Women’s History Month 2012: Rita Mae Brown

15 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate the author of a pioneering work of lesbian fiction: poet, writer, and activist Rita Mae Brown. Born in Pennsylvania in 1944, Brown grew up in Florida but moved to New York to finish her undergraduate work, receiving a BA in Classics and English from New York University. (She later received degrees in cinematography and a PhD in literature.) Her early work was poetry with a strong feminist bent.

In 1973, Brown published her first novel, the groundbreaking Rubyfruit Jungle. A strongly feminist novel, it also explores themes of lesbianism and bisexuality with an unusual frankness for its day. She has written a dozen other novels on a variety of themes, often harkening back to the ground she broke with her first book. She also writes a series of cozy mysteries (sharing credit with her cat) and has published 20 of these to great popularity.

As she completed her undergraduate work and began writing in the late 60s, Brown turned her attention to politics. She became active in the American Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the Gay Liberation movement and the feminist movement. She took an administrative position with the fledgling National Organization for Women, but angrily resigned over Betty Friedan’s anti-gay remarks and NOW’s attempts to distance itself from lesbian organizations. She played a leading role in the “Lavender Menace” zap of the Second Congress to Unite Women on May 1, 1970, which protested about Friedan’s remarks and the exclusion of lesbians from the women’s movement. In the early 1970s, she became a founding member of The Furies Collective, a lesbian feminist newspaper collective which held that heterosexuality was the root of all oppression. Brown is a firm believer in the broad spectrum of human sexuality, going so far as to say, “I don’t believe in straight or gay. I really don’t. I think we’re all degrees of bisexual.”

8 Responses to “Women’s History Month 2012: Rita Mae Brown”

  1. Cassie March 15, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    I had no idea she even existed – thank you so much for bringing her to my attention. I will be sure to read some of her work now. I’ll add it to my to-read.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 15, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      I’m so glad I was able to introduce you to our Rita Mae. Let me know what you think of her writing.

  2. Christine Noble March 15, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    “but angrily resigned over Betty Friedan’s anti-gay remarks and NOW’s attempts”

    I will never understand the insistence of disenfranchised groups of any kind contributing to the marginalization of other groups, but they all do it to some degree. I see gay men bashing PoC, PoC bashing religious minorities, religious minorities bashing women and round and round. Maybe one day people will understand that we are all just folk deserving of basic dignity.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm #


      I don’t get it either! It seems like we (marginalized populations) eat our own. Let us all remain optimistic.

      • Jay March 15, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

        Discussions regarding the Left’s tendency to fracture always make me recall the “Splitter!” scene from Life of Brian.

        Coalitions are hard to maintain. Sometimes having a common enemy is what is required (Churchill and FDR and Stalin only makes sense as an alliance when one considers…Hitler). A milder version of this could be seen in 2008: I doubt our nation would have elected an African American if there hadn’t been such a collective national disgust with the Shrub, and by extension the Shrub’s Party.

        The Republicans are usually pretty good at falling into line, but this year’s primary battle is an exception. It is pretty funny to watch the chortling glee on MSNBC at Romney’s inability to close the deal. I don’t blame Rachel and Ed at all–normally the shoe is on the other foot, and it is the right-wingers who get to chuckle at the hapless and disorganized Left.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 16, 2012 at 9:06 am #

        Great observations, Jay. Yes, this year’s GOP primary battle has been a carnival show that has attracted the far right fringe groups from their caves. This fringe group has done a great job of fracturing the GOP.

  3. nevercontrary March 15, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    Beautiful woman. I am loving women’s history month. So many amazing woman.

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