The Cultural Politics of Abuse in Lesbian Relationships: Challenges for Community Action

Reviewed by
Suzana Rose, Ph.D.
from an article of the same title by:
Janice L. Ristock

In N.V. Benokraitis (Ed.), Subtle Sexism: Current Practice and Prospects for Change (pp. 279-296), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997

To show that negative images of lesbians in popular culture make it difficult for lesbians to publicly acknowledge their identity, especially when experiencing abuse in intimate relationships.

Images from popular culture were summarized, including: (a) Female buddy films such as Leaving Normal, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Thelma and Louise that deny the existence of lesbians or a lesbian element, and (b) Psycho-femme films, such as Basic Instinct, that portray lesbians as killers.

Images in popular culture that portray lesbians as masochistic, as like men (e.g., killers), or as being sick make it difficult for lesbians to openly discuss problems of abuse in their relationships. Analyses of the dynamics of abuse based on heterosexual couples should not be applied to lesbians. Responses to open-ended survey questions are used to illustrate how homophobia and heterosexism influence lesbians' experience of abuse. Some lesbians report being abused in one relationship, but becoming the abuser in another. Described the CLOSE Project, a group of lesbian service providers formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and federally funded by Health Canada. The one year project was aimed at training and education about abuse in lesbian relationships. A needs assessment of lesbians and shelter workers was conducted and used to develop a 3-day training program for shelter/second-stage housing workers.

Differences between lesbian and heterosexual abuse need to be identified and training materials concerning these differences need to be aimed at both shelter workers and the lesbian community.

Reviewed by Suzanna Rose, Ph.D.

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