vol 21 - 1995

Feminism grew by articulating women's common interests in resisting common oppressions, and it has matured by questioning its categories of women, of oppression, of resistance, and of commonality. In this issue of Feminist Studies, Cheshire Calhoun argues that feminism's insistence on including all women "under the sign 'women"' effaces lesbian difference: not only seventies' celebrations of womanhood but also nineties' postmodernisms inhibit lesbian representation. "The feminist frame itself operates ... to closet lesbians," she argues, and antiessentialism, too, has "worked against theorizing lesbian difference, because the construct "difference" presupposes a disanalogy between sexual orientation and race, class, ethnicity" so that the lesbian becomes a kind of ideal difference-sensitive feminist whose own difference does not matter. Ultimately, what represents the lesbian most powerfully is not same-sex desire but a position outside the binary gender categories of "woman" and "man," exemplified, for instance, in such tabooed contemporary practices as cross-dressing and sadomasochistic role playing and in the "third sex" theories that arose at the turn of the century.

The next two essays and the first poem in this issue focus on this earlier historical period, primarily in the United States, when popular representations of women were being reconfigured. Susan Swartwout's poem, "Louisiana Ladies' Watermelon Tea-1890," imagines from today's perspective bygone women together in a moment of joint, subtly subversive pleasure. Each of the essays examines a different female social "character" between the 1910s and 1930s that responded to changes in demography and the economy so as partially to escape from the dominant middle-class norms of heterosexual romance and nurturing motherhood.


Order this issue (print)


Order this issue (print)

Cheshire Calhoun
The Gender Closet: Lesbian Disappearance
under the Sign "Women"

Susan Swartwout
Louisiana Ladies' Watermelon Tea—1890 (Poetry)

Opal Palmer Adisa and Kathy Sloane
Pleated Skirts
(Poetry and Photography)
Listen to streaming audio

Claire Bond Potter
"I'll Go the Limit and Then Some":
Gun Molls, Desire, and Danger
in the 1930s

Nan Enstad
Dressed for Adventure. Working Women
and Silent Movie Serials in the 1910s

Cate Whittemore
From Venus to Penis (Art Essay)

Natasha Sajé
Then What Is the Question? (Poetry)

Mónica Ortiz Salas
Mery Yagual (Secretary)
(Short Story, translated by Kathy S. Leonard)

Maria Helena Lima
"Beyond Miranda's Meanings":
Contemporary Critical Perspectives on
Caribbean Women's Literatures
(Review Essay)

Celia Escudero-Espadas
Photography as Testimony (Art Essay)

Carolle Charles
Gender and Politics in Contemporary
Haiti: The Duvalierist State,
Transnationalism, and the Emergence of
a New Feminism (1980-1990)

Laura Suzanne Gordon
Mass Murder; The Third Dance (Poetry)

Down Up
Down Down