Front Page Titles (by Subject) Lesbianism vs. Cultural Oppression - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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Lesbianism vs. Cultural Oppression - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Lesbianism vs. Cultural Oppression
“Women Alone Stir My Imagination”: Lesbianism and the Cultural Tradition.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 4(1979):718–739.
As history tends to bury what it seeks to reject, lesbian literature has been trivialized, ignored and denied in the past fifty years. In this article, Blanche Wiesen Cook explores the prejudice against women authors such as Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Alice Tolklas because of their sexual preferences.
Cook describes the attitudes which lesbian feminist works rebelled against: attitudes that refuse to permit women to survive except in relation with, and in service to, men. Lesbians have been misconceived and cruelly stereotyped as passionate, distraught women destined to tragedy, abuse, and abandonment. “Denied access to an accurate historical record [of individual lesbians], we knew only that our foresisters wore neckties, and committed suicide. Modeled on a culture that celebrated only tough men and fey women, ‘butch’ and ‘femme,’ lesbian culture was not an egalitarian feminist society. Moreover, it existed only at night.”
In reality, “They wrote books about passionate little girls, death, and abandonment.” Olivia (1949) by Dorothy Stachey Bussy, is an excellent example of this genre. Virginia Woolf’s novelistic themes of social criticism and sexual politics have largely passed unnoticed. Instead, her editors (Nigel Nicolson and Quentin Bell) have emphasized her insanity, her alleged sexual frigidity and have classified the politics of her later years as ill-informed, naïve and dangerous to the state in wartime. Cook insists that to understand Virginia Woolf is to see the abiding anguish in her life “. . . against a male-defined world that denied her access to the Cambridge education reserved for her brothers; against a male-defined world that sat in judgement, as it continues to sit, upon her every vision, her every word.”
Lesbian love has been presented as joyless, turgid, maudlin, and shameful. Lovat Dickson’s book Radclyffe Hall at the Well of Loneliness dangerously reinforced the stereotype of lesbianism. Dickson defines a lesbian as “more man than girl,” and separates physical sex from any kind of emotional feeling.
Cook concludes saying, “Dangerous bigotry and a cruel foolishness. . . are still capable of wrecking joy, depriving people of job security, severing mother from child.” The issue, she says, is not really lesbianism. “What our dominant society so fundamentally opposes is women’s independent access to our own erotic power.” This “erotic power”—defined here as “love in all its aspects—born of chaos and personifying creative power and harmony. . . an assertion of the life-force of women. . .” Independent, life-affirming, womenloving women so empowered are dangerous, says Cook, but such empowered women may look forward to a future both feminist and classless.