Saturday, February 28, 2009

Archiving Women Conference - Columbia University - Friday, 30 January 2009

I twittered throughout this conference and one of the consequences of that is I never came home and wrote up my notes. Now, I want to retire that journal and am typing up everything sitting in my office. So I thought that I would write a short and brief summary of this great conference.

The conference was sponsored by the Center for Critical Analysis of Social Differences which is an organization of five other centers at Columbia University.

Alice Kessler-Harris was the first speaker. She raised a series of important questions about archives. How did this material get here to be examined? Why was this collection important to this particular cataloguer? These were early and important questions to historians working on women. Then archive became a verb which introduced a paradox: how does an archive change when what is put into it is consciously created for an archive? In the process of setting up particular archives for theorists, scholars, activists, do archives set up conditions that undermine the exact intention of the archive? If so, of what use will the archive be to the net generation of historians?

N.B. Kessler-Harris’ current project is a biography of Lillian Hellman which she talked about a bit in this address and it sounds like it will be a fascinating read.

Farah Jasmine Griffin was the next speaker. She spoke about her work “In search of Addie Brown” Griffin’s work has resulted in the collection of letters between Addie and Rebecca that documents the experiences of black women post-reconstruction. Griffin talked about her experiences working with archives as a historian both locations where there are fuller archives and where there are less robust archives.

Annette Gordon Reed spoke about her work with the award-winning The Hemingses of Monticello. In particular Gordon-Reed talked about the need to animate Sally Hemings as a person who lived and worked and moved through space and history. Gordon-Reed told fascinating anecdotes from the archival work that she did including how in the absence of certain materials she was able to find other materials that illuminated different parts of stories.

Jenna Friedman, a librarian, talked about her work at the Barnard Library creating an archive of zines. The archive is searchable at Friedman raised interesting questions as well, including, are there reasons we want to honor keeping things out of the archive? In feminist practice there is a privileging of “breaking the silence,” but she asked, are we honoring things when we honor the conscious silences in the archive?

In the next panel, Michael Ryan, an archivist at Columbia University talked about collection building as a contingent activity of libraries; that is, it is based on what comes in the door. He also talked about the issues of search tools that may orient us in general ways to the archives, but don’t make everything searchable.

Frank Mecklenburg from the Leo Baeck Institute Archives divided archives into this matrix for thinking about what is in an archive:
things seen by researcher/seen by archivist
things not seen by researcher/seen by archivist
things seen by researcher/not seen by archivist
things not seen by researcher/not seen by archivist

Elizabeth Weed spoke on “The Case of Archived Theory.” The Pembroke Center is building an archive of feminist theory. Weed asked, What does it mean to archive theory? Theory is often grounded in critique so that raises the question, what does it mean to archive critique?

The final panel of three included Nancy K. Miller, Nell Irvin Painter, and Elizabeth Povinelli. Miller spoke as a biographer and the frightening thing about becoming, being an archive. She described it as “prolepitc posthumousness.” Painter described her 30 year correspondence with Nellie McKay and what is in the letters and what isn’t in the letters, which are now archived in the Franklin Collection at Duke University, though closed until Painter’s death. Finally, Povinelli described her work with indigenous people in Australia and creating a post-colonial digital archive.

Call for Art: Lesbian Alliance Art Show

The 3rd Annual Lesbian Alliance Art Show
Mother Earth in Daily Life
Lesbian Alliance Education Fund
315 West Court Street
Milwaukee, WI 53212


Exhibit will run May 23, 2009 through July 17, 2009.

Reception with refreshments will be held May 23, 2009 5-8pm.  

In 2009 Lesbian Alliance and The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center will cosponsor a women’s art exhibition focused on Mother Earth in daily life. In many cultures there are evocations of mother earth
including, Gaia, in greek mythology; Matka Ziemia, in Slavonic mythology; and Shakti in Hindism.  In today’s world with environmental concerns rising and resources becoming limited how do we both take car of ourselves and our earth. Any woman of the LGBT community and allies is welcome to submit work.

All work must be finished and made of quality materials.
Two-dimensional art must be framed or stretched canvas with a hanging wire.
Stands, hangers, or a means of displaying three-dimensional pieces must be provided by the artist. Artwork depicting graphic violence or sex cannot be accepted.

Please submit digital images of artwork via email to
Include your name, address, media type, work dimensions, minimum bid (including 40% percent commission) and artist’s statement with your submission. All works sold will
have a 40% commission to cover the costs of the exhibit. If you do not wish to sell your piece, but wish to exhibit it, you may submit it as not for sale.

Deadline for submissions is March 21, 2009. Artists whose work is accepted will be notified via email by April 4, 2009. Pieces must be received no later than May 6, 2009, any late arrivals will be returned without hanging at the owner’s expense. If your work does not sell and you would like to have it returned to you please send a check, made out to the Lesbian Alliance Education Fund for the amount it will cost to send the piece back.  Items without payment for return shipment will become property of the curator.

The opening reception will be on Saturday, May 23, 2009 from 5 to 8pm at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, 315 West Court Street, Milwaukee, WI. Refreshments will be served. The reception is free and open to the public. Items sold may be picked up July 18, 2009.

Poem by Michael Blumenthal

From today’s The Writer’s Almanac.

What I Believe

by Michael Blumenthal

I believe there is no justice,
but that cottongrass and bunchberry
grow on the mountain.

I believe that a scorpion's sting
will kill a man,
but that his wife will remarry.

I believe that, the older we get,
the weaker the body,
but the stronger the soul.

I believe that if you roll over at night
in an empty bed,
the air consoles you.

I believe that no one is spared
the darkness,
and no one gets all of it.

I believe we all drown eventually
in a sea of our making,
but that the land belongs to someone else.

I believe in destiny.
And I believe in free will.

I believe that, when all
the clocks break,
time goes on without them.

And I believe that whatever
pulls us under,
will do so gently.

so as not to disturb anyone,
so as not to interfere
with what we believe in.

"What I Believe" by Michael Blumenthal, from Days We Would Rather Know. © Pleasure Boat Studio, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

WMST 621 - Feminist Differences

First, for my own reflections on this weeks readings, I think about the feminist and lesbian journals that I am reading from the 1970s and how contested everything is, not just what does it mean to be a woman or a lesbian, but what does it mean to live in the world, how should we live in the world, what are our responsibilities to ourselves, to others, to society? What is art? What is poetry? What is good poetry? Does it matter? Who gets to say? I write this to remind myself that at the core of the beliefs of the women I am reading is an active engagement in the world and a questioning about everything.

This helps me to understand the series of articles about “differences” and challenging the notions of a monolithic “woman.” A part of what these articles do in their creation is narrate a past in which there is the story of a monolithic “woman” and therefore there is a need for their interventions. Not to say that isn’t the case; I see the narrative that they tell and can understand the history. At the same time, it is just one strand of the history and I don’t want to lose sight of that or of the other strands that exist as well.

I’ll begin with Elsa Barkley Brown’s ““What Has Happened Here”: The Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics.” I begin with this article in part because I found it compelling both in terms of its argument and also in terms of its structure and the ideas and evidence it brings to its analysis (e.g. this is the sort of thing I’d like to write.) Barkley Brown begins with the image of quilts and different types of quilts and their reception by both quilters and scholars and uses that image to animate her analogy from Luisah Teish (a brilliant choice of a source, I think) of history as “gumbo ya ya.” In this analogy there are many conversations happening simultaneously and all are engaged with one another. To pull out only one and imagine that it is not engaged is to try and make the conversation conform to the model of classical music when we are in fact at a jazz concert. Barkley Brown then takes this model and does a close reading of the politics of the Anita Hill hearing in Congress. Barkley Brown argues that feminists positioned Hill in relationship only to gender and ignored race and the consequence of that is the Thomas arguments were able to be heard more clearly and seem more authentic. The remedy for this to Barkley Brown is the “gumbo ya ya” approach – not only to history but to political interventions. She concludes, “Learning to think nonlinearly, asymmetrically, is, I believe essential to our intellectual and political developments” (p. 307.)

