Kink = Leather = S/M = BDSM —It’s All Still Sadism and Masochism
(This is an update of our chapter against sado-masochism from our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes, which I co-wrote with Linda Strega and Ruston, and which we published in 1990, and which was translated and printed in the German Lesbian anthology against sado-masochism, Mehr als das Herz Gebrochen (More than a Broken Heart) by Constance Ohms (Hg)in 1993. Some other chapters and updates from our book and later articles can be seen at https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/)
(My focus here is about the contradiction of some Lesbian Feminists, or even Radical Feminists, also being sado-masochists. Some Radical Feminists ask how sado-masochists can be feminist at all, but some do have otherwise strong feminist politics. I am exploring this because Lesbians are my people. But I am in no way saying that Lesbians are more likely to be sado-masochists than are women who choose to be het or bisexual. Sexual interactions with men are by their nature sado-masochistic. Lesbians are the people who are the most free from the sado-masochism permeating patriarchal culture.)1
Most of us grow up with mental, emotional, and physical abuse. I believe most of us have been sexually assaulted, and certainly all females have been sexually harassed as well as subjected to violent hatred of females throughout the media. Patriarchy, reinforced by religions, is a sado-masochistic culture, based on humiliation, pain, and suffering. Most females’ earliest feelings of love, intimacy, and passion are interwoven with dependence, fear, anger, threats, and rape. We are taught to be both self-hating (masochistic) and to hate our own kind (sadistic). We are trained into sado-masochistic scenarios from the day we are born. I believe this is done to disconnect us from our natural feelings of love and passion towards other females. We are also taught to turn our reasonable, righteous anger inward so that most girls feel suicidal at some point in their lives. It is hard to identify with other females who are victims, so many girls and women learn to worship the boys and males who have tormented and tortured them. This also explains some of why women will line up to marry imprisoned serial rapists and killers of women and girls, and will betray other females on behalf of men claiming to be female.
Most girls hate themselves and other girls so much that they choose to become heterosexual. Lesbians fight for the right to love ourselves and each other, but we still carry a lot of self-hatred. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept feelings of masochism and sadism because of the ways we’re oppressed any more than we have to accept the feelings of hatred and self-hatred because of being exposed to the heterosexism, classism, racism, anti-Semitism, ableism, ageism, fat oppression, looksism, etc. that are reflected in the patriarchy around us. Our politics and common sense give us the awareness to say no to oppression, as well using our own privileges against others, and gives us the strength and awareness to face reality and reject the lies forced on us.
It’s one thing to recognize the ways we are manipulated and conned to hate ourselves and other women, but it’s another to glorify, proselytize, and sexualize this misogyny and to justify it as a reasonable political position and identity.
It’s telling how many euphemisms Lesbians use for sado-masochism. It’s as if Lesbian sado-masochists, and particularly those identifying as Lesbian Feminists, really do not want to use the most accurate and revealing word for what they do. I believe that’s because they are in conflict about it.
After all, how can they self-identify with the Marquis de Sade, who proudly tortured and murdered women, as well as Sacher Masoch, who pretended to be a masochist2, while also subjecting women to non-consensual sadism. Identifying with these men is male-identified in the worst possible sense. And yet, many Lesbians have joined with the majority mainstream het and bisexual women and with most men in becoming sado-masochists.
When sado-masochism first openly appeared in my Lesbian Feminist community in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late Seventies, Samois, a “Lesbian Feminist” sado-masochist group, played with the terms and with many Lesbians’ minds by calling it “S/M,” saying that the power was equally shared. Their book, “Coming to Power,” began with sado-masochists patronizingly re-naming the rest of us as “vanilla.” (The sado-masochist cult shares many parallels with the trans cult, where women are re-named against our will – trans call us “cis” — and where we are insulted and lied about and lied to in order to con and manipulate us.)
The euphemisms keep changing. The most common one I see now is BDSM and “Leather” and “Kink.” I have been shouted at for daring to say “sado-masochists” rather than “Leather-dykes.” I have also been called “leather-phobic.” Anyone who refuses to call men who appropriate female and Lesbian identity “transwomen” will recognize the cult technique of bullying to censor opposition and political differences. In both cases, we are forbidden to think or say what we think. After enough times of being yelled at and threatened, many Lesbians just obey.
But why should we obey? What right do sado-masochists have to claim the term “leather” for their own or to police our language and politics? Leather has long been associated with Lesbians and especially with Butches who came out before feminism, and has nothing innately to do with sado-masochism.
Can you remember your first reaction when hearing about “Lesbian Feminist” sado-masochists? Many of us were stunned that Lesbians, and especially Lesbians who called themselves feminists, would participate in such a Lesbian-hating and female-hating practice.
It’s important for those who consider themselves Radical Feminists or Separatists to be aware of how sado-masochism bonds them with patriarchy, het and gay men, and het and bisexual women. Some of us watched sado-masochism brought into our Lesbian communities and relationships by women who learned it from their husbands and boyfriends. Other women learned it from gay male friends. Some members of Samois had previously been in “Cardea,” a women’s sado-masochist support group, which had been connected to “Janus,” a group that included het and gay male sado-masochists.
Sado-masochism may be trendy, but it isn’t new – it’s as old as patriarchy. Religions, such as christianity, are based on sado-masochism. Those of us who were forced to be catholic as little girls, grew up surrounded by images of bloody and tortured jesus and saints, and were taught to regularly contemplate the blood and gore.
Mainstream culture is full of sado-masochism. I saw virtually every Hollywood movie in the Fifties when I was a girl. I’d thought that sado-masochism in the media was less obvious than now, but recently saw just a few minutes from the 1960 popular film, “Spartacus,” which I’d seen when I was nine. Spartacus was the escaped slave who formed an army to free people enslaved by the Romans. In the short scene I saw, he freed a slave woman who asked him to order her to always obey him, as part of their flirtation. Talk about obvious sado-masochism! Clearly, sado-masochism was far more important than the idea of freeing everyone. (This scene, which was supposed to be powerful and presumably sexually charged, was just laughable. But then, most sado-masochistic scenes are.)
Part of the myth of sado-masochism is that it is so bold and daring that discussing it or even thinking about it will “trigger” women who have been abused. I believe sado-masochists get off on this because it contributes to their power. Nothing deflates that posturing as quickly as not only refusing to be intimidated, but finding it silly and pathetic. Yes, some aspects are horrifying and play on serious misogyny, Lesbian-hating, racism, etc., but that makes Radical Lesbian Feminists angry rather than afraid.
Sado-masochists attempt to intimidate any Lesbians who oppose them into not trusting our reasonable and instinctive emotional, psychic, and political objections to sado-masochism by using the political language of oppression to silence and censor us. Just as with the trans cult’s dishonest tactics, sado-masochists use feminist politics against us. The fact that many responsible and caring Lesbians don’t want to oppress other Lesbians is used to manipulate us into accepting sado-masochists as an oppressed sexual minority. In reality, they are the mainstream majority, with sado-masochism providing titillation for otherwise bored hets. Sado-masochism (again, like the trans cult) is a right wing backlash against female-loving. It’s mainstream as well as deeply misogynist and Lesbian-hating. Reverse discrimination does not exist.
In my experience, when the political cons don’t work, both sadists and masochists resort to their usual verbal/emotional abuse, including using classism, by calling us “stupid, ignorant fools” and telling us to “educate ourselves,” as if that will make us be more open to their obviously warped politics. Attempts at shaming and humiliation are classic parts of sado-masochistic scenes, so most are quite used to these techniques.
The main pro-sado-masochist argument is that someone should be able to do whatever they want in the privacy of their bedroom and it’s no one else’s business. Well, the same can be said for porn and prostitution, as well as other right wing political practices. Such decisions affect all of us, individually and as a community. We’ve had enough decades seeing the harm sado-masochism does to Lesbian relationships and communities to have the right to talk about it.
At this point, for me, it’s really just about saying “no” to sado-masochists. But I haven’t seen that work very well, whether I’m trying to be friends or work politically with them. What I’ve experienced is non-consensual verbal and emotional abuse with my “no” being ignored.
The last time I ignored my common sense and worked with two sado-masochists in a Radical Lesbian Feminist political group, I was subjected to one of the members bringing her bullwhip to every meeting, presumably because she needed to practice. (You can’t make this shit up.) From what I could tell, she was using it to flirt and to try to intimidate me. The intimidation didn’t work, but the flirting with other members did. Another member who claims to be against sado-masochism gave me an insulting lecture saying that I was showing bigotry equivalent to racism because I’d said my experiences with sado-masochists are that they inevitably do non-consensual emotional abuse. (Again, this is similar to the kind of mind-fuck the trans cult uses against feminists.)
I lost a sadist friend from that group who I otherwise shared Radical Lesbian Feminist politics with. She accused me of “outing the worst and darkest hour of the Leather-dyke community” because I wrote at a Radical Feminist blog about gentile Pat Califia non-consensually carving a swastika into her Jewish lover’s back. What Califia did has been well-known for decades as an example of what sadists can do in spite of claiming to be respectful of “no.” It is even more volatile and relevant because Califia is one of the original stars of the “Lesbian Feminist” sado-masochist movement and was instrumental into bringing it into our communities. Linda Strega, Ruston, and I wrote in our book in 1990 about what Califia did. It’s never been a secret. Yet, this friend was so desperate to keep it hidden that she verbally abused me and tried to censor me. She acted like I had betrayed her beloved sado-masochist community and expected that I should keep their secret, which I have to say is a bit reminiscent of keeping Daddy’s secret about molesting daughters – especially since sadists (including my ex-friend) like to be called “Daddy.” Considering how many women have been sexually assaulted by “Daddy,” it is also hard to accept “Daddy” being used as a “play” term for sadists in sexual encounters.
Rather than being discriminated against, sadist pornographers seem to get preferential treatment. Califia has continued being Lesbian sado-masochism’s poster girl in spite of the fact of her increasing public male-worshipping. Califia said decades ago that she “would rather fuck a hot boy who’s into S & M than a vanilla Lesbian.” It’s actually a relief that she has come full circle back to men, although in a slightly different version of her former male-identified self. She is now claiming to BE a gay man – or what the more rational of us recognize as a het or bisexual woman obsessed with gay men (“fag hag”). Yet Califia still has so much power that even after abusing her lover in such a horrific way (can you imagine removing that scar?), after being forgiven for calling the police on the lover’s friends who went after her, and after writing books with some of the most Lesbian-hating misogynist sadistic porn imaginable (in “Macho Sluts,” one story is about a Lesbian being given the birthday “gift” of being gang-raped by gay men posing as cops), she was still made Lesbian sex/relationship advice columnist for the Lesbian magazine “Girlfriends.” She was allowed to keep that job even after she “came out” as a gay man and called herself “Patrick Califia.”
I do not believe the gay male line, which has done so much damage to Lesbians, that we are all “born this way.” Lesbian Feminists in the Seventies proudly said that we were making a choice to be Lesbians, as opposed to the mainstream het lie that says only a few perverts are born queer. Women being aware we are making a choice to be het or bisexual or Lesbian changes women and changes the world. It’s an enormous threat to patriarchy. It brings up the fact that all woman could choose to be Lesbians, which is what I think they would do if it wasn’t for the extreme punishment for refusing and reward for obeying.
As our once independent, strongly feminist Lesbian community was being eroded by gay male influence, many Lesbians started to explain their past het choices and later coming out as “I was always a Lesbian. I just didn’t know it.” The right wing’s attitude is that we don’t deserve equal rights because we are choosing to be queer, so gay male and now mainstream Lesbians’ answer is that “We would of course choose to be het like you if we could, but we’re just pathetic queers who have no choice, so please give us equal rights.” It’s a politics based on shame and pity, not pride and self-love, like Lesbian Feminism.
I believe that Pat Califia has always chosen to be a bisexual, like the two other women (JoAnn Loulan and Susie Bright) who were the main “sexologists” who pushed their agenda of sado-masochism, porn, heterosexism, etc. in our Lesbian community in the Eighties. They pretended to be Lesbians partly because writing porn/sex books and doing workshops for Lesbians meant they were accepted by Lesbians and made money and careers from Lesbians. JoAnn Loulan redefined “Lesbian” in her destructive book, “Lesbian Sex,”(which Linda Strega and I reviewed in our article, “Lesbian Sex – Is It? In 1985) by saying that “some Lesbians have wonderful ongoing sexual relations with men.” This was such a mind-fuck that one of our headings was “Can Therapists Make Lesbians Disappear?” We knew Loulan could not be a Lesbian by her own definition, and years after taking money from Lesbians, she admitted on national television that she was with a man. But most Lesbians seemed to believe and trust these women based on the authority and expertise they claimed as therapists or “sexologists.” In restrospect, it was actually quite the dominance and submission scenario. This was also where our community seemed to switch from not trusting anyone who set themselves up as stars, to just obeying “authority.”
Those who were pro-porn and sado-masochism were scathing and ridiculing towards Radical Lesbian Feminism. The glossy magazine, “On Our Backs,” that glorified “Lesbian” porn and sado-masochism and role-playing, chose that name in opposition to the longtime Feminist newspaper, “off our backs.” It was all clearly so reactionary and right wing, yet few seemed to question it. Or maybe they did and were censored in the Lesbian media. And then the “Lesbian” strip shows began – not just in the usual male porn districts, but in our own communities, prostituting all of us for men and endangering us. (How many men have raped Lesbians after reading Califia’s porn about Lesbians wanting to be raped?) Suddenly, mainstream or liberal and leftist bookstores replaced Feminist or Lesbian Feminist books and newspapers with porn and sado-masochist books by “Lesbians,” for Lesbians, and whoever else wanted to spend the money. I still believe that the male porn industry funded this takeover of our communities.
SADO-MASOCHIST “CONSENT” IS AN ILLUSION
The “consenting” exchange of power and trust said to be the core of sado-masochism is in reality a re-play of the betrayed trust and abuse of power most of us experienced as girls. What does it mean to be unable to accept “love” unless punished? Why ask someone you love to play your rapist? Why want to hurt, beat, cut, whip, burn, humiliate, and shit on someone you “love?” How can re-playing scenes of sexual terrorization ever be good for someone? How can anyone who is sexually excited by the inequalities acted out in sado-masochism be trusted to respect limits. If it was a release, then why is sado-masochism so addictive and those who join the cult increase the level of pain and destructive games? Why do so many lose control?
When Lesbians are used to playing emotional as well as physical sado-masochistic games, do they automatically stop when they are around Lesbians who do not want to play games of hierarchy and humiliation? In my experience, they don’t. Besides friends and acquaintances being treated in sado-masochistic ways, some scenes are done as public displays, with unwilling spectators, because many sado-masochists are stimulated by having an unwilling audience. Even just parading around in sado-masochistic regalia, and bragging about sado-masochistic events is exhibitionistic and an example of shoving sado-masochism at us against our will, like the sadist who brought her bullwhip to our political meetings.
It’s hard to take seriously a Lesbian who accuses you of “demonizing” sado-masochism while she is wearing the Nazi-style leather cap that gay male sado-masochists popularized. Gay men made an entire business out of producing expensive leather sado-masochistic paraphernalia, as well as fabricating a political movement, complete with a “Leather Pride” flag (black and blue with a red heart3), which they march with and fly over the Armory, an enormous dungeon that takes up an entire city block in San Francisco. Demanding respect as an oppressed minority parallels the trans cult again.) My ex-friend first became a sado-masochist in a bisexual community when she was still quite young. She became a Lesbian within a year, but, in spite of her otherwise Radical Lesbian Feminist and Separatist politics, her first loyalty lies with the sado-masochistic community, which became obvious to me when she clearly still thought of Pat Califia as a courageous hero, rather than the male-worshipping misogynist porny bisexual sadist who brought the worst aspects of gay male culture directly into our community, as well as the genderqueer crap my friend so rails against.
But then sado-masochism is about ritualizing inequality and oppression. Hero-worship without examining what that means is just one aspect of mainstream sado-masochism in patriarchal culture.
Another example of non-consensuality is in female-identified Lesbian support groups which are meant to provide a safe space for Lesbians who do not want to be around women identifying as male and using male pronouns, yet special exemptions are made for sado-masochistic “play” language. Why the double standard? Even more interesting is that it would never be allowed for someone to bring a beer to such a group since that might trigger a Lesbian in “Recovery” to want to drink, yet there is no concern for anyone who has been raped by their “Daddy” to not want to hear Lesbians play with that term sexually.
A friend of mine had dinner with a Lesbian who defines herself as a “Top.” When my friend went to leave, the sadist grabbed her arm and told her she was staying. My friend finally had to push her away to get her to let go. What if another Lesbian in that situation had been too intimidated or upset to be able to show that she was willing to defend herself? It sounded like this was a game/scenario the sadist was used to playing. How many Lesbians has she attacked?
I have to ask: What atrocities have sado-masochists managed to hide?
“WHAT CAN TWO GIRLS DO TOGETHER WITHOUT A —–?”
Sado-masochists tell us we need games, apparatus, and role-playing scenes to be exciting, which is similar to when men and het women ask “What can two girls do together without a prick?” Instead of asking how can we be passionate without rape and slave and prisoner scenes, handcuffs, whips, dildos, role-playing, etc., I ask why any Lesbian feels so bored and empty that she is driven to increasingly unsavory and bizarre scenarios. It’s running away from real passion and intensity. There is nothing like being completely present with your lover, looking into each other’s eyes, as you make love. But then, many sado-masochists have anonymous sex with complete strangers.
To me, the epitome of sado-masochism, which, after all, is based on male violence against women, is the glorifying of maleness. Using dildos, and believing you need dildos for Lesbian love-making, is more destructive for Lesbians than the worst aspects of sado-masochism. I just don’t understand the reason for it other than pretending to be male or pretending your lover is. There is nothing you can do with a dildo that you can’t do far more intensely and passionately with your Lesbian hands and Lesbian body. Most Lesbians find pricks disgusting, so why play with a fake one?
From what I’ve read, it’s ex-het Fems who primarily brought dildos into our Lesbians communities (Joan Nestle wrote about this in “A Persistent Desire,” when she described carrying a dildo in her purse in case she met a Butch she wanted to fuck her), and then brought them back after they seemed to be rejected by most Lesbians. I can’t help but distrust the motives. A self-hating, lesbophobic, Lesbian-hating Lesbian can pretend it’s not really a Lesbian making love to her if a dildo is being used. And that same hateful woman can feel more “normal” by pretending to be a man touching a woman when she is “making love” with a dildo. It’s a way to avoid touching and being touched. It’s a way to distance, as well as to pornify Lesbian sexuality.
I have heard so many Butches say they hated and felt objectified by being asked to use dildos on lovers. But, of course, Lesbians, and especially Butches, want to please their lovers. I’m guessing that dildos came back into use because some Fems demanded them, and then lovers complied. Dildos merged with the rest of the sado-masochistic “sex toys” that Lesbians talk about in order to not feel left out.
I’ve seen two documentaries where Lesbians decided to have mastectomies and take hormones to please their lovers who did not want to think of themselves as Lesbians, and to please their lovers’ families. So if mutilating yourself and risking your life is required for some relationships, why not use dildos?
When I protested at a Butch Conference that it was wrong to assume that we all used dildos, a sado-masochistic Hard Fem lectured me as if I had no awareness of what dildos were. When I refused to submit to her, she dismissed me by using..
UNFORTUNATELY, WE NEED AIR TO BREATHE Support Women’s Health, Not the Chemical IndustryBev Jo
I want an end to patriarchy and all oppression. But sometimes, I just want to smell clean air. Well, not really clean air, which is impossible, but air that doesn’t stink. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?
It’s not even that I live in a neighborhood with factories. I grew up in one, so I know the stench well – toxic fumes pouring out day and night, a half block from our house. I was told it was a cosmetics factory. (Vanity causing cancer.) Sometimes the chemicals blistered paint off cars. At school, there was another factory stink, probably Proctor and Gamble. Where I live now could be relatively clean-smelling, even in dense Oakland. Sometimes I can smell beautiful clean air from the ocean miles away, with trees and flowers on the wind, but the next moment will be a lungful of nauseating stink. The laundry products’ fumes pour into our open windows and seep in even when the windows are closed.
This time it’s not factories – it’s simply people being conned into buying toxic, dirty-smelling laundry products sold by rich corporations. What if people stopped wasting money on polluting our air and water? (All these poisonous products do end up in the water. There is media focus on pharmaceutical drugs and pesticides in drinking water and even in the bodies of fish, but they are also contaminated by detergents and fabric softeners.)
This could be easily avoided if people bothered to buy non-toxic products, but, while many people try to help the environment by carefully recycling and even changing what they eat, how much they travel, and how many other products they buy, few even consider stopping doing their laundry in the poison that is affecting everyone’s health around them.
Because these products are neuro-toxic and numb our sense of smell, people aren’t aware of how badly they stink. I’ve seen women holding detergent boxes to their faces, saying, “I can’t smell anything,” while those of us who are chemically injured are nauseated and worse. People already harmed by long-term exposure to poisons react sooner, but, like with other carcinogens, they do harm everyone. We all absorb the molecules into our lungs.
It doesn’t help that the spewers of these poisons are not unreachable, unchangeable corporate industries. It might be easier to accept if it was. No, these are regular people in this and every neighborhood, who choose to buy and release this poison into the air we are forced to breathe. But why?
Our next door neighbor is a gay man with AIDS, but he refuses to stop using Tide, even when we offered to buy him a safe product. He knows that he’s harming my friend who has had three separate, unrelated cancers, but why should he care when he refused to stop for his own mother who had been made so ill by Tide that she begged him to switch to a safer detergent?
The irony for me is that I grew up in Cincinnati, being exposed every day to Proctor and Gamble, one of the U.S.’s biggest polluters. (Don’t believe the “green” industry label they have.) It’s like a nightmare science fiction movie that I am now thousands of miles away and am still forced against my will to smell Proctor and Gamble’s toxic products — coming from neighbors’ vents blocks away, and from the nauseating fumes pouring off people’s clothes in every public place. Even walking alone in the woods, I can smell most people’s foul detergents and fabric softeners from 100 feet away, so Proctor and Gamble follows me.
