Female Friends Forever: Looking at Adrienne Rich’s Lesbian Continuum, 30 Years Later

What’s wrong with feminism? Lately it seems like we’re getting it from all sides, including from inside. We’ve gone from “This is what a feminist looks like” to “I’m not a feminist, but…” Lesbian feminists have highlighted ‘mainstream’ feminists’ homophobia, while some heterosexual feminists have rushed to distance themselves from those “angry lesbians.” The feminist blogosphere, supposedly that great equaliser in feminist discourse, has often faced repeated charges from within and without of reinforcing oppressions such as racism, classism and heteronormativity.

These are not new challenges. Feminism’s growing pains have been well-documented. Beginning in the 1970s and ’80s, heterosexual, middle-class, cis, white Western women feminists have been repeatedly called up on centering their own issues and forced to recognise that their needs just might not necessarily be the needs of say, a Black woman, a lesbian woman, a trans woman, a Muslim woman or a disabled woman.

In 1980, Adrienne Rich wrote the essay ‘Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence’ as an answer to the rifts that were developing between women in the previous decade, as an attempt to reinforce the personal and political bonds between women. As this year is the 30th anniversary of this monumentally important, monumentally beautiful work, it seems fitting – even necessary – to return to Rich’s words to see what wisdom they may have for us today.

It was not Rich’s goal to encourage women to give up on men and sleep with women, nor is it mine. Her goal was to get women – both straight and lesbian – to reorient their lives around other women in ways that were available to some lesbian communities but not necessarily to other women.

“Feminism has not given most women a picture of a feminist society that could replace the one grounded in patriarchy and all of the myriad systems that combine to divide women from each other – from classism and racism, to ableism, nationalism, homophobia and transphobia.”

Lesbian feminism/political lesbianism has a fraught history and its relations with ‘mainstream’ and/or ‘hetero’ feminism have always been strained. In the 1970s, some revolutionary feminists, seeing the widespread violence and oppression that seemed, to some, inherent in heterosexuality, began calling on all women to be(come) lesbians.

A 2009 Guardian piece described the publication in 1981 of ‘Love Your Enemy: The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism’: “Love Your Enemy’ was authored by a group of Leeds feminists and said that “all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.” It goes on to say: “We think serious feminists have no choice but to abandon heterosexuality.”

Political lesbianism came under fire, as to be expected, from feminists and non-feminists alike. Lesbian feminists experienced hostility from heterosexual feminists, who took offense at being placed on a “lower order” of feminism because of their sexuality, as well as from lesbians who feared hostility from heterosexual feminists and a subsequent rupturing of the feminist movement.

Others thought that the classification of lesbianism as a political decision was cold-blooded and did not adequately describe the real emotions and relationships of and between women. Bea Campbell argued, according to The Guardian article, that political lesbianism was founded not on the love of women but on the fear and hatred of men. And Lynne Segal said that the media pounced on ‘Love Your Enemy’ and its authors, seeing an opportunity to identify it with feminism as a whole and thus derail the whole movement.

Although there are still women who identify with political lesbianism and praise its philosophy, today most young women and feminists do not consider this kind of feminism a viable or helpful social or political tool.

Indeed, some young feminists take active steps to distance themselves from lesbian stereotypes.

I think, however, that if we strip lesbian feminism down to its core – to its advocacy of women-oriented female spaces, women-identified women, and an appreciation of the inequalities and violences that still permeate the heterosexual institution – we might find a lot of things worth keeping around. What Adrienne Rich’s work did was to strip away a lot of the misconceptions and pre-conceptions of what lesbianism was – that you had to hate men, that you had to have sex with women – and to expand the definition of lesbian to, simply, a woman who loved women. And what is a feminist if not a woman who loves women? If we want to save feminism, and I do think feminism needs saving, we’ve got to get back to that basic simple truth. Women have got to start loving women again.

Feminists have not been doing a great job of being “women-loving women”. Even the most cursory glance through current feminist discourse reveals deep ruptures in feminism. Earlier this year, Chloe Angyal wrote an article in The Guardian’s Comment is Free section entitled ‘You’re not a Feminist….but’, in which she describes, and criticises, the fear of the ‘F-word’ that has afflicted so many modern women. Women are busting balls and busting down doors, they believe in women’s rights and equal pay, they condemn violence against women – but they are unlikely to claim the identity “feminist”.

Why is this? “In the popular imagination,” Angyal says, “feminists are still the ugly, angry extremists who killed chivalry and who seek not gender equality, but world domination.”