I turn to the chapter from Ruth Frankenberg’s book White Women, Race Matters next because in some ways I think that Frankenberg’s work responds to a portion of Barkley Brown’s analysis in which she writes, “In other words, we have yet to accept the fact that one cannot write adequately about the lives of white women in the United States in any context without acknowledging the way in which race shaped their lives” (Barkley Brown, p. 300.) Frankenberg does just that in this chapter. She interviews five women to understand how race shaped their lives. These interviews are then recounted and analyzed by Frankenberg. She concludes, “landscape and the experience of it were racially structured—whether those narratives seemed to be marked predominantly by the presence or the absence of people of color” (p. 69.) Frankenberg also looks at how the racial structuring of white experience is complex and multi-faceted from her interviewees.

Evelyn Torton Beck’s article “The Politics of Jewish Invisibility” is the next article I take up even though chronologically it precedes the first two articles. The intention of this article is to intervene in dialogues about multicultural to engage Jewish women as the site of an ethnic identity that should be included and also to include Anti-semitism as a form of oppression that needs to be a feminist issue. Beck documents the elision of Jewish women from a variety of recent feminist materials in her discussion of the situation. What interests me the most about this article – and where the hair really stood up on the back of my neck as I read it – is at the very end of the article where Beck describes the active omission of Jewish issues from Teresa de Lauretis’ Feminist Studies/Critical Studies. The elision of Jewish issues from this text is described by Beck in a single paragraph – and in the footnote, Beck writes that she was the scholar whose work was omitted – and questioned at the conference. What is most interesting, to me, about the footnote is the dimensions of race implicated within the description of the event. I am keenly interested in how dialogues or rejections of dialogues are constructed between Jewish women and African-American women and this is an interesting example that I’d love to discuss in class if we have time. (I’ve included other questions relating to this below.)

In 1996, Maxine Baca Zinn and Bonnie Thornton Dill publish “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism.” This essay argues for a conceptual framework of ‘multiracial feminism.’ They ground this in social science as emanating from ‘socialist feminism’ and articulate six distinguishing features:
• Gender is constructed by a range of interlocking inequalities
• Emphasizes the intersectional nature of hierarchies at all leves of social life
• Highlights the relational nature of dominance and subordination with power as the cornerstone of women’s differences
• Explores the interplay of social structure and women’s agency
• Encompasses wide-ranging methodological approaches
• Brings together understandings drawn from the lived experiences of diverse and continuously changing groups of women.

I’ve saved the Fine and Asch article for last (and am going to include Anzaldua as an addendum for reasons that I will explain when I take it up) because I find the issues and positions that they articulate in the final chapter, “Shared Dreams,” incredibly vexing. The first chapter, “Beyond Pedestals,” is the introduction to the larger collection and it outlines the issues at stake for girls and women with disabilities. It is a thoughtful overview of both the scholarship in the field as well as the issues. Fine and Asch consider the ways in which disability and gender are socially constructed and how the two imbricate each other. They also outline a variety of material issues facing women and girls with disability including health care, education, sexuality, parenthood, and accessibility. In the final chapter, “Shared Dreams,” Fine and Asch articulate the position of an unwavering commitment to abortion rights for women and, to them, the corollary position that once born infants and children are entitled to medical care and treatment. They do a compelling argument for how these two issues are connected and how they relate to questions of disability rights and women’s rights. So why am I vexed? I am one of the leftists that they target in their analysis. I can’t help it. I hear their arguments and something still sits uneasily for me. I do feel like parents should have the right to make decisions about what medical care should be given and should be withheld for their children – at all ages but including newborn children. I understand the implications that this has for people with disabilities and I am troubled by it. I hold similar ideas about medical treatment across the lifespan (I tend to being a non-interventionist seeking to avoid a life of pain and discomfort.) This is also vexing because I know it is rooted in negative ideas about people with disabilities – and I continue to hold these ideas in spite of having people with disabilities in my family! I’ll include some questions about this below.

Finally Borderlands. Oh, Gloria! I love you! Why did you have to leave us? In Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria Anzaldua is writing to the creation of a new consciousness or subjectivity of “la mestiza.” In the chapter, “La conciencia de la mestiza,” which is the final “chapter” of the portion of the book that combines narrative and essays with her poetic impulse, Anzaldua produces the consciousness that she seeks. It is a consciousness that provides her with a way of entering into the world and living in the world. It is characterized by celebrating ambiguity, being able to return to multiple homes, and being able to live fully as she is. The opportunity to read this section brought me back to the full book and I’ll make a few observations about it. First, it was published in 1987 and was the first book from Anzaldua after she co-edited This Bridge Called My Back. It is an extraordinary book and a book that reflects to me what I understand to be some of the feminist formations of the time. The book uses a variety of textual strategies for its argument, melding prose, essays, poetry, memoir, personal reflections, and feminist analysis. There are a number of books produced like that between 1979 and 1989 and I think that they reflect some of the theoretical strands and thinking of this period of feminism, and I note, I am unable to think of comparable texts that are being produced today (or have been produced since 1989.) This I think is significant, but I can’t encapsulate its significance right now. Second, this book is a book that seeks to produce a subjectivity and a subject location that is reflective of the feminist community in which Anzaldua is situated. That feels really important to me rereading it. Anzaldua is in dialogue with a number of people in the book and produces her book in relationship to the conversations with those people. (As I type this it feels very DUH – doesn’t everyone?) I think that this is important because I often hear the book referenced as a book about “Chicana feminism” and I don’t suppose that is terrible wrong, but it isn’t quite right either, at least for me. It is a book about contributing to a larger project of multiracial feminism (even though that term comes after this book.) It is a book about creating a space for Anzaldua and other women that affirms and gives voice to their experience for the purpose of dialoguing with others. I love this book profoundly for the many things that it does – and more so, I think, for the aspirations of what it hopes to do: create a world in which women – all kinds of women – can talk among themselves in serious, thoughtful, important, conflictual, satisfying, uncomfortable, tense, funny, and enjoyable ways.

Things to discuss:

• Elsa Barkley Brown argues, “One important dimension of this would involve understanding the relationship between white women and white men as shaped by race. This speaks not just to the history we write but to the way we understand our own lives. And I believe it challenges women’s history at its core, for it suggests that until women’s historians adequately address difference and the causes for it, they have not and can not adequately tell the history of even white middle-class women” (p. 300-1.) I am in agreement with this analysis. My question is this: in what way does this drive scholarship to studies of “whiteness” and does that in effect continue to privilege whiteness and take time and attention away from projects that recuperate histories of communities that have not traditionally be a part of the project of white, famous male history?

• What do we make of the exclusion that Beck describes in her article and the experience of Beck at the conference (from footnote 21)? What do we make of the racial dimensions of the experience? What does feminist theory do and not do for relationship between the constructed subject positions of Jewish women and African-American women?

• What are the stakes of understanding Jewish women as a part of multiracial feminism? What are the stakes of understanding Jewish women in the context of whiteness?

• In a related question, one of the things I am trying to do with my thinking more is telescoping and periscoping, that is thinking about how different vantage points change how people understand and think about situations, conditions, ideas, and values. So one area that I am interested in this is thinking about how race and ethnicity are understood by people in other countries and how those understandings speak to my own understandings as a US citizen. For instance, I am interested in what it means to be Jewish in Australia, what the relationship is between Jewish as an ethnic identity and Australian as a citizenship and what those locations say in relationship to Israel. Then I am interested in the relationship between Australian Jews and aboriginal people to see what differences or similarities there might be there to relationships between US Jews and African-Americans. I don’t know that there are any, but this sort of telescoping and periscoping is an exercise that I am hoping might give me new ways to think about things. What other intellectual strategies exist to change, reframe, or alter public dialogues?

• Is there an activist feminist practice that we can identify with the framework of multiracial feminism as articulated by Zinn and Dill?

• How do different constructions of women as mothers and of the state affect the analysis by Fine and Asch in relationship to abortion and medical treatment? How might this be in dialogue with Adrienne Rich’s article, “Of Woman Born?” How do different strands of feminist theory influence this dialogue about abortion and medical treatment? How is it in dialogue with other areas of concern for feminists? (I think in particular of issues raised by transgender and intersex individuals.) How does the historic moment and context affect the analysis of Fine and Asch? Has anything changed today?

