Gay Women's Group and Radicalesbians
A core problem identified early by gay women within the Gay Lib group was the presence of sexism.
Gay Lib, itself heavily influenced by Women’s Lib, absorbed the messages of the Women’s Movement, and both men and women in the group began to question their own discriminatory attitudes towards women. After a regular Friday night meeting a women’s only Gay Women’s Group was formed to allow women to voice their needs without fear of male scrutiny.
Radicalesbians was formed when a young Jenny Pausaker and friends arrived in Melbourne fresh from London. Inspired by radical feminist theory which insisted on women’s need to organise separately and to combat the centrality of male power, groups such as Radicalesbians changed the dynamic of Melbourne Gay Liberation and indeed of the Women’s Liberation movement which in the early years had itself been discriminatory towards lesbians. Politically active gay women had to make the choice whether to withdraw socially and politically from men, whether to separate and join the Women’s Lib Movement, or to stay with Gay Lib and retain solidarity ties with Gay Lib men.
As reported in the July 1973 issues of the Melbourne Gay Liberation Newsletter:
“Recently the group has mainly been involved with organising the R/L (Radicalesbians) Conference… to raise money for the conference we took over most of the organising for the last Gay Liberation Dance and took some of the profits. Consequently we had the idea of running a Women’s Dance, to be held after the Conference. Women’s Dances [are] quite common in the States, are an important part of the feminist culture we must establish to create that revolution. Any sister who wants to contribute to this dance concert should get in touch with us. We feel this will be an important. The ordinary Gay Liberation Dances, like everything else in this sexist society, are run by men. If women are ever to become liberated we must control and run our own lives – including our own entertainment.”
SEXISM IN GAY LIB
The following is a brief summary of the issues which were discussed at the women's meeting - 14/2/73.
(1) A major problem is that of women speaking out at the general meetings. Many felt that the guys were not interested in what they had to say and that much of what they did say was treated in a patronizing manner. Many were put off by having to raise their voices and to vie with constant interruptions. We feel that if women say nothing they are regarded as submissive and passive whereas if the men say nothing they are regarded as silent quiet types - certainly not as submissive and passive. We also feel that if the women become heated they are seen as bitchy, aggressive and over emotional whereas the men are viewed as strong, assertive and rational.
(2) We wondered to what extent the men feel threatened by female sexuality and vice versa. (Studies in this area indicate that many homosexual men reveal a fear of and aversion to female genitalia.) Significantly fewer heterosexual men reveal similar fears. No-one had read any studies on the attitude of lesbians to male genitalia). If Gay Lib is concerned with the breaking down of sexual roles then our possible non-relating in the sexual area must affect the total relating situation. We felt there was a real need to at least talk about this problem.
We wondered to what extent camp men resent camp women because they deny the former's sexuality and vice versa. If camp men do not respond to camp women sexually then how do they respond since 'normal' social conditioning brings men up to treat women as sexual objects? Do camp men respond better to 'femme' of 'butch' lesbians?
Do the men and women in gay lib 'feat' that cuddling etc between the men and women will lead to sexual involvement?
(3) Who is more concerned with sexism in gay lib - men or women? We felt probably the women because they feel oppressed both as lesbians and as women.
Are we being sexist in having women's meetings, parties etc? No. We felt the need to call these meetings was more a reaction to sexism than a sexist act per se. Our aim is not to separate from Gay Lib but to consolidate in order to unite better with the movement.
(4) The men who say they are not aware of being chauvinistic are either (a) genuinely unaware and need their consciousness raised or (b) super-chauvinistic in that they have so totally identified with the oppressor-oppressed situation they are completely ignorant of it's existence. Noone, male or female can hope to have escaped the effects of conditioning. Men who claim they are not chauvinistic and never have been are virtually saying they are some kind of super-men who exist in a vacuum outside society.
(5) To what extent do camp women 'pride' themselves on the relative chastity of the lesbian group? It was generally agreed that the female group is less 'promiscuous' and that this is a result of female conditioning i.e. women are brought up to be more passive in their search for partners and to believe that they should wait for 'the right person'. Men also reflect the impact of their socialization by the straight world. Should women be less inhibited in relating sexually to each other? Are they only supporting a myth which suppresses them? If they do pride themselves on the relative chastity of their group are they then being sexist in their attitude to the men? (It was suggested that perhaps the women are jealous and that we should annouce a womens' beat immediately!)