Whenever I think I’ve discovered all the monstrous ways that greed has made this beautiful planet into a nightmare, I find another man-made horror.
I’ve heard women actually laugh about and deny Chemical Injury, but those who’ve died from asthma as a result of exposures to toxic scent are real, as are damaged lungs and heart hearts from being forced to use steroids and amphetamines in inhalants in order to breathe. Some people even react to toxic air by having grand mal epileptic seizures. Others’ worsening health and disability from Chemical Injury has caused some women to commit suicide.
It doesn’t help when women who try to make community events more accessible by asking for no scents are just ignored. It used to be the same with smoking, where no one cared who they were harming, even though the effects were well known. (My mother wouldn’t stop even when her husband was dying from lung cancer. Getting emphysema stopped her only because she literally couldn’t breathe.) Laws had to be changed, in spite of the power of the tobacco industry, to stop smoking in public places, but the stink lobby seems to be more powerful.
I’ve been disabled by chronic illness since 1981. I’ve called it “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis,” “Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome,” and “Fibromyalgia,” but didn’t get diagnosed until 35 years later when I was told that I had one of the highest titers of Epstein-Barr Virus seen at the Stanford clinic. I was also told I have high titers of “mycoplasma pneumonia,” though I have no respiratory symptoms. I feel like I have endless flu with deep exhaustion, fevers, nausea, joint pain, malaise, strange sudden sharp pain, difficulty sleeping, headaches, etc.
I always hated the smell of cigarette smoke, perfumes, etc. but it wasn’t until I was sick for several years that I began to identify as being Chemically Injured or having MCS – Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. What this means for me is that I have a sense of smell I consider normal for someone not living covered in toxic chemicals in patriarchy. People in more natural environments have stronger and more accurate senses of smell. (I’ve read that people in Viet Nam could smell US soldiers an enormous distance away because of their toothpaste alone.)
Chemical Injury causes many symptoms, including cancer, asthma, liver and kidney damage, nausea, vomiting, migraines, seizures, hormone disruption, immune suppression, MS-like reactions, pulse and blood pressure changes, heart arrhythmia, dizziness, confusion, panic attacks, memory loss, impaired vision and concentration, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, irritability, aggression, loss of muscular coordination, convulsions, and coma. People having migraines and depression and other physical and emotional problems are increasing and few suspect the real cause, so they get drugs from their doctor.
People who are most vulnerable, like those with asthma, know well the dangers since they can literally die from an exposure. It’s interesting that even the poorest people with asthma have figured out how to find and use unscented products. So why can’t everyone else? Instead, many privileged people with high incomes claim they can’t find or can’t afford safer products. Again, shouldn’t we all have the right to have the cleanest air possible?
A common response from people who won’t stop poisoning our air is to refer to the nearby freeways as being more toxic, as if that cancels out what they are doing and as if we could stop the cars. The diversion is like saying there’s nothing wrong venting poison they are forcing us to breathe against our will because there are already other poisons in the air. Shouldn’t the response be to try to make less?
As I update this article, we are having a smoke alert about unhealthy air quality over most Bay Area counties because of the North Bay firestorm, where hundreds of thousands of acres and entire neighborhoods have burned. Clean wood smoke is toxic enough and causes half of the winter Bay Area air pollution, including many deaths,1 (which is another problem most people don’t care about since few use fire for heat, but instead do it for pleasure), but this smoke is far worse because of the burned plastics and other synthetic materials from the homes and buildings. In spite of the health alerts, people continue venting their laundry products, so even when there is a lull in the smoke and we are desperate for better air, we can’t open our windows and doors.
Beingin public means being forced to breathe poison against our willbecause almost everyone stinks of “personal care” products and detergent and fabric softeners. Going to a store for food means being forced to breathe in more nauseating stench because supermarkets have aisles of toxic air “fresheners,” pesticides, etc. Even health food stores reek from scented candles, soaps, “personal care” products, etc. Food in the stores also tastes from absorbing the perfumes and toxins. It’s gotten much worse since people are buying more scented products all the time. (I’ve actually been asked by women what products I use when they recite their long list of things that never used to exist and that I’d never consider buying or using. Why don’t people realize that are being obedient, manipulated consumers wasting money on poisoning themselves?)
After being exposed to the public stench, it sticks to us, so we bring it home, where it affects those we live with. (It’s so bad that after going to events, washing my clothes doesn’t clean them because they first have to be hung outside for days. I also always have to shower and wash my hair to be able to be around my friends at home and not contaminate the air and furniture in our house.)
Advertising propaganda that equates toxins with “cleanliness” has meant that chemists continue to develop new chemicals that are designed to take much longer to off-gas. Ads brag about how much more invasive and persistent the stink in detergents are than ever before. Television ads for Gain target women and show dowdy older women going into ecstasy and obscenely gyrating after smelling their foul detergents while men stare in awe. (Seriously). Another Gain ad shows a man mourning his wife, trying to throw her scarf into the ocean but it keeps blowing back and hits him in the face. He can’t get rid of it or the smell. (This is aimed at women also: “He’ll never forget you.”) But why do women support such obvious manipulation that ridicules them?
It’s actually easy to get away from toxic products and make our communities more accessible if people just stopped using them. It’s not like any of these products smell good, no matter how many ads try to convince us. People also are spending more money buying cleaning products — the irony being that they dirty their homes and bodies in the process – sometimes permanently. (Once a fabric is washed in Tide, Gain, Downy, etc., it is impossible to wash it out, which we discovered when a friend gave us a commemorative t-shirt that we left out in the sun and rain for a year. It smelled as bad afterward as when we first were given it. If we had tried washing it with our other clothes, they would have been contaminated and become unusable also.)
This issue has been known for decades and there used to be signs in hospitals and clinics asking people to not wear scented products (though the industry put a stop to that.) So why do most women, including Lesbians, pay money to apply men’s scents to their bodies, marking themselves as men’s property? It doesn’t matter how terrible they really smell – the marketing propaganda convinces them otherwise. Yet, as one leaflet says, “Perfume is as romantic as hazardous waste.”
The use of toxic perfumes and cleaners is a female and Feminist issue because women are the most targeted by advertising to use these poisons. Women are also the majority victims of chemical injury. I believe this manipulation plays into most women feeling contaminated from growing up in patriarchy and so believing that they are “dirty” from sexual assault by males as well as from their chosen sexual contact with them. Men also tell women we are dirty and smelly. Before the AIDS epidemic, when ads asked for Lesbian blood (known to be the cleanest in terms of being less likely to be carrying hepatitis or STDs, etc.) to help our gay “brothers,” gay men publicly announced they didn’t want Lesbians at their pool parties because we’re “dirty.” (I’ve never seen this form of “separatism” by gay men criticized like Lesbian Separatism is.). Women’s obsession for cleanliness has led to developing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and major corporations, like Proctor and Gamble, know this and direct their advertising accordingly. Yet, what smells as good as natural female aromas?
Almost everyone trivializes this issue of health as being their own or others’ “personal problem,” calling our reaction to toxins “allergies.” Allergies have nothing to do reacting to toxic scented products any more than people who get lung cancer from cigarette smoke or factory emissions are “allergic.” It is simply poison. Ninety-five percent of the ingredients in scented products are synthesized from petrochemicals. This is far more than personal — it’s a political issue about accessibility and the right to have access to unpolluted air.
Most people trust the government to protect us and either refuse to believe they don’t or are shocked that toxic chemicals are sold without testing or regulation – yet they are usually aware that the government lies to us about many things, including reasons for invading other countries, the safety of our water and food supply, pesticides and herbicides, hormones and antibiotics in meat, GMO and irradiated food, nuclear reactors and nuclear waste, big pharmaceutical companies’ toxic drugs, etc. Toxic scented products are made by many of the same industries, just as chemotherapy drugs are made by the industries that cause cancer. People who otherwise are careful about the environment and would never buy other products from well-known polluters still happily give these corporations money when it comes to personal care and household products.
Women’s attachment to scented products shows in their trying to find “organic” scented products, but one study revealed that EVERY scented product, including those labeled organic, contained toxic, carcinogenic ingredients. (This includes all organic essential oils.)
Be aware that many products that claim to be scent-free are not. The chemical industry knows people increasingly want safer products, so companies make false “green” knock-offs that are as toxic as their usual brands. This has been maddening because no matter how often I warn new friends and wait for them to switch to safe products so that I finally can be around them without getting sicker or wanting to vomit, they ignore the safe brands we and MCS sites recommend and buy phony brands, such as Safeway’s “Bright Green” toxic detergent. I was going to drive a visiting friend around for a week and she arrived proudly showing me her mainstream “unscented” detergent, though I’d warned her about false labeling and to not trust any supermarket brands. We could smell her from our back yard when she was standing in the street. It was excruciating. I’m left wondering why they don’t believe us. Is it classism or just ableism or both? Yet if they were boycotting something for animal rights or another issue, I doubt they would make such a “mistake.”
Another problem is that sometimes mainstream brands that were once less toxic, like Arm and Hammer “unscented” detergent change their formulas and then are more toxic and smelly. So we always use the less mainstream brands that are well-known to be safe. (But some of them, like Ecos laundry detergent, have scented versions, so friends have mistakenly bought the wrong ones.) Another problem is that stores smell so bad that you can’t tell until you are home for a while and your sense of smell clears that the product you just bought is scented.
Please Don’t Poison Us in Other Ways
I shouldn’t have to mention how harmful using poisons are, but I obviously have to since, after writing this, a friend I trusted, who claims to have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, had invited me and another friend to visit at her house. I trusted her, but it turns out that the yard she invited us to sit in for hours she had heavily sprayed with carcinogenic glyphosate/Roundup, which is so toxic that it’s being banned in Europe. She also kept pushing us to eat her fruit without warning us how toxic it would be. (I refused. That yard looked so poisoned.) She even kept complaining about how badly some of her plants look, without telling us about the herbicide that covered her yard.
Glyphosate is said to last for 22 years, and is in all of our bodies already. Why would someone so lie like this by omission? Anyway, if you’re going to use poison (and please for the earth and every living being, don’t, ever), at least warn people you will be exposing to it. Give us the chance to say no.
Saying “No” to an Exclusionary Community
Lesbians are my people. I love Lesbians with all my heart. I want us to have the best communities possible, which is why I’m focusing on Lesbians here.
As much as I hate cigarette smoke, I understood it was an addiction. (I had no escape from it as a girl since my mother refused to stop, no matter the effect on my health. It finally killed her.) What I don’t understand is why women are so resistant to giving up toxic products that are not addictive. And why do they slather on the most foul-smelling perfumes and colognes, even though they know it makes others sick? Some of these products are so full of petrochemicals that they smell like kerosene or disinfectant. Most do have toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde, which, in other situations, is considered hazardous waste and dealt with accordingly.
“But what about people’s right to choose? We shouldn’t control what people want to do, should we?” Well, the insistence on freedom to do what we want is behind large industries’ pollution of lakes, rivers, and oceans, as well as their spewing factory filth into the air. It is also the rationale for clear-cutting our last old growth forests and mining on national park lands, as well as hunting for trophy sport. Without regulations and laws, the rich do what they want, and the poor suffer and die.
We had no protection against smoking until laws were finally made to prevent people from forcing everyone else to breathe in their toxic smoke. Even most ex-smokers are glad about the laws now. So why are products allowed to be sold that equally pollute public air? At least cigarette smoke doesn’t travel as far as drier vents spewing Downy and Gain. With cancer rates constantly increasing, we can’t afford to play games over access to cleaner air. It’s those who are trapped in these homes without a choice or who are living in institutions who I feel the worst about – helpless, vulnerable animals, babies and children. I remember when dogs didn’t get cancer. I remember when cancer was so rare that only one member in my huge extended family, which included many old people, got cancer. There is so much that we can’t control about carcinogens in our environment, but this is one source of cancer we can control, and we can save money at the same time. Our choices also determine which products continue to be made.
Most of this is really about people being conned into wasting more money on products that they are told will make them more acceptable or desirable, with oppressed women being targeted in particular, even though more oppressed communities have higher rates of asthma and cancer.
Women are much more likely to change products if they think animals are being harmed than other women. So consider the connections between the most toxic companies and those that experiment on animals. (NO experimenting on animals is ever justified.)
Many women refuse to believe perfumes can hurt anyone. My mother only believed Tide was harmful when her doctor told her it was the cause of her rashes. Before then, she could care less. One friend who already knew that perfume is toxic came to a women’s event, proudly saying she was only “wearing a light scent.” (It was disgusting, and a Lesbian with asthma reacted immediately.)
The selfish narcissism in this is astounding. Our patriarchal culture regulates and punishes any female who steps out of line in regards to following male-defined rules of femininity, but encourages false “freedom” as long as that really means staying “feminine” and spending money.
It doesn’t even seem to stop personal polluters when beloved Lesbian singers tell their audience that being exposed to scents hurts their voices. Every time I go to an event, someone will coyly announce I shouldn’t hug them because they are wearing “fragrance.” When I told one woman that she was harming the health of everyone in the room, she said, “I know, it’s my choice.” (Ironically, or not, she soon was asking for money for health problems and died less than a year later.)
We shouldn’t have to choose between our Lesbian communities and protecting our health. Women who react the most severely should not be forced to be homebound. It is the right of every living being to be able to smell clean air and be able to breathe. I know Lesbians who say they want to give up their car to help the environment (which I do not recommend), but they won’t give up Tide, scented detergents or other toxic products. What is going on?
Trying to have friends visit creates another problem. Ninety-nine percent of those who say they are unscented actually reek from various products. Many homes are unbearable to visit because of the stink, yet often animals are trapped living with it. For those who take offense if you say their candle scented with oily volatile toxic ingredients is painful to be near, would they want to spend several hours closed up in a room with a chain smoker? Being in the same room with someone scented also means that you, your hair, clothes, and every bit of fabric in the room absorb the stink. Some people seem surprised at this, yet they know cigarette smoke does the same thing.
The bad smell also transfers to other surfaces (which is why I now always bring an insulite/thermarest pad to sit on in public – which I have to leave outside after I go home since it stinks for days afterward). Before my housemate and I stopped being too afraid to offend anyone by making our home safe, a visitor sat on our couch for 2 hours – and the couch stank of Tide for over 6 months. We’ve also put down a plastic tarp on a chair for a visitor who was scented only with Gain, but the smell soaked right through the tarp, and the chair stank so much afterwards that we couldn’t keep it in the house.
Another problem has been when I’ve given rides to friends who were previously unscented, and then suddenly they’re using a new, nauseating product. The worst time was..
When I found the Lesbian Feminist community in 1970, I felt I’d come home. I had been searching my entire life, from my earliest memories of loving other girls and fantasizing about being in a community with other girls, where we would love and protect each other. Even though I knew my feelings made me “queer,” loving my own kind felt too perfect for anything to be wrong with it. (“Queer” was a terrifying slur in the Fifties, which we reclaimed in the Seventies as a way to confront heterosexism, but decades later it has become the trendy genderqueer term that applies to anyone, including those who oppress and erase us by appropriating Lesbian and gay male culture).
I was alone in my search for years. The dictionary description pornified us and confused me since we are not about “sex,” but about loving other females enough to suffer severe punishment, including murder. When I finally found some reflection of who I was, it was traumatizing, because the only books and films supposedly about Lesbians in the Fifties and Sixties were incredibly Lesbian-hating. The message of “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall is that a Lesbian should leave her lover to “save” her from the terrible Lesbian life of loneliness so she could find “normal” happiness with a man. Films like The Children’s Hour, The Fox, and the Killing of Sister George similarly showed Lesbians as pathetic “inverts” and were horrific propaganda for teenaged girls. None of these stories showed the true horror of heterosexual and family life, which was stiflingly boring at best, and, at worst, the means by which most little girls are sexually assaulted by male relatives and by which all females are sexually harassed. These are questions we were not allowed to ask and subjects we were not allowed to speak about. We were deliberately isolated from the truth so any girl being sexually assaulted in her family thought she was the only one and it was her fault. (Only real Feminism showed the truth.) I still meet women who have no idea how widespread family rape is.
I was in communities of all girls in my high schools, where many were loving and kind to each other, and, in retrospect, some friends seemed to be in love with other girls too. But most slowly succumbed to the relentless pressure to be “normal” and forced themselves to be with boys, often the same boys who previously had sexually harassed and/or assaulted them when they were younger. Meanwhile, most girls devalued their female friends as they increased their male worshipping.
This was the mid to late Sixties where “free love” was spreading. We were to “love” everyone, but no one I knew questioned why it was called “free” since most of us weren’t around males other than family. It was all about what suited men and boys. “Free love,” like the con of the “liberated” woman, was used to undermine Women’s Liberation by tricking girls and women into believing that proof of their being “free” and “liberated” meant they were to sexually service as many males as possible. Unlike with prostitution or a marriage contract (which is legal prostitution where women are supposed to “be taken care of” by one man as payment for services rendered), this new “counter culture” movement was about conning girls and women into giving males sexual access whenever they demanded.
I’ll never forget a friend in high school actually saying that what her new boyfriend taught her to do with him was “dirty.” She was so ashamed and confused. After all, this is what the entire culture told her she should be doing. Meanwhile, I wondered about her old best friend of many years. They had been inseparable and the nuns even acknowledged them as a couple in the school play. (The yearbook has a magical photo of them opening the play where they looked like elves on either side of the stage, blowing on curling horns like trumpets they’d made from seaweed they had gathered and dried. What if they had not then been pushed into being heterosexual?)
What was this terrible shame of loving other girls when suddenly being sexual with boys and men the girls hardly knew was considered normal, expected, and rewarded? I have heard so many stories of how horrible it was for girls the first time they were fucked, so why do it? Even some of the parents of girls being pressured by predatory boys were disapproving and scared for their daughters. Never underestimate the power of having peer status and fitting in.
I continued falling in love with other girls, and then fell in love with my best friend, Marg. I had first seen her wrestling on the floor of the gym with another girl. She looked like a Lesbian (as I imagined us) with very short hair. We became friends and I found out another girl had broken her heart. Marg was 16 and wise, aware, kind, and loving. We formed a close friendship group of girls, and she and I grew closer until we kissed and became lovers. I will never forget the scent of her breath or her voice in my ear or the passionate look in her eyes. We loved each other with such passion, stronger than anything we’d ever experienced. I wrote her love letters and poems, and she wrote me love letters, and beautiful songs that she sang to me.
This was 1968, where we were told in school that they would make us become “young ladies.” Just one positive image of Lesbians would have made a world of difference. (As bad as things are now, with continuing male propaganda showing “Lesbians” wanting to be fucked by men and reproduce, there are Lesbians in the media and even beloved Lesbians on television.) We had no one to talk with and nothing anywhere that reflected us, yet we still knew how to love each other and how to make love. It was magical. (This is why I do not understand when women say they didn’t know how to be Lesbians because there weren’t other Lesbians as role models. We were our own role models. There was no one else. Our love for each other led the way.)
We were in ecstasy, but also constant terror because we knew our time was running out. We lived to be with each other every moment, but Marg was restricted by her family and rarely allowed to go anywhere. She managed to get permission to stay overnight at my house just once, and I remember us hearing and smelling the rain, saying that someday, when we were safe, we would make love in the rain. (She later painted a picture of us together in the rain.)
We knew what everyone would think about us if they found out. We could feel Marg’s family watching the way we looked into each other’s eyes. Marg’s mother started saying creepy sexual things to us to see our reaction. When I would stay over, she would turn on the light in Marg’s room in the middle of the night to see what we were doing (sleeping). Finally, she searched Marg’s room and found my letters, and we were forbidden to ever see each other again.
How on earth could anything that was so perfect and wonderful be considered so terrible? What was the alternative? The miserable marriages we saw all around us where the people hated each other or tolerated each other at best? Girls, like some we knew, getting pregnant and getting STDs from boyfriends? (We didn’t know then that HPV could lead to cervical cancer.) What was the purpose of that kind of life except to overpopulate the earth into oblivion? For those of us raised catholic, there was also the option of becoming a nun, but what a depressing miserable life where the women were “married” to Jesus and had none of the rights that priests were allowed. Before I was lovers with Marg, I did threaten to become a nun just to get my mother to stop harassing me about how I’d “have to get married and have kids” someday.
All I wanted to do was be with the girl I loved and be allowed to keep loving her. But we were treated like criminals. I could feel we were losing each other when we couldn’t even see each other. My next letters (sent through a dear friend) were found again. Did Marg want us discovered so she could be “cured”? Meanwhile, the Lesbian-hating propaganda made me worry I was being bad for her. (By the way, I’ve been told to shut up about telling my story by Lesbians who brag endlessly about past husbands and boyfriends. I am not supposed to exist in much of our Lesbian community now, just as I was not supposed to exist then.)
I will never know what it would have been like if we’d been able to stay together and just explore our love and passion with no fear, judgements, harassment. Would we still be lovers? What songs and poetry and art and books would we have created? Of course patriarchy and men and the women devoted to male rule don’t want us to find out how we can love each other – because then we would bring down patriarchy and save the earth. (“An army of lovers cannot fail” – unless they turn our love into self-hatred and con us into turning on each other.)
With no support and because of unrelenting pressure from friends and my mother, I’d tried to be friends with boys/men, even though most were so different from women and were cruel, female-hating, and predatory. Adult males were worse than the boys I knew growing up who sexually assaulted and tortured and killed animals, and harassed and attacked girls. I could not, would not be friends with them. (When I was 17, one of the repulsive men I regret feeling sorry for kept pressuring me to be his girlfriend. He refused to understand my “no” since women belonged to men, and he also had no idea what Lesbians were. But a few years later, he stalked me into the Lesbian community, saying he was a Lesbian too, and immediately was allowed into power positions in our organizations. Now, I have to abandon part of my community to avoid being subjected to his perving on us. Besides his “singing” off key about “bitches” and women crawling on the ground desperate to reach his “kitty cat” – “pussy” – his public racist rants will be assumed to be from a Lesbian.)