• Why do you love Gloria Anzaldua?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review by Ruth Mountaingrove

Lesbian Theories/Lesbian Controversies, edited by Julie Enser, Sinister Wisdom #75, 2008, Berkeley, CA, 112 pages, paperback $6
  I never have liked the term queer mainly because it subsumes the word lesbian and it’s meaning. Lesbians are not queer, they are lesbians, who were born lesbians, women who love women. Women who chose to be butch, fem or dyke or none of the above.
Just because gay men want to be lesbians doesn’t make them so.
        So I was delighted to read Lesbian Theories, Lesbians Controversies and find other women uncomfortable with the term queer. Queer seems to be defined as LGBT and I am not gay or bi or trans. I am sympathetic with those who are but but do not wish to be buried under the term queer.
        “Bite My Thumb “ by Carolyn Gage takes on the question :can women masquerade as men and men as women using masks to disguise themselves, and wearing clothes  to go with the mask. as they did in the time of Shakespeare?
        Appropriately these two acting troops, one lesbian and one heterosexual are doing Romeo and Juliet.  “Bite My Thumb” ia a one act play, a skirmish with sword fighting. Gage is bringing up all the questions around queer.
        “Gendercater” is a fifteen minute movie by Catherine Crouch set in the future in a world that is rigid, mandated by law. If you don’t fit these designations you are medically altered to conform to what is considered the social norm.
        This short film called forth anger from the LGBT community. Cancellation by the Frameline film festival in spite of having been previously accepted, was due to the LGBT community calling it transphobic.
        Crouch says, ”Our distorted cultural norms are making women feel compelled to use medical advances to change themselves rather than working to change the world.”
        Robyn Epstein who interviews Crouch says that “Gendercater” doesn't fit the current categories of celebration or denigration of transidentity. The movie is a bit critique, a bit fiction, a bit satire valuing gender pluralism. Some fifty pages are given to this movies and this play by Carolyn Gage.
        Other articles of interests are three essays by Australian Lesbians. Jean Taylor writes about “ When Lesbians Pay the Rent.” When there is a lesbian event the money is given to the native women who are fighting for their own survival. An idea lesbians in this country might pick up in connection in connection with our native American peoples.
        Bev Jo sings the praises of her San Francisco Bay area lesbian feminists. Chris Sitka, In “Hope Is At Hand”  parthenogenesis which will allow women have babies without male sperm.  Gena Covina was suggesting this in the Amazon Quarterly in the early 1970’s. I think she may have written a book about this. Sitka also suggest that back in the time of the Ancient Great Mother this was common knowledge.
        “Do Lesbians have Human Rights?” Susan Hawthorne asks in a paper given at the Rainbow Conversation at Melborne, Australia. A thoughtful political analysis of 2008 human rights and what lesbians and others can do to insure these rights.
        We been hearing lately of boy/girls, girl/boys being surgically altered at birth, only in adolescence when testicles descend and to learn  that she’s been a boy all all this time. Diana Post raises this question in “What’s in a Name?”
        Julie Enszer has done us a favor by being willing to bring these very important issues to our attention.

Three Recent Literary Articles Worth Reading

Three articles lined below that I think are worth reading. The first two are from the Sunday New York Times Book Review, which, even though small and giving attention to places that don’t usually have mine, I still savor and now more so as the book review in the Washington Post is no longer. David Orr is spot on with much of my thinking in The Great(ness) Game and I love his discussion of Elizabeth Bishop. I appreciate Geoff Nicholson’s article as a reflection and antidote to my own secret desire for incredible productivity. The review in Salon of Elaine Showalter’s newest book has be sitting on my hands to not order it immediately. It is now on my summer reading list and I look forward to it. Meanwhile Miller’s article has whet my appetite and will yours, too.

On Poetry
The Great(ness) Game

Published: February 19, 2009

In October, John Ashbery became the first poet to have an edition of his works released by the Library of America in his own lifetime. That honor says a number of things about the state of contemporary poetry — some good, some not so good — but perhaps the most important and disturbing question it raises is this: What will we do when Ashbery and his generation are gone? Because for the first time since the early 19th century, American poetry may be about to run out of greatness.

Can’t. Stop. Writing.

Published: February 19, 2009

Once, in my early teens, I competed with my best friend Rob to see who could read more in the course of the summer vacation. It wasn’t a subtle contest: the winner would be the one who devoured more pages. Matters of comprehension and artistic quality didn’t concern us. We didn’t tackle Proust; we needed something faster-paced than that. I hit upon the idea of reading science fiction short stories — pithy, easily digestible page turners, or so I thought.

"Why can't a woman write the Great American Novel?"
Female authors hold their own on the bestseller lists, but Elaine Showalter's provocative new history wonders why they get so little respect.
By Laura Miller

A bevy of birthdays

But first a poem from The Writer’s Almanac:


by Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.

Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and

over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the

light newly blocked on one side,

it turns in another.

A blind intelligence, true.

But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs—

all this resinous, unretractable earth.

"Optimism" by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt. © Harper Collins, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Jane Hirshfield, (books by this author) born in New York City (1953). When she was in first grade, she wrote, "I want to be a writer when I grow up." She went to Princeton, worked on a farm for a year, and then spent the next few years studying Buddhism at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in northern California. She didn't write at all while she was there, almost eight years, but since then she has published many books of poetry, including Of Gravity & Angels (1988), Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), and After (2006).

It's the birthday of the philosopher and critic Judith Butler, (books by this author) born on this day in Cleveland, Ohio (1956). When she was a teenager, she went down in her basement to smoke cigarettes, and one day she found her mother's college textbooks — books by Benedict de Spinoza and Søren Kierkegaard — and she was fascinated. Then she started reading Jewish philosophy, because she had such bad behavior problems that she was forced to take a private tutorial with her rabbi, who introduced her to Jewish thinkers. So when she went to college, she chose to study philosophy, and from there moved into fields like queer theory, feminist theory, and cultural studies. And she went on to write many books, including the popular Gender Trouble (1990), where she argued that we "perform" our gender.

She wrote, "Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact."

Monday, February 23, 2009

S as in Sam, Z as in Zebra - February 2009

If you don’t receive this in your hot little hands via email and want to, tell me! Email me at and I’ll add you with great alacrity!

Dear Ones,

It's been a spell since you've received the news from S as in Sam, Z as in Zebra. In part because I am busy as can be working on my PhD in Women's Studies at the University of Maryland. So busy that for the first time in a number of years, we sent out "store-bought" holiday cards and not hand-made ones. That's busy! Busy is good, however, fertile, productive, engaging, and exciting. Below are some quick links of recent writing published.

Valentine's Day Column on Alternet

A new column titled, "A Valentine's Day Challenge: Would You Not Get Married Until I Can Get Married?," was published on Alternet on Valentine's Day. To read it, click over to and check it out. 

Two New Poems in OCHO

Miguel Murphy edited a special issue of OCHO titled, Dear America Don't Be My Valentine. There are many fabulous writers in this issue of OCHO - Scott Hightower, C. Dale Young, Jeremy Halinen, DM Solis and many others. I'm thrilled to be included. My two poems are "Seeing Annie Leibovitz's A Photographer's Life 1990-2006" and "Cunts." You can read the journal online here:

Lesbian Poetry Archive

As a part of my course of study in the PhD program in Women's Studies, I've developed and launched the Lesbian Poetry Archive. You can see it online at For my work, I'm interested in lesbian publishing and circulation of poetry between 1969 and 1989. Too much of the work that was published then has fallen out of print. I am hoping to rectify some of that through the Lesbian Poetry Archive. As I say on the site, I'm happy to hear suggestions for additional materials to add (although I already have a very long list!) and if you or someone you know would like to guest edit a section, I'm happy to talk about that as well.