Who would want others to think of them this way? Not I. Secondly, “Feminism demands a complete overhaul of how we think, how we behave, how we talk, where we work, what media we consume, how we vote and how we raise our families. For women and for men, feminism is a dramatic shift away from the way things have always been.”

In short, so many women aren’t “feminists” because they don’t identify with popular conceptions of what a “feminist” is and because identifying as a feminist means dismantling everything they know.

How women should organise their emotions?
Where – and to whom – do their loyalties lie? How should the family be organised?

I agree with Angyal. But I can’t really blame women who don’t identify as feminists. Women don’t turn away from feminism because they don’t identify with other “feminists” or because they’re afraid to make a splash; women turn away from feminism because the feminist movement, as yet, has not given most of them an alternative vision, a picture of a feminist society, a support network that could replace the one grounded in patriarchy and all of the myriad systems that combine to support patriarchy and divide women from each other – from classism and racism, to ableism, nationalism, homophobia and transphobia. Women do not have enough to identify with, or to turn towards, after they make, as Angyal says, the “dramatic shift away from the way things have always been”. They aren’t women-identified, they don’t have women-oriented spaces, and they still rely on heterosexual institutions to give them the love and fulfillment they need.

Wait, you might say: of course the feminist movement provides a woman-oriented support system. Well, read Renee Martin’s response to Angyal and you might change your mind. Martin explains that one of the reasons women eschew the term feminist is its history of white privilege. “I’m not a feminist”, she says, “because my life experiences led me to believe that feminism was not created for women like me.” That is, women of colour. Instead she chooses to identify with womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker as an alternative to feminism, on the basis feminism does not encompass black woman’s experiences (back in 1983, these are not new debates). Womanism values and recognises black woman’s experiences and relationships with one another, their relationships with black men, and, says Martin, comes from a place of self-love. According to Martin, when it comes to feminism, “sisterhood and camaraderie lasts only as long as you don’t insist on interrogating oppression from multiple sites” – in other words, as long as you don’t bring up issues such as race and class.

Okay, okay. But what, you might say, does any of this have to do with lesbianism? Well it does. Because what we’re really talking about – whether it’s how feminism should interact with race, with class, or with different sexual identities – is how feminism should be lived. And when you talk about how feminism should be lived, what you’re really talking about is how women should live with other women. What should the bonds between women look like? How women should organise their emotions? Where – and to whom – do their loyalties lie? How should the family be organised? What should they base their choices on? It’s not enough that we, as Angyal suggests, shift away from patriarchy – and other oppressions such as classism, and racism. We must shift towards something else entirely. It is in this respect that Adrienne Rich offers us a vision of feminist society in her concept of the “lesbian continuum”.

Heterosexual and bisexual readers, before you say: “Well I’m not a lesbian, this doesn’t apply to me”… read on.

Rich’s conceived of the “lesbian continuum” as a “political affiliation that can re-establish those lost same-sex loyalties by uniting women – heterosexual, bisexual and lesbian – in a mutual, woman-focused vision”. She wanted to do away with “male-identification” – or the casting of allegiances with men – and patriarchy – in such a way that men become the primary signifier of meaning, value and possibility culturally, socially, intellectually and politically. She quotes Kathleen Barry as describing male-identification as “the act whereby women place men above women, including themselves in credibility, status and importance in most situations, regardless of the comparative quality the women may bring to the situation…interaction with women is seen as a lesser form of relating on every level.”

Right off the top of my head I can think of dozens of examples of male-identification that many women – and I include myself – do every day. There’s the need to be beautiful, sexy or desirable to a man to feel beautiful, sexy or desirable at all. There’s the valuing of romantic relationships over female friendships. Or the notion that you should make decisions about where to live, what job to take, when or if to have kids and how to raise them based solely on your spouse, instead of on your mother, your sister, your best friend. Or the drive to enter the male-world instead of transforming it, to achieve male-defined success instead of changing the definition of what a successful life is – for example, by rising up the corporate ladder by working 80-hour weeks, instead of changing the nature of paid work itself to be more family-life-woman friendly.

That being said, how can you expect straight women to act or to think any differently when so much of social, political and emotional life is organised around heterosexual institutions, including the nuclear family – to the detriment of other, enriching forms of social interaction.

