Zimmerman Blog: The (Risky) Nature of the Inclusive Approach to Lesbianism

“However, all inclusive definitions of lesbianism risk blurring the distinction between lesbian relationships and non-lesbian female friendships, or between lesbian identity and female-centered identity.  Some lesbian writers would deny that there are such distinctions, but this position is reductive and of mixed value to those who are developing lesbian criticism and theory and who may need limited and precise definitions.  In fact, reductionism is a serious problem in lesbian ideology.  Too often, we identify lesbian and woman, or feminist: we equate lesbianism with any close bonds between women or with political commitment to women…A similar problem arises when lesbian theorists redefine lesbianism politically, equating it with strength, independence, and resistance to patriarchy” (2337). 


Bonnie Zimmerman highlights the necessity for accepting and recognizing lesbian criticism, but also maintaining the differentiation between feminism, lesbianism, and ‘political commitment to women.’  Ensuring the lines are not blurred becomes crucial.  To paint female relationships as lesbian, all lesbians as feminists, and all those driven towards ‘political commitment to women’ as either decries the tremendous distinction between each ‘group’ – for lack of a better term.  It risks the assumption of an overarching, perhaps even stereotypical, categorization that inherently diminishes the autonomy of feminists, lesbians, and those with political drive dedicated towards women. 

While the urge to intertwine these terms may initially seem beneficial, as Zimmerman states, “reductionism is a serious problem in lesbian ideology” (2335).  It reminds me slightly of Wittig’s assertion about the gender system and groups – that a group should not dictate the individual, but rather individuals should comprise a group while retaining independence.  It may be a bit of a leap, but Zimmerman’s reluctance to submit to the reductive nature of “all inclusive definitions of lesbianism” recalled that claim in the sense that applying one broad definition to a spectrum does a disservice to every component.  The difference, though, is that Wittig ultimately argues for a group composed of independent individuals, whereas Zimmerman rejects the encompassing ‘label’ – (‘label,’ in this sense, also meaning the slippery nature of synonymy).  This also becomes detrimental when applied to literature; if a writer may be presumed lesbian, or if a lesbian criticism is applied to the text, then what specific connotations does that carry – is the text then pitted against patriarchy?  (This statement is intentionally broad as I think it falls in line with what Zimmerman warns against in this particular passage).   

One thought on “Zimmerman Blog: The (Risky) Nature of the Inclusive Approach to Lesbianism”

  1. I like the comparison you make here to Wittig’s prescription for identity politics – that the group should not define the individuals within it but rather the other way round. I am not sure about the separation of feminism from “political commitment to women,” although I suppose that is in some ways related to the ambiguity of the term “feminism” to begin with. I take Zimmerman’s point, though, about the risk of reductionism.

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