Sexual Orientation within Sexual Politics

By Nadine Smit

Being new to feminism means being bombarded with debate and controversy and confusion. The more you dig and research, the more you find, never really coming to a conclusion as such.

I’ve been interested in sexual orientation within the feminist movement lately, and consequently, what effect this has on the movement.

On the one hand I find this excerpt in an interview with Sheila Jeffreys, by Julie Bindel, in The Guardian, Saturday 2 July 2005:

“She became a lesbian in 1973 because she felt it contradictory to give “her most precious energies to a man” when she was thoroughly committed to a women’s revolution. Six years later, she went further and wrote, with others, a pamphlet entitled Love Your Enemy? The Debate between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism. In it, feminists who sleep with men are described as collaborating with the enemy. It caused a huge ruction in the women’s movement, and is still cited as an example of early separatists “going way too far”.

“We do think,” it said, “that all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.” Although many of the more radical feminists agreed, most went wild at being told they were “counter-revolutionary”.

On the other hand I have a quote from the 1997 movie, G.I. Jane. A man referring to men not being able to handle seeing women in the military:

                “She isn’t the problem, we are…”

Feminists are more often than not stereotyped as “lesbians” and “man-haters”. In some circles, as illustrated in my first quote, feminists are expected to be lesbian, or at least non-heterosexual.

Due to this being the case, do we ignore bi- and homosexual feminists’ opinions and efforts? Do we shun what they say because they can’t be heterosexual and still have these thoughts? And vice versa…

Vote here:


2 thoughts on “Sexual Orientation within Sexual Politics”

  1. I love this question because it’s so relevant. I real a lot of literature about feminism and am sometimes struck by the fact that sexual orientation has anything to do with how serious you are about women’s rights. Why, if I feel that women need as many rights as men, do I have to be a lesbian, or feel a complete hatred for all men? Is that not generalising – just as they do – and also limiting women’s rights?


  2. “Feminism is the movement to end sexist oppression” – bell hooks. That’s the description I work with and that’s what underlies my feminism. I question any value or belief system that requires you to change an element of yourself at a base, intrinsic level. I don’t think the lesbian feminist question is as tricky as you make it out to be. One of the reasons feminists are called lesbians is because for most woman this is still, unfortunately, seen as an insult. In the 80s when feminism really became a public issue, it made sense to cast feminism as man hating and steeped in lesbianism, because this would ultimately undermine it, which in many ways it has.

    I find the suggestion that you can change your sexual preferences interesting. Most lesbians would argue that their sexual preference is innate. When our families ask us not to pursue relationships with someone of the same sex we say it is who we are and we cannot change it. I would be interested to see how a heterosexual person would be able to change their sexual persuasion. Yes, you may be open to sex with someone of the same sex but I doubt you could wipe out your primary attraction too men, hence the suggestion that in being a political lesbian “It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women”. It seems to me political lesbianism called for a cutting off of men until further notice and called that lesbianism. The argument at the time was that lesbianism was a spectrum (Adrienne Rich ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Continuum’) which all women fell on in some way. This was a controversial argument and remains so, but it has come to have less validity in the modern day where lesbianism has become a far more solid identity category.

    Some women may hate men as some men hate women, a feminism that advocates hatred is not a feminism I am part of. At the end of the day it’s widely understood that the Second Wavers were hugely experimental in their approach to feminism, and why shouldn’t they have been? But some of these experiments were failures. I would put political lesbianism, in this context, under the banner of failure.

    The bell hooks quote comes from a book called Feminism Is For Everybody – whatever your race, gender, sex or sexuality you can be a feminist. If we return to the idea of ending sexism then it doesn’t really matter who you feel your primary sexual attraction (or if you even have one of those) to, as long as those relations happen in such a way that you feel you are as empowered as your sexual partner/s.

    As an aside be, even feminists get it wrong sometimes. Read everything with an air of caution. Sheila Jeffrey’s has some interesting views on the world, most of which I do not agree, but those are decisions you will have to come to on your own. Good Luck!


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