In What Ways Do Queer Theory and Lesbian Feminism Differ in Their Understanding of Lesbianism Essay

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¶ … Queer Theory and Lesbian Feminism

In what ways do queer theory and lesbian feminism differ, in their understanding of lesbianism?

Over the past decade, there have been hot debates on the issue of lesbianism. These debates have not only been in the level of acceptance of the behavior but also on the legality. The lesbian-feminist theory has played a huge role in the academic field as concerns studies of women and it is only recently that it has gained a degree of crucial autonomy. This has been attributed to the need of some of the lesbian theorists to define their projects over and against those of both the feminist and the queer theory. The queer theory and lesbian-feminism theory attempt to explore the issues of power, sexuality and marginalized populations Sharon, 2005: 191.

The two theories question the position of lesbians in the society and try to explain their existence. They refute the theory of hetero-normativity which was made on the assumption that all people in this world are straight and only have heterosexual needs.

Development of the lesbian-feminism theory

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The lesbian-feminism theory developed as an attempt to counter the medical construction of lesbianism from the medical model that it was a congenital defect of "inversion." The medical model described lesbianism as a biological trait albeit a defective one. Early homosexual rights groups advocated for the use of this newly found evidence which claimed that lesbians should be pitied for the condition that they have and not in any way discriminated or oppressed O'Driscoll, 1996: 25.

TOPIC: Essay on In What Ways Do Queer Theory and Lesbian Feminism Differ in Their Understanding of Lesbianism Assignment

As the women's movement rose, there came an increasing dissatisfaction with the association of lesbianism with a biological abnormality as the early feminists began to develop and critically analyze other explanations of the existence of lesbians. The theory that came up was that lesbians were those who were resistant to the regime of compulsory heterosexuality and that unlike heterosexual women, they refused to form a part of the male economy through choosing to be identified with other women only. This bore the concept of the "woman-identified woman," O'Driscoll, 1996: 27()

Activists of lesbian-feminism began to see that lesbianism was not in any way related to any medical or biological condition and that it was in fact a rational choice that was available to all the women in the world. It was also seen to be a choice that any women who was aware of the oppressive nature of the hetero-patriarchy could make Hamer, 1990: 136()

In the lesbian-feminism theory, sexual orientation is said to be a choice. The lesbian-feminisms theory thus states that lesbianism is a rational choice and it results from the alienation and dissatisfaction of women with the institutions of male patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism. There are seven key themes of this theory that have been identified. These are the emphasis on the love that exists between women, the community and ideas, the separatist organizations, the idea that lesbianism is about resistance and personal choice, the idea that the personal is the political, a critique of the supremacy of males and lastly a rejection of social hierarchy Penelope, 1990: 11()

Development of the queer theory

Towards the late 1980s, the queer theory came from an argument made by various lesbian-feminists that there was a difference between gender and sexuality and also between sexism and heterosexism. The activists for lesbian-feminisms felt that there was a need to fix the identity of lesbians in a more stable and coherent way. This was to be done in order to classify lesbians as a minority group which would help them to fight for protection from discrimination. The issue, however, was that the boundaries of their identity were quite narrow and they excluded those who had experience as lesbians did not meet the ideal of the feminists. This brewed a tension which was a driving factor to ending the recognition of lesbianism as a political and personal choice towards it being more of an identity. The irony of the situation was that this did not remove the ideals that were set in the medical model Johnston, 1982: 79()

This led to the development of the queer theory which arose from a definition of queerness as "a non-normative sexuality which transcends the binary distinction homosexual/heterosexual to include all who feel disenfranchised by dominant sexual norms," Goldman, 1996: 13()

The queer theory came from a gay-affirmative discussion where the word queer was often used to show how scandalously offensive lesbianism was. The queer theory, however, fails to "compensate for real, persistent structural differences in style, ideology, and access to resources among men and women," Goldman, 1996: 14.

This means that it gives privilege to sexuality both in the political analysis and the cultural expression and therefore it threatens to erase and reduce the gender-bound experience of lesbians as women. The queer theory also fails to address gender at all. Because of this, it is arguably a less effective as political philosophy for lesbians Goldman, 1996: 14()

The queer theory thus developed from a need to create an acceptance of lesbians as a minority group in order to gain political protection. However, the queer theory has failed to become a strong political philosophy for the lesbians as a result of its outright failures in describing lesbianism Lauretis, 1990: 25()

The queer theory came up because there was a common thought that a theory that was based on lesbian-feminism but that provides for the limitations of the latter theory would be more useful in a political sense Caraway, 1991: 115.

However, the queer theory has been thought to be arrogant and has failed to be politically useful to the lesbians.

The queer theory also developed out of a response to the HIV / AIDS crisis which was set to promote a renewal of radical activism and the homophobia that was growing which brought about the public response on HIV / AIDS. The theory has huge effect on HIV / AIDS. First is that it is affected by safer sex education which emphasizes on sexual practices over the sexual identities. The misrecognition of HIV / AIDS as a disease that is related to lesbianism is persistent and needs to be changed. Third is that the queer theory helped to eliminate the thought that homosexuality is a kind of fatality. The queer theory has also created a constant emphasis on the contestation that results in the dominant depictions of HIV / AIDS and their representation otherwise. When rethinking the traditional understanding of workings of power Rudy, 2001: 211()

Differences that arise

The lesbian-feminist theory is quite different from the queer theory in that the two theories are wholly incompatible as they give different theoretical positions that are of political importance. Even for those who have begun to accept the queer theory, they are often quite reluctant to give up on the basic foundations of the lesbian feminism theory. This suggests that the lesbian-feminism theory provides a particular type of political and social analysis that is not available in the queer theory Overall, 1990: 8()

The lesbian-feminist theory and queer theory are divided by issues that threaten to divide lesbians from feminists. Identity politics which is the practice concerns the nature and boundaries of identity and it has been central to most of the social movements around lesbianism in the past few decades with the most visible example being that of the Black power movement. Identity politics makes an important assumption that a coherent, stable and unified identity is achieved on the basis of discrimination of the individual and the activists concerned with ending racism and classism have made use of identity politics with there being some success Naylor, 1999: 53.

Gender and sexuality pose a greater problem as can be seen in the lesbian-feminism and queer theories.

Another issue that divides the two theories is that for lesbian-feminists, sex and gender are categories that are conceptually interdependent but for the queer theory, they are conceptually distinct. The nature and function of the sex or gender system as per the lesbian-feminist theory states that sex and gender are best exemplified by the institution of heterosexuality on a compulsory basis. For queer theorists, on the contrary, there is a possibility for an analysis of the homophobic behavior which excludes the role that is played by sexism Mock, 2003: 30()

Stein (1992: 41)

states that the recent increase in the visibility of lesbians and their diversity has led to feminists being able to re-conceptualize what is meant by a lesbian community since it is more appropriate and accurate to refer to them as lesbian communities. It is also important to recognize that not all these communities will be identified as feminist Hollinger, 1999: 26.

In order to understand the kind of hegemony that lesbian-feminism has had over the construction of the identity of lesbians, the article has a review of lesbian feminism as a political philosophy Glick, 2000: 34()

A possible benefit does arise from the clash of the lesbian-feminism and the queer theory… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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