A history of the emergence of identities and subcultures. Lillian Faderman's political argument is omnipresent, interpreting her source material: to take a random example from early on, she writes about social reformers, "Some of those women were cultural feminists, fueled by their belief that male values created the tragedies connected with industrialization, war, and mindless urbanization and that it was the responsibility of women, with their superior sensibilities, to straighten the world out again. Their love of women was at least in part the result of their moral chauvinism. Others were less convinced of women’s natural superiority, but they wanted to wrest from society the opportunities and training that would give women the advantages men had and thus permit them to be more whole as human beings. Their love of women was at least in part a search for allies to help wage the battle against women’s social impoverishment." In her introduction, she writes, "in the debate between the "essentialists"... and the "social constructionists"... my own research has led me to align myself on the side of the social constructionists." Throughout the book, she looks to identify the circumstances that led women toward or away from centering their emotional and erotic lives on other women, intertwined with a search for autonomy.
Faderman is not a graceful writer, but this is nonetheless an interesting pioneering work drawing on sources that are becoming increasingly available as more research is done. She interviewed nearly 200 women, too; that's the advantage of doing recent history. I found that the chapter on subcultures in the fifties and the one on the lesbian-feminist movement particularly caught my attention.