Rupp suggest that the cultural feminist communities that Echols critiques have in fact "forged a rich and complex resistance culture and style of politics that nourishes rather than betrays the radical feminist vision.

Queer theory

The point here is that essentialist ideology was, for many of us for a very long time, a very viable politic. It was not a theory that only a few crazy people believed, it was not espoused by only a few authors that have since become the essentialist straw figures. Rather, the ideas that women were superior and that a new world could be built on that superiority dominated feminist politics, at least in Durham and I suspect in many other locations as well, for fifteen years.

Moreover, the people who believed in the importance of women-centered analysis put feminism on the cultural map of America. Throughout the s and s, most feminists organized themselves around bookstores, concerts, readings, dances, and other cultural events much more so than around the legislative work of liberal feminists. We cannot understand the history or theory of contemporary feminism without a deep appreciation for the infrastructure built by radical feminism. The radical feminist community that existed in Durham was white, middle-class, and had tacitly agreed never to disagree about most issues.

People dressed mostly the same, ate the same foods, cut their hair the same, had the same social activities; the strength of our community was built on the very vulnerable assumption that being lesbian was enough to hold us all together. By claiming the shared status of victim in male, heterosexual culture, we thought we could overlook or deny racial, ethnic, religious, class, geographic, and many other differences. However, although the community in Durham at first seemed to me like a seamless, safe haven from patriarchy, it became clear very quickly that fractures and problems existed at many different levels.

The first signs of these fissures appeared several years after I moved to Durham and manifested themselves in conversations about what counted as a real radical feminist. Around , we started asking each other to declare primary or even sole allegiance to "the women's community. We began policing ourselves in order to guarantee that our members were faithful to the principle of putting women first. By the mids, it had become clear that most generalizations about women did not hold true especially across racial, class, or ethnicity lines.

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African American lesbians and other lesbians of color told white radical feminists in no uncertain terms that the female nature they had theorized did not represent difference. As white, middle-class lesbian feminists read their works, we began to realize that the things we thought of as essential to womanness--and upon which our lesbian feminist politics had been built-largely described white, middle-class women.

Thus, throughout the s, the lesbian feminist idea of a unique female nature slowly began to grow thin, to lose substance and texture. Not surprisingly, then, the first site of fracture in Durham occurred primarily over race. By , my particular friend group--which at that time included two Black women--was locked in struggle over racial issues. As long as Dee and Sandy identified themselves primarily as women, we all were in harmony When, however, they began to use race as a category of political analysis, when they declared that they--as Black lesbian women--were more oppressed than the rest of us, things began to deteriorate.

Drawing our attention to racism meant putting us white lesbians in the role of oppressor, a role with which we had no experience or history Our community was founded on the belief that we--as women--were oppressed, so much so that identification as the oppressor then seemed impossible.