A Post-Feminist Approach: The Misconception of Feminism and Lesbianism

Feminism is a broad multi-disciplinary field involving politics, economics, culture, history, and sexuality just to name a few. In the context of this particular post, I will critically analyze how the common stereotype in popular culture addresses ‘all lesbians as feminists.’ This is blatantly not true. We live in a predominantly post-feminist era. Take a moment to think about how womyn are being depicted in entertainment such as pornography, Cosmopolitan, FHM, Maxim, popular American sitcoms, etc.  Post-feminism is a transformative, cunning, and resourceful (for patriarchy) way of maintaining and strengthening male dominated values, ideas, and opinions in society. Also, it reinforces power structures in society keeping man as the dominant one.

Ignorance is not bliss.

In my opinion, post-feminism is an illusory concept forced upon womyn in order to reinforce mass consumerism, patriarchal standards, and the sexual submission of womyn as a whole. As a critical theorist of media, the entertainment industry, popular/mainstream music, film/cinema, and American sitcoms all sexualize, degrade, or place womyn in a state of submission. In a raunchy pop cultural, post-feminist era, female characters in these varying channels of media may take on a position of being in a dominant role through the use of their sexuality or as Ariel Levy states ‘sexual opportunism.’ The illusion that womyn can have power, or rather, a piece of the corporate pie by living through the hypersexualization of their bodies. This is what post-feminism is simply about — womyn being tricked into using their bodies as a commodity for the good of capitalism in primarily westernized culture.

Girly girls: womyn who use their bodies and attractiveness to get attention, who maintain their physical appearance (as they are told/constructed to do so), and who are stereotypically classified as sexually compliant. These girly girls in westernized society continue to be the victims of corporate capitalism and denigration to both men and womyn. During one of my many independent psycho-social research endeavors, I decided to go to an exclusive lesbian bar/club in London. I was watching a stripper (probably heterosexual) paid to expose and exploit her body for all the self-identified lesbians in the bar. She brought a womun onstage to perform a mild performance of S&M (sadomasochistic performance). I looked around the room and observed that most of the womyn were awed, happy, or content. Some had a hint of being uncomfortable (I count myself) and others were neutral. (This was solely based on the observance of face expressions and body language). One particular womun asked me what I thought about the scene. Before I could answer she says, “You’re straight, aren’t you”? She suspected I was because I didn’t appear as if I was enjoying myself. Later, I spoke with some confident, identifying lesbians who looked quite physically masculine from afar. I told them I was a feminist to instigate a discussion on the topic. They simply gave me blank stares, and told me they were not very radical at all. This is one example of the multitude of experiences I’ve had conversing with lesbians about feminism.

In my research and experience, the two concepts are not simultaneous. Ironically, the lesbian in popular culture is very similar to the heterosexual girl. The girly girls are the victims and entertainment whilst the more stereotypical masculine womyn poke fun at them; yet also wish to sexually engage or denigrate them. In continuation of this particular experience at the lesbian bar, I wasn’t able to find anyone who just wanted to get to know me or talk about something other than sex and hooking up. Again, very similar to the popular culture, heterosexual scene. Most popular lesbian scenes include very feminine, sexy womyn dancing on poles, on video, and/or stripping. The space offers lesbians the sexual opportunity to hook-up with other womyn based solely on the physicality of the female.

Feminism advocates for political, social, legal, and economic rights for all womyn. It strives for an egalitarian system with men. Unfortunately, our society has created post-feminism to fabricate what feminism stands for and regressed into a political and social realm of denigration, hypersexualization, and commodification. Guess who conformed to this? Womyn themselves. Although there is a ‘higher power’ working against us, we still have a choice in the matter. Feminism and lesbianism are not necessarily congruent. The conceptual framework of post-feminism and capitalism have coerced self-identifying lesbians into the ideologies of a male-dominated society.

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3 thoughts on “A Post-Feminist Approach: The Misconception of Feminism and Lesbianism

  1. You make some very interesting and analytical points about some of these gender constructs in our society. Thanks for this enlightening post!

    Our society constantly drives to assign labels to everything we see and do. Putting people into categories is a way of differentiating and distancing, putting up barriers and coining rules and discourse that start chipping away at the foundations of that initial idea, stretching and disrupting how it is understood. As you said, the potential for exploitation is inevitable.