Consider this: between 1985 and 2004 US citizens reported a marked decline in the number of people with whom they discussed important, intimate matters and fewer close relationships with co-workers, extended family members, friends and neighbors. The only person with whom more people reported a tendency to discuss intimate matters was their spouse. Two-thirds of British married people would turn to a spouse first when they needed emotional help. Only 13% would turn to a relative or friend first. Stephanie Coontz reports that the number of people who depended totally on their spouse for conversations about intimate, important matters – i.e. who had no other close, regular emotional ties – doubled from 5% to 9.4%. The number of people who reported that they didn’t have anyone to talk to – even their spouse – tripled. The number of US people socialising outside of work has declined by 25% since 1965.

This is a relatively new phenomenon. According to Coontz, even up to the Victorian era “men wrote matter-of-factly about retiring to bed with a male roommate…and upright Victorian matrons thought nothing of kicking their husbands out of bed when a female friend came to visit. They spent the night kissing, hugging and pouring out their innermost thoughts.” It was the influence of Freudianism that caused society to begin to suspect, and discourage, powerful same-sex friendships. The cult of marriage that developed in the post-WWII era – the notion that all fulfillment, friendship and intimacy could come through the nuclear family – didn’t help matters much. Now Coontz says, as people “lose wider face-to-face ties that built social trust, they become more dependent on romantic relationships for intimacy and deep communication, and more vulnerable to isolation if a relationship breaks down”.

The result of this is a real lack of places from which women can mobilise, politically and personally, against patriarchy. Using the Greek definition of the erotic as the “personification of love”, Audre Lorde argues that the erotic connects all women as women. It is patriarchy and heteronormativity, racism and classism that cuts these ties. In 2007, I produced a paper that studied the correlation between feminist identifications and social capital. I found that there was a strong link between having a strong social network of women – mothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, co-workers, friends – and identifying as a feminist. I was struck by how lonely the women who did not identify as a feminist were. They had far fewer regular contact with other women, who could act as role models or provide emotional support.

It seems necessary to me that we re-examine, as women, feminists or womanists, where our loyalties lie and how we organise our emotional life

Patriarchy has never operated alone. It has always used other oppressions such as racism and classism to subjugate women; one of the ways it has done so is to divide women from one another. Patriarchy throws divides up to distract women from its own operations and from the role it plays in creating those race/class divides. This is not to say that those divides aren’t real; rather, that they are constructed, that they have – in the most basic sense of the word – a his-story. We need to reorient our lives around women. As Rich says, woman identification is “a source of energy, a potential spring board of female power, curtailed and contained under the institution of heterosexuality – the denial of reality and visibility to women’s passion for women, women’s choice of women as allies, life companions, and community, the forcing of such relationships into dissimilation and their disintegration under intense pressure have meant an incalculable loss to the power of all women to change the social relations of the sexes, to liberate ourselves and each other.”

So where do we go from here? In sum, it seems necessary to me that we re-examine, as women, feminists or womanists, where our loyalties lie and how we organise our emotional life. We need to develop and maintain ties with other women. We need to develop our cognitive connections with other women, including women who do not share our beliefs or experiences, or who come from a different race, class, sexuality, nation, religion, or ethnicity.

If we sequester exclusively ourselves within our race, class, religion, sexual identity – or any of the other identities that keep women from one another – then we doom ourselves to continually re-enact the sad, violent histories that created these identities. Lorde says that “the considered phrase ‘it feels right to me’ acknowledges the strength of the erotic” for “the erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.” In other words, self-love yields self-knowledge, and self-knowledge yields love for others. My self-knowledge, my self-love, and my love for other women, as women, tells me that there is more that unites us than divides us. It just feels right to me.

‘Rainbow flag’ photo from the No on 8 rally at Boston City Hall, November 15, 2008, taken by Flickr user qwrrty. Picture of Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, Adrienne Rich (1980) taken by Flickr user K. Kendall. Picture from Greenham Common from Flickr user Your Greenham.

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Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, 30 Years Later is republished with permission from The F-Word, an online magazine dedicated to discussing ideas on contemporary UK feminism. From their mission statement:

“This webzine exists to help encourage a new sense of community among UK feminists, and to show the doubters that feminism still exists here, today, now – and is as relevant to the lives of the younger generation as it was to those in the 60s and 70s.”

A.J. Conroy is currently pursuing a Masters in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

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AJ has written 1 articles for us.

42 Comments

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      I think that men can be feminists as well, but in a completely different way than women are. And I don’t think that acknowledging that fact is important within this particular article that is entirely about strengthening the bonds between women.

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    Nice to see something like this on AS!

    Not every feminist article/book/post/etc. has to mention men to be valid and worthy of consideration.

    Peanut gallery suggestions- citing the the difference between US & UK feminism in the 70s-80s. Also, mentioning The Lavender Menace would be interesting for those that don’t know the history.

