Feeling Women's Liberation
Victoria Hesford Duke University Press, 2013 Library of Congress HQ1421.H47 2013 | Dewey Decimal 305.4209730904
The term women's liberation remains charged and divisive decades after it first entered political and cultural discourse around 1970. In Feeling Women's Liberation, Victoria Hesford mines the archive of that highly contested era to reassess how it has been represented and remembered. Hesford refocuses debates about the movement’s history and influence. Rather than interpreting women's liberation in terms of success or failure, she approaches the movement as a range of rhetorical strategies that were used to persuade and enact a new political constituency and, ultimately, to bring a new world into being. Hesford focuses on rhetoric, tracking the production and deployment of particular phrases and figures in both the mainstream press and movement writings, including the work of Kate Millett. She charts the emergence of the feminist-as-lesbian as a persistent "image-memory" of women's liberation, and she demonstrates how the trope has obscured the complexity of the women's movement and its lasting impact on feminism.
From the 1970s through the 1990s more than one hundred feminist bookstores built a transnational network that helped shape some of feminism's most complex conversations. Kristen Hogan traces the feminist bookstore movement's rise and eventual fall, restoring its radical work to public feminist memory. The bookwomen at the heart of this story—mostly lesbians and including women of color—measured their success not by profit, but by developing theories and practices of lesbian antiracism and feminist accountability. At bookstores like BookWoman in Austin, the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, and Old Wives’ Tales in San Francisco, and in the essential Feminist Bookstore News, bookwomen changed people’s lives and the world. In retelling their stories, Hogan not only shares the movement's tools with contemporary queer antiracist feminist activists and theorists, she gives us a vocabulary, strategy, and legacy for thinking through today's feminisms.
"Lesbian feminism began and has fueled itself with the rejection of liberalism.... In this rejection, lesbian feminists were not alone. They were joined by the New Left, by many blacks in the civil rights movement, by male academic theorists.... What all these groups shared was an intense awareness of the ways in which liberalism fails to account for the social reality of the world, through a reliance upon law and legal structure to define membership, through individualism, through its basis in a particular conception of rationality."
In tracing how lesbian feminism came to be defined in uneasy relationships with the Women’s Movement and gay rights groups, Shane Phelan explores the tension between liberal ideals of individual rights and tolerance and communitarian ideals of solidarity. The debate over lesbian sado-masochism—an expression of individual choice or pornographic, anti-feminist behavior?—is considered as a test case.
Phelan addresses the problems faced by "the woman-identified woman" in a liberal society that presumes heterosexuality as the biological, psychological, and moral standard. Often silenced by laws defining their sexual behavior as criminal and censured by a medical establishment that persists in defining homosexuality as perversion, lesbians, like blacks and other groups, have fought to have the same rights as others in their communities and even in their own homes. Lesbian feminists have also sought to define themselves as a community that would be distinctly different, a community that would disavow the traditional American obsession with individual advancement in the world as it is.
In this controversial study of political philosophy and the women’s movement, Phelan argues that "the failure to date to produce a satisfying theory and program for lesbian action is reflective of the failure of modern political thinking to produce a compelling, nonsuspect alternative to liberalism."
In the series Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg.
Margaret Mead Made Me Gay is the intellectual autobiography of cultural anthropologist Esther Newton, a pioneer in gay and lesbian studies. Chronicling the development of her ideas from the excitement of early feminism in the 1960s to friendly critiques of queer theory in the 1990s, this collection covers a range of topics such as why we need more precise sexual vocabularies, why there have been fewer women doing drag than men, and how academia can make itself more hospitable to queers. It brings together such classics as “The Mythic Mannish Lesbian” and “Dick(less) Tracy and the Homecoming Queen” with entirely new work such as “Theater: Gay Anti-Church.” Newton’s provocative essays detail a queer academic career while offering a behind-the-scenes view of academic homophobia. In four sections that correspond to major periods and interests in her life—”Drag and Camp,” “Lesbian-Feminism,” “Butch,” and “Queer Anthropology”—the volume reflects her successful struggle to create a body of work that uses cultural anthropology to better understand gender oppression, early feminism, theatricality and performance, and the sexual and erotic dimensions of fieldwork. Combining personal, theoretical, and ethnographic perspectives, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay also includes photographs from Newton’s personal and professional life. With wise and revealing discussions of the complex relations between experience and philosophy, the personal and the political, and identities and practices, Margaret Mead Made Me Gay is important for anyone interested in the birth and growth of gay and lesbian studies.
