[Lesbian Lifestyles: Women's Work & the Politics of Sexuality]

Article excerpt

While there is a small but growing body of North American research into lesbian relationships, Gillian Dunne's ground-breaking study of the home lives and work experiences of 60 non-heterosexual British women attempts to provide a detailed analysis of the nature of these relationships. Taking as her premise 'the personal is political,' she points out that the review and reassessment of the relationship between the public and the private is central to the feminist enterprise. So-called private activities such as household work and sexual relationships have been shown to connect with the public. The conditions of women's work within the private sphere stem from relations of domination rather than the expression of nature. This allows us to redefine the political to include previously personal activities.

Dunne provides the reader with a challenging, informative and thought-provoking work. Basing her research on the accounts of women of varying ages and backgrounds, themes range from childhood and school experiences to work histories. While research derived from autobiographical accounts raises a difficult question for understanding experience due to the selective nature of memory, narratives always contain a reconstructive element. Dunne points out that an individual's history is not simply a reflection of past experience; it contains an explanatory element, an ontology of self.

Interspersed with the narratives are respondents' experiences of coming out. I found it particularly interesting to read accounts by women who traced their orientation to adolescence. Early discomfort with heterosexuality is often identified as part of becoming a lesbian. Life stories reveal how individual construct, negate and reconstruct their experience. For these women, coming out was empowering.

Dunne also illustrates a relationship between interpretations of sexuality and women's experience of employment. Sexuality is derived from social constructs and these are implicated in the production of gender inequality. Heterosexual role play was understood by many to have subtly controlled their behaviour.

A striking conclusion is drawn between the economic independence necessary for the maintenance of a lesbian lifestyle and the consequences for career development. The respondents' move into demanding employment was facilitated within the context of their relationship with other women. …