I don’t want another girl or woman to go through the hell I did, of loving so deeply, but being terrified our love was hurting the one we loved. I’ve never heard of boys and men going through such self-doubting, even though their demands of sexual access to girls and women harms females physically, psychically, mentally, spiritually. Almost every woman I know had been harmed by being sexually harassed as well as sexually assaulted in girlhood and later. Some have incurable STDs they got from boys and men against their will. Others say they will never get over the trauma they suffered. But never have I read or heard any male having regrets about what they have done to females.
It was such a terrifying time, but I would not stop searching and continuing trying to be a Lesbian. Just I was changed forever by fulfilling my life’s dream by becoming lovers with Marg, I was then changed again, forever, by finding the community of my dreams with other Lesbian Feminists in 1970.
It was amazing to not only find other Lesbians, but to find Lesbian Feminists who were proud of being Lesbians. At that time, in 1970, a lot of our community seemed to be like Marg and I: girls and women who had found each other as girls and who loved each other enough to risk all the hatred aimed at us. Some had been incarcerated in mental hospitals by their families or just kicked out of their homes to live on the streets. Some didn’t survive. But the others created our international Lesbian Feminist community.
These Lesbians with their strong Lesbian-loving politics countered all the hate thrown at us and answered all the lies, so never again would I have doubts or feel guilty for being a Lesbian. Never again would I question if something was wrong with me for not wanting to be around males and finding most of them predatory and dangerous.
In spite of all the heartache and betrayal that followed, I still had come home. What I found and what we continue to create, across the earth, is better than I ever could have dared imagine. We continue and always will. Even if they erase our memories and all signs of our culture ever existing (as some are trying very hard to do with their well-funded agenda, and as they have done to us many times before over the millennia), we will still create ourselves as Lesbians out of nothing because this is the natural state of all females. (On a recent documentary about China, there was a reference to a Twelfth Century Lesbian bar/meeting place.)
The excitement of the Lesbian Feminist community we were building and the het women coming out in droves made it feel like it was just a matter of time before all women learned about feminism and chose to become Lesbians. In the Seventies, we called ourselves Lesbians and openly and proudly said that we are choosing to love our own kind. That awareness is revolutionary. Remember, this was the era when we were pathologized as mentally ill by most psychiatrists and doctors, and many Lesbian girls and women were incarcerated by their families in mental hospitals to be tortured and “cured of their perversion.”
We created Lesbian Feminist and then Lesbian Separatist gatherings and conferences, where we could share ideas and learn from each other. Our politics were not just about what we could get for ourselves with individual goals, but what we could do for ourselves as a community. No leaders and no followers. Radical Lesbian Feminism is about equality.
Even concerts and dances were political and ecstatic experiences. We taught each other skills like self defense. Before gyms were popular, many Lesbians went to women’s dojos. I joined a jujitsu school and then taught self defense to girls and women for ten years. I wrote for and published Dykes and Gorgons, a Dyke Separatist newspaper in 1973, and continued writing for anthologies and finally our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes, and later my blogs. I also moderate several Radical Feminist and Radical Lesbian Feminists groups on Facebook.
We made a home and community, and we knew we were choosing the best possible life that girls and women could have. (I was still technically a girl in 1970.) I remember a button/badge that said “Lesbianism Is Revolution,” and, even though some of the class-privileged socialists didn’t agree, I believe it is because we challenge patriarchy at its core. Although Lesbianism by itself is not as revolutionary as Lesbian Feminism (now known as Radical Lesbian Feminism), it certainly is the major threat to patriarchy — if all women became Lesbians and therefore became less invested in males and their life-hating, necrophilic male and het values, everything would change, the earth would not continue to be destroyed, and patriarchy would soon end.
Radical Lesbian Feminism is even stronger and more conscious, and is about protecting the earth, fighting all oppression and inequality (and knowing the difference between who is oppressor and who is oppressed), and opposing every way that patriarchy is destroying us. That means of course we fight racism, classism, Lesbian-hating, female-hating, ableism, ageism, looksism, fat oppression, etc. Real Lesbian Feminism encompasses the best of male movements (like socialism) and goes further.
For the first time, we allowed ourselves to think and talk about male violence, with our friends, in our “consciousness-raising small groups,” and in our wonderful Lesbian Feminist newspapers. It was a shock to find out how many of the women in our community had been sexually assaulted as girls by male family, including fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, etc. (I later found out that being raped/assaulted as girls was not unique to Lesbians, but is true for almost all women. Lesbian Feminists were among the first to dare talk and write about it.) Males seem to try to mark every girl and woman as their territory. (Certainly mass rape in wartime is one example, but so many more horror stories are now being discovered through personal media.)
Without the framework of Radical Feminism, women discuss and write about every aspect of war, atrocities, genocide, governments and companies irreparably polluting the water and earth with radiation and toxins, and even babies and girls being raped to death, and yet they avoid saying that 99% of the horror is committed by men and boys. (When girls and women participate, it’s usually because of following males.) Meanwhile, those in the forefront of fighting for justice are females, yet it’s males who most take the credit and are in the prestigious jobs. Knowing this is basic feminism.
Our history is being erased when people scream at us, saying we don’t have a choice and are “born this way,” ignoring that most Lesbians first chose to be het. The myth of “sexual orientation” is gay male and genderqueer propaganda, devised as a political strategy to counter being told we can change/be cured if we wanted to. Lesbians were never asked if we agreed to join this erasure of our culture and history, just as we were added with our oppressors to the “LGBTQI” mess against our will. Our pride and existence are erased, and too many Lesbians who come out late in life meekly obey, repeating the propaganda line, “I was always a Lesbian, but just didn’t know it.” No, you were not a Lesbian when you were married to your husbands for all those decades. If het women are Lesbians, then what are Lesbians?
RLF also means recognizing which enemies of women are using our politics against us, such as when men insist they are us, more oppressed than us, and demand sexual access to us and our last besieged spaces. That invasion has been around since at least 1970, but only much later became such a destructive force after our Lesbian community weakened because of the numbers of women who joined and outnumbered us who didn’t bother to learn basic Lesbian Feminist politics, and who value men more than Lesbians. Considering male crimes, how on earth can women suddenly accept men as Lesbians? Don’t they know that men’s most popular porn is “Lesbian”? Don’t they know about these men claiming they are more Lesbians than we are and that part of the trans cult is the “trans-paraplegic” able-bodied man also claiming to be a Lesbian? https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/please-if-you-love-lesbians-and-other-women-think-about-this/
If even one woman objects to men in “women’s” spaces, why are the men given priority over women? They have the entire world to support them. (And no, men claiming to be women are not more vulnerable to attack. Why is it the job of females, most of who have already suffered from male violence, to try to protect men from male on male violence?) If men can be Lesbians, then Lesbians no longer exist. (The African-American community dealt with European-descent Rachel Dolezal pretending she was Black and holding an NAACP job. She was banned. It’s no wonder that African-descent women and Lesbians are more courageous as a group in saying no to men posing as women and Lesbians.)
We have not only lost almost every space we have, but also the Lesbian bars that existed before feminism. Instead of women only, and even some Lesbian only spaces, we still try to gather to go to concerts and dances, but we have only public places where the men prey on us, groping and leering, while their women often look horrified at the sight of us. (This is the San Francisco Bay Area.) And even worse, every event has at least one man who claims to be a Lesbian, often in charge of the event. If we want to go, we are forbidden to talk about it.
I think the real reason we lost our spaces is simply money. In the Seventies, we could rent a house for a hundred dollars, which provided places to meet and dance and party, and just be Lesbians together. Then there were our coffeehouses and bookstores, etc. I think the economy partly changed as a way to stop anyone who was trying to change the patriarchal power structure. Instead of organizing, we struggle to survive at a poverty level unlike anything we’d previously experienced. The class segregation is throughout the US where even parks and museums are too expensive for the poor to go to. But also the divide in our Lesbian communities is extreme, which means we are segregated in other ways, with many Lesbians having no idea that things were once very different. Some Lesbians easily hire servants to clean their houses, do their yards, walk their dogs, etc. and assume most have the money to spend a hundred dollars on an evening out, while other Lesbians are homeless or close to it, no matter how hard they work.
We should never accept a segregated community, but should make sure that events have affordable sliding scales that do not keep out the most oppressed women. Class segregation means other kinds of segregation.
We also need to not lose heart when women betray us. We are being constantly trolled and undermined online and elsewhere by people who target Radical Feminists activists to destroy us. Some of this is from women who do not have the courage to be truly Radical Feminists and so they are jealous of what we have done and even our existence. But others must be paid agents, which have always existed among radical movements. Some of the slander is astounding in how outrageous and obvious it is, yet women feed it by repeating it and by not confronting the liar. I see Radical Feminist activists who helped create our community and culture, and who have a history of decades of work and activism being targeted and subjected to lies and harassment. Instead of the liars being challenged to prove what they are saying, or even to prove they are women, they are allowed continue to undermine and harm. Their victims waste time and energy fighting trolls whose names and aliases keep changing. The slander is spread in troll groups where the victims are blocked from being able to defend ourselves. Now many of us are continually blocked from our Radical Feminist groups online by being reported with false charges.
Instead of the agents/trolls being confronted and stopped, other women passively complain about how upsetting the “horizontal hostility” and “infighting” is among feminists, terrified they will be next. If the trolls are agents and deliberately lying, they are not feminists and their lying is not “infighting.” This is deliberate sabotage. They are not part of our movement. And they could be stopped easily, if witnesses bothered to do what a few courageous and caring Radical Feminists have done, which is to explore and reveal that their avatars and photos and posted information are false, their aliases change though the language remains the same, and what looks like a group is likely one individual who may not even be a woman.
Some of the trolls are also women trying to get into power positions who do not want their betrayals of us on behalf of their female-hating men friends to be identified and caught — so they project what they are doing onto those who are saying no to them. (Notice how often their false accusations sound like exactly like what they themselves are doing.) Some are mentally ill, but other women who are mentally ill are not abusive and are safely in our community. Either way, it’s not hard to deal with anyone harming us: Simply ask them for specific proof of their accusations beyond insults and name-calling. What has their victim actually done? If they continue harming any woman in our movement, give them another chance to explain publicly in whatever groups they are in and to make reparations. If they still continue, ban them. We have to stop protecting abusers and abandoning and betraying their victims. (And then watch closely to make sure that “women” asking to join your groups are not the same trolls with yet another fake identity.)
Certain safety rules are easy to apply, so that anyone who continues making insults and using classism and racism and Lesbian-hating (including Butch-hating) comments, then for the protection of our entire community, they must be banned. (In the blogs I moderate, most abusive comments stopped immediately when new members had to read and agree to our safety rules before joining.) If they are clearly agents and caught lying, everyone needs to be notified. But unfortunately, most women are too..
Dykes-Loving-Dykes: Dyke Separatist PoliticsBev Jo, Linda Strega, Ruston1990 – 2015
Why We Wrote This Book
I’ve put our entire updated book at the heading of my blog, so all the chapters can easily be seen and linked to, in order. Each chapter is meant to build from the previous chapter, but most also stand alone, for reading and sharing.
2015 – We have re-positioned the chapters, so our original Chapter One, which was Lesbians for Lesbians, is now Chapter Five. Our new first chapter, The Crimes of Mankind, had been the beginning section of Chapter Two, Heterosexuality/Selling Out Is Not Compulsory, but we are now starting our book with it as a separate chapter, since the rest of our book flows from knowing that males are destroying the earth and that women do have the ability to stop them.
We originally had 13 chapters, but are not posting our three personal stories or our brief ending.
Chapter Two: Heterosexuality/Selling Out Is Not Compulsory
Chapter Three: Heterosexism Among Lesbians Is Lesbian-Hating
Chapter Four: Supporting Butches Supports All Lesbians
Chapter Five: Lesbians for Lesbians — Dyke Separatism
Chapter Six: Leather = S/M = Sadism and Masochism
Chapter Seven: Motherhood: The Ultimate Feminine Role
Chapter Eight: Patriarchy Is One Big Unhappy Family
Chapter Nine: Hidden Disability by Bev Jo and Linda Strega
Chapter Ten: If Looks Could Kill: The Most Personal Oppression
In 1990, we published our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes, in order to share our understanding about what goes wrong in our Lesbian communities, friendships, and relationships, and about how that damage has undermined Lesbian Feminism, Radical Lesbian Feminism, Separatism, and Radical Feminism in general. Everything we described or predicted has proven true. (For example, men claiming to be Lesbians and destroying our last women only space is almost beyond belief, but they are now supported by most pretend feminists as well as liberal Lesbians.)
So twenty five years later, I (Bev) am updating our book with our new information and additional chapters with input from Linda Strega.
I’ve also continued posting new articles at my blog, which would theoretically become a second or third book if we had the money and means to publish them. They are:
The story of Lesbianism is a story of magic and survival.1 In almost every part of the world, we’re said not to exist, or we’re hated and lied about. Yet we persist in surviving. Lesbians come from every culture and country. We appear where there are no others of us, coming from people who try their hardest to make us committed man-lovers. We create ourselves out of nothing, appearing like weeds that cannot be destroyed. We crack open the foundations of the enormous structures of male supremacy.
Our passion to survive and find each other over great barriers of distance and time is like the crashing of ocean waves. Unstoppable. Like witches, we are a horror story that chills the heartlessness of mankind. We’re said to be figments of the imagination. Like ghosts, we’re simply not supposed to be. Like witches, we are murdered and lied about. And like the ghosts of millions of murdered witches,2 we haunt all of mankind.
Lesbians are part of nature. Like witchcraft, rats, spiders and snakes, we horrify, because man is so deeply afraid of nature. We remind everyone that patriarchy and heterosexuality are not inevitable.
We dare to be Dykes. That’s our crime against mankind. We dare to love other Dykes. That’s unforgivable in patriarchy. But we won’t be stopped. We want the best possible world for Dykes and all females, and that also means an unpolluted, wild world, safe for the other creatures on earth. The only way to save the Earth is to end patriarchy. The only way for male supremacy to end is for heterosexual women to stop choosing and supporting men and being heterosexual. We can’t prevent men and het women from making their life-hating choices, but, as Dykes, we can choose to stop supporting them, and instead choose to love our own kind and create truly Dyke-identified Dyke communities.
This book is about loving Lesbians, which means fighting male rule and heterosexism. That’s Dyke Separatism. Only by devoting our lives to ourselves and each other as Lesbians, as a people, will we begin to build truly Dyke-identified Lesbian Movements. Dykes deserve the very best — other Dykes.
Valuing Dyke Ways
Why do we often feel that we’re still struggling against familiar pain that wrecked so many of our relationships with other girls when we were younger — betrayals, malice, slander, manipulations, exclusion from cliques? We already know some of the reasons: racism, classism, ethnicism, ableism, looksism, ageism, and fat oppression. There’s another reason that’s seldom discussed, but which explains the many presently “mysterious” disasters among Lesbians: heterosexism or Lesbian-hating among Lesbians.
To have strong Dyke cultures, we need to also return to our true Dyke/female natures. That means recognizing and eliminating the indoctrination of male and het identification that’s imposed on us, which many Lesbians once chose to embrace and which some still actively pursue. Rejecting male definitions of females is central to Dyke Separatism. Because we’re raised in a Lesbian-hating world, we’re all taught Lesbian-hatred. That doesn’t automatically disappear when we come out. This book is about understanding and fighting all forms of lesbophobia and Lesbian-hatred among ourselves as Lesbians, which also means recognizing and fighting female-hating.
Although some of us have had glimpses, none of us knows what it would be like to be part of a truly Dyke-centered, Dyke-loving community. It would be Separatist, with no men or boys welcome, and with het women only as occasional guests. We’d love, protect, care for and value each other as Dykes. We would have one place in the world where we’d be safer, happier, more hopeful, and strong. We would be genuinely committed to eradicating all inequality among us because no oppressiveness is acceptable to true Dyke Separatists and because we want to have the most diverse and welcoming communities possible.
Dykes as a people are incredibly strong and courageous. Otherwise we wouldn’t have survived. But too often that Lesbian strength is spent caring for our oppressors. Too many Lesbians give energy to men and boys. Too many also give their hearts to het women. Even when Lesbians are only with Lesbians, too many maintain and use men’s standards and rules, and police those of us who want to be fully Lesbian in our minds, hearts, and spirits. Het women are revered as the essence of femaleness, beauty, and kindness, while Dyke-identified Dykes are reviled. It’s all a mindfuck that hurts us individually and as a people.
We won’t take care of ourselves if we don’t value ourselves. The Lesbian-only space we need is almost non-existent in the world. “Women’s” space usually includes boys and often even men. Meanwhile, Lesbians are sick and dying from Lesbian oppression.
In the early 1970’s, we felt a sense of hope, excitement, and possibilities for a new beginning. Many of us were finding other Lesbians for the first time in our lives. Dyke communities were growing bigger and stronger, and new ones were forming. There was caring, love, and self-love among us as Lesbians.
Now it’s the era of selfishness. “Lesbian culture” became “women’s culture,” which then became meaningless. Everyone but Lesbians were prioritized by Lesbians. (By 2011, the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective had become the business called the Berkeley Women’s Health Center, which then morphed into the extremely Lesbian-hating Berkeley Clinic for Women and Men.) Theoretically Lesbian organizations, like the National Center for Lesbian Rights3 legally support men against Lesbians, even while still asking for Lesbian money and promoting segregation in our community by having fundraisers that only the richest Lesbians can afford.
Much feminist writing became anti-feminist. Dynamic and exciting Lesbian music became “womyn’s” music, with the politics and culture gutted, and is often even more boring than mainstream het women’s music. The newer musicians played to Lesbian audiences while being closeted enough to attract het and het women. Lesbians idolized Lesbian “stars,” whose goal was to grow in fame and fortune through taking Lesbian energy and diluting it for the consumption of men and het women. The fire, passion, and realness of Lesbian Feminist politics is almost gone.
Some Lesbians say they’re not “political,” as if that means they have no responsibility for what’s happening. But we’re all political. Choosing to passively accept things as they are is as much a political decision as fighting back, because it affects every other Lesbian’s life. Politics are far more than male electoral power plays, or abstract theories — politics means how we decide to live, in a world where every action or inaction affects others.
Instead of working to build Lesbian communities, many women who identify as Lesbians decided to create their own nuclear families by getting pregnant. With “artificial insemination,” they produce over 85% boys, a patriarch’s dream come true. They also formed an enormous, self-righteous, privilege-bonded pressure group, demanding that Lesbians look after their sons and that their sons be welcomed everywhere, teaching their boys that girls and women saying “no” means nothing. They and the men posing as women destroyed our last remaining female-only spaces.
Three events that completely altered our Lesbian Feminists communities were the “feminist” invasions of porn and sado-masochism, along with the arrival of academics (in a culture and movement that previously distrusted academia and had the ideology of no leaders.) The class divisions widened with all three also.
The most influential women who wrote about “Lesbians sex” in the early Eighties were actually choosing to be bisexual while lying and misrepresenting themselves as Lesbian to promote their male-worshipping in our communities, and to make money off Lesbians: Pat Califia (who now pretends to be a man to get sexual access to gay men), JoAnn Loulan, and Susie Bright. (Similarly, the few books supposedly about Butches have usually been by bisexual Fems and are full of porn and Butch-hating stereotypes.)
These het/bisexual pornographers were part of the reason that Lesbians have falsely been identified with sado-masochism, although that history can be traced directly back to het and Gay male organizations.
So a new “women’s” industry appeared, with porn magazines and videos, telephone-sex lines, and strip shows “for womyn, by womyn.” This was even more of a capitalist money-maker than “women’s” music. It’s also directly tied in with the male pornography industry and with sado-masochists.
Some Lesbians and pretend feminists write dramatically about why we shouldn’t have “censorship” in our Lesbian communities. But “Lesbian” porn is male fantasy with Lesbian-hating books and magazines full of male-style pornography –“Lesbians” saying they wished they had penises, and Lesbians wanting to be “fucked” in the vagina and in the rectum by imitation penises. Anyone who protests this and objects to being exposed to it against our will is accused of being like the right-wing, fascist men who outlawed Lesbianism. This is a mind-fuck.
The few of us who dare to speak out against this can’t censor anyone. We can’t stop men or male “Lesbian” pornography. All we can do is protest it and say that we won’t buy it, we won’t support it, and we won’t welcome it into our lives or our homes any more than we welcome men. And when we create rare Lesbian-only space, we have the right to keep porn out so there will be a few small places that are safe for us in this world filled with rape, male-supremacy, and female-hatred (which is what fucking and sado-masochism is all about). In reality, it’s those who dare to protest porn and sado-masochism who are censored. Dyke Separatists are always censored anyway — especially those who dare to write against the heterosexist power structure among Lesbians.
For the Lesbians who are ridiculed and ostracized because you hate porn and sado-masochism and know they are Lesbian-hating, we want you to know you are not alone. There are many of us who agree.
We have been slandered and censored because we dare to fight the lies and speak out against all other male influences in our communities, like pregnancy being promoted, heterosexism, male-identified femininity, and the oppression of Butches, Lifelong Dykes, and Never-het Dykes. If the daily dangers of living in patriarchy haven’t stopped us, then neither will slander by pretend “radfems” or the rape and death threats by the trans cult. Through our work, we continue to meet deeply committed Dyke-loving Separatists and Radical Lesbian Feminists and Radical Feminists of all ages across the world.
Innocents in the Publishing World
Two working-class US Dyke Separatists and one Lesbian Separatist from Aotearoa wrote this book. We aren’t going to name and praise Lesbian stars as many Lesbian writers do. We wrote our book in spite of that network in which shared privilege determines who’s published and who isn’t. We do want to thank our dear friends and the ordinary Dyke Separatists from all over the world who don’t have fame and fortune but whose blood and sweat have kept Separatism and Dyke politics alive.
We did our own writing, typing, word processing, and editing. We don’t claim to be professional writers, and we don’t think Lesbians should have to fit those standards in order to write about our own lives. The most important thing is to be clear and to not be oppressive. Our style is as political as our ideas, and reflects our working class (Linda and Bev) and national (Ruston, Aotearoa) cultures.