Sinister Wisdom: Lesbian Theories/Lesbian Controversies

The special issue I edited of Sinister Wisdom on the topic of Lesbian Theories/Lesbian Controversies is now available. You can read the introduction at my blog here, I encourage you to subscribe to Sinister Wisdom and keep one of the longest publishing lesbian periodicals in print and thriving. Subscription information is here: If you'd like a copy of this special issue, email me at

Upcoming Reading

I am thrilled to be reading with a group of four other women from the Wom-po ListServ at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. We will read poems from Letters to the World, the anthology from the Wom-po ListServ, and new work. The readers are Kim Becker, Lesley Wheeler, Rosemary Starace, Rosemary Winslow, and me. This is going to be a fantastic afternoon in one of the great museums of Washington. Please join us on Sunday, 5 April 2009 for readings from Letters to the World at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC at 2 p.m.

Upcoming Work and Conferences

I just review page proofs for my two forthcoming poems, “For Judith Remembering Jane Cooper and Grace Paley” and “After the Revolution,” in Feminist Studies--look for those this spring!

Like most graduate students, I dream of traveling and sublimate that dream into conference presentations at cool locations outside of Maryland. I'll be at the Society for Textual Studies in New York in mid-March, then the Queer Art/Queer Action conference in Asheville, NC at the end of March. I'll finish my conference circuit presenting at Quick & Dirty, the graduate student queer conference on Maryland's campus, in mid-April. This will keep me busy for a while.

Follow Me Online!

I update my blog regularly,, and I'm actively using Twitter and Facebook. If we're not connected through social networking, let's connect!

Warm wishes to you all for these last days of winter and the coming of spring,


P.S. You're receiving this email newsletter because sometime, somewhere I thought that you might be interested in periodic updates about my work. If you'd like to be removed, please just reply to this email and I'll remove you from the list promptly.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

PhD Reflections #8

Entry #2, February 10 through February 23

This week serendipity worked to help clarify some issues in my reading. At Dr. Moses WMST 621 class, Professor Bergoffen, a philosophy scholar from George Mason University, joined us. Professor Bergoffen provided a lovely intellectual history of existentialism and psychoanalysis, including both Freud and Lacan. This helped not only my understanding of “French Feminism” (as it was designed for the course), but also my reading for my independent study with Dr. Christina Hanhardt. For that I unwitting selected two books by philosophers back to back – after a reading by a Lacanian literary critic. I was swimming in it all, trying to make sense of it, but struggling. Dr. Bergoffen provided the needed larger framework.
The confirmation of knowledge this week comes in the form of appreciating being in the Women’s Studies program for my PhD work. The opportunity to read more broadly and to think of my work in a broader framework than just English is confirmed by the reading of the week, not only with Dr. Hanhardt, but also in both WMST 621 and WMST 602. I appreciate being rooted in literary studies with my undergraduate degree and MFA, and I equally appreciate being able to explore the intellectual world beyond it.
The challenging to what I already know this period is an unusual one. It occurred to me in conjunction with reading and discussing the Kelly Oliver anthology, “French Feminism.” I first encountered much of the French feminist philosophy as an undergraduate student. A central part of reading and understanding it at that time (this was in the late 1980s) involved filtering it through our own sense of ourselves as feminists. We asked ourselves, do I believe this? Do I want this to be a part of my feminist identity? Am I feminist like Wittig? Like Irigaray? Like DeBeauvoir? Our answers were nuanced, but fundamentally, we saw ourselves (at least in my memory) associating ourselves and our identities as feminists with the material. Reading the material this time, I notice that the questions raised about the texts are not filtered in the same way through self-identities as feminists. There is a different type of engagement with the materials in which no one directly allies themselves with particular configurations. I think this may be because the configurations of contemporary feminists have changed so dramatically. I also think this may be because the investment in defining and asserting personal relationships to feminism is much less at the current historical moment.
I have discovered two new scholars, Greta Rensenbrink and Scott Herring, who are providing me fascinating models for thinking about my work. Both of them are concerned with print cultures in the gay and lesbian movement in the 1970s. I find their work exciting and opening new ways of thinking for my work.
The biggest dilemma or dissonance for the past two weeks has been in thinking about what constitutes evidence for making arguments. Trained in literature, for me, evidence has always been found in books. Through this program and the opportunity to take course in other disciplinary locations, I have been just enchanted with archival research and the notion of finding evidence in the archive and using that as integrally an important part of my project. Reading for the past two weeks in philosophy has raised the question for me, what do I think is adequate evidence for arguments? Is it enough to just quote literary sources? Isn’t there a need for other, perhaps deeper or more extensive or reliable, evidence? What is the nature of evidence in the humanities? And what is the nature of evidence for scholars doing interdisciplinary work? How do we find balance between different modes of understanding evidence? I don’t have any answers yet, but am fascinated by the exploration of the questions.

PhD Reflections #7

Entry #1, January 26 through February 9

Spring semester seems easier at Maryland with that delicious long break of over a month. I find that I have a million ambitions for the break – not all of which are realized, but so much work gets done that I am eager to return to classes and dive in. One thing I learned during the last part of the fall semester and the winter break is that I am deeply in love with archival research and want to organize my schedule in such away that I have time to do more of it. I am looking at some sources at the Lesbian Herstory Archive and will be able to be in New York a few times this semester to pursue that research. In addition, I found a fascinating day-long conference at Columbia University called “Archiving Women” that I attended on Friday, January 30. This was one of those day-long symposia with a variety of speakers, all of whom were senior scholars and interesting and stimulating in their presentations of their work and their thinking about the archive. It was an incredible day and time well-spent, even though it was a long train ride home after an exhausting day. This conference is one of the activities that confirmed for me my commitment to spending more time in and thinking about archives.
The other unique opportunity that I had this week was to attend the lecture of Marilyn Lake, a historian from Australia, and to spend an hour talking with her about my research into Helen Caldicott’s life and activism. She was a tremendous resource with great ideas and recommendations for additional sources and ways of thinking about Helen’s work. Lake’s most recent book looks at how ideas about race circulated not only within countries but also between countries during the years 1890 through 1940. From attending Lake’s lectures on campus and talking with her, I have been challenged to think about how transnational history can be a part of my work. Lake was very useful in thinking about ways that my research – both in relationship to Helen Caldicott but also in lesbian print cultures – had a transnational historical element to it. This has been a new and challenging way to think about it.
A new direction for my thinking comes in reflecting on the way that proximity affects people’s scholarly careers. Part of this comes from reading Sarah Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology in which she analyzes the ways that philosophers use tables to talk about their arguments are a result of the proximity of the table – they are sitting at one while writing. It also comes from hearing other professors and graduate students talk about how their interests are shaped by one another – by proximity within a department, field, university. Of course, this isn’t totalizing. Some people develop their interests not in relationship to the people close to them but in opposition to the people, and there are many other variations. The notion of proximity, however, is a useful one to think about because it reminds me to think about what is shaping my interests based on proximity and that if I wanted my interests to be shaped differently, one thing I can do is change what is proximious.
The dilemma in my thinking for this week is not intellectual but practical. How on earth am I going to organize all of those PDFs on my computer in a way that I can recall and use them in the future? This question is grounded in my belief that to master the administrative tasks of life is to provide the possibilities for greater creative productivity. The PDF challenge is a new dilemma. Well, not entirely new, I’ve been in graduate school for two and a half years now, but I still haven’t figured out how to hand this and I very much want to. It’s a goal for the semester, but I do fear that it won’t be totally tamed until this summer.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WMST 621: "French Feminism"

I want to begin with chapters four and five from Claire Duchen’s book Feminism in France: From May ’68 to Mitterand because these chapters were so profoundly satisfying with their clear summaries and orderly thinking about philosophers that I find complex and confounding. In many ways, I put this reading in the bucket of “perfect for graduate students!” Duchen in the chapter “Feminists and (French) philosophy” captures the significance of philosophy for French people by providing some historical context and some sense of French thinking and temperament. While this section was brief, I found it helpful in terms of contextualizing both the work she is doing in her writing and also the broader readings for this week. Duchen continues in the chapter by providing incredibly clear and cogent summaries of Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan. Most significantly to me, I was interested in the ways that she positioned Derrida and Lacan as more directly influential on feminist thinkers and Barthes and Foucault as still influential but in a less direct way. In the next chapter, “The concept of the feminine,” Duchen opens with a way of thinking about French feminist writers that shows how central discourse is to challenging patriarchy and how this is rooted in psychoanalysis and epistemology at the root of French thinking. Duchen then goes on to again provide clear and cogent summaries of Kristeva, Irigaray, Cixous, and Psych et Po which she positions as forming the “concept of the feminine” as a central question of French feminist theory. Duchen concludes her discussion in a thoughtful and provocative way. In this chapter she has demonstrated the significance of these writers and their relationship to French theory and philosophy and in her conclusion she problematizes the very construct through a series of questions and by saying “the danger of difference is that it can lead to a political and theoretical impasse, to a political ‘ghetto’ shared by the happy few and divorced from the rest” (p. 102.) Duchen concludes that her aim has been to formulate not answers but questions so that the answers may be further sought. This seems to me to be an excellent model for scholarly exploration.

