Is The F-Word homophobic?

Following on from the comments over Samara’s post yesterday, I think it’s timely to re-state some general principles. The question has come up: is The F-Word heteronormative (meaning that we assume a heterosexual viewpoint, and marginalise or ignore the perspective of LGBT readers)? Or even drifting towards being homophobic?

We received an email (the full comment will appear in the monthly round-up) about Samara’s post, saying that:

My reason for thinking that this piece on the F word and others are homophobic is that you generally seem to be taking a stance that lesbians are only acceptable if they look like femme straight women.

And then:

Now there are of course, and always have been, femme lesbians around. But most of those I know are actually attracted to butch women. Yes some people do think butch lesbians are attractive. And the fact is, whether the F word wants to acknowledge it or not, there are still a huge number of lesbians who not only do look different from straight women, but want to look different from straight women. I think it was called ‘gay pride’ once upon a time. As in – we’re not ashamed of being lesbians and don’t want to pretend we’re straight.

Frankly, I was taken aback by the assertion that The F-Word is projecting some kind of judgement about what is attractive or “acceptable” in women – lesbian or not. This notion that butch lesbian woman, and/or straight women who do not go in for the whole femininity deal, are unattractive or “unacceptable”(!?), is not one which I think we propogate here. For one thing, it’s patently untrue.

We blog about, and feature many articles on lots of issues here, ranging from domestic violence and rape to sexist advertising. However, I think that reading what our contributors write with any frequency, will reveal that contributors to the F Word constantly challenge the notion that there’s any one way women ‘should’ look, or behave. That’s one of the key principles of how I interpret feminism, and I can’t imagine I’m alone in this. If our writers have not posted much about the sexiness of butch women, then I would suggest that it is not because we do not think that butch women are sexy (at least, certainly not some of us!), or are propogating some kind of heteronormative idea of beauty, but because we don’t really use The F Word blog to post about anyone much being sexy.

And one reason for that is that, as important as it is to blow apart narrow-minded notions of who is and is not attractive, I think it is also, or perhaps more, important to challenge the very notion that being sexy is all that significant. Women already have to contend with constantly being judged on whether we are ‘hot or not’.

On occasion, one of the bloggers or one of our other contributors, might mention the stereotype of “all feminists being ugly hairy-legged dykes”, for example. Just to clear up any possible confusion, referencing the fact that a) such a stereotype exists, b) it is designed to put women off feminism (or in the case of Samara’s post, certain shoes) by suggesting that it will make them unattractive to men, c) and that this can be a powerful deterrant to women who have absorbed messages about the necessity of being hair-free, pretty and heterosexual, does not imply that d) we think there is anything wrong or negative about having hairy legs, not conforming to mainstream beauty standards, or in any way endorse the homophobia explicit in the idea that it is insulting to be called a lesbian.

That said, of course I don’t want to dismiss this criticism, or any others. Comments like this help us to make sure we are clear about expressing our actual views, and, seeing as no one is perfect or immune from the (in this case) homophobia in our culture, it is always helpful to encounter robust criticism if/when our writing isn’t as clear as perhaps it should be. Please do feel free to feedback to us with your views. We’re always keen to accept your comments.

A final note.

I want to restate that posts that appear on The F-Word blog and indeed, the wider website do not represent an “official line” of any kind:

All blog posts are the views of the individual post author, and not those of The F-Word

And, although our tagline is “contemporary UK feminism”, we do not believe that feminism is monolithic, and therefore no particular feature, review or blog post by any contributor is going to represent the views and opinions of all the feminists who read us. We aim to provide a place to feature a wide range of UK feminist opinions, which is why we will link to, feature, and reference feminist voices from many different sources. We would not want to imply that the F word is the only source of feminism that anyone should refer to. We couldn’t hope to, and wouldn’t want to. Since Catherine launched The F-Word in 2001, nearly 200 different people, each with their own perspective within feminism, have contributed to The F Word. We want to carry on adding to that number – and we want to publish writing that represents the widest possible range of opinion. We couldn’t do this without your help – click here to find out how to contribute.

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