Feminist views on sexual orientation

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Feminist views on sexual orientation widely vary. Feminist views on sexual orientation are often influenced by the personal experiences of feminists, as expressed in the feminist slogan "the personal is political." Because of this, many feminists view sexual orientation as a political issue and not merely a matter of individual sexual choice or preference. There are issues of inclusion for feminists who identify as asexual, bisexual or heterosexual within a movement which at times has centred around lesbian feminism. Conversely, issues of lesbophobia and biphobia have also arisen. There is also debate about the relationship with gay and bisexual men, and the influence of their culture on feminist lesbians in particular.

Feminism and asexuality[edit]

A 1977 paper entitled Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups, by Myra T. Johnson, may be the first paper explicitly devoted to asexuality in humans, she contrasts autoerotic women with asexual women: "The asexual woman [...] has no sexual desires at all [but] the autoerotic woman [...] recognizes such desires but prefers to satisfy them alone." Johnson's evidence is mostly letters to the editor found in women's magazines written by asexual/autoerotic women. She portrays them as invisible, "oppressed by a consensus that they are nonexistent," and left behind by both the sexual revolution and the feminist movement. Society either ignores or denies their existence or insists they must be ascetic for religious reasons, neurotic, or asexual for political reasons.[1]

Some feminists argue against the medicalization of asexuality,[2] they reject the pathologization of women's asexuality through diagnoses such as female sexual arousal disorder and labelling asexual women as "frigid" or "sexually dysfunctional".

Some asexual women feel uncomfortable with sex-positive feminism, feeling that it does not speak to their interests and regularly excludes their voices.[3]

There are also feminist women, influenced by radical feminism and anarcha-feminism, who state that they choose to be asexual. Similar to political lesbianism, these women call for a "political asexuality".[4]

Feminism and bisexuality[edit]

Feminist positions on bisexuality range greatly, from acceptance of bisexuality as a feminist issue to rejection of bisexuality as reactionary and anti-feminist backlash to lesbian feminism.[5]

A bisexual woman filed a lawsuit against the lesbian feminist magazine Common Lives/Lesbian Lives, alleging discrimination against bisexuals when her submission was not published.[6]

A number of women who were at one time involved in lesbian-feminist activism have since come out as bisexual after realizing their attractions to men. A widely studied example of lesbian-bisexual conflict within feminism was the Northampton Pride March during the years between 1989 and 1993, where many feminists involved debated over whether bisexuals should be included and whether or not bisexuality was compatible with feminism. Common lesbian-feminist critiques leveled at bisexuality were that bisexuality was anti-feminist, that bisexuality was a form of false consciousness, and that bisexual women who pursue relationships with men were "deluded and desperate." However, tensions between bisexual feminists and lesbian feminists have eased since the 1990s, as bisexual women have become more accepted within the feminist community.[7]

Nevertheless, some lesbian feminists such as Julie Bindel are still critical of bisexuality. Bindel has described female bisexuality as a "fashionable trend" being promoted due to "sexual hedonism" and broached the question of whether bisexuality even exists,[8] she has also made tongue-in-cheek comparisons of bisexuals to cat fanciers and devil worshippers.[9]

Donna Haraway was the inspiration and genesis for cyberfeminism with her 1985 essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" which was reprinted in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991). Haraway's essay states that the cyborg "has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all powers of the parts into a higher unity." [10] However, the book Feminist Essays (2017) by Nancy Quinn Collins states that in the opinion of its author this "is wrong because bisexuality is a sexual orientation, a harmless attraction some people simply have, not something they try to have or do in order to create organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all powers of the parts into a higher unity. Therefore, I [the author] would say that cyborgs can be bisexual, and cyberfeminism can and should be accepting of bisexuality."[11]

Lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys writes in The Lesbian Heresy (1993) that while many feminists are comfortable working alongside gay men, they are uncomfortable interacting with bisexual men. Jeffreys states that while gay men are unlikely to sexually harass women, bisexual men are just as likely to be bothersome to women as heterosexual men.[12]

