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A labrys, a symbol since the late 1970s of lesbian and feminist strength and self-sufficiency. Lesbian feminism came together in the early 1970s out of dissatisfaction with second-wave feminism and the gay liberation movement. According to Judy Rebick, a leading Canadian journalist and political activist for feminism, lesbians were and always have been at the heart of the women’s movement, while their issues were invisible in the same movement. Lesbian feminism of color emerged as a response to lesbian feminism thought that failed to incorporate the issues of class and race as sources of oppression along with heterosexuality. Lesbian feminism, much like feminism, lesbian and gay studies, and queer theory, is characterized by the ideas of contestation and revision.
Lesbian feminist literary critic Bonnie Zimmerman frequently analyzes the language used by writers from within the movement, often drawing from autobiographical narratives and the use of personal testimony. According to Zimmerman, lesbian feminist texts tend to be expressly non-linear, poetic and even obscure. Lesbian feminists of color argue for intersectionality, in particular the crossings of gender, sex, class, and race, as an important component of lesbian feminist thought. As outlined above, lesbian feminism typically situates lesbianism as a form of resistance to “man-made” institutions.
Cheryl Clarke writes in her essay New Notes on Lesbianism “I name myself “lesbian” because this culture oppresses, silences, and destroys lesbians, even lesbians who don’t call themselves “lesbians. I name myself “lesbian” because I want to be visible to other black lesbians. Indeed, it could be argued that lesbian feminism pre-empted if not laid the groundwork for queer theory to posit sexuality as culturally specific. Lesbian separatism is a form of separatist feminism specific to lesbians. Separatism has been considered by lesbians as both a temporary strategy, and as a lifelong practice but mostly the latter. Lesbian separatism became popular in the 1970s as some lesbians doubted whether mainstream society or even the Gay rights movement had anything to offer them. Charlotte Bunch, an early member of “The Furies”, viewed separatist feminism as a strategy, a “first step” period, or temporary withdrawal from mainstream activism to accomplish specific goals or enhance personal growth.
This was part of a larger idea that Bunch articulated in Learning from Lesbian Separatism, that “in a male-supremacist society, heterosexuality is a political institution” and the practice of separatism is a way to escape its domination. In her 1988 book, Lesbian Ethics: Towards a New Value, lesbian philosopher Sarah Lucia Hoagland alludes to lesbian separatism’s potential to encourage lesbians to develop healthy community ethics based on shared values. Bette Tallen believes that lesbian separatism, unlike some other separatist movements, is “not about the establishment of an independent state, it is about the development of an autonomous self-identity and the creation of a strong solid lesbian community”. Lesbian historian Lillian Faderman describes the separatist impulses of lesbian feminism which created culture and cultural artifacts as “giving love between women greater visibility” in broader culture.