• Abhirami

Lavender Menace - A Movement

Abhirami B


What did Lavender Menace mean? It was a term used for lesbian people because they challenged the notions of heteronormativity in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The term was first used by Betty Friedan in 1969 in a National Organization of Women (NOW) meeting to describe why it would threaten the cause of the American Feminist movement to include lesbian issues. And what was her reason? It was because many straight and even some lesbian feminists, at the time, thought that addressing lesbian issues might slow down the liberation of women both economically and socially.


Let’s try and look at this objectively.


The issue here was this, a straight feminist woman Betty Friedan and others like her believed that, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Hey, the cause of lesbian people in itself is not so important now and more importantly cannot be included in the feminist movement”. Why? Because it questioned heteronormativity and the feminist movement could risk sounding like a “man-hating” movement which might hamper the goals of economic and social equality for women. Some may not see a problem with this, but, here’s the problem – excluding outspoken lesbian people from the “mainstream” American feminist movement would imply two things;

  • One could benefit from the feminist movement only if one was a straight woman. Which meant that only straight women were part of the feminist movement - that negated the cause and purpose of the Feminist movement in itself i.e. INCLUSIVITY.

  • By not including women and people of different sexualities, NOW and other feminist organizations like it, propagated not only the risk of non- inclusivity but also this – Only a certain type of women i.e. straight women defined the feminist movement and that they approved of heteronormativity, which if you look at, was really hypocritical of the movement’s original values (for those who understand the movement).

This resulted in many lesbian feminists leaving NOW and other feminist organizations, more like other straight feminist organizations, to form one of their own – Lavender Menace.


What came in as a term to neglect the lesbian feminist’s cause became a full-fledged group as a consequence of the exclusion of these individuals. The group which was formed in 1970, included prominent members like Rita Mae Brown, Lois Hart, Karla Jay, Barbara Love, Artemis March and Ellen Shumsky and many others who were part of the Gay Liberation Front and NOW. They together disrupted the 1970 Second Congress to Unite Women which was sponsored by NOW. Congress very consciously excluded all lesbian rights issues from the agenda.


It was quite remarkable what they did – the members cut off the electricity at the conference and assembled in the halls and when the lights were turned on they had T-shirts with the name “Lavender Menace” written on them in a slight lavender dye colour. They handed out manifestos that read “the Women-Identified Women”.

­As a result of this in 1971, NOW started including lesbian rights among its policies and gradually, lesbian rights became part of the key issues NOW addressed.

Why the colour lavender? It’s not exactly clear, but the LGBTQIA+ rights are associated with the colour lavender. One of the very important questions this movement raised was this; The Feminist Movement (the second wave of the U.S. Feminist Movement) and some groups associated with the movement like Redstockings focussed on “consciousness-raising” which can be summarized by the phrase “the personal is political.” If the personal was political, how could sexual identity not be taken into consideration i.e. how are women identifying with women and not men, not be a part of feminism?


Read that again.


Lavender Menace, all in all, not only questioned heteronormativity but also demanded inclusivity of lesbian feminists into the American feminist movement that they rightly deserved.

 

Abhirami is a second year undergraduate student majoring in English, Political Science and History. She enjoys writing (as you can see) and is in uncharted waters here i.e. the writing arena. She is a recently discovered existentialist ambivert who enjoys debating among other things. She relishes understanding and interpreting art and more often than not, stops by paintings and visual art with a rendition of pop culture in the digital form.

 

References

- Affinity.“Remembering the Lavender Menace”.

- Affinity. http://affinitymagazine.us/2016/10/22/ remembering-the-lavender-menace/

- Napikoski, Linda. "Lavender Menace: the Phrase, the Group, the Controversy."

- ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/lavender-menace-feminism-definition-3528970.

- Iovannone. Jeffry J. “Rita Mae Brown: Lavender Menace.” Medium, June 4, 2018, https:// medium.com/queer-history-for-the-people/rita-mae-brown-lavender-menace-759dd376b6bc.

- Affinity.“Remembering the Lavender Menace”. Affinity. http://affinitymagazine.us/2016/10/22/ remembering-the-lavender-menace/

- Napikoski, Linda. "Lavender Menace: the Phrase, the Group, the Controversy." ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/lavender-menace-feminism-definition-3528970.

- Iovannone. Jeffry J. “Rita Mae Brown: Lavender Menace.” Medium, June 4, 2018, https:// medium.com/queer-history-for-the-people/rita-mae-brown-lavender-menace-759dd376b6bc.