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Annotated Bibliography: Lesbian Feminism, 1960s and 1970s

Copyright (c) by Yamissette Westerband, 2008. All rights reserved.

Atkins, Gary L. “Chautauquas of Feminism and Lesbianism.” In Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003.

Scholar Gary L. Atkins draws upon archival sources and oral histories to paint a historical portrait of the growth of Seattle’s lesbian and feminist communities in the 1970s. Importantly, he argues that the different feminist discourses that emerged as part of an invigorated women’s movement heavily influenced the development of those communities. At this time, according to Atkins, Seattle women and lesbians were hotly discussing new possibilities for subjectivity and politics. This was facilitated by the development of specifically feminist and lesbian spaces for dialogue and belonging, such as women’s coffeehouses and worker and living collectives. Those discussions, Atkins says, were not only happening in newly formed physical spaces, but were also happening in the context of at least four separate ideological “tents”: reform feminism, radical feminism, socialist feminism, and separatist feminism. In those tents, discourses emerged to give new kinds of voice and visibility to Seattle women. At times these discourses worked together and at times they diverged from one another.

Combahee River Collective. “The Combahee River Collective Statement.” In Home Girls, edited by Barbara Smith. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983.

The Combahee River Collective was a group founded in 1974 by Black feminists and lesbians. It is named for the river where 750 slaves escaped to freedom in 1863 in an action led by Harriet Tubman. In its statement, the collective argues for a politics rooted in the specific experiences of Black women. In so doing, the collective asserts that although they shared political goals with feminists, socialists, and Black freedom movements, they took issue with some of their politics because those movements were often unable to view race, class, gender, and heterosexist oppression simultaneously rather than separately. For example, the collective takes issue with racism in the white women’s movement. That is why they decided to form their own group and engage in consciousness-raising. The collective describes being active in other projects and struggles while being attentive to their own politics that stem from personal identity.

Echols, Alice. “The Eruption of Difference,” Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-75 (1989)

Dr. Echols is currently an Associate Professor in English at University of Southern California (USC), with a joint appointed with Gender Studies and the Program in American Studies & Ethnicity. She received her PhD from University of Michigan in History in 1986. She has published Shaky Ground: The Sixties and its Aftershocks (2002), Sweet Scars of Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin (1999), and Upside Down: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (forthcoming).

Grahn, Judy. “Edward the Dyke.”

Judy Grahn was born in Chicago on July 28, 1940. She was raised in New Mexico by a working class family. Grahn received her B.A. from San Francisco State in 1984. At the age of 25, Grahn became seriously ill and fell into a coma. She co-founded the Women’s Press Collective with Wendy Cadden. Grahn is the author of “Edward the Dyke,” “A Woman is Talking to Death,” “The Queen of Wands,” “The Work of a Common Woman,” “Another Mother Tongue,” and “Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World.” Grahn currently serves as the co-director of the Women’s Spirituality MA and Program director of the MFA in Creative Inquiry at the New College.

Klinger, Alisa. “Writing Civil Rights: The Political Aspirations of Lesbian Activist-Writers.” In Inventing Lesbian Cultures in America, edited by Ellen Lewin. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Dr. Klinger obtained her Ph.D. from The University of California-Berkeley. She is currently a full-time Instructor of English at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California. Prior to this appointment, she served as assistant professor of Women’s Studies at Arizona State University and Assistant Professor of English at York University. She has authored “Resources for Lesbian Ethnographic Research in the Lavender Archives”. (1998)

Krieger, Susan. “An Identity Community.” In Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Reader, edited by Peter M. Nardi and Beth E. Schneider. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Sociologist Susan Krieger lived for a year in a Midwestern women’s community. Her 1983 study, based on interviews with 78 women, outlines the community’s development, the constitution of its membership, and its relation to other communities within the locale. According to Krieger, members of the community identified as lesbians and feminists, were generally white and middle-class, and were “heavily academic.” The community gave members affirmation and a group identity, but it also excluded others. Some members felt a sense of ambivalence about to what extent they belonged to it.

Newton, Esther. “Will the Real Lesbian Community Please Stand Up?” In Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Anthropologist Esther Newton, in a 1982 essay updated in 1998, is interested in understanding why most recent social science writing about lesbians only describes white, middle-class women while implying that they constitute the whole of the lesbian community. One reason this may be, she theorizes, is that lesbian feminists were generally white middle-class women. Because lesbian feminist ideologies became hegemonic in written discourse after 1970, this may have influenced social scientists. Newton then compares research on lesbians with social science scholarship on gay men which, she argues, evinces more diversity and disagreement about the boundaries of “gay community.” She conjectures that gay men’s greater number of sexual contacts, facilitated by sexual institutions such as cruising areas and bathhouses, have given then more contact with people from a broader social spectrum than lesbians, whom she asserts generally choose partners of the same race and class.

