By

Fran Hayden

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It is unfeasible to explore the place a woman occupies in society without delving into most aspects of her life. Not as an act to strip her of her privacy of course, but because sexism isn’t confined to one area of her life. One woman may experience sexism in the workplace, in her relationship, in friendships, in the street, anywhere – it would be foolish to assume that her experiences are limited to just one area and one perpetrator. The Everyday Sexism Project (http://everydaysexism.com/) aims to ‘catalogue instances of sexism experienced by women on a day to day basis’. When reading the stories of these women, it is clear to see that sexism is prevalent everywhere – but you don’t need me to tell you that, do you? Feminists are not all “comfy shoe wearing, no bra wearing man haters” as Page 3 model Rhian Sugden described us in recent news. But if we were we’d embrace our free-flowing breasts and bare feet without question, and in turn, question why a fellow woman felt this way about those who are fighting for the right, her right, to own her body, her thoughts and her feelings which have so far been governed by the privileged male society that she is living in. However, this male dominated sphere isn’t the only space that women inhabit.

The LGBT community have, without question, long fought for equality. With the legalisation of same-sex marriage last year, it seemed that the integration of LGBT culture into mainstream society was on its way. As a lesbian myself, this success gave us the validity we had been searching for, but sadly, hasn’t cured society of the prejudices against those who identify as LGBT. It is acknowledged that, in spite of regular discrimination, this sub-culture is growing, and often professes an ‘anything goes’ attitude – but we’re all human right? There are a myriad of people who fall under the umbrella term ‘LGBT’ and there are bound to be issues within such a complex culture. Sexuality, identity and gender are often studied under a microscope and it is absurd to hold the belief that everything runs smoothly within a community that fluctuates so rapidly. So what can be said for the place that a woman and feminist occupies within this culture? The experience of the privileged male may transcend the experiences a woman undertakes in patriarchal society – but what happens when a woman enters the space of another marginalised culture? What happens to the idea of a woman when entrenched in a community whereby equality for all is desired?

Speaking as a lesbian and a woman anchored in this territory, I believe that although my ultimate goal is the same as that of a cis-woman, the reasons for my feminist values are somewhat different. The word ‘feminist’ often holds negative connotations, but the only grounds for this seems to be the fear of the strong woman and the inevitable attempt at silencing her voice – similarly, the word ‘lesbian’ is often viewed as ‘lesser’. One risks being labelled an ‘Angry Man-Hating Lesbian’ when speaking out about issues on gender equality – but that won’t stop me. When confessing my beliefs about the treatment of women in society, with the knowledge that I’m a lesbian, I’ve been faced with much criticism: people seem to assume that I hate men, or that I cannot be both a feminist and a lesbian. The gravitas behind this judgement seems to come from the idea that if I am attracted to women, I therefore can’t fight for equal rights. Sorry – what? “Feminism is a movement to empower women and equalize them in society. All women, everywhere. Conversely, lesbophobia is a movement to silence lesbians everywhere, to double-dose lesbians with sexism and homophobia and dare us to challenge that erasure of who and what we are.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-a-brownworth/why-do-straight-feminists-hate-lesbians_b_3695587.html) The uneducated suggestion that I can’t comment on women’s issues because I’m a lesbian, further shows how the male voice is attempting to hush the female tongue. Lesbians are consistently censored – in the late 1960s the National Organisation for Women (NOW) president, Betty Friedan, believed that ‘butch’ lesbians threatened the validity and image of radical feminism with their ‘mannish’ looks and ‘man-hating’ behaviour. Unfortunately, it seems that even now in the 21st century a strain of this judgement is still ubiquitous. If this is the prominent image that people hold of a feminist lesbian, then it discounts the experience of those who are not ‘butch’ or ‘man-hating’. Identifying as a femme lesbian, the fact that feminism does not value the experiences of ‘butch’ women is bad, but the obvious elimination of any other ‘type’ of lesbian is worse. This, however, doesn’t stop lesbian women adopting and fighting for feminist issues.