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      I agree that it doesn’t have to talk about men to be worth a look. I think we all know that men can be feminists, but this article doesn’t have to mention that to be a compelling or interesting read.

      I also found myself wondering a bit about the differences between UK feminism and US feminism presently, especially with the commentary on contemporary feminism coming from the UK media but most of the historical facts/documents coming from the US.

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        Agreed, and I think the compulsion to mention men is pretty strange in this context. I get enough attention for being a dude and I don’t need a pat on the head for being a feminist.
        Regarding national differences, I feel like Finnish people do tend to have close same-sex friendships but I still hear the “I’m not a feminist but…” speech A LOT.
        Actually though, what I wanted to say was this article is good.

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    I appreciate a lot of this article, and I agree that there is a lot of changing to do in society before we are anywhere near freeing ourselves from a patriarchal system.

    One thing about this that makes me wary is using the term “lesbian” to describe all women who have strong emotional connections with other women (which is I think what was being said but I could be completely off base). Because what about those of us who do sleep with other women? What does that leave us to call ourselves? While I agree that there needs to be more of an interconnectivity between the struggles of straight and gay women, women of different social classes, and women of different races, there is a strong distinction in my mind between a feminist or womanist and a lesbian. While I am a woman who has strong connections with the women of my family (I’m very close with my mother, my sister-in-law and aunts) because we live in a heterosexist society, I feel like it’s important to be able to distinguish ourselves from women who are wired to share themselves with men in a way that I never will. It doesn’t mean in my mind that we need to necessarily separate ourselves from straight women, just that it’s important to keep the gay community strong in that way. If we lived in a society free of homophobia, however, I would be all for the eradication of any sexual identity label.

    I’m not entirely sure the point I was trying to make, or if I voiced it clearly at all. All I know is that this article gave me a lot of feelings. I need to go process some more.

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      I could be misreading as well, but I thought she was suggesting that the ideals of lesbian feminism, as proposed in the 70s, offer a beneficial contemporary blueprint for the relationships between women of all orientations, not that these women should label themselves as ‘lesbians.’

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        I just reread the part that I was talking about and am now pretty sure I had no idea what I was talking about. I’m a bit confused about the concept of a “lesbian continuum” I guess.

        Basically I completely agree with the sentiment that women are better off when they have a community of women in their lives. Being isolated from each other does us no good, and does society as a whole no good.

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    Here’s my problem with using the word lesbian to describe all women-affiliated women: it is unfair to those of us who love women. Lesbian is not only a political identity, it is a sexual one. If you don’t want to kiss and touch other women in a sexual way, you are NOT a lesbian. For otherwise heterosexual women to decide they want to co-opt what is rightfully our name for ourselves is another fantastic example of appropriation by the oppressor. It’s offensive to me and denies my sexuality in favor of a whitewashed, Disney-fied definition of what it means to love another woman.

    Yes, I think it is important for women to have lifelong connections with other women, regardless of their sexuality, race, and class. I also think it’s bullshit to call that lesbianism.

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    It troubles me very much when i am called the N word or a dyke by someone who is white and heterosexual however my distaste for these words is severely lessened when they are used by someone of the same race and sexual preference as myself. It bothers me when these terms are used as tools of opression but if the opressed wish to use these terms then why not.
    My point is that if these women heterosexual who are forced to live within a patriarchal society want to call themselves lesbians and are willing to overome race, sexuality and class lines then they are no longer opressors and they can use the word all they want (although it might be a little confusing so I m going to start introducing myself as a “vadge bandit” from now on because the use of the word “vadge” says I like girls in a sexual way and “bandit” reminds me of zorro and makes me feel cool).

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    i ate all this spaghetti so my brain’s a little clouted right now, so this may not make total sense. basically, i appreciate this author’s feelings that women should put more care in their relationships with other women. i don’t know how frustrated i feel when my sister brushes me off to spend time with her husband. like i appreciate the importance of your marriage, but i’ve been your sister longer so listen to me bitch. but i don’t think that someone that isn’t sexually into other women can tote around the label of lesbian. it’s like if you don’t feel a tingle when a lady person touches ya, then you’re not a lesbian.

    and also, can’t dudes be feminists? i know i’ve met some, and i wouldn’t mind sharing a bed with them, as long as they keep to their side and don’t snore.