It’s important to not change our ways in order to imitate the trend of increasingly unemotional and abstract Lesbian writing. It’s become fashionable for Lesbian political writing to be so academic as to be unreadable, and so vague as to be meaningless. That way no one’s offended, but then no changes in our lives are possible. Lesbians’ communication goals used to be honest, unpretentious writing, easily understood by all.
Too often Lesbian writers, especially the class-privileged, take an entire book to say what could be said in one chapter. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what a writer thinks about a subject even after reading her entire book, because her language and ideas are so muddled by following male academic writing standards. Meanwhile, we had to pack a book into each of our chapters, and a chapter into each paragraph, because of our lack of money and resources.
It serves patriarchy if Lesbians choose to remain permanently confused in a psycho-therapized muddle. It’s frightening to make definite statements and decisions since strong opinions lead to action. Confused liberalness enables you to be “friends” with everyone, while clear political commitment “limits” you to equally committed friends. There’s plenty of support for the privileged. We prefer to ally with those who are wronged, knowing that working to stop oppression is the best support we can give each other.
Asking Dyke Separatists or Radical Feminists to explain ourselves in minute detail, sometimes with demands of “scientific” proof, is often a way of evading the truth, as well as a troll technique to divert us, dissipating our energy for political work. This is a common male tactic, but feminists also play “logic” games, distorting our words and meaning in order to evade real issues. (We see this regularly in online discussions where the goal is simply to stop the Radical Feminist discussion by derailing and exhausting everyone. Some of these trolls are very likely to be paid agents.)
Some issues we’re writing about have rarely or never, as far as we know, been written about before. Women who are upset at what we say in this book should remember that learning the truth isn’t always easy. Facing heterosexism in ourselves and other Lesbians is even more painful than recognizing it in men and het women. But the only way to stop heterosexism among Lesbians is to acknowledge and deal with it. It’s far more important for us to support Dykes who are getting support nowhere else than for us to live with comforting illusions and a conspiracy of silence about Lesbian-hating among Lesbians injuring and, in some cases, killing Dykes who are the most oppressed as Dykes.
Intensity and passion have always been the basis of Lesbian cultures. By our very nature, Dykes, particularly Separatists, question and challenge the status quo lies, seeking out not-always-popular truths. That’s how we grow and find our true selves, and begin to heal from the damage that patriarchy inflicts on us.
We write for those who recognize the truth in what we’re saying, and to overcome the barriers of isolation among us. We write to express Lesbian reality in a male and heterosexual world. We write to assert that it’s vital for Lesbians to be clear-thinking, decisive, and politically active for our own Lesbian selves.
The Power of Names — Our Definitions
Dyke: We use this term for the most Lesbian-identified of Lesbians. It’s important to remember that it was originally used only for Butches.
Lesbian: A female who loves and falls in love with other females, makes love only with females, and never relates sexually to males or injects semen into herself. When Lesbians are single and celibate, we’re very different from celibate het women, who are still sexually, emotionally, socially, and culturally focused on men.
Lesbianism is far more than a “sexual preference” or “sexual orientation.” It is a choice of women loving women. Everything we feel and do in our lives we do as Lesbians. Our political and creative work is Lesbian. Our friendships are Lesbian relationships.
No male can become a Lesbian. “Transwomen” are simply men perving, fetishizing, and caricaturing women and Lesbians.
Female: The term we use for our sex, since it’s not age-specific and is less identified with heterosexuality than “woman.” Also, it’s a reminder of our link with other female animals on earth, who are generally called “female,” rather than “women.” And, as Julia Penelope said in The Mystery of Lesbians, “female” is derived from the French “femelle,” with no connection to the word “male,” while (crediting the writings of Monique Wittig and ideas of..
(Based on the Original Version by Bev with Ruston and Linda) (This chapter was originally the beginning of Chapter Two, Heterosexuality/Selling Out Is Not Compulsory, in our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes, 1990.)
All males as a group have power over all females. The overwhelming majority of men and boys harass, attack, and/or rape the majority of females. All girls and women have been sexually harassed by boys and men, and most have been sexually assaulted. Those males who aren’t able to physically attack us have other forms of power they use against us.
Even when a man seems to be caring and fighting for justice, he still is likely to be harming girls and women. Some of the most revered men across the world, have been found out to be predatory to girls and women, or wrote disgusting pornography.1
There are some men who do seem to be genuinely kind and trustworthy, but that, sadly, doesn’t change what the majority are doing. And we never know what males are doing when alone with those who can’t talk, such as babies and animals. (It’s often forgotten that men and boys sexually assault animals, but people in rural areas are well aware of it.)
Most women and even some reformist/liberal feminists believe the con that men are violent and dangerous only because of being harmed by childhood trauma, which, if that were true, would mean that most women would be serial killers.
The myth that socialization is the cause of male violence is one of the most dangerous politics perpetrated against girls and women. It denies reality. It denies what most girls and women know in their hearts and from their own experience. It denies that male violence exists across many animal species, and particularly in our mammal relatives. This myth is why women who are invested in boys and men keep devoting the majority of their lives to males, hoping to somehow make a better world, when in reality their very devotion to males prioritizes them before girls and women, feeds them psychically, emotionally, physically, and literally keeps patriarchy going. If women stopped supporting men, patriarchy would end. Besides refusing to reproduce, this is the most important thing that women can do for the earth. Rather than continuing to hope and fantasize that males will change, we actually have the power to stop men from raping, killing, making other species extinct and destroying the earth.
Because we are trained from our earliest memories to worship males and to believe lies instead of our own perceptions, the truth can be shocking and upsetting. But we can easily see the truth all around us, and it ultimately frees us.
Men know very well how innate their capacity for violence is, and how deeply, biologically different they are from females. If in doubt, just ask them. Listen to them and read them, and then, as many of us have done, stop voluntarily interacting with them on every level.
A man in India wrote:
“I have heard the socialization excuse too. It’s nonsense. Biological men are naturally born rapists. What feminists say about men — that they rape because of their upbringing and social conditioning – is ridiculous. I am a man, and I hate men and rapists because I was raped as a kid and I know how painful it is. Even after that, I feel like raping women when I see them. It’s a natural feeling because of testosterone. I try hard to control it because I know how painful it can be to be raped. But I don’t trust myself. I am a man and a potential rapist and I don’t trust myself because I can’t help with the testosterone. I can say that 100% it is not my upbringing – it’s nature. The only way to stop rape is to just not give birth to males. Girls and women can only be safe when there are no boys or men on this planet.”
Most men pollute the earth for the sheer pleasure of it, not just as the by-product of their industries. Men love to leave their mark as a territorial statement, just as many male animals mark “their” territories by spraying. Of course, human males also mark with urine, as anyone who’s been in a public telephone booth knows. Even when public toilets are available, men leave their smell and mark on objects in ways females don’t.2
Some Lesbians say in anger that men are such “animals,” but that’s insulting to animals. Of course all mammals, including humans, are animals, but men are the least natural of animals. Men seem to have the goal of creating a completely artificial world 3 and have left their mark on the earth forever by altering the natural landscape in many places.
They’ve exterminated countless plants and animals already, and their murder of entire species is accelerating. They kill forests, build their ugly cities, pollute the sea and fresh water, change the land’s shape with their destructive farming and mining methods, and, as we wrote in 1990, they have even changed the weather.4
Men’s radioactive and toxic chemical wastes will contaminate the earth for hundreds of thousands of years. Plutonium, which is completely man-made, remains deadly for 250,000 years. One sixteenth of a millionth of a gram can kill a person, and men have already made thousands of pounds of it.5 If we didn’t know this was true, it would be hard to believe. Even so, it’s still unimaginable except in nightmares. Man has truly left his mark on his territory and, for the most part, he’s very proud of himself.
People speak of “man’s inhumanity to man,” because the effect on females isn’t even considered. But Man enjoys his power and cruelty. It makes him more of a man. A male nuclear scientist who watched numerous nuclear explosions said what a “rush” it was because, “A male human being likes to see an explosion.”6 (As of 1990, there were over 50,000 nuclear weapons on earth.)
The US military has contaminated what was pristine forest and water in Viet Nam, where they sprayed Monsanto’s and Dow’s Agent Orange that was so toxic it still causes birth defects in the people victimized in their homelands, but even in the genes of the US soldiers, continuing into future generations. It also killed so many of the trees, plants, and animals that they still have not recovered.
Most US people don’t seem to know that the US used nuclear weapons (deceptively called “depleted uranium”) in explosives used to kill people in Iraq, leaving the land and people permanently contaminated by radiation. (And this is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, once claimed as the “birthplace of Western Civilization,” meaning that even the land revered by European patriarchal historians was not safe.)
Mankind has also left his mark on his female possessions. In many cultures, men literally own girls and women. Some women are even owned by their own sons or other boys considered to be the heads of their families.
Fucking and impregnating girls and women is the epitome of males marking their territory. Throughout the history of man, rape has been used to permanently mark a people after invading their territory so that their future people are partly descendants of the invaders. Many women still think of rape as merely an expression of uncontrollable male sexual urges, but rape is calculated, premeditated marking and expanding territory. It’s a form of genocide as well as gynocide.
Men and boys raping and otherwise sexually assaulting girls in their families is also a territorial statement. Fathers who rape their daughters are declaring their daughters as their property. This includes beatings and other abuse with sexual taunts.
Statistics show that over one-third of all females report being raped,7 but the actual number is much more since it’s been estimated that only 10% to 20% of sexual assaults are reported, which is further proof that the majority of females are attacked by the majority of males. Most rapes aren’t reported, since dealing with male authorities like police, hospital, and courts usually mean experiencing brutal mental and emotional rape. (This is still true, 25 years after we first wrote this.) That’s not surprising, because men in those institutions are also likely to be raping girls and women. And some victims are raped by the men they go to for help.8
Because of the hierarchies men have created, men also oppress each other. Women with racial and class privilege have some power over more oppressed men, but all females are vulnerable to rape, sexual harassment, and other attacks by all males. Racist and classist lies portray racially- and class-oppressed men as the primary attackers of all females, but statistically, females are most likely to be attacked by males from their own racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, and the attacker is usually someone we know.
Heterosexuality is a protection racket in which women choose particular men to protect them, thinking they’ll be safer, but they’re actually putting themselves in more danger. In the US alone, a woman is beaten to death by her husband or boyfriend every four minutes9 — in fact, three out of four women murdered in the US are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.10 It’s ironic that Dyke Separatists are taunted by being told we “just want to kill all men,” when the reality is that it’s men who kill women. If every female, including baby girls, were able to kill in self defense any boy or man who sexually assaulted her, there would be few, if any, men or boys left on earth. (There would be even less if every non-human female who was raped and tortured by male humans was able to kill her attacker.)
Families exist in order for men to be served by females — domestically, emotionally, and sexually. A lot of us haven’t realized that such sexual service is required of daughters as well as wives, and that the rapists include all male family members as well as fathers. Combining the numbers of reported assaults11 with the many more unreported ones (especially knowing that many victims of rape by male relatives forget the details, and others lack information to name it for what it is), we believe over 90% of all girls are victims of rape by male family. Of the many women we know who were raped as girls, none reported it to the authorities. The majority don’t tell what they know won’t be believed. And they’re also in fear for their lives. Most who did tell their mothers were not protected. Instead, the mothers defended and protected their husbands, boyfriends, sons, and other male relatives, and the attacks continued. The horror of living with rapists, sadists, and their collaborators — usually without the support of one person — means many little girls survive by forgetting much of our/their own girlhoods. (I don’t know of any woman who was not sexually assaulted in some way as a girl.) This mental and psychic colonization12 is even more powerful than males’ ownership of our bodies.
The resulting amnesia of individual females mirrors the worldwide mass amnesia of our own female past, of the time before patriarchy existed, before subjection, rape, and torture were the “natural” order of things. An entire population that’s brutalized into forgetting its own memories is more easily manipulated. Just as cultures are destroyed and colonized by the censoring of history, so also are individual lives damaged by the denial of our/their own pasts. Those who do remember are made to feel confused, alone, and shamed by attacks which we/they were powerless to prevent. Girl rape victims are told it was their own fault, just as adult victims are. We’ll never know how many girls were murdered to prevent the truth being told.13
One of the biggest patriarchal secrets has been the rape of girls by male relatives in “normal, happy families.” We’re taught the lie of “family love,” but we live the reality of rape by male family.
Even many Feminists don’t want to know about the extent of rape by male family and the reality of male violence in general, saying that talking about it is “negative.” But knowing and facing the truth stops the self-hatred many girls and women feel from being attacked. Men don’t want us to remember or to know what they’ve done and continue to do. They don’t want us to remember the power we felt in our essence as little girls before they began their assaults. And they don’t want us to regain our full selves, because then we can stop them and change the world. Our families fight to stop us from talking about rape by male family, to protect our attackers. For most of us, we already know the truth. To finally say it out loud and to fight it politically, releases the horror and frees us.
Meanwhile, the male media rapidly co-opted the work of Dykes who’ve been publicizing the prevalence of rape by male family, faster than any other female issue since the beginning of the present wave of female liberation. This attempt to control the issue shows how central it is to the oppression of females. Rape, especially the rape of girls by their fathers, is the most brutal, early lesson we receive in our subjugated status as females in patriarchy.
The media talks of “child-molesters,” concentrating on the minority of boy victims, when it’s girls who are the prime victims. They focus on the rare woman or Gay male perpetrator, which protects the vast majority of attackers, who are heterosexual males.14 Thus, fathers, step-fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, etc., escape notice and blame. The attacker is described as “deranged,” “unusual,”15 and “sick.” The reality is that the average rapist is a normal male, and studies have found the convicted rapist and “average” male to be psychologically indistinguishable.16 Elizabeth Ward writes,
“…it is obvious that the Fathers come from every class in society. A judge, a barrister, a diplomat, an eminent doctor, a university lecturer, a teacher, a university student, a businessman, a film star, a labourer, a tradesman, a public servant, a farmer, a counsellor, a minister of religion, a soldier, a politician, unemployed, handicapped, very old, very young: Everyman. All have raped girlchildren.”17
The rapists sometimes skip a generation, so that the woman’s grandfather sexually assaulted her as a girl, while her father sexually assaults her daughter. Both are pressured to forgive.
Far from showing concern for girl victims, the male media makes money off our/their bodies. Rape has always been a big seller, spoken of in sexually provocative, sensationalistic, and pornographic ways. Ads show young girls looking seductive in cosmetics. Men attack girls and then make films about it to get a thrill by watching themselves. They also try to take credit for “exposing” rape by male family, which also means they’re controlling women’s reaction to it. An explosive issue which could forever change all women’s attitudes toward men, heterosex, and the family is turned into a TV soap opera.
Something so full of pain and horror is actually trivialized by men, presenting it in a bland, unreal form in TV movies: Daddy rapes his little girl, but he still “loves” her, and she “loves” him, and everything’s all right in the end — just like a het “love” story. The family even stays together.18 It is lies. That’s one of the most horrible things about patriarchy — it’s terrifying and destructive, yet also deeply boring and numbing. The horror and damage immobilize us and take away our hope for justice and change. The numbing makes us passive. Either way, men make it very hard to fight back.
The long-term emotional and physical effects of rape by male family are so severe that it’s a wonder that any girl survives, let alone survives with any physical or mental or emotional health. Rape by male family too often is the cause of illness, suicide, and psychiatric incarceration of girls and women.
“The idea of torture is to … demonstrate that there is no hope, that you can’t trust anyone, that you have no control from the point of torture on.” “Torture as a conscious exercise of … policy [is] systematic violence used to keep entire populations depressed, disorganized, humiliated and quiescent.” These are statements in a newspaper about torture victims from Central America living in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Symptoms can include anxiety and physical aches. There may be nightmares, painfully vivid memories, muteness, overwhelming grief, insomnia or withdrawal.” These are also among the many effects victims of rape by male family suffer. They’re reacting the same way as torture victims. “A terrifying message can be sent to entire communities by returning prisoners to their families, broken and silent, or by dumping mutilated bodies in public places.”17 — like girls at school witnessing each other’s silent pain, like girls, Lesbians, and other women hearing about yet one more attack, rape, mutilation, and murder of a girl or woman. Comparisons to political torture clearly demonstrate the true reasons for rape by male family in a way nothing else can. It’s a male policy decision about the management of potentially rebellious females. (Females in countries where prisoners are routinely tortured are therefore doubly terrorized and damaged from rape.)
We’re not claiming men openly talk with other men about their decision to rape their daughters, though some do brag and joke about it. But their actions point to a mass male agreement on the rape and torture of girls: the male media either ignores or exploits the issue; the male police, legal, and social work systems collude by failing to prevent rape and convict the rapists; so-called “radical” men are silent in the face of the now widely-publicized statistics, trials, and victims’ stories; and males tolerate, defend, buy, act in, and film pornography involving girls. They may not make explicit government policies saying all men should attack and rape all girls, but in every way, men’s reaction to the issue indicates their approval. The judge who fails to convict a rapist of girls is, after all, likely to have raped his own daughters or other girls. Those who do protest are often doing it to protect their own property from other men.
Boys Will Be Boys
Mankind is poisoning the Earth. The air and water are contaminated, cancer and other man-made diseases are epidemic,18 and the same men who can create nuclear war at their whim are casually raping their daughters and other females. Female apologists for men and boys say that males are rapists because they were sexually assaulted when they were young. Why then aren’t most females rapists too? Or they say the problem is merely socialization — that “males were only taught to do these horrible things” (by who?) and “they’re really no different from females.” But the truth is obvious to anyone who’s not invested in believing the lies.
Females are clearly physically different from males. We have different organs, physiology, and body chemistry. Our brains are also anatomically different and function differently. The corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects its two halves, is bigger in females, which means that females use the intuitive right side and factual left sides of our brains in a more balanced way than males. Female brains also use 20% more energy than male brains. One male researcher said that it takes males until their thirties to physically be able to develop compassion. Testosterone changes brains permanently, causing males to be much more violent than females. Ninety percent of violence in the world, across all cultures, is committed by men and boys. The man who compiled this information said, “Men are competitive and less sensitive to context. How do we insure global peace in an atmosphere charged with testosterone?”19
Why do so many Feminists avoid thinking about the proven effects of testosterone? Men talk about it openly. It’s why male farm animals are routinely castrated — otherwise they’re uncontrollably violent and dangerous.20 (As filmmaker Michael Moore, said to Bill Maher on television, “We want to fuck anything in front of us.”)
The truth is all around us, and even our other animal sisters know better than most women that it’s the norm in males to want to rape and kill.
The behavior of many other male animals is similar to human males, with male mammals being among the worst: brutality, constant violence, fighting over territory, obsession with fucking, and sometimes killing females they are trying to rape, as well as killing the babies and raping and killing other species. Even media favorites like koala males, when attempting to rape the females, often kill the females and their babies. Male sea otters kidnap baby otters from their mothers, forcing the mothers to bring food to them. They kill ten percent of the females when trying to rape them. They also rape baby seals to death and continue raping the corpse until it rots. Male lions kill the babies, including their own, and rape the females. In one bug/hemiptera species, the males literally puncture the females’ abdomen to reproduce.
Certainly socialization doesn’t cause male animals to act the way they do, so there’s only one other explanation.
In response, some female animals have built female-only societies, while others choose to live in groups where all the adults are female and males are ejected once they are adolescent and from then on live alone, since they can’t get along with other males. Some female species, like ants and bees (so much for “the birds and the bees” propaganda) have almost completely eliminated the males and control the existence of the few they choose to create.
These aren’t just biological differences, but spiritual differences. Body and spirit are united. You can usually distinguish a male animal from a female just by his facial expression. Too many Feminists don’t believe in the innate differences between males and females even when they can feel that difference. Perhaps it’s too hard to face the fact that nature isn’t perfect, because that also means facing the fact that males won’t change their brutal ways. Yet it doesn’t really matter whether males can’t or won’t change, because they aren’t changing. That is their choice and responsibility — no more women should devote their lives to males, pleading with them to stop their violence.
The behavior of many other male animals is similar to human males, with male mammals being among the worst: brutality, constant violence, fighting over territory, obsession with fucking, and sometimes killing females they are trying to rape, as well as killing the babies. Even the media favorites like koala males happily kill babies and females. Male sea otters not only kill babies to control females, but they also rape baby seals to death and..
Het Feminism Is a Contradiction in Terms
This chapter is not meant as a personal criticism of women who choose to be heterosexual and/or bisexual, but as a response to the dilution of feminism by liberals/right wing women pretending to be Radical Feminists who are spreading myths and lies in order to promote heterosexuality and bisexuality for women. Decades ago, Lesbian Feminists who had previously chosen to be het claimed that “heterosexuality is compulsory” for women, ignoring the existence of Lesbians and other women who had chosen to never be het. (One of the main proponents for this propaganda was upper class and had chosen to marry a man before coming out through feminism.) All the reasons they gave for their faulty and harmful political analysis have been disproved, yet the myth continues to harm women. Radical Feminism is about finding and naming the truth.
Radical Lesbian Feminists do have a few good, trusted allies who are het women, but most het women are hostile to Lesbians, even if it isn’t obvious at first. Feminism used to challenge all aspects of heterosexuality, but now is so liberalized that many “radfems” follow the Gay male and genderqueer lie that we have no choice about one of the most important decisions we make in our lives: who we choose to love.
To find truth instead of confusion, ask, who do these politics ultimately serve? Do these ideas challenge male supremacy at its core, or do they benefit men and help continue male rule?
How did one of the most revolutionary truths of basic Feminist and Lesbian Feminist politics, which has the potential to change all girls’ and women’s lives forever, become so hidden, denied, and lied about? Learning how and why our original inspiring politics were diluted and destroyed explains everything. True feminism is about choosing courage and the obvious truth, instead of choosing the path of fear and denial of reality.
