Lesbians in U.S. History Sexuality Thesis
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In other words, World War II produced an important shift in both mentality and reality. Although many of the women who had been employed during the war returned to being homemakers, there was also a significant percentage which managed to reconcile being a mother and a wife with work. Also, despite the fact that their wages were far from being equal to those of men, their contribution to the income of the household was welcome and in most cases, made a real difference as far as the economic demands of the family (Kessler-Harris: 280). Moreover this shift paved the way for the 1950s when a new set of ideas entered American society and seriously challenged both the labor market and social conventions. Gay bars started to appear, and although they were underground and hard to find even for members of the homosexual community, their emergence favored freedom of expression even if mainstream acceptance of gays and lesbians was still unconceivable. Everything was to change for both women and minorities in the 1950s and 1960s. In order to fully understand the importance of 1960s as far as the development of social movements, it is very important to look at the definition of identity as a sociological concept: "meanings a person attributes to the self as an object in a social situation or social role" (Burke 1980, p. 18 in Demo; Hughes: 364). From a historical standpoint, gays and lesbians have been treated differently by mass culture in the sense that they have related to television, music, film, fashion etc. through an alternative channel which operates within what we refer to as "mass culture." This special interaction generated a rather logical consequence; gay and lesbian culture producers and consumers alike started to wonder how they could access mainstream culture without losing their sense of identity which, in turn, created an opposition between their minority and everything that mainstream culture stood for. At the heart of this opposition lies a more profound one that has been coined and reaffirmed in relation to the public space. In this sense, there is a philosophical question to consider when referring to the interaction between heterosexuality and homosexuality; this question related to the manner of expression of a heterosexual couple as opposed to a homosexual one. Diana Fuss argues that, "like so many other conventional binaries, has always been constructed on the foundations of another related opposition: the couple 'inside' and 'outside.'" (Fuss in Creekmure: 2) However, these initially clearly defined social boundaries have been challenged and redesigned by the participation of both gays and lesbians in mainstream culture. These boundaries were truly challenged for the first time in the 1960s when the influence of the civil rights movement triggered a women's liberation movement. Moreover, gay politics - as the movement for sexual freedom was called - centered on revealing what had been hidden for so many decades, and assuming one's identity. In turn, this also meant that light was being shed on the relationship between sexual minorities and mass culture. When referring to this issue, one cannot overlook several extremely significant critics, such as Robin Wood, Caroline Sheldon and Richard Dyer, who largely contributed to the birth and development of gay and lesbian press in the United States, England and Canada. These people were keen on showing that gay and lesbian writers had the responsibility of assuming their sexual identities, as well as the way in which their sexual orientation had influenced their critical perspective. This resulted into more autobiographical works such as music, film, books, etc. which now included openly erotic descriptions of their authors' personal experience. The beginning of the 1950s saw little change as far as the perception of women. Women's movement was becoming more and more active, but this decade was full of contradictions for homosexuals because they were still labeled as mentally ill. However, things would change as the gay and lesbian communities alike were much stronger thanks to their ability to mobilize and form organizations to promote their rights. The Daughters of Bilitis was an organization for lesbians which was founded in 1955. They published the Ladder, a magazine whose existence spanned from 1956 until 1972, aiming at offering a feminine outlook on issues relevant to the gay community. The rebirth of the Feminist Movement of the 1950s was attributed to a great extent to the publication of
Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mistique" (Freeman: 798), a book which encouraged women to liberate themselves from the social conventions which kept them confined to the domestic space and role. The main goal of Feminism, at least during its early stages, was to seek equality between men and women. The existing inequalities were assessed in a report issued by the Commission on the Status of Women - that had been created by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy - which presented the inequalities in the American workforce that were based on sex discrimination (Freeman: 797). Also, it is very important to note that the Feminist Movement was developed by women who had been involved in antiwar or civil rights movements; since discrimination employs the same tactics irrespective of its nature - based on sex, race etc. - these women employed the same strategies as in the case of the Civil Rights Movement (Freeman: 806).
Women's concerns were represented on two levels. First, their cause needed to be heard at a higher level, i.e. At the level of decision making where legislation could be passed to improve the condition of women. To this aim, the National Organization for Women was founded in 1966 whose leaders pressured politicians to work on legislation that would decrease inequalities between men and women. Secondly, women needed support as far as their main causes were concerned; issues like abortion, employment and domestic violence became the focus of numerous organizations such as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Women Organized for Employment, and Women Office Workers. These organizations advocated personal change as a means of understanding the political change needed and desired by Feminists. Their activity was extremely important, and the result was a huge improvement in the quality of women's life; the best example is that by 1970, around 40% of women worked outside the domestic space.
The Gay Movement was born in the 1960s and followed the pattern of the civil rights and feminist movements that marked the same decade. Although a civil rights agenda concerning gay rights was deeply needed, it took several years until all the necessary elements were joined together so that a proper civil rights agenda could penetrate national politics. Similarly to women and racial minorities, gays and lesbians felt the need to understand social misconceptions of homosexuality which were nothing but the result of heterosexual domination. Once understood, these misconceptions could be dealt with and ultimately destroyed.
The 1970s were defined by rapid development as far as a homosexual community throughout the United States. This community was endowed with a few very important characteristics: it was visible, bold and revolutionary as its main goal was to redefine gender roles. However, it was during this particular decade that the lesbian community was faced with another kind of confrontation. Feminist organizations were now frowning upon lesbians, and were more than reluctant to accept them as members. This was explained by the fact that the leaders of women's organizations believed that heterosexual women's battle for equal treatment as men was hindered by the lesbians' own struggle for equal rights as the heterosexual majority. However, this state of affairs had one positive consequence, i.e. lesbians were now able to define themselves. They were free from the "mentally ill" label, so they could now choose how they wanted to live as far as family units.
Nonetheless, this freedom came at a cost. Lesbian self-determination generated a severe split between the lesbian and gay communities. This split was also caused by the fact that their apparent unity was solely based on a common cause. By the 1970s it became obvious that homosexuality could not unify a heterogeneous group with virtually nothing in common. The two communities were separated in terms of ideals as well as a set of concerns such as "pornography, pederasty, equal rights for women, sexism and public sex" (Tully: 40). Moreover, the early gay movement was led by gay men who did not concern themselves with the issues that lesbians were faced with, and this lack of interest and attention only increased the gap between gays and lesbians as sexual minorities. In fact, this split has not been resolved up to the present.
Gay and Lesbian Politics was focused on understanding the "historical interrelationships between religious and psychological constructs of homosexuality" (Hunt: 221) because these constructs were the basis of laws and were used as valid explanations in the political arena. This is why, in the beginning of the gay right movement, psychiatry was used to determine…
Sources Used in Documents:
Kessler-Harris, Alice. (1983). Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tully Carol T. (2000). Lesbians, Gays & the Empowerment Perspective. Columbia University Press.
Weeks, Jeffrey. (2003). Sexuality. New York: Routledge.
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