Lesbianism: Sexual Orientation, Political Choice — Or Both?

Should all feminists be lesbians? It's a very second-wave idea, but according to Julie Bindel in the Guardian, its time has come again.

Bindel says the 1981 booklet Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism, which states that "all feminists can and should be lesbians," jibed with her early experiences growing up in England. She writes,

I was surrounded by men - my father and two brothers - and at an early age I had picked up on the stories of domestic violence, child abuse and general unhappiness that seemed to emanate from neighbouring households. I was also struck by the drudgery on display. While men were out drinking, embarking on fishing trips and generally enjoying their freedom, women were stuck cooking for them, cleaning for them, and running around after children. For women, heterosexuality seemed a total con.

For Bindel, "lesbianism is intrinsically bound up with my feminist politics and my campaigning against sexual violence," and she believes the same can be true for other feminists. "Political lesbianism continues to make intrinsic sense because it reinforces the idea that sexuality is a choice," she writes. "I also suspect that it is very difficult to spend your daily life fighting against male violence, only to share a bed with a man come the evening."

It's good to think of homosexuality as something that can be joyful and empowering, rather than some sort of congenital disease. But Bindel's view does a disservice to people who don't feel they chose their sexual orientations, and especially to people who have been fighting for equal rights partially on that basis. It also assumes that men are the enemy, and that women can achieve happiness and political self-actualization only by living apart from them.

A modified version of this principle governs the lesbian communities — known as womyn's lands — profiled in Sunday's Times [the pic above is from the womyn's land of Alapine]. Women came to these communities in the '70s, when lesbianism was much less accepted; for many they were a refuge from discrimination. Now the womyn's lands provide residents with a feeling of safety and a close-knit group of likeminded women, both of which are awesome. But one resident says, "Men are violent." Another adds: "Women, when they're together, tend to be more cooperative. They don't look for one to succeed and all the others to fail."

Men are undoubtedly violent — but so are women. And it's not always true that women "don't look for one to succeed and all the others to fail." An all-female community can be a great choice for some women — and sex with women can be a choice for some too. But to say that it's the only valid choice for every feminist doesn't just demonize men and glorify women. It also tells consenting adults what to do with their bodies, which is something both feminists and gay rights activists have long fought against. There are a lot of wonderful things my generation can take from second-wave feminism — mandatory lesbianism just isn't one of them.

My sexual revolution [Guardian]
My Sister’s Keeper [NYT]