While I am effusive about these chapters, I’m aware that my sense of having things well explained and summed up by Duchen is a feeling of which to be wary. On one hand, Duchen’s broad knowledge and clear writing creates discursive assurance, but on the other hand such assurance is something for suspicion. Certainly the nuances and textures of Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray, Cixous, and Psych et Po are much more than she presents and it is within these crevices that more engagement emerges. So while I am appreciative of Duchen’s work, I’m also appreciative of it in dialogue with the other weekly readings.

“Made in America: “French Feminism” in Academia” by Claire Goldberg Moses is also an exciting and stimulating article for what it does in reshaping my understanding of “French Feminism.” In this article, Moses recounts emerging contemporary French scholarship on the history of the women’s movement in France. In doing this, she is able to examine how feminism in France parallels feminism in the United States in interesting ways and how the writer’s who come to represent “French Feminism” in the United States are in fact not central to the movement in France. (In fact a key argument of hers has to do with the conflation of writers and feminists.) In particular, her account of the ascendancy of Psych et po was fascinating especially in light of what was then known and unknown about their financial situation. Moses then examines the ways that “French Feminism” was constructed in the academy through publishing in feminist journals and the construction of books and anthologies. In her conclusion, she argues that the U.S. academy has “exoticized and even eroticized French feminism” and that a consequence of this “we have abused our power. . . which proved injurious to the interests” of “very real French women” (p. 265.) While I am not entirely convinced of this conclusion (it seems to me in general this is a function of the movement of ideas across different countries/communities of practice/etc. and labeling it injurious is a little farther than I want to go), I was impressed and intrigued by the different strands of analysis that were mobilized to reach the conclusion. I think it is an interesting way of thinking about the writers with whom we engage this week.

Kelly Oliver’s French Feminism Reader, published in 2000, interested me in a number of ways. First, by way of Summary, what Oliver does is bring together selected writings from eight French feminists: de Beauvoir, Le Doeuff, Delphy, Guillaumin, Wittig, Kristeva, Irigaray, and Cixous. She combines these selections with quite thorough introductions by a variety of scholars that provide not only biographical information but a quite thoughtful analysis of the work. One of the things that is striking in reading this work in relationship to feminist theory from the United States is the way that these writers engage with “continental” philosophers. I was intrigued by this having just finished two books by contemporary queer theorists who are engaging philosophy in this way (Ahmed and Winnubst) and realizing how much this doesn’t feel to me a part of my/our (?) intellectual tradition.

The other thing that interested me in the book is the way that the tension between materialist feminism and post-structuralist feminism emerges in the collection. I’m not sure that this was a conscious strategy of Oliver in assembling the anthology, but it seemed evident to me (though I’m keenly interested in this debate right now.) As this is not an area that I imagine we will discuss tonight given the description of our guest, it is something I’m interested in talking about here if others are.

Other questions I am interested in for discussion from this week’s reading include:

  • •Can we tease out further some of the relationships that these writers see between psychoanalytic theory and language/semiotics?

  • •How do Irigaray and Cixous in particular see “lesbian” similar to and different from Rich in “Compulsory Heterosexuality?”

  • •What do you think about Moses call in her article to be more direct about the disciplinary grounding of work? And what about the assertion that “Today [1998], the predominant discipline in women’s studies is literature, and especially that kind of literary studies that has been influenced by the discourses and concerns of philosophy.” (p. 261.)

  • •I’m also keenly interested in feminist theory of the 1970s that is polemical in form (though we’ve not read tons of in here yet, there is tons – CM mentioned The Furies, Redstockings, Valerie Solanas and many others produced a particular type of polemical theory that interests me). I consider some of the material that we read for today in that polemical form and spirit and am interested in making those connections as well.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Animated: Literary History and the Journal of Women’s History