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    This may not totally make sense cuz I just woke up, but:

    I think that people are missing the point regarding the use of the word “lesbian.” The idea is to capture the phenomenon of women who love women deeply, not to co-opt a sexual preference. Because there are so few “women-identified women” in our culture (even within the lesbian community!) I think it’s hard to envision a society oriented that way; it would be such a major shift. I think the word works in this argument because it represents a deep way in which women have found to really love & see each other; to expand that love and self-identification would be transformative, even/especially if it were not on a sexual level.

    I think this connects to people asking, can’t men be feminists too? My answer is No. You can support feminists, but you can’t be one. Part of why the feminist movement is so gutless, aside from the class/race problems mentioned in the article, is that it’s been diluted to include everything. There’s something powerful in a women’s only space, or a queer only space, that is lessened when men or heterosexuals are present. White straight men wanting to be part of everything, even movements for liberation, is (I think) part of their continued privilege & oppression.

    For me this phenomenon is really seen in how the “queer movement” is currently all about gay marriage, which I get –rights, equality, etc– but I think is also a very heteronormative struggle. it’s not about reimagining spaces or communities or how we relate to each other–it’s working exactly within the patriarchal system.

    Or maybe I just hate marriage.

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      I think the idea of men as feminists doesn’t negate the existence of women-only spaces. I think a feminist can simply be someone who genuinely wants gender equality, acknowledges misogyny in our patriarchal society, and works for change in daily life/campaigns. They don’t necessarily have to horn in on safe spaces for women.

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      You have a point essejz, and I think it’s totally appropriate to be guarded against “male feminism”. Clearly I can’t be a feminist the same way you can, because feminism has to come from a female perspective and because women have to be liberated by women’s efforts.
      To me, being a feminist means pretty much what you said: supporting feminists. Partly this means staying out of your way and staying out of women-only spaces (I have routine reservations about hanging around here, for instance). It definitely does not mean knowing enough feminist theory to steamroll the girls in gender studies class (and I’m so sorry if I’ve ever done that). But it also means figuring out what sort of man I need to be to be a part of a feminist future.
      Long story short, I feel like calling myself a feminist helps the cause more than it hurts it. I’ll stop (seriously!) if you can convince me I’m wrong.

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    I’m having trouble why it is important to align ourselves with a certain name (feminist vs womanist) for what seems to be the same thing. It seems like an unproductive game of semantics like the fight over what is the right word to call a woman that is only attracted to women (lesbian vs dyke vs homosexual vs queer vs whatever). No matter what we call it, we all believe in equal rights and equal treatment.

    I’m open to anyone that would like to enlighten me, because I’m feeling confused and little frustrated.

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      I really don’t think she’s saying you should align yourselves with a name or a label. I might be totally missing something here since this concern seems to come up a few times, but at no point does she say you should be Womanist or you should be a Lesbian, she just says that one can use elements of the theory and philosophy behind those movements to construct one’s contemporary feminist identity. She doesn’t say “be a womanist, call yourself a womanist” she says “these are the ideas behind womanism, maybe you will like these ideas.”

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        I understand what A.J. is saying in this article and that she is introducing different ideas behind female empowerment. I guess my qualm is with the feminist/womanist/etc movement itself. While we are fighting over which generation of feminism is the best (1st vs 2nd vs 3rd vs so on), we still don’t have an ERA and our reproductive rights are under attack.

        I appreciate AJ for helping to frame the present state of the women’s rights community and areas in which it could improve.

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          Well, from what I have read of women who consider themselves womanist instead of feminist, their concern (as mentioned in the article) is that feminism has overwhelmingly been a movement of straight, white, middle-class cissgender women, and they feel oppressed within and excluded from it. Calling it “an unproductive game of semantics” completely diminishes the fact that feminism (especially second-wave feminism) is and has been phenomenally racist, and women of colour have every right to say “Fuck that. I want a movement that actually represents ME.” The solution to that isn’t to criticise their reaction; it’s to look at how feminism can be about more than white ladies.

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    Let the Het women alone. Who cares. They’re not lost, but they’re looking for some resolution of their own. Let them find it for themselves. Then we’ll call each other.

    Organize what currently Is. Activate who is currently ‘in the room’, who is raising their hand when you call them. Focus on those people. It might be a small ‘we’ but it will be a realistic reflection. An Autostraddle poll?

    And then take the ‘shoulds’ out of your language. Permanently. Replace the shoulds with present tense: ‘do’ and ‘is’. Let’s get a census report that accurately posits us in 2010.

    What [do] the bonds between [we] women look like? How [do] [we] women organise our emotions? Where – and to whom – do [our] loyalties lie? How [is] our family be organised? What [do] [we] base our choices on?

