vol 12 - 1986

Most Second Wave feminists have viewed prescriptive roles and role-playing behavior with antipathy, as limiting and inauthentic behavioral codes dictated by a repressive, male-dominant social order. But now this view, like so many others, is receiving critical scrutiny. Several contributions to this issue explore the transformative aspects of roles or find ways to make role play part of a search for alternate routes to authenticity. "Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in the Lesbian Community: Buffalo, New York, 1940-1960," traces the contribution of sexuality to the cultural and political development of a lesbian community. Madeline Davis and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy suggest ways in which those butch-fern roles that offended many lesbian feminists in the 1970s helped to create an authentic lesbian sexuality and an independent lesbian culture in the intensely homophobic 1940s and 1950s, a culture crucial to the more oppositional political stance of the later period.

Playing in, and with, roles is also central to the art of Eleanor Antin, the subject of this issue's photo essay, "Eleanor Antin: Allegory of the Soul," by Josephine Withers. Over the past decade, Antin has created and developed three roles-the King, the Ballerina, and the Nurse-whose lives she creates, performs, records, and lives while crossing gender and racial boundaries. Antin's "theatre of the self" experiments with role play to construct alternate personas that expand and extend the self. Such fiction, Antin suggests, is as real as history. Similarly, in "The Art of Living, or A Slight Distortion of the Truth," Jane Lazarre experiments with fictional and autobiographical forms in order "to try to tell the truth." Adopting an "autobiographical" stance toward "Julia's" story about the traumatic end of a female friendship helps the narrator to work through a loss of her own. Boundaries between history and fiction, role and real, collapse. In a review essay on recent feminist criticism, Louise Yelin discusses more traditional forms of women's fiction by nineteenth-century British authors.



Madeline Davis and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy
Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in
the Lesbian Community: Buffalo, New York, 1940-1960

Nancy A. Hewitt
Feminist Friends: Agrarian Quakers and the
Emergence of Woman's Rights in America

James Oliver Horton
Freedom's Yoke: Gender Conventions among
Antebellum Free Blacks

Bernice Johnson Reagon
African Diaspora Women: The Making of
Cultural Workers

Niara Sudarkasa
"The Status of Women" in Indigenous
African Societies

Jane Lazarre
The Art of Living, or A Slight Distortion
of the Truth (a Story

Josephine Withers
Eleanor Antin: Allegory of the Soul (an Art Essay)

Judith Walzer Leavitt
Under the Shadow of Maternity: American
Women's Responses to Death and Debility
Fears in Nineteenth-Century Childbirth

Deborah Samuelson
A Letter to My Daughter/Myself on Facing
the Collective Fear of Being Different

Louise Yelin
Women and Fiction Revisited: Feminist
Criticism of the English Novel

(a Review Essay)

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