Political lesbianism is a phenomenon within feminism, primarily second-wave feminism and radical feminism; it includes, but is not limited to, lesbian separatism. Political lesbianism asserts that sexual orientation is a political and feminist choice, and advocates lesbianism as a positive alternative to heterosexuality for women[1] as part of the struggle against sexism.[2]


Political lesbianism originated in the late 1960s among "second-wave" radical feminists as a way to fight sexism and compulsory heterosexuality. Sheila Jeffreys helped to develop the concept when she co-wrote in 1981 "Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism"[3] with the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group. They argued that women should abandon support of heterosexuality and stop sleeping with men, while encouraging women to rid men "from your beds and your heads".[4] While the main idea of political lesbianism is to be separate from men, this does not necessarily mean that political lesbians have to sleep with women.[5] The Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group definition of a political lesbian is "a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men". They proclaimed men the enemy and women who were in relationships with them collaborators and complicit in their own oppression.[5] Heterosexual behavior is seen as the basic unit of the patriarchy's political structure, lesbians who reject heterosexual behavior therefore disrupt the established political system.[6]

Ti-Grace Atkinson, a radical feminist who helped to found the group The Feminists, is credited with the phrase that came to embody the movement: "Feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice."[7][8]

Shared interest

Feminism provided a platform for some women to come out of a perceived suffocating shell of heterosexual norms, traditional sexuality, marriage and family life, a life viewed by some feminists as one of hard labor with little consideration and a system that subordinates women. By coming out of dominating heterosexual relationships, women are given an opportunity to declare themselves as lesbians with shared interests. As a result, feminism would be able to provide an environment in which lesbianism was less about personal pain or anguish but an important political issue.[9]

In a broad sense, political lesbianism entails the political identification of women with women; it encompasses a role beyond sexuality and supports eschewing forming relationships with men. It is partly based on the idea that women sharing and promoting a common interest creates a positive and needed energy which is necessary to enhance and elevate the role of women in the society, a development which will be curtailed by the institutions of heterosexuality and sexism if women choose the traditional norms.[5][2]

Though there was discrimination against lesbians within the feminist movement, it ended up providing a needed political platform for them. In its wake, it also expanded and introduced divergent views of sexuality.[10]

Lesbian separatism

Separatist feminism is a form of radical feminism that holds that opposition to patriarchy is best done through focusing exclusively on women and girls.[11] Generally, separatist feminists do not believe that men can make positive contributions to the feminist movement and that even well-intentioned men replicate the dynamics of patriarchy.[12] In a similar vein, lesbian separatism advocated for the separation of lesbian women from what they characterize as a heterosexist, sexist society.[13][14]

Charlotte Bunch, an early member of The Furies Collective, viewed lesbian separatism as a strategy, a "first step" period, or temporary withdrawal from mainstream activism to accomplish specific goals or enhance personal growth.[15] The Furies recommended that lesbian separatists relate "only (with) women who cut their ties to male privilege"[16] and suggest that "as long as women still benefit from heterosexuality, receive its privileges and security, they will at some point have to betray their sisters, especially Lesbian sisters who do not receive those benefits".[16]

Social constructs of sexuality and criticism

Some feminist theory on sexuality evaded biological fixation and embraced social construction as the basis of sexuality. However, this idea posed further questions on the subject of sexuality and lesbianism, and the long term sustainability of a purely lesbian society without men or children. If sexuality could be a construction of human nature then little room is given to understanding the nature of the historical formation of human nature, especially, if the historical nature of man or woman enhanced heterosexuality.[10] A lack of theoretical clarity of lesbianism and sexuality becomes more profound as sexuality is viewed as much more than choice.[17][18] Also, if lesbianism becomes a social institution, the avenue for a dominant persona in the relationships may also pose challenge to the original intention of political lesbianism.

See also



  1. ^ Bindel, Julie (27 March 2004). "Location, location, orientation". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b Krebs, Paula. "Lesbianism as a Political Strategy" (Document). Off Our Backs 17.6. ProQuest 197156630.
  3. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila. "Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism".
  4. ^ Bindel, Julie (30 January 2009). "My sexual revolution". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  5. ^ a b c "Political Lesbianism: The Case Against Heterosexuality". Love your enemy?: The debate between heterosexual feminism and political lesbianism (PDF). London: Onlywomen Press. 1981. p. 5. ISBN 0906500087. We do think that all feminists can and should be political 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.((cite book)): CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  6. ^ Bunch, Charlotte. "Lesbians in Revolt". The Furies: Lesbian/Feminist Monthly. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
  7. ^ Koedt, Anne. "Lesbianism and Feminism". Archived from the original on 2015-04-29.
  8. ^ "Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice." (Chicago Women's Liberation Union pamphlet, Lesbianism and Feminism, 1971; Stevi Jackson, Sue Scott, Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader, Columbia University Press, 1996, p. 282)
  9. ^ Krebs, Paula M. (1987). "Lesbianism as a Political Strategy". off our backs. 17 (6) – via ProQuest.
  10. ^ a b Ramazanoglu; Routledge, Feminism and the Contradictions of Oppression, Routledge, 1989. pp 84–86
  11. ^ Christine Skelton, Becky Francis, Feminism and the Schooling Scandal, Taylor & Francis, 2009 ISBN 0-415-45510-3, ISBN 978-0-415-45510-7 p. 104.
  12. ^ Sarah Hoagland, Lesbian Ethics: toward new value, p. 60, 154, 294.
  13. ^ "Lesbian Feminism, 1960s and 1970s · Lesbians in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1999, by Esther Newton and Her Students · OutHistory". outhistory.org. Retrieved 2024-02-29.
  14. ^ Sandilands, Catriona (2002). "Lesbian Separatist Communities and the Experience of Nature: Toward a Queer Ecology". Organization & Environment. 15 (2): 131–163. doi:10.1177/10826602015002002. ISSN 1086-0266.
  15. ^ Davis, Flora. Moving the Mountain: The Women's Movement in America since 1960, University of Illinois Press, 1999, ISBN 0-252-06782-7, p271
  16. ^ a b Bunch, Charlotte/The Furies Collective, "Lesbians in Revolt", in The Furies: Lesbian/Feminist Monthly, vol. 1, January 1972, pp.8–9
  17. ^ "Answers to Your Questions For a Better Understanding of sexual orientation & Homosexuality". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  18. ^ "Psychiatry and LGB People". Royal College of Psychiatrists. Retrieved 13 May 2014.

Further reading