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      I think it’s important to keep a dialog open between straight and gay women. I feel like if we try to isolate ourselves from the problems of our mothers and sisters and best straight friends we’ll just continue on this path we’re on where women continue to feel alone struggling with their problems that have been created by a society that values its men far more than it does its women. I almost feel like I have a duty as a lesbian to reach out to the straight women in my life and spark those conversations that help them realize how important our bonds are. And it’s not to say that there is nothing we can learn from them as well.

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          Do you know that Dar Williams song, “As Cool As I Am,” where she sings in the chorus, “I will not be afraid of women, I will not be afraid of women”… and I don’t know what Dar Williams herself says that song is about, but as a teenager I’d listen to that song as it being about her leaving a crap boyfriend and trying not to be scared of leaning on her female friends for support and kindness afrerwards, as I was.

          I used to base my entire life around relationships with boys. I put girls second — honestly this was an idea i learned in junior high when we were all hormonal assholes and also via movies/tv. My life changed one night in college — I was bawling over a boy to my BFF, saying I needed him not just for love but because who will drive me to pick up my car, who’ll install the AC and she said “I will, these things are things me and my [female] friends do for each other every day.” She asked me to trust that she’d be there for me and I started to. Once I got there I felt like an idiot for not opening my eyes to it sooner, and I also realized how the idea of putting dicks before chicks is hopelessly ingrained in our societal fabric here.

          If she hadn’t pushed me to see the natural, NSA system of support women could offer each other I never would’ve gotten to the point where I felt ok about being queer or being a feminist activist, even.

          What I really liked about this piece was the section on how important it is in the feminist movement for straight women not to disappear into a wormhole when they shack up with a dude — even a feminist dude — embracing a kind of ‘it takes a village [of girlfriends]‘ mentality, imho, is a giant step towards feeling autonomous and growing as a person and then being a better citizen, activist, feminist, girlfriend, wife, mother, whatever you want to be, gay or straight.

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      excuse me? there is no leaving my straight girls alone, the women who have been my allies for almost 10 years now and who support me and my gayness and who care for me regardless of my sexual orientation.
      I think a major point in the article is that women should be each other’s support system and community, and by dividing gay and straight women that sort of movement and community still evolves around men. If you divide women that way what matters isn’t what they feel for each other and how they care, but if they fall in love with/sexually like MEN OR NOT.

      of course there are differences, and some of them are heavy differences, but then there are things like “learning from each other”, too, you know, it can be educational if you let it be.

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    I feel kinda weird about this article, and like I really need to read Adrienne Rich’s original article to fully comprehend this analysis.

    I grew up in a clan of kickass feminist women, and that’s what made me think about how women interact with each other and men in the world, and what made me argue for women’s rights. And then I came out, and that, combined with women’s & gender studies, is what made me think about gender. Being queer made me realize there is SO much more than women and men and the patriarchy.

    I don’t know how to be a feminist without analyzing the gender binary, without analyzing masculinity as well as femininity, without thinking about trans identities. And so talking about “lesbian feminism” as a defined thing in 2010 seems almost like a deliberate forgetting of all those things that have been included in feminism over the last thirty years. I think heterosexuality’s changed a lot too, and I know oodles of hetero folks my age (mid-20’s) and up who DON’T follow those established patterns, who are challenging conventions.

    And then when I think about that, when I say that, I feel a bit ungrateful for those lesbian feminists thirty years ago, before I even existed, whose politics and struggle are probably what allow me to be a feminist the way I am. I feel young, I feel naive. And then I sit back and think, holy shit, look HOW FUCKING MUCH has changed in the last century, and now I’m going to go back to my temporarily internet-less apartment and have even more things to think about and analyze.

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    I have a firm belief that the only way that we will progress as women and, even more specifically, queer women is if we truly begin to value each other across difference. I believe that this was a point I spoke at length about in a one woman gin-induced passion play while in NY. Sorry about that Riese and Alex but I meant every word.

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    I think a straight-gay dialogue is a given, in my life anyway. That’s a huge positive change since the ’70’s. Straight women are really awakening to the sexaulity continuum- America is, even straight men. As understanding increases, homophobia wanes, and the value in a diverse, articulate continuum emerges. Still, I am very careful to underline difference. My experience is not their experience and theirs is thankfully not mine. And p.s. you may not have my lesbian mojo.

