In the United States groups formed for the sole purpose of advocating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual(LGBT) rights did not come into being until after WWII. These groups were created to bring homosexuals in a show of support to one another and also to educate the legal authorities and legislators. The first organization created for gay men was known as the Mattachine Society and it was founded in 1950, followed shortly thereafter by the organization known as the daughters of Bilitis. This was a society created as a support system for lesbian women in America. These organizations attempted to secure social understanding and acceptance of homosexuality through education; however, the Chicago section of Mattachine culture engaged in very few openly political activities and functioned mainly as a support group until the mid-sixties.
The homophile movements started immediately after the Second World War came to an end. New groups advocating homosexual rights were created and some that were long dead were revived in the United States. Homophile became the preferred term over homosexual because it advocated love instead of sex as the defining cause of wanting to be with someone of the same sex. Many people at that time described the homophile movements as acceptable and even politically conservative, although their desire for social change and for social recognition of same sex love was seen as immoral at that time in history. Any protests were polite, orderly and well organized. Surprisingly, later on in following years there were many homophile organizations and publications in the United State, although national organizations that had been initially formed were largely ignored by the media. In 1965 the Civil rights movement took place and homosexuals found new motivation and hope that their cause would be a success.
While LGBT rights movements have continued to be a topic of extreme controversy over the last several decades, the feminist movement has just recently seen an increase in media coverage thanks to celebrity advocacy. The Women’s Liberation movement in the 1960’s seemed to coincide with the civil rights movement. It was encouraging for feminists and women in general, that African Americans were being given the rights they had previously been denied. However feminism was not always viewed as simply a movement for equal right. One article states that “Feminism is a word that conjures up images of pro-choice marches, bra-burnings, and angry women.” Feminism has often been seen as a radical group dedicated to the hatred of all men and often the most radical of feminists have scorned those whom they believe are less dedicated to the cause then they are.
Some radical feminists believe that lesbianism is the greatest expression of true feminism that one can achieve. For the homosexual community, this belief that all women had the potential to become lesbians was frowned upon. Due to this many women who were part of the LGBT rights movement felt frustrated at the domination of the men in the movement and formed separate movements all on their own. My hypothesis is that feminism is linked to the LGBT movement and lesbianism in some way. Whether that is a negative or positive aspect of either movement must be determined by the reader after reading the research collected and displayed in the following analysis.
In order to analyze this topic and determine whether or not my theory is correct I will draw data from several different sources, including online polls, Statistical data and scholarly articles. My sources will often be skewed by the opinions of their authors but I will do my best to discern between relevant fact based opinions and mere prejudice or bias. There is a lack of accurate statistical data regarding both feminist groups and LGBT groups. Different data collecting firms have discovered different percentages of homosexual individuals in the U.S. and that is a limitation of the data that I am able to collect on the subject. Historical data on the percentage of feminists and lesbians in the U.S. is also unclear and often contradictory. It is important to take into account that both of these movements are highly debated among all levels of society. They are vehemently discussed in the political arena and reporter’s articles are often written from one side of the political fence or the other. The links to my various sources will be contained at the end of this analysis in a bibliography. If you, as the reader, have any more questions on the matter or simply desire to better educate yourself on the topic I highly recommend reading the various articles that I will be referencing shortly.
I am using the theory of relative deprivation to explain my hypothesis. This theory of social movement states that social change is a product of a general discontent with a groups perception of what they want in contrast to what they have. This theory refers to people’s perception of what their current circumstances are, regardless of whether or not they are, in fact, being treated differently than the general public. Members of society become unhappy with their current social state and seek change. In order for this dissatisfaction to become a social movement the afflicted members must truly believe that they have a right to a different status among society than they currently have. (Flynn)
This theory of social movement can be used to describe both feminism and the movement for gay and lesbian rights. Both groups believe that they have been unjustly treated by the public and deserve more rights than they are currently allotted. Feminists desire a perfectly equal society in which women are given the same rights as men in all professions and situations. Lesbians and gay men want their marriages to be viewed, under the law, as exactly the same as heterosexual marriages. They also want to prevent prejudice in the workplace and general public just as feminists do. Both groups view their current circumstances as less than ideal. They believe that they have been unjustly targeted and they want to create a social movement that ends with equality for their chosen group. The goals of both groups are eerily similar and it comes as no surprise to most that they are often associated with one another.
The feminist movement has been a precursor to the gay and lesbian rights movement in the United States. Feminist groups, in one form or another, have existed for centuries while only being true organized movement at the end of the nineteenth century, while the homosexual groups have a far shorter history with the creation of the Mattachine society in 1950.
