The Cultural Politics
of Abuse in Lesbian Relationships: Challenges for Community Action
Suzana Rose, Ph.D.
from an article of the same
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.