1970s Gender Race and Sexuality

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The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the development of second wave feminism, the women’s movement started in the twenties with the suffragette movement. Some (Socialist/Marxist Feminists) analysed women’s issues in terms of inequalities both in economic power and between the sexes.

For these women, while acknowledging that many inequalities were gender-related, there was also a need to work with men in order to promote change and social resolution. For others, (Radical Feminists) the oppression of women by men was deemed universal and supported other forms of oppression. For such women their interests were best pursued in women-only groups in the belief that the common interests of women outweighed any differences between them. For Black lesbians, however, the polarities were not so clear cut.

Any emphasis within the women’s movement on the universal nature of women’s experiences risked overlooking issues of race and racism, ‘There was no acceptance that oppression between women could exist, so racism was not seen as a women’s issue. (Valerie Mason-John and Ann Khambatta) ‘On the whole, Black lesbians remained silent and isolated. We were required to break our identities into acceptable fragments: we were Black in Black groups, women in the women’s movement and lesbians on the lesbian scene. There was no place, on the whole, to be a Black lesbian’ (Valerie Mason- John and Ann Khambatta).

In terms of framing their political action many Black lesbians were torn between their sexuality and their race – two inseparable elements of their identity. Nor was a separatist, all-female approach always comfortable for those who felt they had, ‘more in common with a Black man because he experiences racism and some forms of discrimination like I do’ (Marlene Bogle). For these women the fight against racism often took priority over the issue of their sexuality, while for others the complexities of their situation caused them to continue to remain isolated and invisible.

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