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social sciences

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Woman-Identified Woman  

"It is the primacy of women relating to women, of women creating a new consciousness of and with each other, which is at the heart of women's liberation, and the basis for the cultural revolution," wrote Charlotte Bunch in 1972, articulating the principle of the woman-identified woman that would be cornerstone of lesbian activism in the 1970s.

Although the concept of the woman-identified woman is particularly associated with the ferment of the late 1960s and 1970s from which it grew, it continues to be an important element in the consciousness of many lesbians, especially those who lived through those decades.

Sponsor Message.

As the spirit of rebellion began to break through the repressive atmosphere of the 1950s, several important liberation movements began, drawing strength from and offering inspiration to each other. The civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the women's movement, and gay liberation all influenced each other in significant ways. Nowhere is this influence more clearly seen than in the interrelationship between the feminism and the lesbianism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which gave rise to the concept of the woman-identified woman.

The Interrelationship of Feminism and Gay Liberation

The women's liberation movement that began to gain strength during the late 1960s challenged the idea that women were naturally subservient to men. At the same time, the gay liberation movement, which exploded into mainstream awareness with the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969, began to challenge the idea that homosexual identity was a shameful secret. Influenced by both of these emerging political forces, many young women began for the first time to feel proud of their identities, both as lesbians and as women.

Many feminists felt that for too long women had been defined only in relationship to men, as daughters, girlfriends, wives, and mothers. These women felt that many of the "personal" problems in their lives had roots in a male-identified system that demeaned women and kept them isolated from each other. By breaking silences and speaking together in "consciousness-raising" groups, many women began to seek political solutions to their personal problems.

Although many feminists were heterosexual and even , many of those who were prominent in the women's liberation movement were lesbians. A movement focused on advancing the rights of women inevitably attracted many lesbians, though many remained closeted. In addition, the vibrant connections and stimulating discussions of the women's liberation movement created fertile ground for intimate connections among women. Out of this exciting dialogue arose a new phenomenon: the political lesbian, who recognized her attraction to other women through the ideals of feminism.

Within the gay liberation movement, though there were many lesbians who did not identify with women's liberation, many other young lesbians were also feminists. These feminist dykes often felt more connection to straight women than they did to gay men, who they felt could be as misogynistic as straight men. These lesbian-feminists, as they called themselves, began to develop a political analysis of female-ness that did not define women in terms of men.

The Woman-Identified Woman

The "woman-identified woman" defined herself without reference to male-dominated societal structures. She gained her sense of identity not from the men she related to, but from her internal sense of self and from ideals of nurturing, community, and cooperation that she defined as female.

The love, sexuality, and energy of the woman-identified woman were focused on herself and other women, rather than on men or male institutions. In a society that despised and belittled women, many lesbian-feminists felt that loving oneself and other women was the most radical act a woman could perform.

Lesbian Separatism

The radical politics that led to the growth of the idea of the woman-identified woman culminated in lesbian separatism, where lesbians tried to focus their emotional and physical energy on lesbians alone.

Separatism led to many contradictions, particularly for the mothers of sons, and eventually most lesbians rejected separatism as a viable life style. However, the concept of the woman-identified woman is still important to many lesbians who came of age during the early 1970s.

Indeed, the hard-won pride of identifying as a woman makes it difficult for many middle-aged lesbian-feminists to appreciate the deconstruction of gender that became such an important part of the politics of young at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Tina Gianoulis


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social sciences >> Overview:  Lesbian Feminism

The dominant ideology among politicized lesbians during the 1970s and 1980s, Lesbian Feminism was based on the premise that lesbianism and feminism were inextricably linked.

social sciences >> Overview:  Lesbian Sex Wars

The lesbian "sex wars" of the 1980s, centered on issues of pornography and s/m, constituted one of the most significant debates among second-wave feminists in North America and Europe.

social sciences >> Overview:  Patriarchy

Patriarchy, literally "the rule of the fathers," is a social system in which men hold positions of power and women are oppressed and glbtq people are treated negatively.

social sciences >> Overview:  Women's Liberation Movement

The Women's Liberation Movement, which flourished during the 1970s, constitutes the largest and most widely publicized social movement of women in history.

social sciences >> Bunch, Charlotte

American activist and academic Charlotte Bunch is a key player in the movement for international human rights for women.

social sciences >> Lesbian Nation

Inspired by Jill Johnston's collection of essays of the same name, the term "lesbian nation" became a rallying cry for political lesbians of the 1970s.

social sciences >> National Organization for Women (NOW)

The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 with the goal of bringing about political, social, and legal equality for all women.

social sciences >> Radicalesbians

A short-lived but important group, the Radicalesbians was instrumental in bringing visibility to lesbians in the American feminist movement of the early 1970s.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.


Bunch, Charlotte. "Lesbians in Revolt."The Furies: Lesbian/Feminist Monthly 1 (January 1972): 8-9.

Lyon, Phyllis, and Del Martin. Lesbian/Woman. Volcano, Calif.: Volcano Press, 1972.

Radicalesbians. The Woman Identified Woman. Pittsburgh: Know, Inc., 1970.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Woman-Identified Woman  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated June 4, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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