by Susan Cavin
Lesbian feminism has often been scorned as a marginal political dogma. Susan Cavin, a lesbian feminist sociologist, advances a new theory of women's oppression and women's liberation, based on cross-cultural data. She holds that original human societies were woman-centered, with females greatly outnumbering males; men occupied a marginal position. When armed men overthrew women's societies they integrated themselves into society, breaking women's power.
"Female sexuality is the material content, the womb of social forms, and female sexuality is what turns society on," writes Cavin. "Men cannot make social forms without a female population base; but women can make social forms without a male base."
Examining the sex ratio of societies across the globe, Cavin challenges conventional wisdom about the "natural" numerical balance between the sexes. She finds a frequent occurrence of societies with a high-female sex ratio (54% or more female) among Africans, Pacific islanders and Native Americans (in both North and South America). Moreover, she finds that these cultures tend to subsist by hunting and gathering, with extended-family households centered around mothers' kin-groups and a lack of sharp social stratification in the culture. She thus hypothesizes that original human society had a high-female sex ratio. Cavin also finds that lesbian relations have existed in pre-industrial societies at every level of economy and subsistence pattern, with woman-to-woman marriage practiced in several African and Native American cultures.
Cavin disputes the liberal notion that sex separation invariably places women in a subordinate role. "The entrance of the mass of males into everyday residential contact with female society brings dominance hierarchies into society," she asserts. "These male dominance hierarchies economically, socially, and politically segregate the mass of women from positions of power in society." She also challenges standard feminist views of women's liberation, arguing that women will not win their freedom by integrating into male-dominated power structures: "Women's oppression is not the result of too much separation from men physically." Sex separation can be liberating for women, under the right conditions.
A maverick among sociologists, Cavin denounces "heterosexist biases lodged within the discipline [that] prevent sociologists from accurate observation of the sexual world and the world in general." She concludes: "I have attempted to present evidence from the other side, to redress this bias and provide a new theoretical framework (lesbian feminism) for the analysis of sex and society. Lesbian feminism has come out of the closet as one of the most revolutionary political and intellectual movements in the 20th century, and can no longer be ignored by sociologists and society."
"...Should be required reading in every feminist theory course. It is one of the most stimulating and original works to come out of the last five years of feminist thought... [Lesbian Origins] dares to deal with the whole question of origins in a new yet rigorous way." —Janice Raymond, Women's Review of Books
SUSAN CAVIN (1948‑2010) earned her Ph.D. in political sociology at Rutgers University. She taught women's studies, sociology, and lesbian and gay studies at Rutgers and New York University. A prolific researcher, writer and editor, she served as the first woman president of the Gay and Lesbian Press Association.
263 pages, 31 illustrations & 55 anthropological tables. Glossary, bibliography, index.
Paperback • ISBN: 978-0-910383-15-8 • Price: $12.
Hardcover • ISBN: 978-0-910383-16-5 • Price: $18.
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