We need to understand our history to know what happened to our wonderful, hopeful, and exciting Radical Feminist and Lesbian Feminist movement and culture. And that means learning our real history rather than the distortion which men posing as Lesbians are re-writing. (These men have far more money, power, and media access than we do, and of course are supporting male supremacy.)
No, we never joined with Gay men or the much later genderqueer movement. We said no to, and fought, the porn and sado-masochism disguised as “feminist” that invaded our communities in 1979 and later. We also always said no to the few men who posed as Lesbians. We built proud, creative communities where female-only space was the norm.
Most importantly, we fought the horrific Lesbian-hating we grew up with, from the time when there was nothing but hate and lies about us in any media, when we were told we were mentally ill and even dangerous. Rare Lesbian characters in films and books usually died at the end, and real Lesbians often hid who they were, in fear and/or shame. As a people, we were ignored, lied about, and despised.
So when Lesbian Feminists created our culture and movement, it was essential to say proudly that we chose to be Lesbians, to counteract the lies that we were born queer or made “perverts” by some girlhood trauma.
I (Bev) found Lesbian Feminism in 1970 when I was 19, and it was a dream come true. That was when a larger percentage of Lesbian Feminists were Lifelong Lesbians and Butch, having become Lesbians out of our love for other females. Also, more of us were class-oppressed. Our community reflected that strong Dyke identity. Soon the newly-out women who became Lesbians as a result of becoming feminists, and who often loved women less than they hated men, and who were majority white and middle-class, outnumbered us and changed our culture. But at the time, it seemed as if all women would soon come out. We knew that the psychoanalytical propaganda that pathologized us was lies and that all females are born Lesbian, while it’s the choosing to be het or bisexual that goes against our nature.
It wasn’t until the Eighties, that the seemingly liberal, but actually reactionary politics of “born this way” invaded our communities, having come from Gay male politicians. We were pressured to join in asking for equal rights by appealing to the pity of lawmakers – of course we “queers” (in the original insulting use of the word) would prefer to have boring, empty het lives if only we could. If Gay men said it was a choice, those in power would tell them/us to stop complaining. The entire structure of the campaign for equal rights is built on Lesbians and Gay men agreeing we are deficient in relation to heterosexuals, which is not far removed from the old American Psychiatric Association’s assertion that we are mentally ill.
But our Lesbian Feminist community had not been connected to Gay men at all. Some who had tried working with Gay men had quit in disgust at their female-hating and Lesbian-hating.1 Most Lesbian Feminists we knew were never around Gay men and had no reason to be. Our communities were completely different, which was obvious in the male porn ads we were subjected to if we got the “Lesbian” and Gay newspapers we relied on for information about events. Their focus is on sex rather than love. Men choosing to be het appear to be more relationship-oriented because they have to be if they want access to women, but in reality, few het men are monogamous, and most would live similarly to Gay men if that were possible to do with women. (Perhaps Gay men do feel they are born gay, but many more het men would choose to be gay if it weren’t for the stigma.)
Gay men have almost nothing in common with Lesbians or other women anyway, and did not experience what we did with the enormous influx of previously het women into our Lesbian Feminist communities. Only later, when Gay men formed Gay rights groups with access to media and enormous amounts of money, and needed token Lesbians to get even more money, did their politics influence Lesbian communities. And, even though Gay men publicly expressed disgust and hatred of Lesbians, the AIDS epidemic, though clearly a sexually transmitted disease, activated Lesbians to choose to support men instead of Lesbians. Even then, very few Lesbians joined with them.
What happened to the Lesbian pride we had when we said, “We do have a choice, and we choose to be Lesbians”? Returning to our original politics and knowledge makes it clear that het and bisexual women choose to collaborate with patriarchy, and also frees the many Lesbian Feminists who spend their lives working to help “free” and protect het and bisexual women from their men. It also enables Lesbian Feminists to finally make our own people a priority.
The Heterosexist Myths that Manipulate Lesbian Feminists
We could move forward if certain women would just stop lying and playing games. (This seems to be the predominate tactic when unable to answer honestly and directly.) If you really want to be Radical Feminist, stop oppressing the women who are saying no to patriarchy, and stop lying about us. Stop pretending you are not playing both sides if you are still invested in males. Just be honest, whatever your choices are.
1. The lie that almost all girls and women are naturally heterosexual.
If this were true, why is every aspect of the media bombarding us with increasingly pornographic propaganda, from schools, books, television, films, magazines, peer pressure, and even “radfem” online groups? It starts much younger than it used to, with five year old girls policing other girls as well as adults about whether they have a “boyfriend” and, if they don’t, why not? It’s shameful for girls to admit their first feelings of love, which is for other girls, and which would continue if most did not decide later to choose boys and then men. (Some do stay following their hearts, while others regret decades of their lives wasted trying to make themselves love men.)
Every once in a while there is an extremely revealing interview, such as in television news “magazines” where a young woman, asked about her “first time” says “It was horrible, but it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?”
Privileged women riddled with STDs, some of which, like herpes and HPV, are incurable, still call themselves “hopelessly heterosexual.” If women say similar self-destructive things about being addicted to drugs or sado-masochism, friends are likely to talk about having an intervention on their behalf. Instead, the pressure from most women is to keep staying with men, no matter how abusive the men or how dangerous the consequences. When women break ranks about choosing heterosexuality, other het women try to pull them back into line.
When “feminists” insist heterosexuality in inborn and not a choice, they are supporting women to be hurt and abused by men. And they are keeping patriarchy going.
2. The lie that woman have no choice but to be het.
Well, then what about all the ex-het Lesbians who return to men for privilege?
I certainly remember the Lesbian Separatist lover I held as she told how abused she’d felt by the men she’d let fuck her, crying with her, for her. And only a few years later, she told me in graphic detail how much she loved being fucked by her new boyfriend.
It’s ignored that girls and women make thought-out choices about this. Some of us remember our teenaged friends talking with us about how they were repulsed by boys and men, but decided they had to learn to flirt to attract them or they would lost status. We remember this, even if the women who did it pretend not to.
3. The lie that it’s ‘misogynist’ to say that women can choose to not be het since they are victims.
It’s misogynist to deny women have the strength and intelligence to choose. It’s infantilizing them and is for more dangerous for them to stay with men.
It’s interesting that the strongest proponents of “Stockholm Syndrome” as the reason women stay het are women with their own husbands or boyfriends. Who else wants women to not think about any of this? Again, het women are threatened when other het women want to break ranks.
4. The lie that Lifelong Lesbians are “lucky” to always have been a Lesbian and to never have been fucked.
Saying no to men and their women our whole lives doesn’t mean not having been raped. How is being marginalized and oppressed as a Lesbian our entire lives, in patriarchy and even among “feminists,” “lucky?” Many Lifelong Lesbians remember being taunted and even physically attacked when they were girls by the girls who chose boys and men. Have some of those abusers grown up to be feminists spreading this insult?
5. The lie that het women are more oppressed than Lesbians.
Seriously? Are we not living in the same world? https://bevjoradicallesbian.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/the-parasitizing-and-gutting-of-radical-feminism/ The Power of Women to Choose Who They Love
So, how does male supremacy succeed, when females outnumber males and are longer-lived than them? The answer is that het women support it. Males couldn’t continue their crimes against the earth if women didn’t collaborate with them. Patriarchy couldn’t exist without them. Males need females for their very creation and for their survival.2
Dyke courage built the International Women’s Liberation Movement. Yet the focus of mainstream feminism, including Lesbian feminism, remains reformist — a way for het women to get a better deal from male rule — not a way to change patriarchy. Enormous Lesbian energy goes into working for het women to gain more rights from their men.
Feminist goals are primarily het-identified: contraception and abortion (to make fucking easier), divorce and alimony, support for battered women’s refuges, pay for housework, childcare (with the emphasis on the father’s role), and the creation of a “men’s movement” to help “free” men from their own sexism. (Of course we support women’s rights to contraception and abortion, but we think fighting for them is het women’s responsibility, not Lesbians’.)
Yet most feminists show their ingratitude by denying the existence of Lesbians in their organizations. They’re Lesbian-hating personally and politically. They’re willing to sell out their Lesbian “sisters” in order to not disturb their men. The few het feminist groups that do recognize Lesbian existence tokenize and objectify us, and still expect us to make their het concerns primary.
Why are het feminists like this? It’s because they don’t really want to challenge the basic foundations of male supremacy. They’d rather gain acceptance into male power structures and share the roles of prime ministers, presidents, and executives with men. The less privileged het feminists who have no hope of such goals want to at least share their own men’s male privilege and to receive heterosexual privilege instead of Lesbian oppression.
(After writing our book, I do want to say that I have some het women friends who I love dearly. Interestingly, most aren’t feminists and it probably makes it easier that we don’t have political discussions. I met them in the Rat Community, which is an international community of people, about 99% women, who love and work for the acceptance of rats, and who do rescue work on behalf of rats. Maybe these women are special because they’ve opened their hearts and minds to these gentle, intelligent, loving little animals who are feared and hated simply because of who they are without being known as individuals, just as Lesbians are.)
The Heterosexist Hierarchy
Besides the unequal hierarchy among females that are based on racism, anti-Semitism, ethnicism, classism, imperialism, ableism, ageism, fat oppression, and looksism, there’s also a heterosexual-based hierarchy created by men and perpetuated by het women. Females at the top most fit the male-defined feminine role, while those at the bottom are furthest away from what men say females should be.
This hierarchy was not created by Lesbians. We’re naming it in order to be able to fight against it. Wherever oppression exists, there are intricate hierarchies within each group which make a great difference in the quality of life of each individual. The older the oppression, the more complicated the hierarchy. Those at the top of any hierarchy get the most social and economic rewards, and therefore get to feel better about themselves at the expense of those considered “beneath” them. This is also true about other hierarchies.
With classism, for example, there are dividing lines between those who grew up poor, working-class, middle-class, upper-class, and ruling-class. If you’re over the line from a poorer to richer group, you’re generally more socially acceptable, more culturally visible, and more arrogant. Poor Lesbians have less power than working-class Lesbians, but both have less power than all middle-class Lesbians. And within each broad division there’s an internal hierarchy. Lower-middle-class Lesbians from non-professional backgrounds have less power than Lesbians whose parents are professionals. And then there are what our lives are like now, though class identification is based on how we grew up. All the details are important. To say otherwise would over-simplify and deny women’s realities.
Men hate Lesbians because: 1) We love females in a female-hating world; 2) we refuse to let men fuck us; 3) we refuse to marry and look after men; 4) we refuse to breed and raise families; and 5) many of us refuse to look and act feminine. Het women, by obeying these male dictates, gain privilege. The more rules they obey, the more privilege they get, and the higher up the het hierarchy they are. But the fewer rules Dykes obey, the more Dyke-hatred we get, and the further down the het hierarchy we drop.
Since marriage and motherhood (preferably together) are the most valued female roles in patriarchy, married mothers are at the top of the hierarchy. Even if someone isn’t a wife or mother, she’s still expected to be fucked by men or to at least want to. What male supremacists never forgive is females loving other females instead of males. Lesbians are a serious threat to male rule, so we’re at the bottom of the heterosexist hierarchy. And the less feminine a Lesbian is, the more she’s oppressed, and the less het she’s been, the more she’s despised and treated as alien.
The het hierarchy goes like this, starting at the top: het wives who are also mothers; wives who are non-mothers; divorced mothers; unmarried het mothers; married bisexuals; unmarried het women; unmarried bisexuals; celibate het women (women who aren’t fucking men but are still heterosexual in their thoughts and feelings). Although those at the top have more power than celibate het women, all are heterosexual and so have the power to oppress Lesbians, and all do so. (Unfortunately, this het hierarchy also continues among Lesbians, which we talk about in our chapter on heterosexism among Lesbians.) The het hierarchy is affected by all other hierarchies, so how much racial, ethnic, class, and national privilege a female has affects her power, as does her age, size, looks, and abilities. But when females are similar in these other aspects, those further up in the het hierarchy have more power than those below them.
We’ve heard many Lesbians describe other Lesbians as “male-identified,” but we’ve never heard het women, no matter how devoted they are to males, being called male-identified. That slur is reserved for Lesbians. Yet no female is more male-identified than het women. How could het women seriously want to fight patriarchy when they live with it, nurture it, love it, and are fucked by it? If they have sons, they’re literally creating patriarchy and are deeply invested in its future. Heterosexual women are the scab labor that sabotages female resistance.
Even the few het women who befriend Dykes usually still feel superior to us. They patronize us because patriarchy says only het women, particularly wives and mothers, are truly adults. No matter how old we are, Dykes are still treated as children who never quite grew up. That’s because we refuse to be part of what hets define as “real,” “adult” life – being fucked by men. (Lesbians participate in continuing this stereotype when in Lesbian novels, het women characters are portrayed as older, wiser, and mature, while Lesbian characters are portrayed as young and naïve.)
By refusing to let the passion of Lesbianism into their lives, most het women keep female relationships on a limited, superficial level, and focus instead on their shallow, empty, numbing relationships with men. After all, other females are competition for their men. Everything and everyone is sacrificed for the males in their lives, usually including their own daughters’ well being, because heterosexuality is based on the betrayal of females by females.
(Since writing our book, we’ve read some very strange accusations, such as that Radical Lesbian Feminists want to recruit het women to come out so we can have sexual access to them. Our response is: Don’t flatter yourself and don’t confuse us with your own male attitudes. Unless het women coming out are very careful and thoughtful, they actually damage our communities, and the Lesbians they become lovers with, because they usually bring their female-hating, Lesbian-hating male and het attitudes, including their tendency to sexually objectify and pornify Lesbians. It would be far better for such women to simply stop being het and stop continuing to support males, and to be celibate or become involved with each other.)
Lesbianism challenges the foundation of male supremacy. No matter how much a Lesbian tries to identify with and support patriarchy, no matter how much she’s sold herself out, her very existence threatens male rule at its core. The essence of patriarchy is maleness, and Lesbians, by definition, refuse to feed, nurture, and intimately support males. Some Lesbians support males in other ways than het women do — except they don’t welcome men or their semen into their bodies. Lesbians are therefore much less likely to support males in ways that het women take for granted. And Dyke Separatists refuse to nurture males at all, which is why we’re such a threat to anyone involved in patriarchy, including men, boys, het women, and even non-Separatist Lesbians.
Dykes Are Oppressed
Part of the shock I (Bev) had when I first went online and saw how Radical Feminism had been gutted, was seeing the combination of the virulence of het women hating Lesbians combined with het women denying that Lesbians are even oppressed. Our history of being ostracized and attacked, tortured and killed, is clear to see for anyone who cares. Any het woman who doubts this could try going around announcing to everyone she knows and meets that she’s a Lesbian and see the effect. (Start with your family….) One of the primary reasons that women stay with males is their fear of being considered a Lesbian, a freak and a queer.
It’s important to be clear about definitions. Oppression isn’t simply the same as misery. Oppression has clearly defined boundaries measured by such things as discriminatory laws, physical attacks, verbal insults, threats, cultural invisibility and stereotypes, deletion from historical records, discrimination in housing and work, and ostracism by family and other heterosexuals. Lesbians are more oppressed in these ways than het women. And we are also forced to live in an alien society that we find repulsive and terrifying, that tells us we don’t exist now and never did in the past.
Our refusal to be fucked by men doesn’t mean men aren’t constantly oppressing us. Unlike Lesbians, all het women receive some degree of honor and respect from patriarchal societies. No matter how little, it’s more than any Lesbian gets. Het women’s lives and reality are acknowledged every day, at our expense, while Lesbian reality is denied and distorted. The price of that damage can never be measured. And one thing het feminism ignores is that, unlike oppression, the hardships of being het can be avoided — by choosing not to be het.
No matter how oppressed a het woman is, she’s still given more political and personal rights than any Lesbian from her same background.
Men and het women oppress Lesbians every day in ways het women escape. Het women are more likely to be treated better anywhere in the world than Lesbians are, whether it’s at jobs, on the street, in stores, prisons, courts, hospitals, or mental institutions. That difference in treatment at times means the difference between life and death. Het women are also treated better in feminist women’s centers, clinics, bookstores, and even in specifically Lesbian places. The more out a Dyke is, the worse treatment she receives. Dykes who can’t or won’t pass as het are attacked by hets and scapegoated by many Lesbians. Yet Lesbian apologists for het women..
This chapter is about exploring and solving why Lesbians betray themselves and other Lesbians. When we know and understand the reasons for such self-hatred, we can change it and make safer Lesbian communities.
For many of us, when we first found a Lesbian community, we were so excited and relieved that it took a while to realize how damaged most Lesbians are by being hated individually and as a people by men, het and bisexual women, boys, girls, and other Lesbians who internalized Lesbian-hating. Instead of being angry at our oppressors, too many Lesbians turn their hatred on other Lesbians. Some Lesbians actually question if it’s worth going through the suffering of Lesbian oppression. But those of us who always loved other females are still celebrating and loving being Lesbians and finding other Lesbians.
This is an update of our previous Chapter Three in Dykes-Loving-Dykes, to explain, de-personalize, and solve what has gone wrong in our communities. This is also a short history of what happened to my Lesbian Feminist community as I have known it, in the Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco Bay Area. (There are also other Lesbian communities in this area, such as NIA, which is African-descent Lesbians only. http://niacollective.org/wp-nia/about/. As far as I know, no European-descent Lesbians ever had anything comparable in being so Lesbian-loving.)
The late 1960’s and 1970’s were a wonderful time of hope, celebration, and growing community for Dykes in many countries. Finding each other through the Women’s Liberation Movement transformed our lives. Lesbians stopped wondering if we were the mistakes of nature hets insisted we were. Lesbian Feminism made everything that had previously seemed confusing now make sense: why most males prey on most females; the sadness we saw in friends who had been sexually abused as girls; the sense of freedom and ecstasy we felt being in love with other women; and the emptiness we saw in friends who started patronizing us as they chose boys and men, and stopped being the vibrant life-loving girls they had been, in spite of their increased status. It was even clear why and how men were destroying the earth.
Our Dyke-centered politics and communities changed our lives. Once we recognized that men as a group were male-supremacist enemies with het women as their collaborators, male and het values began losing their control over our minds. We clearly saw heterosexuality as a male invention designed to dominate all females.
It also became obvious that eliminating our own self-hatred as Dykes freed us to create Dyke-identified Radical Lesbian Feminist movements and cultures very different from anything existing in known patriarchal history. With all our Dyke energy, heart, and politics, we dedicated ourselves to improving life for all Lesbians, which also helped all women and girls.
Separatist politics made clear our need and right to have Dyke-only space. First, we created women-only space, which started a blossoming of women’s — mostly Lesbians’ — creativity, politics, ideas, newspapers, articles, books, poetry, music, art, and places to dance and party and celebrate each other. Lesbian-only space was even more precious (rare in the US, but not in Aotearoa/New Zealand). It released us from het women demanding our energy to help them deal with their men, and from het women objectifying and oppressing us. (Since both being het and bisexual are choices, we include bisexual women, unless stated otherwise, when we refer to het women).
We understood why we needed to put Dykes first in our lives — proudly, courageously, and with love — not by default and not apologetically. We refused to submit to ridicule, hatred, and attacks, right-wing threats, leftist contempt, or het feminist and Gay male pressure. It was Dyke Separatist values and politics that created a powerful public Lesbian Radical Feminist presence in many countries.
During the 1970’s, our Out Dyke presence also transformed mainstream hetero-patriarchal culture, making it easier and safer for many het women to become Lesbians. They had previously been too afraid to risk it. With so much support, joy, and celebration, it became popular and even trendy for het women to come out, and for a while it seemed that all feminists, and eventually all women, would soon become Lesbians.
Because almost all the feminists coming out through Women’s Liberation had been het, they didn’t play the now-popular game of pretending to have no choice, saying we are either born Lesbian or het, or claiming to have been victims of “Stockholm Syndrome.” (That con is more clearly dishonest with women choosing to be bisexuals. Bisexuals sometimes even complain about being distrusted by Lesbians, but the reality is that they are trying to have access to Lesbian love and community, while keeping their allegiance to men for status and het privilege.) In fact, the newly-out Lesbian Feminists made it a point to announce that their being a Lesbian was a feminist choice of pride, making sure no one would mistake them for the old-fashioned pre-feminist Lesbians, ridiculed in mainstream media as mentally ill perverts.
We soon painfully learned, however, that most women, including feminists, remained heterosexual and Lesbian-hating. Those of us who became Radical Lesbian Feminists were relieved to finally understand how and why we were oppressed as females and as Dykes, so it surprised us that all women didn’t feel the same way and join us. Some of those het feminists did play at being Lesbians for a while, but many explained that they didn’t want to suffer Lesbian oppression, be punished by their families, friends, etc., and they didn’t want to lose the other privileges that women who choose men get. (This choice becomes clearer when remembering that most het women signed their marriage contracts as a form of legal prostitution with one man, to be supported in a lifestyle few women could have on their own, for sexual services rendered.)
Some of the new Lesbian Feminists had already been close to becoming Lesbians and would have come out because of their love for other women, without Lesbian Feminist community support. They rejected their het pasts and het privilege as much as possible and consciously strengthened their Dyke identities through the following years. But many other het women wouldn’t have become Lesbians without the relative ease and support of Lesbian Feminists and our communities. (Some of these het and bisexual feminists enjoyed keeping full het privilege with husbands and boyfriends, while also being admired by some Lesbian Feminists and welcomed to our community and events, clearly with far more status than Lifelong Lesbians. Lesbian Feminists even provided free childcare for these women so they could have more time with their men.) The het feminists who did leave their men still kept their het-oriented and male-identified values, and they brought those destructive values into our Lesbian communities. As a result, they weaken, dismantle, and harm the very Lesbians and communities that helped them become Lesbians.
Every insult that het-identified Lesbians direct against more Lesbian-identified Lesbians is based on anti-Lesbian stereotypes. The patriarchal stereotype of a Lesbian is a class-oppressed Lifelong Butch. The closer any Dyke is to being Butch and/or a Lifelong Lesbian (Lesbians who identified as Lesbians from an early age), the more viciously she’s oppressed.
