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LHMP #137x Faderman 1981 Surpassing the Love of Men III.B.1 The Rise of Lesbian-Feminism

Full citation: 

Faderman, Lillian. 1981. Surpassing the Love of Men. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-688-00396-6

Publication summary: 

A detailed and extensive study of the phenomenon of “romantic friendship” in western culture (primarily England and the US).

III.B.1 The Rise of Lesbian-Feminism

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Faderman moves into the modern political era with a consideration of the parallel movements for women’s rights and gay/lesbian rights starting in the mid-20th century. Both the strength and the weakness of attempts to associate feminism with lesbianism was the underlying truth of the association. Historically, feminism had arisen among women who directed their primary reform efforts and emotional connections to other women. Those connections ranged along a continuum from friendship to romance to sex. Conversely, lesbians had strong reasons to support a movement freeing women from the expectation that their social, political, and economic lives required connection to a man.

The sexual revolution of the 1950s and 1960s began eroding at the stigma of non-normative sexuality in general. Organizations such as the Daughters of Bilitis and its newletter The Ladder that had originally organized as social support moved into activism and began attacking expectations that their members should consider themselves psychologically ill or that they should live lives of apology and guilt. Similar organizations and publications arose in France and Germany around the same time.

In 1970, The Ladder announced a policy shift that fully embraced feminist solidarity: rather than seeking to achieve for lesbians the same rights that striaght women had, their goal was to achieve for all women the rights that human beings should have. [Those goals were limited in some ways by the same limitations that prominent feminist organizations of the time had: they were founded by otherwise politically-moderate middle-class white women and prioritized solving the problems that they, themselves encountered.] Another way in which the two movements overlapped was in the “political lesbian”, i.e., feminists who felt that it was--at that time--impossible to live a life of true equality while in intimate relationships with men.

Overlapping concerns, however, did not prevent a wide variety of political fractures and realignments within the two general movements. But here I’m going to skip the detailed history of feminist/lesbian politics in the 1970s. It’s well outside the scope of the current project and is probably better studied from more politically-oriented sources. Suffice it to say that, in some ways, the merging of lesbian and feminist communities and interests re-invented the concept of “romantic friendship” in the sense of women whose primary emotional and romantic bond was with each other, whether or not it was also inspired by gender-directed sexual desire.

Time period: 

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