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I have often been at the receiving end of comments from men who seem to believe that my feminine appearance grants them access to my sex life. The power of feminism has often been my saviour in this kind of situation – when ‘coming out’ to someone as a lesbian, there are a whole plethora of questions and comments that are thrown your way. The best borders on a happy ignorance, the ‘I don’t care either way’ attitude, and the worst usually from men. The fact that I’m a woman occupying a space outside of their understanding seems to give them ammunition to abuse their masculine powers. Often, I am faced with pushy statements reflecting that they’d like to be involved in sexual activity with myself and my partner, as if sex dictates the entirety of my being. In the face of this downright ignorant attitude, I generally stand my ground and defend my position as both a lesbian and a woman. The comments I have recieved of this calibre are endless, showing that – once again – male want takes precedance over female right. Men see it as their right to dominate over women regardless of sexuality, and make them feel that they could do x, y or z, if they wanted to. Furthermore, this behaviour advocates the patriarchal idea that women are sexually available to them, eradicating same sex relationships in favour of satisfying a male fantasy – the accessibility of lesbians to the male population. “Femme-looking lesbians…are constantly told that they “don’t look like a lesbian,” or that they should get a “real” man. Butch lesbians are told that they should stop trying to be men. Lesbian couples are harassed. Young lesbians are told that they are just going through a phase and haven’t met the right man. Lesbians are targets, for discrimination, for sexual harassment, for violence.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victoria-a-brownworth/why-do-straight-feminists-hate-lesbians_b_3695587.html)

This experience of being a woman within LGBT culture isn’t exclusive to lesbianism. When a woman has a friendship with a gay man, it is rare that sexual politics are in play, gay men are often seen as an ally to women. It is well-known that women find solitude within the gay community with a large quantity of women enjoy having a friendship with a gay man because they feel that there is no sexual threat, this should then, therefore, extinguish any kind of sexist objectification against women, right? Not necessarily. The attention of a gay man seems to offer validation to some women – but is this still not unwanted sexual attention? A gay man exclaiming “it doesn’t matter, I’m gay” shouldn’t automatically make it ok for you to vanquish any right that you, as a woman, have over who gets to touch your body. Actress Rose McGowan publicly stated that “gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so”, and sometimes, I have to agree.

Us feminists have habitually tried to reclaim our tongue. There have been numerous protests and articles circulating about the ownership of words such as ‘cunt’ and ‘slut’ – reclaiming these words as feminine gives strength to them. The word ‘cunt’ is the most explicit and feminine word used to describe the female sex organ; the word ‘slut’ represents the act of female sexual fluidity. Current societal views have attached a negative stigma to both, showcasing them as repugnant and unfavourable under the scrutiny of the privileged male. It seems that women are never going to achieve full autonomy over the usage of these words, they’re too fully-integrated in male culture. Those who identify as bisexual are often the victims of abused language use, ‘biphobia manifests in many ways but one of the most common is slut-shaming; the belief that bisexuals (regardless of gender) cannot be monogamous’ being the main prejudice. Women and men don’t acknowledge that being a ‘slut’ is not necessarily a bad thing, that those who are bisexual are expressing the ownership they have over their bodies and the freedom they have within sex. ‘The demand for sexual freedom is entry-level, user-friendly feminism and it’s hard to argue with. The feminist movement is huge and nebulous and can be intimidating to outsiders but… slut-shaming, sexual agency and the politics of consent are high on the agenda for most of us, and affords an empathic kinship between bisexual and feminist subcultures.’ (http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2012/03/bisexuality_and)