Stereotypes are a mixture of lies, projections, and distortions of partial truths. They’re illogical and contradictory. Those in power — men — made them up, and the stereotypes exist only to spread hatred and violence, so they don’t need to make sense. Condense all Lesbian stereotypes into seven basic themes, and you have a handy mental gauge for detecting disguised Lesbian-hatred and understanding clearly who it benefits, and how:
“Lesbians don’t exist.” They’re all really bisexuals and/or het women gone bad, and they’ve gone bad just to attract men’s sexual attentions and provide variety for sado-masochistic scenes and pornography. If confronted with the reality of a Lifelong blatant Butch, the het mentality quickly shifts to:
“Lesbians are pseudo-men” who’ve become that way because men don’t want them or because nature has made a terrible mistake. They’re alien, monstrous, ugly, unfeeling, perverted, sleazy, oversexed, predatory, violent, child molesters, criminals, dangerous, hard, tough, insensitive — a male in a female body. In other words, Lesbians are convenient scapegoats for men’s crimes. Related to these two stereotypes are the lies that:
“Lesbians are ugly.” Of course females who look natural are ugly to men since men love artificiality. This would be a funny since nothing is as ugly as men, if it didn’t make girls and het women terrified of being considered Lesbians. It’s also a good strategy to keep women obsessed with looking like drag queens with alopecia (except for their dyed heads), even if the shaved vulva is clearly pandering to male desire to rape little girls.
“Lesbians are immature,” since adult status is granted only to females who fuck with men and/or breed. Lesbians’ feelings for each other are childish crushes because they’re arrested at an early stage of development. They’re young, silly, unrealistic dreamers, frivolous, and hedonistic. (As Freud said, to become real adult women, girls need to give up their clitoral orgasms for fictional vaginal ones.)
“Lesbians are privileged.” They’re all rich, European-descent, grew up under unusual circumstances, and live somewhere else.
“Lesbians are crazy.” Some horrible event or circumstance made them queer. How else could they love females? And since they’re not sane, they’re dangerous to “normal” people and nothing they say should be believed, or they’ll infect innocent het women with queerness; and
“Lesbians are lonely,” pathetic, emotionally inadequate creatures living on the fringes of the real world. They’re incapable of true, deep love and loyalty. They all secretly long for a normal life of marriage and motherhood.
Like the het woman, the het-identified Lesbian use these stereotypes — sometimes openly and sometimes subtly — against all Dyke-identified Lesbians, because she hasn’t bothered to unlearn het supremacist assumptions. She still treats blatant Dykes as undesirable “Others.” An important part of her thinks, feels, and acts like the het woman she is or used to be.
The het-identified Lesbian wants to continue being accepted and valued in the het world, which to her is the “real world.” She is eager to convince men and het women that she hasn’t changed much, and in some ways she hasn’t. But she also wants to convince hets that all Lesbians as a group aren’t that different from hets. Blatant Dykes anger and embarrass her because our existence threatens her campaign for het acceptance. When she became a Lesbian, she wanted our love and energy, but she didn’t want to be like us.
Het Privilege Lasts
Lesbians are among the only oppressed people who have to deal with our recent oppressor not just joining our communities, but outnumbering us. We deserve truly Dyke-identified communities, where all Lesbians are as out and Dyke-identified as possible. But how, when het women, full of male culture, male-worshipping, and Lesbian-hating propaganda, keep joining our communities, without bothering to learn our culture and to recognize and eliminate how much they hate us and themselves?
The only way we can get safe, Lesbian-loving Lesbian Feminist communities is if Lesbians with more heterosexual privilege acknowledge our privilege and change. (Since our book was written by one Lifelong Lesbian and two ex-het Lesbians, we say “we/our/etc.” for both groups.) But most Lesbians have no awareness of Lesbians having het privilege (or even that het women have institutionalized het privilege over Lesbians and celibate women) or how it affects us inside of our own communities.
Women who chose men first rarely question themselves or consider what Lesbian-hating and lesbophobic attitudes they brought into our communities. Instead, they usually act is if we should be grateful that they deigned to join us. Sadly, most Lesbians agree, and ex-het Lesbians they are likely to be given special status, admiration, and respect as being more “real” women than Lifelong Lesbians are. Why have women who are so male-worshipping that they are visibly male-identified in how they think and feel become more revered or considered more female than those who are the most female?
Lesbians who recognize that het women have power over Lesbians should easily recognize that Lesbians who once were heterosexual have more privilege than Lesbians who were never heterosexual. Lesbians who used to be het bring some of the social and economic power of heterosexual privilege with them when they come into Lesbian communities. They also bring STDs, danger from past husbands or boyfriends stalking them, and dildos and other sado-masochistic sexual practices, which are, after all, based on the inequalities and pain in heterosexual/male sex. Most het women, in order to tolerate intimate contact with brutal men, learn to numb themselves and also learn to believe that fucking and assaultive sex is what “love-making” is. Ex-het Lesbians also usually bring that strange heart/mind/spirit/body disconnect that het women have, and which interferes with having truly loving relationships.
We don’t know of anyone else who has dared to talk about this, yet it affects us and our communities in the most intimate ways imaginable. Ignoring this, in order to not offend or upset ex-het Lesbians, helps no one, and keeps our communities damaged and het- and male-identified.
Having been het in the past doesn’t automatically mean a Dyke is now het-identified. Many ex-het Dykes came out because of their love for other women, have been strong Out Dykes for years, and are also oppressed by het glorification among Lesbians. We are committed to acknowledging our past het privilege just as we acknowledge any other privileges we have. And many of us do courageous Dyke Separatist political work.
Dyke-identified Lesbians all know the pain and deprivation of being unacceptable everywhere and of having to always be prepared for hostile attacks. Having been het ourselves doesn’t make us immune to this oppression, but it does act as a buffer. It makes it easier in proportion to how extensively het we were. The longer we were het, and the more involved with men we were, the more protected we are from Lesbian-hatred now. And the more status we still have among Lesbians.
How much het privilege an ex-het Lesbian has is determined by how high she climbed the het hierarchy and how long she stayed there. It’s also affected by other facets of her identity — including how much racial privilege she has or doesn’t have, her ethnic, class, and national background, her age, looks, and whether or not she’s disabled. But all ex-het Lesbians were once over the line into “normal” society in a way that no Never-het Dyke has been. There’s a world of difference between being over that line, no matter how otherwise oppressed or “unsuccessfully” het a Lesbian was, and being behind that line, always resisting hetness and — for the most brave — always being a Dyke as well.
During the years a Lesbian was het, she fit in as a “real woman.” This includes those who were celibate but still thought of themselves as het and hoped someday to find “their” man. Some of these Lesbians falsely identify as Never-het, or portray themselves as having always been Lesbians, but if they were living as heterosexuals and thinking of themselves as het, they were heterosexual.
Once a female has had the experience of being treated as and feeling like a “real woman,” she never loses it. Her basic, deep assurance of being “normal” gives her an unquestioned inner sense of permission to act with confidence and some expectation of acceptance. It also gives her a feeling of authority and superiority towards Lifelong Lesbians. The manner she learned circulating in the “real world” is a source of inner defense against the accusations of “perversion” and “abnormality” she receives as a Lesbian, and will be with her as long as she lives. In addition, she always has the option of decreasing the intensity of hets’ Lesbian-hating attacks by telling them that she, too, was once a member of their exclusive club. This is especially true if she still looks het, is Fem, as the majority of ex-het Lesbians are, and particularly if she’s also an ex-wife and mother (which means she had the certified societal proof of “normal” womanhood – a husband and children). Looking het carries enormous privilege at the expense of women who are proudly out as Dykes, and even more so, Butches. This is why we sometimes see ex-het Fems being condescending to Lifelong Lesbians, especially Butches, even though the ex-hets may be half their age.
Many ex-het Lesbians talk incessantly about their children, grandchildren, ex-husbands, and/or boyfriends, to gain or keep status. They even do this with other Lesbians since it also adds status among Lesbians (no matter how incredibly bored they make the listeners). This is the cue for other ex-hets to join in with their own het supremacist talk, asserting dominance. Sometime it almost appears to be a duel as to who will establish the most male-identified het credentials. Hets, including family members, can easily convince themselves that such ex-hets are still really one of their own who’s temporarily involved with Lesbians. By contrast, a Lifelong Dyke, especially if she’s Butch, is thought by hets to be completely alien and unacceptable, and is much more feared and hated.
The ex-het Lesbian knows she can’t possibly fit the most common anti-Lesbian stereotypes of the Lesbian who was supposedly “genetically programmed to be queer,” or became so as a result of “childhood trauma” or “rejection by men.” This makes it easier for her to feel comfortable being a Lesbian. Lifelong Dykes are much more vulnerable to having those stereotypes applied to them — even by Lesbians — because most anti-Lesbian stereotypes are based on the assumption that “the typical Lesbian” was never heterosexual.
It’s ironic when the ex-het Lesbian defends herself to hets by saying she chose to be a Lesbian, yet then denies to Lesbians that she chose to be het. The ex-het who refuses to acknowledge that her heterosexuality was a choice perpetuates the stereotype that Lifelong Dykes are born “queer” (in the traditionally hateful definition of what is shouted at Lesbians), while the ex-het who tells hets she had a choice (implying that others didn’t) is buying acceptance on the backs of Lifelong Dykes. She’s in effect saying, “I’m not one of those real perverts. I’m a more normal Lesbian.” Her defense is a selfish, irresponsible rejection of her own kind. The fact is that all Lesbians choose to be Lesbians whether we remember making that choice or not.
The relative privilege of ex-het Dykes is similar to how Dykes from middle-or upper-class backgrounds will never feel the way Dykes from poor or working-class backgrounds feel, even if they become poor. Present worry about not having enough money isn’t the same as a Lesbian being told she’s not good enough all her life, and still being told it in the present and into the foreseeable future, including by other Lesbians. The middle-or upper-class Lesbian is more likely to have a confident, even arrogant, manner to make her life easier, and to get her respect, attention, and the things she wants, including better-paid jobs with status. Such privileged Lesbians are never defined as poor or working-class by politically conscious Lesbians — yet a het woman who’s just come out is usually accepted as being as much a Lesbian as a Dyke who’s been out all her life. A Lesbian star once said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Lesbian for five minutes or fifty years.” But it does matter. Real Lesbian Feminists would be outraged if a rich Lesbian who just lost her money now defined herself as poor or working-class. Of course, het women who become Lesbians are Lesbians, but there’s a world of difference in their lives and experiences and that of a Lesbian who’s been out for many years.
When the brave Dykes who have resisted het and Fem identification are looked down on and policed to become more feminine and het-oriented, then Lesbian communities are weakened. It’s this growing heterosexism that has caused many Dyke-identified Dykes to wonder if our belief and idealism about Lesbian integrity and kindness could be wrong. But the oppressiveness and cruelty we witness in Lesbian communities isn’t an innate part of Lesbianism — most of it is from male and het..
2015 Update, 25 Years LaterSUPPORTING BUTCHES SUPPORTS ALL LESBIANS Bev Jo
(My update is the introduction for our edited original chapter on Butch oppression, BUTCH-HATRED IS LESBIAN-HATRED, published in 1990. That three-part chapter follows this section.)
We know why men hate and fear Butches, but why do so many women and even Lesbians? Seriously, why?
How Butches are treated in patriarchy and in our Lesbian communities is a more severe example of how Lesbians as a group are oppressed. When the existence of Butches is denied or we are treated as freaks, then love and acceptance of Lesbians as a people is missing. Butches are the most obvious, the most out of Lesbians. We are feared and hated. We are ridiculed and scapegoated. We are even told we don’t exist.
The fear and hatred are damaging enough, but why deny our existence?
This is similar to how Lesbians used to be forbidden to be referred to and how none were allowed to be seen in the media except in the most objectified and bigoted ways. Now Lesbians are acknowledged as existing and are even on television, but still no Butches. Yet even while we are not generally shown in any media, including Lesbian media, we are still ridiculed, and the rare representations allowed are the most disgusting male fantasies of Butches. (Loren Cameron, a Fem who now identifies as a Gay man, has said in one of her talks that she saw the het women and Gay men who worked at a clothing store make fun of a Butch, while they treated her, appearing as a short working class man, with respect.)
It’s obvious why men want to hide and distort Butches. But why do women go along with this? Why feminists? And why do so many Radical Lesbian Feminists participate in erasing and lying about us? What are they so afraid of?
Butches are closer to what all females would be without patriarchy. We refused as little girls to obey male rules and accept male-identified femininity as our identity. We never fit in as “normal” girls and usually were completely alone with no one else being like us, during our most vulnerable years of girlhood. (Most oppressed, marginalized people at least grow up with others of their kind in their families, schools, and neighborhoods, reflecting them back to themselves.) Butch girls are also harassed, ridiculed, and physically attacked by men, boys, and even women and other girls. Then when we finally find other Lesbians, we are harassed and oppressed in a whole other way because Lesbian communities are dominated by Butch-hating Fems.
Butches are always visible, recognizable as Lesbians and as Butches, and do not usually pass. We can be identified from a single photograph, by looking at us, hearing our voices. Is that why we are such a threat? Is that why we are to be kept secret and hidden, even while slandered, even in Radical Feminist space?
It’s revealing that many feminists are likely to call Radical Feminists “woman-hating” or “misogynist” as a way to shut down any questioning of some women’s collaboration with men and patriarchy. But has any feminist/woman ever been called “woman-hating” or “misogynist” for slandering and insulting Butches?
Some women pretending to be feminists actually object to Butches ever being mentioned, deny we exist, or wish we were dead. Is this because we are undeniably Lesbians, so the men and het women can’t pretend we aren’t a version of male-identified feminine het women? Is it because we are an embarrassment to the Lesbians who want to be considered “normal?”
Butches are used by men as the scariest representation of a female imaginable, in order to police women into being afraid of Butches, but also to be of afraid to even think about what a Butch is. Part of this is that women are also afraid to be considered Butch or Lesbian because men police women by telling even the most het-looking women that they don’t look like women.
Butches are used as “proof” that Lesbians play roles and emulate hets, but the grotesque role playing that men and het women do are ignored, and being Butch has nothing to do with role-playing. It’s the Hard Fems who make themselves a caricature/drag queen image of woman. And fighting Butch oppression means ending even unconscious role-playing.
“Hard Fem” is the term I coined to describe what has previously been called “High Femme,” which is a complimentary term as well as a goal for too many Fems. Fem is considered the norm, so Butches are scrutinized and divided from each other by Butch-hating stereotypes. Butches who are more acceptable — most often those who are class privileged — are sometimes called “Soft Butches” by Fems, implying that full Butches are the hateful stereotype of hard, cold, mean, insensitive, predatory, etc., which actually is more applicable to Hard Fems. Yet no one criticizes the norm of Fem. Hard Fems also usually wear the male uniform of the extremely feminine drag queen ideal, passing as het as much as possible, slathered in clown-like makeup, wearing exposing dresses and high heels. Hard Fems are often the most oppressive to Butches and Dyke Fems because they are the most invested in obeying and proselytizing male rules for females. Hard Fems also objectify and use Butches as well as Dyke Fems, yet this is never mentioned.
Now that male identified femininity is being challenged again in feminism, I’m seeing feminists online ask why no woman stops being feminine, which continues the erasure those of us who never played the feminine role and of Dyke Fems who stopped years ago. It’s like how most het women just refuse to see Lesbians. Part of this has to be that these feminist deniers of reality do not want to give up their own Fem privilege and the compliments they get. Notice that the avatar facebook photos of most feminists are in grotesque makeup, with their eyebrows unnatural (as no man would ever choose to look unless caricaturing femininity), and basically looking as het/male as possible. (Or if they look like they are pretending to be Butch, check their previous photos.) Also notice how every time such a photo is posted, they are told how beautiful they are, what a great style they have, etc. It’s not just compliments, but policing the women who refuse to play that game and a reminder to those who do obey the male rules of what they will lose if they stop. As soon as a woman refuses to continue even a tiny bit of playing feminine, she gets harassed by friends and family and loses status.
The fact that Butches are scapegoated, ridiculed, hated, and our existence erased, by men, het women, and most Radical Feminists explains exactly what has gone wrong with feminism and why we do not have an increasing proud and strong Radical Feminist movement.
The story of how Butches create ourselves out of nothing, and manage to exist in a patriarchy that forbids us from even being shown in the media, is a lesson for all Lesbians and women. Butch Myths and Objectifications
In spite of Butches being closer to how all females would be without male rule, the common myth about Butches is that Butches are “male” or “masculine.” Refusing to follow male rules does not make someone “masculine,” but the opposite of masculine. Butches are the least male of women because we refuse to obey men. Just because men have declared that the more comfortable, better made, and less humiliating clothing is only for them, does not make it male.
Feminists have always known that it is an insult, not a compliment, to be called “male” or “masculine.” So why use it against the women who most say no to male rules?
In some cultures women aren’t allowed to drive. When a few brave women risk torture and imprisonment by driving, do we call them “male” or “masculine”?
Standing in a natural grounded way also does not make a woman male. Women are told from girlhood to be afraid to look centered and grounded or they will appear “masculine,” which is part of what wearing high heels is all about. If men like how they look, they should wear them! It’s horrifying to see how women are wearing heels, including women in films who are portrayed as being warriors, and how restricted women competing against men in singing TV contests are. The men can run around the stage and leap dramatically, while the women can barely walk or stand, and certainly must have their attention divided to not just fall over and by the pain in their feet, leaving them at an extreme disadvantage. (There are videos of famous women and models in high heels teetering and then falling.) Notice that film or television shows increasingly depict women with less clothes, tight clothes, and their bodies exposed. Even if the plot is about people trying to survive a terrible disaster, finding clothes wherever they can, the women still look distinctly and unnaturally “feminine.”
Notice the vast difference in images used to denote female versus male. Many public restrooms signs show men taking up space with a wide stance, while the “women’s” sign is like a one-legged top in a dress. Humiliating and demeaning. Every media silhouette I have seen depicting female versus male shows a dignified strong male image and a weak, flimsy female image. None of this is innate, natural, or normal. But this propaganda affects us from girlhood, showing us how to look “proper,” though unnaturally, female.
Some Lesbians’ Butch-hating shows itself in cruel ways, such as obsessing about physical characteristics, which reveals they believe Butches are aberrations with hormonal imbalances. One Lesbian, who had literally run away from a workshop my ex-lover and I did about equal lover relationships and Butch oppression, actually asked, “Why are Butches slim-hipped if it’s not a hormonal problem?” — which is especially bizarre since the Butch stereotype is more likely to be fat, with large hips. This is like how doctors and even alternative healers tell Lesbians they must have a hormonal imbalance.
Lesbians who say such Butches “look like men” ignore large-breasted Butches. Since Butches are less obedient about following male dictates, we are more likely to be bigger and fatter than Fems, many of who starve themselves into being acceptably underweight. (This is not a criticism of naturally thin women, but of those who deliberately deprive themselves of adequate nutrition to fit feminine standards. The male rules for small, weaker women, as well as the women who police on behalf of men, have led to new generations of girls and women who are permanently smaller and weaker than previously.) Of course there are thin Butches, but there are less of them than thin Fems and het women. I have never heard anyone speculate about inadequate female hormones when commenting on malnourished, bony models.
In our Radical Feminist groups, Butches are usually ignored, but once brought up, bizarre Butch-hating comments are made, showing that the women writing them have no idea what a Butch is, but hate us anyway, because we are the scapegoats for Lesbians. One het women said Butches were as oppressive as men because of a woman she knew at work. I of course did not assume she was talking about a real Butch or even knew what a Butch was, and after wasting hours of our time, she finally asked if Butches were recognizable. That’s the entire point of why Butch oppression is inescapable! It then became clear that this woman’s “Butch” was actually a feminine heterosexual woman. Another time, we asked the Radical Feminists if they could find any media images of Butches, and they linked to incredibly pornographic het woman images.
Then some of the women send me photos of themselves to prove they are Butch, while the photos prove the opposite — they are Fem, don’t even look like Lesbians, and clearly heterosexual. I’m still puzzled as to what they think a Butch is.These are usually women who previously were scared to even think about Butches. Some Fem Lesbians who have passed completely as het to escape Lesbian oppression and to be considered attractive to men, also try to say they are Butch, or ask could they be Butch if they change how they look? No. It’s a choice made in girlhood, reflected by body language, mannerism, stance, voice, etc. (Many women pitch their voices unnaturally high as part of following male rules. Men want women to seem weak, while also looking as different from men, and as unnatural, as possible.) Most of these same Radical Feminists are outraged when men appropriate the identity of women, yet don’t consider they are also appropriating an identity that is not theirs. I finally realized that part of this is because women are so used to competing with women for men, so they then see Butch identity as being another competition to win.
Now that most Lesbians are passing as het, many Lesbians believe that any Lesbian who is not a Hard Fem must be a Butch, even though Butches are only about 5% of the Lesbians we commonly see at events. There are a lot of Fem Dykes who are out as Dykes, but who are clearly not Butch. And then there are extreme Fems who say how much they love Butches, yet are unwilling to stop passing as het, which would make life much less difficult and dangerous for Butches, as well as Fem Dykes.
Many Fems who do recognize the existence of Butches objectify us with a similar sense of ownership and objectification towards us that men have towards women – as if we somehow belong to them. If we say that we are more attracted to Butches or are not attracted to Fems, we are told that we can’t possibly mean that, or we just haven’t found the right Fem yet. It’s the same kind of patronizing amusement men have towards Lesbians. I’ve actually been told that two Butches together are missing out. (On what? Unequal, passionless love-making?) Exactly what men say about two women together. These predatory Fems never even bother to ask about how our experiences with Fem lovers we’ve had over the decades led us to prefer being with Butches. Then there are Lesbians who are so freaked out by the idea of Butches loving each other that they announce that we couldn’t possibly be real Butches (though not if they meet us in person).
