In last week’s blog post I made mention of the importance of voice and, in the spirit of championing a diversity of voices, I asked an old colleague and friend, Sarah Corney (@corney_sarah), who is passionate about LGBT rights to write something in celebration of LGBT History Month. Enjoy.
February is LGBT History Month (#LGBTHM18) and a moment to reflect on our #LGBThero (s). And so I found my thoughts returning to my early encounters with lesbians in literature. After reading The Well of Loneliness (yes, really!) at 19, I was surely ready for Rita Mae Brown’s breakthrough lesbian bildungsroman, RubyFruit Jungle and the sassy, sparky Molly Bolt. But my joy soon turned to disheartenment. As our hero Molly walks into a downtown lesbian bar and clocks the butch clientele, she declares:
“What’s the point of being a lesbian if a woman is going to look and act like an imitation man? Hell, if I wanted a man, I’ll get the real thing not one of these chippies.”
Rather than viewing the butches at the bar as people who subvert and challenge gender identity, they’re viewed as women who embrace patriarchy’s strict binary codes. But, it seems to me that Brown was also seeking to change social attitudes by claiming legitimacy for an emergent (real, femme) lesbian identity, by setting it up in opposition to the (delegitimised, butch) Other. Can we only have #LGBTHeroes if there are #LGBTVillains?
February 2018 also sees the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which extended the franchise to women over 30 (as well as adding 5.6 million more men to the electoral register).
This anniversary has seen much comment on the subject of how much has changed in 100 years. And watching this clip from 1970 election night special – and the supernova levels of condescension meted out to Janet (now Baroness) Fookes – it’s true that sexism is at least (generally) less overt than it was in my mother’s day. But with the backdrop of #MeToo and almost-daily scandals (the Presidents Club and the ‘swimsuit sexism’ of the gambling industry just the latest), there’s also much reflection on how much more needs to change.
Women may have won many legal rights over the past 100 years, but we have yet to live in an equal society. Many of the old structures of patriarchal power are still in place.
Never underestimate the size of the task to reverse all history since time began. To recreate society so women are fully equal to men, we are making a revolution more radically profound than any other ever. Forget French or Russian political revolutions, liberation for women means digging up the roots of human culture, nothing less. (Polly Toynbee)
So it was depressing to read of the current battle within the Labour party between (some) feminists and (some) trans activists over access to all-women shortlists. As Gaby Hinsliff writes in The Guardian, “it seems odd … to exclude a minority not currently represented in parliament from measures to make it more representative’.
If gender equality is a revolution that means nothing less ‘than digging up the roots of human culture’ there is neither room nor time for internecine squabbles. Legitimising and empowering one group by Other-ing another undermines the broader momentum for change.
Radical change is only possible when we don’t merely accommodate but celebrate difference and work together to deconstruct the neo-liberalist, patriarchal paradigm to build a more equitable society. Progressive political alliances, rainbow LGBTQI networks and intersectional feminism all recognise, as Jo Cox put it in her maiden speech to Parliament, that ‘we have more in common than that which divides us’.