    I meant: let’s figure out who ‘we’ are. who that we is. Lesbian feminist? In 2010 it could be stating the obvious. I don’t know too many lesbian women who aren’t feminists. If they can’t handle the feminist part, they’ll usually call themselves, queer, or gay, etc. to steer clear of politicization.

    I still think Lesbian is powerfully political on its own….. I call myself a lesbian woman. Whenever I can! I adore the use of lesbian as an adjective, describing the type of woman I am. Used as a noun it’s demeaning: a lesbian? Would you say a gay? No… you’d say a gay man. It’s describing the type of man that he is. It dignifies him.

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      I think queer is definitely a political term. Words reclaimed from use as pejoratives – like dyke, cunt, bitch, fag and queer – are often taken back by a community as something empowering. And queer has taken on so many meanings, and often signifies a more radical identity.

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    I don’t know if I agree with labeling lesbian as a political term because I think my politics align themselves very much with the gay liberal agenda, yet I don’t consider myself a lesbian.

    I definitely agree that regardless of sexual orientation, women do need to stop hurting one another and find a way to come together in a community better. I think it’s difficult because we all have so many ideas (and feelings) about what it means to be a feminist. I know old school feminists (like my mom and those who came of age in the 70s) who hate all porn and think anything close to porn is automatically bad and antifeminist, while I know a lot of feminists, myself included, who think erotica that is produced by and for women in safe and consensual environment is actually pro-feminism. Kind of random, but it’s just one issue of MANY issues that these different waves of feminism disagree on.

    I used to read a feminist blog (that will not be named) that I have stopped reading due to the fact that my version of feminism was apparently “not feminist enough” for them. The dispute came when an author wrote an entire article about not wanting her daughter to join the cheerleading squad. I engaged in a dialogue with her about it citing that I was a cheerleader and a feminist and yes in fact you could be both and not burst into flames and the author would not hear it. It didn’t matter that we cheered for girls sports as much as the boys. It didn’t matter that the reason I joined was because I loved doing lifts and choreographing dances. It didn’t matter to her, because the fact that I got into a skirt and sweater and cheered, I was not a feminist.

    I’m sorry I went off on a tangent, but I just feel like I really respect you guys and what you do here, and since that debacle at that other blog I really only trust getting my feminist fix from you all.

    Anyway, so many FEELINGS! Love you AS.

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    I have three strong feelings when it comes to feminism and how I define myself as a feminist.

    The first one always comes up when I think about my teenage years in school and how my female friends reacted to terms like feminism or when subjects like equal wages were brought up. They always felt the need to distance themselves from it and feminist was more of an insult than something that had brought them to a place where they could finish school and go to university. I think that the biggest concern they had was to not be attractive to the guys around them, and that is what concerns me. I hardly ever had to face criticism from the boys in school for my opinions on certain subjects, it came from the other girls. So the stereotypes and fears about what feminists look like, what they do and say and how that affects their lives and their attractiveness to men has maybe become even more crucial over the past years?
    That brings me to feeling number two:
    Women spaces ARE important. We don’t have less stereotypes that women are asked by society to prove true. Our expectations have just shifted a bit, and a new kind of obsession is the one regarding our bodies. That’s the ultimate oppression. If we were taught to care about our bodies for the sake of ourselves, what time and power would we have to change other things?
    I might sound a little crazy here, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now that women are allowed to choose their education and work (for the most part) we have this obsession with dating, our bodies and fashion.
    So, we have to learn to care about these things from a position that is women-centered, not men-centered. I love men (not in a sexual way that is), but they crave a lot of space. And I didn’t always realize that, until I met a woman who explained that she liked women-only parties because men literally take up a lot of space. By the way they move and behave and how women have to linger around them.

    And that’s the last feeling I have about this: We tend to forget that men are brought up in a patriarchy, too. We need to include them at some point, because this kind of society is offensive to them as well. They are dictated how to behave and what kind of women are the right ones to like and just like us, they have to LEARN to change these things. It’s not a given that they realize just by themselves at some point, because we are in this together.

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      The part about men craving a lot of space def makes sense – and I’d like to add that I think it’s often subconscious. The space is just theirs; they’re just used to having it available. (although this definitely isn’t true for ALL men). I went to an all-girl’s school for three years, and while it was a negative experience for me in many ways, the girls acted in ways that they’d NEVER act around guys. They were loud, raucous, funny, and daring, they pulled stunts, and they took on a lot of the roles within a group that guys would have normally took on. Halloween costumes weren’t skimpy, they were inventive. And when I saw the same girls around guys, they changed completely.

