Lesbians in Revolt2021-02-08T16:45:32-05:00

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Lesbians in Revolt

An essay from the lesbian collective “The Furies” that defines lesbian-feminist politics.

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Summary

The development of Lesbian-feminist politics as the basis for the liberation of women is our top priority; this article outlines our present ideas. In our society which defines all people and institutions for the benefit of the rich, white male, the Lesbian is in revolt. In revolt because she defines herself in terms of women and rejects the male definitions of how she should feel, act, look, and live. To be a Lesbian is to love oneself, woman, in a culture that denigrates and despises women. The Lesbian rejects male sexual/political domination; she defies his world, his social organization, his ideology, and his definition, of her as inferior. Lesbianism puts women first while the society declares the male supreme. Lesbianism threatens male supremacy at its core. When politically conscious and organized, it is central to destroying our sexist, racist, capitalist, imperialist system.  The Furies’ top priority is liberating women through Lesbian-feminist politics. This article outlines what that means. Lesbians are now in revolt. Lesbians reject the current male-dominated society. Lesbianism puts women first. Lesbianism threatens male supremacy.
LESBIANISM IS A POLITICAL CHOICE

Male society defines Lesbianism as a sexual act, which reflects men’s limited view of women: they think of us only in terms of sex. They also say Lesbians are not real women… We say that a Lesbian is a woman whose sense of self and energies, including sexual energies, center around women—she is woman identified. The woman-identified-woman commits herself to other women for political, emotional, physical, and economic support. Women are important to her. She is important to herself. Our society demands that commitment from women be reserved for men. 

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LESBIANISM IS A POLITICAL CHOICE

Many people say lesbianism is about sex. But lesbianism is also about being a woman and loving women. Society cannot accept a woman who does not love men.

SEXISM IS THE ROOT OF ALL OPPRESSION

The first division of labor, in pre-history, was based on sex: men hunted, women built the villages, took care of children, and farmed. Women collectively controlled the land, language, culture, and the communities. Men were able to conquer women with the weapons that they developed for hunting when it became clear that women were leading a more stable, peaceful, and desirable existence. We do not know exactly how this conquest took place, but it is clear that the original imperialism was male over female: the male claiming the female body and her service as his territory (or property).

SEXISM IS THE ROOT OF ALL OPPRESSION

The earliest humans divided work by gender. Men hunted. Women took care of the home and controlled the community and culture. Men then dominated women with their hunting tools. This led to male supremacy.

Having secured the domination of women, men continued this pattern of suppressing people, now on the basis of tribe, race, and class. Although there have been numerous battles over class, race, and nation during the past 3000 years, none has brought the liberation of women. While these other forms of oppression must be ended, there is no reason to believe that our liberation will come with the smashing of capitalism, racism, or imperialism today. Women will be free only when we concentrate on fighting male supremacy. 

Once men took control of women, they took control of other groups too. Groups based on race and class. While different groups have fought against this supremacy, women still remain oppressed. Women must focus on stopping male supremacy. That is the only way to be free.
LESBIANS MUST FORM OUR OWN MOVEMENT TO FIGHT MALE SUPREMACY 

Feminist-lesbianism, as the most basic threat to male supremacy, picks up part of the Women’s Liberation analysis of sexism and gives it force and direction. Women’s Liberation lacks direction now because it has failed to understand the importance of heterosexuality in maintaining male supremacy and because it has failed to face class and race as real differences in women’s behavior and political needs. As long as straight women see Lesbianism as a bedroom issue, they hold back the development of politics and strategies which would put an end to male supremacy and they give men an excuse for not dealing with their sexism.

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LESBIANS MUST FORM OUR OWN MOVEMENT TO FIGHT MALE SUPREMACY

Feminist-lesbianism threatens male supremacy. It builds on the goals of women’s liberation. Women in the women’s liberation movement need to reject men in order to be fully free.

Women in women’s liberation have understood the importance of having meetings and other events for women only. It has been clear that dealing with men divides us and saps our energies and that it is not the job of the oppressed to explain our oppression to the oppressor. Women also have seen that collectively, men will not deal with their sexism until they are forced to do so. Yet, many of these same women continue to have primary relationships with men individually and do not understand why Lesbians find this oppressive. Lesbians cannot grow politically or personally in a situation which denies the basis of our politics: that Lesbianism is political, that heterosexuality is crucial to maintaining male supremacy.  Lesbian-feminists do not want to work with men. They want to fight for liberation only with women. They are frustrated that heterosexual women did not understand why this matters to them.
Lesbians must form our own political movement in order to grow. Changes which will have more than token effects on our lives will be led by woman-identified Lesbians who understand the nature of our oppression and are therefore in a position to end it.  Lesbians need their own groups to move forward. Lesbians can understand one another and are in a position to end oppression.

“Lesbians Revolt”, The Furies: Lesbian/Feminist Monthly (v. 1), January 1972, page 8, Women’s Liberation Movement Print Culture, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

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Background

For many years, there was contention between lesbians and the women’s rights movement. Many lesbians were drawn to the women’s liberation movement. After all, they were women. But not all women’s liberation activists welcomed lesbians. Many leaders, including NOW President and author Betty Friedan, believed that lesbianism was a private issue. Betty and others did not understand why lesbians demanded recognition of their unique position within the movement. To moderate feminists, lesbians were bringing their personal sex preferences into a public conversation.

As NOW’s membership grew, its stance on many issues became more liberal. By 1970, Betty Friedan was out of office. In 1971, NOW passed a resolution stating that lesbian rights were part of feminism. But this stance did not necessarily mean lesbians always felt welcome. Just as feminists of color recognized the need for their own racially defined communities, lesbians knew they needed their own space. The creation of lesbian-feminist organizations gave lesbians a place to fully express and explore their identities.

About the Document

The Furies were a lesbian communal collective formed in Washington, D.C., in 1971. They found inspiration in both the mainstream women’s liberation movement and the revolutionary efforts of the Black Panthers. They aspired to create a radical lesbian-feminist movement that would end male supremacy. Their name refers to the goddesses of vengeance from Greek mythology.

This excerpted document is from the first issue of their monthly newsletter. In the first issue, The Furies defined lesbianism-feminism and explained why their existence was critical to women’s liberation.

Vocabulary

  • communal collective: A group of people who live together and share resources.
  • lesbian: A woman attracted to women.
  • liberation: Freedom.
  • radical: Advocating for an extreme change or complete replacement of the current system.
  • supremacy: Being superior to another group.

Discussion Questions

  • How do The Furies define lesbian-feminism?
  • What is male supremacy? Why are lesbians a threat to male supremacy?
  • What are some of their concerns with the women’s movement? Why are they concerned about the presence of men in the movement?
  • Why do The Furies think it is important for separate lesbian-feminist organizations to exist?
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Suggested Activities

  • The Furies are just one example of a group whose membership overlapped with that of the women’s liberation movement. Compare this document to the interview with Panther Sisters, image from Women of All Red Nations, and document from the Young Lords to think about how each of these groups interacted with the wider demand for women’s equality.
  • The Furies took inspiration from the Black Panther Party. Connect this reading to the interview with Panther Sisters. How does each group define its relationship with the women’s movement?
  • The Furies believed that men should be excluded from women’s liberation work. Have students compare this to the beliefs of the Panther Sisters. Invite students to consider why these groups disagree. Do students have ideas on how these two groups could have worked together?
  • Betty Friedan believed that lesbians were a threat to the women’s liberation movement. Pair this resource with her life story and invite students to consider the challenges lesbians faced as they joined the movement.

Themes

AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP; ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE

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