For further reading on the subject, see Closer to Home: Bisexuality & Feminism (1992), an anthology edited by Elizabeth Reba Weise. Also, the book Bi Any Other Name (1991), an anthology edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Ka'ahumanu, which is one of the seminal books in the history of the modern bisexual rights movement, contains pieces concerning feminism, including: "Bisexual Feminist Man", by Dave Matteson; "Bi-Lovable Japanese Feminist", by Kei Uwano; "Sisterhood Crosses Gender Preference Lines", by Dajenya; "The Fine Art of Labeling: The Convergence of Anarchism, Feminism, and Bisexuality", by Lucy Friedland and Liz Highleyman; and "Bisexuality: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Lesbian Feminism?", by Beth Elliot.[13]

Feminism and gay men[edit]

In her 2003 book Unpacking Queer Politics: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective, Australian radical lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys advances the position that lesbian culture has been negatively affected by emulating the sexist influence of the gay male subculture of dominant/​submissive sexuality. While she stresses that many gay men who were members of the gay liberation movement repudiated sadomasochism, she writes that the dominant gay male perspective has promoted sadomasochistic sexuality to the detriment of lesbians and feminist women.[14]

However, some gay men such as Andrea Dworkin's husband John Stoltenberg are also critical of sadomasochism and pornography and agree with the radical feminist and lesbian feminist criticisms of these practices. Stoltenberg wrote that sadomasochism eroticizes both violence and powerlessness;[15] the gay pro-feminist author Christopher N. Kendall wrote the book Gay Male Pornography: An Issue Of Sex Discrimination, advancing the idea that gay male pornography involved sex discrimination and should be regulated under Canada's equality laws in the same way as non-gay pornography, he uses radical feminist theory to make the case that gay male pornography reinforces misogyny and homophobia.[16]

Feminism and heterosexuality[edit]

Some heterosexual feminists believe that they have been unfairly excluded from lesbian feminist organizations; the lesbian quarterly Common Lives/Lesbian Lives had a policy that all work published in CL/LL was produced by self-defined lesbians, and all of the project's volunteers were lesbians. Due to this policy, a complaint was filed with the University of Iowa Human Rights Commission by a heterosexual woman who believed she was discriminated against when not hired to be an intern. A complaint was also lodged with the collective by a bisexual woman whose submission to the magazine was not published.[6]

Feminism and lesbianism[edit]

The Labrys, a lesbian-feminist symbol.

Lesbian feminism is a cultural movement and political perspective, most influential in the 1970s and early 1980s (primarily in North America and Western Europe), that questions the position of lesbians and women in society, it particularly refutes compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity, the assumption that everyone is "straight" and society should be structured to serve heterosexual needs. Some key thinkers and activists are Charlotte Bunch, Rita Mae Brown, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Marilyn Frye, Mary Daly, Sheila Jeffreys and Monique Wittig (although the latter is more commonly associated with the emergence of queer theory). Historically lesbianism has been closely associated with feminism, going back at least to the 1890s. "Lesbian feminism" is a related movement that came together in the early 1970s out of dissatisfaction with second-wave feminism and the gay liberation movement.[17][18]

In the words of radical lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys, "Lesbian feminism emerged as a result of two developments: lesbians within the WLM [Women's Liberation Movement] began to create a new, distinctively feminist lesbian politics, and lesbians in the GLF [Gay Liberation Front] left to join up with their sisters".[19]

According to Judy Rebick, a leading Canadian journalist and political activist for feminism, lesbians were and always have been at the heart of the women's movement, while their issues were invisible in the same movement.[20]

Political lesbianism[edit]

Political lesbianism is a phenomenon within lesbian feminism and radical feminism, primarily second-wave feminism; it includes, but is not limited to, lesbian separatism. Political lesbianism embraces the theory that sexual orientation is a choice, and advocates lesbianism as a positive alternative to heterosexuality for women.[21]