I’ve heard Fems ask, “What’s wrong with objectifying Butches?” Well, what’s wrong with sexually objectifying any oppressed groups of women? Some Fems want to be with Butches to get the attention and love they expected to get from men, but didn’t. And for some predatory Fems, Butches make a convenient scapegoat to take out their rage at men. I know two Radical Lesbian Feminist Fems who talked about beating Butch lovers. One was an upper middle class Euro-descent Fem who beat her poverty class, legally blind, racially oppressed Butch lover. The other Fem said she beat her working class Lifelong Lesbian Butch lover because she could not get back at her father or ex-husband. Neither seemed remotely remorseful and were contemptuous of those Butch lovers who had been devoted to them. (When I asked the blind Butch about her lover beating her, the Butch was still trying to protect her abusive ex, and said “there was violence in our relationship,” which actually implicated her. So I asked if she had ever hit her lover, and she said no.). And these abusers of Butches were Radical Feminists! We can only imagine how often this happens.
It’s true that many Butches are so self-hating that they worship Hard Fems beyond what would make an equal relationship (although others of us find that look repulsive). Butches aren’t unique in this. Other oppressed people often value those who try to assimilate to look more like their oppressor, which is why so many Fems pass as het. I see most Fems where I live also being more attracted to Hard Fems than to Lesbians who look like Dykes, whether Fem or Butch. It feels like the patriarchal media has won out, after all these years of bombarding us with ugly male-defined “beauty.” It’s not just that many/most Lesbians want to be lovers with women who look like movie stars – they want to be seen to be lovers with women who look like movie stars. In my old community, these extremely feminine women would have been looked at warily, as if they might not be truly Lesbians. This isn’t being unfair – Hard Fems who do follow male rules of how women are supposed to look are more likely to have chosen men in the past and to go back to men.
Women, like other colonized people, have been given a caricatured, fetishized representation of how we are not only supposed to dress, but move, gesture, talk, laugh, think, etc. Most women learn unnatural patterns of behaving while being little girls when they are punished for acting naturally and rewarded when obeying male rules. Butch girls, with no support and no role models, refuse to obey the male rules.
What is heart-breaking is how much self-hatred there is among Butches. Some have been encouraged by their Hard Fem lovers to believe and say that Butches have “male privilege” — which of course is not true. Butches are never treated as men. Butches are treated as the most abnormal freaks among Lesbians. Fems usually can make more money, have more status (as “real” women) with family, friends, and in the rest of patriarchy, and are more likely to own houses as a result of having had husbands, careers, and sometimes families who gave them money. (Butches are more likely to be disowned, and more Butches are class-oppressed, and there is a higher percentage of Butches of Color than European-descent.)
Then there is the lesbophobic myth that identifying as Butch means we play roles. Yet Lesbians can be outrageously Fem and not be accused of role-playing. I have never played roles. Daring to discuss differences does not mean we play roles. Identifying as Butch does not mean playing roles — it means identifying with the choice we made as little girls, against all odds, as well as being a marginalized, oppressed, invisibilized minority in Lesbian communities. We get it in the het world for being the most out, obvious Lesbians, and we get it in our own communities. Are working class Lesbians who identify as working class accused of playing roles about class? (This is again about Butches being insultingly categogorized as only a sexual identity, pornifying us.)
It doesn’t help that almost the only books about Butches are in anthologies edited by Fems and bisexual women who further Butch-hating stereotypes. What I have seen in decades of being out as Butch is that it’s Fems who have pushed Butches into role-playing, partly because it makes the Fems feel less scarily Lesbian. Sado-masochism, including using dildos, is part of that and is absolutely mainstream among het women as well as non-feminist Fems. (Yet ridiculous comments are made, like by a Fem who was planning a “sex” workshop and said that she’d have to keep an eye on all of her dildos to stop Butches from stealing them. Why would any Butch want an ugly dildo? At another event, a Fem threw her large collection of dildos out into the Lesbian audience.)
At a Butch Voices conference dinner, I brought up how upset I was that a workshop organizer assumed all Butches used dildos, calling it “Butch cock.” I asked how many of us have been sexually assaulted by pricks and all that they represent, comparing dildos to sado-masochist use of Nazi paraphernalia in scenes. A Hard Fem bisexual patronizingly lectured me about how much better sex was using objects. I answered that something is seriously wrong if a Lesbian prefers silicone in the shape of a prick instead of the feel of her lover’s hands and body, and why would someone want to use such an offensive object on her lover, instead of feeling her? No way was this het-looking woman in full make-up going to bully me into believing that the incredible loving, wild, and passionate love-making I have shared with lovers would be improved with ugly male objects. She finally resorted to telling me that it probably was too late to change at my age – an ageist version of the usual sado-masochist taunt implying I was a prude or had never heard of dildos before. I’d been saying no to repulsive dildos since first being told about them when I was 14.
I have heard other Butches say that although they hate dildos, they have been pressured to use them on ex-het Fem lovers, for obvious reasons. The first Lesbian I knew told me how she had found other Lesbians in a bar community run by bisexual prostitutes in1965. As a teenaged Butch, they were training her in what “real women” want. She felt so disgusted and used by these women that she left and never again tried to find a Lesbian community.
I wonder how many of those women who want their lover to use dildos are fantasizing about being with a man. By using objects, they can disconnect, as opposed to being completely present, loving, feeling, and being felt by another woman, which is a continual reminder that they are Lesbians and are doing things that can still be punished by death in some countries.
A horrific aspect of role-playing that I recently heard about is the so-called “Stone Fem,” who will only be lovers with a Stone Butch. I believe that the Stone Butch is a Hard Fem creation since I have never known of a Butch who willingly, happily said she wanted to not be loved and never wanted to be made love to. What I have heard is Butches talking painfully about Fem “lovers” who refused to make love to them with equal passion, attention, time, and love, or refused to ever touch them, while they were expected to make love to the Fem for hours, whenever she wanted. Once you fall in love with and are committed to a woman, it can be very hard to acknowledge, even to yourself, that she doesn’t love you equally, or at all.
I believe some Butches, and particularly those without support, do sometimes end up as Stone Butches because it can feel less painful to take on that identity than to continually face inequality in love and love-making. After years of bad treatment, some just stop hoping for real love, and shut down. It’s a travesty that some Fems have fetishized such a traumatic aspect of Butch oppression. I can’t imagine how some Fems can justify identifying as “Stone Fems.” It’s like declaring, “I really am an incredibly selfish, misogynist, Lesbian-hating, and Butch-hating woman and am proud of it. I just want to be the complete center of love, attention, and pleasure, and I want to make my lover feel alone, unloved, and worthless. Aren’t I wonderful?”
I believe the “Lesbian Bed Death” myth is usually about the Fem or both Fems (since the majority of Lesbian relationships are two Fems together), stopping wanting to make love. Butches are much less likely to stop, no matter what horrific childhood and other sexual assaults they’ve suffered. Even when a Lesbian otherwise appears as Butch, this intimate detail of wanting to be passionate in love-making and to make love to their lover is a defining characteristic of being Butch.
25 Years Later….
So how are things for Butches now, since 1990, when we published our chapter on Butch oppression in “Dykes-Loving-Dykes?”
Well, things seem mostly a lot worse – some of which we predicted, based on how mainstream and assimilated and Lesbian-hating many Lesbians were becoming. But some of it has still been a shock. I have never seen or heard such overt hatred of Butches among Lesbians as I’m hearing now.
In my old Lesbian Feminist and Separatist community from the Seventies, there was disapproval about role-playing, (which I still agree with, but not for the reasons said then), sometimes falsely blamed on Butches by the lesbophobic, yet Butches were more respected and appreciated than now. Even without clear politics about what it meant to be Butch, there was an awareness that Butches were the most visible of Lesbians who had kept Lesbian existence known while other Lesbians were passing and hiding. Some of the out Butches were appreciated and acknowledged for having created our Lesbian Feminist community with their brilliant Radical Lesbian Feminist politics, articles, poetry, books, music, etc. Looking like a Dyke was valued, so most Lesbians, even most of..
Chapter Five Lesbians for Lesbians Dyke Separatism Means Loving Dykes Bev Jo Linda Strega Ruston
In a male supremacist world that reviles Lesbians, it’s a deeply courageous and loving choice to be a Dyke Separatist and say, “We put Dykes first. No one else cares for or loves Dykes, but we do.” Separatism comes from the same place within us that our choice to be Lesbians comes from — fierce love, passion, protectiveness, and commitment to our own kind. It’s the most female-loving politics, philosophy, and way of life on Earth. Separatism also means having the courage to perceive the world the way it really is.
The principles of Lesbian Separatism – female-only space – are what created Feminist and Lesbian Feminist culture and community. It’s what made our politics and blossoming creativity possible in women’s centers, bookstores, coffee houses, meetings, readings, newspapers, journals, books, dances, parties, plays, concerts – with no interruptions, domination, or voyeurism by men. The unique magical feeling of Lesbians together is incredibly powerful.
All Lesbian Feminists and other women who participated in our communities benefitted from Lesbian Separatist politics. It changed everything. It still is changing the world, though under more pressure than ever by men trying to destroy women-only space, (which says what a threat Separatism is.)
So why was Separatism so reviled and lied about in the Seventies and still is, all these decades later, by the same women who profited from it? Why are we the one Lesbian group who everyone loves to scapegoat, lie about, and hate? Why are we treated as if it’s a crime to care for and love our own people and actually make Lesbians a priority instead of putting everyone else first – men, men who pretend to be women, men who pretend to be Lesbians, women who pretend to be men, women who choose men, and women too Lesbian-hating to choose to be Lesbians?
Separatism for other oppressed peoples is rightfully admired and understood, even though many have been killed for daring to do it (proving how necessary it is). Of course people under siege need to meet with their own kind, away from their oppressors. But not Lesbians and other females. Why? The answer is that females count for little, and Lesbians even less. Women and Lesbians together away from the policing eye of men are extremely threatening. Also, Dyke Separatism is saying no to men, and they punish and try to destroy any female who does that. And then women take on the policing job for men.
As Pippa Fleming, in support of Lesbian Separatism, once demonstrated, while standing with a group of Lesbians of different races, “This kind of Separatism is not acceptable….” and then walking a few feet away to stand next several African-descent Lesbians….”but this kind of Separatism is.” Yet, even while Lesbian Feminists and other Feminists welcomed our politics of women-only space, Lesbian Separatists became the scapegoats of our community – harassed with the most ridiculous slander, banned from Lesbian and feminist organizations and social groups. The attacks continue, even though men, with collaborator women’s help, have invaded our last women-only space.
I (Bev) became a Dyke Separatist in 1972 and I don’t know of any other Lesbians who have been Dyke Separatists as long as I have, so I want to keep our culture and history alive. As a group, we had less privilege than most of the Lesbians who attacked us, yet the Separatist-hating slander said we were privileged and lived escapist lives in the country. Like most Lesbians, we are majority working class and live in cities. Separatism is about who we choose to be close with, not who we are forced to relate to for survival.
No other oppressed people are so ordered to make their oppressor priority. As an oppressed people, we have the right to be with each other away from our oppressors — het men (including those pretending to be women and Lesbians), Gay men, boys, and women allied with and invested in men. We also have the right to choose who we love and trust, who our friends will be, and who we’ll work with politically. This is the basis of feminism, which was once taken for granted in many countries. Lesbians, women, and girls, created times and places to be together, protected from male stares, perving, domineering, insults, and violence.
Even after all these years, at the Old Lesbians Organizing for Change conference in July, 2014, which, except for the man pretending to be a Lesbian, was operating under Separatist principles of being for Old Lesbians only, Separatists were targeted for slander and hatred. One of the speakers, who owes her fame and writing career to the support of Lesbian Feminists, aimed the usual lies and hatred at Separatists. She told personal stories of how betrayed she felt by her lover’s son and how used she felt by her own son, yet her direct anger was aimed at Lesbian Separatists for no apparent reason. Her claim that all Separatists are European-descent and middle class is not honest since she knows that’s not true, and here she was benefitting from this space where she was virtually worshipped, once again scapegoating us with hatred. Why? Because we are the easiest target and she could motivate the audience of Old Lesbians, at almost Lesbian only space, to participate. And of course in her attack on Lesbian Separatists, she completely ignored the existence of NIA, which is the only Lesbian only organization that we know of in the San Francisco Bay Area, by and for Lesbians of African-descent.
Who You Choose to Love Says Everything About You
If all Lesbians put Lesbians first in every aspect of our lives, and if all Lesbians fought heterosexism and every other oppression among us, we could create vital, powerful, joyful Dyke cultures. In many countries in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Dyke Separatist politics produced exciting, creative communities of Dykes, transforming Lesbians’ lives and making it easier for many heterosexual women to become Lesbians. But now Lesbian energy is diverted into helping everyone but Lesbians. When Lesbians prioritize supporting het women, even though het women prioritize males, is that because het women are considered more “real” women and more “oppressed,” even while they are oppressing Lesbians?
Dyke Separatism means always putting our Lesbian friends, lovers, and political allies ahead of males and het and bisexual women. It means making Lesbian values more important than male and het values. Putting Lesbians first also means never siding with men or het women, including relatives, who are oppressing Lesbians. That includes not neglecting or abandoning Lesbian lovers and friends in an effort to be accepted and approved of by family, het friends, or co-workers. Being true to Dyke integrity is more important to us than the social acceptance we’d get by silently accepting Dyke oppression.
Dyke Separatism means relating only to females when we have the choice. Because men control the world’s resources, we have to deal with men for physical survival, but we don’t choose to be close friends with them. (Some Separatists make cautious exceptions for male relatives, while other Separatists don’t.) Separatism also means working politically with other Lesbians whenever possible (except for the most trusted het or bisexual women who do not despise us.)
It is an unforgivable crime in patriarchy for females to dare to deeply and completely love ourselves and each other, so Lesbians are the most universally hated people on Earth. We are so hated that het individuals and media try to pretend we don’t even exist. In every patriarchal, het culture, our existence is denied or viciously lied about. Men and boys are expected to love themselves and their male cultures, and het women are expected to love and devote their lives to men and boys. To be more accepted, many Lesbians also accept the patriarchal role of women prioritizing males, while the few of us who say “no” to this injustice are hated by Lesbians as well as by men and het women.
Because males daily threaten our survival, we protect ourselves by resisting them at all times in every way possible. Separatism means refusing to collaborate with men in the ways they oppress, exclude, humiliate, attack, rape, and kill females. Separatism also means fighting the Lesbian-hatred and female-hatred that turns us against our own selves, which leads to illness or death. Too many Dykes have died because of Lesbian-hatred. Too many Dykes have killed themselves trying to escape the pain of oppression. Separatism means choosing life.
By definition, all Lesbians live in a Separatist way, because we aren’t sexually intimate with men. Refusing to let men fuck us is a courageous act of rebellion in patriarchy. Separatists take this intrinsic Lesbian act and extend it into all parts of our lives, consciously refusing every male demand.
Lesbian Separatism has a history and culture. We have always met together in political Separatist-only groups and with friends. In the US, there were also Separatist Gatherings, with the first that I know of being in 1982 at DOE Farm in Wisconsin, another in San Francisco in 1983, and then a series of annual Gatherings in Wisconsin in the late Eighties and early Nineties, and another in the Bay Area in 1993. There was also the Separatist anthology, For Lesbians Only, edited by Julia Penelope and Sarah Hoagland, printed in 1992.
I became a Dyke Separatist after meeting a nineteen year old Separatist when I was twenty one at the 1972 Lesbian Feminist Conference that I helped organize in Berkeley (one of the first in the world). Separatism from men was already taken for granted among Lesbian Feminists, but this Lesbian clarified that she was also a Separatist from het and bisexual women since they were collaborating with men. Even as late as 1991, some Separatists wrote that women-only space was a given everywhere. And now, twenty-five years later we do not even have the safety of female-only public restrooms.
Some het women smugly say to us, “But you’re cutting yourselves off from half the human race!” – forgetting how much they have cut themselves off from the greater number, which are women, and that they’re even cut off from themselves. Their perceptions are distorted because only males really matter to them. These are the kinds of ridiculous mind-fuck/gaslighting comments that women devoted to men throw at Lesbians to get us to react with shame and guilt, and to feel we are not being “normal” women because “real” women prioritize males.
It simply isn’t possible to be loving, nurturing, and loyal to both males and females, because males are waging a war against all females. Even if males don’t seem to be participating at a particular moment, that can change at any time. Commitment to any male is a commitment to male supremacist rule, and that means participating in the abuse, exploitation, rape, and murder of Lesbians and other females. Some self-hating Lesbian Feminists have said, “It doesn’t matter who you go to bed with or whether you love males or females — what’s important is how you live the rest of your life.” This trivializes what it means to be a Lesbian. Who you choose to love, says everything about you. There’s a world of difference between females and males. Lesbians who value males and het females more than Lesbians are female-hating, but no female is as female-hating as those who intimately nurture males over females.
If all women refused to relate to males, that would be the end of patriarchy. Even just for Dykes to say that we have the right to our own Dyke communities is a revolutionary act. Not collaborating with men also means valuing life over men’s death-worshipping cultures, and choosing Dyke wisdom and creativity over the cold, empty, boring stagnancy of patriarchy.
Simply by existing in a world that denies our existence, and by surviving millennia of male rule, Lesbians are a resistance movement. Throughout patriarchal history, Lesbians have always been in the forefront of fighting for female rights and defending females against male attack, while het women have continually betrayed us to men and created more men. Just as we’re the core of present day Women’s Liberation, we were the core of past feminist movements. The most out, blatant Dykes have been the most consistently courageous in fighting for Lesbian survival because of refusing male-identified rules of femininity. (It’s no coincidence that the media forbids us from ever even seeing a Butch, except for a rare one who is shown being raped and beaten to death, as in the film Boys Don’t Cry).
Where permitted by men and het women, usually because they’ve been closeted or “discreet,” Dykes have also been in the forefront of national, racial, ethnic, class, and other liberation movements across the Earth. This work gained rights for men and, to a lesser extent, het women. But Lesbians have been persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered in both “revolutionary” and reactionary societies. Wherever you find strong, exceptional females – in the past or present — you find Dykes. We should reclaim our courageous past with pride and remember that current international radical Lesbian movements, including Dyke Separatism, come from that tradition.
Female-Only: Freeing Ourselves
Men made institutions to enforce patriarchy and patriarchal propaganda: governments, military, police, legal, medical, educational, and social welfare systems; media with newspapers, magazines, television, films, advertising, “literature,” “art,” and, of course, the ultimate male cultural expression — pornography, vital to their terrorization of females. Man’s organized religions vary in their female-hatred, but all provide symbols and myths to “prove” the “inevitability” of male dominance and heterosexuality. Male institutions are made to appear such a necessary part of the world that it becomes almost impossible to imagine living without them — particularly the social institutions considered “normal,” like heterosexuality, marriage, motherhood, and the family, as well as artificial male-identified femininity and false standards of “beauty” that keep all girls and women insecure and ungrounded, and which even most Lesbians take for granted. These cultural institutions are as vital to male rule as governments and armies.
Patriarchy isn’t just outside of us in rape, murder, and male institutions. It’s also inside of all females’ minds, in how we think, feel, speak, and act, because we’ve been indoctrinated with male propaganda since birth. Separatism means examining and ultimately freeing ourselves from all those male lies, as well as freeing ourselves from actual male presence. We need to question everything because anything that doesn’t come directly from Lesbian culture is likely to be anti-female and anti-Lesbian. Separatism is a way to keep clear awareness in a world that thinks only of exterminating Lesbians.
Some Lesbians believe that to be truly Separatist, we must never see or hear male media, as if we’d be uncontrollably influenced by this propaganda. But Separatists aren’t that weak. It’s far more important for Lesbians to recognize and eliminate male and heterosexist thought and behavior than it is for us to afraid look at a book or film by a man. We need to know what lies are being told in the media and also to recognize the ways that Lesbians are following male and het fads. Separatism doesn’t mean shutting ourselves off from patriarchy — it means knowing its lies so clearly that we’re strong enough to reject them.
Why is female-only space now almost non-existent in many communities, when it was common in the early 1970’s? It’s not like men and boys are less prurient and dangerous or that we don’t have the same needs for safety and community. What’s different is the steady erosion of Lesbian identity and commitment, but most importantly, the entire economic situation changed so that there simply isn’t enough money to have the spaces we once had. Even the bars are gone.
In the US, the change began dishonestly, with events still called “women’s” or even “Lesbian,” while beginning to welcome men. It was a shock when a “Lesbian Conference” in San Francisco was open to men and het and bisexual women. There’s also a dishonest change in the US, where some events are still called “women’s” or even “Lesbian,” while also welcoming men. Even a “Lesbian Conference” in San Francisco was open to men and het and bisexual women. The conference organizers even wanted male media attention. A “Lesbian Health Forum” in San Francisco was even more upsetting because men were not only welcomed over Lesbians’ protests, but when a doctor with limited time answered audience questions, all the men were called on while many Lesbians were ignored. When sign-up sheets for support groups for ill Lesbians and their friends and lovers were passed around, the men also signed up. We’d gone to this forum only because it was clearly advertised “for women-only.”
Part of the problem is that some Lesbians and women made careers out of our movement, getting power and status and money at the expense of our communities. Like when Lesbian directors of organizations which betray Lesbians to men make $300,000 a year, while still asking poor Lesbians to donate.
Some of the biggest money-makers have the word “Lesbian” on them, like the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which prioritizes men over Lesbians and other women, and even campaigns to destroy the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (one of our last and most precious spaces), on behalf of the men identifying as Lesbians — the same men who threatened the Festival for years, walking around with weapons and signs saying “Die Cis Scum” (“cis” is the name the trans cult uses for real women since they’ve taken “women” for their own), handing out cards with the ugly porny image of women commonly used as stickers on trucks, but with a large erect prick, and the words, “Real woman have cocks” — who are now allowed in, because of Lesbian betrayal, parading around exposing their pricks. Many Lesbians and other women are still fighting to save the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival as women-only space, including doing a letter writing campaign to NCLR, but NCLR is likely to follow the direction of whoever has the most money, which is the trans cult and other men.
