Butch/Femme lesbians predominantly, as has been documented in multiple B/F history anthologies by Joan Nestle and other B/F lesbians from the 40s/50s, were about thirty years ahead of organized feminism in both beliefs and practices. Since Butch lesbians and Femme lesbians were both female, irrespective of slight differences in manner/dress, as individual lesbians they held women and each other in high regard. And within B/F relationships there existed a general/exclusive mutual respect and mutual exchanges of power, unlike hetero driven patriarchal relationships.
But outside the comfort of private B/F spaces, B/F's were often treated with suspicion/ostracized in the least and violence/raped/killed in the worst. Society wasn't/isn't ready for lesbian couples to exist as women loving women rather than fodder for the masturbatory fantasies of men. Butch lesbians threatened (threaten) hetero patriarchy first by carrying female so far out of the realm of female as its defined by men they compromised available descriptive language and hetero female confines. And second by giving/sharing/exchanging their power/bodies with other women only. Femme lesbians threatened hetero patriarchy by passing as straight then in turn, partnering with Butch lesbians (women). In doing so Femmes resisted male controlled pornofied lesbian titillation (Butch lesbians were viewed by hetero patriarchy as repugnant) replacing that male titillation with male fear. Fear for several reasons; fear because Femme's passed as straight causing males to worry their wives/girlfriends could potentially leave them for a woman (and a Butch woman at that) and fear because as a straight looking females, males couldn't control Femme desire or change the Butch direction Femme desires took. This radical way of femaleness put Femmes squarely in the crossfire of hetero male threats and violence.
Both Butches and Femmes routinely wore trousers long before it was acceptable by societal standards for women, both also were routinely harassed for doing so. Because Butch lesbians wore theirs with pulled back or cropped hair, they were presumed by hetero patriarchy as acting like men or worse trying to be men (get what men have). Butch lesbians were often stopped/questioned/searched by beat cops implementing the three articles of clothing law. This was an illegal made up law that allowed police to harass/arrest Butch lesbians who didn't conform to female dress codes outlined by men. If a (Butch) lesbian didn't have on at least three articles of women's clothing, she could be arrested/fined. There are many horror stories of B/F lesbians from the 40s/50s/60s being raped when in police custody, similar to South Africa's corrective rape practices today. These rapes were a way for male authority to shove their superiority as men, down the throats/vaginas (literally/figuratively) of Butch women whom they perceived as threats to their manhood and ownership of straight/straight appearing women. But regardless of the pressure/threat/violence of hetero patriarchy, Butch/Femme lesbians resisted hetero patriarchal conformity and in small pockets everywhere blazed trails of non organized feminism, lighting the way for the near future.
When the future did arrive, several decades later in the form of the Women's Liberation Movement, B/F lesbians enlisted in droves at their nearest Women's Lib Orgs ready to fight a war many had long been fighting alone. But were elite Women's Libber as enthused to induct B/F lesbians in their cause? The answer to that is a resounding NO! B/f (working class) Lesbian were quickly discouraged from joining/participating in Women's Lib Orgs by predominately straight classist leaders. Leaders who were much more invested in not offending mainstream society/men than revolutionizing the sexist Gender Straight Jacket keeping all women in check. Even the so called radical feminist (white middle class/academic) elite, many of which with straight privilege colonized lesbian identity while ousting actual lesbians who didn't fit their STRAIGHT criteria for lesbian right down to the kinds of sex THEY defined as lesbian sex! It was the straight white radical
In the forty years since then, little has changed in a faithful B/F representation or understanding by feminists/ radical feminist/the lesbian community as a whole and general society. In fact post Queer/Trans Theory/Politic were copious amounts of queer/trans have collectively mythologized B/F for their own personal identities/perversions, Butch/Femme has little or visible no accurate representation. Therefore current RadFem groups, like their predecessors have formulated their notions of B/F based on past lezbophobic ignorance (hetero mimicry assumptions) or assume the visible B/F queer/trans IS invariably Butch/Femme. Interestingly current Radfems and the like, are heavily invested in demythologizing trans male portrayals of woman, feeling (rightly so) that these portrayals of women are based on woman as object for the male masturbatory gaze. Yet in their long negative relationship with Butch/Femme lesbians who are authentically female and misrepresented, RadFems etc base whole theories precisely on a willful perversion of facts. At this point in time they cannot claim ignorance when the internet can bring authentic Butch/Femme history/lesbians right into the comfort of their living rooms.
Butch/Femme lesbians in varying individual/collective ways continue to challenge the Gender Straight Jacket and hetero patriarchal relationship unequal structures and as such we challenge both the old and new RadFems and the convenient (often comfortable) feminism they practice. As a result we remain a target in their narrow crosshairs.