There has been a lot of research done in recent years in an attempt to link feminism and lesbianism. Some argue that feminism is causing lesbianism as this quote from Frank S. Caprio M.D., Variations in Sexual Behavior states:
“women are becoming rapidly defeminized as a result of their overt desire for emancipation and that this “psychic masculinization" of American women contributes to frigidity They claim it will more than likely influence the susceptibility of many to a homosexual way of thinking and living”. (Koedt)
Others presume that lesbianism is simply a result of women feeling more empowered to feel whatever it is that they feel without persecution, instead of “psychic masculinization” being a cause of homosexuality in women. Those with this viewpoint believe that the reason we see a link between the LGBT rights movement and feminism is simply because the two groups can empathize with the plight of one another.
Feminists have often been called lesbians as a way of shaming them and attempting to create a barrier between the needs of ‘real’ women and those within the feminist movement. Men retaliated to the threat of the feminist movement with any verbal ammunition that they could come up with and attempted to show that feminists were undesirable by stating that they were lesbians. Women feared being viewed as unfeminine and unwanted, and calling them lesbians was a direct attack on their femininity. (Koedt)
Some women do view being a lesbian as the most rigid and perfect form of feminism; the complete rejection of men from every aspect of their life. Radical feminists may be more prone to homosexuality due to their desire to be completely equal to men, including having a wife. Radical feminists have even gone so far as to shame heterosexual feminists because they do not have sex with women. Be that as it may, many feminists are solely heterosexual and do not associate lesbianism with feminism at all. Anne Koedt, a pioneering New York feminist, states in an article: “Thus it is only in the most radical interpretations that lesbianism becomes an organic part of the larger feminist fight.” So is feminism a precursor to lesbianism, or is the relationship between the feminist and LGBT movement simply a matter of similar goals for equality?Finding accurate statistical data that would link the feminist and LGBT movement proved to be very difficult. In fact, even the number of lesbians in the United States is a controversial topic. The U.S. Census bureau’s most recent census found that lesbians make up approximately 1.1% of the population while other studies have found that number to be nearer to 5% or higher. (Robison)
After reviewing a number of different articles I found one written by three women in the Pennsylvania State University Psychology department, which showed that lesbians were more likely to identify as feminists than heterosexual women. This article blamed this phenomenon on the desire of heterosexual women to distance themselves from the lesbian movement because they view it as anti-feminine. The following excerpt is a brief summary of the research conducted.
“We used a conformity paradigm, in which the majority was perceived to be hetero-sexual, and a dissenter was represented as either lesbian or heterosexual, to investigate social distancing participantswere less likely to identify as feminist when the dissenter was a lesbian.for [sic] fear of association with the lesbian.” (Swim, et al)
According to one poll only 23% of women in the United States identify themselves as feminists but 82% of those polled said that they believe in equality for women. (Swanson) From the data acquired from this study and other articles it would seem that the association between lesbianism and feminism may actually prevent heterosexual females from identifying themselves as feminists. However it would also appear that lesbians are more likely to identify as feminists. There is an obvious link between the two but what is it? Has feminism paved the way for women to be more open about their sexuality, or has the feminist movement created an increase in homosexuality amongst women because of its proclivity to view men as the enemy? The answer to that question may be a combination of both possibilities. While feminism may have given women the bravery they needed to come out of the closet, it may have also pushed some women with the proclivity to desire those of the same sex further in that direction than they would have gone otherwise.
This analysis has shown that my hypothesis, in its most simplistic form, was correct. However the link between the feminist, lesbianism and the LGBT movement is multi-faceted and complex. It would seem that the stereotype painting all feminists as lesbians has caused many heterosexual women to avoid feminism in fear of being viewed as overtly masculine, while lesbians are more likely to identify themselves as feminists. The feminist and LGBT movements contain many of the same elements and pursue equality for overlapping groups of individuals tying their goals together. Both groups do follow the theory of relative deprivation and both social movements are fueled by a desire to have rights that they believe have been previously denied to them. How deep does the link between them run?
DB, Devon. "Sex, Homophobia, and Women: The Story of Lesbian Feminism." Academia.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2014.
Flynn, Simone I. "100 Sociology Reference Guide Relative Deprivation Theory." Http://wiki.zirve.edu.tr. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Hannam, June. "Women's History, Feminist History." Women's History, Feminist History. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.
Koedt, Anne. "Lesbianism and Feminism by Anne Koedt." Lesbianism and Feminism by Anne Koedt. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Morris, Bonnie J. "History of Lesbian, Gay, & Bisexual Social Movements." Http://www.apa.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2014.
Robison, Jennifer. "What Percentage of the Population Is Gay?" What Percentage of the Population Is Gay? N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Swanson, Emily. "Poll: Few Identify As Feminists, But Most Believe In Equality Of Sexes." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Nov. 2014
Swim, Janet K., Melissa J. Ferguson, and Lauri L. Hyers. Avoiding Stigm a by Association: Subtle Prejudice Against Lesbians in the Form of Social Distancing (n.d.): n. pag. Http://melissaferguson.squarespace.com. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.