Friday, 9 August 2013

LABRYS Tool of Lesbian Feminism

Radical lesbians' and lesbian feminism’s roots began in the 1960s and there have been several movements predominantly in North America and Western Europe 1, but the Labrys double-headed axe 3 4  emerged as a symbol of lesbian and feminist strength and self-sufficiency to lesbian feminists 4 and their organisations during the late 1970s.

Lesbian Feminist Warriors

Amongst lesbian feminism’s key goals [x] is the carving out a new “gynocentric” culture or womyn’s (wommin, wimin) culture as opposed to the dominating “phallocentric” culture and language, or patriarchy. To Mary Daly 6, an American radical lesbian feminist theologian, this ancient farming tool and weapon, with its origins in ancient Minoan and Amazonian culture, symbolised not only a matriarchal past and womyn centred vision of the future, but also the creative/destructive force/ability of feminists (the force of womyn) that can cut through webs of patriarchal lies, illusions and reversals that block the breakthrough to new imaginations, visions and forms of being in the world, in short, the tools of feminist empowerment.

Without having had the privilege so far to read any of Mary Daly’s original writing myself a b c, I have managed to ascertain from women who have written on the internet about the symbology of the Labrys as, to put it simply, the ability to cut through patriarchal bullshit and allow/carve spaces for the feminist vision of a female/womyn centered experience and landscape realised. 7 8 9


With one side of the blade representing exorcism, and the other side ecstasy, it is a symbol of a feminist and a warrior, and a symbol of recognition for strong lesbians who really do love women, and are women-identified-women.

The woman-identified-woman is a woman who puts women first by withdrawing her energy and support from men. It has nothing to do with the queer/trans*“identity” politics that arose in the 1990s, but everything to do with females who are primarily and politically focused on female/women’s liberation. Women-identified-women are also directly associated with the emergence of political lesbianism and separatism feminism as radical lesbian feminism critiques heterosexuality as institutional (compulsory heterosexuality) 9 10

Feminist and Other Uses

Articles were published about the Labrys in feminist publications of the time. Lesbian feminists employed the symbol, and some wore Labryses around their necks or had it tattooed on their inner wrists. At a Mary Daly memorial ceremony women passed a Labrys between them on the stage. Several blogs today use the Labrys symbol to represent lesbian feminism. 11 12 13

In popular culture such as in the film Bound, Corky wears a Labrys tattoo 14. Today the tattoo has a popular interpretation of a general symbol of lesbianism, or it may indicate a personal interest in tribal/ancient civilizations. Also, there was Labrys magazine for gay women, launched in Atlanta in 2004 15.

A Tool Of Empowerment

But none of the latter paragraph are directly representive of the lesbian radical feminism movement from the 1970s, nor the ideas, vision and political activism of those lesbian feminists. The Labrys is much more than a symbol, the Labrys is a TOOL that encapulates the many tools feminists weild towards realising the female-centred vision of those feminists, who were (and remain) very real and active political movement. There are no bones about it, these womyn are warriors, no thing of the past.

Please add your lesbian feminist links to the comments, and if you were around in the 1970s please do comment, tell your stories and send me jpegs of your photographs!


  1. This is great, and thanks for posting the picture from DYKE A Quarterly. I checked the link and found that you linked to my art website, not to DYKE. The link for DYKE is

    thanks so much,
    Liza Cowan
    editor of DYKE and curator of the DYKE A Quarterly Online Annotated Archive.

  2. You're welcome Lisa! Thank you for correcting the link to DYKE A Quarterly. i shall look forward to reading what i find there!

  3. More lesbians found already... YAY!!!

  4. You are right on about us 70s dykes wearing the labrys as a symbol of our lesbian selves and our commitment to women and girls. I still wear my first labrys, but added another I bought in Crete last fall on a Goddess Pilgrimage. The Double Axe was the central symbol of the ancient matriarchal culture on Crete and Turkey and mainland Greece.

    The museum in Heraklion displays hundreds of Labrys. Many made in metal including gold, silver and bronze. Pottery decorated with labrys is common. At ancient archeological sites we saw the double ax incised on stone pillars. From tiny one inch gold labrys to a nine feet tall triple grouping, I was overwhelmed by seeing the connection of my own chosen symbol to the ancients. Sending you photo of the tall group.

  5. Georgia, How do I send you that photo? Also, you'll want to visit our website: I know you'll be pleased.

  6. I have many memories of the feminist movement of the 70s. In 1974 I was hitchhiking from Missouri to Reading California. I got a ride with a really great woman named Ginny. She was in the Air Force and was traveling from Maryland to a new duty station at an Air Force Base in Southern California.

    It was my first real time spent around lesbians and people in the gay community. Ginny had an underground guide to gay and lesbian bars across the country. We dropped into a predominantly lesbian bar in Salt Lake City and partied for the evening. Ginny got us invited to a private party after the bar closed. I spent the night partying with a really great group of people and had a good time. Ginny hooked up with some woman she met.

    When we passed through Reno Ginny got a motel room and let me crash with her. As an 80% straight man, I had a great time partying with Ginny and the people she connected with along the way. I'm sorry we didn't keep in touch. I really enjoyed the time with her and wish we could have remained friends.