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Feminism

Dear Amy,

As a southern man, I have had little exposure to feminism. So everything I'm asking is from the standpoint of ignorance.

I've moved from Virginia to New Mexico, and if Virginia is a pool of southern ignorance and good-old-boyism, then New Mexico is truly a wasteland of unadulterated patriarchy (with patches of liberalism, for sure). Trying to learn about feminism is very hard, as when I go into "one of those" bookstores, they stare at me until I feel I have to leave. So most of what I know about feminism comes from reading websites and listening to the radio.

So my question is about lesbianism and feminism, their intersection and/or friction. In the popular talk, they seem to get conflated. Most of my gay male friends are completely non-political, and have no "philosophy" -- to them being gay is not something you think about, it's just something you do. Aside from having a rainbow bumper sticker, they're not making big statements, at least not to me. If they talk about being gay, it's to say they just met someone or are lonely and in need of a boyfriend. Are there a lot of lesbians who are similarly non-political? Is there friction between separatist-feminist-lesbians and non-political lesbians? Is there such a thing as a "lipstick" lesbian? Are the images of lesbians on TV as out of whack as their images of southerners, or gay men, or pacifists? I would have to assume so. Is female bisexuality a common thing? Among my male friends, I cannot count a single bisexual. They are all either straight or gay. None of my female friends are gay, at least as far as I can tell, and I have no idea if they might be bisexual.

Southern gentility, under which I was raised, just doesn't give you the tools to find out about these things with the people you know, unless they volunteer the information. I'm a heterosexual male pacifist, and my car is covered in bumper stickers. ("Vote Bush Out", "War Is Not The Answer", etc.)I have asked some girlfriends (sexual partners) if they consider themselves feminists, and I usually get vigorous denials, which boil down to "no, I like men, duh." Does this mean that most feminists are not heterosexual? Or am I dating an unusual set of women? Or are they lying to me because they're afraid of my reaction? Or are they misinformed as I am as to just what feminism is?

Lord knows, if I were a woman, I'd be pretty pissed off about the way I would be treated, at least if how I saw my mother treated by her coworkers is any kind of a valid indicator. Once in High school, I attended one of my mother's office parties, and I nearly came to blows with her boss after what I saw him do with his hands to my mother. I was a young hot-head then, not the pacifist I am now. Most of the workplaces I have been a part of have not had this problem, at least not with me watching. But when I worked in state government, I was embarrassed for my gender on a frequent basis.

There are so many stereotypes that I just can't seem to figure out what is really going on, and what is just imagery. I would love to hear something that is not a political argument for what should or should not be, but just a statement of what is, like it or not. (It's okay to have an opinion about it, too, of course, but I want facts first, then opinions.)I attend a very-very-very liberal Christian church, and we have lesbian couples in our congregation (and we perform gay marriages, too), or at least so I assume, as they come in together, live together, refer to one another as their "partner", and hold hands sometimes. Other than that, they have been silent on the question of feminism and/or lesbianism. They do not kiss in public, etc., the way that the heterosexual couples do, I notice. Furthermore, I have always been too embarrassed to ask my fellow congregants about such matters as sex and politics. (A church luncheon just doesn't seem to be the right time or place to ask a white-haired lady about her sex and/or love life.) Also, despite having gone to a very small church for 15 years with some of these women, we have not managed to become friends or have meaningful conversations.

So, I have remained unenlightened. Perhaps the problem is my own embarrassment. But I'm curious about this world about which I know nothing. Please don't fault me too harshly for being empty-headed. A nice overview of the issues would be really nice to have, if you could point me the way. I remain, Sincerely Yours,

Max

 

 

Max,

In general, not all feminists are lesbians and not all lesbians are feminists.

That said there is certainly a natural intersection between the women's rights movement and the right the gay rights movement -- just in their equal struggle for/desire for respect and fairness and equality.

That certainly doesn't mean that everyone who associates with these movements is fighting for these things every day. In terms of bisexuality -- most young women I know it is almost a coming of age ritual -- not that it's entirely practiced, but I think that most young women think about being with another woman, some never take it past a thought, but others certainly actualize this. I'm not sure that men do it less -- though it certainly seems that way -- or if they are less empowered to be public with these desires.

There are certainly struggles within all social justice movements and there are always strands that are more fierce than others (for instance, those who believe that men are the enemy and those who believe that femininity should be heightened/emphasized).

It is certainly progress that different people can be a part of the same movement or can fall under the same rubric of gay rights -- it use to be much more homogenous -- more for women than men -- given that men were coming from a more privileged group, there was more power afforded to them and therefore rebellion didn't have to be a part of their sexuality, but with women it's entirely tied up with child bearing and that becomes so threatening to society. There is certainly so much more to say on this topic, but given the volumes of emails I have waiting, I just can't devote more time.

Good luck,

-- Amy


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