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Annette Gordon-Reed, the presidential historian and author of the winner of the National Book Award, The Hemingses of Monticello, talk about her work on that book at Columbia’s Archiving Women symposium. Gordon-Reed said that one of her greatest challenge in telling the story of Sally Hemings was making her “animated in history.” She talked about the challenges of using the archive to find information about Hemings that described a living, breathing, moving, walking, thinking person. Much of the initial information she encountered about Hemings in the archives she examined included only short references to Hemings. For instance, she described Jefferson’s journal of talking about sending Hemings for a medical treatment. When Gordon-Reed went and researched further the treatment she learned that Hemings was sent away from Paris for six weeks for this treatment and that it was for the time a very elaborate medical intervention. Gordon-Reed’s challenge in writing the book was to tell this story with Hemings as the central character though, according to her, little within the archive animated Hemings as a person. I found this story compelling because of the challenges that it suggests about research and writing; it shaped my thinking in selecting a journal for consideration for this class and this essay.
How does history animate people? How does it tell stories in which the “facts” from archival material become a narrative that interests and compels readers? And, where are these stories published? More specifically, in what journals are there stories with emerging knowledge about lesbian history? These questions became the basis for my investigation of journals about women’s history.
Immediately, I identified three journals that I thought would be of interest: Gender & History, Women’s History Review, and the Journal of Women’s History. Gender & History is a journal that began publishing in 1989. It is co-edited by Karen Adler, Ross Balzaretti, Regina Kunzel, Ruth Mazo Karras and Sarah Chambers; Kunzel, Karras, and Chambers are at the University of Minnesota, while Adler and Balzaretti are at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Gender & History describes itself in this way:
Gender & History
is now established as the major international journal for research and writing on the history of femininity and masculinity and of gender relations. Spanning epochs and continents,
Gender & History
examines changing conceptions of gender, and maps the dialogue between femininities, masculinities and their historical contexts. The journal publishes rigorous and readable articles both on particular episodes in gender history and on broader methodological questions which have ramifications for the discipline as a whole.
In addition to scholarly articles, Gender & History includes an extensive book review section. From the self-description of the journal, which from the use of the word “now” in the first sentence is not the originary statement, the work of Gender & History specifically seeks to examine, not sex, not history in relationship to women, and not feminism, but questions of gender and of the relationships between gender roles (femininities and masculinities) in historical contexts.
Women’s History Review began publishing in 1992 and is based in the United Kingdom with the primary editor being June Purvis at the University of Portsmouth. There are three deputy editors, Joy Damousi at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Kathryn Gleadle at Mansfield College, Oxford, UK, and Pamela Scully at Emory University. The journal describes itself in this way:
Women's History Review
is a major international journal whose aim is to provide a forum for the publication of new scholarly articles in the field of women's history. The time span covered by the journal includes the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries as well as earlier times. The journal seeks to publish contributions from a range of disciplines (for example, women's studies, history, sociology, cultural studies, literature, political science, anthropology, philosophy and media studies) that further feminist knowledge and debate about women and/or gender relations in history. The Editors welcome a variety of approaches from people from different countries and backgrounds. In addition to main articles the journal also publishes shorter Viewpoints that are possibly based on the life experiences, ideas and views of the writer and may be more polemic in tone. A substantial Book Reviews section is normally included in each issue.
This description of Women’s History Review positions itself as a feminist journal seeking to “further feminist knowledge” about women in history. While Gender & History positions itself within the discipline of history and with a particular relationship to gender constructions, Women’s History Review positions itself as more interdisciplinary and with a particular relationship to feminism. The description of Women’s History Review also puts into relief one of the questions within the field: is it dedicated to the history of women or the history of gender relations? This question carries valence among all three of the journals about women’s history.
In some ways, the selection of a journal and the review of other related journals raised a series of broader questions. What constitutes “women’s history”? Is it women’s history or gender history? What are the implications of each of those? Is “women’s history” constituted as a sub-discipline? If so, what is it a sub-discipline of? Women’s Studies? History? In relationship to these questions, are the questions of the genealogy of the inquiry. Gender & History began in 1989, Women’s History Review began in 1992 and the Journal of Women’s History began in 1989. What is the significance of this time period? Or perhaps it isn’t significant as I note there was a journal, Women & History, that published from 1982 until 1987. I raise these questions, however, because the selection of a journal also turned into a question of the history of the mode of inquiry which interests me—and this is only in relationship to the relationship between feminism and history without even delving into either the history of lesbians or the history of sexuality.
Ultimately, I chose the Journal of Women’s History as the focus for this essay for two reasons. First, I came to the journal through a “Book Forum” on Tani Barlow’s book, The Question of Women in Chinese Feminism. Barlow’s book, which I read last semester for class, is a dense one and very far outside of my reading experience and knowledge. The essays published in the “Book Forum” were fascinating for the insight that they gave me into this book and the new ways of thinking about it through the writing by scholars with expertise in the subject matter. The “Book Forum” is a regular feature of the Journal of Women’s History in which scholars contribute articles that consider a significant book in the field in a sustained way – and then the author of the book writes a response to the inquiries, critical, productive, and evocative, that are raised. The articles within the “Book Forum” extend beyond traditional book review, which are a feature of most scholarly journals that I’ve read. In the “Book Forum” of the Journal of Women’s History, the articles build a deeper engagement with the book in question by offering multiple perspectives and by having an intention to not only inform scholars within the field about new books being published but also to engage in dialogue within the field among various scholars, including the scholar whose book is discussed. This seemed to me at the time I first read the “Book Forum” on Barlow to be an extraordinary model for shared inquiry and public dialogue within a field.
The second reason I selected this journal is because Leila Rupp, whose work I admire, had been editor of it for a substantive tenure. The Journal of Women’s History was founded in 1989 by Christie Farnham. The current editors are Antoinette Burton and Jean Allman both from the University of Illinois. They became the editors in July 2004. The Journal of Women’s History describes itself as follows:
Journal of Women's History
is the first journal devoted exclusively to the international field of women's history. It does not attempt to impose one feminist "line" but recognizes the multiple perspectives captured by the term "feminisms." Its guiding principle is a belief that the divide between "women's history" and "gender history" can be, and is, bridged by work on women that is sensitive to the particular historical constructions of gender that shape and are shaped by women's experience.
This text is both from the website for the journal hosted by the publisher and from the physical journal itself. I wonder about the first sentence as there is bibliographic evidence of other journals of women’s history that preceded it, though perhaps they were not “international” in focus. The second sentence of this statement by the journal is quite provocative. I find the suggestion that there exists in the world an “imposition of one feminist ‘line’” interesting and the journal’s refusal to impose that line interesting as well. Finally, it is the third line of the statement that suggests a middle road in this controversy between “women’s history” and “gender history.”
While the issues that I reviewed of the journal during the past five years exhibited that tension between “women’s history” and “gender history” within the “field,” there are other observations about the area of study that I found more fertile and provocative. First, however, I want to describe some of the regular features of the journal, which I think reflect some of the concerns – and political and intellectual commitments of the field. In addition to scholarly, peer-reviewed articles published in the journals, there are regularly proceedings from conferences of interest to people studying women’s/gender history. These dossiers are assembled both from modified transcripts of programs as well as from papers presented at public fora and then revised and submitted. In addition, there are “dialogues” published about issues of interest and concern to people within the field. There are submitted and reviewed articles that are gathered and published together under a broader rubric of inquiry, such as “Women’s History in the New Millenium” or “Working in the Home: Continuing the Discussion of Women’s Labors.” As has previously discussed, there also are both book reviews and the “Book Forum.” In addition, a new recurring section of the journal was introduced within the past five years titled “In the classroom.” In this section of the journal, there are articles that address teaching issues in “women’s history” at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Finally, there are regularly abstracts of books published that are of interest to scholars in the field as well as titles, authors, dates, and institutions of dissertations published in “women’s history.” All of these things cohere within the journal to produce the concept of a discipline or sustained mode of inquiry that is called “women’s history.”
Three issues emerged of interest to the field and to me in the issues of the journal that I examined. First, there is an impulse currently in the journal, which I call “feminist appraisals of feminist history.” In volume 16, number 1, published in 2004, there was a dossier under the title, “Women’s History in the New Millenium: Continuing the Conversation on “Compulsory Heterosexuality.”” This dossier included reflections from Adrienne Rich on her piece, first published in Signs in 1981 as well as Ruth Vanita, Geertje Mak, and Erica R. Armstrong. This dossier along with subsequent ones, including one in volume 16, number 2 titled, “The Future of Women’s History: Feminism’s History,” demonstrates the commitment of the journal to exploring not only to “women’s history” but in many ways to a history of feminism. By publishing a consideration of Rich’s essay, which is primarily a literary essay, the journal works to explore the history of feminism. In many ways, the journal’s engagement is not only with “women’s history” or feminist history, but also with analyzing, “whither feminism?” as noted in essays published in 2003 from a convening by the Sophia Smith Collection in 2000.
In addition to these “feminist appraisals of feminist history,” from 2002-2004, there was a great deal of thinking about “where have we been” as a discipline and “where are we going.” Part of this line of inquiry seems to result from the passing of the journal from the long-term editors, Rupp and Guy, to the new editors, Burton and Allman. Another part may be a natural transition within the discipline, which had sustained publishing for a decade, a milestone that invites assessment. Yet, I don’t think that this impulse was entirely self-referential. The journal, in its assembly of articles, seems concerned not only with the state of the field academically and intellectually, but also with the state of feminism as an activist enterprise. I don’t think that this concern is at the amplitude of say, the journal of the National Women’s Studies Association, but it is more concerned about the state of feminism as an activist formation than say the Differences.
Another overriding concern in the field from the Journal of Women’s History is about archives. There is a great deal of critical work published that thinks about archives. In a dossier titled “History Practice: Finding Women in the Archive” in volume 20, issue 1, published in the summer 2008, a variety of scholars submitted articles on the topic. This dossier originated as a panel at the 2005 American Historical Association meeting. The articles in this section reflect a broad range of interests in the subject for historical research and a common commitment to exploring and sharing the methodology of archival research. In this issue, Sherry J. Katz wrote an article titled, “Researching Around our Subjects: Excavating Radical Women;” in this article, she explores “researching around” as a methodology of archival research for writing about radical women.
John Hopkins University in indexing this journal provides the following labels: Gay & Lesbian Studies; Gender Studies; History; Sociology; Sociology & Social Work. There is something substantial that is missing from this index, however, that struck me in my review of the journal. There is an extremely strong relationship between history and literature in the Journal of Women’s History. For instance, a recent “Book Forum,” took Martha Vicinus’ book Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928 as it’s subject and included responses to the book from Ruth Vanita, Christine Jacobson Carter, Jacqueline Murray, and Valeria Korinek. In a volume 14, issue 4, there was a dossier on “Women and Gender in Modern India: Historians, Sources, & Historiography” that was from a symposium held at CUNY in March 1999. This issue also included a review by Anna Lindberg of Sangeeta Ray’s book En-gendering India. Ray’s book is primarily literary criticism, but the author of the review, recognizing the interest of the audience in the connections between literary history and women’s history draws these connections nicely, particularly in relationship to the dossier in the issue.
This relationship between literary history and women’s history is what interested me the most in the journal. In thinking about books that I admire from authors like Siobhan Somerville, Ruth Vanita, Martha Vicinus, the Journal of Women’s History points to new scholarly directions to situate my work not only in relationship to English and literature, but in relationship to history. As Martha Vicinus wrote in her response to the essays about her recent book,
I agree with Ruth Vanita that lesbian studies, if one can call so varied a field by one name, is at a point where we need new approaches. We certainly need more nuanced studies of individuals, of periods, and of places. I have ultimately concluded that the history of sexuality is best understood when it places female sexuality in the context of the complex identifications that mark all women’s lives, whether or not they include such familiar categories as religion, class, race, age, friendship, marriage, and motherhood.
I take this as a challenge for my own work.

