Sunday, October 01, 2006

Revolutionary Feminism, Sheila Jeffreys and a blast from the past...

I have written elsewhere on this blog about my early coming out days. This particular posting is about my first-ever meeting with honest-to-goodness lesbian feminists (other than occasional sightings in "Spare Rib" that is.) What got me thinking about this was that I happened to stumble upon an article about Sheila Jeffreys . She was one of the formative influences on my feminist politics in the early days. As I read this description of her, I am reminded of how much I changed after meeting her.

Remember I said that it was my ex husband's fault that I came out when I did, because he brought home a copy of "Spare Rib" ? (It was the mouthpiece for the Women's Liberation Movement in the early 70's in the United Kingdom.) Well, one service that Spare Rib provided was a listing of consciousness-raising groups throughout the British Isles. And, sure enough they had one listed for Bradford, West Yorkshire, where I was living at the time. The group was held mid-week at the University of Bradford. I took especially good care with my make-up that day, put on my best heels, a nice frock and my flared trench coat and off I went!

Okay, so I think I might have been the only straight gal there. Okay, and I think I might have been the only one in the room wearing lipstick. Or heels. Definitely the only one in a dress. Not another tasteful, flared trenchcoat in sight. Who am I kidding? I stuck out like a priest at a Hell's Angels convention.

There were about 7-8 women in the room. They mostly had short hair. Very short. Almost buzzed. And everyone to a girl, oops woman, had Doc. Marten boots on. And big men's shirts. And combat pants. In fact, most people there looked like they had just been recruited to the armed forces.

This is where I met Sheila Jeffreys. She was scary, but impressive. I swear to god she sneered at me. I became a lesbian right that moment, I swear to the goddess! Girls, I had NO idea what they were talking about. Remember what it's like when you first join a new club and everybody's talking about all the great times they've had together and using cultural short-hand that means nothing to you? It was like that. I felt ashamed immediately that I didn't look like them. I felt embarrassed by my heels and dress and can't swear to this, but suspect that I surreptitiously rubbed off the lipstick. Sheila was very vocal. I don't remember exactly what she was talking about, but I know that the women there talked about political lesbianism, about the personal being political (okay, I knew about that from reading Spare Rib, but the other stuff was beyond me at the time) and about patriarchy. I left there all fired up. The women scared and fascinated me and it was a while before I saw Sheila Jeffreys again. She was adored and hated in the West Yorkshire Feminist community - lesbians couldn't decide whether they were for her or against her and heterosexual feminists were mostly affronted and offended by her views which were passionately revolutionary.

Photos taken shortly after this document my slow transition from lipstick-wearing-suburban-wife to Doc. Marten-wearing-dyke. There's one particularly poignant photograph, where I'm wearing green bib overalls, with a black tee shirt and "Docs" but I still have my frizzy "big hair" perm and eye shadow. I was kind of like a half-dyke.

I identified as a "Rev/Rad Lesbian Separatist Feminist" for many years. Now? Not so much. I think I'm pretty radical, but not in the way that I was. Reading the article linked to Sheila's name above, I realize how far I've come from my early coming out days. I'm wearing make-up again. I didn't for years, but I do now. I'm not even sure why, and I find that I'm not even sure I knew why I stopped. I know that I wanted to fit in and I wanted Sheila Jeffreys to like me, wanted to be part of the club and that was the ticket through the door. Sheila was kind of like the mean school teacher, wagging her finger at you because you haven't done your homework.

In retrospect, meeting Sheila Jeffreys was life-changing. I think it didn't hurt to be confronted and to have to think about where I stood on the patriarchal battlefield. And I actually have come to think that being a lesbian femnist, with or without lipstick, is all by itself challenging to The Patriarchy. (Just don't tell her I said, that will you?)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog means a lot to me. I just stumbled upon it googling the term "feminist animation," and sure glad I found it. I am in the process of coming out, and I am so confused as to what really to do. I want to "fit in", as you mentioned, and find someone to spend my life with, but feel like I have to change somehow to do that. It makes me feel so much better to know that in your experience, all that matters in the end is just being, and accepting, yourself, regardless of who may like you.

Thank you again.


8:57 PM  
Blogger Sapphique said...

Mary, I'm glad that you stumbled on my blog, and hope that you keep stumbling by. Glad to "meet" you.

Coming out is a challenge, no matter what age you are. And yes, marching to your own beat is important. You will find your way. Others of us who have gone before are here to help and support. Keep stopping by.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I'm a middle aged grandmother who is confused about her sexuality--all that I know is that it isn't straight. The idea of attending a meeting of the sort you describe (if I could even find one in my area) is really daunting.

11:19 PM  
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6:06 PM  
Blogger jmc said...

Lipstick is my kryptonite! But I just can't seem to stay away from it. Love this blog and the queer woman who wrote it.

9:40 AM  
Blogger jmc said...

Lipstick is my kryptonite! But I just can't seem to stay away from it. Love this blog and the queer woman who wrote it.

9:49 AM  

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