Cis-men are not the only culprits of evolving female language to suit their own purposes – gay men, it seems, are also in favour of taking the female tongue. Much like mainstream society, words such as ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ are often thrown around within the gay sphere to exemplify less favourable characteristics. It gets worse, the most obvious uncultivated expression against femininity is the term ‘Queen’ – a ‘Queen’ within gay culture is used to describe a flamboyant and effeminate man. Naively, in doing this, gay men have ultimately relinquished the ultimate privilege that a woman can ‘own’ – a Queen rules, she is powerful and dictates, in claiming this word as their own, gay men have shunned the women who share their space. By this standard, not only can women not be a Queen, but women have to suffer under a dictatorship in which a man asserts this role as his. Women are often viewed as ‘second’ to the gay man, seen in the usage of ‘Queen’, further to this, gay men often fondly refer to their female friends as ‘fag hags’. Although this is meant to be a friendly nickname, it holds misogynistic connotations – in placing women within the collective of ‘fag hags’, their individuality as people is being discarded. Women almost become an accessory to the gay man, a handbag or something similar, and in doing so allow themselves to be treated in such a manner women are, by default, becoming an accessory to the murder of their own womanhood.

Respect, however, works both ways – singer Azealia Banks recently slandered gay columnist Perez Hilton in naming him a ‘faggot’. This kind of language seems to only be acceptable when used by a gay man – anything outside of that is homophobia as the word is a negative slur against homosexuality. The fact that Banks, as an influential woman, has claimed ownership over this word in a public setting, endorses acts of homophobia: neither gay men or Banks are wrong in their usage of such terms, but neither are right. Society has become so used to using these words that, unfortunately, they have bizarrely become accepted – but when a cis-woman in the public eye feels that it is ok to belittle LGBT people in this way, gay men are hardly likely to change the language they use to be more woman friendly – it’s a catch-22 situation.

Perhaps the community within LGBT culture that struggles the most with acceptance is those who identify as transgender. Prejudice against those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual is alive and kicking, but the queer lifestyle is relatively commonplace in society – it is undoubtedly more difficult to be trans in mainstream society, than it is to be gay. ‘Transgender people represent an imminent threat to many of the patriarchal power structures and arguments that support them. [They] blur the lines of what it supposedly “means” to be a man or a woman; [they] obliterate conventional definitions of sexual orientation and sexuality [and they] lie at the intersection of so many forms of oppression (sexism, homophobia, racism)’. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brynn-tannehill/feminist-issues-are-transgender-issues_b_5958012.html) Cis-women and cis-men often ignore the experiences of transpeople, keeping them at arms length – so what happens to those transwomen? Those who were prescribed a male gender at birth, yet present as female in later life? Often, they are rejected a space within the male and female lifestyles with some suggesting that although ‘trans women say that they are women because they may feel female’, their right to comment on the representation of ‘true’ females in society is redundant. ‘Anyone born a male retains male privilege in society; even if he chooses to live as a woman—and accept a correspondingly subordinate social position—the fact that he has a choice means that he can never understand what being a woman is really like. By extension, when transwomen demand to be accepted as women they are simply exercising another form of male entitlement.’ http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/04/woman-2)

Unfortunately it seems that the idea of transwomen being able to own their femininity is rejected – but women need all the support they can get, right? In a society where every ideal is asserted by the privileged male many women still choose, or have no choice but to live under the dictatorship of patriarchal ideology. This discrimination by women against those who identify as women, abdicates transwomen of their ownership of their bodies, their female ideas. If a cis-woman ignores the experiences of a transwoman in a male dominated culture, she is therefore advocating potential sexual abuse, objectification and sexist views about women – and that’s not ok by my standards. The fight that women and those who are LGBT undertake in mainstream society is tumultuous and long – the end is nowhere near in sight for either. Rather than drawing apart from one another, it is my belief that those who are marginalised should pull together and find strength – gaining support from wherever we can. Assertion breeds power, the men (and occasionally, women) who decide to hush the voices of those who dare speak out aren’t to be counted; stand up and find strength through your differences. “Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” – Joss Whedon.

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me

Often found curled around a good book drinking too much coffee, Fran fills her time with all things vintage, gritty movies, writing, travelling and LGBT issues (not to mention successes). She writes horoscopes for a well-known LGBT magazine and can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and dough with a cat roaming around her ankles.

If you like what she does, find her blog here https://franhayden.wordpress.com

Twitter @frannnh or Instagram @franhayden and say hello!