      However, one of the big issues I’ve encountered with women-only spaces locally is the inclusion of trans people, because they’re often not included in men-only spaces either, and in a lot of places, the trans community simply isn’t big enough to have their own space – for example, on university campuses.

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        Totally agree with you on the trans issue. In college I was lucky enough to be in the art college of my university which was much more liberal that the rest of the school. My trans friends within the college felt very safe and accepted whereas other trans students in the more conservative colleges voiced that they felt out of place at times. This also brings up the concept of “passing” which I think is ridiculous/terrible. So what if someone is trans but doesn’t look like a freakin ken or barbie doll, we shouldn’t try to “fix” people to look like the perfect male or female because of how we feel about how we think they should look. (of course I’m using we as the greater population, not like me and you obvs.)

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          I agree with both of you and also had a bit of a bad conscience when I wrote my first comment because I left out non-cis-people.
          I feel like it’s an important thing for us to get to know ourselves as persons outside of our gender-influenced behavior.
          It’s interesting that “passing” is mentioned here as well, regarding trans-people… because if you have to look like a barbie/ken doll to pass, to be accepted and to fit in it only shows how much we are obsessed with certain stereotypes of what women and men should look like. And that’s something that in my opinion is bad for cis- and trans-people.
          I’m sorry, it’s late, maybe I’ll come up with something more eloquent/smart some other time…

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    I do have some discomfort at using the word ‘feminist’ – although looking at my political, ethical and other beliefs – that does appear to be what I am.

    I have two issues with the word.

    The first:
    The word ‘feminist’. I understand its roots and I’m in awe of the women who helped us to where we are now. I understand the intention behind using the word now, in 2010, and the continuing need for people to fight for the rights of women.
    I just have a strong reaction to it – as a word. It should mean equality. The effect the word can have however, is to make some (not all) people feel like the politics behind it are to gain rights for women, without consideration for (and sometimes at the expense of) men.
    I feel like a word like ‘equalist’ or something would be something more appropriate. (I know, ‘equalist’ is a rubbish word – feel free to coin something better!).

    The second:
    I don’t feel like the majority of feminists (feminists groups, feminist literature, feminist media, etc) represent me. I don’t like the idea that supporting womens rights means I have to also be, for example, a vegan. Additionally, feminist groups are predominantly comprised of white middle class women, who don’t represent the spectrum of women in society. For me, the movement for feminism and equal rights should be independent of race, religion, lifestyle or class – but in practise it isn’t.

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    You know, reading this, I still don’t understand what being a feminist is supposed to entail. What, exactly, are the iron-clad obligations that go along with the title?

    I’ve been ruminating over this article for a few days, trying to pin down my thoughts on it, but I haven’t been making much in the way of progress.

    On a surface level, I understand the point behind emphasizing that women can benefit overall from creating a network of strong social bonds between one another. On the surface, I can see how such a statement seems iron-clad in it’s obvious truth.

    I guess where I feel the disconnect is, though, that the practice of developing these relationships seems clinical and calculating here. I don’t make my friends this way. My process of meeting and interacting with people and building bonds with them is more organic than that.

    I almost get the sense here – and maybe I’m overreaching – that the idea is to make a point to orient our relationships around women first, rather than common interests and goals. Albeit, yeah, by virtue of being women, we often do sort of have some automatic commonalities, but I have no desire to run out and make more friends specifically with other chicks.

    The only time when I’m going to have a preference for meeting and developing something with another person specifically because she is a woman is if I suddenly find myself back on the market for a new girlfriend. Otherwise, I seek out interactions with people who enjoy the same music as myself, or the same activities such as hiking, or interests like cooking…and I find in some categories (such as music)that I don’t have a lot in common with other women and their tastes. I don’t like Ani DiFranco, and I’m not going to like her. I like the Butthole Surfers, and I don’t know a single female in person besides myself who does.

    I’m just wondering from the feminist perspective exactly what percentage of my life am I to devote strictly to women-centric thinking and interests in contrast to the other aspects of my existence where applying that filter really isn’t going to be very beneficial for me personally.

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    what are ‘we’ fighting for? are we fighting for anything?

    if we’re not united in a common fight – for reproductive rights? civil rights? – then there is no point.

    so beganeth the post-feminist era: where the only common cause [seems to be] What Do I Call Myself? which is a divisive conversation, is important, but looks a lot like the quest for the perfect outfit, all due respect, with noticeable and unarticulated downsides- like capitalism and vanity.

    what are feminists fighting for? in 2010 the answer seems = a simple presence, a personal, individual presence for that one woman who chooses it, at that one moment.

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