Lesbian Bodies: Tribades, Tomboys and Tarts

Barbara Creed
“Normal Woman”
 Women are already threatening in the “normal” state (p. 112, top):
“Unlike the male body, the proper female body is penetrable,
changes shape, swells, gives birth, contracts, lactates, bleeds.
Woman’s body reminds man of his ‘debt to nature’ and as such
threatens to collapse the boundary between human and animal,
civilized and uncivilized (Kristeva 1982: 102). Bakhtin argued that the
essentially grotesque body was that of the pregnant, birth-giving
woman (1984: 339). When man is rendered grotesque, his body is
usually feminized (Creed 1993; 122); it is penetrated, changes shape,
swells, bleeds, is cut open, grows hair and fangs. Insofar as woman’s
body signifies the human potential to return to a more primitive
state of being, her image is accordingly manipulated, shaped,
altered, stereotyped to point to the dangers that threaten
civilization from all sides” (112).
 Animalistic
 Earth Mother
 Witch (forest gatherings)
 Garden / snake
Tomboy, Tribade, Butch
Image of the
“Feminine sexuality
is put into crisis
and finally
recuperated into
the dominant
patriarchal order . .
. “ (112).
Likened to Freud’s
notions (116-117).
1) 2 sexes, but one is
(the female)
2) Penis Envy
3) Rivaling the Father
4) Inferior Orgasm
5) Masturbation and
Woman is man, but an
inferior model (the
genitals fail to grow
outside of the body)
Female reproductive/sex
organs have no names.
Ovaries are “female
testes,” vagina is inverted
Vagina has no name
before 1700 and clitoris
is not part of the model.
Women and their sexuality are
defined in relationship to male
sexuality, which is the superior norm.
Therefore, lesbians are likened to
males, rather than having their own
Tribade: Woman who assumes a male role in sex
with another woman (rubbing genitals).
Large enough clitoris: Deemed a “man” and could
take on that power that gets assigned to people
with penises.
Oversized or regular clitoris: Deemed a “woman”
with oversized clitoris (burned at stake or
Large clitoris bad, large penis good (otherwise
perceived threat to social order)
Early 20th Century: Masturbation thought to
enlarge clitoris and cause women to become
Notion that there are two
(one is thought to be an
inversion of the other)
Notion that there are
many sexualities
(many genders, sexual
identities, etc.)
“gender queer” – not
conforming to
Freud was the first to imply a connection between the
biological and psychological.
At the same time (20th Century), theory of devolution (men
were evolving but all women and some men were
devolving into animals).
Feminists in the mid and late 20th Century are first to
imply connection between the biological and the cultural
(power structures)
Queer theory (1990’s) proposes that sexuality is diverse
and not binary or LGBT.
But most people are still using the 19th Century model of
homosexual vs. heterosexual.
Unfortunately, technologies are reinforcing these gender
norms--e.g., surgery to make the clitoris (and other
organs) smaller.
Even animal sex wasn’t
understood very well (see beliefs
about animal sex).
On one hand, likened to animals
(“what will be next—sex with
On the other hand, the argument
that “animals don’t have sex that
way, so it’s not natural.”
Animals represent that which is
“natural” and that which is
depraved or inferior to humans at
the same time, as do women.
BTW: Homosexual sex is common
among many animal species (e.g.,
dolphins, apes), but since when
does animal sex become the norm
for human sex?
Femmes (vs. Butch)
Movie Characters
(Single White Female,
Body Double)
Magnifies the existing
idea that the “normal”
woman is self-obsessed

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