From The Writer's Almanac: Sunday, 15 February 2009

It's the week of Valentine's Day, a week in which we've been talking about love stories — in literature and in real life.
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West met in December of 1922 at a dinner party. Over the next 19 years — until Virginia's suicide — they were friends and lovers, and they exchanged many hundreds of letters.
On this day in 1935, Virginia wrote a letter to Vita:
Friday          52 Tavistock Sqre.
I'm longing for an adventure, dearest Creature. But would like to stipulate for at least 48 1/2 minutes alone with you. Not to say or do anything in particular. Mere affection — to the memory of the porpoise in the pink window.
I've been so buried under with dust and rubbish. But now here's the spring ...
My mind is filled with dreams of romantic meetings. D'you remember once sitting at Kew in a purple storm? ...
So let me know, and love me better and better, and put another rung on the ladder and let me climb up.

After she met Virginia, Vita wrote in a letter: "I simply adore Virginia Woolf. At first you think she is plain, then a sort of spiritual beauty imposes itself on you, and you find a fascination in watching her. ... I have quite lost my heart."
Virginia captured everything she loved about Vita by making her the basis for the title character in Orlando (1928), her novel about an Elizabethan nobleman who suddenly becomes a woman at the age of thirty.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine's Day Challenge: Would You Not Get Married Until I Can Get Married?

By Julie Enszer, AlterNet. Posted February 14, 2009.

Despite the discomfort the question is certain to engender, I think it's time to ask it. Persistently and repeatedly.

It's a question I never asked any of my friends or family members even as I was attending weddings and buying gifts (an occurrence more common about 10 years ago when I was in my twenties, but let's not worry about the passage of time.) Now, I wonder, what would have happened if I asked that question? And what will happen if I ask it now?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

WMST 621: Feminist Taxonomies

Carl Linneaus developed the system of taxonomy that organized plant and animal life into a giant classification system with seven levels or ordering. I confess a deep affection for his work and for the impulse to organize everything into categories that do not overlap and that bring logical insight and separation to the world. This is how at many times I want the world to be. It was also Linneaus who first likened women’s genitalia to flowers (this, I believe, is documented by Londa Schiebinger). This gives me even more affection for Linneaus.
When it comes to the taxonomies of the women’s movement, however, I feel deeply vexed. I’ll write more about that after I summarize these readings.
The Equal Rights Amendment is a single amendment to the United States Constitution that in three sections seeks to guarantee “equality of rights under the law” without denial or abridgement “by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The Amendment was approved by both chambers of congress and sent to the states for ratification with a deadline in 1979. It failed to achieve the 2/3 majority of the states required.
CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) was held in December 1979, and it entered into force as an international treaty in September 1981. This treaty represents the culmination of work, that began nearly with the conception of the United Nations, to address the status of women. The treaty itself has six parts; first, it seeks to prevent and condemn discrimination against women; second, it it seeks to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life; third, it seeks to eliminate discrimination against women in education and employment, fourth, it requires that parties to the treat provide women equality with men before the law including in matters relating to family and marriage; fifth, it establishes a committee to monitor the progress of the treaty; and if states have laws that are better than the treaty, then those shall remain in force. The treaty also addresses the importance of economic, social, and cultural life and women’s full participation and the particular needs and considerations for rural women.
I had to do a little poking around on the internet to figure out exactly what the position of the United States is on CEDAW as I couldn’t completely sort it out from the CEDAW Exemptions document. The United States has signed the treaty but not ratified it through the U.S. Senate. The objections according to the United States are first, that there isn’t a guarantee of freedom from discrimination as construed in CEDAW in US law; second, while women volunteer for military service without restriction, the US in unwilling to accept an obligation under the Convention to completely integrate military service; third, there is not a willingness to enact comparable worth legislation; and fourth, there is not a willingness to enact maternity leave as required by the Convention. The United States is the only developed country that has not ratified the treaty.
Betty Friedan’s argument in The Feminine Mystique is that there is a problem in the United States “which has no name.” She argues that since World War II a crisis has been brewing among American women and now, beginning perhaps with 1959 and coming into full attention and fruition in 1961 and 1962, the crisis is in full bloom. The crisis is that women, educated women who are in suburban homes raising children and married to wonderful, productive men, feel, “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.” This crisis is caused by an ideology that Friedan labels “the feminine mystique.”
Marlene Gerber Fried is invested in both the history of the abortion rights movement and how it can be transformed into a reproductive rights movement. She writes this essay after the Webster decision, which upheld restrictions on abortion in a Missouri law. Fried examines how the abortion rights movement has been on the defensive for the past decade, how it has become a single-issue movement, and how clinic defenses have shaped the movement. She argues that the movement needs to be transformed to create linkages with other social movements and particularly expand the vision to think about sexual freedom.
Angela Davis’ history, “Racism, Birth Control, and Reproductive Rights,” explores the birth control movement’s history in relationship to Black women, in particular. Davis articulates how issues of race and class are connected with reproduction and the ability to control reproduction while also looking at ways that white women have failed to recognize that. Davis traces the roots of the birth control movement back to 1870 and Sarah Grimke’s advocacy for sexual abstinence through the early twentieth century and concerns about differential reproductive rates of women of color and middle- and upper-class white women. Davis also explores the implications of eugenics on the work of birth control advocates including Margaret Sanger. Finally, she discusses the more contemporary birth control and abortion rights movement using this history to inform contemporary concerns and suspicions of the movement from women of color as well as to discuss current abuses of sterilization and abortion.
Angela Davis’ contribution to Women: A World Report is on the status of women in Egypt with a particular focus on “women and sex” in Egypt. Women: A World Report as a project was designed to bring prominent feminists from other countries to write about the status of women in a country not their own. Davis’ contribution to this book is to me one of the most stunning examples of feminist writing. Davis uses both her personal experiences with taking on the project and with being in Egypt as well as reportage to tell the stories of women in Egypt that she interviews. Davis not only fulfills the actual “assignment” but also problematizes it through the essay. In discussing “women and sex” in relationship to Egyptian women she presents stories about housing, economic access, education, and political equality while also capturing some of the daily lives of women living in Egypt. She talks about sexuality in marriage and out of marriage and addresses the issues of female circumcision from the perspective of women in Egypt and women in the West.
“Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” is a foundational text by Adrienne Rich that is designed to think about and inspire change about lesbian visibility, constructions of lesbian sexuality, and the role of literary criticism in relationship to lesbianism. The essay works in four parts. In the first part, Rich reviews how feminist texts have erased or elided lesbian existence in favor of compulsory heterosexuality. Rich talks about texts by Ehrenreich and English, Miller, Dinnerstein, and Chodorow. She concludes with the suggestion that “heterosexuality, like motherhood, needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution” (p. 35.) In the second part of the essay, she analyzes how heterosexuality is a forced institution and how when feminist theory and analysis doesn’t recognize that and in fact contributes to lesbian invisibility and marginality, it works against “the liberation and empowerment of women as a group” (p. 50.) In the third part, Rich talks about lesbian existence and the lesbian continuum. With these two terms, she speaks about a historical past and presence of lesbians and about a continuum of lesbian experience. She uses Meridel LeSueur’s book, The Girl, and Toni Morrison’s Sula to make this argument. The final part of the essay is a summation of her work and the importance of eliminating the assumption of compulsory heterosexuality and unearthing lesbian histories.
“The Domestication of Motherhood” is Rich’s essay to position the relationship between mother and child as central to human relationships. The essay opens with a critique of Engels, Marx, and Freud in thinking about women in the family. Rich looks instead to work of Joseph Cambell and G. Rachel Levy to think about a time prior to capitalism where “The Great Mother” flourished. In doing this, she reviews a variety of ancient cultures in which mothers and motherhood were understood and experienced in different ways and she wants to expose what harm has come as a result of patriarchy.
Theresa deLauretis is writing in “The Essence of the Triangle or, Taking the Risk of Essentialism Seriously: Feminist Theory in Italy, the U.S., and Britain” to intervene in discussions between feminist theorist and post-structural theorists to prevent the marginalization and dismissal of “essentialism” as a strand of feminist thought. To do this, deLauretis posits a definition of essentialism that is quite useful, I think. DeLauretis says that there is a triangular essence of “the specific properties (e.g. a female-sexed body), qualities (a disposition to nurturance, a certain relation to the body, etc.), or necessary attributes (e.g. the experience of femaleness, of living in the world as female)” (p. 4.) DeLauretis then argues forcefully to bring some connection between the two “camps” of feminist theory (which I would add has a materialist basis in deLauretis formation here) and post-structuralist theory examining in particular text of Chris Weedon and Linda Alcoff. In the second part of this essay, deLauretis reviews developments of feminism in Italy as a way to bring relief to the discussion and look at alternative epistemologies.
I don’t have any particular questions about these readings.
A number of things interest me to discuss about these readings. First, how and why do each of these readings fit into each of these taxonomic categories? Do these taxonomies further illuminate the readings? Are they of use to us today, or are other taxonomies such as Chela Sandoval’s more useful? Why do these taxonomies persist?
I’m interested in the ways in which each of these readings speak to various activist communities and activist formations and academic communities and academic formations. One of the things that I understand as very vital about this time period of feminism is connections generated and sustained among these various communities at the time. I think that some of the connections are clearer as in the Fried essay and some parts of the Rich essays, but all of them position audiences in complex and multiplicitous ways that interests me.
I’m very interested in the categories of “radical” and “cultural” feminism and found the Rich selections in conjunction with those headings interesting. I actually think of other work in conjunction with “radical” feminism – in fact would put the essay by Davis on racism and abortion as more of a “radical” feminist article than a “socialist” feminist article. What constitutes “radical” for this time period and what constitutes “cultural”? How do current academic and activist configurations affect how we think about those categories today?
I recently read an article by Sara Ahmed, a British feminist scholar, in which she analyzes the “performativity” of documents relating to diversity and racial inclusion in British institutions. She mounts a fascinating argument in which the statements of diversity and the documents promoting diversity become the performance of diversity and allow institutions to not actually change but to simple talk about the intention to change or to be a certain way through their documents. I found her argument quite compelling and thought about it repeatedly while reading the CEDAW document and thinking about the work at the United Nations. To what degree is that work materially changing the conditions of women’s lives and to what degree does it operate as a performance without a material impact?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Bishop

