Posted on | September 19, 2014 | 84 Comments
Audre Lorde (left), Marilyn Frye (center) and Monique Wittig (right)
“I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for Humanities conference a year ago. . . .
“I stand here as a black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism and homophobia are inseparable. . . .
“The absence of any consideration of lesbian consciousness or the consciousness of third world women leaves a serious gap within this conference. . . .
“For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection, which is so feared by a patriarchal world.”
— Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” 1979
“I want to ask heterosexual academic feminists to do some hard analytical and reflective work. To begin, I want to say to them:
“I wish you would notice that you are heterosexual.
“I wish you would grow to the understanding that you choose heterosexuality.
“I would like you to rise each morning and know that you are heterosexual and that you choose to be heterosexual — that you are and choose to be a member of a privileged and dominant class, one of your privileges being not to notice.
“I wish you would stop and seriously consider, as a broad and long-term feminist political strategy, the conversion of women to a woman-identified and woman-directed sexuality and eroticism, as a way of breaking the grip of men on women’s minds and women’s bodies, of removing women from the chronic attachment to the primary situations of sexual and physical violence that is rained upon women by men, and as a way of promoting women’s firm and reliable bonding against oppression. . . .
“There is so much pressure on women to be heterosexual, and this pressure is both so pervasive and so completely denied, that I think heterosexuality cannot come naturally to many women: I think that widespread heterosexuality among women is a highly artificial product of the patriarchy. . . . I think that most women have to be coerced into heterosexuality.”
— Marilyn Frye, “A Lesbian’s Perspective on Women’s Studies,” speech to the National Women’s Studies Association conference, 1980
“A materialist feminist approach to women’s oppression destroys the idea that women are a ‘natural group’ . . . What the analysis accomplishes on the level of ideas, practice makes actual at the level of facts: by its very existence, lesbian society destroys the artificial (social) fact constituting women as a ‘natural group.’ A lesbian society pragmatically reveals that the division from men of which women have been the object is a political one . . .
“Lesbian is the only concept I know of which is beyond the categories of sex (woman and man). . . . For what makes a woman is a specific social relation to a man, a relation that we have previously called servitude . . . a relation which lesbians escape by refusing to become or to stay heterosexual. . . . [O]ur survival demands that we contribute all our strength to the destruction of the class of women within which men appropriate women. This can be accomplished only by the destruction of heterosexuality as a social system which is based on the oppression of women by men and which produces the doctrine of the difference between the sexes to justify this oppression.”
— Monique Wittig, “One Is Not Born a Woman,” 1981
Two of these quotes (Lorde and Wittig) are excerpted from The Essential Feminist Reader, edited by Estelle B. Freedman (2007), while the quote from Frye is from her 1992 collection Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism. Readers will notice that all three of these quotes were from the same era, 1979-81. Thus you see how early radical lesbians began consistently demanding that the feminist movement must challenge heterosexuality as “natural” for women, insisting that what Audre Lorde called the “real connection” of “lesbian consciousness” was “feared by a patriarchal world.” Marilyn Frye called for “a broad and long-term feminist political strategy” by Women’s Studies professors of converting their students to lesbianism “as a way of promoting women’s firm and reliable bonding against oppression.” Why? Because only by “the destruction of heterosexuality as a social system,” Monique Wittig said, can women “escape” their “servitude” and “oppression” by men.
Do you think these are obscure “fringe” feminists? Do a Google search for Audre Lorde and you get more 500,000 citations. Marilyn Frye was a professor at Michigan State University for more than 30 years who “was chosen as Phi Beta Kappa’s Romanell Professor in Philosophy for 2007-2008.” Google Monique Wittig and you get nearly 200,000 citations.
Are you tempted to reply, “So what?” OK, then, why don’t you Google the name of the editor of The Essential Feminist Reader — that’s another 200,000 or so citations — and you’ll learn from the Wikipedia biography of Estelle B. Freedman that she is “the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in U.S. History at Stanford University,” that one of the books she coedited “received the 2013 John Boswell Prize from the Committee on LGBT History of the American Historical Association,” while another book co-edited by Professor Freedman “was cited by Justice Anthony Kennedy in his 2003 opinion for Lawrence v. Texas, with which the American Supreme Court overturned all remaining anti-sodomy laws.”
Do you still want to say, “So what?” Or are you ready to admit feminists mean what they say, and that feminism should be taken seriously?
BTW, Professor Freedman’s latest book is Redefining Rape, in which she “demonstrates that our definition of rape has depended heavily on dynamics of political power and social privilege.”
People had better wake the hell up.