A Discussion Of Feminism And Lesbianism


A Discussion Of Feminism And Lesbianism Essay, Research Paper

During the 1970s and 1980s, much lesbian theory turned towards the questione most influential, and also controversial writers was Adrienne Rich, whose work of a lesbian history, and why it has been covered up for all this time. They began to consider that women’s subordination under men, and the necessity for men to preserve the institution of heterosexuality by whatever means available (this ranges from marriage and romantic literature to domestic violence and rape), was where the answer to this question lay. One of th on “Compulsory Heterosexuality” (1980), became the foundation for the subsequent lesbian separatist movement. This movement was based on the premise that if heterosexuality was an institution that exists to perpetuate the subordination of women, then it must be avoided at all costs. It naturally followed that heterosexual women were ‘collaborating with the enemy’ and therefore could not be called feminists, as they themselves were helping to safeguard men’s position as oppressor. Oppression of women is the main distinguishing feature of heterosexuality in the opinions of such feminists. Many see heterosexual intercourse as nothing more than the “eroticisation of women’s subordination”, with others implying, as bell hooks notes, that “all genital contact between women and men is rape”. Such theorists would suggest that this violence is perpetuated through methods such as pornography, which pushes women into a role of masochism and, …widens the range of behaviour considered acceptable from men in heterosexual intercourse. Adrienne Rich is very critical of Susan Brownmiller, who in her work “Against Our Own Will: Men, Women and Rape” attempts to remove the concept of rape from its sexual sphere, suggesting that “rape is violence, intercourse isof sexuality”. Rich, along with MacKinnon, suggests that rather than seeing rape as a form of violence, one should instead look at it as a natural part heterosexuality, as something that is made normal by men’s oppression of women. As such theorists believe that women are being oppressed by men in a heterosexual relationship, and that the heterosexual relationship legitimates and perpetuates this oppression, many of them suggest, therefore, that ideally heterosexuality should cease to exist. After research on sexuality found that only an approximate 30% of women reach orgasm during penetrative sex, feminist literature on the subject began to imply that the women who is in control of her sexuality would avoid penetrative sex. This moved on to the point, however, where certain lesbian feminist writers began to, …challenge and oppose any feminists who seek to legitimate those sexual practices and preferences which are detrimental to all women. Jane Egerton informs the heterosexual feminist that they do not always know what is best for them, and that heterosexuality and feminism do not go hand in hand, we have merely, …internalised male sexual values to the extent where we ‘enjoy’ and gain pleasure from being humiliated. Indeed, this idea is picked up on by Bell Hooks, who is critical of the way that many lesbian feminists believe that, …the woman who is emotionally and sexually committed to an individual man is necessarily incapable of loyal woman-identified political commitment. It can be seen, then that to many feminists, in particular Kitzinger and Wilkinson, the heterosexual woman is not suitable to be called a feminist, The qualifier ‘heterosexual’ is, at best, an embarrassing adjunct to ‘feminist’; at worst, it seems a contradiction in terms. It has been suggested that these feminists show more signs of man-hating than of rational theoretical belief, and indeed, most of such theorists are very disparaging about men. Sheila Jeffreys suggests that the majority of men are incapable of “political integrity and working against their own interests”, and as such the only sensible hope for women is to embrace ‘feminism as the theory and lesbianism as the practice’. Rich examines how the mystique of the penis has led to enforced heterosexuality, by propaganda and force. For some writers, lesbianism is more than an issue of sexuality, it is “a source of knowledge and power available to women” and also refer to, …the lesbian experience as being, like motherhood, a profoundly female experience, with particular expressions, meanings, and potentialities we cannot comprehend as long as we simply bracket it with other sexually stigmatised existences… by this, Rich is referring to the differences between gay men and lesbians, where she suggests that gay men are different in that their relationships are more about sexuality than the ‘profound’ lesbian experience, citing their preference for younger men and promiscuous habits as the basis for this statement. Rich considers that throughout civilisation, women have been forced to marry against their true wishes, for economic reasons, to remain respectable, to be able to have children that would not be ostracised by society. This, she believes, was not what they really wanted, and if it was, theorists such as Jane Egerton would claim that it was only because they had “internalised male sexual values” and did not know their own minds. Therefore, the goal for these feminists is to persuade heterosexual women to throw off their heterosexual desires and make the choice between “sexual ‘liberation’ and women’s liberation”, choosing “lesbianism as a political strategy”. After all, in the words of Adrienne Rich, …the issue we have to address as feminists is, not simple “gender inequality”, nor the domination of culture by males, nor mere “taboos against homosexuality”, but the enforcement of heterosexuality for women as a means of assuring male right of physical, economical, and emotional access. It is difficult to believe, and also quite disturbing, that in this day and age, theorists can be so willing to extol their own lifestyle as being the only true way, and actively try to make all heterosexual women feel guilty about their own sexual preferences. It is also, as suggested by Deirdre English, …almost funny that so many heterosexual feminists…seemed to accept the idea that heterosexuality meant cooperating in their own oppression and there was something wrong with being sexually turned on by men. There are several issues on which to criticise these ideas that only lesbians can be feminists. Firstly, one must realise that choice is a very