Oftentimes in organizational politics, it seems that the quest for widespread societal acceptance is partnered with the emphatic reflection of mainstream cultural attitude.  In an organization’s journey toward achieving general respect for its purpose, too often the organization seems to enable an over-identification between itself and the larger culture.  In Irvine’s work Disorders of Desire, she recounts the history of sexology and maps its different ideological attitudes; one of the deeply rooted tenets in sexology is the valorization of marriage and the nuclear family.  Early in its existence the field of sexology had to dig in its heels and fight for cultural acceptance, and part of how this was done was by citing the reparation of marriages as one of sexology’s primary objectives.  Irvine writes, “Scientific sexologists had always defended themselves against challengers to their cultural authority by stressing their connection to medical science, impugning the credentials and methods of rivals, and focusing their practices in areas of major concern to mainstream culture: the clarification and regularization of gender and the refinement of sex therapy techniques for the purpose of, as Time magazine phrased it in 1970, ‘repairing the conjugal bed,'” (Irvine, 102).  While it may not necessarily be bad for sexologists to try and improve the institution of marriage, the problem comes in when this is done without an examination of the patriarchal mechanisms of female control inherent in marriage and also when marriage is valorized at the expense of all other types of relationship organizations.  However, the valuing of a traditional marriage relationship is an attitude deeply supported by American culture, and thus by appealing to the this deep-seated cultural institution sexology saved its place at the table of serious and valuable practices.

Reflecting on this kind of cultural identification strategy, I am reminded of the attitudes of certain feminist organizers in 1969 in relation to what was eventually termed the Lavender Menace.  From America’s inception to 1969 and continuing on to today, mainstream American culture was/is homophobic.  While early feminist ideology was rather exclusionary in as far as it targeted the problems and interests of white, heterosexual, middle class women, it is my impression that many feminists of this time saw lesbianism as an empowered wayto be a woman-identified woman.  However, in 1969, tensions between lesbian feminists and straight feminist organizations such as the National Organization for Women came to a head.  Betty Friedan (author of The Feminine Mystique and then-president of NOW) is fabled to have been the one who coined the term “Lavender Menace” when she was describing the threat lesbian feminist members posed to the potential achievement of NOW’s goals in American society.  Her argument seemed to be along these lines: since the greater culture is homophobic, the presence of lesbians in feminist organizations or the pursuit of lesbian objectives by these organizations would deteriorate mainstream society’s acceptance of feminist organizations and prevent them from making any gains towards feminist aims.  Thus it can be seen that in a struggle to be accepted by culture, some feminist organizations have attempted to mirror attitudes of mainstream society regarding homosexuality, sometimes at the expense of their own ideology.

By Rosalind Rini

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