Ponse, Barbara. “The Social Construction of Identity and its Meanings within the Lesbian Subculture.” In Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Reader, edited by Peter M. Nardi and Beth E. Schneider. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Scholar Barbara Ponse, in a 1978 book, draws upon interviews with women in lesbian communities to understand how lesbian identity is socially constructed. According to Ponse, identity words such as “lesbian” serve to indicate political solidarity (such as in “woman-identified woman”) and to demarcate difference from heterosexuality. Women in these communities disagree on which words—“female homosexual,” “gay,” or “lesbian”—are most appropriate to how they identify themselves; each word carries a specific historical, cultural, and political meaning. For example, Ponse’s interviewees view bisexuality and femme-butch role-playing as problematic.
Ponse also asserts there is a common “gay trajectory” that typifies identity construction in the lesbian world. In this “gay trajectory,” lesbians first understand themselves to be different from heterosexuals. After accepting their feelings, they accept a lesbian identity (they “come out”). At this point, they seek a community.

Radicalesbians. "The Woman-Identified Woman." Radical Feminism. Eds. Anne Koedt et al. NY: Quadrangle Books, 1973. 240-45.

Retter, Yolanda. “Lesbian Activism in Los Angeles (1970-1979),”

Yolanda Retter is currently the Librarian for the UCLA Chicano Studies Center. She is responsible for compiling the Lesbian History Project website, http://www-lib.usc.edu/~retter/main.html.

Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” In The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, edited by Henry Abelove, Michèle Aina Barale, and David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993.

In this important article, poet and theorist Adrienne Rich asserts that male oppression of women is based in part upon compulsory female heterosexuality. Much feminist scholarship, she argues, does not examine the institution of heterosexuality. Feminist scholarship that contributes to lesbian marginality is in fact detrimental to the cause of women’s liberation. Indeed, lesbian lives are more profoundly female, woman-identified, and in opposition to patriarchy than heterosexual lives.
Rich also asserts that we should not limit “lesbian” to merely past, present, or future genital sexual experience. Instead, Rich develops the term “lesbian continuum” to mean “a range—through each woman’s life and throughout history—of woman-identified experience […] embrac[ing] many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support,” as well as marriage resistance and intimate girl friendships. For Rich, the realization of this continuum shows that women have throughout history always resisted male oppression.

Smith, Barbara. “Introduction.” In Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, edited by Barbara Smith. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983.

African American lesbian feminist Barbara Smith, in the 1982 introduction to Home Girls, writes that after nine years of organizing “there is [now] a vital movement of women of color in this country.” The publication of Home Girls is meant to further that movement by reaching more Black people. Smith argues that because Black women experience both racism and sexism simultaneously, they should consider not only allying themselves with Black Nationalist and Third World liberation movements, but also with feminism. This is because their experiences can only be fully understood with a Black feminist analysis.
Smith asserts that Black women’s longstanding resistance to slavery and sexual violence point to innate feminist potential, even if many Black women have not called themselves “feminist.” In explaining why more Black women haven’t identified themselves with “feminism,” she critiques both implicit and explicit sexism and homophobia in Black freedom movement discourse.

Solanas, Valerie.

Valerie Solanas was born April 9, 1936 in Ventor, New Jersey. She graduated with a degree in Psychology from University of Maryland at College Park. After college, she panhandled and worked as a prostitute. In 1967, she authored the play Up Your Ass and approached Andy Warhol to produce it. On June 3, 1968, she shot Andy Warhol, but was declared incompetent to stand trial. She died on April 26, 1988.

Stein, Marc. “Radicalesbian Feminism in Fillydykia, 1971-1972.” In City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Historian Marc Stein, drawing upon archival sources and oral history interviews, examines the politics of the Radicalesbians in Philadelphia in the early 1970s. Stein asserts that the Radicalesbians encouraged lesbians to prioritize gender identification rather than sexual identity. The term “lesbian,” in this context, implied a separation from gay male communities and politics. The lesbian was not merely a sexual being, but was “woman-identified”—in partnership with straight women more than with gay men. Stein shows, however, that some Radicalesbians continued to work with gay men, and that some continued to view themselves as allied with gay liberation.

Taylor, Verta, and Nancy E. Whittier. “Collective Identity in Social Movement Communities: Lesbian Feminist Mobilization.” In Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Reader, edited by Peter M. Nardi and Beth E. Schneider. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Sociologists Verta Taylor and Nancy Whittier are interested in explaining “collective identities” on a theoretical level. Taylor and Whittier draw upon symbolic interactionist theory to posit that the concepts of “boundaries,” “consciousness,” and “negotiation”—at work on the level of daily lived interactions—characterize the construction of collective identity in social movements. They point out that boundaries are central to the formation of collective identity. Lesbian feminists, for example, have created separate institutions such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and lesbian publishing houses. They have also developed a distinct world of “female values” that comprise egalitarianism, caring, and collectivism.
“Consciousness,” for Taylor and Whittier, denotes interpretive frameworks emerging from a recognition of shared interests, such as that lesbianism subverts patriarchy. “Negotiation” amounts to the ways social movements work to change symbolic meanings, such as through adjusting one’s self-presentation to be more androgynous in opposition to beauty norms.