Boys First Means Lesbians Last
Anti-Separatist Lesbians who want an “inclusive” rather than Lesbian-identified movement have selfishly undermined female-only space. They seem to forget that het and Gay men, with so much more money and power than Lesbians, have plenty of spaces that are not “’inclusive” to women. Their commitment is to men, and, particularly, boys first. Many Lesbians who seem to understand the need for separation from men often act as if they think boys are another kind of female, not noticing how abusive most boys are to girls and even adult women. Why are mothers of sons and their supporters so upset about female-only space when it’s so rare anyway? They act as if a once-a-month or even once-a-year female-only event is going to destroy their sons.
Males expect that all girls and adult females exist for their use and ownership. When females bully other females into accepting the presence and demands of males, they’re acting as agents for those males. It’s important for boys to learn that they can’t get everything they want and to be taught to respect the rights of females. Some Lesbian mothers do try to teach their sons this, but most seem intent on training their boys to be dominant.
When mothers of sons disrupt female-only events until they get their way, they’re teaching those boys to be the center of attention, which is, after all, the traditional role of a male among females. And when Lesbians fight for boys’ “rights” at the expense of females, they’re not only denying us our basic right to choose to be away from our oppressors, they’re teaching boys that no girl, Lesbian, or other woman has the right to say “no” to them. They’re truly training them to be young men in a male world. It’s no coincidence that some of the Lesbians who first brought boys into female-only spaces later brought men who identify as Lesbians into our community and organizations. These are heterosexist choices for Lesbians.
The Sacred Gift of Lesbian Only Space
Heterosexuality and all het women oppress all Lesbians. Het women act as men’s collaborators in maintaining male and heterosexual supremacy. Female-only isn’t enough – we also fight for Lesbian-only. And, as an oppressed people, we have the right to say clearly who is one of us and who isn’t. Het and bisexual women, and even men, say they’re Lesbians when they want access to us.
Separatism means Lesbians together — not just “Lesbians away from others.” Lesbian space is not a vacuum because it’s devoid of male and het women. There’s almost no truly Lesbian land anywhere, or even any female land. Most “women’s” land welcomes boys and often men. Lesbians have no countries, states, cities, towns, neighborhoods, or even streets where we’re safe and welcome, let alone which belong to us. We are despised everywhere. Men own the world, and even Gay men control entire neighborhoods and towns. The few “women’s” places usually cater to het women. Lesbians always come last, even for most Lesbians. Lesbian-only space has existed only for brief times in a very few places in the world, even when women-only spaces were strong and numerous.
Lesbian-only space is a precious gift to all Lesbians. We have the right to be where Lesbianism is valued and loved openly instead of being voyeurized and endangered by bisexual and het women. We also have the right to just feel safe enough to have fun and enjoy each other’s Lesbian selves away from our oppressors. It isn’t enough to just be away from male presence, although that’s an essential first step. Lesbian-space feels completely different from women-only space, just as women-only space is different because no males are present.
Dykes have survived thousands of years of patriarchy, being attacked, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered for daring to be Dykes. We know so little about our long Lesbian past. There’s some small record of the most privileged Lesbians, but the stories of the majority of more oppressed millions are lost to us forever. They built and sustained hidden Lesbian communities and cultures, but there are none of the things that honor the lives of men and even some het women — no monuments or buildings dedicated to their memories, stories told, songs sung. In fact, the trans cult, with far more resources and money, are re-writing our history and claiming every dead famous Lesbian, from Joan of Arc to Teena Brandon as a “transman.” (This reminds us of when Mormons baptize dead people who were not Mormon, including people who were killed in the Holocaust, against the wishes of those who love them.)
Before the Lesbian Feminist movement, most Dykes had nowhere to meet except for a few expensive male-owned bars that abused us. Creating and..
Chapter Seven:Motherhood: The Ultimate Feminine RoleBev Jo
(Originally published in 1990, I, Bev, have updated this to share online.)
Radical Feminism is about questioning everything we are taught is sacred and unquestionable in patriarchy, from male religion to every other male dictate for females. Radical Feminism means understanding all male cons in both the political and personal, exploring the political effects of each personal decision, and knowing what choices are possible. Motherhood is one of the most important foundations of patriarchy, yet we are taught that choosing it means becoming woman supreme.
Any time we find ourselves being expected to genuflect to and pay homage to any particular group of people, which means valuing ourselves less, we need to deeply think about why we are expected to do that – especially when they are often our oppressors.
This is not about criticizing women who are mothers, but about exploring the institution of motherhood and how it keeps patriarchy going, because women claiming to be Feminists are still choosing motherhood.
Please have no illusions: If you choose to reproduce, you are being incredibly selfish and keeping patriarchy going. Patriarchy and the daily extinction of species would stop very soon if women just stopped reproducing. This is the one thing where each woman’s decision has a massive effect on the future.
Motherhood is one of the biggest cons and cults of patriarchy. Women complain endlessly about how terrible their lives are as mothers, even though most choose it (yes, most women know that if they choose to let men fuck them, pregnancy is likely). At the same time, mothers brag endlessly about being mothers and about their children, particularly sons. They openly pity women who can’t have children. Most participate wholeheartedly in the destructive myth that they are doing something wonderful for society and the earth, when the reality is that they are giving the earth a death sentence. At the very least, mothers do not have to add to the propaganda of motherhood pushed onto all girls and women, yet, in spite of their bitter complaining, most wholeheartedly pressure other females to also reproduce. Why?
One of the dilemmas of talking about the privilege of motherhood is that motherhood is presented by reformist/right wing/liberal feminists as being the most oppressed condition women can experience. What is ignored in this is the power that motherhood has as an institution, how it is promoted with endless media propaganda, and how women who say no are punished. (If you dare say this on most “radfem” sites, you will be banned for telling the truth.) Like most kinds of privilege you can often only see it when you’re not experiencing it.
Acting out of heterosexuality, reformist feminists focus primarily on men, ignoring Lesbians and women who say no to breeding. (We are an unpleasant reminder that women can and do choose. They would rather we don’t exist.) Most women are promised much more than they ever get for reproducing the next men and the next women to breed more men, so they are bitter and angry. They make demands on men to help with their children, and then, without any thought about the privilege they have that is directly gotten at the expense of non-mothers, they expect Lesbians and women without children to help take care of those children, as if they have done us all a favor by reproducing and as if we somehow owe them. They also take out their anger at men onto us.
In reality, reproducing is one of the most selfish things a woman can do. The world is horrifically over-populated and adding more humans is killing the planet. If you dare to say this, the most common response is a crazed “But all humans will die out!” as if that is likely at eight billion and growing. These children, who we never had a say about being made, are our direct competition for future survival resources.
The happiest Lesbians seem to be those who came out late, in their forties or fifties, after having husbands, careers, houses, lots of money, and far better health with which to enjoy life. Of course, most wish they had never chosen men to begin with, but they have gotten substantial rewards for reproducing and choosing men, with a far more secure future than most Lifelong Lesbians.
Meanwhile, het Feminists set on keeping this mess going are unwilling to look at their own complicity, and will do anything to avoid taking responsibility for their past choices to be het, or even their current choice of having a man — so they start talking about girls in far-away countries chained to walls, being raped and forced to reproduce, as if that was their own situation, which is designed to shame us into silence. How dare we even question motherhood, enshrined as a cult along with religion and patriotism?
The Myths and Mania of Motherhood
To understand why some Lesbians want to be mothers, we need to understand what the mother role has to offer. There are strong Dyke-identified Dykes who are mothers and who don’t expect to be revered for it. But many Lesbians, both mothers and non-mothers, revere the institution of motherhood in the same ways that patriarchy does. They envision matriarchy is as the ideal alternative to patriarchy, but Mother Rule, especially Het Mother Rule, wouldn’t be much of an improvement over Father Rule. What we need is equality between Lesbians, with no one ruling. The way to create that equality is to question and challenge every “truth,” especially sacred “truths,” that we’re taught. That also means questioning much of feminist analysis, especially the parts that reflect het feminists’ heterosexism.
Very few Lesbians question the sacredness of motherhood and the demand that mothers be treated as superior beings in relation to non-mothers. The few who do are attacked in print, censored, or banned from online groups. The insults are similar to what men and het women call any female who refuses to support the institution of motherhood. That tells us we must continue exploring why patriarchy and feminists so love motherhood. (Amazones d’Hier, Lesbiennes d”Aujourd’hui of Montréal, Québec, Canada, was a wonderful exception to this.)1
There’s a feminist myth that motherhood is the most deeply oppressed, suffering, and hardworking of female conditions, and that, in comparison, non-mothers’ lives are full of fun, irresponsibility, and freedom. Meanwhile, patriarchal propaganda says that motherhood is the only true fulfillment and happiness a female can have, and that childless females (especially Dykes) live pathetic, empty, meaningless, neurotic, lonely, unnatural, and barren lives.
Both of these myths are lies, based on a distortion of truth. The feminist lie is based on the fact that men oppress women and therefore mothers are oppressed by men. Mothers create and raise children for men — boys are future men, and girls are meant to be future creators and incubators of men, as well as servants and fuck objects. Poor mothers who don’t have men supporting them in their mother role have a hard time making enough money to live while also caring for their children. We agree that mothers’ lives can be hard. It’s expensive and time-consuming to raise children. But that hardship is chosen for the privilege involved, and pain and hardship aren’t always the same as oppression. It’s painful to be het, but het women have tremendous social power over Lesbians and oppress us.
Hetness and, in most cases, motherhood, are choices, and both choices come from a commitment to men first. Even when women don’t decide specifically to get pregnant, if they choose to be fucked by men, then they know what the risks are. Women who choose pregnancy gain the particular privilege and respect that only mothers are allowed. (Women often just continue doing what they are told they are supposed to do and follow what “everyone else is doing,” which means choosing men, making babies, etc. But clearly not every women does that, and trying to fit in and be considered normal is going for privilege. Some women are more calculating and aim to get a man with substantial privilege so they can have security, status, and money, while providing heirs, as well as sexual services as their part of the bargain — higher class monogamous prostitution.)
The feminist lie that defines mothers as oppressed victims ignores the privilege which comes from men declaring that mothers are the women who everyone must love, praise, and admire. It ignores the existence and deeper oppression of Lesbians who aren’t mothers, especially those who’ve always been Lesbians. The patriarchal lie that defines mothers as supremely fulfilled is based on the false “fulfillment” that privilege gives them – only mothers, enacting the most het of roles, are allowed to represent the radiant epitome of womanliness. The rest of us are treated with various levels of contempt, because men consider our lives as barren as they consider our bodies. Many Lesbians ignore the social power that mothers have, like they ignore the power het women have relative to Lesbians. That power is given to mothers and het women by men because men need them. Men couldn’t exist without mothers.
Patriarchy makes a fuss over the physical aspects of how women become mothers, from the het acts of fucking and pregnancy to having a “fertile” body. In patriarchal minds, giving birth makes a Mature Woman out of a girl. Otherwise, all ages of females are just “girls” to men. The baby is the female body’s badge of completeness. As one mother said, “I feel I would be hollow now if I had not been a mother.”2 This glorification is particularly oppressive to females who are physically unable to get pregnant.
The propaganda is that being pregnant is natural and even needed, not just by humans, but by other animals. Some women even force their pets to get pregnant because they think it’s good for them, though for many species, this means being raped. Many female animals are left scarred and injured, and some die as they fight to defend themselves from being raped. In zoos, when they want a species to reproduce, they often shackle the female to be raped because some will fight to the death against the rapists. Being pregnant also sucks the life force from the mother animal. Female bodies respond as though it’s a parasitic invasion and try to kill the fetus. And many women still become permanently disabled or die from pregnancy and childbirth, which is rarely publicized.
Then there’s the social aspect. In every culture we know of, mothers receive far more respect and status than any other group of females, which is why so many women choose to have children. Even patriarchal religions demand, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Mothers are given their own day — “Mother’s Day.” Businesses praise mothers and give them special discounts — not surprising, since mothers create more consumers. Cards and gifts are sent in their honor, and both the patriarchal and feminist media laud mothers.
Feminist and Lesbian stars do special concerts and events for mothers. One of the largest annual gatherings of Lesbians in the world, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, has been called “a gathering of mothers and daughters,” with mothers therefore doubly welcomed. That means females who are and were het were publicly more welcomed than Lifelong Lesbians and Lesbians who’ve never been het. It also means non-mothers were automatically put in the inferior position of daughters. What other female or Lesbian group is as regularly and institutionally acknowledged and praised as are mothers? No wonder most Lesbian mothers identify first as “mothers” and second as “Lesbians.”
Many employers give special benefits to mothers, and many pay for extensive maternity leave. Some employers and governments provide free childcare. Non-mother Lesbians pay taxes to support those benefits without getting similar benefits when we’re ill or having to look after our lovers and friends who need care. Many feminist groups also provide childcare or money for childcare. (Bev: I taught self-defense classes for girls and women for ten years for Bay Area Women Against Rape. After administrative changes in the group, my $100 a month salary was eliminated, while office staff members received full salary plus $400 a month extra for childcare. Self defense classes are among the most important support that such groups can give to girls and women. I was committed to never being able to leave the area for more than a week for most of ten years since I taught each week, but mothers had priority.)
In Lesbian communities, more Lesbian money has been donated to Lesbian mothers than any other group, particularly for custody cases, while most other Lesbians’ needs are largely ignored. Since the new A.I. (“artificially inseminated”) mothers became the majority of mothers in Lesbian communities, that means they’re likely to get the majority of funding. There’s usually little or no organized financial support for Lesbians who have other responsibilities, such as caring for ill or dying friends and lovers. How much money and support has been raised for homeless, hungry, terminally ill, disabled, and/or imprisoned Dykes compared to money raised for childcare and custody cases? How many Lesbian events welcome children free (including boys), even if the mothers are rich, and then refuse to let in poor Dykes who can’t pay? Lesbians are simply valued less. Why give the most help to those who provide a future for the patriarchy? Children are future men and potentially future het women, while Lesbians merely stay Lesbians. The richly funded “Lesbian Rights” project in San Francisco is almost completely devoted to Lesbian mothers’ and even Gay fathers’ custody cases. “Lesbian Rights” has become synonymous with “Mothers’ Rights”! (Meanwhile, the “National Center for Lesbian Rights,” with their enormous budget, primarily works for men, including the very men who are destroying our last female only spaces.)
Lesbians who get pregnant assume they can demand support. (Bev: A few years ago, I organized meetings for Lesbians to discuss Lesbian Separatism. One of the Lesbians who sounded very anti-male and agreed that males were inherently dangerous, was pregnant with a boy. I didn’t know her well, but she actually announced she would have me “on diaper duty” for her baby boy. I told her it’s the last thing I would do. A couple of years later, she confided that her still young son is proof of how boys just throw rocks and there is nothing she can do to stop him.)
Motherhood gives an aura of respectability to a Lesbian that nothing else does except going het. The next best thing to being a wife and mother is to at least be a mother. That’s half of the male definition of “woman.” Motherhood gives surrogate wife status. It’s as close as a Lesbian can come to being heterosexual.14 Lesbians have been considered immature by patriarchy and its psychologists, but becoming a mother means becoming a full adult. Mothers of boys get even more privilege, because males are more valued. This increased privilege for Lesbian mothers is gained at the expense of Lesbian non-mothers.
Too many times we’ve heard Lesbians say that mothers should be particularly respected. The prominence of Lesbian mothers in the Lesbian media is an effort to prove that we’re acceptable by het standards — that we’re not alien, inexplicable, Dykey monsters and that we’re family, feminine, wifely, domestic, motherly, and normal. When mothers and ex-het Lesbians are focused on in this way, it’s at the expense of Butch, Never-het, and Life-long Lesbians. In effect, they’re saying, “We’re not perverts like them. Some Lesbians (us!) are real women.”
One of the highest compliments many Lesbians think they can make is to call someone a mother, even if she isn’t. A Dyke who’d never been het worked many years to help create female-only land. The Lesbians who admired her called her a “founding mother.” A well-meaning Dyke bestowed the term “mothers” on us because our political work meant so much to her. She intended it as warm praise, and we appreciated that, but it was actually a negation of all non-mothers. It’s a male lie that females’ potential ability to breed is the well-spring of our energy, spirituality, inventiveness, protectiveness, and kindness. All these qualities stem from our Dykeness. They’re female, not motherly, qualities. It hurts us a people and culture when Lesbians continue male propaganda among ourselves by saying that non-biological mothers can become mothers through our creativity.
Part of mothers’ power comes from the myth of their being more wise, responsible, caring, loving, and unselfish than anyone else. “Only a mother knows.” The propaganda is everywhere. Try keeping a list of how many times you see motherhood promoted in the media. A newspaper ad showed a mother and baby with the caption “One of the most important jobs in the world ….” A survey of 1000 U.S. women found that 60% said motherhood is the best thing about being a woman.3 A magazine ad described the reverence given to pregnant women:
I felt this incredible sense of well being. There is really nothing like it. People beam at you. They offer you their seats on the bus. Total strangers walk up to you in the supermarket and ask you if they can touch your stomach. Everywhere you go, you feel like your stomach is announcing: “Here I am! I’m making a baby!” Your parents look at you differently, too. My mother was glad I was finally doing something constructive.
In an interview, one woman said, “Everyone pampers you — sometimes even complete strangers. Also, I felt more womanly while pregnant.”
Another said, “…when I was pregnant, I felt that it was acceptable to be ‘fat.’ For the first time, I really liked my body and that was truly liberating.”4
In another article, titled “Battle of the Bulge — When Pregnancy Feels Like an Enemy Invasion,” a woman says:
“…the first time I ventured onto a bus with my infant son … a young man whom I would have gone out of my way to avoid on a dark street offered me his seat.”5 In another article, a woman who already has six adopted children says, “Actually making a baby is something very important to me. It makes me feel whole.” The writers go on to say, “The need to be fruitful and multiply is a thing of beauty, an impulse to be adored and respected.”6
These aren’t exaggerations. Motherhood is the primary way females are allowed to feel like someone important. In some cultures, like Nazi Germany, mothers are or were given medals by their governments when they produce a large number of children. In others, they’re given honorific titles as part of their names. In the US, a fundamentalist Euro-descent couple is repeatedly put on the cover of national magazines as they have yet another baby. At last count, they’d reached twenty. It’s obscene.
We know Lesbians who say their lives dramatically changed when they became mothers. As Cheryl Jones wrote about being pregnant:
“Strangers on the street talked to me for the first time in years. They were friendly … the difference was that because I’m a lesbian, no one had talked to me on the street for years! What a strange experience to go from being ‘persona non grata’ to womanhood’s prime exemplar!”7
Those who have sons, especially, are treated with a deference they’d never experienced before, by men, het women, and Lesbians. They finally felt accepted by their families. Even those who identified openly as Lesbians said their neighbors became warmer and more welcoming. The ways they were treated by strangers were also dramatically different when they had children with them.
An acquaintance who became lovers with the mother of a five-year-old boy told us they took him apartment-hunting because landlords were so much more friendly when they presented themselves as mother, son, and friend. Whenever they went without him, they were treated with wariness and hostility.
We knew two Lesbians in a couple, a mother and a non-mother, who were treated very differently by the same food stamp worker, although they were equally qualified for assistance, came from similar backgrounds, and weren’t very different in appearance and behavior. The mother, who brought her daughter to the interview, was treated in a friendly way and assured that she would receive her food stamps as quickly as possible. The non-mother was treated harshly and got her food stamps only after obstacles and delays.
Non-mother Lesbians who are with children are usually assumed to be mothers and also get preferential treatment. Whenever one of us accompanied friends’ young daughters in public, we were astounded at how much better we were treated than when alone or with adult Lesbians. Women smiled benignly and acted comfortable with us, instead of being hostile. It made going out in public immeasurably easier. Even the most obvious-looking Lesbian becomes more acceptable if she’s with a child. As one Lesbian we know said, ”When I walk down the street with a friend’s baby, I’m no longer the fat Butchy Dyke I’ve been all my life.”
A Radical Feminist in one of our online groups wrote:
Mothers are privileged and I am forever frustrated at how other women who aren’t feminists are sucked into wishing for motherhood to obtain that privilege and attention. Last night, there was a whole group of what appeared to be coworkers at a restaurant I was at. They were celebrating a baby shower and everyone was excited and praising this woman for her pregnancy. Even the males present were excited and lavishing attention on her. There were children attending also and all I could think about was how every little girl at that table was seeing the admiration and attention that the pregnant woman was receiving, and how even the strangers at another table offered congratulations to her. It was one of those moments where discussions on this thread were playing themselves out right in front of me. This was all brought to a head by another female friend at the table looking adoringly at her boyfriend/husband and saying “I can’t wait to be able to be a mother.” It was horrifying, like some kind of love fest for this pregnant woman. It’s no wonder that women think they want to have kids. Look at the importance placed on it! It was ridiculous!
Mothers in public places frequently demand attention from everyone around them. It’s not unusual to see a mother in a store talking very loudly to her child while she looks around expectantly for compliments. Mothers of boys are more likely to act this way, but mothers of daughters sometimes do too. It’s a way of showing off to the world that they’re mothers. They take up a great deal of physical and psychic space with their demands for attention, expecting everyone, particularly other females, to pay homage to them. One example: In a doctor’s office, there was a mother with a young boy who was running around the waiting room, yelling. His mother commented loudly on his every move, announcing that he was going to be a doctor because he picked up a toy stethoscope. She could care less that people in a doctors’ office might be sick or in pain and needing quiet.
Another example: We were in a park, sitting by a pond with fish, celebrating one of our birthdays. Other women were drawing and talking quietly in this peaceful space, with plenty of room for everyone. Then a class-privileged-looking mother of a very young boy came up and sat so close that she touched one of us, even though there were other empty seats near the pond. She held her son out in front of her, literally pushing him in our faces, saying loudly, “Look at the fish, dear!” The boy looked completely bored. She repeatedly told him to notice the fish, while looking expectantly at us. We ignored her, which wasn’t easy, considering the noise she was making and the fact that she was brushing against one of us. Then she asked if she was bothering..
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