Radical lesbianism from a radfem perspective. PART I: Radical lesbian views on hetero-bondage and anti-lesbianism

The point of this new series is to break down radical lesbian ideology (contempt for non-lesbian women, obsession with purity) and practices (such as butch / femme roles, general depoliticising of lesbian practices in lesbian-only spaces). My aim here is to break down pervasive and insidious forms of pseudo-feminisms for the benefit of feminist readers, so to prevent women from falling in their traps and to improve on our collective understanding of how feminism is infiltrated by male interests.

*Note 1: I refuse to use the words “lesbophobia” or “homophobia” since they are incorrect and psychologising terms. Phobia is a psychiatric term referring to a mental disorder, and means an irrational fear of something, or to be more precise, projecting a fear of a forgotten trauma (ie having been raped by your uncle as a child) on another object (ie spiders or birds). The psychologisation of phobia is itself questionable though, since it’s a direct consequence of male violence and isn’t a disorder per se. Anyway, anti-lesbianism has nothing to do with phobia: it isn’t a mental condition nor a somatic disorder. It’s an organised male system of repression of women who refuse to submit to compulsory heterosexuality and choose to dedicate their affection, intimacy and lives to women.

**Note 2: I also don’t use the term “heterosexuality” uncritically as it defines women’s oppression from men’s experience of it: as a sexuality. From our perspective and condition, heterosexuality is nothing rape, trauma-bonding and captivity.

***Note 3: radical lesbianism is different from radical lesbian feminism. In the latter there’s feminism, in the former there’s a serious lack of it.

****Note 4: I’m aware that I might get in trouble for writing such a series, but what the heck. I’ve been wanting to criticise the misogyny of radical lesbian fringes for a while, I feel it has to be said.

Radical lesbian views on hetero-bondage and anti-lesbianism

What is radical lesbianism?

Although there appears to be radical feminists who define themselves as radical lesbians and vice-versa and not everyone seems to use to the term in the same way, what I define as radical lesbianism and the way I have seen it most commonly defined is something very specific:

What most defines radical lesbian ideology is its view on hetero-bondage and anti-lesbianism, so I’m going to talk about that first. Radical lesbianism is based on the belief that ‘heterosexual’ women benefit from (compulsory) heterosexuality and thus are part of a “heteronormative” class oppressing lesbians. A concomitant belief is that heterosexual women are traitors who ‘sleep with the enemy’ or ‘collaborate with the enemy’ (men) in order to reap benefits from being with them. Despite various degrees of awareness about male oppression and patriarchy, radical lesbianism emerges from a shared contempt towards non-lesbian women and from a desire to separate themselves from such women or even from the category of woman itself.

I don’t know how it’s possible to logically believe that women can both be oppressed from hetero-bondage (by men) and at the same time be a beneficiary agent of this oppression. It makes no sense whatsoever.

Well it can only make sense if you don’t view PIV/rape and hetero-bondage as the very core of men’s domination over women, and especially if you fail to see this oppression as inherently violent. That is, if you hold a male-centred view of men’s violence against women, and especially, a liberal gay male view on heterosexuality.

The critique of “heteronormativity” comes from gay male criticism of the repression of gays and of the unfair privileges of men who benefit from heterosexuality. This means that gay men define ‘heterosexuality’ as a status that confers certain social benefits and rights which are assumed as normal and are invisible to those men who conform to it, but from which gay men are excluded and causes them to be more or less discriminated, marginalised, bullied, persecuted, etc. However rather than questioning and fighting men’s patriarchal system at the core of compulsory heterosexuality, the vast majority of gay men simply want to have the same access to the benefits and privileges that heterosexual men have, and refuse to be relegated to a second-class status. Gay men’s political agenda thus consists in pushing homosexuality into the norm, by making it more visible and also by assimilating to heterosexual male values and institutions.

Now, it’s obvious that this definition of heterosexuality doesn’t apply to women at all. Gay men define heterosexuality only according to the male experience of heterosexuality, not women’s. The norm in this society is made by and for men, and only the subjects of heterosexuality are men. Heterosexuality can only confer benefits and privileges to men, not to women, and only men can experience this as sexual or as an expression of their sexuality. This so-called sexuality is precisely how men consume and destroy women, and on what men base their global oppressive system on. To men it means sex life, status, economic benefits, paternity rights, ownership and labour extraction, but for women it means being captive to men and subjected to all forms of violence and exploitation. Hetero-bondage can’t be a protective norm or identity for women because this is how men annihilate us.