One of my favorite Acquarians.

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It's the birthday of poet Elizabeth Bishop, (books by this author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1911). She went to Vassar, where she really began her career as a poet. Her mentor was the poet Marianne Moore, who taught Bishop that she could write poems that weren't about big ideas like love or death, but just about the observation of ordinary things.
Elizabeth Bishop was a slow, meticulous writer — she published just 101 poems during her lifetime.

OCHO #22, Dear America, Don't Be My Valentine

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the new edition of OCHO, #22, Dear America, Don't Be My Valentine, is now available and has two poems of mine in it, “Seeing Annie Liebovitz’s A Photographer’s Life 1990-2006” and “Cunts.”

You can view or buy copies of it from any of the sites below (or download a pdf of version from SCRIBD). 


ocho edition: Don't Be My Valentine
In print:
Internet Archives:

I send great appreciation to the editor, Miguel Murphy, who selected my poems for inclusion and put together an incredible compedium of contemporary queer voices. Many poets I admire are in this so download or purchase it now!

P.S. If you know my beloved who makes an appearance in the poems, you might want to email her here and let her know that you read them poem and love it! (And if you don’t love it, feel free to tell me, but don’t tell her!)

WMST 621: Feminist Genealogies

So my class, WMST 621, Feminist Genealogies requires weekly writing on the reading. I love this. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I can’t help it. I’ll post these weekly. This is from last week.

WMST 621: Weekly Response #1
The Color Purple is Alice Walker’s epistolary novel that won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Through a series of letters from Celie first to G-d and then to her sister Nellie, Walker tells the intertwined stories of these two sisters and through that explores the inner life of Celie, an exploration of the brutality against women, particularly black women, and their resistance to this brutality, and the challenges that women enact in their resistance to family structures and to creating their own lives. Themes that are particularly important in the book are the lesbian continuum and the spectrum of lesbian relationships, the connections, real and imagined, of African-Americans in the United States with Africa, and the portrayal of dialect.
Woman on the Edge of Time is Marge Piercy’s feminist utopic/dystopic novel. Published originally in 1976 it was Piercy’s fourth book. Taking Consuela Ramos as the central character, Piercy explores the impact of mental institutions on women, the intersectionality of race and gender, among many other issues for women in the “contemporary world.” These are counterpointed with a utopic world of Mattapoisett, one hundred fifty years in the future, and a dystopic world of totalitarianism. By weaving these world together, Piercy explores the nature and functions of sexism in women’s lives, particularly how motherhood and child-bearing are connected to women’s oppression.
Regarding the novels, in some ways I think of both The Color Purple and Woman on the Edge of Time as feminist utopias. (HA! I wrote that before I read Professor Moses’ lecture!) They have different relationships to time and history, but I think both are invested in presenting a vision of a future that creates new possibilities for women and that seems to me part of the utopic project. I’m interested in thinking about what made the messages of these books of interest to women and men at the time. Both of these books were best sellers and captured the imaginations of people at the time. Why? And, are there any more contemporary books that have similar feminist themes that do the same today?
Claire Moses writes, “women have often organized most effectively when they have organized separately from men, as community activists, professionals, unionists, and feminists” (Unpublished manuscript, p. 3.) My first question about that is, is this true? I believe that it is, but I’m interested in assessments of its veracity in the literature and also reflections on it. My second question about this relates to my own thinking and research about the possibility of separatism, and I would even say lesbian separatism, as an analytic category. As I said in class last week, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the difference between feminism as a category of personal assignation (what people call much more conventionally an identity category – and this is further complicated by the contemporary perception of “stable” or “immutable” identities like race, sex, and sexual orientation and identities of affinity like feminist) and feminism as an analytic category. When Nancy Cott asserts that we should just use the word feminist for people who used it for themselves, it seems to become more of a category of personal assignation than a category of analysis, which I find problematic. It’s of interest to me because it relates to how to use the word lesbian when speaking of historical subjects. Let me return to the question of separatism, however. I am increasingly thinking of separatism, particularly lesbian separatism, as both a personal assignation and also an analytic category. It seems to me that thinking about organizing that is exclusively women is separatist organizing and even lesbian separatist organizing, though in the 1970s and 1980s that phrase had a different meaning than applying it to the work of say Women Strike for Peace or the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I’m interested in thinking and talking about this as an analytical framework (and quite aware that it may be of no interest to anyone else!)

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America by Leila J. Rupp

This short book provides an overview of historical scholarship on gay and lesbian studies and sexuality studies in the United States. The book is organized into seven chapters. Each chapter opens with a personal recollection from the author. Much of the impetus for the history is tied to her family story of her aunt Leila who lived with Diantha for most of her life. A central question is: was Aunt Leila a lesbian? Would she have used that word? It is an unresolved though open question in the text.

Rupp reviews evident of same-sex sexuality in early America, then talks about the word of romantic friendships. The turn of the century bringing industrialization and the more coherence of an identity of "inversion". Her review of history from the 1920s through the 1960s is interesting, in part because this is a synthetic history which tells of queer people continuously through the twentieth century. In my mind, and this may be simply a limitation of my reading, there are queer people during the first three or four decades of the century and then we reemerge around 1965. I know this isn’t true, but sometimes it seems to me that way. So Rupp’s account is a good overview and provides some direction for further reading and research.

This book would be good for an intro course for undergraduate students. It is a quick read and thorough and rigorous in its thinking while still written in a plain and accessible manner.