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in response to Daphne Patai

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 03/17/2000

At 6:10 PM -0800 3/16/00, Daphne Patai wrote:

Michelle wonders about the % of antiheterosexual writing within feminism. However, it's not a matter of the percentage of such writing (though I think if someone actually did such a study they'd find the heterophobic strain to be a persistent and recurring one within feminist discourse of the past thirty years) but rather of the prominence and visibility of this point of view.

"Phobia" denotes an irrational fear of something (which gay activists borrowed from psychiatric terminology as a counter to the argument that homosexuality is a psychopathology), and I simply do not see any prominent feminist upholding heterophobic views. What they often make is an analysis of heteronormativity, and yes, many feminists (either lesbian or not themselves) take the position of anti-heteronormativity. Given the level of persecution and violence that have been perpetuated by heteronormativity, to be fearful and critical of it is not irrational, but responsible.

Even the most classic (some would say archaic) lesbian-feminist manifesto, "Woman-Identified Woman" does not attack heterosexuality nor heterosexual people -- it is heteronormativity and the institution of heterosexual marriage that they are questioning, and lesbianism to them is a political strategy to undermine it rather than a goal that every woman should come to. You might disagree with this particular strategy (it does seem odd, as I did not become a lesbian out of my political commitment), but it is not "heterophobic."

Besides, while heterosexism (fueled by homophobia) is an institution prevalent in the society (think of all the social systems that irrationally assumes heteronormativity), "homosexism" or "heterophobia" is at best a localized phenomenon only found within some (but not all) queer circles, and does not amount to systematic discrimination or violence. If "heterophobia" in fact existed, it would only be a sentiment expressed by queers in response to the oppression they experience. It obviously does not have institutional power similar to heterosexism. Thus, "heterophobia" is not analogous to homophobia and the use of "-phobia" in this case is highly misleading.

However, I admit I haven't read Daphne's book yet, which I've been meaning to read for the last few months. I intend to visit the library today or this weekend and pick up a copy so I can make better assessment of your concepts. What I've written here is merely a response to your use of "-phobia" as in "heterophobia," and I'm sure you made an argument in defense of it in your book.

Emi K.
The Feminist Conspiracy (oh wait, are we feminist extremists?)