Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet: Lesbian and Gay Displacement

By Cheshire Calhoun | Go to book overview
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2 Separating Lesbian Theory from Feminist Theory

Heidi Hartmann once said of the marriage of Marxism and feminism that it 'has been like the marriage of husband and wife depicted in English common law: marxism and feminism are one, and that one is marxism'. 1 In this and the following chapter, I want to suggest that lesbian theory and feminism are at risk of falling into a similar unhappy marriage in which 'that one' is feminism. The focus here will be largely on lesbian feminist theorizing in the 1980s. In the next chapter, I will argue that 1990s feminism, which is committed to articulating differences between women, nevertheless fails to make room for fully lesbian feminist theorizing.

Although lesbian feminist theorizing has significantly contributed to feminist thought, it has also generally treated lesbianism as a kind of applied issue. Feminist theories developed outside the context of lesbianism are brought to bear on lesbianism in order to illuminate the nature of lesbian oppression and women's relation to women within lesbianism. So, for example, early radical lesbians began from the feminist claim that all male-female relationships are dominance relationships. They then argued either that the lesbian is the paradigm case of the patriarchal resister because she refuses to be heterosexual 2 or that she fits on a continuum of types of patriarchal resisters. 3 In taking this line, lesbian theorists made a space for lesbianism by focusing on what they took to be the inherently feminist and anti-patriarchal nature of lesbian existence. Somewhat later, lesbian theorists were less inclined to read lesbianism as feminist resistance to male dominance. 4 Instead, following the trend that feminist theory itself took, the focus largely shifted to women's relation to women: the presence of ageism, racism, and anti-Semitism among lesbians, the problem of avoiding a totalizing discourse that speaks for all lesbians without being

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