The following is a critical response to Charlotte Bunch's "Lesbians in Revolt." I wrote this years ago in the beginnings of my coursework in Women's Studies. Looking back at this piece, I smile at the freshness and determination in my younger voice. I like to believe that my understandings of the world, and my ability to articulate them, have grown and evolved in some ways since this was written, but it is lovely to look back and hear my passion emerge as I opened my eyes to feminism for the first time.
“Talk Back” Critical Reading Response
Upon reading your essay “Lesbians in Revolt” it appeared to me that you were primarily addressing a very specific group of people. The group of people in question is feminist women, and more particularly, lesbian feminist women. I would have to say that I do somewhat identify with being a part of that audience, specifically with your definition of the group in the passage “The lesbian, woman-identified-woman, commits herself to women not only as an alternative to oppressive male/female relationships but primarily because she loves women” (Bunch 83). I identify with this definition of the target audience in a general sense, in that I am deeply committed and passionate to improving the lives of women because I love them, but I don’t love women to the exclusion of men and all other genders.
My love for women doesn't detract from my love for all humanity. It is in this way that I am excluded from your target audience, at the same time that I am partially included. I am excluded because I do not reject men, as you say we must in order to put an end to oppression (Bunch 85). I, instead, invite them to join me in the struggle for equality. As stated in an article published by Agenda Feminist Media by Ira Horowitz, “Sexism hurts us all.” Men aren’t excluded from the equation; therefore, I choose not to exclude them from my life.
Another way that your target audience may be seen as exclusionary is that your message has left out the population of women (and people, in general) of color. It appears that you do make an attempt to be inclusive in your statement “race, class, and national oppressions come from men, serve ruling-class white male interests, and have no place in woman-identified revolution” (Bunch 85). However, The Combahee River Collective sees it in a different way. They state “although we are feminists and lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand” (Combahee River Collective 166). This statement furthers the idea that oppression, including sexism and racism, is damaging to all people.
I agree more with the idea that men are products of socialization and that it is not their inherent “maleness” that is the cause for sexism (Combahee River Collective 167). Therefore, by discriminating men solely on the basis of their biological sex, I feel that we would be furthering sexist attitudes instead of working towards ending them. I also agree with the stance that lesbian separatism isn’t an adequate political analysis and strategy because too many people are left out, including men, women, and children of color (Combahee River Collective 167). As Andrew Matzner states in his article “Separatism,” “radical feminist ideology (holds) the white, middle-class woman as its standard, and that, in particular, the needs of women of color (are) ignored” (Matzner 2).
Another group of people that are excluded from your target audience are people in the trans community. You state that in order to be a part of the lesbian feminist movement to end oppression, one must be a “woman-identified-woman”. This again puts the emphasis on biological differences as opposed to socialization. By deducing that the root of all sexism, and therefore the root of all oppressions, is biological, socialization is completely overlooked, even though it is a very valid and probable theory.
I believe that by excluding male-to-female transsexuals from the definition of what a woman is, you are denying someone the right to their own identity and therefore contributing to the oppression of those peoples. This oppression of trans individuals by radical feminists can be seen in the history of the radical feminist movement. In the 1970’s, there were various male-to-female transsexuals that were forced out of communities of lesbians because they were born biologically male. One such case is that of Beth Elliott. Elliot was serving as the Vice President of the San Francisco chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, and was “outed” as a transsexual and subsequently forced to resign from her post (Matzner 2). Another case is that of Sandy Stone. When rumors began to fester that she was a transsexual, she was asked to resign from her post as a recording engineer by Olivia Management (Matzner 2). In my eyes, these are further examples of oppression by people whose aim is supposedly to end all oppression.
I feel a bit uncomfortable when I read your statement about lesbians in the workplace. You iterate “The lesbian is also a threat on the job because she is not the passive/part-time woman worker that capitalism counts on to do boring work and be part of a surplus labor pool” (Bunch 86). When I read this, it seems that you are insinuating that any woman who does not conform to your idea of what a feminist should be must immediately be weak and “passive.” I don’t believe that all of the people who are excluded from your audience (women of color, male-to-female transsexuals, heterosexual women) are inherently passive. If a woman chooses to work part-time and not put all of her focus and energy into her work, that is her choice. To me, feminism is about the right to choose, and by immediately categorizing women whose main goals in life don’t revolve around their career is denying their right to choose and is therefore counterproductive in the feminist movement.
One of the strengths that I see in your piece is the idea that “sexism is the root of all oppression.” Your argument for this idea is made quite adequately when you say “the first division of labor, in prehistory, was based on sex… Having secured the domination of women, men continued this pattern of oppressing people, not on the basis of tribe, race, and class” (Bunch 84). Robin Morgan, along with various radical feminists, agree with the idea, saying “sexism is the root oppression, the one which, until and unless we uproot it, will continue to put for the branches of racism, class hatred, ageism, competition, ecological disaster, and economic exploitation” (Morgan via Katherine, 282).
I suppose that my way of thinking is from more of a liberal feminist perspective, in that my views are heavily based on equality for all people, and not necessarily for the advancement of women beyond men and other genders. Yes, I believe that the rights of women need to be advanced in order to achieve this equality with white males, but so do the rights of people of color and people in the LGBTQI community, as well as other oppressed communities. I also believe that socialization has a huge role in the roots of oppression, as opposed to being based solely based on the biological. It is in this way that I agree with Mary Wollstonecraft when she says that if men were confined to the same cages that women are confined to, they would also develop the “same flawed characters” (Wollstonecraft); those flawed characteristics being the generalizations that are made in regards to the female sex. To me, Wollstonecraft is explaining that we are products of socialization, and I wholeheartedly agree with her in that regard.
In conclusion, I feel that your piece “Lesbians in Revolt” is incredibly provocative and stirring. Although there are various ways in which I don’t completely agree with your agenda, I agree with your purpose, which is to end sexist oppression.
*References available upon request.