Amber L. Hollibaugh is a lesbian sex radical, ex-hooker, incest survivor, gypsy child, poor-white-trash, high femme dyke. She is also an award-winning filmmaker, feminist, Left political organizer, public speaker, and journalist. My Dangerous Desires presents over twenty years of Hollibaugh’s writing, an introduction written especially for this book, and five new essays including “A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home,” “My Dangerous Desires,” and “Sexuality, Labor, and the New Trade Unionism.” In looking at themes such as the relationship between activism and desire or how sexuality can be intimately tied to one’s class identity, Hollibaugh fiercely and fearlessly analyzes her own political development as a response to her unique personal history. She explores the concept of labeling and the associated issues of categories such as butch or femme, transgender, bisexual, top or bottom, drag queen, b-girl, or drag king. The volume includes conversations with other writers, such as Deirdre English, Gayle Rubin, Jewelle Gomez, and Cherríe Moraga. From the groundbreaking article “What We’re Rollin’ Around in Bed With” to the radical “Sex Work Notes: Some Tensions of a Former Whore and a Practicing Feminist,” Hollibaugh charges ahead to describe her reality, never flinching from the truth. Dorothy Allison’s moving foreword pays tribute to a life lived in struggle by a working-class lesbian who, like herself, refuses to suppress her dangerous desires. Having informed many of the debates that have become central to gay and lesbian activism, Hollibaugh’s work challenges her readers to speak, write, and record their desires—especially, perhaps, the most dangerous of them—“in order for us all to survive.”
Like the complex systems of man-made power lines that transmit electricity and connect people and places, feminist alliances are elaborate networks that have the potential to provide access to institutional power and to transform relations. In Power Lines, Aimee Carrillo Rowe explores the formation and transformative possibilities of transracial feminist alliances. She draws on her conversations with twenty-eight self-defined academic feminists, who reflect on their academic careers, alliances, feminist struggles, and identifications. Based on those conversations and her own experiences as an Anglo-Chicana queer feminist researcher, Carrillo Rowe investigates when and under what conditions transracial feminist alliances in academia work or fail, and how close attention to their formation provides the theoretical and political groundwork for a collective vision of subjectivity.
Combining theory, criticism, and narrative nonfiction, Carrillo Rowe develops a politics of relation that encourages the formation of feminist alliances across racial and other boundaries within academia. Such a politics of relation is founded on her belief that our subjectivities emerge in community; our affective investments inform and even create our political investments. Thus experience, consciousness, and agency must be understood as coalitional rather than individual endeavors. Carrillo Rowe’s conversations with academic feminists reveal that women who restrict their primary allies to women of their same race tend to have limited notions of feminism, whereas women who build transracial alliances cultivate more nuanced, intersectional, and politically transformative feminisms. For Carrillo Rowe, the institutionalization of feminism is not so much an achievement as an ongoing relational process. In Power Lines, she offers a set of critical, practical, and theoretical tools for building and maintaining transracial feminist alliances.
The period of reform, revolution, and reaction that characterized seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe also witnessed an intensified interest in lesbians. In scientific treatises and orientalist travelogues, in French court gossip and Dutch court records, in passionate verse, in the rising novel, and in cross-dressed flirtations on the English and Spanish stage, poets, playwrights, philosophers, and physicians were placing sapphic relations before the public eye.
In The Sexuality of History, Susan S. Lanser shows how intimacies between women became harbingers of the modern, bringing the sapphic into the mainstream of some of the most significant events in Western Europe. Ideas about female same-sex relations became a focal point for intellectual and cultural contests between authority and liberty, power and difference, desire and duty, mobility and change, order and governance. Lanser explores the ways in which a historically specific interest in lesbians intersected with, and stimulated, systemic concerns that would seem to have little to do with sexuality. Departing from the prevailing trend of queer reading whereby scholars ferret out hidden content in “closeted” texts, Lanser situates overtly erotic representations within wider spheres of interest. The Sexuality of History shows that just as we can understand sexuality by studying the past, so too can we understand the past by studying sexuality.
The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom brings together more than two decades of literary criticism and political thought about gender, race, sexuality, power, and social change. As one of the first writers in the United States to claim black feminism for black women, Barbara Smith has done groundbreaking work in defining black women’s literary traditions and in making connections between race, class, sexuality, and gender.
Smith’s essay “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” is often cited as a major catalyst in opening the field of black women’s literature. Pieces about racism in the women’s movement, black and Jewish relations, and homophobia in the Black community have ignited dialogue about topics that few other writers address. The collection also brings together topical political commentaries on the 1968 Chicago convention demonstrations; attacks on the NEA; the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas Senate hearings; and police brutality against Rodney King and Abner Louima. It also includes a never-before-published personal essay on racial violence and the bonds between black women that make it possible to survive.