Lesbian women who have identified themselves as "political lesbians" include Ti-Grace Atkinson, Julie Bindel, Charlotte Bunch, Yvonne Rainer, Sheila Jeffreys. Jeffreys helped develop the concept by co-writing with other members of the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group a pamphlet titled Love Your Enemy?: The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism which argued that women should abandon heterosexuality and choose to become lesbians as a feminist act. The pamphlet stated, "We do think... that all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men, it does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women."[22]

Biphobia and homophobia in feminism[edit]

Some lesbian feminists such as Julie Bindel are still critical of bisexuality. Bindel has described female bisexuality as a "fashionable trend" being promoted due to "sexual hedonism" and broached the question of whether bisexuality even exists,[8] she has also made tongue-in-cheek comparisons of bisexuals to cat fanciers and devil worshippers.[9] Lesbian feminists initially faced discrimination in the National Organization for Women. Heterosexual feminists such as Betty Friedan downplayed lesbian issues as not being central to feminist activism, she later admitted that "the whole idea of homosexuality made me profoundly uneasy"[23] and acknowledged that she had been very square and was uncomfortable about lesbianism. "The women's movement was not about sex, but about equal opportunity in jobs and all the rest of it. Yes, I suppose you have to say that freedom of sexual choice is part of that, but it shouldn't be the main issue ...."[24] She ignored lesbians in the National Organization for Women (NOW) initially but objected to what she saw as demands for equal time.[23] "'Homosexuality ... is not, in my opinion, what the women's movement is all about.'"[25] While opposing all repression, she wrote, she refused to wear a purple armband or self-identify as a lesbian (although heterosexual) as an act of political solidarity, considering it not part of the mainstream issues of abortion and child care.[26] In 1977, at the National Women's Conference, she seconded a lesbian rights resolution "which everyone thought I would oppose" in order to "preempt any debate" and move on to other issues she believed were more important and less divisive in the effort to add the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution.[27]

Lavender Menace, a lesbian feminist group, was created in order to address the issue of lesbian exclusion from mainstream feminist activism and organizations; the name of the group was based on the mistaken idea that Betty Friedan had used the phrase "Lavender Menace" to describe the threat that she believed associations with lesbianism posed to NOW and the emerging women's movement.

The American radical feminist group Redstockings were strongly opposed to lesbian separatism, seeing interpersonal relationships with men as an important arena of feminist struggle, and hence seeing separatism as escapist. Like many radical feminists of the time, Redstockings saw lesbianism primarily as a political identity rather than a fundamental part of personal identity, and therefore analyzed it primarily in political terms. Redstockings were also opposed to male homosexuality, which they saw as a deeply misogynistic rejection of women. Redstockings' line on gay men and lesbians is often criticized as homophobic.[28]

Feminism and queer theory[edit]

Queer theory is a field of post-structuralist critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of queer studies and women's studies. Queer theory has been heavily influenced by the work of feminists such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Judith Butler. Queer theory builds both upon feminist challenges to the idea that gender is part of the essential self and upon gay/lesbian studies' close examination of the socially constructed nature of sexual acts and identities.

Feminist application of queer theory[edit]

Queer theory has been greatly influenced by feminist theory and women's studies. Many works have been written on the intersection of feminism and queer theory and how both feminist persepectives can enrich LGBTQ theory and studies and how queer perspectives can enrich feminism. Books such as Feminism is Queer: The Intimate Connection Between Queer and Feminist Theory detail the intersections between queer and feminist theory and argue that feminism itself could be construed as a "queer" movement.[29]

Feminist criticism of queer theory[edit]

