Not in Conflict, But in Coalition: Imagining Lesbians at the Center of the Second Wave
Historical assessments of Second-Wave Feminism have often portrayed lesbian feminists as outsiders of the more popular organizations that have been, at least in scholarly accounts, depicted as the real driving forces behind the movement. The common narrative characterizes lesbian activists as forced into exile by heterosexual feminists attempting to appeal to a more general public. Such portraits are understandable given the openly homophobic views expressed by leaders such as Betty Friedan, who warned of the “lavender menace” and the threat lesbians presented to the success of the feminist movement. In this chapter, however, Claire Bond Potter argues that lesbian feminists played a central role in the Second Wave by forcing key leaders and organizations to grapple with differences across race, class, and sexuality. For example, sexual freedom was an important component of the movement, and lesbian feminists represented women who were uniquely defining sexuality entirely on their own terms without male influence. Lesbian feminists, in this respect, posed a direct challenge to the homogenous view of womanhood and forced society, as well as heterosexual feminists, to face differences across and among women. In addition, Potter argues that existing scholarship often ignores the many lesbians who did indeed play a central role in the Second Wave, even ignoring lesbians who remained active within Friedan’s National Organization of Women. Ultimately, Potter concludes that while lesbians certainly found conflict in the Second-Wave feminist movement, their very presence, and the way in which they challenged the assumptions of the movement, created a critical activist foundation crucial to the fights for gay marriage, gay motherhood, and gay rights in the decades that followed. Placing lesbians at the center of the Second-Wave movement brings their true legacy to light.