    It is unfortunately too much for us to just accept people’s views and behaviour and let it be, as historically our society has a need to classify and associate.

    Lesbianism is generally demeaned in this society by an association of titillation and sells as a concept for two reasons. Double the exploitation of the female form; and being focussed as the ultimate fantasy for men in either, being able to join with the girls’ lovemaking or the ultimate male challenge in trying to turn a lesbian back to men. Speaking from the reactions of men to me living with a string of lesbians, these are the same ideas over and over and over and over.

    Both of these I have found outrageous because lesbians are in that relationship is because they are not attracted to men. I have lived with several girls that prefer the company of other “womyn” (to use your terminology) and they have told me that it is a physical thing. They are attracted to womyn in the same ways that heterosexuals are attracted to their opposites. It is what gets them excited and their emotions into a flutter. It is based generally on a physical impulse and attraction (with the addition of pheromones to make it all a little more powerful).

    Feminism is more of a concept, as you said, that stretches into all aspects of society and fights the chauvinist discourses that have been woven through our world for millennia. It is more on the mental side of the spectrum.

    I’m not surprised by your experiences in the lesbian bar/club as this is the nature that I have felt from a lot of the young gay womyn that I have met. People from older generations I have found however to have the more traditional tie between the two.

    Maybe the publicity of “lesbian chic” has allowed many womyn with those feelings to come out of the mould and feel more comfortable. The nature of that label being chipped away has created freer expression for those who have such feelings and meant that ideology doesn’t need to mix in with the physical.

    On the same side maybe the fact that we as a public have become more aware and accepting of womyn’s rights and issues that womyn can allow their physical side not to be restricted by their views and can be in heterosexual relationships with understanding and compassionate males who feel the same way.

  2. I BRAVO! I loved your post on feminism vs. lesbianism because it’s SO true that many lesbians are uninformed as to how they are perpetuating stereotypes enforced and created by the masculine-driven society. I believe Judith Butler makes an argument that by allowing women to dress and perform in masculine ways subverts the power back to themselves (wasn’t she the one who said that? I know she has big things about gender as performance…) yet I HIGHLY disagree with her. I think this only allows masculinty to continue being the thing to strive for, to emulate in contrast with the ‘other’ of the feminine. Of everyone, lesbians should be the most interested and invested in feminism to create at least a pocket of society for women by women with the interestes of women at heart…yet, I find these days they could care less as ‘feminism’ remains a dirty word.

    The split in lesbianism of the femme v. the butch is a fascinating and not well researched area of sexuality studies but truly, one could write an entire dissertation on it.It reminds me of a personal experience of my own, where I was turned away from a gay pub here in Camden for ‘not being gay’ bcause I was wearing a dress. Clearly I was infuriated at the time and wondered how the deuce this very male, very gay bouncer could judge me on such things simply by the way I dress; I think there’s not only problems of male versus female, and not only of homosexual v. hetereosexual, but also of the lesbian versus male gay. I wrote my dissertation on lesbians within NGOs, and specifically found they were ignored in the aims and goals of these organisations as being too much of a minority and too much of a risk to address in either women’s rights or gay rights and simply assimilated them into their majority (straight women and gay men, respectively) so…I could go on about this subject for years but shall stop there. we should talk more about this 🙂

    I’ll keep reading, love it!

  3. Such an interesting article. My experience of lesbian feminism is more over time, within the political groups I have been a part of. It’s kind of an organic point of view; we’re in the advanced class and don’t do feminism 101, it’s a part of our lives. I don’t think a bar would really much of place to discuss nuanced political ideas of any kind with women. I recall recently, a lesbian wanted to talk about financial issues and small business concern, but many women wrote to her and said they didn’t want this type of personal discussion on a FB page.

    Each generation has a different idea of feminism, and sometimes you have to provide a generic definition of feminism, and then all women seem to agree with it. E.G. equal pay for equal work, no state laws limiting access to birth control, equal access to education, childcare more available, women getting proper legal protection, and end to rape etc. Equality between the sexes. Define feminism narrowly, and all women support just about all of its tenants.

    The young lesbian feminists out there can be found in socialist party meetings, in Occupy groups, in animal rights activism, in LGBT activism in general, but lesbian bars, well girls just wanna have fun there. It’s a pretty apolitical place for the most part. Best expand the territory of research.

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