Many feminists have critiqued queer theory as either a diversion from feminism issues or as a male-dominated backlash to feminism. Lesbian feminists and radical feminists have been the most prominent critics of queer theory and queer politics. Sheila Jeffreys' Unpacking Queer Politics: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective harshly criticizes queer theory as the product of "a powerful gay male culture" which "celebrated masculine privilege" and "enshrined a cult of masculinity." She repudiates queer theory as anti-lesbian, anti-feminist, and anti-women.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups" found in ed. Gochros, H.L.; J.S. Gochros (1977). The Sexually Oppressed. Associated Press. ISBN 978-0-8096-1915-3
  2. ^ Bogaert, Anthony F. (2012). Understanding Asexuality. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-4422-0099-9. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  3. ^ "An Asexual Map for Sex-Positive Feminism". Feministing. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  4. ^ Fahs, Charles B. (2010). "Radical refusals: On the anarchist politics of women choosing asexuality". Sexualities. SAGE Publications. 13 (4): 445–461. doi:10.1177/1363460710370650. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  5. ^ Wilkinson, Sue (1996). "Bisexuality as Backlash". In Harne, Lynne (ed.). All the Rage: Reasserting Radical Lesbian Feminism. Elaine Miller. New York City: Teacher's College Press. pp. 75–89. ISBN 0-8077-6285-7. OCLC 35202923.
  6. ^ a b Common Lives/Lesbian Lives Records, Iowa Women's Archives, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa Archived August 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Gerstner, David A. (2006). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Queer Culture. United Kingdom: Routledge. pp. 82–3. ISBN 978-0-415-30651-5. Retrieved October 3, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Bindel, Julie (June 12, 2012). "Where's the Politics in Sex?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  9. ^ a b Bindel, Julie (November 8, 2008). "It's not me. It's you". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  10. ^ Full text of the article Cyborg Manifesto (an archived copy, in the Wayback Machine)
  11. ^ Nancy Quinn Collins (15 February 2017). Feminist Essays. Lulu.com. pp. 14–. ISBN 978-1-365-75994-9.
  12. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (1993). The Lesbian Heresy. Melbourne, Australia: Spinifex Press Pty Ltf. p. 124. ISBN 1-875559-17-5. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  13. ^ "b i · a n y · o t h e r · n a m e".
  14. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (2003). Unpacking Queer Politics: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective. Cambridge, England: Polity. ISBN 0-7456-2838-9.
  15. ^ Stoltenberg, John (1982). "Sadomasochism: Eroticized Violence, Eroticized Powerlessness". In Linden, Robin Ruth (ed.). Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis. East Palo Alto, Calif: Frog in the Well. pp. 124–30. ISBN 0-9603628-3-5. OCLC 7877113.
  16. ^ Kendall, Christopher N. (2004). Gay Male Pornography: An Issue Of Sex Discrimination. Vancouver, British Columbia: University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 0-7748-1076-9.
  17. ^ Faderman, Lillian: "Surpassing the Love of Men," p. 17. Quill/William Morrow, 1981.
  18. ^ Lesbianism and Feminism. Accessed May 28th 2007.
  19. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila: "Unpacking Queer Politics," p. 19. Polity, 2003.
  20. ^ Research on International Activism Archived 2012-03-23 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Julie Bindel, Location, location, orientation, The Guardian, March 27, 2004
  22. ^ "Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism". Onlywomen Press: Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group. Retrieved 2012-10-03.
  23. ^ a b Friedan, Betty. Life So Far: A Memoir. N.Y.: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone Book), © 2000, pbk., 1st Touchstone ed. (ISBN 0-7432-0024-1) [1st printing?] 2001. Page 221.
  24. ^ Friedan, Betty. Life So Far, op. cit. Page 223.
  25. ^ Friedan, Betty. Life So Far, op. cit. Page 222.
  26. ^ Friedan, Betty. Life So Far, op. cit. Pp. 248–249.
  27. ^ Friedan, Betty. Life So Far, op. cit. Page 295.
  28. ^ Echols, 1989
  29. ^ Marinucci, Mimi (2011). Feminism is Queer: The Intimate Connection Between Queer and Feminist Theory. London, England: Zed Books. ISBN 1-84813-475-4.
  30. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (2003). Unpacking Queer Politics: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective. Cambridge, England: Polity. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-7456-2838-9.

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