important part of sexuality, and women must be able to choose whether they feel their sexuality to be leading them towards sexual relationships with men or women, without being made to feel that either is wrong. Secondly, one must acknowledge that lesbianism as a practice is a very different area altogether from feminism as a political philosophy. With regards to areas such as pornography and sadomasochism there are various conflicting opinions as to whether these are inherently harmful, or whether they are only harmful in certain forms. Only when one discusses the above points can one begin to realise where the future lies for both lesbian and heterosexual sexuality. Bell Hooks expresses her feelings that, …just as the struggle to end sexual oppression aims to eliminate heterosexism, it should not endorse any one sexual choice… Neither lesbianism or heterosexuality needs any explanation, it is a matter of emotion and choice. Just as it is wrong to see homosexuality as in any way abnormal, it is also very wrong to suggest that women are wrong if they prefer men. Although it is correct to say that women in this society are oppressed by men, surely it is unproductive to suggest that it is all the fault of mankind, and therefore women should turn their backs on heterosexuality. If a woman’s choice lies with relationships with men, then it is up to women to turn those relationships into a relationship of equals, rather than deny oneself the freedom of sexuality. If it is oppressive to be in a heterosexual relationship, it is just as oppressive, if not more, to be informed that that type of sexuality is wrong, and those people who feel emotion towards men are not capable of knowing what is best for themselves. It is also important to examine the relationship itself between feminist philosophy and lesbianism as a form of sexuality. In Gayle Rubin’s words, it is wrong to equate, …lesbianism (…a sexual and erotic experience) with feminism – a political philosophy… The two matters are entirely different, and feminism, that is, the fight against oppression and patriarchy, should be embraced by all heterosexual women, not only as a struggle for rights politically, economically and socially, but also as a struggle for equality of sexuality with men, rather than turning their backs on men altogether. Wendy Clark suggests that lesbian feminists have played down the sexual side of lesbianism in favour of what they see as the political nature of the issue in order to deflect from the “moral” issue which many conservative or religious leaders have place on it. While this is perhaps an understandable route, surely lesbian feminists would do better to emphasise the importance of everyone having freedom of choice of sexuality as a right, as opposed to telling all heterosexual women that they are wrong in their choices of men. Clark says that the future of self-determined and autonomous lesbian relationships depends on keeping the two issues of lesbianism and feminism apart, and not letting either rule the other, The geography of both countries is complicated and unique, and the boundaries only overlap in places. Indeed, lesbianism should be celebrated for what it is – a sexual statement. Lesbian feminists should fight male oppression politically, but not to confuse the two issues of politics and sexuality to exclude heterosexual women from feminism. Adrienne Rich is scathing in her criticism of Paula Webster’s work on “Pornography and Pleasure”, and Pat Califia’s “Feminism and Sadomasochism-masochism”, suggesting that, It is simply perpetuating male sexuality amongst ourselves and can only serve to indirectly reinforce our oppression. However, I would tend to agree with their suggestions that it is not the idea of pornography and sadomasochism-masochism that is wrong, but the manner in which it usually occurs. For example, no-one could disagree that the sadistic pleasures of the Marquis de Sade, both in his private life and his pornographic works, (described in some detail by Andrea Dworkin in “Pornography: Men possessing Women”) were wrong in that they were oppressive for the women (and also the men) that he practised his desires on. However, it does seem possible that between consenting partners, the power games, and role-reversal games that this area suggests, are unlikely to be oppressive, even if they do involve men. It is ridiculous to describe all heterosexual acts as oppression, even when partners consent and gain pleasure from such relationships. In conclusion, it would seem that Bell Hooks is correct in suggesting that, The suggestion that the truly feminist woman is lesbian…sets up another sexual standard by which women are to be judged and found wanting. All women can be feminists, as the struggle for equality with men does not mean having to give up on all men, but instead to challenge male power. Angela Hamblin, asking the question “Is a Feminist Heterosexuality Possible?” suggests the following points as crucial guidelines in challenging male power in individual sexual relationships: Men have no ‘right’ to our bodies Being sexual/sensual/affectionate with a man does not mean we have agreed to have sexual intercourse with him It is a violation of our ‘right’ to bodily integrity for a man to pressure us (by any means) into sex If a man has sexual intercourse with us against our will he has committed rape If a man subjects us to any kind of unwanted sexual attention he is guilty of sexual abuse We have no obligation whatsoever to meet men’s sexual demands/needs In long-term relationships (including marriage) we have no duty whatsoever to satisfy the man’s sexual needs by providing him with regular sex It is not ‘natural’ for the man to initiate, control and determine everything that happens sexually between us We will only engage in forms of sexuality/sensuality which enhance our pleasure and do not oppress us Only when these feelings become the norm will heterosexual relationships be as such that women are not oppressed. Many women today already think in this way, and there are men out there who are capable of “political integrity and working against their own interests”. Those who are not will soon see that women are demanding relationships as equals, and will not tolerate anything else. The ‘truly feminist’ woman is one that demands equality with men in all areas of her life, regardless of who she chooses as a sexual partner.SORRY, NO BIBLIOGRAPHY WAS SUPPLIED WITH THIS ESSAY

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