Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lesbians, Women and Equality

As the endless struggle for equal pay has illustrated, women we have a long journey ahead of us before we can see any semblance of equality. After much struggle, women are now citizens of the USA who can vote and try for almost any job as long as it is not too high profile like being president or hosting a late night talk show. But we are still limited by sexism which defines us by gender, appearance, social agility and acceptability to those males in power.  

Just yesterday I was searching the database NewPages for anthology and literary journal submission venues.The first “feminist” one I found had just run a special issue that contained the voices of male writers expounding on the subject of women. The second one was soliciting for an upcoming issue on women’s relationships to “the men in our lives.” Seriously?

Let me make this clear: women are not to blame for sexism. Having said that, it is also imperative that we stop being collaborators! As Judy Grahn said in her poem, A Woman is Talking to Death, “We do each other in, that’s a fact!” Lesbians can be guilty of this just like our bib-dyke sisters, but since we have so much less power in society it hardly matters.

And there is the crux of the problem. When it comes to the big picture, our existence, our struggles are most often not even footnotes. The female equivalent of the male gay civil rights spokesperson doesn’t really exist. Harvey Milk, Tennessee Williams, Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, Tony Kushner, all these are names that come to mind historically when thinking about notable LGBTs. I know that Audre Lorde, Gertrude Stein and Adrienne Rich are notable lesbians, but as far as name recognition they are undoubtedly second tier.

The “problem” of the unapologetic lesbian is being dealt with inside the LGBT community where the word “queer” is now touted as a substitute for “lesbian” because it is more “inclusive.” I’m all for inclusion, but I also have to post the question, what exactly is being lost?

As that old movie “Tootsie” posited and the transgender MTF movement seems to express: men believe that they are better at absolutely everything and that includes being women! The truth is that yes, a less oppressed person has more distance from an issue and that makes both your self-image and everything you undertake, less fraught and therefore a bit easier.  

And, for many of us bio-broads, “being a woman” is not a set of feelings or behaviors. It is just a genetic fact, an anatomical category!

I respect transgender women. But they are raised with the privilege of growing up and being treated as males. Due to class issues, I am used to working alongside people of greater privilege. I don’t hate them. I just think that we all must acknowledge these differences and, as class warriors, fight the tendency to relinquish our power to those with greater access to theirs.

Women have come a great distance since acquiring the vote in 1920. Lesbians have made huge strides since Stonewall. But genuine equality is still a distant dream and ignoring this fact will not make it go away.