So we can see that the problem with this gay perspective on “heteronormativity” is that it doesn’t differentiate between men (those who benefit from men’s oppression and organise it) and women (those who are subjected to this oppression). It’s absurd to see women and men as equal agents of compulsory heterosexuality, and thus to see heterocaptive women as oppressive to lesbians and enemy of lesbians. If hetero-bondage is the way in which men subordinate women as a class, it means that women bonded to men have no power whatsoever in men’s treatment of lesbians and neither do we have any control over how men organise and define the different ways in which they sexually abuse and exploit us. No woman is an agent of the oppression and repression of lesbians or of any other women for that matter.

It is true that women can be anti-lesbian or anti-feminist, but it isn’t possible to treat anti-feminist or anti-lesbian women in the same way as we’d treat anti-feminist or anti-lesbian men. On one hand, the anti-lesbianism of men directly relates to their class interests of subordinating all women sexually to men and of punishing insubordinate women; on the other hand, anti-lesbianism and anti-feminism in women are direct expressions of self-hatred and psychological consequences of being oppressed by men.

To Quote Christine Delphy, translated with the help of a friend: here she writes on anti-feminism but it also applies to anti-lesbianism (just replace the word “feminism” by “lesbian feminist”):

It’s normal for women to be anti-feminist: the opposite would be surprising. And gaining consciousness, becoming a feminist isn’t a sudden and brutal revelation; consciousness isn’t acquired all at once and once and for all; it’s a long and never-ending process, what’s more, a painful one, because it’s a constant fight against all the “evidence”: the ideological worldview – and against oneself. The fight against self-hatred is never ended. Therefore there is no clear breaking point between feminist women and “anti-feminist” women, but a continuum of perspectives on a same situation. Since whatever their “opinions” are, women are oppressed. Their anti-feminism – being a) an obstacle to their awareness about their objective interests and b) their oppression directly reflected into their subjectivity – is thus one of the means of maintaining this oppression.

(In: Questions Feministes, “Our Friends and us: the hidden foundations of some pseudo-feminist discourses”, p. 35, 1977).

There’s a reason why men accuse women of anti-lesbianism and of being lesbians’ primary enemy: that’s because it’s a divide and conquer tactic, it’s meant to obscure the real enemies and oppressors – men – and to pit lesbians and lesbian feminists against non lesbian women on the more colonised spectrum. It increases men’s power over women by diminishing female solidarity and feminist vision. Radical lesbian ideology isn’t feminist, because accusing women of being traitors, collaborators or of oppressing lesbians is deep-seated woman-hatred, a reversal and denial of the reality of men’s violence against women.

The idea that women are ‘traitors’ who ‘sleep with the enemy’ comes from a very old, hateful patriarchal lie that all women are vain ‘sluts’ or temptresses who seduce and manipulate men to get what they want, especially men’s wealth. It’s also a slur thrown at adulterous women, as in women who were penetrated by other men than those they were ordained to in marriage, or other men than those chosen by the male group they belong to. Such women would be publicly shamed and punished, similarly to the women, shortly after the second world war, who were shaved and humiliated after being accused of having had affairs with the Germans, which they also interestingly called ‘sleeping with the enemy’.

What it means is that men claim ownership over women in terms of sexual access and punish women for failing to be loyal to their master / slave-owner, that is, of breaching his exclusive right to rape us. The accusation ‘sleeping with the enemy’ is based on a double lie and reversal: first, that the woman is the agent of penetration and responsible for what the man inflicted on her; second, that it’s about sex, when it’s about a man raping a woman; third, that the woman is manipulative, when it is men who continually harass and blackmail women into submitting to intercourse; fourth, that women gain economically from being raped by men, when the reality is that men loot women from tooth to bone, on top of raping and owning us.

So in a similar way, radical lesbians castigate women for sleeping with (being penetrated/raped by) other people (men) than those ordained by radical lesbians (women), instead of empathising with women and seeing that women are victimised by being penetrated and owned by men. It amounts to a similar kind of sexual objectification and blaming of women.

Finally, systematically accusing women of erasing lesbians and of lesbophobia is an intimidation tactic similar to those that accuse women of transphobia and what not.

 

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