(Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties)

By Reti, Irene | Herizons, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

(Unleashing Feminism: Critiquing Lesbian Sadomasochism in the Gay Nineties)


Reti, Irene, Herizons


UNLEASHING FEMINISM: CRITIQUING LESBIAN SADOMASOCHISM IN THE GAY NINETIES.

Is this why we did it? Did we take to the streets so women can carve swastikas on their bodies?

These lines are from Pat Parker's "Bar Conversation," the poem that opens the seven-piece collection of radical feminist writings, Unleashing Feminism.

The poem, stories and essays reflect on the anti-feminist promotion of lesbian sadomasochism in the 10 years since the publishing of Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis.

In the eighties, the feminist movement against pornography and violence to women and children met the civil liberties movement against censorship, and concern for material harm was up against arguments for freedom of speech. During that time too, lesbian proponents for s/m moved from an organized demand to be included in feminism to a celebration of themselves as rebels against feminism. Lesbian feminism was recast by them as prudish, repressed dishonest, frigid. (Ah, I think, memories clicking over: that means I've said no.)

I don't like to take my eyes off the guys in the institutional corporate, commercial and state forms of misogyny. But in my experience, women are doing the master's work of leashing and policing other women. Some call themselves feminist, when it suits. Some post-feminist. Some rebels, s/n, queers. Anything goes, it seems, but equality and a feminist analysis of power, a political analysis of sexuality.

I picked up this book because I have been increasingly uneasy with queer theory and how attractive it is to some academics. No sooner were we able to offer a course on Lesbian and Gay Literature, then conferences and programs cross North American proliferate on queer theory, queer studies. (Ah, I think, remembering Women's Studies overtaken with the move "advanced" thinking of Gender Studies, we won't say woman any more, we won't say lesbian.)

The writers in this collection ask the old feminist question: who benefits? Their analyses address the organized movement of lesbian sadomasochism in the context of lesbian feminism and the women's movement; the Nazi realities of antisemitism that give their meanings to "erotic" symbols of dominance; the continuing rationalizing, trivializing, and eroticizing of racism,; and the consumerism, capitalism, and big bucks of pornography. In working out theoretical meanings, they examine the material circumstances of those meanings.

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